To carry a torch for someone

27th July 2012

A man carrying the Olympic torch outside the BBC's offices in White City, London. Photo by BBC Learning English Today's Phrase If you carry a torch for someone, it means you are in love with them. For example: John has carried a torch for Jane for years but she doesn't seem to notice. 'George is such a nice guy, isn't he? You carry a torch for him, don't you? No! Well yes actually… is it obvious?' Don't confuse it with To carry the can means to take the blame for something. For example: The boss is so lazy but when there's a mistake I always have to carry the can for him. Interesting fact The Olympic torch relay passed through White City, which was the site of the very first London Olympics held in 1908. The stadium was demolished in 1985 and BBC offices were built in its place. A plaque on the wall marks the place where the stadium's finishing line was.

Under starter's orders
27th July 2012

A man preparing to take part in a running race. Photo by istock Today's Phrase If you are under starter's orders it means you are waiting for a signal to start a race. For example: The athletes have been waiting for this moment for years. They’re under starter’s orders. And they’re off! It was only a second or two but the runners seemed to be under starter’s orders for hours before the pistol was fired.

Don't confuse it with Under arms means supplied with weapons and prepared to start fighting For example: The rebels were under arms and an attack was just a matter of time. Interesting fact 204 nations will be taking part in the London 2012 Olympics with about 10,500 athletes participating in the competition. There will be 302 events in 26 different sports. This is the third time London has hosted the games. The first time was 1908 and the second in 1948.

Like a duck to water
30th July 2012

Ye Shiwen wins gold for China in the London 2012 400m swimming event. The 16-year-old also broke the world record. Photo: David Gray. Today's Phrase If you take to something like a duck to water, it means that you discover when you start doing a new activity for the first time, you are very good at it. For example: He took to golf like a duck to water. He'd never played before but hit a hole in one! Kate never seemed like the mothering type but when her daughter was born she took to it like a duck to water. She was a real natural! Don't confuse it with A sitting duck. If someone is a sitting duck, it means they are an easy target. For example: The soldiers were left exposed on the hill. They really were sitting ducks for the enemy. Interesting fact China's Ye Shiwen stormed to gold and set a new world record in the women's 400m medley with a time of 4 minutes 28.43 seconds at the Aquatics Centre. The 16-year-old took a second off Australian defending champion Stephanie Rice's record set at Beijing 2008.

Splash out
31st July 2012

China's Cao Yuan and Zhang Yanquan win gold in the men's synchronised 10m platform diving final in the London 2012 Aquatic Centre. Photo: Tim Wiborne. Today's Phrase If you splash out, it means that you spend a lot of money on something that you don't necessarily need. For example: I was feeling down, so I splashed out on a new computer and then felt great. The shops were full of people splashing out after pay day. I fancy sushi. Let's splash out and go to that new restaurant down the road. It's expensive but the food looks delicious. Don't confuse it with If someone makes a splash it means they suddenly become very successful or famous. For example: Bradley Wiggins made a splash by winning the Tour de France. Nobody had heard of him and a week later he started the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Interesting fact When Cao Yuan and Zhang Yanquan won gold in the diving final, they dashed the hopes of British competitors Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield. The local pair had led the competition in the first three rounds but suffered as a result of a poor fourth dive.

Hit out
1st August 2012

South Korea's Kim Ha Na plays a shot during the women's double badminton match during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photo: Adek Berry. Today's Phrase If you hit out at someone or something, you make a verbal attack on them. For example: The MP hit out at the journalists who criticised the government's policy. My friend hit out at everyone when she discovered she wasn't invited to the party. The singer used her website to hit out at fans who had leaked her album early. Don't confuse it with If you hit back at someone, you retaliate. For example: The president hit back at the opposition's criticism of the budget by announcing that 10,000 new jobs would be created. Interesting fact The Badminton World Federation has disqualified eight female Olympic doubles players for not using their "best efforts to win the match." The players appeared to try to lose the game in order to get an easier draw in the next round. The longest rally in the match between China and South Korea lasted four shots.

Ride it out
2nd August 2012

Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain wins gold in the Men's Individual Time Trial in the Road Cycling on day 5 of London 2012. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain. Today's Phrase To ride something out means to get through something that is difficult or unpleasant. For example: I lost my job and can't spend a lot of money at the moment - I'll just have to ride it out until I get a new one. Jonathan had never run a marathon before - he was tired even before the halfway mark, but he managed to ride it out and finish the race. I can't believe the prime minister rode out that scandal and is still in office! Don't confuse it with If you ride a wave, you join in with popular activities or share common opinions. For example: The British public is really riding the wave of cycling after Bradley Wiggins' success. Interesting fact Bradley Wiggins won a gold medal in the Men's Individual Time Trial, giving him more Olympic medals than any other British competitor. It took the cyclist 50 minutes and 39 seconds to complete the 44km course. His victory comes just six days after he became the first British cyclist to win the Tour De France.

To have your eye on the ball
3rd August 2012

Wang Hao of China watches the ball during the table tennis men’s gold medal singles match against Zhang Jike. Photo: Saeed Khan. Today's Phrase If you have your eye on the ball, you are very focused and alert. For example: I've got my driving test this afternoon. I really need to keep my eye on the ball if I'm going to pass. I'm going on safari today. If I keep my eye on the ball, I might be lucky and see a lion! Keep your eye on the ball with this project – we need to make sure we deliver it on time! Don't confuse it with If you drop the ball, you make a mistake or let something go wrong. For example: I really dropped the ball in that interview – there's no chance I'll get the job. Interesting fact It was an all-China final in the London 2012 men's singles table tennis. Wang Hao took on Zhang Jike in this third consecutive Olympics final, but was outclassed by Zhang's superb form and was beaten 4-1. China has always dominated this popular global game, in which the ball can be hit over 180 times per minute.

A bolt from the blue
6th August 2012

Usain Bolt takes just 9.63 seconds to win a gold medal in the London 2012 men's 100m final. Photo: Alex Livesey. Today's Phrase If something is a bolt from the blue, it is a complete and sudden surprise - like a bolt of lightning against a blue sky. For example: The prime minister's resignation was a bolt from the blue. It was a real bolt from the blue when I bumped into my first ever boyfriend in the supermarket. The announcement about redundancies was a bolt from the blue for the workers in the office. Don't confuse it with You can also use the phrase out of the blue to mean something which comes as a surprise. For example: His marriage proposal came out of the blue - but she said yes! Interesting fact The London 2012 men's 100m final was a stunning race. Seven out of the eight finalists finished in under ten seconds, making it the fastest 100m final in history. Usain Bolt won gold in 9.63 seconds - the second fastest time in history. He also holds the world record for the fastest ever 100m, which he ran in a time of 9.58 seconds in Berlin in 2009.

To sail through something
7th August 2012

Xu Lijia crosses the finish line to win gold in the women's Laser Radial class at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photo: Pascal Lauener. Today's Phrase If you sail through something, you get through it very quickly and with ease. For example: My sister sailed through her exams and is looking forward to starting university. Don't worry about your job interview, you'll sail through it. We sailed through the traffic and arrived at the hotel ahead of schedule. Don't confuse it with If someone is sailing close to the wind, they are doing something dangerous or something that is only just legal or acceptable. For example: I think that journalist sailed close to the wind with the comments she made about the NHS. Interesting fact Chinese sailor Xu Lijia raced against three others in the medal race of the women's Laser Radial. She finished first, improving on her bronze medal from Beijing in 2008. The Laser Radial is sailed by a single person and has a shorter mast and reduced sail area, allowing light sailors to manoeuvre the vessel in heavy winds.

Fall at the first hurdle
8th August 2012

China's Liu Xiang falls after crashing into the first hurdle during the men's 110m hurdles in London 2012. Photo: Lucy Nicholson. Today's Phrase If you fall at the first hurdle , you make a mistake at a very early stage, or fail to do something. For example: The football team fell at the first hurdle when they were knocked out of the tournament in the opening game. My plan to travel the world fell at the first hurdle when I realised I'd lost my passport before I even left the country. His efforts to save money fell at the first hurdle when the washing machine broke down and he had to buy a new one. Don't confuse it with If you fall or bend over backwards, you do everything in your power to please someone. For example: I fell over backwards to make a nice meal for my mother-in-law. I always bend over backwards to make sure my work is accurate. Interesting fact Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang's Olympic dreams were shattered for a second time when the athlete unfortunately crashed at the first barrier in the 110m hurdles heats in London. The former world-record holder also had a hard time at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when he managed just a few strides of the race before having to stop with an injury. Xiang won gold in Athens 2004.

Knight in shining armour
9th August 2012

British cyclist Sir Chris Hoy celebrates winning a gold medal in the London 2012 track cycling men's sprint event. Photo: Sergey Ponomarev Today's Phrase A knight in shining armour is traditionally a man who gives help to a woman in distress. Nowadays it is also used to describe anyone who carries out a kind act to help someone in a difficult situation. For example: David came to help me when my car broke down - he's my knight in shining armour. Thank you for bringing me that coffee - you're my knight in shining armour! I just cannot get this computer to work. I need a knight in shining armour to come and fix it for me. Don't confuse it with The word knight refers to a soldier on horseback who wears metal armour. It has the same pronunciation as the word night, which means the opposite of day. For example: During the dead of night, a knight rode into the castle to rescue the princess. Interesting fact Sir Chris Hoy became the most successful British Olympian of all time this week, after winning gold in the Keirin track cycling event. He has gained six Olympic gold medals over his career and was knighted in 2009 for services to sport.

