What is it all about?

I have a confession to make. Ever since moving to the UK I’ve kept my ears open for the new words, expressions, idioms and quirky phrases that I haven’t heard before. I must say, I went even further, scribbling down these linguistic revelations during meetings, lectures or bus rides.

Every word, expression or an idiom is set in context in which I heard it and boosted by more examples for your enjoyment. While most of the examples are taken from reputable websites, I humbly invent some myself in the hope that they are right, so don’t take everything you see here as gospel, take it with a pinch of salt instead!

Country bumpkin

country bumpkin phrase

Photo credit: tumblr.com

A few weeks ago while driving I tuned in to BBC Radio 4 and there was a great programme on (no, not ‘The Archers’), called ‘A Journey through English’. It follows the ‘longest continuous train journey in Britain’, from Aberdeen to Penzance, and describes how English accents change as you travel from Scotland to the South West. I was particularly interested in the accents in and around the area where I live – Bristol, but also Somerset and Devon.

There was a lady from Somerset, who said that because of her accent people can think of her as a ‘country bumpkin‘. I thought it was a very amusing phrase well worth of a blog post.

Here are some more examples:

  • A country bumpkin from Brittany, seduced by a corrupt banking system and the avarice of his bosses, or “a crook, a fraud and a terrorist”? These were the competing descriptions that a French court was asked to weigh in the case of Jérôme Kerviel, a rogue trader who almost laid low Société Générale, France’s second-biggest bank (The Economist).
  • But, as the book shows, Mr Hun Sen’s ascent from country bumpkin to virtual deity, with little formal education, is remarkable (The Economist).

I’ll leave you to it / I’ll let you get on with it

leave you to it phrase

Photo credit: © H. Armstrong Roberts/CORBIS

We have a very friendly lady who lives in the same building and, considering I go out for a walk with Alisa at least twice a day, we bump into her quite often. She always stops to chat to us (unless I look too busy / too stressed / about to burst into tears) and she loves to talk to Alisa in the hope that she’ll give her a smile (which she does most of the time). I’ve noticed that the lady quite often says ‘I’ll leave you to it‘ or “I’ll let you get on with it” when she feels she’s been chatting long enough, and I think these two phrases are very useful. And very British!

If you want to know a bit more about it, here’s a great link!

P.S. The picture reminded me of my brother, who was very independent and rather advanced for his age as a child. According to the family legend, he used to finish telephone conversations with our mum by saying very matter-of-factly, ‘Is that everything? I’m putting down the receiver’.

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To plonk yourself

plonk meaning

Photo credit: micro-scooters.co.uk

Today I ventured out to a BuggyFit class with Alisa in tow for the third time. I really like that she gets some fresh air, while mummy gets some exercise.

It is a bit of a faff to get Alisa in the car, get the buggy in the car, drive, then repeat in the reverse order, but it’s totally worth it (especially when I get to learn a new phrase on the way).

As I was pushing the buggy from the car to the meeting point there were a couple of kids riding towards us on their scooters, and one suddenly cut across, totally oblivious of everyone else, and got told off by his mum. ‘You just plonked yourself in front of this lady with a baby’, she said.

I knew that you could ‘plonk yourself on the sofa’, but I didn’t know that you could ‘plonk yourself‘ somewhere while riding a scooter!

Here’re some more examples:

  • Bored with sarnies? Pick up a Tiffin box packed with curry, dhal, nan bread, Indian desserts and a Cobra beer or soft drink from Voujon on Newington Road. Then plonk yourself in the Botanic Garden  (The Guardian).
  • Just minutes from fairytale Lake Vyrnwy, this Welsh farmhouse has oak beams and log fires. You can plonk yourself in the hot tub, pour a glass of fizz and gaze out over mid-Welsh hills (The Guardian). – Oh I’d love that.
  • Grab a heap of books, plonk yourself down with your baby on your knee, and begin. Turn the pages, point to the pictures, and ENJOY  (The Guardian).
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That’s a different kettle of fish

fish kettle

Photo credit: rosekentishkitchen.blogspot.com

Monday was a bank holiday in the UK and we benefited from some more time to spend together as a family. This also meant that we didn’t have to cram all the things into just two days and could do our grocery shopping on Monday. I went online to check opening hours of a local Waitrose (disclaimer: we don’t always shop in Waitrose, it’s more of a treat really) and while I was looking at a general information about the branch I noticed that you can borrow champagne flutes and… a fish kettle there! Now that was exciting. I googled “fish kettle” and realised it was an oval pan.

However, whenever I’ve heard an idiom “that’s a different kettle of fish” I always imagined a regular kettle (OK, perhaps not an electric one), and wondered how you were supposed to squeeze a fish in there and whether the tea would stink of fish afterwards. I should have known better!

The idiom means ‘to be completely different from something or someone else that has been talked about’ (Cambridge Dictionary). However, its origin – as is usually the case with idioms – is far from clear. You can check Michael Quinion’s website for more information.

