Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lay low

'Lay low' is what people tell you to do when you're sick, which means to rest and do as little as possible. However, this is a change-in-progress, because people lie and things lay. But it would sound quite odd to hear a native speaker of American English say, "Lie low."

-I feel awful. I have a fever, a stuffed up nose and a terrible cough.
-You'd better lay low for the next few days. Hope you feel better!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keeping tabs on

If someone is 'keeping tabs on' you, it means they are paying attention to everything you do, as if they want to know your every move. It's very frustrating if someone is keeping tabs on you.

-Your parents are constantly asking me where I'm going or where I've been. It's driving me crazy.
-I'm really sorry they're keeping tabs on you. I'll talk to them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Same old, same old

'Same old, same old' is a rather unenthusiastic and perhaps somewhat negative response to the question, "How are you?" It means that nothing has really changed.

-So, how are you doing? I haven't seen you in such a long time!
-Oh, you know. Same old, same old.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dead-end job

A 'dead-end job' is one where there is no opportunity for advancement. It leads to nowhere, like a dead-end street.

-I'm afraid I may have to get a job at a fast-food restaurant.
-Well, it's pretty much a dead-end job, but hopefully it'll help you pay some bills!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hold your horses!

'Hold your horses!' is a way of telling someone not to get too excited about something because it isn't sure if it will happen or not.

-We're putting an offer down on the house.
-(child): For real?! I'll get my own room and my own bathroom! And...
-Hold your horses, sweetie. They haven't accepted our offer yet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pull an all-nighter

To 'pull an all-nighter' means to stay up all night to meet a deadline the next day. It is frequently used by college students, but also happens in the business world.

-I have a 20 page paper due tomorrow and I'm only on page 3.
-Looks like you'll be pulling an all-nighter!

Free refills

A 'free refill' is what you get when you're at a restaurant and the server refills your drink free of charge. They are common in chain restaurants, but not as much in smaller, local restaurants.

-Would you like some more Coke?
-Do you have free refills?
-Yes, we do.
-Then, yes, please!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


A 'tear-jerker' is usually movie or tv show that causes you to suddenly cry.

-Have you seen the new Meryl Streep movie?
-Not yet, but I heard it's a real tear-jerker!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Knee-jerk reaction

A 'knee-jerk reaction' is the reaction you have to something without giving it much or any thought.

-Why did you swerve into the other lane of traffic?
-I had a knee-jerk reaction. I saw the deer and didn't want to hit it!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


'Whatever!' is used to end a conversation and to tell the other person you don't care one bit about what they just said. It's disrespectful when used with a person of power. Among friends, however, it's used sarcastically and is not considered rude.

-I'm not going to say it again. You have to start your homework.
-Don't talk to me like that, young man....

-Sushi is really good! You should try it!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Um, yeah....

'Um, yeah...' can be used as a floor-keeping device while you're trying to figure out how to respond to someone. It can be used as a sarcastic response to show that you disagree with or dislike what another person said. The tone of voice is important. On the surface, saying 'yeah' to something sounds like you agree with it, but because of the sarcastic tone of voice, it's obvious you do not.

-I'm so glad you like the sweater I knitted you! It took several months.
-Um, yeah, it's really nice.

-Today in Poli Sci, we were assigned a 30-page term paper.
-Oooh, fun!
-Um, yeah....

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let me let you go

'Let me let you go' is used in a phone conversation. The person who says it is trying to sound polite by saying they don't want to take up too much of the other person's time. The reality, though, is that usually the person who says this is simply trying to find a nice way to end the conversation without appearing rude.

-(slight pause in the conversation)
-Well, let me let you go. I'm sure you have a lot of things to get done today!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Knee deep in

'Knee deep in' is used to describe when someone is in the middle of doing something and doesn't want to or can't be interrupted. The visual it suggests is that the person is standing in something that is up to their knees, and they can't easily get out, if out at all. It can be used as an apology.

-I'm sorry I can't go to lunch with you! I'm knee-deep in paperwork!
-Maybe tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


'Shotgun' is used by siblings or close friends in a situation when they are about to get into the same car, and the first person who says it gets to sit next to the driver in the front seat of the car. This is considered good, because the person won't have to share a seat with anyone and will have the best view.