10th August 2012

Jamaica's Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir celebrate winning gold, silver and bronze in the men's 200m final. Photo: Olivier Morin. Today's Phrase If something is record-breaking, it surpasses any previously set records. For example: You will have to run very fast to achieve a record-breaking time in the marathon. I'm pleased to say that the charity fundraiser has raised a record-breaking total of seven million pounds! The most an athlete could ever wish for is to go down in history by achieving a recordbreaking result. Don't confuse it with If something is off the record, it is intended to be confidential and not made public. For example: Off the record, I personally think that the boss made a bad decision. Interesting fact Day thirteen of the London 2012 Games was a record-breaking day. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt won gold in the men's 200m, making him the first athlete to win gold in the 100m and 200m in two consecutive Olympic Games. Kenyan middle distance runner David Rudisha also won gold in the 800m, and managed to break the world record in a time of 1:40.91.

Out with a bang
13th August 2012

Fireworks over the Olympic stadium at the London 2012 closing ceremony. Photo: Mike Hewitt. Today's Phrase To go out with a bang means something comes to an end successfully or impressively. For example: The festival went out with a bang when the world-famous rock band came on to play. John got a karaoke machine for his leaving party to ensure that he went out with a bang! The fireworks at the closing ceremony ensured that the London 2012 Olympic Games went out with a bang.

Don't confuse it with If you bang something out, you do something very quickly and in a rushed manner. For example: I had to bang out my last assignment overnight as I'd completely forgotten about it.

Interesting fact The London 2012 Olympic Games went out with a bang with a spectacular closing ceremony, featuring iconic British pop groups, supermodels and the winning athletes. During the ceremony, the flame at the Olympic stadium was extinguished and the Olympic flag was officially handed over to Rio de Janeiro, which will host the games in 2016.

To go down like a lead balloon
14th August 2012

An Afghan man carries colourful balloons to welcome the country's athletes back from the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photo: Massoud Hossaini Today's Phrase If something you say or do goes down like a lead balloon, it is disliked or badly received. For example: David's joke was in very poor taste. It went down like a lead balloon! The news of Jenny's engagement went down like a lead balloon when she told the girls – they cannot stand her boyfriend! The job cuts will go down like a lead balloon when the workers are told about them. Don't confuse it with The slang term to swing the lead means to pretend to be ill so you don't have to work. For example: I'm sick of having to do the work for my colleague – he's always swinging the lead! Interesting fact The common rubber balloon was invented by Michael Faraday in 1824. Faraday made his balloons by cutting around two sheets of rubber and pressing the edges together. They were originally used in experiments with hydrogen, but soon became popular with the general public when they were sold at circuses and parks in America.

15th August 2012

A baby touches the face of US president Barack Obama during a campaign visit to the Iowa State Fair. Photo: Carolyn Kaster Today's Phrase If someone is hands-on it means they are closely and actively involved in the organisation and carrying out of a task. An activity can also be described as hands-on if there is practical participation. For example: Our shop manager is really hands-on. She gets involved with everything from serving customers to stocking shelves. On our training course, you'll get hands-on experience of using graphic design packages. I hope that the new headmaster will be more hands-on in the school and get involved in teaching the children. Don't confuse it with If you shout "hands off" to someone, it means you don't want them to touch something. For example: Hey! Hands off my new mp3 player – you'll break it! Interesting fact US President Barack Obama visited the Iowa State Fair this week and delighted some visitors by buying them a bottle of beer. The president bought ten beer tokens and proceeded to hand them out to the crowd as part of his election campaign tour. The next US presidential election will take place on 6th November 2012.

As good as gold
16th August 2012

A post box in Isleworth, London, which was painted gold to celebrate Mo Farah's Olympic gold medals. Photo: Oli Scarff Today's Phrase If someone is as good as gold, they are very well behaved. This phrase is most often used when describing children's behaviour. For example: You'll have to be as good as gold during the wedding – don't go running off in the church! Daddy bought me a new toy for being as good as gold today. I was so worried that Sarah's little girl was going to be scared of the animals at the zoo, but she was as good as gold. Don't confuse it with If someone has a heart of gold, they are very kind and helpful. For example: My uncle Ronnie does a lot of volunteer work in the local community – he really does have a heart of gold. Interesting fact Post boxes around the UK have been painted gold in the home towns of every gold medalwinning athlete from Team GB. This is the first time that post boxes have changed colour since 1874, when the iconic red colour was chosen. It took ten years to paint all of the UK's post boxes, which were originally green to blend in with the landscape.

Making the grade
17th August 2012

Students at Clifton College in Bristol celebrating their A-level results. Today's Phrase If someone or something “makes the grade”, they achieve the expected result. They succeed. It is often used in the negative when things are not good enough. For example: The marking of exams has been tougher this year and many students just didn't make the grade. This work is awful. It simply doesn't make the grade. I have every confidence in you and expect you to make the grade. Don't confuse it with If you grade someone down on something, you give someone a low score on their performance, perhaps for a particular error. For example: I’m afraid I had to grade you down on your essay for poor spelling. Interesting fact There has been a fall in the proportion of A-levels awarded an A or A* grade for the first time in over two decades. This summer's results show 26.6% of A-level entries achieved the top two grades - down from 27% last year. About 335,000 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been receiving their results - with many finding out whether they have made the grade for university.

Packed like sardines
21st August 2012

Visitors are packed like sardines in a pool at a tourist resort in Sichuan province, China. Photo: Reuters. Today's Phrase We use the expression 'packed like sardines' to describe people in a very crowded space. For example: I hate getting the train in the morning. We're all packed like sardines and it's always hot and smelly. Henry didn't stay at the party for very long – he said there were so many people they were packed like sardines. The fans were packed like sardines at the music festival. Don't confuse it with Another expression you can use to describe a place that’s very full of people or things is “chock-a-block”: For example: I'm afraid I'm going to be late as I'm stuck in traffic. The streets are chock-a-block with cars today. The bar was so chock-a-block with people that I couldn't move! Interesting fact There is evidence that Egyptians practised swimming as early as 2500 BCE. In Greece and Rome swimming was an important part of martial arts training. It was only in the 19th century that swimming became a very popular sport and in 1896 it was included in the Olympic Games.

Keep an ear to the ground
22nd August 2012

A Muslim boy is seen during the prayer session to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Panama City. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Jasso Today's Phrase To keep an ear to the ground means to listen or watch out for new information or trends. For example: David had his ear to the ground when it came to news about the latest and best technology to buy. If Susan had kept her ear to the ground, she wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for a promotion Don’t worry, I'll keep my ear to the ground and let you know what's happening as soon as possible. Don't confuse it with To “have a word in someone’s ear” - this means to talk privately with someone to give advice or a warning. For example: Did you hear what Steve just said to Mandy? I’d better have a word in his ear about it later on. Interesting fact During Ramadan, Muslims around the world conduct a period of fasting and spiritual reflection. Eid al-Fitr is a three-day celebration to mark the end of Ramadan and is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations – the other follows the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. During Eid alFitr, people wear their finest clothes and decorate homes with lights and ornaments. Gifts are also offered to children, as charity and generosity form a significant part of the festivities.

Tom, Dick and Harry
23rd August 2012

Prince Harry smiles during a visit to Bacon's College in London. Recently, the British Royal Family said nude photographs of Prince Harry cavorting with friends on holiday in Las Vegas were genuine. Photo: AFP/Chris Jackson Today's Phrase “Tom, Dick and Harry” is a phrase used to describe everyone, or people in general. For example: Every Tom, Dick and Harry has a mobile phone these days. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can tie their shoelaces - it's not difficult. It was so crowded at the party - why did they invite every Tom, Dick and Harry? Don't confuse it with “A clever dick”, which is the name given to someone who tries too hard to show people how clever they are and appear self-satisfied. For example: He's always talking loudly in lots of different languages - he's such a clever dick. Interesting fact Although the phrase “Tom, Dick and Harry” means people in general, the picture above is, of course, not any Tom, Dick or Harry but Prince Harry whose official title is HRH Prince Henry of Wales. He is third in line to the British throne (after his father Prince Charles and older brother William, the Duke of Cambridge). A U.S. website recently caused a stir by publishing naked photos of Prince Harry partying in a private Las Vegas hotel room. The Prince is a Captain in The Blues and Royals, a cavalry regiment of the British Army Air Corps.

A ray of sunshine 24th August 2012

In bright sunshine, a model walks along the 'world's longest catwalk' at Darling Harbour in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Reuters/Daniel Munoz Today's Phrase A ray of sunshine is used when something or someone offers hope in a difficult situation. For example: After failing both my exams, going to see my mum has provided a ray of sunshine. It's been a really terrible few days, but he's been like a ray of sunshine to me. The new client provided a ray of sunshine for Steve's business on Monday. Don't confuse it with The phrase “under the sun”, which means anything or anywhere that exists on Earth. For example: Matthew seems to have an opinion on everything under the sun. You can find almost everything under the sun in that shop. Interesting fact The existence of nearly all life on Earth is thanks to the rays of light emitted by the sun. The sun's rays, in moderation, are beneficial to the human body, which produces vitamin D. A lack of sunlight, however, can sometimes lead to a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mood illness which can lead to depression.

The life and soul of the party
28th August 2012

Performers dance in the streets of London at the Notting Hill Carnival. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Today's Phrase We say someone is “the life and soul of the party” if they are sociable and at the centre of activity during a social occasion. For example: Johnny was talking to everyone and telling funny jokes. He was the life and soul of the party. I love going out with George because he's always the life and soul of the party. A night out with him is never boring! Chloe is extremely sociable and chatty. She was the life and soul of the party last night. Don't confuse it with The phrase “heart and soul” means putting a lot of energy and enthusiasm into something. For example: Sophia was an extremely dedicated employee and put her heart and soul into this project. I really put my heart and soul into this painting, so I hope you like it. Interesting fact The Notting Hill Carnival is Europe's biggest street festival and takes place every summer. The streets of West London come alive with parades of colourful costumes and thousands of spectators. The Caribbean-inspired carnival started in 1964 and is now in its 48th year.

