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I. Introduction
II. Main part
“Animal” idioms.
“Colour” idioms.III. Conclusion.
IV. Bibliography.
An idiom by definition is a sequence of words which
has a different meaning
as a group from the meaning it would have if you un
derstood each word separately.
Idioms add colour to the language, helping us to emphasise meaning and to make
our observations, judgements, and explanations live
ly and interesting. They are
also very useful tools for communicating a great de
al of meaning in just a few
In the English language idioms are used in a wide v
ariety of contexts and
situations. They are often used in spoken language,
in situations that range from
friendly conversations to business meetings.
Idioms are used in written English as well, especially in journalism where
writers frequently use them to bring their stories
to life.
Our aim in writing this very work was not, of course, to reflect the wide
range of idioms that are being used in British and
American English today as it is
impossible within the format. This work is just focused on some kinds of idioms,
namely “animal” and “colour” idioms. They are deemed to be essential for the
students to learn and use at school. Some idioms with metaphorical meanings are
fairly easy to understand, some are less obvious. A
ll of them, including similes,
were selected on the basis that they are phrases with pragmatic uses.
Students at the secondary school should be taught h
ow to understand idioms
and make their speech contain expressions that are
natural to a native speaker of a
Apparently, the students’ ability to speak and writ
e fluent and idiomatic
English should be the teacher’s first concern.
There are plenty of idioms in English that are draw
n from animal life. For
example, when the English do two things at one and
the same time they “kill two
birds with one stone”, or, if they are greedy and f
oolish, they “kill the goose that
lays the golden eggs”.
A bad-tempered person is “like a bear with a sore h
ead”, an awkward,
heavy-footed person is “like a bull in a china shop
But let us leave the foolish person, or the bad per
son, “the black sheep”, the man
who has “gone to the dogs”.
Anyway, let’s consider the wise man.
He never “counts his chicken before they are hatched” or “buys a pig in a poke”
(poke =bag) – he always examines carefully what he
is buying before he pays his
money. He will always, of course, do things in the
right order and not try to “put
the cart before the horse”. He will leave alone things that might cause trouble; as
he would say, “let sleeping dogs lie”; nor will he
waste good things on people who
can’t appreciate them; he doesn’t believe in “casting pearls before swine (cast =
throw; swine is an old word for pigs).
There are some people who always take safety measures when it is too late
and “lock the stable door after the horse is stolen
”. That, he considers, is as foolish
as putting the cart before the horse. When bold decisive measures are necessary he
takes them and “takes the bull by the horns”, and w
hen an ill-tempered, sharp-
tongued friend says something unpleasant, he doesn’
t worry too much, he knows
“his bark is worse than his bite”. If he knows a se
cret, he keeps it; he is not one to
“Let the cat out of the bag”.
He is full of sound common sense, “horse sense” he
calls it, and he doesn’t
believe in making changes while a job is in progress; that would be “changing
horses in midstream” – a risky business.
He knows, too, that there are some things you can f
orce people to do. As he
would say, “you can lead a horse to the water, but
you can’t make it drink”
And he would, of course, be too generous-hearted to “look a gift horse in the
mouse”. He is a cheerful, hard-working fellow, “works like a horse” (if others call
him an “eager beaver”, he is too enthusiastic, too
keen and works harder than he
He hopes that he will always be like that and “die
in harness.” He isn’t proud,
“riding the high horse”, and he is always willing t
o help others in difficulty,
“putting his shoulder to the wheel” or “helping lam
e dogs over stiles”.
He pities the poor fellow who has “never had a
dog’s chance” and “leads a
dog’s life”, perhaps because misfortune has always
“dogged his footsteps”.
Our hero and his wife get on very well together; they don’t lead a “cat and dog
life”. She, of course, never makes “catty” remarks,
nor will she fuss “like a cat on
hot bricks” if he goes out when it is “raining cats
and dogs”. She doesn’t worry too
much; she knows that “care killed a cat”. She has h
er independence of mind, too,
and knows that the humblest have their rights even
in the presence of the greatest.
As she says, “a cat may look at a king”.
