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Top 18 American Idioms According To Research

 

Language is much more than just vocabulary and grammar. It consists of multiple elements, including idioms. Learning idioms goes beyond learning vocabulary. It is about learning the culture, as they reflect social norms, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions.

These fixed expressions are a fascinating and colorful part of the English language, and they highly affect fluency, but they are quite difficult to teach and learn. One of the reasons is that they don't have literal meanings. You may know all the words in the idiom, but that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll know the meaning of the expression.

They are also very difficult to learn, simply because there are so many! So where should you start? According to a recent corpus-based study, analyzing over 520 million words, these are some of the most common English idioms in today’s American English.

1. The bottom line

The bottom line is the fundamental and most important factor. It refers to the most important and basic part of what you are discussing.

Examples:

  • The bottom line is she’s still working here.
  • The bottom line is storage isn't the problem. The problem is our ability to record and retrieve data.
  • The bottom line is that the great majority of our employees prefer to work from home.

The bottom line may also refer to the final total of an account or balance sheet. It is literally the final line in the accounts of an organization, stating the total profit or loss that has been made.

Examples:

  • How will the rise in interest rates affect our bottom line?
  • Many companies see that becoming more energy efficient, recycling waste, and having a good corporate image can all help the bottom line.

2. At the end of the day

At the end of the day is what that you say before you give the most important fact of a situation. You may be talking about what happens after a long series of events or what appears to be the case after you have considered the relevant facts.

Examples:

  • Of course I'll listen to what she has to say but at the end of the day, it's my decision.
  • At the end of the day, it's up to them to decide.
  • At the end of the day, the board's not going to be concerned with three or four more dollars.

3. In the long run 🏃

In the long run (also: in the long term) means at some time far away in the future. 

Examples:

  • It seems a lot of effort but I'm sure it's the best solution in the long run.
  • I wanted to quit school many times, but I knew I would regret it in the long run.

4. All over the place

When we say that something is happening all over the place, it means it is happening in many different locations.

Examples:

  • Businesses are closing down all over the place.
  • I keep seeing job offers for developers all over the place.

If things are all over the place, they are spread over a very large area, usually in a disorganized way.

Examples:

  • Our fingerprints are probably all over the place.
  • Their office looked very messey. They had dirty coffee mugs all over the place.

If you say that someone is all over the place, you mean that they are confused or disorganized, and unable to think clearly or act properly.

Examples:

  • He’s usually careful and diligent but today’s he’s all over the place.
  • Excuse me, I didn’t sleep well last night and I’m all over the place today.

5. Rule of thumb 👍

A rule of thumb practical and approximate way of doing or measuring something that is not exact but is based on experience.

Examples:

    • A good rule of thumb is that a broker must generate sales of ten times his salary. (Collins Dictionary)
    • As a rule of thumb, we should be able to write two articles every week.

6. Across the board 

Across the board means applying to all; affecting everyone or everything within an organization, system, or society. If something happens across the board, it happens or has an effect on people at every level and in every area.

Examples:

    • Are we updating these policies across the board or just in the sales department?
    • The cutbacks might be across the board.
    • They have promised to reduce taxation across the board.
    • The improvement has been across the board, with all divisions either increasing profits or reducing losses.
    • The initiative has across-the-board support.

7. Spring to mind (also: come to mind) 💡

If something springs to mind (or comes to mind), you think of it without making any effort.

Examples:

    • Say the word "Caribbean" and a vision of sand and blue seas immediately springs to mind.
    • When I think of my manager, kindness and hard work are words that spring to mind.
    • When I think of effective business English training, Talaera springs to mind.

8. Do the trick

If something does the trick, it achieves what you wanted, or it achieves the required result.

Examples:

    • If these quick tips don’t do the trick, please reach out to Stephen. He’ll be able to help you.
    • I need something to put these papers in – this folder should do the trick.

9. Pave the way 

To pave the way for something else is to make the other thing possible, to prepare the way for it or facilitate its introduction. It is about creating the circumstances to enable (something) to happen or be done.

Examples:

    • The proposals will pave the way for a resolution to the problem.
    • Scientists hope that data from the probe will pave the way for a more detailed exploration of Mars. (Cambridge Dictionary)

10. Follow suit 👣

To follow suit is to do the same as someone else.

Examples:

    • Jeff skipped work and his team members followed suit.
    • When one airline reduces its ticket prices, the rest usually follow suit.

11. Big deal

big deal is something considered important.

Examples:

    • The cost didn't seem like much to me, but I know it was a big deal for many people.
    • Don't worry, it's not a big deal.
    • This event sounds like a pretty big deal.