Making waves
29th August 2012

CJ Hobgood in action at the Billabong Pro Tahiti surfing competition in Tahiti. Photo: AP Today's Phrase If someone or something ”makes waves” it means they make an impression or cause trouble. For example: The footballer is making waves. I think a lot of people are shocked by his comments. This news story is really making waves this week. Everyone is talking about it. In the conference, he talked about the gadgets that made waves last year. Don't confuse it with If you “wave goodbye to something”, you accept you will lose something you value, or not obtain something you want. For example: I'm always late for work at the moment. I think I can wave goodbye to a pay rise this year! If you want to get top grades, you can wave goodbye to your social life - you'll have to study every night. Interesting fact Early surfing boards were made out of solid wood and were extremely difficult to steer. In the 1930s American surfer Tom Blake made a lighter, hollow board and added a fin under the tail, which meant that surfers could control the board better. Since then, new materials like fibreglass have been used to gradually make boards lighter and more manoeuvrable.

In the air
30th August 2012

Artists perform with umbrellas during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics. Photo: Getty/Dan Kitwood Today's Phrase When something is in the air, it means something exciting or significant is taking place or about to happen. For example: Spring is in the air - it's a time for change! There's definitely something in the air - two of my friends have announced they are getting married. There was a feeling in the air that the athlete would win gold. Don't confuse it with A breath of fresh air means a different approach or a welcome change to something. For example: Anna has lots of wonderful ideas and motivation - she's a breath of fresh air. The new coat of paint in the lounge has given the room a breath of fresh air. Interesting fact The first Paralympic Games took place following World War II in 1948, when a sporting event for injured soldiers was organised at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire, UK. Four years later, the 'Stoke Mandeville Games' - as it was then called - was repeated at the same site with 130 competitors, including veterans from the Netherlands. The first official Paralympic Games took place in 1960 alongside the summer Olympics in Rome, with 400 athletes from 23 different countries.

Give something the thumbs up
31st August 2012

Sini Zeng of China passes her coach on her way to a gold medal in the pursuit cycling event during the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Today's Phrase To give something the thumbs up means to approve of it or show you support it. For example: Daisy's cake was delicious – I'd definitely give it the thumbs up. Wait until I give the thumbs up before you send that email to head office. The boss just gave me the thumbs up to take three days off next week. Don't confuse it with To “thumb through something” means to casually look through a book or magazine. For example: I was in a rush so I only got to thumb through your novel on the train. At the hairdresser's salon, Helen enjoyed thumbing through their selection of magazines. Interesting fact The gesture of thumbs up is often believed to originate in ancient Rome following gladiatorial combat when the fate of a defeated warrior was decided by spectators watching the event. They would gesture either with thumbs downturned - to mimic the stabbing motion of a dagger - to indicate the warrior be executed, or if the warrior had fought well, an upturned thumb - or thumbs up - would signify the warrior could be spared.

In the long run
3rd September 2012

Brazil’s Alan Oliveira is congratulated by South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius after winning the Men’s 200m T44 classification at the Paralympics. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters Today's Phrase In the long run means “eventually” or after a long period of time. For example: I’m not spending any money at all at the moment. Life is pretty boring but, in the long run, it’ll be worth it. I’ll be able to afford my dream holiday. I’ve just quit smoking and I feel terrible, but I’m sure, in the long run, I’ll be much healthier Jane hates studying but I keep telling her, in the long run, the effort will lead to a much better job. Don't confuse it with If you are “on the run” it means that you are avoiding being caught, especially by the police. For example: After robbing the bank, the gang were on the run for a week before the police arrested them. Police have issued a warning to avoid a dangerous criminal who’s been on the run since escaping from a high-security prison. Interesting fact The South African runner Oscar Pistorius has apologised for the timing of his comments following his loss in the Paralympic T44 200m final. He criticised the International Paralympic Committee, saying Brazilian gold medallist Alan Oliveira's artificial legs were too long.

Give someone a hand
4th September 2012

Yaseen Perez Gomez guides Arian Iznaga of Cuba around the track in the men's 200m, T11 race. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Today's Phrase To give someone a hand means to give someone assistance or help. For example: I’m really finding my homework difficult. Can you give me a hand? Look at all the washing up! I really need someone to give me a hand! Louise is so kind – she's always ready to give you a hand with anything. Don't confuse it with To “go hand in hand” means two things are connected to or associated with each other. For example: Maths and science go hand in hand – they're related subjects. When watching a film, the images and sound go hand in hand. Interesting fact In the Paralympics, blind and partially sighted runners can compete with a guide. Usually tethered to the athlete by a rope, the guide talks throughout the race, explaining to the athlete where they are on the track, flagging up bends and making a call on whether or not the athlete should accelerate, hold the pace or relax. The golden rule of guide running is not to cross the line before the athlete, a crime punishable by disqualification.

Over and above
5th September 2012

Bronze medallist Lukasz Mamczarz competes in the men's high jump F42 classification. Photo: Matt Dunham /AP Today's Phrase The phrase “over and above” means 'in addition to something' or 'more than something'. For example: The quality of the food was over and above what I expected from that restaurant. The profit we made last year was over and above what we anticipated. We're going to need 5 litres of water over and above the amount we already have. Don't confuse it with When someone is “over the moon”, they are extremely happy. For example: The athlete was over the moon when he won his second gold medal. My boyfriend proposed to me last night - I'm over the moon! Interesting fact Iliesa Delana of Fiji claimed gold in the Men's High Jump F42, while Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda gave India its first medal at the Paralympic Games after winning a silver medal. Lukasz Mamczarz of Poland, in the photo above, settled for bronze.

6th September 2012

Great Britain's Oliver Hynd races to victory in the Men's 200m individual medley. Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA Today's Phrase When things go “swimmingly”, they go well and smoothly. For example: I organised a dinner party and it all went swimmingly. The guests enjoyed themselves and chatted until the early hours of the morning. Things are going swimmingly this year; we've made a significant profit and employed two more people. Today isn't exactly going swimmingly. I arrived at work late and now I can't find my mobile phone! Don't confuse it with We use the phrase “swimming in” when there is a lot of something. For example: The cake was swimming in custard - it was delicious! Alan is swimming in money and yet he never buys anyone a drink. Interesting fact Oliver Hynd set a new European record to take gold in the SM8 200m individual medley, by completing the race in 2 minutes 24.63 seconds. The 17-year-old had already won a silver and a bronze in the 2012 Paralympics Games. Hynd's brother, Sam, was also competing in the race and came fourth.

A tower of strength
7th September 2012

Australian Paralympic athlete Russell Short stands silhouetted against the sun during the men's shot put final at the Olympic Stadium. Photo: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth Today's Phrase If someone is “a tower of strength” they are someone who can be depended on to provide support and comfort in times of trouble. You can also say 'a pillar of strength'. For example: After losing my job, Stefan was a tower of strength and encouraged me to start looking for new employment. Jane was a real tower of strength for the family following their devastating news. David is always a tower of strength when things turn horrible at work. Don't confuse it with To be “in an ivory tower” means to be distant from reality and sometimes superior or arrogant. For example: Our local politician seems to live in an ivory tower – he doesn't know what it's really like to live in this area. If you didn't spend so much time in your ivory tower, you'd know what people really think. Interesting fact Built adjacent to the Olympic Stadium is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a 115m sculpture and observation tower. Created specifically for the London 2012 Olympics, it is Britain's largest piece of public art. It was designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and part-funded by the steel magnate, Lakshmi Mittal. Kapoor was inspired to design a tower that had a spiral, coiling form and was influenced by the painting, 'The Tower of Babel' by the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

End of an era
10th September 2012

The sun sets over the Olympic park for the final time during London 2012. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Today's Phrase When a period of time, which is marked by a significant event, comes to an end, we say it is the end of an era. For example: We're going to be leaving university next week – it will be the end of an era. The defending champion lost her title in the marathon, marking the end of an era for her athletics success. Most people choose to download music nowadays. It's the end of an era for CDs. Don't confuse it with We also talk about the dawn of a new era, when describing something new, which is different to what came before it For example: We're getting a new manager next week and I've heard she wants to change everything – it's going to be the dawn of a new era in our office! I finally decided to leave home and get a flat on my own – it's the dawn of a new era for me! Interesting fact The Paralympic Games closed in a spectacular ceremony in the Olympic stadium, marking the end of an era for London 2012. The Games have been widely cited as the most successful in history, with many world records broken throughout the fortnight. Seb Coe, chairman of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, said last night: "We will never think of disability in the same way."

May the best man win!
11th September 2012

Andy Murray kisses the trophy after winning the US Open. Photo: Elsa/Getty Images Today's Phrase The phrase "May the best man win" is used before a competition to say that you hope the most deserving person wins. For example: My best friend and I are both going for the same job interview. All I can say is, "May the best man win". I've got tickets for the Wimbledon final! I don’t have a favourite player, so may the best man win. You've both worked very hard for this race, so I know you'll do your best. May the best man win! Don't confuse it with If you are onto a winner with something, it means that something is likely to succeed. This phrase is often used when selling things. For example: I think I'm onto a winner with these new cupcakes – I've sold 100 this morning alone! We'll be onto a winner if we can set up our ice-cream business before the end of the summer. Interesting fact Tennis star Andy Murray ended Britain's 76-year wait for a Grand Slam singles champion, after beating rival Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. Murray, who also won gold in the tennis at the Olympics, said he was "a little bit shocked, very relieved and very emotional" when he realised he had won the high-profile competition.

