In Honor of the New Year: "30 Phrases In English That You Can't Learn In A Book"

In my opinion, resolving to study another language is one of the best New Year's Resolutions one can choose. And, most of the Russian English-learner allies we have here are quite skilled in English. But-- certain phrases and words (as they have shown me with Russian) cannot be learned through curriculum and may never make sense. So in honor of the New Year, I give you "30 Phrases In English That You Can't Learn In A Book".

-"Doing a 180" : Referring to a 180 degree turn, this usually refers to someone turning their life around, totally changing an opinion, etc. Something drastic, good or bad. Example: "He was a drug addict for ten years before doing a 180 and now runs that shelter over there."

-"Sunk" : Like the Titanic. Something bad has probably happened or something bad could happen when this word is used. Example: "If you don't get her a ring, you're sunk." or, "Oh boy, we are sunk. Bob just called off the Christmas party and now I have all this food to deal with for two weeks."

-"Like a boss" : Someone has done something with a degree of confidence, determination, or swag. Example: "That girl strode into the office and asked for a raise. Like a boss." or, "That model wears those red boots like a boss."

-"Bite the dust" : Died. If someone's pet fish bites the dust, it's dead. (Never use this with references to people. It's disrespectful. Say instead, they "passed away.") . Example: "My washing machine bit the dust yesterday."

-"Bite the bullet" : Go ahead and decide to do something, even if it may not be the best idea. Doesn't always refer to being impulsive, however. Example: "I had better bite the bullet on that shirt before they sell out."

-"Skeleton in the closet" : This does not always mean you killed somebody. It means you have a dark secret from your past. Someone who had a child in high school and never told anyone has a skeleton in the closet. Example: "I know about the skeleton in your closet. You stole $100 from your parents to replace that bike when we were kids."

-"Point blank" : Something done point blank is very direct. Someone could tell you point blank, to your face, that they hate you (or love you). It would be shocking because it was so straightforward. Example: "He shot her point blank in her sleep."

-"Hating on people" : Shaming someone, being mean to them, etc. Sometimes people will say someone is hating on them because they did something that the rest of the world doesn't like but it sounds better to say they are being persecuted. Example: "I got a lot of hate on my Facebook post the other day." or, "Someone on Duo is hating on us (laugh). What is that supposed to do?"

-"Creeping on people": In person, or online. Example: "I can tell she creeped on him after they broke up! She liked his post by accident from seven months ago." or, "This hooligan was totally creeping on me at the store. As if every time I turned around, he was there."

-"Bail" : Abandoning an idea or plan. Example: "The cave is too wet to explore. Let's bail on this one and go to the café instead."

-"Back up and punt" : Like bailing out on something.

-"Buck stops here" : Reference to the sign on President Truman's desk which read: "The buck stops here." --The phrase is based on the metaphorical expression passing the buck, derived from poker gameplay, that came to mean "passing blame"--

-"Down to earth" : When someone is down to earth, or an article is down to earth, it means that something or someone is very honest and real. Example: "I love how honest she is. When she addresses our group, it's so down to earth."

-"Drive up the wall" : When you drive someone up the wall, you're being annoying. Example : "She kept texting me over and over again and it drove me up the wall."

-"Cold shoulder" : If someone gives you the cold shoulder, they're being rude. Example: "I told my ex to quit giving me the cold shoulder and actually talk about what the problem is."

-"Lighten up" : If someone needs to lighten up, they're being to serious or overbearing. Example: "Lighten up, Tim, it's no big deal."

-"Piece of cake" : Something really easy. Example: "I took Sue on the interstate. No traffic, it was a piece of cake navigating out there."

-"Pig out" : When someone pigs out, they are eating too much.

-"Wrap up" : When you wrap up something, you're finishing it. Example: "I was on the phone for two hours until my sister told me I had better wrap it up." or, "One I wrap up this project, we'll go eat lunch somewhere."

-"Ride shotgun" : Means you're in the front passenger's seat. Sometimes used as an insult. Example : "Steve's not a real guy. He's going to be riding shotgun with some controlling woman for the rest of his life, I say."

-"Going Dutch" : Splitting the bill between the two people on a date. Example: "I told him if he thought I was going to go Dutch, then I wouldn't go out with him."

-"All get out" : When something is as (adjective) as all get out, it means that it's really (adjective). Example: "It's rainy as all get out." or, "That movie was creepy as all get out."

-"Put up" : To tolerate something. Example: "My dog puts up with all kinds of nonsense from the kids. Bless him."

-"All set" : Prepared, finished, etc. Example: Waiter: "You're all set, here's the check."

-"Touching base/ Checking in" : Seeing if everything is okay. Example: "He just called to touch base, he said." or, "No worries, just checking in."

-"Swamped/ Covered up" : Up to your ears in tasks. Example: "Like I told Marty, I can't make it to the movies. Work has me swamped." or, "Look, I can't talk right now. I'm covered up."

-"Had it/ Fed up" : Probably a reference to "I've had it up to here." When you've had it, you're sick of something and most likely angry. Example: "I'm so fed up with John I could hurl fireballs." or, "I've had it with this election thing. I don't want to hear another word."

