Why are idioms necessary for our speaking and writing contexts? For one thing, they help us to express ourselves in different ways. You get to be creative and use more complex and interesting expressions, rather than bland ones. You also add spice and flavour to your use of the language, thus taking it to the next level. In this column, you will learn why it is important to add idioms to your vocabulary reservoir and to use them in appropriate contexts. I also share some idioms that you may find useful for your speaking and writing purposes.
Idioms are a type of figurative language and aren’t used just for the fun of it. On the contrary, they go a long way in helping language learners develop English language skills and improve their vocabulary, which in turn helps them become fluent in the language use. Every native speaker of a language is supposedly fluent in their use of idiomatic expressions, and it is more appealing to them when you use idioms in your interactions. Idioms can thus assist you to explore the language on a grander scale and make you speak and write confidently like a native speaker of English. Depending on your kind of work, using good idioms in your conversations – spoken and written – can help you to continually bring home the bacon and paint the town red.
Idioms are useful in that they establish the fact that humans are complex in nature and use beyond ordinary words and expressions to relate their imaginations, which can sometimes take us on mental excursions. Indeed, someone who unreservedly uses idioms is considered to be more polished in their conversations and can express deeper thoughts than one with literal words and phrases.
Even though idioms tend to be confusing for a new learner, they can be understood when one makes an effort to learn them and ask questions about them. Remember that idioms are not to be taken literally. They have underlying meanings that have no correlation to the literal words used to express them. Suppose you hear a friend use an idiom you aren’t familiar with. What do you do? Ask them for the meaning. Have you ever been embarrassed because you didn’t know the meaning of an idiomatic expression directed at you? Don’t be unnerved! You can simply tell the user that you would like them to explain the usage since it isn’t so familiar to you. That way you add to your reservoir of knowledge. Humility on your part will really play a key role in this.
I shall now share some idioms with you – I am confident that you already know many of them, so feel free to take what’s new to you and also to add what you can to the list. Someone may advise you to be cool as a cucumber. This means that you should be very calm, composed, and untroubled by stress. That sounds funny, doesn’t it?
When you go for an interview, oftentimes people may tell you to break a leg. Remember that these expressions are not to be taken literally. So do not go to the venue looking to break someone’s leg! It is an idiom said to wish someone success in their doings.
Have you been through some difficult times and someone said to you, ‘These issues are just a storm in a teacup’? Imagine a storm in a cup! Doesn’t it help to reiterate that the challenges being faced are sure to pass? It sure does.
How about someone who’s described as crying wolf? Is the person literally crying? Not at all. Sometimes, older ones tell younger people that they cry wolf. This means that they are calling for help when it isn’t needed or necessary. Perhaps what they are asking for help about are things they can figure out on their own but do not want to exercise their creativity or thinking faculties.
A friend could be cautioned for splitting hairs. What does it mean to split hairs? One who does that is known to make small and unnecessary distinctions over issues. Such a one might be considered petty and interested in frivolous issues. So, friend, do not split hairs. Face issues as they are and be more objective in your assessment of things.
If someone were playing cat and mouse with a thing, it means that they are cunningly manoeuvring events to thwart the other’s efforts. It’s a serious thing that is the bone of contention; however, this individual who is playing cat and mouse with it is being cunning about it.
How hardworking are you? Do you burn the candle at both ends? If yes, this would mean that you try out many things within a short period of time, and this necessitates your having to be up early in the day or having to stay up so late at night to achieve your deliverables. You have to decide whether or not you prefer to burn the candle at both ends.
Ever met someone who happened to be dog in the manger? This individual doesn’t have any use for something of value but they deprive others from having access to them. No one likes to be in the company of an individual who is a dog in the manger. Be kind and generous and let go of things when they do not serve your purpose or when they would serve those of others better than yours.
Now, imagine foreseeing that a meeting would be chaotic because of the parties and the issues involved. You try to talk to both parties independently, advising them not to set the cat among the pigeons. What you have suggested should make them think seriously about not saying or doing something that would definitely stir controversies in the meeting. This reminder could help everyone behave themselves and work towards a unified meeting.
Also, many people in our society unfortunately lead a dog’s life. This is because they are seen to be unhappy and always saddled with a troubled existence. Help should be extended to such ones so that a glimmer of hope can shine through to them.
Whenever you have made sufficient progress, should you rest on your oars? If you do, this means that you decide to stop working for a time to relish your success instead of putting in more work to spur you on to further success.
Would you like to know what others think about a thing of interest to you, or would you like to make suggestions on matters of interest to you? When you do so, you are said to put out feelers. This means that the opinions of other people matter a great deal to you, or you feel you have valuable information to share by way of suggestions to others.
Please always be in the habit of calling a spade a spade. This of course has nothing to do with literal spades! It simply means that you should be accustomed to speaking the truth and representing facts as they are and not be shy about them even if they are embarrassing or unpleasant.
Finally, have you ever been between the Devil and the deep blue sea? This signals that you found yourself in the middle of choosing between two unpleasant decisions that you do not know precisely which of them to go for. When you talk to others about your predicament, you could say that you have been between the Devil and the blue sea. They may then ask you to expatiate on what you mean by giving the details of the two scenarios before you.
Alright! There you have them. Go ahead and use these idioms in your speaking and writing and thus polish and effectively improve your communication skills.