To rattle someone's cage
12th September 2012

A tiger stares through its cage on the roof of a five-storey apartment in Pathum Thani province, near Bangkok. Photo: Sukree Sukplang/Reuters Today's Phrase If you rattle someone's cage, you do something to make them angry, often on purpose. For example: I wouldn't approach John at the moment, someone's really rattled his cage this morning and he's in a horrible mood. Why are you so cross? Who's rattled your cage today? My girlfriend deliberately hid my car keys so that I wouldn't go out with my friends – it's really rattled my cage! Don't confuse it with If someone feels caged in, they feel confined to a small space. For example: This flat is far too small, I feel really caged in. I don't like travelling on the tube during rush hour – you feel so caged in. Interesting fact Thai police found six tigers in three cages on the rooftop of an apartment block near Bangkok, this week. Tiger trafficking is a problem in Thailand, where the animals are illegally sold for their skin, fangs and organs, which are used in medicines. The animals are now being looked after by a government wildlife facility.

Up for grabs
13th September 2012

A herring gull plucks a puffin from the ground. Photo: Amanda Hayes/BWPA/PA Wire Today's Phrase If something is “up for grabs”, it is available. For example: Is this last biscuit up for grabs? I'm starving. There are some great prizes up for grabs in tonight's pub quiz. There are three scholarships up for grabs. I'm definitely going to apply. Don't confuse it with The expression “up for grabs” is always plural, even when we're talking about a single thing. For example: Incorrect: There is still one prize up for grab. Correct: There is still one prize up for grabs.

Interesting fact The photo above won the 'animal behaviour' category in the 2012 British Wildlife Photography competition. Amanda Hayes took this picture in Northumberland, in north east England. The photographer spent a week trying to photograph gulls stealing the sand eels from puffins. Luckily for the puffin, it managed to free itself from the gull's grasp.

To steal someone's thunder
14th September 2012

A thunderbolt lights up the sky above the city of Munich, Germany. Photo: Peter Kneffel/AFP/Reuters Today's Phrase If you “steal someone’s thunder”, you take the attention away from them, usually to your own advantage. For example: Sam stole my thunder when he said he'd done all the work. It's not true – I did most of it! Please don't steal my thunder by announcing your engagement tonight. I want to tell everyone that I'm pregnant. I was telling a joke and he just interrupted me to tell a different one. He always steals my thunder. Don't confuse it with Do you know the difference between the words “thunder” and “lightning” in English? Lightning is a flash of very bright light in the sky caused by electricity, whereas the loud noise that you hear afterwards is called thunder. For example: I enjoyed the storm last night and managed to take photos of the lightning. My dog hid under the table because he's scared of thunder. Interesting fact The spark of lightning can reach over five miles in length and can raise the temperature of the air by 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightning doesn't only occur in thunderstorms, but also in forest fires, volcanic eruptions and even snowstorms. One of the most dangerous places to stand during a thunderstorm is under a tree, and talking on the phone isn't a good idea either!

A taste of your own medicine
17th September 2012

A man administers a special medicine – a small, live fish – to a woman with asthma in Hyderabad, India. Photo: Mahesh Kumar A/AP Today's Phrase The phrase “a taste of your own medicine” means someone should have the same unpleasant experience that they themselves have given to someone, to show them how bad it is. For example: Now you see how it feels to have someone call you names! You are getting a taste of your own medicine! He got a taste of his own medicine when she decided to turn up late. Don't confuse it with Don't confuse with the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” which means it is good for your health to laugh sometimes. Interesting fact Each year, approximately 70,000 people with asthma and other breathing difficulties attend a meeting in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. They each swallow a small live fish, which is believed to help cure breathing problems.

Get into the swing of things
18th September 2012

A young girl swings on a rope attached to a palm tree on Bonegi beach, Honiara, in the Soloman Islands. Photo: Daniel Munoz/Reuters Today's Phrase The phrase to get into the swing of things means you join in, get involved or make progress with something. For example: We're here to enjoy the music – why don't you relax and get into the swing of things? Jane started her new job on Monday and quickly got into the swing of things. After returning from his holiday, John couldn't get into the swing of things back at work. Don't confuse it with The phrase “take a swing at someone” means to attempt to punch them. For example: During the Christmas party Bob tried to kiss Barbara, so Dave took a swing at him. Interesting fact Honaria is the capital of the island of Guadalcanal, the largest isle of the Soloman Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Papuan-speaking settlers are believed to have inhabited these islands as long as 30,000 years ago. The islands are part of the Commonwealth of Nations and this week the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid a visit as part of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.

19th September 2012

Models chat backstage at the Fashion Fringe show of London Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2013. Photo: Stuart Wilson/Getty Images

Today's Phrase If something is “hair-raising” it is very frightening or causes nervous excitement. For example: Some of the roads we drove along in Peru were very dangerous – it was a hair-raising experience! Dave loved to talk about his hair-raising encounters as a war reporter. Sarah had a hair-raising brush with death the second time she went parachuting. Don't confuse it with The phrase “to let your hair down” means to relax, enjoy yourself and not worry about what anyone else thinks. For example: It was Friday night. After a busy week it was time for Jane and her friends to let their hair down. Interesting fact London Fashion Week takes place every September and is one of Europe's biggest fashion events, alongside the Paris and Milan shows. In 2012, there were 62 catwalk shows, showcasing 100 fashion designers over a five day period. The UK fashion industry supports around 800,000 jobs and is the largest employer of all the creative industries.

A window of opportunity
20th September 2012

A Buddhist monk carries his robe as another looks out of the window of their monastery in Yangon, Burma. Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters Today's Phrase The phrase “a window of opportunity” describes a short period of time in which an opportunity exists for you to do something. For example: I've got a window of opportunity to talk to my boss about a pay rise tomorrow. Meet me in reception – there might be a window of opportunity for me to let you into the concert! Sometimes a problem can actually be a window of opportunity. Don't confuse it with The phrase “out the window” means something has gone or has been wasted. For example: My computer crashed yesterday, so any chance of finishing my work is out the window. Interesting fact A “French window” is actually a type of door, but one which has many small panes of glass so that it can let light through. As well as France, they are very common in Italy.

Burst someone's bubble
22nd September 2012

Bubble artist Melody Yang looks through a large bubble she created on a table during a demonstration in Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo: Andy Clark/Reuters Today's Phrase The phrase “to burst someone's bubble” means to destroy their fantasy or illusion of something. For example: I had a great idea for a new website, until George burst my bubble and told me someone had already got there first. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but the party has been cancelled. I hate to burst your bubble, but you won't be getting a pay rise this year. Don't confuse it with When something “bubbles up” it means it rises or appears suddenly. For example: Anger and unrest have been bubbling up across parts of the city today. Interesting fact Melody Yang is the daughter of Fan Yang, the founder of Canadian theatre group, “The Gazillion Bubble Show”. As a family, they have broken numerous world records for their bubble displays, most recently for encapsulating 181 people in a 50 metre long soap bubble. Fan advises that to make good bubbles, you need to mix dishwasher liquid, baking soda and glycerine with clear water.

You can lead a horse to water...
24th September 2012

Susan Gell exercises her horse in Loch Lomand, Scotland. She regularly lets her horse swim to the mainland from the island she lives on. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Today's Phrase “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” is a proverb which means that you can give someone an opportunity but not force them to take it. For example: I gave him the email address of the person in charge of recruitment but he still didn’t contact him about the job. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. We arranged everything for Kate: we paid for the train ticket, ordered a taxi from the station and even made a hotel booking but she still didn’t turn up to the wedding. You know what they say: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Don't confuse it with “Horseplay” is rough or boisterous play. For example: My nephews are always fighting and getting up to all kinds of horseplay. Interesting fact Scotland has almost 800 offshore islands which are divided into four main groups: Shetland, Orkney and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Almost 100 of the islands have people living on them. The largest island is Lewis and Harris, which is over 2000 square kilometres.

Hanging around
25th September 2012

A truck hangs from the Chavantes bridge near Fartuna, Brazil. Photo: Helio Inumaru/AP Today's Phrase If you are “hanging around”, you are waiting, not doing anything particularly productive. For example: I like going shopping with my friends but we spend most of the day just hanging around in the mall. I don't think he really loves me. I'm getting sick of hanging around waiting for him to call. There is nothing for teenagers to do round here. They just spend their evenings hanging around street corners. Don't confuse it with “Hanging up on someone” is the action of putting the phone down suddenly when someone is talking to you. If you don't stop shouting at me, I'm hanging up right now! Interesting fact Alexander Graham Bell, who was born in Scotland in 1847, is credited with inventing the telephone. In 1876 he was awarded the first US patent for his new invention. Bell was a British citizen for most of his early life. He applied for American citizenship after 1877, gained it in 1882, and referred to himself as an American citizen from that point on.

Have your hands full
26th September 2012

A waitress carries glasses of beer at the Oktoberfest in Munich, southern Germany. Photo: Frank Leonhardt/GettyImages Today's Phrase If you “have your hands full”, you are extremely busy. For example: He can't help today because he has his hands full. He has to go shopping, pick his children up from school and then cook dinner. I've really got my hands full today. I haven't even had a chance to make a cup of tea yet. Can I call you later because I've got my hands full right now? I've got so much to do. Don't confuse it with You can say someone is a “handful” if they are difficult to deal with. My niece is a lovely child but she's a real handful. She made such a mess in my house yesterday. Christopher is such a handful when he's been drinking. After a few beers he starts hugging everyone - even strangers! Interesting fact The Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that takes place every year in Germany and ends on the first Sunday in October. More than 6 million people attend the festival each year - and the total beer consumption exceeds 65,000 hectolitres (1,430,000 gallons).

