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Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick,

fun way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by
Achilles heel
This saying comes from the Greek myth Troy. The all-powerful warrior Achilles had one weak spot, his
heel. When an arrow hit Achilles in his heel, he died from it. Today, it means a fatal weakness that a
person has, regardless of how powerful he or she is.
Across the board
When something applies to everyone equally. For example, when theres a pay raise that increase wages
for everyone by 10 per cent its happening across the board.
Actions speak louder than words
In other words, what a person actually does is more important than what they say they will do.
Adams apple
An Adams apple is the bump on a mans neck that sticks out and is something girls dont have. Its
named after the Biblical story of forbidden fruit apple, of course that got stuck in Adams throat after
Eve gave it to him in the Garden of Eden.
Add insult to injury
When a bad situation is made even worse, it adding insult to injury. An example would be when
someone loses their job and then his or her car runs out of gas when driving home, making a bad
situation even worse.
All hell breaks loose
When someone isnt calling you back, your computer isnt working and you need to file a story on
deadline, its safe to say that all just hell broke loose.
All in a days work
Doing all the tasks associated with a job, even if they are complicated and detailed, are considered being
all in a days work when youve completed them.
American dream
The American dream is the reason why so many immigrants come to North America. The United States
especially prides itself as a democratic place where people have the right to good education, freedom,
peace and a rich life if they work for it.
An elephant never forgets
This phrase describes someone who doesnt forget anything, despite how long ago something happened.
The phrase comes from researchers who discovered that elephants always follow the same path to their
burial place, even passing on directions to younger generations.
Apple of ones eye
When someone is truly precious and dear to you, he or she is the apple of your eye.
Armed to the teeth
In a movie, for example, when an actor is carrying lots of knives, guns and other weaponry on his or her
persons, its safe to say he or she is armed to the teeth.
A leopard cant change its spots
This phrase could be used to describe someone who cant change their nature. A leopard cant change
its spots could be used to describe a co-worker whos always been mean and wont change.
A little bird told me
When you know a secret, but dont want to say who told you that secret, youd use the clich a little bird
told me to protect the source.
A picture paints a thousand words
This idiom describes how much one picture can capture the details of a moment in time more than words
ever can.
You might hear someone spell out the letters A-S-A-P, or even sound out the acronym as if it were a real
word (asap). Either way, it simply means that whatever that person is talking about, they want it as
soon as possible.
As snug as a bug in a rug
On a cold winter day, youre inside in front of the fire, curled up with a nice mug of hot chocolate and a
warm blanket youre as snug as a bug in a rug.
At deaths door
When someone is old and sick for a long time, youd describe him or her as being close to dying or at
deaths door.
At ones beck and call
To be at someones beck and call is to be entirely subservient to them; to be responsive to their slightest
If youre picking up groceries and doing your girlfriends dishes whenever she asks you, youre at her
beck and call.
At the eleventh hour
Handing in assignments at the last minute means youre handing them in at the eleventh hour.
Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick,
fun way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by
Bargain hunter
Do you love a good sale? When you enter a store, do you head right to the Clearance rack? Then
youre probably a bargain hunter someone who likes to find a good deal.
Back to square one (or back to the drawing board)
Other options have failed you, and you need to take a new approach, you can say that youre back to
square one or back to the drawing board, where youll start all over again from the beginning.
Bad hair day
Youve woken up and your hair looks frightful even though youve struggled with it in the bathroom for half
an hour, its safe to say that youre having a bad hair day.
Bark up the wrong tree
If you just made fun of a police officer by shouting at him, youre barking up the wrong tree. Hell
probably come after you with sirens blaring its not a good idea.
Beat around the bush
If youve spilled spaghetti sauce on your moms favourite white blouse, you know youre in trouble. To
avoid this, you may compliment her on the way she looks or discuss how the weather is so nice, before
you finally tell her what you did. Thatd be beating around the bush.
Beauty and the beast
When you may see a pretty girl with a not-so-good-looking guy, you could describe them as beauty and
the beast match. Its not a nice thing to say out loud.
Below the belt
Has a co-worker insulted you by mentioning a personal flaw? Did he do it in front of your colleagues and
that insult was especially uncalled for and inappropriate? Its below the belt.
Bend over backward
If youre driving halfway across the city to pick up a friend late at night when you were sleeping, youre
probably bending over backward for him or her. Youre not physically bending backwards, but youre
really going out of your way for someone.
Between a rock and a hard place
When you have to choose between being fired or being transferred to another city or province, youre
facing a really tough decision. If both outcomes put you in a potentially lose-lose situation, it means youre
between a rock and a hard place.
Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

