Lessons in American English, Part 2
by Dr. Manuel Pardo
July 2015

Editor's note: Part 1 of this article was published in the June issue of the Tambuli. In that first installment, Dr. Pardo recounted how some American idioms and colloquialisms confused him, despite his fine knowledge of the English language. That spurred him to start his collection of phrases that pack more meaning than what meets the eye, or in this case, the ears!

"Packing heat." Means carrying a weapon, usually a gun.
"Under The Weather." Means not feeling well.
"On the ball." Means on top of things.
"Nutty as a fruitcake." "Out in left field." Means weird
"On cloud nine." Means very happy.
"Piece of cake." Means real easy.
"Raining cats and dogs." Means a really heavy downpour.
"On the fence." Means undecided.
"Par for the course." Means normal or average result.
"Over a barrel." Means in a helpless situation.
"Out of the woods." Means safe from danger.
"Once in a blue moon." Means it hardly ever happens.
"A Can of Worms." Means uncovering undesirable information.
"Stirring a hornet's nest." Means getting into heavy
"The tip of the iceberg." Means There is a lot more beneath the
"My two cents worth." Means An opinion of whatever value.
"When in Rome do as the Romans." Means go with the local
customs and traditions.
"Open Pandora's Box" "Let the cat out of the bag." Means to
reveal secrets.
"Sick to my stomach." Means upset by unpleasant revelation.
"Poker face." Means showing no emotion or facial expression.
"Chicken feed." "Drop in the bucket." Means easily affordable
or insignificant.
"Chip off the old block." Means very similar to his father.
"Hold your horses." Means take your time. No big rush.
"Saved by the bell." Means saved on the last second."
"Learning on the fly." Means learning as you go along."
"Penny pinching." Means saving every penny.
"Knock on wood." Means to keep from having bad luck.
"The sky is the limit." Means unlimited expense.
"It's on the house." Means the host is paying.
"The squeaky wheel gets the oil." Means the one making the
most noise gets noticed.
"Coming out of the closet." Means admitting homosexuality.
"Break a leg." Means good luck to theatrical performers.
"You're all thumbs." Means you are clumsy.
"At the drop of a hat." Means immediately.
"Dog tired." Means very, very, tired.
"Bleeding heart." Means soft hearted, too compassionate.
"Bug off." Means to leave someone alone or go away.
"Caught red handed." Means caught in the act.
"Under the weather." Means not feeling well.
"Chew the fat." Means to talk informally.
"Chill out." Means to cool it or relax.
"Went cold turkey." Means stopping a habit suddenly.
"Crocodile tears." Means fake tears or pretending to be sad.
"Cry wolf." Means false alarm.
"Dutch treat." Means pay your own.
"Eleventh hour." Means at the last second before the deadline.
"Fair weather friend." Means a friend only when the going is good.
"Fly by night." Means here today gone tomorrow.
"Make a mountain out of a molehill." Means making a big deal out of something small.
"Walking on thin ice/egg shell." Means approaching a delicate subject.
"Bus your plate." Means put your plate in the sink or pantry.
"Reaching for the stars." Means aiming unrealistically high.
"Having a short fuse." Means having a short temper.
"Cut me some slack." Means give me some leeway.
"Bury the hatchet." Means let there be peace.
"Red flag." Means warning sign.
"From the horse's mouth." Mean from a very reliable source.
"The Lion's share." Means the biggest share.
"Dead in the water." Means you are not going anywhere.
"Fresh off the boat." Means you just arrived in the country.
"Lock, stock and barrel." Means the deal is sealed. It includes everything.

There are many other examples of expressions unfamiliar to those "fresh off the boat" (meaning you just entered the country). Some of the "X-rated" (pornographic or naughty) ones are not included here for obvious reasons. It helps to acculturate as quickly as possible to learn the "local flavor" in language and even learn to speak it yourself "like a native."

Additions are welcome. End of lesson - so far!