12. Behind closed doors 🚪🗝️

When you do something behind closed doors, you do it in private.

Examples:

    • It's hard for me to know exactly what's going on behind closed doors.
    • All of their meetings are held behind closed doors.
    • They seem like a close-knit team, but you never know what happens behind closed doors.

13. On the record / Off the record

When something is on the record, it is recorded and publicly or officially declared or known. If you say something off the record, you share it in confidence and not for publication.

Examples:

    • I just wanted to onfirm what you told me on the record.
    • At the end of the meeting, he made some off-the-record comments.
    • May I speak off the record?

14. Be history

In informal English, if you say that something is history, you perceive it as no longer relevant. It is used to indicate that someone or something is about to leave or disappear.

Examples:

    • They sounded like a promising venture, but as soon as the crisis started, they were history.
    • I hope this is all history by next year.
    • Luckily, my awful headaches are history!

15. Let it go 🕊️

This idiom's popularity skyrocketed with the launch of Frozen. To let it go means to forget it or stop worrying about it. 

Examples:

    • Their behavior was unacceptable, but we need to move on. Please, let it go.
    • I could have disagreed with him, but I let it go. I don’t like arguments.

16. Go public 📈

To go public means to start selling its shares on the stock exchange. When a company goes public, it becomes a company in which anyone can invest. 

Examples:

    • The company went public in 2018.
    • The company's share price has nearly quadrupled since it went public.

17. For the record 🎥

When you want to say something publicly and officially and you want it to be written down and remembered, you can say that is is for the record. When you give information for the record, you give it in case people might find it helpful later, even if it doesn't sound fully relevant to the current topic.

Examples:

    • For the record, I have never met the CEO.
    • For the record, I was totally unaware of these developments.
    • Just for the record, my title is Dr. not Ms.

18. Off the hook 🎣

Off the hook is an informal way to indicate that you are no longer in trouble. If you get someone off the hook, you release from some difficulty or obligation.

Examples:

    • I think she lided to get him off the hook.
    • This time there was no one around to get him off the hook.
    • Her brother paid all her bills and got her off the hook.

These American idioms are the most frequent ones in spoken, academic, and journalistic English. You may also want to learn some common business idioms (the ones you'll hear more frequently at work). 

Keep Improving Your Business English

Learning idioms can immensely help you improve your fluency in English. Start with these common idioms. Pick one or two American idiomatic expressions and try to use them this week in a conversation with a colleague or friend.

If you are serious about improving your business English skills, get in touch with Talaera. We will help you take your professional English communication skills to the next level.

Continue improving your communication skills for professional situations with our free resources.

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For any additional information or questions, you can also reach out at hello@talaera.com. Interested in getting the best offers and receiving free content on Business English communication? Subscribe to our newsletter and we will keep you in the loop with offers, free events, and development materials! 

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Talaera Talks - Transcript Episode 63

This article works as supporting material for our podcast episode 63. You can read the transcript below. Make sure you check out all our other Talaera Talks episodes and subscribe to get new episode alerts. Listen to the episode on your favorite platform.

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Intro
Welcome to Talaera Talks, the business English communication podcast for non-native professionals. My name is Paola and I am co-hosting this show with Simon. In this podcast, we're going to be covering communication advice and tips to help express yourself with confidence in English in professional settings. So we hope you enjoy the show!

Paola Pascual 0:24
Hello, there. I'm back. This is Paola and I have a very practical Talaera Bit for you today. I'm sure that you know by now that language is much more than learning vocabulary and grammar, right? It- there are so many other elements. And one of them is idioms. Right? And as you know, learning idioms goes beyond learning vocabulary. It's about learning the culture, because when you learn the idioms, you will see, you know, social norms, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, you will see them all reflected, right. And, in my opinion, these fixed expressions are a fascinating and colorful part of the English language. And they also highly affect your fluency. But they're quite difficult to learn and teach.

Paola Pascual 1:16
One of the reasons they're very difficult to learn is because knowing all the words in the idiom doesn't guarantee that you'll know the meaning of the full expression. For example, let's say I tell you, come on, don't throw in the towel. Perhaps you know all the words in that expression, right? You know, don't, throw, towel. But perhaps you to know that what I'm actually telling you is, come on, don't give up. Right? So that's one reason they're tricky.