Our wise man isn’t easily deceived, for when y
ou try to trick him with a cock-
and-bull story he, like his dog, “smells a rat”.
He is careful what company he keeps. “Birds of
a feather flock together’, he
says, and he mixes with people of his own kind, not
with “queer fish”. With them
he would feel “like a fish out of water”.
He is making a success in life, too. If you give him a difficult job to do, you will
find you’ve “backed a winner” (to back = to put a b
et on. The idiom is, of course,
taken from horse-racing).
Three or four other men tried for a job he is doing
but he “left them at the post”.
You know that for a fact, you got it “straight from
the horse’s mouth”; from a man
who had entrusted him with a big job.
We’d better stop or you’ll think we are “riding our horse to death”.
It is extremely important to encourage the students
to give the corresponding
Russian expressions to some similes, for instance:
as strong as an ox
as hungry as a horse (a hunter)
as slow as a snail
as quiet as a mouse
as wise as an awl
as gentle as a lamb
as stubborn as a mule
as proud as a peacock
as sick as a dog
as brave as a lion
as busy as a bee
as blind as a bat
as cunning as a fox
Such kind of assignment can inspire the understanding and appreciation of proper
translation from Russian into English and vice versa.
as strong as an ox
as hungry as a horse (a hunter)
as quiet as a mouse
at a snail’s pace
There are numerous “colour’ idioms in the English l
Here are some grouped under the various colours.
When I hear of cruelty to animals it makes me
see red
(=become violently angry).
saw red
. He was absolutely furious!
I caught the thief
red-handed(=in the very act).
You are not answering my question. You are trying t
draw a red herring across
the track
lead the attention away from the real point).
As soon as he led the conversation round to borrowing money I
saw the red light
(= was aware of approaching danger).
On boat - race night the College students
paint the town red
(=have a gay, high-spirited, noisy time).
We decided to celebrate by going out and
painting the town red
“I come from a modern country, where we have everything that money can buy;
and with all our spry young fellows
painting the Old World red
...” (Mr. Hiram
B.Otis, Oscar Wilde, “The Canterville Ghost”).
The mention of that man’s name to him is like
a red rag
to a bull (= something that
causes violent anger).
Florence Nightingale was only one who cared nothing
for regulations and
red-tape: Papers in Government offices, lawyers’ offices, e
tc., are often tied with
pink or red tape (i.e., thin band of cotton cloth).
So the phrase is used to mean rules
and regulations in Government affairs that make it
difficult to get business done
I wanted to apply for a visa but a friend told me t
here is so much
red tape
, I’ve
decided to forget about it.
officials ordered an investigation into the accident.
When the visitors from Japan arrived, the company g
ave them
the red carpet
red eye
take the red eye means to take a journey
in a plane that continues all night
red - faced
embarrassed or ashamed
red flag
something that shows or warns you that
something might be wrong
red -handed
catch sb. red-handed means to catch
someone at the moment when they are
doing something wrong.
someone who has red hair
red herring
a fact or idea that is not important but is
introduced to take your attention away
from the points that are important
a book with yellow pages that gives a list of
companies and organizations and their
telephone numbers, arranged according to the
type of services they offer
yellow press
journalism that treats news in an
unprofessional or unethical fashion
yellow fever
an infectious tropical disease that makes the
skin turn yellow and often causes death
an offensive word used to describe the light
brown skin of people from Eastern Asian
yellow card
(in football) a card shown by a referee to a
player as warning about bad behaviour
he reds and
yellowsof the trees
view of leaves on the trees in autumn
yellow hammer
a small bird, the mail of which has a yellow
head, neck and breast (
yellow line
a yellow line painted at the side of a road to
show that you can only park your car there at
particular times or for a short time
double yellow lines
two lines that mean you cannot park there at
Are you afraid to fight? You’re not
yellow, are you? Come on, don’t be a coward
He was
bluein the face with cold.
I’m feeling rather
in the blues
) today (=rather miserable, “down in the
He got his
bluefor football
. (At Oxford or Cambridge a man who has been chosen
to represent his University at football, rowing, cricket, etc., is given his “coloures”,
light blue for Cambridge, dark blue for Oxford).