(Two people at the same time) -Shotgun!
-I said it first!
-No, *I* said it first! Mom!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The half of it

"The half of it' is used by a speaker to emphasize that there is more to the surprising or unbelievable story they are telling. It is usually used when complaining about someone or a situation.

-He is *such* a jerk!
-You don't know the half of it!

-First she decided she wasn't going to get him a birthday present. Then she decided she wasn't going to return any of his calls. And that's not the half of it! Then, she..."

Sunday, December 4, 2011


'*Just*' when used with a little pause and emphasis after it means that someone has, moments ago, completed an activity. Sometimes it can also be said a little slower to be used as an indirect apology to someone when a person has finally done something that was supposed to have been done earlier.

-I *just* texted you their phone number!

(Running late, talking on the phone). -He *just* finished his nap and we're on our way out the door now!

Saturday, December 3, 2011


'Side-tracked' is an adjective used to describe when a person is doing one thing, gets interrupted or distracted, and goes on to do something else, forgetting the first thing.

-I started to clean my room, but then I saw an old photo album and got side-tracked.

Friday, December 2, 2011

On the same page

Being 'on the same page' is a phrase used by one person to reassure that the listener is in agreement with them about something, understands or is thinking about something in the same way. It is usually used after there has been some discussion about something and an agreement has been reached.

Okay, let's make sure everybody is on the same page. We'll meet back here tomorrow at 2:30 for rehearsal.

-Carol really needs to go to the doctor tomorrow. I think we're all on the same page about that.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


'Completely' is used as a way to apologize for something that was done by accident that a person is embarrassed about.

-I'm so sorry I missed class! I went home after my first class and completely fell asleep!

-I can't believe I didn't call you on your birthday! I completely forgot!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just up and

'Just up and' used between a subject and verb means that someone did something suddenly, without warning. It usually involves a big change in life.

-What happened?
-Well, he just up and decided he wanted a divorce.
-What was her reaction?
-She was dumbfounded.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


'Jammies' (also known as 'p.j.'s') are what kids often call their pajamas. Many other words ending in the suffix -y or -ie are also often used in childhood, such as potty (toilet), poopy (excrement), tummy (stomach), kitty (kitten or cat), doggie (dog), fishy (fish) and birdie (bird). Really, just about any word can have -y or -ie added to it, and it sounds more kid-friendly and less threatening.

-Okay, time to put your jammies on!

-Lookie! Do you see the boat?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Off the top of my head

'Off the top of my head' is used to refer to the first thing a person can think of.

-Do we need anything at the grocery?
-Not off the top of my head.

-What do you want for your birthday?
-I can't think of anything off the top of my head.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Road trip

A 'road trip' is a trip in a car often taken by young people to get to a vacation in another city, such as a trip taken during Spring Break. Sometimes the trip itself can also be the vacation. Road trips often involve squeezing as many people as possible into a car, driving as long as absolutely possible (even all night), eating at cheap restaurants and staying in cheap hotels.

-I think we should go to Daytona for Spring Break.
-Road trip! I'm in!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Small-business Saturday

'Small-business Saturday' was started by small businesses in the last 10 years or so to encourage shoppers to support the small 'mom and pop' stores, instead of the giant, big-box chains. It is the day after 'Black Friday.'

-Support your local stores! Shop on Small-business Saturday!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

'Black Friday' is known as the official start to the holiday shopping season. It is the day after Thanksgiving. Many stores open very early, at midnight or 5 a.m., and have huge mark-downs on popular items.

It is called 'black' because in accounting, that means that the store has profits, as opposed to red, which would mean debt.

-I heard Toys-R-Us is having a huge sale on Black Friday! I can't wait to get my grandson a bouncy horse.
-We'd better get there early so they don't sell out! I bet it'll be packed!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November (unless that day falls in an incomplete week -- then it's on the third Thursday). It's a celebration to commemorate the first Thanksgiving, which, according to popular belief, was a meal shared between the Pilgrims and the Indians (now referred to as Native Americans) to give thanks for the harvest and the goodwill between them. That is what kids learn in school.

Now a days, it is considered to be a day of family, in which many people take time to recognize and be thankful for the blessings in their lives. The typical foods are turkey with stuffing (little pieces of bread that are cooked with onion, celery and spices), mashed potatoes, green bean casserole (green beans covered with cream and mushroom sauce, topped with French fried onions) and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

On TV, in the morning there is the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, which takes place in New York, and later, various (American) football games. After such a large meal, many people fall asleep on the sofa.

