American English Idioms

3 minute read

Do you ever feel like you have ALMOST mastered the English language but there are some phrases that just don't make sense to you?  Have you ever thought that your English is sooo close to perfect but something is missing? Phrases you may be hearing that were not listed in your English grammar and vocabulary books could be American English Idioms. An idiom is a phrase that is unique to one language and/or culture that cannot be easily understood or translated just based on the literal definition of words used. There are many of them. Sprinkle a few into your daily dialogue here and there and before you know it you will be an English speaking pro!

Here is a list of some common American English idioms with definitions and examples:

All over the map. Definition: a conversation that does not stick to the main topic and goes off on tangents.  "The meeting today was all over the map and I don't feel like we accomplished what we needed to."

Before you know it. Definition: almost immediately. "I will be there before you know it." 

Blow off steam. Definition: express anger or frustration. "I was so happy I was able to go to the gym tonight.  After a stressful work day it was great to blow off some steam and work out."

Break a leg. Definition: good luck, often heard in the theater world. "Break a leg at your performance tonight!"

Call it a day. Definition: declare the end of working on a task. "Ok, we have done as much as we can for now, let's call it a day"

Cat nap. Definition: short nap.  "It has been a productive morning, I am going to take a cat nap after lunch."

Disco nap. Definition: short nap usually taken before one goes out to a long evening engagement. It's 4pm I think I'll take a disco nap before we go out dancing tonight.

Get the hang of it.  Definition: To have the ability to complete a task and do it well; to go from beginner to intermediate. "It was tough at first but now I am really getting the hang of it!"

Give props to.  Definition: show appreciation for. "We would like to give props to those who helped us tonight."

Head over heels. Definition: to be very much in love. "Kim and Erica are adorable, they are head over heels for each other!"

Here and there. Definition: On occasion.  We get calls from that client here and there but not very often."

Hit me up. Definition: communicate or let one know by calling, texting, emailing etc… "Hit me up when you have finished the presentation."

Keep me in the loop/Keep me posted. Definition: stay in touch, keep one informed of your whereabouts. "keep me in the loop about your weekend plans."

Not for nothing. Definition: to call attention to the next words out of the speaker's mouth, usually followed by the word but… "Not for nothing but did you notice the look on her face when you mentioned Patagonia?" 

Ruffle feathers.  Definition: To irritate or annoy someone. "I like him but sometimes he can really ruffle my feathers."

Sea legs. Definition: The ability to keep your balance when walking on a moving ship and not feel ill.  This phrase is often used when describing mastering a task or a job without feeling overwhelmed or uneasy.  "It took me a while to get my sea legs, but now I feel confident in my work."

Take the wind out of your sails. Definition: to be disappointed. "It really took the wind out of my sails when I found out I didn't get the promotion."

Two peas in a pod.  Definition: Very similar. "Tony and Angela are like two peas in a pod; I always see them together."

Now, go out there and show what you have learned from this list. Don't be shy! Trying these idioms out is the only way to learn them!

Let us know if you have any favorites that we left out!

Ani Kington By

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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