The informal language we use on a daily basis is full of idioms and clichés. We tend to use them so often, we don’t even realize we’re using them. Many English students enjoy learning about idioms and clichés. One student told me that he enjoys learning about idioms because it’s an inside look into the American culture. Many students feel like they’ve accomplished a “big step” when they hear and understand common idioms and clichés we use. So let’s take a further look into the world of idioms and clichés.
What Are Idioms and Clichés?
An idiom is a common phrase that has more of a figurative meaning than a literal meaning. For example, the idiom, “to hear something straight from the horse’s mouth” does not have a literal meaning. Wouldn’t that look silly? Of course, you’re never going to hear a piece of news or gossip from a horse’s mouth. But this expression is figurative meaning to hear a piece of news or gossip from an authoritative source. A cliché is a common expression that has been so overused that it has lost most of its meaning. Clichés have become a very popular form of expression.
Why Do We Use Idioms and Clichés?
Idioms and clichés are a more colourful way of expressing a simple statement. Saying, “it was a piece of cake” is a more creative and fun way to say, “that was easy“. So really, idioms and clichés are just a source of creativity where language is concerned. Not everybody can be Shakespeare, but everybody can use idioms and clichés to spice their expressions up!
5 Most Common Idioms and Their Meaning
1. “Piece of cake“ – Obviously when you’ve passed your driver’s test, your instructor didn’t give you a big piece of chocolate cake. ‘Piece of cake’ actually means that something was really easy to complete.
Example: That driver’s test was a piece of cake!
Literal Meaning: That driver’s test was so easy!
2. “When pigs fly“ – I’m guessing you’ve never seen a pig fly, and that’s because they don’t. So this idiom means that something will never happen, much like seeing a pig fly by your bedroom window.
Example: I’ll pass my exam when pigs fly.
Literal Meaning: I’m never going to pass my exam.
3. “Break a leg” – Perhaps someone has said this to you before you’ve stepped on stage for a performance, gave a big presentation for work or before an important test. And you might think, “Why would somebody want me to break my leg?” Well, they don’t… hopefully! This idiom means good look. So your friends are actually supporting you, not wishing harm on you.
Example: Break a leg!
Literal Meaning: Good luck!
4. “Let the cat out of the bag” – This idiom actually means to let out a secret that was supposed to be kept. No animal cruelty going on here!
Example: Who let the cat out of the bag?
Literal Meaning: Who told my secret?
5. “Hit the books”– If you’re an English student, you might be hearing this idiom quite a lot. It doesn’t literally mean to hit a book, but instead, it means to study.
Example: The exam is next Monday, I should hit the books.
Literal Meaning: The exam is next Monday, I should study.
So there, you have it! Of course, I can’t include and discuss every idiom and clichés in the English language because there are thousands! So if you’d like to see a complete list of common idioms, click here. And if you’d like to see a complete list of clichés, click here. The more examples you see, the more likely you will be able to understand them. So hit the books!