The term Canuck is first recorded about 1835 as an Americanism, originally referring specifically to a
French Canadian. Today, Canuck now refers to any Canadian. And, of course, the Vancouver NHL hockey

A Catch-22 is a paradox that is impossible to find a solution or answer to. This saying is based on the
book of the same name by Joseph Heller, which was written in 1953. Catch-22 is about U.S. Air Force
fighters who didnt want to fly into dangerous bombing missions, yet the only way to be exempt of this
duty was to be dismissed on grounds of insanity. Hence, a fighter would have to be either crazy or
willing to dieplacing them in a Catch-22 situation.

Catch some Zs
Feeling tired? You may want to go to bed, take a nap or catch some Zs. Sleeping is definitely involved
in all.

Cat got your tongue?

Someone might teasingly ask you this question if youre being very quiet and untalkative.

Cheesed off
If a telemarketer calls you for the 10th time in a day, youre probably really mad about it, or cheesed
off. Its a non-profane phrase for expressing your annoyance.

Chill out
When someone is too angry, it is time for them to chill out, or calm down.

Chip in
To chip in means to help someone out. If someone doesnt have enough cash to pay for lunch, you
might chip in an extra few dollars to cover the bill.

Chip on ones shoulder

Do you know a person who seems to be angry, reserved or upset, but wont explain why? He or she may
have a chip on their shoulder, meaning they are harbouring longstanding feelings of hurt or anger.
Clean sweep
When Michael Phelps won the gold medal for all the swimming races in the Olympics, he did it in a
clean sweep. A clean sweep is simply when someone wins in every event at a competition or contest.

Unlike in the United States, where distance is measured in miles, Canadians go metric and use
kilometres, which they casually call clicks.

Cloak and dagger

This saying either comes from Spanish roots or from British writer Charles Dickens. The two objects,
cloak and dagger, are related to spies, mystery and espionage. This phrase is used to refer to
situations that are shady and unexplainable.

Clutch at straws
When your relationship has been bad for five long years, and you still have hope itll improve, it means
youre clutching at straws. Its when you hope for the best in a situation that is sliding through your
fingers and will end poorly.

Coal in your stocking

Back to the idea of the naughty or nice list, those children on the naughty side are said to expect
coal in their stockings instead of presents and candy.

Cold feet
If youve been planning to go skydiving for the first time, and you freeze up when youre at the edge of
the planes door, it means you just got cold feet. Its when you get scared enough that you cant go
through with something like skydiving or a wedding.

Cold shoulder
Did you have an argument with someone and they havent gotten over it? Are they not speaking to you
and ignoring you? Youre being given the cold shoulder.

Cold turkey
If youve decided to quit smoking where you used to smoke a dozen cigarettes a day, youll want to quit
by smoking less and less cigarettes over a period of time instead of trying to quit all at once in one day,
going cold turkey.

Connecting the dots

Taken from the childrens game of connecting the dots to an illustration, this saying means you get it
you understand.

Cost an arm and a leg

Do you simply have to have that very expensive coat even though its not in your budget? If you buy it,
you could say it cost you an arm and a leg, due to its excessive cost.
Crocodiles tears
This saying comes from an anecdote that claims crocodiles cry to lure in their prey. When someone cries
crocodiles tears it means they are being insincere and fake.

Cry wolf
This saying comes from the childhood story The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The little boy in the story kept
falsely warning his neighbours that there was a wolf trying to eat their sheep, when there really wasnt.
One day when there actually was a wolf, the little boy tried to truly warned them, but his neighbours
didnt believe him, only to be shocked finding all their sheep gone. Crying wolf means to give false

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Davy Jones locker

There are many theories about the origin of this term. Sailors and pirates used this term to describe the
mythical place at the bottom of the sea where drowned mariners rest, their souls locked into Davy
Jones locker forever. Its normally used to refer to death by drowning in the ocean.

Dead as a doornail
There is no clear or logical explanation as to why a doornail is used to denote the concept of death. One
guess is that a door-fastener a beam of wood used across the inside of a door as a lock it is also
called a nail and it resembles a corpse, which could be why dead as a doornail is used to describe a
person or animal who is really dead.

