Measure Twice Cut Once: And Other Idioms to Impress With.

A native speaker grows up learning various idioms that they will likely use in everyday speech without giving it much thought. When learning a foreign language, it’s well worth going the extra mile to pick up some helpful sayings, both to increase fluency and to enjoy more depth in the target language.

In German for instance, we can see idioms related to sausages, since pig-farming is a big part of the culture and cuisine. Irina Dumitrescu, a food writer from Bonn says, ‘‘no matter the occasion, the German language will probably have a suitably sausage-y saying for it’’. For example, ‘a woman who plays the insulted liverwurst’, is a prima donna who is sulking and ‘someone who can barely steal a sausage from a plate’, is unimpressive, despite the impression he tries to give.

Anyone who is learning Chinese on the other hand, will know that it’s a very complex language, full of figurative speech. ‘Yī luò qiān zhàng’ translates as ‘one fall, a thousand feet’, which means a mistake can lead to disastrous consequences. But, hey, perhaps that’s better than being ‘caught between the devil and the blue sea’ or a ‘rock and a hard place’.

We all use idioms all the time, even if we don’t really realise it,” says Dr Gareth Carrol, a lecturer in Psycholinguistics at the University of Birmingham. "Someone ‘spills the beans’ or ‘drops the ball’; as a result, we ‘hit the roof’ or there is ‘hell to pay’, then sooner or later (hopefully) we ‘bury the hatchet’ or ‘wipe the slate clean’”, explains Carrol.

What’s especially interesting about idioms – which are good language tools - is that not only does it show us how a language works, how its people think and how it interlinks with culture, but also often, this type of figurative speech speaks volumes.

‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’, for instance, tells us how children may have the same traits as their parents. ‘Misery loves company’, describes how people who are unhappy want others around them to feel the same. ‘Live and learn’, is another one we use often, which re-enforces the fact that mistakes happen, and they help us learn (and that we must move on).

Speaking of moving on, Dr Carrol, in his linguistic endeavours, has published a book: Jumping Sharks and Dropping Mics, which looks at how idioms have evolved over the last 50 years – thanks to TV, the internet and movies - and entered everyday speech. “The idea behind the book is to help show that, just like words, idioms are born and die out, and in the past few decades have come thick and fast”, explains the author.

So, a good way to brush up on your language skills is to casually throw in some good idioms, whether in your own language or a foreign one, whether old school or modern (think ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘first world problems’ and ‘nuke the fridge’); ‘as a rule of thumb’, idioms will impress, especially when ‘you want to drive the point home’.

Suggested Links:

How sausage flavours the German language - BBC Travel

Our language is richer for its idioms | Culture | The Guardian

20 English Idioms with their Meanings and Origins - Oxford Royale Academy (

Chinese Idioms - Chengyu - Cultural Icons and Hanzi (

New book sheds light on the origins of modern idioms such as jumping the shark, Groundhog Day and breaking the internet (