Tag Archives: idiom

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 wrap someone in cotton wool

to wrap somebody in cotton wool

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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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To keep your hand in

keep your hand in idiom meaning

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Yesterday I went to our regular French-Russian meeting, where we chat – in Russian, French and English – with fellow translators who work in these language pairs. As we haven’t seen each other for quite a while there was a lot of catching up to do, so we pretty much spent the first hour just chatting. One of my colleagues started a full-time office job and we were wondering whether she was going to keep translating, and she said she would like ‘to keep her hand in‘ so as not to lose touch with translation agencies and so that it’s easier to go back to freelancing when she feels like it.

While I heard of ‘getting your foot in the door‘ – which is also quite relevant for us, translators, I don’t think I’ve come across this expression with the hand, but it’s incredibly useful for the situations when you want to keep practising a skill often enough so that you do not lose it.

Some examples:

– I do a bit of teaching now and then just to keep my hand in (Cambridge Dictionary).

– “I don’t do adverts as a rule but this was great fun and it’s nice to keep your hand in. No pun intended,” he added. Gervais has starred only once before in a UK advertising campaign, in a commercial for another charity (The Guardian).

– Fiona Severs says: “It’s much harder to find a rewarding role when you’ve had a long career break than it is if you’ve managed to keep your hand in with flexible years.” (The Guardian).

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To come off

Last Saturday I watched Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which wasn’t really on my top-10 list of films to watch, but it seemed like a good choice for a relaxing Saturday night. I thought it was a bit syrupy, but the actors were good, so on balance I think it’s watchable. More importantly, I learnt a few new words and phrases (my husband constantly makes fun of how I rush to write something down as soon as I hear it, but I just can’t help it!).

One of them was ‘to come off‘ – as you might have guessed even if you haven’t watched the film,it was about introducing salmon to a man-made river in Yemen and initially most people were skeptical about the success of this venture (and rightly so!), but eventually the main character, an expert on salmon if ever there was one, said that ‘it might just come off‘, meaning, in this context, ‘it might succeed’ or ‘we might just pull it off’.

More examples:

– The warm reception that he received refuted those who wondered whether the summit would come off, or if it could accomplish anything (Oxford Dictionary).

– Actively seeking risk makes sense for venture capitalists. Many of their gambles do not come off, but some of those that make it deliver huge rewards (The Economist).

Another meaning of ‘to come off‘ – I’ve found about 5 in total – is ‘to achieve a particular result in an activity, especially a competition or fight’ (Macmillan Dictionary):

– When banks go wrong, the biggest come off worst (The Economist).

– Even above the Brits, many touring Americans come off as culturally insensitive and arrogant among other things (The Economist).

P.S. In the US ‘to come off‘ is also used as a synonym of ‘to come across as‘, which is more popular in the UK.

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Keep a wolf from the door

keep the wolf from the door idiom meaning

Photo credit: skazles.ru

Another gem from Shaun Keaveney’s breakfast show! He didn’t come up with the idiom, of course, but he reminded me of it. To cut a long story short, he was taking the mickey out of his co-presenter, Matt Everitt, saying that he might have a part-time job at ‘to keep the wolf from the door‘.

The idiom means ‘to have enough money to avert hunger or starvation’ and is used hyperbolically (Oxford Dictionary).

A couple of examples:

– Having made enough money to keep the wolf from the door I am concerned with making the world a better place, like many other people (Oxford Dictionary).

– Today, dog lovers Steve and Adele try to make their fortune from their furry friends by preening the pooches of southern Spain – but will they make enough to keep the wolf from the door? (BBC)

P.S. There’s a brilliant song by Radiohead, ‘The Wolf at the Door’.

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Geek magnet

geek magnet meaning

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The other day I went to a free self-defence workshop organised by one of the sports clothes shops here in Bristol (maybe I need to mention their name and get paid for this!). It’s not that I’ve been in any situations where I needed to resort to self-defence, but it’s always good to be prepared.

Our instructor was really experienced, both in psychology and martial arts, and she had many stories to share from her personal experience. She called herself “a geek magnet” – someone who seems to attract a disproportionate amount of weird (and sometimes dangerous) people. This is probably not a set expression just yet, but still my inner linguist was clapping her (surely my inner linguist is also female) hands, mostly because my best friend is exactly like that – a proper geek magnet – and now I know that in English there’s perfect phrase to describe her.

However, I was thinking that maybe ‘geek’ doesn’t not always have a negative connotation, and maybe ‘a weirdo magnet‘ would work equally well or even better. Indeed, there’s an entry in Urban Dictionary, with the following example:

– Ashlee is such a weirdo magnet, that guy sniffing paint just sat right next to her (Urban Dictionary)

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Bob’s your uncle

bobs_your_uncle meaning

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A few weeks ago my other half and I went to a medieval city of Wells, known for its impressive cathedral. This time we decided to go inside and explore the cathedral (not something we often do, since the entry to such places in the UK is by no means cheap). We were just in time for a guided tour, and even though I used to hate the idea of walking anywhere as a group, I started to realise that you learn much more this way. So in we went with our knowledgeable guide. Towards the end of the tour he used the phrase ‘… and Bob’s your uncle’, which at first puzzled me as I’ve never heard it before, but it seemed to mean something like ‘and here you go’.

Indeed, according to World Wide Words, ‘It’s used to show how simple it is to do something: “You put the plug in here, press that switch, and Bob’s your uncle!’

The origin of this phrase is, as usual, quite obscure, but you can find a detailed explanation on World Wide Words’ website and on Wikipedia.

I particularly like this bit: “It is sometimes elaborately phrased Robert is your mother’s brother or similar for comic effect. With his customary whimsical humour, P.G. Wodehouse (one of my favourite writers, by the way) extended it to “Robert’s your father’s nearest male relative”.

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In any shape or form

in any shape or form meaning

Photo credit: starsketchers.blogspot.co.uk

As you probably gathered from my previous post, I went to Paris last week, that’s why there’s not been many updates with new English phrases (I’ve just tried a typical British understatement – there’s been none, actually). However, I did learn quite a bit of French vocab, though I’m still not sure whether I should be sharing it here, I’ll have to think about it.

Anyway, when I came back one of the first things on my to-do list was to phone up the Hay Festival people and book some tickets – students can only do this via the phone, apparently. So, armed with a list of events I was hoping to go to, my student card and my debit card (students go free, but you need to pay a deposit), I phoned their number and one of the first questions I was asked was “Have you ever been to the Hay Festival in any shape or form?” I haven’t come across this idiom for a while, so I noted it down and carried on answering the questions. Sadly, all the events with Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins had been sold out by then, but I’m still looking forward to this event!

I thought I’d include a few examples of how “in any shape or form” (meaning “in any manner or under any circumstances”) is used. Note some slight variations:

– 96 per cent of the electorate voted against Europeanization in any shape or form (Oxford Dictionaries)

– BBC News arts editor Will Gompertz suggested that the four all “make work that is in some way, shape or form, a collage (BBC – oops, BBC missed a comma between ‘way’ and ‘shape’).

– The opposition parties know that the only way to break Labour’s stranglehold on Wales is to come together, or work together in some shape or form (BBC).

– It’s worth recalling that UN security council resolution 1973, passed last month, does not authorise member states to support the rebels, to defend armed groups, or to oust Gaddafi. Nor does it authorise an Iraq-style ground invasion or military occupation, in any shape or form, size or scale. But in reality, much of this is now happening, willy-nilly. Make no mistake: the creep is on (The Guardian).

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