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Even More Idioms

Once again, more idioms. Idioms are a great way to spice up your writing with expressions that are commonly used by native speakers. (Note that “spice up” is an idiom; it means “to make more exciting or livelier”, just as adding spices to a dish makes the dish taste more “exciting” or “lively”.)

  • Paula was excited when she found a piece of pottery, until Jim explained that archaeological artifacts were a dime a dozen in that area.

Paula thinks the piece of pottery she finds is rare – a real treasure – until Jim explains that such artifacts are actually commonplace and easy to come by and, therefore, not so valuable. Items that are “a dime are dozen” are relatively cheap and easy to buy in large quantities, since a dime is only ten cents – or one tenth of a dollar.

  • Clara’s conversation with her boss was strictly off the record, since her boss didn’t want to be known for revealing that the company was laying off employees.

In official records of events, people’s names may be provided with descriptions of their actions or comments. Records of court proceedings, for example, include witnesses’ names with their testimonies. Newspaper articles include informants’ or interviewees’ names with their quotes. Both court proceedings and newspapers are “records”, in that they provide an official and (ostensibly) verifiable account of what was said and happened. Clara’s boss doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s the person who told her that the company is laying off employees. In other words, he doesn’t want his name to be associated with bad news. He wants their conversation to be “off the record”.

  • Victor’s colleagues agreed that his habit of dressing in polka-dotted suits and big clown shoes was over the top.

Victor’s choice of clothes goes way beyond what’s normal. In a sense, it overflows or over-steps the bounds of normality, as a substance might overflow its container; his dress is, therefore, “over the top”.

  • Treating others as you want to be treated is a good rule of thumb.

Measuring something with one’s thumb is an easy and generally reliable way of taking a measurement (“rule”, in this sense, is used in the sense of “rulers”). If something is a “rule of thumb” or is done “as a rule of thumb”, it is considered a generally reliable way of accomplishing a specified end or, even more broadly, of conducting oneself. Treating others as you want to be treated (often called “the golden rule”) is generally a good way to act.

  • Johnny tolerated many of Bonny’s irresponsible behaviors, but when Bonny borrowed Johnny’s car and crashed it into a tree, that was the last straw.

Johnny has been willing to overlook the fact that Bonny is irresponsible. When she borrows his car and crashes it, though, he’s had enough. Think of Bonny’s many little slights as straws (plastic straws or hay, both of which are light). Piled up, they could be heavy enough to break or crush whatever they’re on. The last straw is the straw that makes the pile come crashing down. Another expression heard less often is “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Think of a camel carrying a bale of hay. The last straw is the piece of hay that makes the bale so heavy that the camel’s back breaks.

  • Dorothy laughed when Greg told her that he had been promoted, since not by any stretch of the imagination could she imagine him in a management position.

Dorothy might have a pretty big or broad imagination, capable of seeing many scenarios as plausible. However, her imagination isn’t big enough to see Greg as a manager. Even if she tries to stretch her imagination to accommodate the idea, she still finds it improbable. So, “not by any stretch of the imagination” can Dorothy see Greg in a management position.

  • Although Jeff was concerned about his ability to do well in his new job, he learned the ropes quite quickly and was promoted within a week.

Good sailors have to learn to handle the ropes that tie the sheets on ships to masts – i.e. they have to learn how ships work. Likewise, new employees have to learn the rules that govern how their new workplaces operate. They, too, have to “learn the ropes”.

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