Paola Pascual 1:47
The other reason is because there are so many. So where do you even start? Well, here's the solution that I have for you today. I looked at a wonderful corpus based study, where they analyzed the frequency of different idioms in today's American English. They analyzed a lot of words, I think, over 520 million, and this is what they found. So that's exactly what I have for you today. In this Talaera Bit, I'm going to share from that list 10 of the most frequent idioms in today's American English, but do check out the article that I'm going to add in the comments. Because there you will find a longer list with the most frequent idioms with their definitions and examples, as always. All right. Ready? Here we go.

Paola Pascual 2:40
The first idiom that I want to share with you, you might know it, is the bottom line, super common also in business. And it has different meanings. One of them is the most important and basic part of what you're discussing. Yeah, it's the most important the most critical factor. That is the bottom line. For example, the bottom line is that she's still work in here. Or the bottom line is, storage isn't the problem. The problem is our ability to record and retrieve data. Another example, the bottom line is that the great majority of our employees prefer to work from home. Right? It means, okay, we were having a discussion. But the most important factor, or the most basic part of what we were saying is this. That is the bottom line. And the other meaning of the bottom line is when we talk about the financial situation of an organization. And it's it usually refers to that final total of an account or balance sheet. You know, it's the literally the final line in the accounts of an organization. And that's where you can see the total profit or loss that has been made. A very common question could be, okay, how will the (for example), rise in interest rates affect our bottom line? Or another example, many companies see that becoming more energy efficient, recycling waste, and having a good corporate image can help the bottom line. It can help them financially. Alright, that's one of them. The bottom line.

Paola Pascual 4:32
The second one is at the end of the day, I use this one quite a bit. And it's something that you say, before you give the most important facts of the situation, right? You were elaborating on your point and then you come to the punch line. That's when you use at the end of the day. Yeah. Here's an example. Of course. I listen to what she has to say but at At the end of the day, it's my decision. Or, at the end of the day, it's up to them to decide. It's similar to ultimately, right? The end of the day, the board's not going to be concerned with three or four more dollars. Awesome. So that is, at the end of the day.

Paola Pascual 5:19
Number three, is in the long run. You may also say in the long term, and it we say, as we say, this idiom one, we've referred to a time that's far away in the future, I would just want to say, well, at some time in the future, this is what will happen. For example, it seems like a lot of effort, but I'm sure it's the best solution in the long run,. Or something that you may relate to, I wanted to quit school many times, but I knew I would regret it in the long run. Yeah, in the long run.

Paola Pascual 5:56
Number four, all over the place. This one also has quite a few different definitions. All over the place. Okay. If something is happening all over the place, it's happening in many different places. For example, unfortunately, businesses are closing down all over the place. Yeah, in many different places. If I tell you that things are all over the place, it means they are spread over in a, you know, perhaps over a large area, and usually in a disorganized why. Our fingerprints are probably all over the place. Or lots of papers, or the papers and the notes were all over the place. Yeah, they're spread, usually in a disorganized way. So the first one was happening in many different places. The second one is when things are spread over a large area in a disorganized way. And the third one, is if you say that someone, not something, but someone is all over the place, it means that they are confused, or disorganized, or unable to think clearly or act properly. You see, they're a mess, then you may say that person is all over the place. Here are two examples. He's usually careful and diligent. But today, he's all over the place. Or perhaps one example that you can use for next Monday, you can say, oh, excuse me, I didn't sleep well last night and I'm all over the place today. If you're in a meeting, and you cannot really think straight, your thoughts are not coming out very clearly. You can say oh, excuse me. I'm a bit all over the place today.

Paola Pascual 7:55
Right, so we've seen for now, the next ones are going to be a little bit more advanced. Number five is rule of thumb. Rule of thumb, is a method of judging a situation or a general rule or recommendation. Yeah, like a practical and approximate way of doing or measuring things. That listen is not exact, but it's based on experience. Yeah, sometimes we don't have very specific instructions. But we do have general advice. That is a rule of thumb. For example, I took this example from the Collins dictionary, by the way didn't make it up. A good rule of thumb is that a broker must generate sales of 10 times his salary. Well, another example, as a rule of thumb, we should be able to write two articles every week. Yeah, a rule of thumb. Is that kind of general rule that is not exact, but it is based on experience. Awesome.

Paola Pascual 9:00
Number six across the board. I use this one quite often, actually. So across the board means applying to all. It means it affects everyone or everything within an organization or a system. Yeah, it affects people at every level in every area. Yeah. Here's an example. They have promised to reduce taxation across the board (means applying to everything, not not just one sector). The improvement has been across the board with all divisions, either increasing profits or reducing losses. Another example with this one is are we updating these policies across the board or just in the sales department? Yeah, across the board, applying to all. They're getting a little trickier right now.