Devils advocate
Originated in the Roman Catholic Church, this term was given to the official who argued against the
proposed beatification of a dead person in order to generate debate. If you are part of a conversation,
the person who mentions an opposing view without really believing in it, is playing devils advocate.

Dont be a Scrooge
Charles Dickens famous A Christmas Carol character Ebenezer Scrooge was a miserable soul who
repeatedly yelled, Bah! Humbug, when faced with Christmas joy. If someone tells you not to be
Scrooge-like, youre probably being a little grouchy yourself.

Dont call us, well call you

If a potential employer says this to you after an interview, dont expect to be called back for a second
interview. This is usually you probably wont be hearing back from that person.

Dot the is and cross the ts

Before handing in a paper or presenting a project to your boss, make sure to dot the is and cross the
ts. That is, be sure to check for one last time if there are any mistakes you need to fix before handing in
your work.
Only at your local Timmys (Tim Hortons), a coffee with double cream, double sugar is nicknamed

Down in the dumps

If a loved one has rejected you, then you are probably feeling sad, hurt and down in the dumps. This
phrase is used when describing depression or unhappy moments.

Draw a blank
Failing to remember something means youre drawing a blank. When you look for your keys and you
cannot find them, youre drawing a blank as to where they could possibly be.

Draw the short straw

This saying is based on the old tradition of drawing straws in which the person who draws the short
straw is the loser and thus forced to do an unpleasant task.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

According to experts, eagles have better eyesight than all other birds. Eagles see better than even
humans. Thus if a person is referred to being eagle-eyed, it means he or she has excellent sight.

Eat your heart out

Use this phrase when you want to make another person feel bitter or full of envy. If youve just achieved
success or look amazing, you could say to your enemy eat your heart out not that its a nice phrase
to say.

Egg on
Derived from an ancient Scandinavian word, this phrase has nothing to do with eggs. It actually means
to incite or urge people to perform an action. If your friend is usually bothering you to exercise, for
example, then it means she is egging you on to get into shape.

Canadians are known worldwide for tacking on the word eh to sentences, turning them into a bit of a
question for example, That was a good hockey game last night, eh?

Elvis has left the building

At the end of every Elvis Presley concert, a famous American singer, this phrase was used to send crazed
fans home. In other words, when you hear Elvis has left the building it means the show really is over.

Enter the lions den

To enter the lions den means to enter a place of hostility and disadvantage. For instance, After
graduating from university, the inexperienced business person was thrown into the lions den, meaning
he or she would have to fend for him or herself in a difficult environment.
Every cloud has a silver lining
A cloud can impede you from seeing the sun at times, but, often, you can see a little ray of light at the
edge. This phrase is one of hope. No matter how hard times are, there is always hope, there is always a
silver lining to every cloud, or the promise things will get better.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Fat cat
Wealthy, privileged people are often referred to by the slang term fat cats.

Face the music

Our actions can sometimes have unpleasant consequences, yet we have to accept them. Thats what
you do when you face the music you accept the consequences of your actions.

Fair and square

In the 16th century, the word square meant honest in the English language. The phrase fair and
square comes from the idea that each angle of a square is right, not twisted. Being fair and square
means that you are true and honest.

Fair game
In a fair game its okay to attack or ridicule someone if you have good reason for doing so; or at
least when you do, you can use the excuse that your actions are due to the situation being fair game.

Fall on deaf ears

If you dont like to hear I told you so, and its said to you often enough, you probably stop paying any
heed, meaning the words are falling on deaf ears.

Feeding frenzy
Originally, a feeding frenzy referred to the intense eating habits of sharks. Normally, this phrase refers
to a frantic activity by a group, such as when dogs attack their lunch.

Feel the pinch

If you are short of money or feeling restricted in some other way, then you could say you are feeling the

Field day
After all the work youve been doing this year in school, you probably deserve a field day, or a day that
is exciting, fun and free. It also means youre really enjoying yourself, having a field day of fun.

Fingers crossed
Keeping your fingers crossed means that you are hoping for good luck or a happy outcome in a
Final straw (or last straw)
After a series of bad things happen to you, the final straw (no matter how big or small) is used to
describe the thing or event that will finally bring you down or make everything collapse badly.

Fit as a fiddle
A fiddle is a colloquial word that means violin. Probably, because this instrument is a product of skilled
craftsmanship, it is good to be fit as a fiddle that is to be very healthy.

Flavour of the month

That new pop artist who has written one good song, thats it is being called the flavour of the
month by critics. This implies that his or her popularity wont last for long.