Fall back on
27th September 2012

South Korean soldiers of the special warfare command give a demonstration on the eve of the Armed Forces Day anniversary in Gyeryong. Photo: Lee Jae-Won/Reuters Today's Phrase When you fall back on something it means you depend on it when other things have failed. For example: Steve was finding it difficult to make the repayments and had no savings to fall back on. Rebecca knew that securing a mortgage would be a problem, but she always had her parents to fall back on. If I can't get a job straight away, I've always got my experience as a teacher to fall back on.

Don't confuse it with To fall out with someone means to argue or disagree about something. Dave fell out with Bob over his broken CD player.

Interesting fact Many nations hold an annual celebration of their Armed Forces. South Korea's commemoration falls on October 1st, the date in 1950 when armed forces broke through the line of latitude known as the '38th parallel' during the Korean war.

28th September 2012

Chen Mingzhi, a shoe designer, lies inside his handmade 1.9 metre long shoe at his family store in Wenling, China. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters Today's Phrase When something is “a shoo-in” it means it is certain to win or succeed. Note: the pronunciation is the same, but the spelling different to a 'shoe', which is worn on the feet. For example: Rachel thought she'd be a shoo-in for a promotion within the company. After such a successful role, the actor was a shoo-in for an award nomination. He's a shoo-in to win the next election. He'll win easily.

Don't confuse it with To be in someone else's shoes means to experience something from another's point of view. If you were in her shoes, you wouldn't have gambled that money away.

Interesting fact It is believed the term “a shoo-in” is derived from horse racing when, during a corrupt or “fixed” race, a slower horse would be encouraged to finish ahead of the others.

Nerves of steel
1st October 2012

Martin Kaymer makes the match-winning putt for Team Europe in the 2012 Ryder Cup in Illinois. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Today's Phrase If someone has nerves of steel, it means that they are brave, especially when under extreme pressure. For example: You need nerves of steel to be a bomb disposal expert. There's a man on a tightrope walking between those two skyscrapers! He must have nerves of steel! I will need to have nerves of steel to pass my driving test today – I've only had three lessons. Don't confuse it with If someone gets on your nerves, they annoy you. I really hope Darren doesn't come to the Christmas party – he really gets on my nerves. Let's go to a different cafe today - this one is full of children in the school holidays, and they really get on my nerves!

Interesting fact The Ryder Cup is a golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States of America, and takes place every two years. The 2012 competition finished in dramatic style, when Europe, who were losing, made a record comeback against the United States to win the competition by 14½ points to 13½.

To teach an old dog new tricks
2nd October 2012

A dog wipes out during the Surf City Surf Dog contest in Huntington Beach. Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Today's Phrase The idiom "you can't teach an old dog new tricks " means that it is difficult to get someone to change their habits, especially if they have been doing something for a long time. For example: I bought my mother a smartphone, but she prefers her other one, which is over ten years old! Oh well, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. My friend keeps telling me that I should stop smoking, but there's no chance – you can't teach an old dog new tricks! Everyone keeps telling me that I am too stressed and should work less, but I have always been the same. You can't teach an old dog new tricks! Don't confuse it with If something has gone to the dogs, its quality has deteriorated. Let's avoid that bar, it's really gone to the dogs since the management changed. All of the shops in the town are boarded up. It's really gone to the dogs.

Interesting fact The Surf City Surf Dog competition is held annually on Huntingdon Beach, California, and attracts many pet owners, who are keen to show off their talented canines. This year's competition included a World Record attempt to get twenty dogs to ride the same wave for at least five seconds. Unfortunately, the dogs were unsuccessful.

To bubble over
3rd October 2012

Ukrainian children in Kiev take part in a world record attempt for the most people in a bubble. Photo: Gleb Garanich/Reuters.

Today's Phrase If someone is bubbling over, it means that they are overflowing with emotion. This is usually used to describe positive emotions, such as happiness, pride or excitement. For example: Lesley's son has just graduated and she's bubbling over with pride. Annabel was so happy when she opened her Christmas presents - she was bubbling over! I'm so excited about our holiday - I'm bubbling over at the moment. Don't confuse it with If you burst someone's bubble, you destroy their fantasy or illusion of something. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but there won't be any staff bonuses this year. Interesting fact Soap bubble artists give entertaining performances, creating all sorts of interesting shapes and formations with their bubbles. These often include creating a bubble around people. The World Record for the most people inside a soap bubble was set in Canada in 1994, with 181 people inside a 4-metre-high bubble.

All that glitters is not gold
4th October 2012

A model wears a gold outfit by British designer Sarah Burton during Paris fashion week. Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Today's Phrase The phrase “all that glitters is not gold” is used to describe something which may not be as impressive or valuable as it initially appeared, or is too good to be true. For example: Andrea's been showing off her designer necklace all day, but don't be impressed - it's a fake! All that glitters is not gold! My new boyfriend said he owned the restaurant, but then I found out he was only a waiter. I should have known. All that glitters is not gold. The door-to-door salesman offered me a really good deal to fix my roof, but all that glitters is not gold: it was broken again within a week.

Don't confuse it with If someone is worth their weight in gold, they are extremely kind and helpful. Wendy would do anything to help her neighbours - she's really worth her weight in gold.

Interesting fact Beekeeping inspired the collection by fashion designer Sarah Burton at Paris fashion week. Models wore headgear shaped like beekeeper hats, with a honeycomb design in yellow, brown and caramel colours. Burton's most famous fashion design was the lace wedding dress, worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.

To see red
5th October 2012

People visit a red, echo-free chamber in Valetta. Photo: Darrin Zammit/Reuters Today's Phrase If you see red, you become very angry about something. For example: The teacher will see red when he finds out you haven't done your homework again! He'll give you detention. My mum saw red when I came in late for dinner. I saw red and shouted when the boss complained about my work for the third time today. Don't confuse it with If you lose your temper easily, you can say you fly off the handle. When Simon told me he was going out for the third night in a row, I really flew off the handle and shouted at him. Interesting fact The colour red is associated with many different emotions, including anger and danger, probably because it is the colour of blood. Many road signs use the colour red to warn motorists of hazards. Red also has strong links to love and passion, and, in many cultures, symbolizes happiness and celebration.

Inside out
8th October 2012

A plastinated goat. Photo: Miro Kuzmanovic/Reuters Today's Phrase If something is inside out, it literally means that it is reversed, with its inner parts on the outside. You can also know something inside out, which means you know it very well. For example: If you'd like a tour of Paris, I can take you. I know the city inside out. Gary knows the history of Manchester United inside out. I feel prepared for my French exam. I've been revising all night and I know the vocabulary inside out.

Don't confuse it with If something is turned upside down, it means that it becomes disorganised and chaotic, or thrown into confusion. Katy's world was turned upside down when her boyfriend left her, she didn't know what to do.

Interesting fact Plastination is a technique used to preserve bodies after death. It was developed by Gunther von Hagens in 1977, and replaces water and fat in the body with plastics. A recent exhibition called "Animals Inside Out" includes a shark, bear and octopus, as well as the goat pictured above, and allows visitors to see and touch the insides of the animals.

Hive of activity
9th October 2012

A blue-coloured honeycomb from a beehive in Ribeauville, France. Photo: Vincent Kessler/Reuters Today's Phrase If a place is described as a hive of activity, it is very busy. For example: La Bouqueria market is a hive of activity on a Saturday morning, with vendors selling all sorts of food and drink. Welcome to the department! It's a real hive of activity, but don't worry, you'll soon get the hang of it. London was a hive of activity over the summer, with lots of tourists and spectators who came to see the Olympic games. Don't confuse it with If a place is full of people, it can also be described as buzzing. The nightclub was packed with people last night; it was really buzzing. Interesting fact Beekeepers in northern France were surprised to find their bees producing honey in unnatural shades of red, green and bright blue. An investigation revealed that the bees had been visiting a local factory which processes waste products from M&Ms; multi-coloured chocolate sweets.

In someone's good books
10th October 2012

A woman sorts books at a book fair in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters Today's Phrase If you are in someone's good books, they are pleased with you. For example: I'm in my mother's good books, as I took her out for a surprise dinner last night. Anna really gets on my nerves - she's always trying to get into the boss's good books. My brother is not in my good books today - he broke my mp3 player! Don't confuse it with If someone is described as an open book, it is very easy to know what they are thinking or feeling. Lucy is a real open book; there's never any doubt as to what her opinions are. Interesting fact The Frankfurt Book Fair is the biggest book fair in the world, with over 7,000 exhibitors and 3,000 different events. Book fairs celebrate literature, past and present, and also encourage innovation in reading, such as the development of digital platforms like e-readers.

To wear different hats
11th October 2012

People wear hats in the colours of the flag of Taiwan during the country's National Day celebrations. Photo: Pichi Chuang/Reuters Today's Phrase If you wear different hats, it means you have several different jobs or roles. For example: "Alice is presenting the news at the weekend." "Really? I thought she only worked behind the scenes?" "She presents every weekend - she wears many different hats." I'm not going to work – I'm wearing a different hat today. I'm going to be volunteering at my local youth club. My brother wears many different hats: he works as a swimming teacher during the day, at night he works in our local pub, and at the weekend he helps out at a rowing club. Don't confuse it with If you do something at the drop of a hat, you do it immediately, on the slightest signal. Johnny Depp is gorgeous. I'd marry him at the drop of a hat! Interesting fact This year marks the 101st anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China, which was celebrated in Taiwan this week during the island's National Day. Dancers wearing elaborate costumes performed in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, and members of the military guard marched as part of the celebrations.

