Idiom: Cold Feet

Here we are near the end of June and most of the country is heating up, so maybe some COLD idioms will take your mind off the heat!

Joan was going to try out for the choir, but she got cold feet.

This idiom means: a loss of nerve or confidence; fear of doing something

The origins of this idiom are unclear.  Some believe it comes from having difficulty moving in water if your feet get cold or from soldiers who used cold feet as an excuse to leave the battle.


After he forgot her birthday, Emma gave him the cold shoulder.

this idiom means: to reject someone; ignore someone

In days long ago the knights were given a hot meal, but unwelcome guests at the castle only received cold mutton shoulder.

He stopped smoking cold turkey!

this idiom means: the sudden stopping of a habit

Cold turkey most likely comes from the idiom talk turkey, which was to speak in pleasant terms or to speaking plainly and directly about something. It’s time to talk turkey.

This became talk cold turkey, meaning to lay out hard facts and/or get immediately down to business.  Cold turkey is a shortening of talk cold turkey.   A person who abruptly quits a a habit isn’t just talking cold turkey; they are doing it.


Idiom: Throw in the Towel

Today’s Friday.  Did you have a good week?

If you had a difficult week you might be ready to throw in the towel!

This idiom means: to give up; quit; admit defeat

This idiom originates from the world of boxing.  In the middle 1800s, the manager of a boxer who was being badly beaten would throw a towel into the ring to signal that the fight was over; the boxer surrendered.

Hopefully after a weekend of rest you’ll be ready to pick up that towel and get back in the ring!

Idiom: Let the Cat out of the Bag

You may remember that idioms are groups of words that can be confusing because the meaning of the whole group of words taken together has little to do with the meaning of the words taken one by one.  To understand them you have to know the hidden meaning.

I’ll let one cat out of the bag-many idioms reference animals.

This idiom means: to give away a secret

It’s believed to have it’s origins centuries ago when untrustworthy merchants would put a cat in a bag that was suppose to contain a piglet.

Here are a couple more animal idioms.

Don’t tell your friend you forgot her birthday.  Better to let sleeping dogs lie.

This idiom means: don’t stir up trouble if you don’t have to

This idiom dates back to the 1200’s.  If you came upon sleeping dogs it might be best to let them sleep since you don’t know what they might do if you woke them.

I’m going to wait to walk to the car because it’s raining cats and dogs.

This idiom means: to rain heavily; a downpour

One theory about this idiom is that during heavy rains in 17th century England, cats and dogs would drown and their bodies would be found on the street as if they’d fallen from the sky with the rain.


Idioms: Out 0f Left Field

Sports are often the reference point for idioms.  If you are a baseball fan you’ve been watching lots of games.  Have many balls come…


She got fired because most of her ideas came out of left field.

This idiom means: odd, strange, unexpected

There is debate about the origins, although most relate it to baseball.  Some of the possibilities: left field is a long way from home plate,  If a runner is headed home from third a ball thrown from left field appears to come out of nowhere, a  ballpark that no longer exists in Chicago had a psychiatric institute behind the left field wall.

Idiom: Call You on the Carpet

Today’s Friday.  Did your week go well?  I hope you are on cloud nine and not…


When John’s sales figures dropped his bossed called him on the carpet.

This idiom means: to reprimand a subordinate or as for an explanation of their actions

This idiom dates back to the 1800s when servants would be called from their living quarters, which were not carpeted, to the master’s parlor to be scolded or reprimanded.

And what about on cloud nine?

This idiom means: feeling elated or happy

This idiom may come from the number classification meteorologists use for clouds with the number nine assigned to the cumulus clouds which are the big, puffy comfortable looking clouds.

Accents and Dialects in the US: Part 2

Last week’s post  looked at accents and dialects in the United States.  It asked the question:

Does a person’s accent or dialect affect how others view them?

The answer to this question has become more relevant as more job applicants search for jobs outside of their geographic area.  Stereotyping based on an applicant’s accent or dialect might impact hiring, pay rate and advancement.

A study at Stanford University looked at the effects Southern vs Standard accents had on perceptions of speakers.  The study looked to see if Southern accented speakers were seen as less wealthy, less intelligent, more friendly and more aggressive.

The data suggested that accent alone is a strong enough social cue to “trigger shifts in the social perception of speakers.” It also supported the hypothesis that Southern accented speakers would be perceived as less intelligent and less wealthy.  It did not support the hypothesis that Southern accented speakers would be perceived as more friendly or more aggressive.

Other studies have suggested that strong regional accents and dialects from other parts of the United States may affect hiring decisions.  But an accent may not always be detrimental, sometimes an accent can be beneficial.  For example: an employer may look for someone with a regional accent to work with clients in that region because those clients may put more trust in the speaker with an accent they are familiar with.

So should you change your accent?  There is not one right answer to that question.  An accent or dialect is part of who you are, a part of your heritage.  The idea of modifying it can be a touch subject and a difficult decision.  If you feel your accent is a distraction or is keeping you from job placement or advancement, you may want to explore accent modification.


Idioms: Call the Shots

The word shot can refer to many things-a doctor give you a shot, A gun fires a shot and a basketball player takes a shot, but who…


In the classroom the teacher calls the shots.

This idiom means:  to make the decisions

This idiom has several different possible origins.  It might come from warfare where the officer in charge tells the soldiers when to fire the shots or from basketball where the coach draws up the plays and tells players what shots to make.

Accents and Dialect in the US: Part 1

When you think of someone speaking with an accent you may think of people who speak English as a second language, but what about native speakers of American English?  Do some of them have accents?

First some definitions:

Accent:  a way of pronouncing words that occurs among the people in a particular region or country

Dialect:   a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations

So we refer to an accent as a dialect when the differences between it and other speakers of the same language begin to include differences in vocabulary and/or grammar. As long as the differences are primarily in pronunciation it is an accent.

When you think of regional accents or dialects you may think in general terms of Northern, Southern, East Coast, West Coast and Midwest, but in fact Robert Delaney has identified 24 regional dialects in the United States.  You can see a map and listen to some of these dialects here.

So the question is-does a person’s accent or dialect affect how others view them?

If it does, then what affect might a regional accent or dialect have on potential employers or business associates?

We’ll take a look at that next week.

In the meantime have a listen to Mapping How Americans Talk


Idioms: Green Thumb

May is often a month when people plant flowers or vegetable gardens, so today’s idiom is:


Eric’s flower garden is the best in the neighborhood. He must have a green thumb.

This idiom means:  a talent for growing things

This idiom has several different possible origins; most having to do with the green of plants rubbing off on a person’s hands if they spend a lot of time with plants.

  • Remember the /b/ at the end of thumb is silent