British idioms to spice up your speech

15 Hilarious English Idioms You Can Use to Add Color to Your Writing

Posted: 04 Oct 2015 10:10 PM PDT


An idiom is an everyday figure of speech or metaphorical expression that is commonly used by a language’s native speakers. Its meaning cannot be taken literary because it often goes against the logical rules of language, grammar and/or common sense. If you look closely at the literal meanings of most English idioms, you will realize they are often downright hilarious.

Here’re some of the funniest English idioms you may not know about that can actually add color to your writing and life in general. Most of these idioms are drawn from British English, but isn’t it about time you learnt how to speak (and write) like a regular Brit, mate?


1. “Do a Devon Loch”


Devon Loch was a racehorse that collapsed just short of the winning line of the 1956 Grand National race in the UK. If someone does a Devon Loch, they suddenly fail when everybody expects them to succeed or simply crumble at the very last minute when they were almost winning.

Example: It was shocking how Manchester United did a Devon Loch in the last minutes of the match against Arsenal.


2. “Bob’s your uncle”


This idiom is a catch phrase used when ‘everything is alright’ and means that something will be done, sorted or successful. It’s the British equivalent of “…and that’s that,” or “there you go!” How it is used is often quite funny.

Example: You want to go to the market? Go straight on until you reach the main road, take the first right, and Bob’s your uncle–you’re there!


3. “Do a runner”


When someone does a runner, he leaves a place in a hurry in order to avoid paying for something (like in a restaurant) or flees a difficult situation to escape punishment. Like many British idioms, this particular idiom originates from one of Shakespeare’s popular plays, Anthony and Cleopatra, a gripping story of romance and tragedy that was first performed in 1606.

Example: At this point, the con artist did a runner with all her money.  


4. “Enough to cobble dogs with”


This incredulous phrase is used to refer to a surplus of anything. The humor in the image contained in the phrase becomes apparent when you consider that a cobbler repairs shoes. If a cobbler has enough leather to cobble an animal that has four feet, then that cobbler definitely has a surplus.

Example: We’ve got enough beer in this party to cobble dogs with.


5. “Fall off the back of a lorry”


This is the British humorous way of saying you acquired something that was probably stolen, or you are trying to sell something that’s stolen or illegitimate. The American equivalent of the phrase is: “off the back of a truck.”

Example: I don’t know where you get this stuff. I suspect off the back of a lorry.


6. “Hairy at the heel”


This disparaging phrase was originally used by the British upper-crust to refer to someone who is ill-bred, dangerous or untrustworthy. The image of a hairy heel is indeed striking and funny.

Example: I can’t say I like Bob. I’ve once or twice had a row with him. He’s a bit hairy at the heels.


7. “Cat’s arse”


The humble cat’s arse–originally known as “felinus bottomus” to the ancient Greeks–is sometimes used to describe the facial expression adopted by a scorned woman. This rather vulgar phrase is apparently used because the (*) shape created by the woman’s lips resemble a cat’s backside.

Example: Bob won’t come to the pub with us–he’s afraid his wife will give him the ‘Cats Arse’ if he does.


 8. “For donkey’s years”


This British expression jokingly alludes to the considerable length of years the animal works with nothing to show for it. If you have done something for donkey’s years, then you have done it an awfully long time without any change or much to show for it.

Example: I’ve been a plumber for donkey’s years. It’s time for a change.


9. “All talk and no trousers”


Someone who is all talk and no trouser talks and thumps his chest a lot about doing big, important things, but doesn’t actually take any action. The thought of someone running his mouth with no trousers is funny.

Example: Be careful. Politicians are known to be all mouth and no trousers.


10. “If you’ll pardon my French”


“Pardon my French,” or “excuse my French” is an informal apology for the use of profane, swear or taboo words. The expression dates back to the 19th century when it was fashionable for Englishmen to use French words–a foreign language then–in conversation, knowing the listener may not understand.

Example: What she needs is a kick in the assif youll excuse my French.


11. “When pigs fly”


Pigs cannot fly. This often sarcastic idiom is commonly used among friends in the US to mean that whatever you are discussing will never happen. A similar saying was first used in Scotland in the late 1500s and a version of which even appeared in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice in Wonderland.

Example: Yea, right! You will get Justin Bieber to ask you out on a date when pigs fly!


12. “Cat got your tongue”


Imagine a cat eating or holding your tongue! Would you be able to speak? No, probably not. That is exactly what the phrase means. If a cat got your tongue, you are unable to speak. Your silence is oddly suspicious. Apparently, the phrase stems from the middle ages when witches were greatly feared. It was said that if you saw a witch, her cat would somehow “steal” your tongue so you couldn’t report the sighting. Not a nice thought but definitely a reason why you would be speechless.

Example: Come on, Bob! Tell us what you think about our little party. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?


13. “Have a one track mind!”


Most railroads have two or more tracks so trains can go in different directions. However, on a one-track railroad line, train traffic can only move in one direction at a time. If you have a one track mind, your mind is limited to only one line of thought or action. You are always thinking about the same thing.

Example: Oh, shut up, Sean! All you think about is food—you have a onetrack mind.


14. “Chew the fat”


This idiom means to chat in a friendly and leisurely way or engage in casual gossip sessions. It is said to stem from the practice of sailors, who while working together, or during periods of rest, would converse leisurely while chewing on salt-hardened fat. A variation of this idiom is “chew the rag” in American slang.

Example: “The women have gone to one of their friend’s house to chew the fat,” John smiled.