To turn over a new leaf
12th October 2012

A meerkat plays amongst the fallen leaves at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling, Scotland. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA

Today's Phrase If you turn over a new leaf, you make a new start or change your behaviour. For example: I'm turning over a new leaf after Christmas – I'm going to stop smoking. Matt used to get in trouble with the police regularly, but he's turned over a new leaf now. You're always eating unhealthy snacks. Why don't you turn over a new leaf and buy some fruit instead? Don't confuse it with If you take a leaf out of someone else's book, you do as they would do, or copy their behaviour. Stop misbehaving! Take a leaf out of your sister's book and sit quietly.

Interesting fact Meerkats are sociable animals, which often live in large family groups. They are famous for standing on their rear legs and acting as a lookout for predators. Sometimes, even the noise from a passing aeroplane is enough to scare meerkats and send them diving for cover.

On top of the world
15th October 2012

Daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumps out of a capsule on the edge of space. Photo: Jay Nemeth/AFP Today's Phrase If you are on top of the world, you are extremely happy about something. For example: My boyfriend proposed to me last night – I'm on top of the world! Angela was on top of the world when her boss gave her a promotion. If my football team wins tonight, I'll be on top of the world – it's going to be such a tough match.

Don't confuse it with If something is described as out of this world, it is extraordinary or extremely good. You should try my mum's apple pie – the taste is out of this world!

Interesting fact Austrian Felix Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound. The daredevil jumped out of a balloon 24 miles above New Mexico, also breaking the record for the highest ever freefall. It took him under ten minutes to descend to earth, and he said that the experience made him feel very humble.

A big head
16th October 2012

A man carries polystyrene heads to form part of a platform being built for the Durga Puja festival in India. Photo: Jayanta Dey/Reuters Today's Phrase In English, a “big head” is someone who thinks that they are very clever and successful, and boasts about their achievements. For example: Nigel has boasted about his new job all night – he's such a big head! I don't want to know about your perfect exam results. Don’t be such a big head. Ruth's new boyfriend is lovely – the last one was a real big head and always showing off. Don't confuse it with If you have a big mouth, you talk too much, often about things which should be kept secret. Don't say anything to Catherine about the job cuts – she's such a big mouth, she'll tell everyone in the office. Interesting fact Durga Puja is the annual Hindu festival in South Asia, in which thousands of people pay homage to the Hindu goddess, Durga. It is widely celebrated in many Indian states with a fiveday annual holiday. Festival traditions include displaying idols of Durga, created out of different materials.

The lion's share
17th October 2012

A white lion cub plays at a zoo in Leon, Mexico. Photo: Mario Armas/Reuters. Today's Phrase If you have the lion's share of something, you have the largest part of it. For example: I'm having a clear-out and have decided to give the lion's share of my clothes to charity. My colleague is very lazy, whilst I always do the lion's share of all of the work. I get paid tomorrow, but the lion's share of my wages goes on paying bills!

Don't confuse it with If you are told to do your share, you should do what is expected of you to help in a situation. Edmund's done his share of the cleaning, so you should do your share, too.

Interesting fact This white lion cub was born in Leon, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. White lions are incredibly rare, with around 300 left in the world. Their colour is caused by a recessive gene, and their coats can range from blonde to pure white.

To bring the house down
18th October 2012

People watch an installation of an upside-down house in Lille. Photo: Phillipe Huguen/AFP Today's Phrase If somebody brings the house down, they get overwhelming applause or approval from an audience. For example: I went to see Lady Gaga in concert last night - she really brought the house down. The magician really brought the house down when he sawed his assistant in half! David brought the house down at the party by telling some really funny jokes.

Don't confuse it with If something is given to you on the house, it is free. You're one of our best customers - have this coffee on the house!

Interesting fact The Fantastic Festival in Lille lasts from October to January, and gives visitors a taste of the supernatural. People visiting the city can encounter a flying saucer, bones from a mythical animal and a house that appears to have fallen out of the sky.

To bite off more than you can chew
19th October 2012

A crocodile eats meat in a pond in San Manuel. Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP Today's Phrase If you bite off more than you can chew, you try to do more than you are able to do. For example: I have bitten off more than I can chew by taking on this extra work – I don't think I'll get it finished on time. David and Sarah planned to completely renovate their house by themselves. In the end, they bit off more than they could chew and had to pay builders to finish it. Thanks for offering to babysit and cook dinner for us, but don't bite off more than you can chew. Don't confuse it with If you cry crocodile tears, you show fake sadness. Louise is crying in the corner because she says the boss upset her – don't pay any attention to her, though – they're just crocodile tears. Interesting fact Each crocodile has 24 teeth in its powerful jaws, which are constantly replaced throughout its life. However, these teeth are designed to grab and crush prey, rather than chew it. The reptiles swallow stones, which grind up food in their stomachs.

Poles apart
22nd October 2012

Indian army soldiers perform 'Malkhamb', a form of traditional Indian gymnastics, during a two-day army exhibition in Allahabad. Photo: Jitendra Prakesh/Reuters Today's Phrase If two things are poles apart, they are very different from each other. For example: Even though Sarah and Kate are identical twins, their personalities are poles apart. Our new manager is poles apart from the old one – she has completely different ideas. We would like to offer you the job! Your interview was excellent and you were poles apart from the other candidates.

Don't confuse it with If you are in pole position, you are in the best position to win a competition. Angelina Jolie's last film was such a success – I think she'll be in pole position to win an Oscar.

Interesting fact Malkhamb is a traditional Indian sport, whose origin dates back to the twelfth century. Competitors jump onto a vertical, wooden pole and perform different gymnastic moves for around 90 seconds. Performing well involves incredible strength and stamina.

Green with envy
23rd October 2012

Fans of the science-fiction series Star Trek attend a convention in London. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty. Today's Phrase If someone is green with envy, they are jealous about something. For example: My sister has just bought a brand new car – I'm green with envy. Sophie was green with envy when she heard that Alice had won the lottery. Take a look at my engagement ring, it's beautiful – I bet you'll be green with envy! Don't confuse it with If you look green around the gills, you look unwell. I think we should take Alexander to the doctor – he's looking a bit green around the gills. I can't travel by boat, it makes me feel really green around the gills. Interesting fact The Star Trek convention, held in London last week, broke the World Record for the largest gathering of fans dressed as characters from the series, including alien characters. The event also featured the UK's first Klingon wedding, when a Swedish couple, dressed as Klingons, exchanged vows and swore to "unite against all their opponents". --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------. NOTE: pale around the gills and blue around the gills; green around the gills Fig. looking sick. (The around can be replaced with about.) John is looking a little pale around the gills. What's wrong? Oh, I feel a little green about the gills. See also: around, gill, pale
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

To give someone a lift
24th October 2012

A camel is placed on a vehicle at a market near Riyadh. Photo: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters Today's Phrase One meaning of the phrase “to give someone a lift” is to boost their spirits. For example: My colleagues came to see me when I was in hospital - it really gave me a lift. Let's take some flowers when we go to visit Grandma, to give her a lift. I think Dad needs to be cheered up. Perhaps going out for lunch will give him a lift? Don't confuse it with You can also use the phrase “to lift someone's spirits”. Going out to the concert really helped to lift my spirits. Interesting fact Muslims around the world are preparing to celebrate Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice. The feast marks the end of Hajj, one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, and animals such as sheep, goats and camels are sacrificed as part of the celebrations.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------. give someone a lift
1. and give someone a ride Fig. to provide transportation for someone. I've got to get into town. Can you give me a lift? 2. Fig. to raise someone's spirits; to make a person feel better. It was a good conversation, and her kind words really gave me a lift. See also: give, lift
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

To sit on the fence
25th October 2012

A horse named Silver Birch jumps a fence on a race course. Photo: Andrew Parsons/ PA Wire Today's Phrase If somebody sits on the fence they don't take sides in an argument. For example: I'm sitting on the fence. I don't know who is right or wrong. I prefer to sit on the fence. I hate taking sides in any argument. He's so indecisive. He always prefers to sit on the fence.

Don't confuse it with If you sit tight, it means you wait patiently before making a decision. You're best to sit tight. It's too risky to change jobs now.

Interesting fact Frankel, a prize-winning race horse who was retired in 2012, ran 100 metres in 5.2 seconds. That compares to runner Usain Bolt, who ran 100m in 9.63 seconds, and cyclist Jason Kenny, who has raced the same distance in 4.86 seconds.

To fall on your sword
26th October 2012

Knights in armour fight each other on horseback. Photo: BBC Today's Phrase If you fall on your sword you take the blame for a group action that might not have been your individual responsibility. For example: He doesn't think he's to blame – but he's falling on his sword anyway. She's going to resign - she's falling on her sword even though it's not her fault. He is the boss – it's only right he's falling on his sword this time. Don't confuse it with Another phrase which means to take the blame for something is to take the flack. She's always taking the flack for things. Even when it's not her fault. Interesting fact The honour of a Knighthood in the United Kingdom comes from the days of Medieval chivalry. The King or Queen touches the person who is going to be knighted on their shoulders with a sword. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------.
to fall on one’s sword 1.- Used other than as an idiom: To commit suicide by allowing one’s body to drop onto the point of one’s sword. 2.- (idiomatic; by extension) To resign from a job or other position of responsibility, especially when pressured to do so. 3.- (idiomatic) To voluntarily take the blame for a situation

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------. get / take (the) flak (informal) to receive strong criticism (often + from ) Channel 4 took the flak from angry viewers protesting about the show.(often + for) She got a lot of flak for deserting her children.

