Do you understand everything your American friends say? Americans use A LOT of idioms in conversation. In fact, learning new American idioms is a big request when I work with my non-native speaking clients.
As we enter the extended holiday season, I decided to put together a list of 13 common expressions that are inspired by the winter holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s involves a lot of feasting, so you may notice there are plenty of food expressions on this list.
These particular idioms may be inspired by the winter holidays, but you can use these expressions any time of the year (except maybe one — see if you can guess which it is.)
Since the culture in the U.S. is not as formal as other cultures, you could use all of these expressions with co-workers and not have to worry about offending anyone. Although, I would only use #6 if you were referring to yourself.
In the video below, listen for the definition of each expression, but also pay attention to how word stress is used. If you say these expressions yourself, you want to make sure you are using accurate word stress.
The primary stressed word will stand out from the words around it by being slightly louder, slightly longer and a different pitch than the other words. Correct word stress is sometimes subtle, but it can make a difference on how your message is received.
See if you can match the spoken phrases by using the phonetic pronunciation tips in parenthesis after each term. The word in bold inside the parenthesis should receive the most stress, so it should be spoken slightly louder, slightly longer and at a different pitch than the other words in the phrase.
Pay attention to which sounds in a word are different from how they are written. Some words that end ‘s’ will be spoken as a /z/ sound. Some words with the letter ‘t’ will be pronounced more like a /d/:
1. Cold turkey (KOLD TER-kee):
To give up something completely, very suddenly
“He quit smoking cold turkey.”
2. Meat and potatoes (MEET -n- puh-TAY-doz):
The essential, basic parts
“This graphic explains the meat and potatoes of our day to day operation”
3. Saving grace (SĒ-ving GRĒS):
The one good thing in a bad situation
“Those bonus checks were the saving grace of an otherwise dull office party.”
4. A blessing in disguise (uh BLEH-sing-n-dih-SKĪZ):
Something thought to be bad is actually a good thing
“Getting fired was a blessing in disguise. I landed a better job the next month!”
5. The more the merrier (thə MOR thə MĒ-re-ər):
The more people there are, the more enjoyable it will be
“Of course you can join us for lunch. The more the merrier!”
6. Pig out (pihg OWT):
To eat a lot of food all at once
“I’m so hungry, let’s pig out!”
7. ‘Tis the season (tiz thə SEE-zen):
An excuse to do something festive because it’s the holiday season (between Thanksgiving and New Year’s)
“Are you really wearing that ugly reindeer sweater to the holiday party? ‘Tis the season!”
8. Spill the beans (spil thə BEENZ):
Share a secret
“If he knew what they were talking about he would have spilled the beans already.”
9. Cream of the crop (KREEM uv thə krahp):
The very best
“SAS hires the cream of the crop.”
10. Take it with a grain of salt (tēk it withə grēn uv SALT) :
To not be bothered or get too upset about something
“Take what she said with a grain of salt. She talks to everyone that way.”
11. Gobble up (GAH-bl up):
To consume something completely and very fast
“Don’t gobble up all the food before the guests arrive.”
12. On a silver platter (ahn uh SIL-ver PLA-der):
To receive something without earning it
“He was handed that job on a silver platter because he’s the owner’s son.”
13. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (dōn lookə GIFT hors in thə MOWTH) :
To find fault with something that was given as a gift
“I know the iPhone I’m giving you isn’t new but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Be sure to download the FREE idiom guide as a handy reference. You’ll also receive BONUS information on more American idioms and a list of the most quoted movies in American culture — perfect for understanding those pop culture references that you’re American co-workers use and make no sense to you.
Download the Free Idiom Guide
Receive BONUS information on more American idioms and a list of the most quoted movies in American culture