147. Idioms and Expressions from Episodes 145 & 146

Explanations, examples and definitions of idioms and natural expressions which you heard in the last two episodes of this double award-winning podcast for learners of English.

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1. I get to meet people from all walks of life. – “From all walks of life” = from lots of different kinds of life, or different lifestyles.
2. Sometimes I can just make things up on the spur of the moment and then make them happen there and then. – “On the spur of the moment” means just then and there, not planned in advance, but just impulsively done then. “I came up with the idea on the spur of the moment”, or “On the spur of the moment I just asked if she wanted to go for a drink with me”.
3. sometimes I feel like just giving up, dropping out and becoming a TEFL teacher”. – “Dropping out” means to kind of give up your normal, steady life and living an alternative existence. It’s often associated with quitting your high paying job and becoming a hippy, or leaving normal straight society, quitting the rat-race to live a more enlightened lifestyle. It’s associated with the phrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out” which was made famous by Timothy Leary who encouraged people in the 60s to lead a counterculture revolution by taking LSD and rejecting the dominant culture. I find it a bit annoying when they consider becoming a TEFL teacher a way to just drop out, as if TEFL is not a proper job, but something you can do to escape the normal demands of a career. People who go into TEFL as a way of dropping out are usually shocked to discover that it is still a proper job that requires diligence and hard work.
4. If you consider it to be something to do while you travel, or something to do while you focus on writing your first novel then fine. It can be just a means to an end. – “A means to an end” is something you do with the sole purpose of achieving something else. For example, going into TEFL can be a way for people to get a bit of extra time to focus on doing something else like writing their first novel.
5. Does that sound like your cup of tea? – We all know this one, right? “Your cup of tea” just means something you like, or something that meets your preference. E.g. Horror films are not really my cup of tea. Along with “it’s a piece of cake”, I think this is one of the most well known idioms out there, because it’s kind of cute and we associate it with British people.
6. often the best students are the ones who throw themselves and their personalities into the learning process. – If you “throw yourself into something” it means that you get fully involved in it, with full enthusiasm and energy. The opposite of that would probably be “to do something half-heartedly”. E.g. “After she split up from her boyfriend, she just threw herself into her job”.
7. There’s always someone who will throw a spanner in the works. – Another idiom with ‘throw’, to “throw a spanner in the works” means to seriously disrupt something or cause a big problem that makes everything much more complicated, and ultimately prevents the thing being a success. E.g. “We were hoping to get the project started in June but the funding was withdrawn so that rather threw a spanner in the works.” In this case, the lack of funding caused lots of problems for the project and ultimately stopped it happening. In my example, I say how sometimes students can throw a spanner in the works by behaving badly in class. A spanner is a kind of tool that you use to tighten or open a nut or bolt. You know, if you need to fix a leak in a pipe in your kitchen you might use a spanner. It’s a metal tool, one piece with a kind of mouth at the end which fits around a nut, and then you can tighten it. They come in different sizes. A spanner. In some countries you call it an English key for some reason. “the works” refers to the complex inner workings of a machine – all the mechanisms inside an old industrial machine. Cogs, gears and pistons and everything. Can you imagine dropping a spanner into a machine like that? It would cause the whole thing to stop, or to grind to a halt.
8. So, back to these 1/30 people who can torpedo your class. – A torpedo is a kind of missile that goes under water, fired by a submarine. If you torpedo a boat it means you destroy it, but the attack happens in a way that is hard to notice. To torpedo a lesson means to kind of destroy a lesson from under the surface. Again, if a student causes problems in a class, it could torpedo your lesson.
9. teachers often feel they are on the front line. – This is another bit of war imagery. “On the front line” is used to refer to the position of some soldiers who are right at the front of a battle, facing the enemy and in the direct firing line. If you’re on the front line it means that you’re in a exposed position because you are right at the front, facing a difficult situation. Compare it to members of admin or marketing staff who don’t face clients directly and are therefore more protected.
10. it can feel like either you’re fighting some kind of pointless battle, or that the gods are acting against you somehow. – I guess these aren’t really idioms as such. “Fighting a pointless battle” just means fighting hard for something that is a waste of time, and if ‘the gods are against you’ it just means that everything seems to be going badly as if the gods have decided to make life difficult.
11. 11. they can take a lesson to new heights. – To “take something to new heights” means to make something excellent and better than it has been before. ‘Height’ is the noun form of ‘high’, so this means to take something higher than before.
12. take whatever the teacher gives them, and run with it. – To ‘run with something’ means to take an idea or a suggestion and make proress with it independently. So, in a classroom situation this means giving the students a task which they then independently develop into something more.
