Recently I came across this fabulous chart of colorful idioms on Great site, btw,  if you’re grammatically challenged like me.


Technically, an idiom is a word or phrase that is not taken literally. Languages are loaded with idioms.

The expressions are global and the same idiom can have a very different meaning in a different country. In Finnish, “with long teeth” means you are doing something that you really don’t want to do. Same phrase in French, “to have long teeth” means you are ambitious.

Groups of people with shared/common interests have their own idioms. Think about these examples from music and drama:

  • “It’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings.”
  • “Break a leg”
  • “It takes two to tango”

When I taught English as a Second Language, idioms challenged my  students. Common idioms, like the examples below, were easy to teach.

  • A chip on your shoulder
  • High as a kite
  • Sick as a  dog
  • Rub someone the wrong way
  • Jump the gun
  • Pay the piper

When the students conversed with their fellow native speaking friends, other not so common expressions managed to stump them.

Signing idioms when I was interpreting for the deaf was a tough call, too. I had to know what the speaker meant. Sometimes I didn’t!

Usually it’s easy to pick up the meaning from the context of the conversation or non-verbal gestures. Sometimes it’s best to ask exactly what the speaker means.

If you’re not sure what the idiom examples I’ve used mean, here’s a site that defines common idioms:

Idioms can complicate speaking and writing. I advise using them sparingly…unless your meaning is clear!