English is a very interesting language to learn, primarily because many words have double or even triple meanings, depending on context or even tone of voice. Imagine if you use simple words with definite meanings and turn them into figurative phrases. For example, "It's raining cats and dogs!" Now that makes conversation more interesting!
It has been the penchant of human beings to aim for eloquence in their manner of speaking - or at least try to be clever and amusing! Sometimes, part of this eloquence is the use of, shall we say, more colorful language, which will somehow elaborate on the thought that they want to convey. And this is where we also get literary from time to time, because literature is about stringing words together to provoke specific emotions while also making the reader think. And yes, many common phrases or idiomatic expressions do that to us, on a daily basis.
So, if we give you one of these common phrases in a sentence, can you figure out the word that was omitted? This is fairly easy for people who are not literal-minded. So get your figurative thinking caps on and have fun with this colorful quiz! Bite the bullet! Break a leg!
To “bring home the bacon” is to earn a decent and legitimate income. The association with this food item is perhaps made because it is expensive, so only people who earn "big money" can afford it.
To give someone a “run for their money” means that there is a competition going on, and that the opponent is a worthy one, to the point that the competitor must really work hard to win. So this idiom is not literally about money.
“To make ends meet” simply means that you have to make enough money to cover the basic expenses in life. So it means that you have to live within your means, because there are a lot of bills to pay.
To go “cold turkey” means to just immediately halt or stop a habit, and this is usually applied to smoking. However, it could also apply to abruptly stopping any kind of habit, without any kind of tapering off.
To "make a long story short” signifies that a speaker is editing details out of a narrative and just summarizing. This can be helpful or annoying, depending on the listener's point of view.
To play the “devil’s advocate” means to post an opposing thought or argument just for the sake of argument or to create more discussion. One plays the devil’s advocate to hopefully influence the other person, whether or not that is their own opinion.
To “nip it in the bud” means to immediately stop something from growing or progressing before it’s too late. A movement, concept or project can be cut it off in the early stages, before it blossoms, for one reason or another.
The so-called “calm before the storm” is a time when things seem to be peaceful and quiet, but that calm is about to be shattered by a slew of problems. The phrase is based on actual weather patterns, because the calm before the storm is that brief period when you think a storm is over, yet another deluge is about to come.
To say that people are “packed like sardines” refers to the way that many sardines are packaged in a small container, though it's not a relaxing fit! When people are packed like sardines, at a concert or other large event, their personal space may be violated.
The phrase “bread and butter” refers idiomatically to the main source of income for a person, because bread and butter is (or was) a staple in many people's diets. So a person can have many different sources of income, but the one they consider as their “bread and butter” is the one that pays for most of their daily necessities and expenses.
To “break the ice” signifies that someone made an effort to connect with another person, and that person could be a stranger or someone that they haven’t talked to in a while. Someone overcame their shyness, so invisible barriers between them and other people were finally shattered.
To be “between a rock and a hard place” means that a person is forced to choose between two opposing forces or options that are not beneficial in any way. So if someone is caught between two friends who are fighting, they will feel like they are trapped in between and forced to side with one friend or the other.
A person who has “sticky fingers” steals things, be it money or objects. It could be a case of kleptomania or just a case of bad habit. Either way, it’s not good, because stealing is never good.
To “steal someone’s thunder” is to take credit for the work of someone else, or to grab the idea and present it first before the other person can. It can also mean that someone stole the spotlight during someone’s perceived moment by spoiling it, which could mean botching an announcement or giving “spoilers” about a surprise plan.
When someone does not want to “rock the boat,” they don’t want to stir up any kind of trouble, so they opt to keep quiet or mum about things. It also means not telling someone information that could make them act irrationally or violently, which would also destroy the peace.
To say that you should not “count your chickens before they've hatched” means that you should not make any plans that are based on something uncertain. For example, if a person is expecting a salary bonus and spends the money before the bonus arrives, that’s just improper planning.
The phrase “to add insult to injury” means to make bad things even worse, or to make a situation tougher than it already was. It could also mean that someone is poking fun at the misfortune of others, which makes things worse for the downtrodden.
The phrase “benefit of the doubt” means that one should not easily jump to the conclusion that a person is guilty of wrongdoing. It’s like saying we should assume that someone is innocent until proven guilty.
To see “eye to eye” on something means people agree on a concept or decision. It means there is an understanding reached between parties.
To “face the music” involves being brave or courageous enough to address something that is uncomfortable to deal with. It could mean owning up to a mistake or dealing with the consequences of certain actions.
For something to be “up in the air” means that there is uncertainty over a matter or issue at hand. It could mean some things are slow to materialize, or there is no surety in the outcome of a process yet.
For something to be someone’s “cup of tea” means that it’s right up their alley, or it’s something they really like to do. It may also mean they’re very good at doing a certain thing, or they really have a natural talent for it.
The “tip of the iceberg,” literally speaking, is that chunk of ice we see "floating" on the water; yet beneath it, there is a much bigger chunk unseen to us. So this idiomatic phrase means that you are just encountering a small piece of a really large thing, only you haven’t seen the whole picture yet. It's a fair warning to expect the worst.
To “make a mountain out of a molehill” means you are blowing something out of proportion. You're either making things worse or exacerbating something that’s really just plain and simple, making a small issue such a big deal.
“When it rains, it pours” means that when you’re at the receiving end of something, sometimes more of that same thing may come along. This could have either a negative or a positive meaning, because you could be showered with blessings or you could be peppered with problems, and more of them could arrive later.
When someone is “a hard nut to crack,” that means they are not very friendly or they're not easy to deal with. Patience is needed if you truly want to crack that nut open.
When something is a “rule of thumb,” that means it’s a generally recognized practice, whether official or unofficial. It’s just a good idea to follow such a rule.
To “go Dutch” means everyone in a group should pay for their own expenses, especially when eating together in a restaurant. While this idiomatic expression mentions people from the Netherlands, this practice of paying for one’s own meal is actually practiced worldwide.
To go from “rags to riches” implies that someone was very poor in the past, but they were able to elevate their status and became very affluent. A good rags-to-riches story gives all of us hope.
Saying that someone looks "like a million dollars” implies that they are very good looking - especially in terms of they way they’re dressed. A lot of effort probably went into dressing up that way, and it's paid off big time!
To “blow off some steam” means to release tension. If someone is feeling very negative or angry, they need to release some of that tension and anger inside of them. One strategy is to divert their attention to something else, or maybe to do something physical, like exercising, to relax or calm themselves.
When something is truly very expensive, we say that it “cost an arm and a leg” because that’s how it feels. Since humans need arms and legs to function, these limbs are priceless, so it’s truly expensive if someone puts a price on them!
A “down to Earth” person is truly and genuinely humble. This means being free of arrogance or ego. Such a person doesn’t have any sort of pretension and is not into social climbing.
For someone to be “out of the woods” means they are out of harm’s way, because efforts were already made to get out of trouble. It’s like being lost inside a forest of problems - and of course we always want to get out of that place.
For someone to have the “Midas touch” means that they are often successful in their endeavors, usually concerning business and financial enterprises. It’s a positive connotation, even though its Greek mythological origin is negative.