Flea market
At a flea market or outdoor shopping bazaar, you can find plenty of cheap articles, antiques and
secondhand goods being sold by individual vendors.

Fly into the face of danger

If you really love extreme sports, to the point that you dont care if you get hurt, then it means you
really like to fly into the face of danger. The phrase means to take great and reckless risks.

Fly off the handle

If you really disagree with other peoples beliefs, they can make you fly off the handle, or lose your
temper, yet you have to be able to control your anger and be respectful. This phrase means to really
lose your temper.

Flying saucer
A flying saucer is a disc-shaped flying object some people claim to have seen thats believed to carry
aliens. In 1947, an American pilot reported seeing several of these flying objects, and journalists
introduced this term as a result.

Fools gold
Pyrite was called fools gold because it was mistaken with gold during the Klondike Gold Rush in the
Yukon, but its actually worthless. Fools gold is another way of saying fake wealth.

Fools paradise
You are in fools paradise when you feel delusionally happy but its a state that is based on false

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

This phrase is used to describe a situation where an inexperienced person rushes in, recklessly, but a
more experienced person would hold back and not get involved.

Forbidden fruit
Originally, the first forbidden fruit was noted in the bible. In the Book of Genesis, the apple that God
forbade the first humans, Adam and Eve, to eat symbolizes human disobedience. Eve fed the apple to
Adam, and God cast them out of the Garden of Eden (paradise) as a result. Today the phrase is used
when referring to something that is tempting yet completely prohibited.

Foregone conclusion
A foregone conclusion refers to a result or outcome that is inevitable. For example, No matter what
Republican critics said, Obama winning the presidential election was a foregone conclusion.

Fork up
If someone hasnt given you the money he or she owes you, youll be tempted to say, Fork up the
money you owe me!

For the birds

When an idea or plan doesnt make any sense, you could say that its for the birds. Its worthless.

Forty winks
With the insane workload you have, and all the tasks to complete, even if you really need to get a bit of
sleep, there is only time for forty winks. That is, forty winks means to take a very short nap.

Freak out
To scare someone is to freak them out; to be scared is to be freaked out. For example: That
teenager freaked out his mother with his green spiked hair and five earrings. Someone who is very
excited or angry is freaking out all over the place.

Friendly fire
This expression has been used since the Vietnam War and it means to be under fire (or to be shot at
accidentally) from ones own forces.

For your information, FYI means just that for your information.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Game plan
When you have a game plan, you have a plan of action and a strategy to achieve something you want.

Getting out on the wrong side of the bed

According to an old superstition, its bad luck to get out of bed on the left side because that is where evil
spirits reside. Thus, when someone is in a bad mood in the morning, you could say he or she got out on
the wrong side of the bed.

Give one a break

This phrase has two meanings. When you give someone a break, you are either giving him or her a
chance or letting them take a break.
Give one a run for their money
If you give one a run for their money, it means you are willing to compete with someone or willing to
give them a chance.

Give a thumbs up/down

In ancient Rome, thumbs were used to express whether or not a gladiator should be killed. Thumbs up
was a positive response, while thumbs down was a negative. The expression has carried to modern
times when approving (thumbs up) or disapproving (thumbs down) someone or something.

Gives one the willies

Something that gives you the willies means it makes you feel scared, uncomfortable or nervous.

Go ahead, make my day

If you hear someone say these words, they will probably be accompanied by a snarled lip, la Clint
Eastwood. One of the most famous movie lines of all time, cop Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) says it to
an armed robber in the 1983 movie Sudden Impact. People still say it today to mean they would be very
happy if you continue on with your actions or behaviour because he/she could react in a manner that
would be extremely pleasurable to them.

AWOL stands for absent without leave; it is pronounced as a word, ay-wol, and it means to leave
without explanation or permission.

Going postal
This expression means extremely hostile or disgruntled behaviour, possibly violent. It developed out of
several real-life incidents of postal workers in North America going insane and shooting fellow co-

Going to the dogs

The state of the economy is still looking dreary. Some might say its gone to the dogs.

Go haywire
Every time someone goes haywire, he or she is going crazy or acting erratically.

Golden (or Midas) touch

According to Greek legend, Midas was a king who, after being granted a wish, turned everything he
touched to gold. If you are good at making money, then it could be said that you have the Midas touch
or golden touch.

Good, bad or lucky break

Break means to have a chance, so this can be good or bad, or simply lucky.