In the eye of the storm
29th October 2012

Hurricane Sandy, dubbed "Frankenstorm", is expected to bring a "life-threatening" surge flood to the mid-Atlantic coast, including Long Island Sound and New York Harbour. Photo: Nasa/Getty Images Today's Phrase If someone is “in the eye of the storm” it means that they are in the centre of a disagreement. For example: Greece is in the eye of the storm which has gathered over the world economy and is threatening to tear the eurozone apart. Our teacher is making us sit our exams again. Johnny was caught in the eye of the storm after he boasted about cheating.

Don't confuse it with Another phrase based on meteorology is “lull before the storm”. That means a quiet time before one of intense activity. The shop assistants took advantage of the lull before the storm and tidied up the hat display. They knew the moment the doors opened they would be flooded with bargain-hunters.

Interesting fact Although this phrase is used to describe being at the centre of a problem or dispute, the real 'eye' of a storm is very calm. The eye - a circular area in the middle of a hurricane, which can be up to 65km in diameter - is characterized by light winds and clear skies, which last for a short period before the strong winds, rain and thunder return.

One sandwich short of a picnic
30th October 2012

A group of youngsters, dressed up as a sandwich, in a fancy dress march during a Halloween event in Kawasaki, near Tokyo. Photo: Itsuo Inouye Today's Phrase The expression “one sandwich short of a picnic” can be used in a humorous way to refer to someone who is crazy or stupid. For example: John is one sandwich short of a picnic. He gave up a job in a big bank to live in a caravan. When we arrived at our hotel by the beach in Miami, all Mary had in her suitcase was her fur coat. She is one sandwich short of a picnic.

Don't confuse it with The expression “to be the meat in the sandwich” means to be in a difficult position, as the person between two others that are arguing. My brother and my sister are fighting over who gets our late mother's cat. I'm the meat in the sandwich, as usual, stuck in the middle.

Interesting fact Halloween marks the end of the Celtic year and was believed to be the day when the spirits of those who died in the previous year would come back and possess a body of the living to allow them passage into the afterlife. To frighten them and avoid becoming possessed, the living would dress up in scary costumes.

To keep your eyes peeled
31st October 2012

A pumpkin made into a lantern for Halloween, often called a 'jack-o'-lantern'. Photo: BBC Today's Phrase “To keep your eyes peeled” means to stay alert and look out for something or someone. For example: John told me he'd meet us in the mall. Just keep your eyes peeled. We need to follow signs for the motorway, so keep your eyes peeled. Mum will be home any minute. Keep your eyes peeled whilst I tidy up!

Don't confuse it with “To keep your nose out” means to mind your own business. This has got nothing to do with you. Keep your nose out!

Interesting fact A modern jack-o'-lantern is typically a carved pumpkin. It is associated chiefly with Halloween. The top is cut off, and the inside flesh then scooped out. An image, usually a monstrous face, is carved out, and the lid replaced. The name is associated with Irish folklore about “Stingy Jack” who played tricks on the Devil.

Whatever floats your boat
1st November 2012

The ferry Napoleon Bonaparte broke its moorings due to gusts of wind blowing across the South of France. It ran aground against a dock, causing a breach in the hull and flooding the ship. This caused it to list. Photo: AP/Claude Paris Today's Phrase The expression “whatever floats your boat” means do what brings you joy. For example: It's your birthday. We can go to the theatre or have a meal in a posh restaurant. Whatever floats your boat. Peter is a ladies' man but if you still want to go out with him, fine, whatever floats your boat!

Don't confuse it with The expression “to push the boat out” means to spend more money than someone is used to, especially when celebrating something. We really pushed the boat out and held Mary's farewell party in one of the most expensive restaurants in town.

Interesting fact It took less than three hours for the Titanic to sink after it hit an iceberg in 1912. More than 1,500 people died in the accident. For many, this event marks the passing of the Edwardian era of opulence (the first decade of the 20th century).

To give a leg up
2nd November 2012

Cheerleaders perform before the NFL football game between the St Louis Rams and the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium in London. Photo: Reuters/Darren Staples Today's Phrase The expression “to give someone a leg up” means to help someone improve their situation. For example: I have a great job in a posh restaurant. My mother gave me a leg up when she taught me to cook French dishes. Mary had an uncle well connected to the business world. It gave her a leg up.

Don't confuse it with The expression “to pull someone's leg” means to play a trick on someone or tell them something that isn't true. What?! You’ve won a million dollars in the lottery? You are pulling my leg.

Interesting fact According to some authors, cheerleading started around 1877 in the United States, when Princeton University students yelled chants from the stands at games. Nowadays most cheerleaders are women.

Step out of line
5th November 2012

An officer shouts orders as members of the 1st Battalion and No. 7 Company the Coldstream Guards line up for inspection by Queen Elizabeth II. Photo by Andrew Winning. Today's Phrase If somebody “steps out of line” it means they don't follow the rules or what is expected of them; behave out of step with his peers. It's also used figuratively to refer to someone behaving badly. For example: Teachers in my school are very keen on discipline. They severely punish anyone who steps out of line. Some tribal societies are very conservative. Anyone stepping out of line could be cut off from the rest of the group. Don't confuse it with “To step out of line” is not to be confused with “ to be next in line” for (something). If someone is 'next in line' for (something) it means he or she is likely to get something, like a promotion at work or an award. My boss has been praising my leadership skills. I think I might be next in line for a managerial post.

To be up against it
6th November 2012

Traders at a Stock Exchange in Brazil. Photo: Inacio Texeira / AP Today's Phrase If you're up against it, you're extremely busy with a tight deadline to meet. For example: I'm sorry I'll call you later. I'm really up against it today. He's got lots to do today. He's really up against it. I was up against it last week. Sorry I didn't have time to see you. Don't confuse it with Another similar phrase is to race against the clock. That means trying to achieve or finish a task in a set amount of time. It's a race against the clock. I don't think I'm going to have this presentation done in time. Interesting fact According to figures issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2011 people in Greece, Hungary and Poland worked the most hours per week in Europe.

Second wind
8th November 2012

Thousands of pieces of confetti float in the wind around US President Barack Obama. Photo: Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images Today's Phrase When you say someone has got “a second wind” it means they have a new vigour or determination to do something some time after starting it. For example: I usually feel a bit tired after lunch but get a second wind around 4pm. Observers said Barack Obama was judged to have lost the first presidential debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but got a second wind in the second and third debates. Don't confuse it with To “throw caution to the wind” means to abandon a careful and cautious approach and do something in a much braver way despite the risks. Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and go with your heart. Do what you believe in. You know what? I’m going to throw caution to the wind and bet all my money on that racehorse. I think it’s going to win. Interesting fact Many long-distance runners experience a phenomenon also known as the ‘second wind’. A runner may be completely exhausted and unable to continue when they suddenly feel a new surge of energy that allows them to finish the race.

Walk tall
13th November 2012

The Colombian city of Cartagena celebrates its independence with a parade and beauty pageants. Photo: Joaquin Sarmiento / Reuters Today's Phrase The phrase “walk tall” means to be brave and confident in your abilities. For example: I can walk tall because I really am proud of my job as a nurse. I believe I can make a difference. Making presentations can be scary. After I did them a couple of times my confidence really improved. Now I just go out and walk tall and enjoy them! Don't confuse it with A “tall story” is one which is unlikely to be true as it is full of overly interesting or exciting details. My mate said he went to China and met Jet Li and they learned kung fu together and even shot a movie. But I don’t believe him. He’s full of tall tales. Interesting fact Today, walking on stilts, or stilt-walking, tends to be for entertainment for children. But in the past stilts were often used for crossing rivers and marshes.

Up to your neck
15th November 2012

Flooding in Venice gives this man the chance for a swim in St Mark's Square. Photo: Luigi Costantini / AP Today's Phrase If you are “up to your neck” in something it means you are really busy with it or involved in it. For example: I'm really up to my neck in work. It's the end of the financial year and I have so many accounts to finish. Tony owes the bank a lot of money. He's up to his neck in debt. I'd love to join you this weekend but I really can't. I'm up to my neck in revision for my final exams.

Don't confuse it with A pain in the neck. If someone or something is “a pain in the neck”, it is very annoying. Your sister is a real pain in the neck. She's been playing that Rihanna song all afternoon.

Interesting fact The lagoon city of Venice is famous for its canals, but it is also regularly swamped by floods and high tides. The highest level of flooding in recent history was in 1966 when waters rose by 1.8m.

Down the pan
20th November 2012

A second-hand toilet seller takes a break in the Philippines. Photo: Romeo Ranoco / Reuters Today's Phrase If something goes “down the pan” or “down the toilet” it means it is wasted or ruined. For example: Mike had great dreams of becoming a rock guitarist, but they went down the pan when he injured his hand. I'm afraid all that careful preparation we did for Meerka's surprise birthday party went down the pan when her sister told her about it. He invested all his life's savings in a beautiful, antique car but everything went down the pan when he crashed it the next day. Don't confuse it with If something goes “out of the frying pan, into the fire”, it means it goes from a bad situation into an even worse one. Studying for my MA was really difficult and stressful, but then I really went out of the frying pan into the fire when I graduated and realised there were no good jobs available. Interesting fact In British English, the word “toilet” can refer to the fixture itself or the room where it is installed, for which you will also hear the more colloquial words “loo”, “lav” or “john”. The slang word “dunny” is popular in Australia while Americans tend to prefer the more polite terms “bathroom” or “restroom”. In the Philippines, the term of choice is the pleasantsounding “comfort room”, or “CR” for short.