-Happy Thanksgiving!
-Happy Turkey Day to you, too!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


'Putt-putt' is a chain of miniature golf courses. Many people refer to miniature golf as 'putt-putt,' in the same way that bath tissues are 'Kleenex,' cotton swabs are 'Q-tips,' and plastic bandages are 'Band-Aids.' It's a common thing to do with kids when the weather is warm.

-Hey, kids! Do you wanna go play putt-putt?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

All day

'All day,' as in "taking all day," or "I don't have all day" is a way to complain when you think something is taking too much time. It is usually said when the person being complained about is not within earshot, by a person who has power in a situation, or among close friends in informal situations.


(To a friend while the salesperson in a store has stepped away) -What's taking all day?! It's just a simple return!

(To employees) -Come on, people! We don't have all day!

(To friends) -Come on, you guys! Let's go! I don't have all day!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just sayin'

"Just sayin'" is a conversation ender used by people as a way to get the last word in a conversation. As it uses 'just,' it also can be almost be seen as a sort of apology for the previous statements, which were likely strong and opinionated.

-Do you want to go to Alex's party now?
-No! I *don't* want to go to to his party because he's a total jerk. Just sayin'!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Preaching to the choir

'Preaching to the choir' means you are telling your (perhaps opinionated, strong or controversial) feelings about something to someone who already completely agrees with you.

-I just don't understand how the other side can actually think that way!
-Preaching to the choir!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shout, yell or scream?

'Shout' and 'yell' are synonyms that can be used when describing what someone does when they raise their voice extremely loud in order to be heard.

'Scream' is similar, but it adds another dimension to shouting or yelling: fear or excitement.

-Stop yelling at me! I can hear you just fine.

-On the roller coaster, we were screaming our heads off.

Friday, November 18, 2011


'Shit-faced' means really drunk.

-Last night we got so shit-faced!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


To 'co-opt' a phrase or expression means that a group takes an expression used by another group and repurposes it for their own needs. For example, the insult 'bitch' has been co-opted by American feminists as a word to show pride in their strength. Meredith Brooks' song "Bitch" (1997) illustrates this.

-You say I'm a bitch like it's a bad thing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


"D'oh" is the catch-phrase of Homer on the TV series "The Simpsons" (1989-) He says it whenever something bad or unfortunate happens to him, or when he makes a mistake. Part of what makes this phrase so memorable is the way in which he says it. (Search for "D'oh!" on YouTube until I post the link.)

-Hey, we had a test today! Where were you?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

None of my friends are going.

"None of my friends are going" is a very common mistake in spoken American English; you almost never hear it said correctly anymore.

The correct sentence should be, "None of my friends IS going," because 'none' is the subject and 'of my friends' is a prepositional phrase and therefore not the subject. But Americans usually match the verb to whatever's closest to it, subject or not.

-Are you going to the dance Friday night?
-I don't think so, Mom. None of my friends are going.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How come?

'How come?' is another way of asking "Why not?"

-I can't come over this Saturday.
-Oh? How come?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I know, right?!

'I know, right?!' is an expression used by Americans to show the other speaker they hear or understand what the other person is saying or means, and agrees with them.

-Your total is $3.00.
-$3.00 exactly?
-I know, right?!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


A 'school-night' is a night when there is school the next day. Sunday-Thursday are school-nights.

-Mom, can I watch tv?
-No, sweetie, it's a school-night! Time to take your bath!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Got a minute?

'Got a minute?' is a polite way for someone to ask you if you have time right now to listen to something they want to say. Interestingly, whatever they have to say usually takes much longer to say than a minute, which is why the person asking this question asks. The listener is also aware, and answers with, at minimum, a 5 minute conversation, in mind.

-Got a minute?
-Sure, what's up?

-Got a minute?
-Actually, I'm on my way out the door. Can we talk after my meeting?

True story:
A heartfelt thank you to @fondalo, who tweeted a link to this page to his 23,633 followers!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Many Americans use the word 'nazi' to call someone a name who they think is very strict or acting like a control freak.