Good Samaritan
Based on a biblical story in which a man from Samaria rescues a Jewish man, a good Samaritan refers
to someone who helps people in distress without wanting or expecting any payment in return.
Goody two-shoes
A goody two-shoes is someone who is self-righteous and uncommonly well behaved.

Grab a bite
If someone asks you to grab a bite, theyre not asking you to resort to cannibalism. Youre being asked
to go out to a restaurant for something to eat.

Greek to me
Something that is Greek to you is unintelligible you cant understand it. Comes from Cascas comment
in Shakespeares Julius Caesar: But, for my own part, it was Greek to me.

Green-eyed monster
Originally coined by Shakespeare in Othello, the phrase green-eyed monster is a euphemism for

Green with envy

To be green with envy is to have the desire for something that someone else has.

If someone is a grinch, he or she has no sense of fun or enjoyment. This person is cranky and unfriendly,
and tries to ruin other peoples merriment. This comes from a story by the famous childrens author Dr.
Seuss. His book, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, is very popular with children and adults alike around
the world.

Grind to a halt
Parliament ended or ground to a halt when it was prorogued in December to avoid a no-confidence

Grin like a Cheshire cat

Cheshire is an English county famous for its cheese, and since the supply of milk is guaranteed, the
countys cats are happy. When you have a big smile and are content, you are grinning like a Cheshire

This rodent has been used in scientific research for many decades. Thus, if you are called a guinea-pig
it means youre taking part, often unwittingly, in some type of testing or experiment.

Originally adopted as a motto by a U.S. soldier during World War II, this slang term now means to be
exCanadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick,
fun way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by

Watching a horror movie in the dark can be really scary, or hair-raising.
Hang it up
You can hang up more than a phone call. You can use the expression hang it up when talking about
quitting a job, hobby or habit, i.e., Im going to hang up my writing career.

Hang loose
In other words, just relax. There is also hang loose hand gesture that is commonly associated with
Hawaii and surfers.

Hang tough
Another expression with the word hang, hang tough means to stick with something. Dont quit
hang tough on your decision to quit smoking.

Hanky-panky is anything sexual that can happen between couples. Just make sure that when engaging
in hanky-panky, youre not in public!

Harsh my mellow
This slang term may even be unfamiliar to people born in Canada, but its easy enough to figure out
when used in context, e.g., I was relaxing by the lake, but the loud barking dog harshed my mellow.

Hatchet job
When married politicians have affairs, usually mistresses do a hatchet job on their reputation; in other
words, they commit a ruthless attack on their reputation.

Have a bone to pick

You say you have a bone to pick when you talk to someone who did something that annoys you. So, if
someone from the office ate your lunch, then you have a bone to pick with him or her.

Head honcho
The boss, the leader, the supervisor, the big guy. Whoever is in charge is the head honcho.

Head over heels

If after two dates, you cannot stop thinking about the person youre seeing. If so, then you can say that
you are head over heels in love with him or her.

Heres the 411

Need a phone number or address? Dialing Information at 4-1-1 will help. Now 411 is often heard as
a synonym for information. For example, you might here someone gossiping: Heres the 411 on the
new employee.

An alcoholic mixed drink in which a spirit like whiskey is mixed with a mixer, like Coke.
Hit and run
A hit-and-run accident is when the driver of a car leaves the scene of the accident without waiting for
the police and ambulance to show up.

This meaningless Latin phrase was used my magicians during their performances. Today, it is used to
denote nonsense or trickery.

Home stretch
If youre in the home stretch, its a baseball term that means youre near the finish line, or end of your

Calling someone a hoser is really just calling them a loser, a term made famous by those classic
Canadian television brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie (check out the movie Strange Brew). In the old
days, the term referred to the team that lost the hockey game and would have to hose down the rink.

A hotheaded person makes hasty decisions based on anger and overreaction. You might hear a hockey
player who picks too many fights being called a hothead.

tremely enthusiastic.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. From A to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Icing on the cake

If something is referred to as icing on the cake, its considered an extra bonus. You already have the
cake, which is the main thing, but you get the icing, too. The Christmas connection is that during the
holidays people prepare traditional recipes, often with expensive or more unusual ingredients. In more
frugal times, everyday cakes would be served without icing. During Christmas, special icings and
decorations are used for cakes and sweets.

If the shoe fits, wear it

Associated with the fairy tale Cinderella, this phrase says that if something applies to you, then you have
to accept it.

