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American Expressions T

tail between one’s legs: to run away scared; to be very frightened.

Bullies* love to see their victims run away with their tail between their legs.

bully: a mean person who gets pleasure from hurting other people.


take a load of one’s mind: to stop worrying about something; to free one’s mind from worry.

Knowing that he didn’t have to go back to work for the next two weeks and could instead spend time with his family took a big load off of his mind.

take a turn for the better/worse: a situation becomes worse; someone gets sicker, possibly sick enough to die.

It’s looks like Bob has taken a turn for the worse. The doctors say he has only a few more days to live.

take someone down a notch: to get angry and make another person feel bad; to intimidate someone.

A taxi driver got mad at the man driving a car ahead of him, so he leaned out the driver’s side window and took him down a notch.

take it out on someone: to hurt someone or something; to exercise one’s frustration on another person who is innocent of wrongdoing.

No matter how angry you might get, you should never take your anger out on an animal or on a child.

(not) take no for an answer: (this expression is always used in the negative) to insist that something be done; to pressure a person to do something.

Martha gave Kim the key to her house when she found out that Kim’s apartment was destroyed by fire. At first Kim declined the generous offer, but Martha wouldn’t take no for an answer.

take ones’ breath away: to be surprised; to be impressed by beauty.

Hinh is so beautiful she takes my breath away.

take one’s time: to go slowly; to avoid hurry.

Turtles take their time when crossing the street–which is very dangerous for turtles to do.

take someone at his or her word: to believe what another person says, even if it seems as if the person is lying.

Delores claims that fairies entered her bedroom through the window last night, and although it sounds unbelievable, we should take her at her word.

take the bull by the horns: take up an issue or a problem directly; to do something that is going to be difficult.

Sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns in order to get good results from your employees.

take the cake: an expression of frustration or anger.

Well, this takes the cake! Every time I use this food processor, food shoots up from the top of it.

take the plunge: to do something that is risky; to take an action that is difficult to reverse or change.

Jeff is about ready to take the plunge and ask Julia to marry him.

take the words right out of my mouth: to say something that someone else was thinking; to express another person’s thoughts.

A: That looks a little dangerous!

B: You took the words right out of my mouth.

take this (or it) the wrong way: to take offense in a comment; to get angry about someone saying something unintentionally harmful or insulting.

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but at first I thought you were all from Mexico. Now I know that Luis is from Venezuela and Jorge is from El Salvador.

take up a collection: to collect money for someone who needs it, usually money needed for an emergency.

Horace took up a collection from everyone in the office for a coworker who was going to have a baby.

take it with a grain of salt: be careful in accepting what someone tells you; consider the source for the information before believing it is true.

I would take whatever Yolanda says with a grain of salt. Sometimes she lies.

teach an old dog new tricks: help an older person learn something new (This expression is usually used with "you can’t").

My grandfather says he wont learn how to use the internet because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

thank one’s lucky stars: to appreciate one’s good fortune; to think about how lucky someone is.

You can thank your lucky stars that you have clothes to wear and food to eat. There are many people around the world who have neither.

that’s the way the cookie crumbles: something bad happens but it’s necessary to accept the way things are; that’s the way things go.

Tanya and Roger didn’t get their child into the school that they wanted him to enter. Well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

the bigger they come, the harder they fall: when a successful person fails, his or her failure is equivalent to the previous success; it’s difficult to bring a big person or thing down.

Hans was uncertain if he could chop down such a large tree; nevertheless, he began his work with this thought: "The bigger they come, the harder they fall."

there but for the grace of God go I: it’s God’s will that some people suffer and others don’t suffer; God picks winners and losers in this life–a person is lucky not to be poor, be in prison, or suffer from some terrible problem.

When I learned that my old friend from elementary school was sent to prison for a crime he probably didn’t commit, I thought, "There but for the grace of God go I."

there’s no time like the present: now is a good time to do something; the best time to do something is now.

A: Do you want to visit Paris next year?

B: Why wait until then? There’s no time like the present.

things are looking up: a person’s present situation is very good or it’s improving.