He spends all his time reading
blue books
(=Government publications).
A thing like that only happens once
in a blue moon
(=very rarely).
You can talk till
all is blue
. (= as long as you like) but I shan’t believe you.
The news was a great shock to me; it came absolutely
out of the blue
(= was quite unexpected).
You can argue with me until you’re
blue in the face
The news of their marriage came as
a bolt from the blue
She had only recently had lunch with her cousin, so
the news of his death came as
a bolt from the blue
blue baby the baby whose skin is slightly blue when it is born
because it has a heart problem
blue - blooded a blue – blooded person belongs to a
royal or noble
blue book a book with a list of prices that you can
expect to pay
for any used car
blue - bottle
a large blue fly
blue -chip blue –chip companies/shares etc. companies or
shares that make a profit and are considered safe
blue - collar blue – collar workers do physical work, rather than
working in office (white-collar, pink-collar)
blue-eyed boy the man or boy in a group who is most
liked and
approved of by someone in authority
bluegrass a type of music from the southern and western US,
played on instruments such as the guitar and violin
(to bluejack
a bluejacker)
the practice of using a mobile phone with Bluetooth
technology to send a text message to another person
near you, without letting them know who has sent the
message. This is usually done as a joke to surprise
the person who receives the message
blue law a law used in the past in the US to control activities
that were considered immoral, such as drinking
alcohol and working on Sundays
a plan for achieving something
blue ribbon the first prize in a competition, sometimes consisting
of a small piece of blue material
blue sky concerned with thinking of new and interesting ideas,
without worrying about whether they are practical o
blue stocking a woman who is more interested in ide
as and
studying than in parties, men, etc.
Bluetooth trademark; a system that allows you to co
computer equipment, such as a keyboard or printer,
to a computer that is near it by using radio waves
instead of wires. You can also use the system to
connect a mobile phone to a computer without using
His behaviour was
the pink of perfection
(= perfect).
“How are you?” “Oh, I’m
in the pink
” (=very well)(Slang).
He looks at life through
rose-coloured spectacles
(= optimistically, seeing
everything in a pleasant light).
Pink-collar jobs
/ workers/ industries, etc. are low-paid jobs done
mainly by
women, for example in offices and restaurants, or t
he women who do these jobs.
There is a common prejudice that girls who are very
beautiful must automatically
be lacking in
grey matter
– so-called “dumb blondes”.
grey matter –
a person’s intelligence).
I hope you live to
a green old age
(= age full of youthful strength.
He is very
green(= easily deceived) (Slang).
She was
green with jealousy
(= very jealous).
I was
green with envy
when my neighbour drove up in a brand new
She was absolutely
green with envy
when I won a trip to Los Angeles.
After several weeks of discussions, the group was g
iventhe green light
and could finally go ahead with the new project.
If the city authorities give
the green light
to the new conservation
project, it will begin next year.
My mother has got
green fingers
. Everything she plants in the garden
grows well.
Tony can’t be trusted with too much responsibility
yet, he is still
I am interested in the environment and in
green issues
green audit an examination of the activities of an
organization in order to see how much it
harms the environment and how much energy
it uses
green belt an area of land around a city where building is
not allowed, in order to protect fields and
green card 1)a document that a foreigner must have
order to work legally in the US
2) a British motor insurance document that
you need when you drive abroad
greenfield site
a piece of land that has never been built on
someone who lacks experience of something
greenhouse effect the gradual warming of the air surrounding the
Earth as a result of heat being trapped by
green light
to give sb/sth the green light means to allow a
project, plan, etc. to begin
green paper
a document produced by the British
government containing proposals to be
green room
the room in a theatre, television studio, etc. in
which performers wait when they are not on
stage performing
I won’t believe it useless unless I see it in black
and white.
I’m sorry, James. I refuse to believe it useless you can show it to me
in black and
Once it’s down
in black and white
, you can’t forget it!
After the fight one of the boxes had
a black eye
You can never believe what he says; he will swear
black is white
if it suits his
If Hob doesn’t work harder he will get in Mr. Pries
black books
(=out of favour).
