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The Art of Expression: How English Idioms Paint Vivid Pictures of Life

kokou adzo



Words in Dictionary

Grammarly, in its guide article, defined an idiom as a phrase that, when taken as a whole, you won’t be able to deduce based on the meaning of its individual words. Basically, it is a phrase that has a different meaning from the definitions of the word used. 

When we say you have to discuss the elephant in the room, it does not necessarily mean that you have to discuss an actual elephant inside the room. Instead, it means that you have to talk about the obvious problem or the difficult situation that most people don’t want to talk about.

For a non-native English speaker, idioms may not make sense at all compared to their actual meaning. But when we dive deeply into their meaning, we might slightly understand their interpretation or meaning. 

In a way, English idioms are examples of the art of expression, painting vivid pictures of life through the English language. They are more than linguistic curiosities; they are a reflection of the culture, history, and creativity of the language speakers. So, today, let’s learn how English idioms, whether they are funny idioms or serious ones, paint vivid pictures of life. 

Burning the Midnight Oil

Meaning: To stay awake late at night to work or study.

Example: He has been burning the midnight oil lately, so I guess the deadline is coming up. 

Long before electricity was invented, candles or lamps were used to illuminate the darkness. Burning the midnight oil means consuming the oil used in lamps while working something at night. 

Raining Cats and Dogs

Meaning: Raining very hard.

Example: No one has gone outside since yesterday because it’s been raining cats and dogs.

This English idiom is said to have originated in England in the 17th century. Back then, houses’ roofs were made of straws or reeds. During heavy rain, these types of roofs would sometimes collapse along with the animals taking shelter on them. 

Bite the Bullet

Meaning: Do something unpleasant or painful but necessary.

Example: I don’t want to go to the doctor, but I’ll have to bite the bullet

This idiom takes back to the practice of having a soldier bite on a bullet to endure surgery without anesthesia. Today, it is used when faced with difficult situations you have to go through even though it is painful or you don’t want to do it. 

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk

Meaning: Do not waste time or worry about something you cannot change.

Example: I know you did not intend to damage my book, so you don’t have to cry over spilled milk. 

This idiom is one of the English idioms you can use in a situation where you have to accept something that you cannot solve or change. Here, the image of the spilled milk pertains to the universal symbol of irreparable loss. 

The Ball is in Your Court

Meaning: Having the responsibility to take an action or decision in a specific situation.

Example: I have given you my name and number, so the ball is pretty much in your court. 

In the world of sports, this English idiom paints the image of a tennis match where when the ball is in your court, you have to make a decision or action to make your next move in a circumstance. 

Beat Around the Bush

Meaning: Talking about a lot of unimportant things and avoiding discussing what’s really important.

Example: You keep saying unnecessary details, don’t beat around the bush and say exactly what you want to say. 

The origin of this English idiom is associated with bird hunting. Before, hunting participants hired men to beat bushes so they could catch the birds in their nets. Beating around the bush only helps catch birds but is not the main point or technique in bird hunting. 

Walking on Thin Ice

Meaning: doing something risky or dangerous that could result in unpleasant or serious consequences

Example: I don’t have any other choice but to accept this dangerous job, I’m walking on thin ice here. 

This idiom is one of the English idioms where you can see a vivid picture of life. More often than not, people will make choices that could result in serious consequences—picturing the person walking on thin ice, balancing himself/herself, and making sure not to break that “ice” as he/she goes forward with the decision. 

Final Thoughts

English idioms are a testament to the power of language to showcase complex human experiences and emotions in a few words. Moreover, they provide a glimpse into the culture, history, and shared experiences of English speakers. 

Idioms infuse our conversations with vivid imagery and add depth to the way we communicate. They are a reminder that language is not just a tool for communication but also an art form that captures the tapestry of life in its vibrant color. 


Kokou Adzo is the editor and author of He is passionate about business and tech, and brings you the latest Startup news and information. He graduated from university of Siena (Italy) and Rennes (France) in Communications and Political Science with a Master's Degree. He manages the editorial operations at

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