Things are looking up for her. She has a new job that pays well, she found a great apartment in a nice neighborhood, and best of all, she found a new boyfriend.

this and that: miscellaneous items; a variety of different things.

A: This salad is really good. What did you put in it?

B: Oh, just this and that–stuff we have growing in our garden right now: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, some onions.

three sheets to the wind: very drunk

Wow, Mike’s three sheets to the wind. He started drinking at ten this morning, and he’s still going at it.

through thick and thin: supporting someone during difficult times and good times.

They’ve stayed together through thick and thin over the last 35 years.

throw one’s weight around: to influence other people through one’s power or authority; to pressure other people into doing something.

Everyone is getting tired of the way our boss is constantly throwing his weight around the office and telling everyone what to do in order to improve sales.

throw the baby out with the bath water: to throw away something that is good along with something that is bad or no longer needed.

Despite some problems with the new testing program, the school decided to keep it because it was beginning to show some good results. They didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

(Note: This a very popular expression when talking about programs and projects in business and government. To "throw the baby out with the bath water" is to eliminate work or spending in an area that has produced something of value.)

tighten one’s belt: spend less money; be careful with spending.

After Ed lost his job, he told his family that they’d all have to start tightening their belts until he found something else.

time after time: again and again

Time after time, her mother tells her that someday she’s going to regret getting all these tattoos.

time is money: time has a value when it’s applied to work.

Come on, people. You have to work faster. Time is money!

to each his own: each person does his or her own thing; each person has unique preferences.

A: She’s wearing a contact lens that makes one eye orange. That seems kind of strange.

B: Yeah, well, to each his own.

too close for comfort: almost a disaster; this expression is used when a person is saved from harm or injury.

Just seconds before he was swallowed by the quicksand, Nester was saved by someone who happened to be walking by.

"Thanks," said Nester. That was too close for comfort."

too good to be true: a situation is so good, it’s hard to believe that it’s even possible; a person is extremely lucky to have something.

When Angelica left Jim and moved back to Argentina, he was upset but not surprised because the relationship seemed too good to be true.

too many cooks spoil the soup: it’s not good to have too many people involved in making something; too many leaders and not enough followers can cause problems.

A: Three different architects designed that house.

B: Wow! What a mess. It looks like too many cooks spoiled the soup.

too much of a good thing: to have too much of something that is good; the perils of excessive consumption.

To eat pizza every night of the week would be too much of a good thing. You would get sick of it after awhile.

to the victor belong the spoils: the person or group who win a competition deserve whatever prizes might be awarded for victory.

When the battle was finished, the soldiers on the winning side began to collect weapons and money from their dead enemies. The general in charge permitted this behavior and proclaimed, "It is true in any war. To the victor belong the spoils."

truth is stranger than fiction: some things that are true are so strange, it’s hard to believe that they are true.

You wouldn’t believe some of the crazy things she has done, but then, truth is stranger than fiction.

turn a blind eye to something: to refuse to look or notice; to allow some illegal activity or misbehavior to occur.

The police turned a blind eye to some of the drug dealing in the neighborhood until there was a murder.

turn one’s back on someone: to abandon’s one’s responsibilities; to leave someone without help.

You should never turn your back on your friends.

turn the other cheek: to ignore an attack; to respond peacefully to an attack rather than with aggression.

A person who promotes peace will tell you it’s better to turn the other cheek than to harm someone who hurts you.

turn up the heat on: to cause someone to feel pressure or nervousness.

Bill’s boss is turn up the heat on all of his employees. Now they have to work faster and they have to work longer hours.

two’s company, three’s a crowd: in some situations when two people want to be together, it’s not a good idea for a third person to be there.

Mark wanted to go to the beach with Tony and Jessica, but Tony told him that wasn’t a good idea.

"No way, man. Two’s company, three’s a crowd."

two heads are better than one: it’s better to have two people think of a solution to a problem than just one; two people working together will get a job done faster.

Perhaps Steven should help you find out what’s wrong with your car. After all, two heads are better than one.

two wrongs don’t make a right: revenge for injustice or injury is as bad as the original offense; correcting a problem with another problem is not a good idea.

A mob seeking justice for a wrongful death will probably ignore the warning that "two wrongs don’t make a right."



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