The English language is full of weird and wonderful words and expressions just waiting to be discovered and learnt by students like you! When you’re learning English abroad with EC, you’ll definitely hear some of these strange phrases and idioms. Don’t worry if you don’t understand these types of expressions immediately – we’re here to talk you through some of the most common ones. Knowing these will help you to sound more natural when you speak English, and you’ll be able to understand the natives more easily too!
1 | To bite the bullet
Originating from the army/navy world, this expression means to have to do something you don’t want to do – something unpleasant, but necessary.
“I hate going to the dentist, but my tooth hurts, so I’ll have to bite the bullet and make an appointment today.”
“You’re going to have to bite the bullet and tell your friend the truth about what happened.”
2 | By the skin of my teeth
A particularly weird expression, this means to barely manage to do something. ‘By the skin of my teeth’ actually comes from the King James Bible (Job 19:20), where these lines can be found:
My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.
“I can’t believe we took so long to complete that project – we managed just by the skin of our teeth!”
3 | To butter up
Butter? The food? What?! Don’t worry, we’re not going to be throwing butter on anyone. To ‘butter [someone] up’ means to praise or flatter someone a lot, usually because you need something from the person being buttered up.
Jack: “Did I tell you how amazing you look today? Your hair looks really nice. And your eyes are pretty too. Have I mentioned that you look amazing?”
Marie: “Stop trying to butter me up, Jack. I’m still angry at you.”
4 | To kick the bucket
This odd idiom is an informal/slang term meaning ‘to die’.
“I’d love to go on a tour of South America before I kick the bucket!”
“What happened to your buddy, Jeff?” “Didn’t you hear? He kicked the bucket yesterday – he was 102 years old!”
5 | Bob’s your uncle
Who is Bob, and why is he your uncle?! This interesting slang expression means something like ‘there it is’, ‘there you have it’ or ‘you’re all set’. It’s usually used after explaining something or giving a list of simple instructions.
“How do I unlock your phone?”
“It’s easy – just press that button, type in my birthday, and Bob’s your uncle!”
“Oh I see – thanks!”
6 | To eat humble pie
If someone needs to ‘eat humble pie’, it means that they should stop being proud and give in to something that they think is ‘below’ them.
“Ely needs to eat some humble pie and apologise for what she said to you yesterday. It was wrong.”
7 | To wear your heart on your sleeve
If someone wears their heart on their sleeve, that means the person is very honest, open, and transparent about their emotions. They don’t try to hide what they’re feeling.
“That player really wears his heart on his sleeve – he cried when they won the match yesterday!”
“Tanja is a really lovely girl. She’s smart, funny, and wears her heart on her sleeve, so you always know where you are with her.”
8 | To twist someone’s arm
This one might sound painful, but it’s just a figure of speech, so don’t worry! If someone says ‘you’ve twisted my arm’, it means that you’ve persuaded or convinced them into doing something that they weren’t going to do before.
“I wasn’t in the mood to go out, but Alessandra twisted my arm and I actually had fun at the party.”
Want to learn some other useful English expressions, and more? Get in touch with one of our friendly advisors today!