Ignorance is bliss
Written by English poet Thomas Gray, this proverb means that sometimes it is better to not know
certain things, as ignorance is bliss.

Im all ears
Theres something to be said for good listening skills. You could say that youre all ears.
Im stuffed
When youve had a lot to eat and are too full to eat any more, you might say Im stuffed. What is the
Christmas connection? Turkeys that are a traditional part of many Canadian Christmas dinners are often
filled with a mixture of bread and other flavourings, which is known as stuffing.

In the hole
If you owe money, you are in the hole. Or lets say a charity held a concert, but ticket sales were so
low and expenses were high and they went in the hole $1,000. Well, do some advertising and better luck
next time!

In a nutshell
When you say something in a nutshell, it means that you are saying it in a conclusive and concise way.

In a pickle
Whenever you find yourself in a pickle, it means that you are in trouble or in a difficult situation.

In cold blood
The murderer killed her in cold blood, meaning he did it without any emotional remorse and/or in a
brutal, harsh way.

In limbo
After applying for permanent residence, you might be in limbo for a few years as you wait for a

In ones black books

The earliest Black Books included the names of monasteries that needed to be censored or punished.
Thus, being in ones black book means that you are in trouble.

In the doghouse
The last thing you want when starting a new job is to be in the doghouse in other words, to be in
disgrace and in trouble after making a mistake.

In the limelight
Being in the limelight can make you feel good. When you are the center of attention, you have to be
careful with your actions as people will be paying you lots of attention.

Iron fist
The president rules the nation with an iron fist, which means hes very stern and hard on his people.

You may hear people say this word in casual conversation, irregardless of the fact that its not actually
considered to be a real word. The ir and less also make it a double negative. Simply use regardless
Its not over until the fat lady sings
The opera is not over until the fat lady sings or so the saying goes. In daily use, this phrase connotes
that when someone is losing a competition, they still may have a chance of winning.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

A Canadian standard for kids and university students, KD, otherwise known as Kraft Dinner or mac
and cheese, is an instant macaroni and cheese product that sells for about $1 a box.

Keep at bay
If there are people who want to hurt you, it is recommendable that you keep them at bay or at a safe
distance away from you.

Keep mum
If someone tells you a secret, you have to keep mum or stay quiet about it. Otherwise, if you share the
secret with someone else, you will get into trouble.

Keep your shirt on

When men used to wear t-shirts under their dress shirts, they would take off the first shirt before
getting into a fight. Thus, when you are told to keep your shirt on, youre meant to remain calm.

Kick back
Want to kick back this summer? We all need a little rest from time to time. Relax!

Kick ones heels

This phrase has two opposite meanings. If you kick your heels, you are either having an amazing time
(kick up your heels) or you are just waiting for something (kick back your heels).

Kiss of death
In the Bible, Judas gives a kiss to Jesus that is the cause of his arrest and execution. Thus, a kiss of
death is something that will cause a persons downfall.

Knight in shining armour

Based on the romantic idea that a noble knight rescues damsels in distress, a knight in shining armour
is aCanadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick,
fun way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A
to Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

This political and economic term is an economic doctrine that moves against government intervention
and regulation and supports the free enterprise of businesses and corporations.
Last-ditch effort
Despite last-ditch efforts to avoid a citywide strike, city workers didnt accept the offers from the

Leap in the dark

Getting married is a leap in the dark you dont really know if it will be a success; you are taking a

Learn the ropes

The first time you get a job after graduating from university, you have to be careful and attentive until
you learn the ropes in other words, until you master the job.

Leave in a lurch
To leave in a lurch means to leave in desperate times and let someone down, such as the bride who
was left in a lurch when her groom failed to show up at the altar.

Leave no stone unturned

Finding a job can be hard and frustrating, but you cannot give up until you leave no stone unturned, in
other words, until you have tried everything and looked everywhere for work.

Leaving one high and dry

Tomorrow, we have to present our new product to the boss, but my team left me high and dry I
had to prepare for the presentation alone.

Let the cat out of the bag

To let the cat out of the bag means to finally tell a secret when you shouldnt have.

Like a house on fire

Every new product that we have launched in the past year has taken off like a house on fire, that is to
say they have become popular very fast.

Like a kid at Christmas

This expression is often used to describe someone who is excited and enthusiastic about a situation or a
project. If someone is acting like a kid at Christmas he or she is full of energy and anticipation.

