USC speech

December 18, 2007

Unusual expressions

Filed under: Uncategorized — minimax @ 4:00 pm

adultery : sex between a married man or woman and someone who is not their wife or husband  •  ax : a tool used for cutting wood and which consists of a heavy iron or steel blade at the end of a long wooden handle  •  bush : a plant with many small branches growing either directly from the ground or from a hard woody stem, giving the plant a rounded shape  •  bucket : a container with an open top and a handle, often used for carrying liquids  •  bullet : a small, metal object that is fired from a gun  •  candid : truthful and honest, especially about something difficult or painful  •  consequence : an often bad or inconvenient result of a particular action or situation  •  courage : the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation  •  deceive : to persuade someone that something false is the truth; to keep the truth hidden from someone for your own advantage; to trick  •  get to the point : say the thing that is most important  •  good luck charm : an object that is thought to possess the ability to bring good luck  •  grind : to rub something against a hard surface, in order to make it sharper or smoother  •  lack : to not have or not have enough of something that is needed or wanted  •  pointless · Something that is pointless has no purpose and it is a waste of time doing it  •  reckless · doing something dangerous and not caring about the risks and the possible results  •  revenge : harm done to someone as a punishment for harm that they have done to someone else  •  sheet : a large thin flat especially rectangular piece of something, especially a piece of cloth used for sleeping on  •  suspect : to think or believe something to be true or probable  •  tactic : a planned way of doing something  •  ulterior motive : a secret purpose or reason for doing something

0 Beat around the bush

Actual Meaning:  Avoid getting to the point

Origin:  It comes from hunting, where hunters would carefully beat around bushes hoping to drive out their prey instead of just going in after it.

Example Sentence:  Stop beating around the bush and tell us if you have a new boyfriend or not!

What types of questions do you dislike answering? How do you deal with the situation when you are asked these questions—for example, by beating around the bush, refusing to answer, or something else? When you are beating around the bush, do you have any specific tactics? In general, how candid a person do you see yourself as being?

1 Face the music

Actual Meaning:  Accept the consequences of your actions

Origin: Soldiers who were dishonorably discharged from the army were forced to march slowly between ranks of their peers while drums and other instruments marked the somber occasion.

Example Sentence: Your parents already know you lied to them, so you might as well go home now and face the music.

When you have done something wrong, do you try to avoid facing the music? What about when you were a child and had misbehaved? Can you think of a recent occasion when you had to face the music for something that you had done?

2 Three sheets to the wind

Actual Meaning:  Be drunk

Origin: Back in the old days, wooden ships were generally outfitted with four masts and four sets of sails (or sheets) to ensure maximum speed and performance. Sometimes, however, the fourth set of sheets was not unfurled, causing the ship to rattle and roll like a drunk after an all-night bender. Sailors and landlubbers who displayed this same tendency were henceforth described as being “three sheets to the wind.”

Example Sentence: When Steve started taking off his clothes at the KTV, we knew he was three sheets to the wind.

What is the drunkest you have ever gotten? What did you do while you were drunk? Would you describe it as a pleasant experience? Have you ever been with someone who was extremely drunk? What did they do? How did you feel?

3 Play the field

Actual Meaning:  Date more than one person at a time

Origin: In the world of horse racing, gamblers who are unsure of the outcome of a particular race will often play it safe by betting on multiple horses on the same field.

Example Sentence: After I get married, I plan to be faithful to my wife, so I’m going to play the field while I’m still single.

If you’re single, are you playing the field? If you’re married, did you play the field back when you were single? Do you think it’s a good idea to play the field while single? Do you think it’s possible to play the field without lying to anyone or hurting anyone? If so, how?

4 On a roll

Actual Meaning:  Experience continual good luck or success

Origin: This phrase owes its humble beginnings to the game of craps, in which players try to earn big money with a successful roll of the dice.

Example Sentence: I’ve won big the last three times we’ve played poker, so I’m really on a roll.

Have you had the experience of “being on a roll”? Do you believe in luck? How much of a gambler are you? Do you have any good luck charms, or other things such as colors that seem to bring you good luck? How good do you think your luck has been so far in life?

5 Bite the bullet

Actual Meaning:  Face a difficult situation with courage

Origin: Casualties during the U.S. Civil War were so staggering that field doctors often didn’t have enough painkillers — or alcohol — to administer to the wounded. So, when supplies ran low, they would give soldiers a soft-lead bullet to bite into while they did their best to amputate their limbs. It wasn’t pretty, but war (just like your last girlfriend) seldom is.

Example Sentence:  He finally bit the bullet and asked his boss for a raise.

Do you consider yourself to be a courageous person? What do you think is probably the most courageous thing you have ever done? What are some things that you would like to do, but so far have lacked the courage to actually do?

6 Kick the bucket

Actual Meaning:  Die

Origin: This quaint little idiom comes to us from an old-school suicide technique. A man would tie a noose around his neck, securing the other end to a tree branch or an overhead beam while he propped himself up on a bucket. When he wanted to bid adieu to the world, he would kick the bucket out from beneath himself, sending him to his maker, and no doubt leaving behind an inconvenient little mess for the maid to clean up.

Example Sentence:  My old uncle finally kicked the bucket at right after this 100th birthday.

What do you think of people who kill themselves—for example, feel sorry for them or think they’re being selfish? Have you ever thought of committing suicide? If you did commit suicide, how might you do it?

7 Hold your horses 

Actual Meaning:  Show patience

Origin: This phrase is believed to have originated in America during the 19th century and was uttered to keep everyone in line at the beginning of a coach race. Other horse-related idioms include “throwing your weight around,” “keeping up the pace” and the ever-popular “hung like a horse.”

Example Sentence:  Hold your horses! I’m not ready to go yet.

How patient a person are you? What kinds of situations or people cause you to easily lose patience? Do you feel impatient about the progress your English is making? What goals are you pursuing now, or events are you waiting to happen, and how much patience are you exercising?

8 Have an ax to grind 

Actual Meaning:  Have selfish or ulterior motives

Origin: According to myth, when Benjamin Franklin was just a young man, he was approached by a stranger who stopped to admire the family grindstone. The stranger expressed great interest in the otherwise commonplace device and asked Franklin to show him how it worked by sharpening one of his axes for him. Once the ax was sharp, the stranger walked off laughing merrily at his ingenious ploy. Since then, anyone with a hidden motive has been said to have “an ax to grind.”

Example Sentence:  I really didn’t want to meet my ex-wife for dinner, because I was sure she had an ax to grind.

If the teacher suddenly asked if he could treat you to dinner, what would you think? Would you suspect that he might have an ax to grind? If you learned that he did, but didn’t know what it was that he wanted, what might you guess?

9 Fly by the seat of your pants

Actual Meaning:  Decide what to do moment by moment

Origin: Early aviation jargon. Aircraft initially had few navigation aids and flying was accomplished by means of the pilot’s eyesight and judgment (possibly related, therefore, to the phrases “pulling it out of your ass” and “having a horseshoe up your ass.”)

Example Sentence:  I lost all the handouts before class started, so I just flew by the seat of my pants.

Do you like flying by the seat of your pants in certain situations? If you had to teach a Chinese conversation course tomorrow to a group of foreigners, what would you prepare? How well do you think you could do by just flying by the seat of your pants? Have you ever flown by the seat of your pants in some situation and either succeeded brilliantly or failed miserably?


What are some of your favorite words or expressions in English? What unusual words or expressions do you know? What do you most like about English? What do you least like English?


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