Excuse me sir, do you have any midnight oil?
Most languages have idioms. Sometimes they are called figures of speech. They can give us insight into a culture’s principles and values. However, they can be difficult for the language learner. Most of the time, idioms mean something other than what the actual words imply.
In English speaking countries, you will find lots of idioms in TV, movies, music, literature and conversation.
Here are five of my favorite English idioms.
1.) Wake up and smell the coffee
I suppose I like this one because waking up to the smell of coffee is a pleasant thought to me. It means try to pay attention to what's going on. Things have changed around here, John! It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee!
2.) Burn the midnight oil
This one is handy because so many people do this. It means to stay up working, or studying, late at night. (Alludes to working by the light of an oil lamp late in the night.) I have a big exam tomorrow so I'll be burning the midnight oil tonight.
3.) Cost an arm and a leg
Well, thankfully we don’t have to pay for anything here with body parts. But if something is really expensive we might say that it costs an arm and a leg. Did you see her engagement ring? Gorgeous! But, I bet it cost an arm and a leg.
4.) Cry wolf
I like this one because of the story it comes from. It means to raise a false alarm, to ask for assistance when you don't need it, and by extension, to exaggerate or lie. The phrase comes from the Aesop fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” in which a bored, young shepherd found it amusing to make villagers think a wolf was attacking his flock. When they would come to his rescue, they would realize that it was, again, a false alarm. So, one day, when a wolf actually attacked the flock, the villagers disregarded the shepherd's calls for help, and the wolf ate the flock (and in some versions the boy). The moral: “Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed." She had repeatedly called the police for trivial reasons and perhaps she had cried wolf too often.
5.) Like a chicken with its head cut off
Yes, this one is a bit graphic but having enjoyed raising chickens for years, I think of this idiom as strikingly vivid. It simply means - in a frenzy. Chickens have been known to run around for several minutes after being decapitated, the result of a reflexive response. They do this in a kind of crazy, undirected manner – having no sight to guide them. A person in the throes of extreme emotional agitation exhibits similar behavior. She ran around the airport like a chicken with its head cut off looking for her backpack.
So, that’s just a few. There are many more so come back to learn others. And do practice these. Idioms can color your speech, making it interesting and sometimes humorous.