Here are some examples of its usagethough:

  • Matthew Kneale had a well-deserved critical and commercial hit in 2000 with his Whitbread prize-winning novel “English Passengers”, about 19th-century Tasmania. His new collection of short stories is a completely different kettle of fish. It is resolutely up to the minute, with its quaint Italian villagers shopping at IKEA—and, with one or two exceptions, also middle-class and metropolitan (The Economist).
  • I do not really get inflamed at the thought of some busybody checking out my books, or looking at which clothes I have packed, although, in a straw poll of the office, it seems I am alone in this. But trying to log on to a computer or tablet is a very different kettle of fish (The Economist).
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To tide you over

tide you over phrase meaning

Photo credit: tidetimes.co.uk

(Gosh, I really struggled to find an appropriate image for this one!)

When I need some baby items that I want to buy second-hand (or, more often, when I have an episode of good old procrastination), I head over to the local Facebook page where mums sell their unwanted baby stuff. Recently there was a table and two benches for sale, which the poster bought ‘just to tide us over‘. I’ve come across this handy expression before and thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to update my blog, which has been somewhat neglected lately.

I also heard this expression recently in one of those annoying ads that pop up on YouTube every time I want to watch a yoga video. It was some yogurt drink that is supposed to ‘tide you over‘ until dinner.

Here are some more examples:

  • The problem with exercise is the whole short-term loss v long-term gain issue. GymPact does a good job of getting around that by introducing a short-term gain (cash!) to tide you over till the long-term gain (buns o’ steel) kicks in (The Guardian)
  • You should be able to claim against the airline for essential items to tide you over until your luggage arrives. The airline will usually give you cash or reimburse you if you provide receipts (The Guardian).
  • Have a high protein snack late in the afternoon to tide you over until dinner (discovergoodnutrition.com)
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To wrap someone in cotton wool

to wrap somebody in cotton wool

Photo credit: uk.lifestyle.yahoo.com

I know my posts are becoming more and more spaced out, but I’m not giving up on this blog! So here’s a quick post on a new phrase that I heard on the radio. I teach on Saturday mornings and on my way there and back I like to listen to BBC Radio 4, so last week I caught Desert Island Disks with Warwick Davis. He talked about his rare genetic disorder, but said that despite his ill health his parents never wrapped him in cotton wool. This means to be overprotective towards someone (usually a child, I would assume).

Here are some more examples:

  • Wrapping your children in cotton wool and living every day as if a multitude of dangers were each crowding out the other to get their fangs into them still seems to me an unhealthy message to broadcast. If your parents allow you to climb trees, sometimes you will fall off them. If you’re allowed to go wandering alone in a wood, sometimes you’re going to get lost (The Guardian).
  • Constantly wrapping children in cotton wool can leave them ill equipped to deal with stressful or challenging situations they might encounter later in life… Cotton-wool parenting is taxing for the parent; wearing for the child. And it’s unnecessary (Bikehub.co.uk)

I wonder if I am a cotton-wool parent? At times I think I am rather irresponsible, but not unreasonably so.

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I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it

I stopped teaching when I had Alisa, but 7 months on I have a new student learning Russian and I’m really enjoying our lessons. On Saturday he asked me about words in Russian that can be used at the beginning of a phrase, or as a filler, but I know that once students learn a filler word it’s impossible to unlearn it – it crops up everywhere! So I diplomatically evaded this and my student said ‘OK, I will cross that bridge when I come to it‘, which is a wonderful phrase, and brand new to me!

The meaning is fairly clear – it’s about dealing with a problem only when it arises.

Here are some examples:

  • You’ll need to repave it every few years, but I guess you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it (Oxford Dictionaries)
  • ‘What if the flight is delayed?’ ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.‘ (The Free Dictionary)
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I spoke too soon

i spoke too soon phrase

Photo credit: masetv.com

One thing I realised pretty soon after having a baby was that the moment you think you have it all figured out and under control – be it feeding, napping, sleeping at night or understanding your baby’s cues – things suddenly change! I guess many mothers would agree.

A few weeks ago when we went to a Baby Club run by the local children’s centre. I try to go every week, as it’s one of the few opportunities I get to speak English (and just speak to somebody other than my husband and baby!), unless Alisa decides to have a nap right before we’re supposed to leave.

Last time we went there was a mum whose baby seemed tired and unsettled, so she fed and cuddled her, it seemed to work, so she said ‘You seem pretty chilled now’, and the baby started crying again. ‘I spoke too soon!‘ said the mum. It’s a great expression that I haven’t really come across before and it’s definitely handy for talking about your baby!

A few more examples:

  • He won’t be home for hours yet … Oh, I spoke too soon – here he is now! (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)
  • A few days ago I said my job is pretty stress-free, but I spoke too soonthe stress level at work has gone way up this week (The Free Dicitonary).
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