Tag Archives: ESL Idioms

Idioms: Beat around the Bush


Beat around the Bush: To avoid a topic of conversation or to not speak directly about the issue.

Henry beat around the bush, but he never asked his boss for a raise directly.

From Yahoo Voices: “The phrase beat around the bush is derived from early hunting techniques in which unarmed men would walk around the forest beating tree branches and making noise, so as to flush the game from the bush. This allowed the hunters to avoid directly approaching the animals.”


Idioms: At the Drop of a Hat


At the Drop of a Hat: Willing to act immediately

John told Nancy that if she ever felt ill again, he would be be by her side at the drop of a hat. 

From James Rogers’ Dictionary of Cliches: “In the 19th century it was occasionally the practice in the United States to signal the start of a fight or a race by dropping a hat or sweeping it downward while holding it in the hand. The quick response to the signal found its way into the language for any action that begins quickly without much need for prompting.”

Idioms: Baker’s Dozen


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Baker’s Dozen: 13

The chef made a baker’s dozen of bagels, knowing his assistant may eat one before they could be delivered. 

Baker’s Dozen is a measurement of food and baked goods for the most part, hence its name. The earliest known source for the phrase dates back to the 13th century, when bakers were severely punished for shorting their customers. If they left out a piece of bread from their dozen (12), for example, their hand would be cut off with an axe! In order to avoid this, bakers began baking 13 pieces of bread or other goods.

Idioms: Bite Your Tongue



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Bite Your Tongue: Keep yourself from saying something regretful; Take back an offensive statement.

When Clara exclaimed that she wouldn’t eat her dinner, her mother told her to bite her tongue. 

This phrase is frequently used as a reprimand, asking the offender to take back something they said or to keep quiet on a certain impolite or improper subject. It also suggests desperation, as in the one who needs to keep quiet just barely does so. The exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but it dates back to 1590, suggesting Shakespeare. Shakespeare popularized the term in his play Henry VI: “1593 — 2 Hen. VI, I. i. 230 So Yorke must sit, and fret, and bite his tongue.” Sourced from English Language and Usage.