Big mouth
22nd November 2012

A man opens a camel's mouth wide at a camel fair in Pushkar in India. Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP Today's Phrase If you “are a big mouth” or “have a big mouth” it means you talk too much, especially about things which should be kept secret or avoided. For example: Fran's got such a big mouth. She's been telling everyone that I'm engaged. I wanted to tell them myself. Oh no, me and my big mouth! I made Alex feel upset when I mentioned his dead cat. Don't be such a big mouth. You should learn to keep other people's problems to yourself. Don't confuse it with To bad-mouth. If you “bad-mouth” someone it means you say negative things about them behind their back. She's always bad-mouthing her friends. I really don't like it. Interesting fact Thousands of camels are traded each November at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan in India. Buyers always check a camel's teeth, as good teeth are a sign of good health.

Drive someone up the wall
26th November 2012

A car stuck on the border fence between the US and Mexico. Photo: AFP / US Customs and Border Protection Today's Phrase If something “drives you up the wall”, it makes you very irritated and angry. For example: This computer is really driving me up the wall; it keeps crashing! Shopping for jeans drives her up the wall. She can never find a pair that fit her. You are driving me up the wall! Will you stop singing that awful song now? Don't confuse it with Another phrase is “climbing the walls”. If you are “climbing the walls” it means you are extremely nervous, worried or bored. I've been sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring all day - I'm climbing the walls. Interesting fact The US-Mexico border is the most frequently crossed border in the world and is almost 2,000 miles long.

I'll eat my hat
27th November 2012

A cricket fan wears a hat made from a watermelon during day two of the second test. Photo: Mome de Klerk/Getty Today's Phrase “I'll eat my hat” is an expression people use when they think something is very unlikely to happen. For example: If Arsenal win the Champions League, I'll eat my hat! I don't think I'll make it past the interview stage for this job. If I do, I'll eat my hat! If the government survives this latest scandal, I'll eat my hat!

Don't confuse it with If you are forced to “eat your words”, you admit that you are wrong about something you have said. I advised Suzanne against setting up her own business, because I didn't think it would be successful. Well, I've had to eat my words – she's now a multi-millionaire!

Interesting fact Watermelons are thought to have originated in southern Africa, where they can be found growing wild. Cricket fans wore hats carved out of watermelons during the second Test match between South Africa and Australia this week.

Licking your lips
28th November 2012

A monkey licks a block of ice with bananas encased in it during the Monkey Buffet Festival. Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom/ Reuters Today's Phrase We say people are “licking their lips” when they are about to eat something tasty. The phrase can also be used to describe a person's eagerness about an event in the future. For example: My children were licking their lips when they entered the sweet shop. You'll be licking your lips when you see the roast dinner I've made! Dave was licking his lips ahead of the crucial football game.

Don't confuse it with If you “lick your wounds”, you recover from a defeat. This phrase comes from animals, who often lick their wounds after fighting. That was an incredible cricket match! The winning team is celebrating on the pitch, whilst the losers have gone to lick their wounds in the clubhouse.

Interesting fact The Monkey Buffet Festival is an annual event held in Lopburi, Thailand to promote tourism. The festival provides food and drink for the monkeys, as a way of thanking them for drawing visitors to the town.

Over the moon
4th December 2012

St James' Palace has announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Catherine, are expecting their first baby. Photo: Danny Lawson/Getty Today's Phrase If you are “over the moon”, you are extremely happy about something. For example: My husband and I are expecting our first baby next summer – we're absolutely over the moon! Sarah was over the moon when she found out she'd got the job. If England win the World Cup, I'll be over the moon!

Don't confuse it with If you describe someone as “over the hill”, it means you think they are old and unable to do something. Mum's bought Granddad a smartphone for Christmas. To be honest, I think he's a bit over the hill for new technology like that.

Interesting fact The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have announced that they are expecting their first baby. The royal baby will be third in line to the throne after Prince Charles and Prince William.

Snowed under
6th December 2012

People walk amongst trees covered in snow in Hokarangen, Stockholm. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Today's Phrase If you are “snowed under”, you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. For example: I'm sorry, I can't write that report for you right now – I'm snowed under with work today. Mum didn't have time to bake a cake; she was snowed under with cooking the dinner. I'm going to treat myself to a spa weekend. I've been so snowed under this week; I need some time to relax.

Don't confuse it with When the snow falls so heavily that you can't leave the house, we say that you are “ snowed in”. Wendy rang to say that she can't come for dinner tonight – she's snowed in! Interesting fact A huge storm brought large amounts of snow to the Stockholm area of Sweden this week. Around 30cm of snow fell in one night, causing widespread transport disruption. A further 20cm of snow is predicted to fall in the coming days.

A little bird told me
11th December 2012

A waxwing sits on the branch of a rowan tree in London. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Today's Phrase If you have information, but you do not want to reveal who told you it, you can say “a little bird told me”. For example: A little bird told me that it's your birthday today! We're looking for someone to take on this new project, and a little bird told me that you might be interested in the job? A little bird told me that you've got a crush on someone in our class…

Don't confuse it with If you are a person who likes to get up early in the morning, you may be called “ an early bird”. Give me a call in the morning: it doesn't matter what time, I'm such an early bird, I'll definitely be awake.

Interesting fact Thousands of waxwings have descended on Great Britain after the failure of the birds' food sources in their native Scandinavian breeding grounds. The birds are thought to be the sign of a harsh winter to come.

A whole new ball game
13th December 2012

Chinese farmer Liu Qiyuan looks out from his 'survival pod'. Photo: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Today's Phrase “A whole new ball game” is a situation which is different from anything that has happened before. For example: I thought I was good at speaking English in terms of day-to-day conversation. But working as a professional translator is a whole new ball game; I have to be much more accurate. Tom says working as a manager for the first time is a whole new ball game. I used to go jogging every weekend, but running marathons is a whole new ball game.

Don't confuse it with Another phrase is to “get the ball rolling”, which means to get something started. After a long time planning the project, it feels great to finally get the ball rolling. I really don't exercise enough and want to get fit. If I go to the gym once a week, that should get the ball rolling.

Interesting fact According to one interpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar, the world is going to end on 21 December 2012. In case it does, Chinese farmer Mr Liu claims to have the solution: his “survival pods”, which can withstand 1,000-metre-high waves and carry 14 people at a time. They are also equipped with oxygen tanks and food and water supplies.

Pumped up
18th December 2012

Indian workers check water pumps on the banks of the River Ganges ahead of the Kumbh Mela. Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

Today's Phrase If you are “pumped up”, you are excited and full of confidence. For example: The atmosphere when you walk into the Olympic Stadium, it's like drinking 10 cups of coffee, it pumps you up so much. England were so pumped up before the game they destroyed the opposition before the whistle was even blown. I'm feeling pumped up before this interview. I just know I'm going to get the job.

Don't confuse it with Another phrase is “to pump iron”, which means to lift heavy weights, usually at a gym, in order to increase muscle. After a stressful day at the office, half an hour of pumping iron at the gym really relaxes me. I want to get fit but the idea of pumping iron in a room full of sweaty men is really unappealing.

Interesting fact Millions are expected to take a ritualistic bath in the confluence of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna during the month-long Kumbh Mela festival in India. It begins in January 2013.

You scratch my back
20th December 2012

Grooming plays an important part of social relationships among Japanese macaque monkeys. Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP

Today's Phrase The phrase “you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours” means “if you do something for me, I'll do something for you”; especially if it is something you would not have been able to do for yourself. For example: You know, I think we can help each other out here. I'll lend you my car on Friday if you let me borrow your camera for the wedding. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. If you could come and fix my radiators that would be really helpful. I'll do that translation exercise for you if you like. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

Don't confuse it with If you do or start something “from scratch” it means you do it from the beginning. I was writing my essay and forgot to save it. Guess what happened? Yes, the computer crashed and I had to start from scratch. Why does that always happen?!

Interesting fact Japanese macaques, or “snow monkeys”, are highly social animals, with a complex set of relationships between each other. Entrance to the thermal hot springs, which can reach over 40 degrees centigrade, depends upon the social position of the monkey. Only the highestranking females and their infants are allowed in.

A leg up
(25th December 2012)

Cheerleaders perform before the NFL football game between the St Louis Rams and the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium in London. Photo: Reuters/Darren Staples Today's Phrase The expression “a leg up” on someone means to have an advantage over someone. For example: My grandmother attended a catering course in France last year. Now, when it comes to cooking, she definitely has a leg up on the family. If you study hard, you’ll have a leg up on the competition when it comes to finding a good job.

Don't confuse it with The expression “to pull someone's leg” means to play a trick on someone or tell them something that isn't true. What?! You've won a million dollars in the lottery? You are pulling my leg!

Interesting fact According to some authors, cheerleading started around 1877 in the United States, when Princeton University students yelled chants from the stands at games. Nowadays most cheerleaders are women.

To be on ice
(27th December 2012)

As temperatures plummet in Tokyo, icicles hang from the wings of a frozen crane sculpture on a fountain. Photo: Tsuno Yoshikazu/AFP/Getty Today's Phrase “To be on ice” is an expression used to talk about decisions or plans that are not going to be dealt with for the moment. For example: The Middle East peace process may be on ice but it's still a priority for many Western leaders. I've had to put my trip to the Caribbean on ice as I need the money to get my car repaired. Don't confuse it with Another phrase is “to be on thin ice”, which means to be in a difficult situation. John opened a luxury goods shop in 2008. He was on thin ice when the recession started. Interesting fact According to the Guinness Book of Records the lowest temperature recorded in a place where there is a permanent population is -68°C. The temperature was recorded in Russia in the Siberian village of Oymyakon in 1993. It's the coldest ever recorded outside Antarctica.

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