Live to fight another day

You might have lost the first competition, but youll live to fight another day and youll compete again.

Long shot
Obtaining a senior position with only five years of experience is a long shot, meaning the probability of
it happening is quite small.

Unlike many other countries, Canada has its own nicknames for its money. The Loonie is a $1 coin
(which usually features the image of a loon), while a Toonie is the term used for the $2 coin (because
it rhymes with Loonie).

Loose cannon
A loose cannon is a person who is out of control. For example, There was a loose cannon in the party
and security had to kick him out he was attacking people!

Love is blind
When you dont see your loved ones faults, you could say love is blind. In Shakespeares The Merchant
of Venice, Jessica, disguised as a boy, says: But love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that
themselves commit. For if they could, Cupid himself would blush to see me thus transformed to a boy.

man who is romantic, chivalrous and treats women exceedingly well.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Mad as a hatter
This simile became famous after the publication of the classic childrens book Alice in Wonderland. It
comes from the fact that people who made hats in the past acted very strangely since they were in
contact with mercury, a poisonous material that affected their sanity. So, if someone tells you that you
are mad as a hatter, then it means they think you are acting crazy.

Make a beeline for

When you are starving, you make a beeline for food, for example. This phrase generally means that
you go quickly and directly to the source of what you are seeking out.

Make ends meet

With the economic global recession, many people are having a hard time living on the money they earn,
and cannot afford everything they need in life. In other words, they cannot make ends meet.

Make ones blood boil

To make your blood boil means that something is making you angry, as in every time she screams at
me it makes my blood boil.

Make ones hair stand on end

Similar to hair-raising, scary events can make your hair stand on end, which means it makes you
anxious, suspenseful and terrified.

Man of his word

A man of his word (or woman of her word) is someone who is honest and true and that you can trust
and rely on.
Max out
Based on the word maximum, this usually refers to reaching a financial limit, as in He bought a
computer and maxed out his new credit card. Physical limits can be maxed out, too, as in He reached
30 kilometres per hour in his go-cart and maxed out.

Nothing to do with Disney, a mickey is a 13-ounce bottle of liquor like rum, vodka or whiskey.

Middle of the road

Nowadays, with all the battles happening in Canadian politics between the conservatives and liberals,
there are many middle-of-the-road citizens who are not sure which side to support. This phrase means
that you have not made up your mind one way or another about something.

Moment of truth
A moment of truth is a crucial and decisive moment when the final result or truth comes out. This
phrase originates from the moment in a bullfight when the bull is killed.

Money is the root of all evil

This is another version of the original biblical phrase The love of money is the root of all evil. The
message in this phrase is that usually wrongdoing originates from a persons strong desire to be rich.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) members are informally called Mounties.

Money talks
When a wealthy person receives better treatment than a poor person, people say that money talks.

More than one string to ones bow

A person who has more than one string to her bow is someone who has many talents and skills that
she can rely on.

Mouse potato
Slang for a person who spends a great deal of time using a computer, playing off the older term couch
potato, for people who spend hours sitting on the couch watching TV.

During an election campaign, one candidate making damaging statements about another candidate is
mud-slinging. It might not be real mud, but it can do real damage.

Taken from the Mandinka language in West Africa, this phrase refers to incomprehensible language and
behaviour based on superstition. Originally, it was the name of an idol worshipped by some tribes.
Today, in common vernacular it means language that makes no sense at all.
Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Neck and neck

This term comes from horse racing where the necks of two horses are really close and the outcome of
the competition is hard to see. For example, The two performances were brilliant. The competitors
were really neck and neck.

Neck of the woods

The phrase neck of the woods is slang for a specific neighborhood or area where people live and are
common with.

Needle in a haystack

To find a thin needle in a haystack is almost an impossible task. Thus, anything that seems impossible
to find is lost like a needle in a haystack.


A shortened, familiar or affectionate name for a person is a nickname. Christinas nickname is Tina;
Matthews is Matt. Sometimes family or friends use a descriptive nickname like Shorty for a short
person. Many newcomers choose nicknames after immigrating if their given names are difficult for
others to say.

Nip in the bud

In gardening, if you want to control the growth of a plant, you can check it by nipping off its buds. If you
nip something in the bud, then you are trying to stop it at an early stage, such as a problem, while it is
still small and controllable.

No-mans land

This was a military term used to denote an unoccupied strip of land between two forces that are battling
each other. Now, it denotes an ambiguous, deadly or remote area where you dont want to find

No news is good news

It is believed that when you dont get any information at all, then at least nothing bad has happened.
No news is good news is similar to Plutarchs phrase, Bad news travels fast.