13. Creating an air of respect or positivity in the school helps. – The expression “an air of…” is used to describe an atmosphere in a place or around a person. “He had an air of sophistication” means that he seemed to be sophisticated. “The school has an air of respect” means that there is a respectful atmosphere in the school.
14. Having them stand up and walk around can replicate real life speaking tasks and allow body language to come into play. – To “come into play” means to become an important factor in something, or just to become involved in a situation. A bit like when a footballer runs onto the pitch, he comes into play and adds a new element to the game, we can also say that other things come into play in other situations.
15. On those rare occassions that everyone is into it, everyone can reap the benefits. – To “reap the benefits” means to take all the good things from a situation. “Reap” is a word we use to describe the act of collecting crops from a field with a kind of blade called a scythe. A farmer will plant seeds early in the year, then the crops grow during the summer and at the end of summer he reaps his crops. The word ‘reap’ also goes with the word ‘benefit’ meaning to take all the good things from something. For example, if you study hard now, you will reap the benefits later.
16. It’s ok to go off on a tangent as long as it is relevant and the whole class goes with you. – To “go off on a tangent” means to take a completely different direction than you intended to, usually in a conversation. So, you start talking about your plans for Christmas and then at some point you go in a completely different direction and start talking about rumours about Tom Cruise’s sexuality. A synonym is “to get sidetracked”. If you go off on a tangent in class, it means you end up talking about something different to what you started with. Sometimes tangents are the most fun parts of lessons.
17. TTT is something we should cut down on in the language learning classroom. – To “cut down on” something means to reduce it. For example, “I’m trying to cut down on smoking”.
18. We’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason. – This is not really an idiom but just an expression which people use to tell people to listen.
19. An expensive school, with a powerful marketing drive can set the bar very high for its teachers. – To “set the bar high” means to set standards very high. The ‘bar’ refers to the bar you have to jump over in athletics, in the high jump. If the bar is set high, it means that you have to jump really well to avoid failure. In teaching, if your marketing has promised an amazing course then the bar has been set pretty high for the teacher.
20. it is also a good process to go through for training you into a good teacher, because you are forced to raise your game. – This one should be pretty clear, and it’s used in sport a lot. If you “raise your game” it just means that you improve your performance. Don’t forget the difference between the word ‘raise’ and the word ‘rise’. This is a common error.
21. In the end, perhaps I’ve decided to make a go of it. – To “make a go of it” means to try hard to make something a success. For example, “They’ve had some problems in their marriage, but they decided to make a go of it and not get divorced.”
22. Think outside the box. – This one means to think in an unrestricted way, with no limitations. Managers often ask their staff to think outside the box in order to come up with new and innovative ideas.
23. Put on a brave face because somehow your mood has a massive influence on the mood of a lesson. – To “put on a brave face” means to act brave or act like everything is alright when in fact the situation is quite bad. It means to act confident in a difficult situation. For example, if you’re having a lot of family problems which are making you very upset at home, you have to put on a brave face when you go to work so that people don’t see you are upset, and so you can still do your job well.
24. If you go for big laughs and make lots of effort, you’ll come across as a dick who is desperate for attention. – To “come across” as something, means to give other people a certain impression of you. For example, if you don’t dress smartly for your job interview you might come across as unprofessional. Or, if you talk too loudly during a negotiation you might come across as aggressive.
25. I felt like my reputation was hanging by a thread. – If something is “hanging by a thread” it means it is in a very threatened and tenuous situation, and it might just die or break or fail at any moment. A thread is a very thin piece of string or cotton. For example, if your button is hanging by a thread it might just fall off at any time!
26. I thought it might be another string to my bow so I agreed to take the training. – A “string to your bow” means another skill that you have. A bow is something you use to fire an arrow. It’s a long curved piece of wood. The string is the thread or fibre which connects the ends of the bow, and is used to fire the arrow forwards. If you have lots of strings on your bow, it means your bow is more powerful.
27. The parents were over the moon! – If you’re “over the moon” it means you’re delighted, very pleased.
28. I’ve been rudely awakened by some comment. – To be “rudely awakened” means to be shocked to discover the truth about something. We also say “I had a rude awakening”. For example, assuming that your class is fine and everyone is happy, and then being shocked to discover that they’re all unhappy.
29. I went the extra mile, I bent over backwards and I delivered a very good course. – To “go the extra mile” means to make more effort than is necessary. To do the maximum amount of effort, or more. To “bend over backwards” basically means the same thing. “They really went the extra mile to make us feel comfortable. They were great hosts.”