Paola Pascual 9:59
Number seven, we're almost there. To spring to mind, or to come to mind. The word spring, apart from the season, when you have winter, spring, summer fall, right? Spring also means to jump to jump quickly. So spring to mind or come to mind is to come quickly into your mind. Right? It means you think of it without making any effort. Say that word Caribbean and the vision of sand and blue seas immediately springs to mind. Another example, when I think of my manager, kindness and hard work are words that spring to mind. And one more, the idea of global warming, comes to mind again or springs to mind when we see what's happening. Yeah, to come to mind, to spring to mind is to think of it without actually making any effort. So many, right?

Paola Pascual 11:04
Okay, number eight, to do the trick. This one is quite informal, but it's also very, very common in spoken English. If something does the trick, yeah, like Trick or treat. If something does the trick, it achieves what you wanted, you achieve the required result. If these quick tips don't do the trick, please reach out to Stephen he'll be able to help you. Perhaps you're thinking, oh, I need to put you know, I need something to put these papers in. This folder should do the trick. It means Yeah, it should work.

Paola Pascual 11:44
Number nine, pave the way, pave the way is an idiom that reminds me of my childhood. I have a younger sister. So I'm the eldest. And I remember, it was really, really difficult for me to convince my mom to go out. I'd love to go out to meet friends. But it was really hard, right? I was the first child. And my mom wasn't used to it. But I definitely paved the way for my sister. Because then once you wanted to go out, it was very easy for her. Perhaps you guessed the meaning from that little story that I just shared with you. So if you pave the way for something else, you make the other thing coming later possible. Yeah, you prepare the way or you facilitate the introduction. Perhaps you create the circumstances to enable something to happen. For example, the proposals will pave the way for a resolution of the problem. They will make it easier that will prepare the situation. Another example from Cambridge dictionary, scientists hope that data from the probe will pave the way for more detailed exploration of Mars. That sounds exciting, right? So yeah, to pave the way is to create the circumstances, to enable something to make something possible. That's when you make it easy for the other people like I paved the way for my sister, when it came to going out at home.

Paola Pascual 13:16
All right, and the very last one is follow suit. And I can use my sister again, for this idiom, whatever I did, as a kid, my sister would follow suit, she would do the same as me. Yeah, to follow suit is to do the same as someone else. For example, Jeff skipped work. And his team members followed suit, they did the same. Another example and this is the last one of today, when an airline reduces the ticket prices, their results, the rest usually follow suit.

Paola Pascual 13:55
Phew! Those were a lot of idioms, weren't they? Okay, so we have a quick recap, remember to always go back, listen to this, go check out the blog, the blog article to see them in, you know, written form. But remember that we have number one was the bottom line, the most important part of what you're saying? The bottom line number two is at the end of the day, that's when you that's what you say when you want to give the most important facts. Number three in the long run, at sometime in the future, or eventually. Number four all over the place. It means happening in many different places, or when some things are spread over a large area in a disorganized way. Or when someone's not really when they're confused and disorganized, right? They're a little messy. Number five rule of thumb are those general rules that we say they're not exact, but they're based on on experience, so you can follow them. If you don't have anything more specific across the board, it's number six. And it means applying to all or affecting everyone. Number seven spring to mind or come to mind when I think about business English, Talaera springs to mind. Number eight to do the trick means to work. Yeah, if something does the trick, it does what you want it it achieves what you want it. Number nine, pave the way. Like I paved the way for my sister, right? You prepare the situation you make something possible. And number 10 to follow suit is to do the same as someone else.

Paola Pascual 15:42
Okay, so these are 10 of the most frequent idioms in today's business English. As we said before, learning idioms, being able to use them will help you increase your fluency. Yeah, they're a little tricky, but you can start with these ones. Practice them, try to use them. Take just one for this week and try to you know, implement it in in a in a real conversation. See how your coworkers or friends react when you use it. Awesome. Okay, that's it. I promise. That's it for today. I hope you found it helpful. And I will talk to you soon. Oh, and remember to join our upcoming webinars. We have some on advanced business emails, on effective presentations. We did one on working across cultures, which was amazing. So yeah, we always hope to get to interact with you over the chat and always hear your feedback. Have a great day.

Outro 16:46
And that's all we have for you today. We hope you enjoyed it, and remember to subscribe to Talaera Talks. We'll be back soon with more! And visit our website at talaera.com for more valuable content on business English. You can also request a free consultation on the best ways for you and your team to improve your communication skills. So have a great day and keep learning!

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