(“Black book” = “Blacklist” ;during the reign of Ki
ng Charles II, however, it
involved black books where he kept the names of those involved in his father’s
Many people in the industry
were blacklisted
for their communist sympathies.
Friends of the Earth have produced
a blacklist
of environmentally damaging
Arbroath is now the unemployment
blackspotof northeast Scotland
England’s wealth was built up on diamonds –
black diamonds
He got many
black looks
(=looks of displeasure) for his speech criticisingthe
The man tried to persuade
the blacklegs
not to work while they were on strike (=
men who are not in a trade union and who work while
their fellows are on strike).
They tried to force the men to give money by
blackmail(= threats, often a threat to
reveal some guilty secret).
They are rather ashamed of George; he is
the black sheep
of the family (=person
with a bad character).
If I don’t finish my report in time, that’ll be another
black mark
my name.
In most countries, goods that are scarce are usually freely available on
the black
market– provided you have the money to pay for them.
Breaking the window was
a black mark against you
. Be careful next time.
Driving conditions are dangerous, with
black ice
in many areas.
black and blue
skin that is black and blue has bruises
on it as a result of being hit
black and white
in written form and therefore definite
black ball
to vote against someone, especially so
that they cannot join a club or a social
black belt
a high rank in sports such as judo and
black comedy
a play, story, etc. that is funny, but also
shows the unpleasant side of human life
black economy
business activity that takes place
secretly, especially in order to avoid tax
black eye
if you have a black eye, you have a dark
area around your eye because you have
been hit
black humour
jokes or funny stories that deal with the
unpleasant parts of human life
black sheep
someone who is regarded by other
members of their family or group as a
failure or embarrassment
Jan’s factory is an absolute
white elephant
(=something valuable but useless, of
which the owner would be glad to be free).(It is said that the King of Siam used to
a white elephant
to countries that he wanted to ruin.).
When the theatre was first opened it was widely regarded as
a white elephant.
Though I believe in telling the truth I think
a white lie
(=a lie told for a good
purpose) is sometimes justified.
He boasted a lot about his courage but when the danger came he
showed the white
(= was a coward).
Many attempts have been made to
the man’s reputation (=to make it
appear good and honourable) but the fact remains that he is a rogue.
as white as a sheet
. Have you seen a ghost or something?
went white as a sheet
when she heard about the accident.
I won’t believe it useless unless I see it
in black and white
I’m sorry, James. I refuse to believe it useless you can show it to me
in black and
Sometimes it is better to tell
a white lie
than to hurt someone’s feelings.
a white Christmas
a Christmas when there is snow
white coffee
white coffee has milk or cream in it
white bread
relating to white people who are considered
traditional and boring in their opinions and way of
white collar
white collar workers have jobs in offices, banks,
etc. rather than jobs working in factories, building
thing, etc.
white elephant
something that is completely useless, although it
may have cost a lot of money
white flag
a sign that you accept that you have failed or been
white goods equipment used in the home, for example
machines and refrigerators
white horses waves in the sea or on a lake that are
white at the
white knight a person or company that puts money in
to a
business in order to save it from being controlled
by another country
white - knuckled
if you have white – knuckled hands, your hands are
held tightly in a fist because you are anxious or
white lie
a lie that you tell someone in order to protect the
or avoid hurting their feelings
white supremacist someone who believes that white p
eople are better
than people of other races
report or examination of events that hides the true
facts about something so that the person who is
responsible will not be punished
white water
a part of a river that looks white because the water
is running very quickly over rocks: whitewater
white wedding
a traditional wedding at which the bride wears a
long white dress
Anyway, idiomatic expression can be defined as one
that is natural for a
normal Englishman to say or to write.
There is no way to increase your vocabulary and speak more natural English
but studying the idioms and expressions.
Idiomatic expressions of every kind in English are
rapidly changing. Several
forces are at work to change English idioms.
In many ways a language shapes the thoughts of the
people who speak it, but
the speakers also shape the language.
If enough people start saying or writing a certain
expression, it will become
It is not necessary to understand idiom. It is only
necessary to accept it.

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