30. After the tough week I’ve just had, this will be a walk in the park. – A “walk in the park” is something that is very easy, just like “a piece of cake”. “This exam is going to be a walk in the park”.
31. they all seemed to like her and kind of let her get away with it – To “let someone get away with something” means to let them do something bad without punishing them. “Your Dad won’t let you get away with it if he catches you smoking again”.
32. The presentations all fell flat with the speakers just grinding to a halt after a few minutes, – To “fall flat” means to go down badly, or to be received badly by people. E.g. “the presentations just fell flat” – the audience were not impressed by the presentation and they didn’t really respond. To “grind to a halt” means to stop. Imagine a machine slowly stopping and making a grinding sound. The past form of grind is ground. “The lesson just ground to a halt after an hour”.
33. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. – We use this expression to describe a very heavy atmosphere, usually when something really bad has happened in a room and there’s a really thick and bad atmosphere with lots of tension. E.g. “There was a lot of tension between Diane and Carol; you could cut the atmosphere in that room with a knife.”
34. I decided I had to put my foot down. – To “put your foot down” means to put your authority strongly on a situation. E.g. “The boss put her foot down and refused to accept any more changes to the plan.”
35. “I slept through my alarm clock” – This means that you overslept and your alarm clock didn’t wake you up.
36. I had a go at them for being late. – To “have a go at someone” means to tell someone off or say something angrily to someone.
37. I wanted to put my foot down, and I just ended up putting my foot in my mouth. – To “put your foot in your mouth” means to say something that you regret.
38. I finished the day completely shattered, with a mind numbing headache, with a massive heavy load on my shoulders. – A “mind numbing headache” is a really bad headache that stops you thinking properly.
39. The difficult girl I described earlier decided to lock horns with me over everything. – To “lock horns with someone” means to get into a conflict with someone, like an argument or a disagreement over something. It’s like when some animals fight with each other, they lock horns. If you can imagine two bulls fighting, the horns are the sharp things on their heads. If they lock horns, they put their horns together and kind of move around fighting. Well, people can lock horns with each other too.
40. She completely ran over me with her forceful character. – What I mean here is that she walked all over me.
41. I didn’t really know how to do this, so I generally didn’t give her any rope. I mean, I wasn’t patient with her. – What I mean by “give her any rope” is that I didn’t really give her any opportunities.
42. I’m still scratching my head trying to work out what was going on. – If you’re scratching your head, it means you’re trying hard to understand something.
43. the first week was a write off. – A “write off” is something that is so badly damaged that you can’t save it. This comes from cars, probably. IF you have a car crash and your car is damaged, and it would cost more money to repair the car than it would be to just buy another one, the car is “written off”.
44. I just became their scapegoat. – A “scapegoat” is someone you blame for all the problems. E.g. In 2007 Piers Morgan asserted that phone hacking was common practice. “Loads of newspaper journalists were doing it. Clive Goodman, the News of the World reporter, has been made the scapegoat for a widespread practice.”
45. Sometimes it hits the students for six, because they’ re not expecting it. – If you “hit someone for six” or “get hit for six” it means that something really shocks you and makes you feel bad and confused, weak. It comes from cricket – when you bowl a ball at a batsman and he hits the ball all the way off the field, he gets six points. He just hit you for six. The bowler is going to feel bad about that. E.g. “The death of his wife really hit him for six. He was never the same after that”
46. This meant that I had a false sense of security. – If you have “a false sense of security” it means you think you’re safe when you’re not. E.g. “Wearing helmets gave cyclists a false sense of security and encouraged them to take risks.”
47. It’s funny to me how I could go from one week of being the greatest teacher in the world, to hitting rock bottom in just a matter of days. – If you “hit rock bottom” it means you reach the lowest point possible.
48. in my defence I must say that I have an otherwise very good track record in my classes. – Your “track record” is your history of success or your record of performance. It comes from athletics. Usain Bolt has a great track record because if you look at the record of all his times in his races you can see he has won a lot of races. The track is what an athlete runs on. It’s red and has lines written on it. “I have a good track record in my classes” means that most of my classes in the past have been good.
49. So, this course must have been a one-off. – A “one-off” is something that only happens once.
50. Keep your chin up. – This means ‘don’t get disappointed’. IT’s like, “keep your head up”.
51. You shouldn’t tell jokes, but I do, and I pay the price for it. – If you “pay the price for something” it means that you suffer the negative consequences of doing something bad. So, I pay the price for telling jokes in class, because often nobody laughs and I feel like an idiot. Then again, I think that if I didn’t tell jokes my classes would be more boring. I know what I’m doing… Even if my jokes are quite bad sometimes, it’s not going to stop me trying!!!