Idioms in Depth: English Cat Idioms

catThe Egyptians may have treated cats like gods but the English language has granted them a different kind of immortality: idiomatic. Indeed, our feline friends have inspired dozens of English cat idioms over the years and it can be confusing to keep them straight. Hopefully these explanations will help you with your practice.

Cat gets one`s tongue – to be unable to speak (often because of shyness)

  • Mark really wanted to ask Amy to the movies but at the last minute the cat got his tongue and he could barely utter a word!

Note: This one can be hard to conjugate but it most frequently appears with the present perfect (“the cast has got his tongue”) when describing present actions.

A cat nap – a short, daytime sleep

  • Whew, I’m exhausted! I need a cat nap before we head back out.

A copycat – an imitator

  • Marsha is such a copycat! Every time I change my hairstyle she does the same thing within a week!

Curiosity killed the cat – used to describe (or warm someone about) a situation where too much curiousity caused big problems

  • No I don’t think you should ask your boss whether or not she got Botox during her last vacation. Remember, curiousity killed the cat.

Note: This idiom is used more as a reminder than as an active part of a sentence.

To let the cat out of the bag – to expose a secret

  • It was supposed to be a surprise party but Faith let the cat out of the bag and Tim knew all about it the day before.

To look like something the cat dragged in – to look worn out

  • After three days of camping in the rain Sonia and Lou both looked like

Not enough room to swing a cat – cramped

  • Despite the high price tag, Joan’s studio apartment was tiny. The location was great but there was not enough room to swing a cat.

To rain cats and dogs – to rain a lot

  • Normally we don’t get a lot of rain but last week it rained cats and dogs.

Catch up on any idioms you may have missed by visiting our idioms homepage.


Speak English Like an Australian: Australian Transport Terms

transportationIn Australia there are different names (and slang references) for cars, car parts, road rules and other terms related to transportation. This entry on Australian Transport Terms is intended to give you a brief overview of some of these terms and if you are thinking of taking a road trip in Australia. If so, pay close attention!

Key: Oz vs. US word

Motorbike vs. Motorcycle
In Australia, both terms are used interchangeably while in the US motorcycle is much more common (and powerful).

Truckies vs. Truckers
The two countries use these terms to refers to a truck driver, particularly one who drives long distances transporting freight in a semi-trailer.

Ute vs. Pickup truck
Ute is an Australian term, historically used to describe a two-door vehicle with a cargo tray in the rear.

Note: Examples of Utes include Holdens and Fords

Caravan vs. Trailer/Recreational vehicle (RV)
In Australia, a caravan is towed behind a car. It is a vehicle equipped for living in with amenities that may include beds, a kitchen sink and a bathroom. They are used on vacations and are popular in Australia. RVs in the US are similar to caravans, but they are vehicles made for living in (not towed) and are usually bigger in size and contain more amenities.

Bonnet vs. Hood
Refers to the hinged cover on a motor vehicle, which covers the engine. Bonnet is used most often in Australia and it is referred to as a protective cap or cover over a machine.

Boot vs. Trunk
Refers to the storage compartment located in the back of most standard cars.

Windscreen wipers vs. Windshield wipers
Refers to the device used to remove rain and other liquid fragments from the windscreen of a vehicle.

Note: It goes without saying that the front window itself has a different name in the two countries!

Indicators vs. Blinkers / Turn signals
Both terms are used interchangeably in Australia. Refers to the amber colour signal lights at the rear, side and front of vehicle, depending on the type of automobile. They are used to show what direction the vehicle is going (e.g., turning left or right).

Overtake vs. Pass
Refers to the action of going around another car on a highway or freeway by speeding up to overtake them.

Prang vs. Car crash
Prang is a British term for a motor vehicle crash or accident. This term is also often used in Australia.

  • I will be late for lunch. There was a bad prang on the highway and the traffic is banked up.

Servo vs. Gas station/Service station

  • Servo is an Aussie slang term for service station or gas/petrol station. Many are accompanied with shops and fast food outlets, particularly on Australian freeways and highways.

Bowser vs. Gas pump

  • Bowser is an Australian slang term for a petrol pump.