15. “More holes than a Swiss cheese”


While delicious, Swiss cheese is hard, pale yellow or white with many holes. If something has more holes than a Swiss cheese, it has a lot of problems; there are many things wrong with it. It is incomplete or lacks important components.

Example: You can do better, Mary. This essay has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

A version of this post originally appeared on

Yes, I am on strike

In 1999 I quit teaching. No leave of absence, no early retirement option, no backup plan. I had just understood, finally on a deep nearly visceral level that I could not be part of a system that does not love children. A system that is built within a framework of methodic, codified accountability. Never a free minute, for student or teacher. Never an unsupervised minute, for student or teacher. Never a benefit of the doubt; always mistrust.

If we didn’t know where you were every minute, if we couldn’t watch and control your every movement, we assumed you were at best slouching off but probably doing something immoral and illegal.

They tend to be the same thing in the USA, immoral and illegal.

So, when I sat alone in my office with A___ —  a student who shall remain anonymous because – yes – this is how conditioned I am to being suspected — I took risks.

One day A___ said, Ms. Haidri, tell me. If someone like me was God, the way Jesus was, how would I know? And I said that when a Swami was asked, Are you God? he answered, Yes. And so are you. The difference between us is that I know it and you doubt it.

One day he said, Ms. Haidri, tell me. How come there’re no black teachers in this school? And I said, Because people like you haven’t yet grown up to become them.

One day he said, Ms. Haidri, have you ever been to Hawaii? I paused for a second, in which I made up my mind that it was true, and said, No, but I’m going to move there.

I left teaching in a system that would not permit me to spend time with a student on his own terms, on his own level, and to show him love. I left teaching in a system that put me in charge of standardized testing to measure the little brains coming in and the little brains going out to see if they achieved the appropriate reading score to within a tenth of grade level.

I left teaching because schools were factories with rotation belts on which students were not assembled, but disassembled. Don’t think, don’t touch, don’t speak, sit up and shut up – your grade depends on it.

I moved to Hawaii. It was the equivalent of jumping off a cliff. If the land you inhabit is crawling with vermin or on fire or somehow threatening to destroy you, that is all that is left to do: jump off a cliff.

The thing about jumping off a cliff is, you don’t fall forever. You always land. In this case I landed on the youngest land on earth, the currently under formation Big Island.

I wandered the flank of a volcano for two years, freelancing reading diagnosis and remediation, being poet-in-the-schools, teaching university students who didn’t own a pair of hard-soled shoes. Then my money ran out and I moved to what was always going to be my last frontier, a place I always knew was more beautiful than Hawaii: Norway.

Within weeks I was offered a job teaching, a few blocks from the house I bought over the internet, and I took it.

Do you want to know why I took the job teaching? Partly because the building had a glass roof and red brick on the interior of the walls, lending it the atmosphere of a greenhouse more than an institution; mostly because the tables I passed on my way to the interview were strewn with rough drafts of handwritten essay exams in which students explored their ideas for page after page. It was not just Piaget’s Formal Operational Stage, it was the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy. It was a system that put the students in charge of exploring ideas. It was also a system in which hordes of students that spring failed the Norwegian exam because they didn’t understand the satire of a piece of journalism proposing removal of one of the Americas because who needs two Americas (read: get rid of Nynorsk). I loved a school system that took the comprehension and cognitive development of youth so seriously that it would follow this up by adding ‘understanding irony’ to the national curriculum.

That was 2001, and I daresay the system was already in flux. There were a few halcyon years of blissful discussions and explorations of ideas, and then things started to change. They took away our curriculum and grading standards and said, spend your teaching time figuring out local curriculum and grading standards. They took away our study time and said, spend your teaching time reporting on the progress and whereabouts of fifteen homeroom students. They took away our preparation time and said, lock yourself into a 27.5 hour work schedule. They took away our pedagogy and said, give these nationalized, computerized multiple choice tests to your students during weeks 35-37.

It was a few years before I, as a foreigner, caught on to what was really happening. We were being steered by conservative freaking politicians who were over in the USA being suckered by the ginormous educational assessment industry that makes megabucks on turning schools into factories of accountability. They were coming back to Norway all gooey eyed and inspired, waving statistics, scales, norms and grade equivalent scores.

They coalesced into what is called KS.

I want KS bureaucrats to go back to their bean counting someplace else and leave the young minds of Norway alone. I want the good old State of Norway to take back control of education.

I do not want politicians making school curriculums, but that is probably too much to ask for at this point. So, I am on strike for one simple reason: KS is killing the beauty that was the Norwegian school system, a system where learning was not always measurable, but clearly felt.  KS is killing us through formalities of accountability and reckoning that do not a good school make. They do not make a place where students are loved, but where minutes are ticked off and everyone can’t wait to get out of there.

Norway, we can’t let that happen. Please support the striking teachers, August 2014.

Critical Thinking Questions We All Should Ask – teachers too!

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

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April 6, 2014
In an earlier post here in Educational Technology and Mobile Learning I talked about the 8 elements of the critical thinking process and I argued that critical thinking is  a cognitive process that requires disruptive patterns of thinking, ones that question the status quo of propositions and leads to the creation of alternative lines of reasoning.

Today I am adding to this discussion this beautiful visual created by Learningcommons which features the 6 questions a critical thinker asks. This could be used as a poster in your classroom to remind students of the kind of questions they need to ponder about and develop. Have a look and share with your colleagues.

For more resources, toolkits, sheets and other materials on critical thinking, visit this page.

critical thinking questions

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