This was illustrated in an episode of "Seinfeld," where the Soup Nazi would not give soup to people who ordered in a way that displeased him. On "Grey's Anatomy," there is a strict and tough doctor who has the nickname 'the nazi.'

By using 'nazi' in this way, the heartless brutality of the actual Nazis, who were responsible for the extermination of 6 million Jews, seems to be lost on most Americans.

-My professor is driving me crazy! She won't let us use our phones in class. What a phone nazi!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To tweak

'To tweak' something is corporate-speak for basic editing or making other minor changes.

-This document needs to be tweaked before we can send it out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


'C'mon' is an expression American English speakers use to try to encourage someone else to do something. It's short for 'Come on.' Most speakers say the abbreviated version unless they are in a more formal setting, or if they are angry and want to add emphasis to each word to show their frustration.

-C'mon, Mom! Please?!

(Person is stuck in traffic behind a very slow car) -COME ON!

Monday, November 7, 2011

My ass!

'My ass!' is a tag you can add to the end of a sentence to show that you don't believe what the other person just said is true. Since 'ass' is profanity, this expression should only be used in informal situations where you know the other person well.

-I'm thinking about coloring my hair. I'm starting to see too many grays.
-Can't imagine.
-Can't imagine, my ass!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

National treasure

A 'national treasure' is a person or thing that is highly admired by people from a particular country.

-Did you hear Andy Rooney died?
-Yeah, I saw that on the news this morning. How old was he?
-92. He just did his last episode of "60 Minutes" a month ago. I didn't watch "60 minutes" every Sunday, but when I did catch it, I always liked him. He was a real national treasure.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pull up a chair!

"Pull up a chair" is what is said when someone invites another person to join their group and discussion. 'Pulling up a chair' means to physically go get a chair and bring it over to the group so you can sit down with them and talk.

-Hi, Jim and Sue!
-Well, how are you?! Here, pull up a chair and join us!

Friday, November 4, 2011

What a dog!

Calling a man a 'dog' has a very different meaning than calling a woman a 'dog.' A man who is a 'dog' is being described as a person who sleeps around. A woman who is a 'dog' is being described as ugly.

-Guys don't want a relationship. All they want is to get laid.
-Men are dogs!

-Look at this picture! Can you believe that's his girlfriend?!
-What a dog!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

If apples are red, why isn't watermelon green?

The color of fruit is probably not something most native speakers of American English spend much time thinking about. And they don't need to; it's something they just know.

If the fruit is the same color on the inside and the outside, then it's a no-brainer. For example:

Oranges are orange.
Grapes are green or red.

But when the color of the skin or peel is different from the fruit itself, it gets confusing and can seem pretty random. Usually, the rule of thumb is that the fruit is whatever color the skin or peel is. For example:

An apple is red.
A banana is yellow.
A pear is green.
A strawberry is red.

On the other hand, some fruit is described by the color it is on the inside. For example:

Watermelon is red.
Kiwi is green.

It turns out that the color a fruit is described as being has to do with how native speakers usually encounter it or picture it in their minds. Do they see it as a piece of whole fruit, so it is the color on the outside? Or do they think of it as cut up, so it is the color on the inside?

-If apples are red, why isn't watermelon green?
-Good question! I have no idea!

True story:
I have used lots of idioms in this entry that haven't been defined yet, such as 'no brainer,' 'pretty,' 'random,' 'rule of thumb,' 'on the other hand, 'it turns out that,' and 'Good question!' I will define them in the future and then go back and link them with their definitions.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


'Atkins' refers to a diet low in carbohydrates that can help a person lose weight. When Dr. Atkins first developed his diet in the 70s, the mainstream medical establishment was quick to dismiss him as a quack, as his beliefs flew in the face of conventional wisdom at the time. Today, after the failed low-fat diet fad of the 90s, which only made Americans fatter, low-carb diets in general and Atkins specifically are quite popular.

-Are you following any special diet to help you lose weight?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Shutting up now...

"Shutting up now..." is an expression speakers of American English use to show embarrassment and apologize when they realize they've been monopolizing the conversation and not giving the other person a chance to respond.

-Ok, shutting up now!

