10 Incredibly useful English idioms

It’s idioms, not idiots. Idioms are phrases that do not exactly mean what the individual words would suggest. Actually, idioms are not for idiots, because they can be pretty complicated. So here’s something that can help.

During one of our Lingoda Live lessons, our English teacher Marco came to the office and hosted an online lesson about idioms. Some of them require no more than a little thinking. Others you won’t figure out on your own. So, here are the 12 idioms that Marco discussed. We’ve also included a little bit of information about their origin.

It’s a piece of cake: What’s the easiest thing you can imagine doing? Well, yes, sleep. But what’s the second easiest thing? One very easy thing to do is eat, especially cake. So, what could “piece of cake mean”? Exactly: something that is easy to do. “It’s a piece of cake”.

He went bananas: Going bananas means completely losing your mind, going crazy (often in an angry way). Why? No idea. Maybe because monkeys are insane and eat bananas? Going monkey would make more sense though! Anyway, “going bananas” is a useful phrase that gets used a lot.

That’s how the cookie crumbles: The author of this idiom was identified as a blue, furry stress-ball with a love  for cookies that borders on the addiction. Trade Mark and Copyright reasons force me to leave the rest to your imagination. “That’s just how the cookie crumbles “(that’s the way the world works, that’s just how things are).

Monster, C.
His face may not be shown

Out of the blue: Okay, let’s be clear, I have no idea where any of these idioms came from! So, out of the blue. Maybe it’s from the old days when people were on boats a lot? Things that jumped out of the water were unseen until they were right at the surface of the water. And the water is blue, so they came “out of the blue” (coming out of nowhere, by surprise)

Give me a hand: I don’t really need to explain this, right? While we can all agree that there is no actual exchange of body parts, “give me a hand” is simply a request for help. Usually referring to a physical task, but not limited to it.

Once in a blue moon: This one is tricky, because it doesn’t really make much sense. “Once in a blue moon” would technically mean never, because there is no such thing as a “blue moon”. However, its supposed to mean “very rarely”. Because sometimes the moon is blue, it seems. Weird stuff.

A cartoon representation of Pavlov's dog, illustrating the principle of conditioned response.

I’d really like to clarify whether this idiom is in any way related to those poor dogs. Because if it is, I am done using that idiom.

It rings a bell: Means that “it” reminds us of something. Now, as to the explanation. The only thing that comes to mind is a certain Russian behavioral psychologist and probable cat person I would guess. Anyway, if that’s where “rings a bell” comes from, that is pretty macabre.

Glass half full/half empty: This simply shows how a person see the world: Is he/she optimistic or pessimistic? Because the glass does not change, it only depends on how an individual decides to look at it.

The sweet ain’t the same without the sour (or the British version: “Take the rough with the smooth”): Why are the children of billionaires often so depressed? And how do dirt poor people still find pleasure in the small things? Well, because the sweet ain’t the same without the sour. You need perspective in life. If you’ve always had everything, things will quickly bore you. If you’ve never had anything, the smallest thing will give you great pleasure.

I wasn’t so convinced of my explanation, so I figured I’d draw it up for you. Also interesting to see that my drawing skills have not changed in over two decades.

The grass is always greener on the other side: First of all, the grass IS always greener on the other side. Want to know why? Because when you look over the fence into your neighbor’s garden, you’re looking at an angle. That way you see more of the grass and less of the dirt. When you look down to your feet, you’re looking straight on top of the grass. So you’ll see more of the earth. That’s why when you go to the park and want to find a nice green space, it always looks like you’re standing on the only earthy spot in the entire park.

Now, the grass is always greener on the other side refers to the fact that everything always runs smoothly with others and goes horribly wrong in with your own life. But that’s not true. And when you decide to ‘go to the other side, you realise that it’s just the same. Although if it were worse than you would be “out of the frying pan and into the fire“. But that’s another story!