-"Dying" : Not literally. Example: "Oh my gosh, I saw the latest Star Wars movie. When he just flew off, I died." or, "That is the funniest thing I've seen today. I'm dying."

-"Freak out" : Nearly have a heart attack with worry or happiness, etc. Example: "If my mom knew how late I really stayed out last week, she would freak (out)." or, "I got tickets to the ballet from my daughter and I freaked out."

-"Warm/ Cold" : Describing someone's attitude. Example: "I love his family. They're so warm and hospitable." or, "She was so cold to me yesterday, and I don't know what I did."

…And that, my friends, is my New Year's gift to you). Best of luck to everyone with their language endeavors and all wishes for 2018!!

PS. Got any English questions, speak now:)

December 30, 2017

  • 1541

Hmm. Not a native speaker but a long-time (and fairly competent) practitioner. So here is my take: I've never heard "all get out" -- this must be either regional or generational. (I am a gen-Xer who has learnt English in the UK before moving to the West Coast of the US.)
As for "hating on people" - that sooo smacks of the millenial internet lingo, that I would not touch it with a barge pole. That's an artefact of learning to type before learning to speak well. (Hint: continuous tenses are not supposed to be used with verbs describing feelings. McDonalds' "I'm loving it" would get the author a D in his/her English class, if he or she didn't drop out of high school, that is.)

December 31, 2017

Yes, I'm loving your input;). I think "all get out" is an east coast thing. And i agree, only time you would use the hating phrase was casually, and in jest!

December 31, 2017

I'm a native english speaker and I spend a lot of time in the south, mostly the area between Texas and Georgia. All of this sort of speech is quite common in this region. " all get out." is fairly regional and cultural, so people would likely be surprised to here a non-native use this phrase, but you might earn some "street cred", just depends. The "hating on..." phrase is admittedly used mostly by younger people, but I'm pretty sure I've heard it used by people in their 50's as well. Of course, both of these are pretty much slang, and nothing I would ever use in formal writing.

July 12, 2018

Thanks. it is interesting) we have some of these phrases in Russian. "Skeleton in the closet" - скелет в шкафу

December 31, 2017

Thanks, msgur! ) perfect

December 31, 2017

Very interesting haha) You could do the same with some slang words such as ballin' or cupcake)

December 30, 2017

True) any of those you didn't know?

December 30, 2017

Of yours? Hmmm... 1, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 21, 22, 26

December 31, 2017

And I say we forgot something... Happy new year, Lauriana!

December 31, 2017

Thanks). And now I know it was at least partially useful to write all of those!

December 31, 2017

these phrases are easy to find in a book. I'm not going to pick on you, but I reckon you shouldn't have used such an over-promising title to make people read the post. I don't wanna show off, but for a man who has been studying English only for a year, I've seen just about all of them. I'm still low in grammar, I admit it. Even though I'd like to thank you because I was baited with that stuff and now I'm writing the comment. Well-done!

December 31, 2017

I'm a marketer, what can I say...haha. Only a year in English and you're already reckoning? That's great! Props to you (there's another one) !

December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2018

And to you as well! Thank you for the lingots)))

January 1, 2018

Actually you can find these idioms in a book (or most of them). When I was browsing my local bookstore last summer I remember seeing a book on idioms and while I cannot remember the total number of idioms it described, it was well over 1000.

December 31, 2017

I suppose i meant average curriculum sets, not the vocabulary-centered types ;). Thanks for your input!

December 31, 2017

I'm a conflicted Canadian who has been living in the US for nearly 20 years, albeit recently, only 300 metres east of the Canadian border. I've learned there are two significant cultural issues at the root of the difference between Canadian-English and US-English. They are: 1. Guns 2. Football (Canadian style of US football is a very different game.)

So to your idioms... Bite the dust, bite the bullet, riding shotgun, point blank all have their origins in the US gun culture. I probably heard them all watching Roy Rogers television shows in the 1950s. In those shows these expressions were not metaphorical at all. The "bad guy" (the character wearing the black cowboy hat), while leaving the scene of the crime, would be shot in the back, fall from his horse, and quite literally land face first in the dirt, thus getting a mouthful in the process. Metals were bitten to test softness and therefore provide a crude estimate of composition. No stagecoach driver on the trail to Dodge City Kansas would dare travel without a trusty shotgun bearing companion sitting at his side.

Back-up and punt, touching base, wrap up, are non-metaphorical sports references. Although in Canadian football we would never back up to punt because kicking the ball through the end-zone would award a 'rouge' (a single point) and quite often win the game.

... and so on.

There is truth to the adage that peoples who speak English are separated by a common language. We Canadians often find ourselves in the position of "translator". We explain that what we call a serviette (an acknowledgement of our French history) is a napkin to an American, and a napkin is not a diaper to an Englishman.

To my fellow learners, in my role as a stereotypical Canadian, I apologize (I mean apologise) to everyone studying English, and particularly those using English as a second language to study a third, for how we Americans have bastardized the King's English. It is damn fun though!

January 1, 2018

Thumbs up to the Canadian) and yes, it is!

January 1, 2018
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