Note: Some Australians also refer to petrol/gasoline as juice (slang)

Yewy vs. U-turn
Ywey (pronounced U-ee) is a slang term for U-turn; the action of turning around the car and going back in the opposite direction.

  • We are going the wrong way mate! Quick, do a yewy here!

Don’t forget, there is always more practice at our Different Englishes page!


Keep Calm and Carry On! Phrasal Verbs for Adversity

adversityWe face problems – some big, some small – every day of our lives.  Today’s set of phrasal verbs is useful for talking about the adversity that we face. With a little practice you will be able to overcome even the most complicated phrasal verb!

Pull through/ – to survive, with difficulty, a life-threatening illness or injury

  • It looked like Paul wasn’t going to come out of the coma after the rock climbing accident, but somehow he pulled through and now they expect him to make a full recovery.

Note: This usage is not to be confused with the literal meaning of this verb/preposition combination(which can be separated). For example:

  • To properly tie the knot you have to pull the free end of the rope through the loop.

Go without/ – to live (survive) in the absence of something important

  • The mother went without food for five days so her children wouldn’t starve.

Note: It sounds strange, but when talking about living in the absence of something less vital, we use the phrasal verb “live without,” like in the example below:

  • I lost my phone last week and realized that I could live without

Make do with/ – to use an improvised substitute

  • We don’t have any wine glasses, so we’ll just have to make do with our regular juice glasses.

Note: We can eliminate “with” and still retain a similar meaning of “improvising a substitution or solution,” but in that case we can’t specify substitute. For example:

  • They requested forty chairs but there are only 35, and it’s too late to get more, so we have to make do.

Carry on/ – to continue one’s actions (despite distractions, obstacles, or problems)

  • When the team’s coach quit unexpectedly, it was very disappointing for the team, but they carried on and won several more games to finish the season.

Note: We often hear this combination in the context of air travel. In that case, the verb is separable and refers to bags or items that we take to our seat on a plane.

  • When I flew to New York, I didn’t want the baggage handlers to damage my guitar, so I carried it on.

Please visit our phrasal verbs homepage for more information and practice!


Different Englishes: Vegetables

vegetablesAs anyone who has spent time in the both the US and the UK can tell you, the two countries have a unique gift for complicating even the simplest things. Food is no exception, and indeed, this has been the cause of many arguments (and no small amount of confusion) between Americans and Brits. Part of the problem stems from the UKs proximity to France and mainland Europe (they take a lot more words from the Continent than the US does) but worry not – Different Englishes: Vegetables is here to help!

Key: UK vs. US word

Courgette vs. Zucchini

  • This is the green vegetable that looks like a cucumber but is generally eaten cooked (it is, for example, delicious when steamed with butter).

Note: With the English term taken from French and the American from Italian this one can baffle even native speakers!

Aubergine vs. Eggplant

  • No matter the name, this is the big purple vegetable with a soft skin that is often fried (as in eggplant parmesan).

Note: Even the most patriotic American will admit that a purple eggplant looks nothing like an egg but its name comes from the fact that the original variety of this vegetable was white/yellow in colour and therefore appeared more like an egg than it does now.

Rocket vs. Arugula

  • A green, jagged leaf that is considered a popular leafy green, no matter the name this vegetable is included in many salads and is quite popular in Italian cooking.

Swede vs. Rutabaga

  • Less common in the UK than in the US, this root vegetable is similar to a turnip but is orange in colour and worth knowing because of the dramatic differences in names.

Pepper vs. Bell pepper

  • Don’t let the pepper fool you. No matter the continent this is the hollow vegetable that comes in red, orange, yellow, or green and can be eaten cooked or raw.

Sweetcorn vs. Corn

  • Although the connection here is obvious, when talking about the yellow vegetable from the maize plant it is worth nothing that the “sweet’ is dropped in the US.

Note: “corn on the cob” refers to the fresh corn you eat straight from the hard central body.

Coriander vs. Cilantro

  • While this is not technically a vegetable, the fact that this spice is often used in Indian and Mexican cooking and that many people have a love or hate relationship with it means that you should be very careful when you order.

Note: Cilantro is taken from Spanish.

Hungry for more? Check out our mainpage for more examples!