Monday, October 31, 2011


"Trick-or-Treat" is what kids say when they go trick-or-treating on Halloween (October 31st), which is traditionally going door-to-door in your neighborhood, dressed in a costume, asking for candy. Some communities hold trick-or-treating on a weekend night that is closest to Halloween. In the interest of safety, it is now common to see trick-or-treating offered by malls or in other shared, public spaces. Some churches or other organizations also hold a 'Trunk-or-Treat,' where kids go from car-to-car in a parking lot, collecting candy from people who have have their trunks open to show off their Halloween-decorated interiors.

Traditionally, 'trick-or-treat' meant 'Give me a treat or I'm going to play a trick on you." Tricks included such things as soaping windows and egging houses. Now it just means, "Look at me, all cute in my costume, and may I have some candy, please?"

-Here you go! Please, take two!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Do or do not. There is no try."

This famous movie quote was said by Yoda in "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" (1983). It is often said by fans of the movie as a response to when someone says that they'll 'try' to get something done. The reason they use this quote is because they're frustrated with the other person's lack of commitment to do the thing. That's not to say Americans don't like to 'try' new things; this quote refers to getting someone to commit to doing something.

-Are you going to come to brunch with my parents in the morning?
-Well, I'll try. I'm not sure how I'll feel in the morning and anyway, I have a lot to do tomorrow.
-"Do or do not. There is no try."

True story:
I loved this movie so much that I would actually practice doing handstands and trying to lift up one hand like Luke did in the movie.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Come-to-Jesus meeting

A 'come-to-Jesus' meeting is a meeting or talk where someone in power tells someone else what mistakes they're making and how they need to change. This expression most likely originated with the idea that traditional Christians have that Jesus came to earth to show people the error of their ways so they could change and be saved. Nonetheless, the expression is now used by the religious and non-religious alike, as a way to express that someone needs to have a talk with someone else before things get worse.

-I'm worried about my son. His grades are really slipping.
-Maybe it's time you had a come-to-Jesus meeting with him.

Friday, October 28, 2011

He took another opportunity.

Saying that someone "took another opportunity" is a way of saying someone no longer works in a place. Since it is a vague response, there is no way to know if the person quit or was fired.

-Does Michael still work here?
-No, he took another opportunity.
-Oh, that's too bad! I really liked him!
-Yeah, we miss him, too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hodge podge

A 'hodge podge' is a real variety or mix of something.

-What do people usually wear to work?
-You'll see a little bit of everything. It's a real hodge podge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Get a room!

When a couple is being (overly) affectionate either physically or verbally, someone will invariably say, "Get a room!"  The room they are referring to is a hotel room, which is for the couple to have sex in.

-I love you!
-I love you more!

Person overhearing conversation -Oh, get a room!

Monday, October 24, 2011


A 'hater' is literally a person who hates something, but it has taken on a more specific meaning. A 'hater' is a person who doesn't like you or holds a grudge against you. They doesn't necessarily want what you have, but they are jealous of your success and want to knock you down a few notches.

-Justin Bieber sucks!
-Don't be a hater!

-People can be so judgmental.
-Yeah, there are a lot of haters.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Should we watch a movie or see a movie?

While many native speakers of American English may be unaware they are doing it, they do actually distinguish between 'watching' a movie and 'seeing' one. "Watching" a movie means you are going to do it at home or in someone else's house on TV, whereas "seeing a movie" means you're going to do it at a movie theater.

-What movie are you going to watch?
-Oh, I don't know. Whatever's on the classic movie channel tonight.

-What movie are you going to see?
-Well, we haven't decided yet. We'll see what looks good when we get there.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


"Duh!" is a sarcastic interjection used to point out that someone has said or done something painfully obvious or stupid.

-I really need to study for that physics final if I'm going to get an A!

-Now where did I leave my car keys? Oh, duh, they're right here in my pocket!

True story:
I'm surprised at how often I find myself saying this, especially to myself!

Friday, October 21, 2011


"Yo!" is a very informal, familiar greeting, kind of like "Hey!" It can be used when you don't know or can't remember someone's name and want to get their attention. Another possible use is as a shortened form of "your." It originated in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), but has now been adopted by speakers of all ethnicities. It is interesting to note that "yo" also means "I" in Spanish, a language widely spoken in the U.S., but in American English it doesn't mean that, nor is it related.

-Yo, come back here!

-Get to work, yo!

-Yo mamma!

True story:
I'm white. Sometimes when I call my dad on the phone and he sees it's me on the caller ID, he answers, "Yo!"