No strings attached
Having no strings attached means that you dont have to make compromises or are tied to any
obligations in a situation.

Nose to the grindstone

A grindstone a revolving stone disc thats used for sharpening tools was used on the nose as a form
of punishment in ancient times. Now, keeping your nose to the grindstone means that you work very
hard, which sometimes can feel a little bit like self-punishment!

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

This sarcastic expression is used when you want someone to realize that there is a hidden reference in
something you just said. I really want to go to that event, but no one wants to come with me nudge,
nudge, wink, wink. Its when youre overtly hinting at something you want made understood.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Old wives tale

An old wives tale is a superstitious medical belief not based on scientific fact that is passed on by
word of mouth, such as that chocolate causes acne or that eating carrots can improve your vision.

Olive branch

The olive branch is a very ancient symbol of peace. Thus, if you got mad at someone, you should offer an
olive branch to show you are ready to solve the problem and find peace.

On-again, off-again

A couple who keeps breaking up and then getting back together is called on-again, off-again. Better be
cautious if that business deal you really want is on-again, off-again.

On a shoestring

When you are unemployed, you try to do everything on a shoestring, in other words, on very little

On a wing and a prayer

To do something on a wing and a prayer means you are hopeful you will succeed at something, even
though you have a very slim chance that you will.

On cloud nine

When she got her citizenship, she was on cloud nine. That is, she was really happy and excited about
On ones high horse

This means to be arrogant, as in Every time we talk about art, he gets on his high horse and says that
you can only find real art in Europe.

Once in a blue moon

This summer, I traveled around the world and it was amazing. It was really a once-in-a-blue-moon

Ones lips are sealed

My best friend always tells me everything. She knows my lips are sealed. That is, you will keep a
secret and will never tell.

Ones name in the mud

When your name is in the mud, it means that your reputation has been compromised and you are a

Ones number is up

If someones number is up, it means that they are going to die or they are about to face the
consequences of their actions. For example, When she got violently ill, she thought her number was up
and she was going to die.

Ones true colours

Whenever you do something that really reveals your true self, you are showing your true colours.

On the ball

When a football player has the ball and is ready to score for certain, it is said that hes on the ball.
Thus, when you are on the ball, you are alert and have things under control.

On the nail

Paying on the nail means that you are giving over the cash immediately.

On the naughty list

If someone tells you youre on the naughty list, the person is alluding to the Christmas legend that
Santa Claus makes a list of all children to see whos naughty or nice. Those listed under nice deserve
presents; those on the naughty side do not.

Open sesame
In the classic tale Arabian Nights, the character Ali Baba used this magical command to enter to a cave.
Now, it is used to denote a successful way of achieving or opening something. Sesame, by the way, was
the name of a magic spirit in the story.

Out for the count

If you dont sleep at all the night before, then you will be out for the count the next day. It means that
youre out of it.

Out of the blue

When something happens unexpectedly, it has happened out of the blue.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Being thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire means that even though you have found your way
out of one problem, youve now found yourself in even bigger trouble.

Out of the running

To be out of the running means that you are no longer in the race that is, you are no longer able to
compete or take part in something.

Out on a limb

When you are out on a limb, you are either in a very vulnerable position or taking a chance on

Over the top

To be over the top means that you are doing something that is excessive or arrogant.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Penny pincher

Some people may call you cheap or a penny pincher, but theres nothing wrong with being frugal with
your spending, especially in times of recession. Every penny counts.

Paint the town red

After working long hours, youre ready to go out, have fun, and paint the town red. This means that
you are going to really enjoy a night of entertainment and debauchery consequences be damned!

Pandoras box
In Greek legend, Zeus created Pandora to bring calamity to men. Thus, when you open up Pandoras
box, it means that youve opened up a whole world of problems and issues in a situation. Youll want to
avoid doing this!

Parting of the ways

When you are done with a relationship, it means its time to part ways with the other person. For
example, After a huge fight, Jason and Marisol reached a parting of the ways.

Parting shot

A parting shot is the last thing you say after an argument or the final action you take in a situation. For
example, Before leaving, she said, as a parting shot, Dont ever talk to me again.

Passing the torch

When you pass the torch, you are giving up a responsibility to someone else. For instance, if someone
in a senior position is retiring, then he is passing the torch to someone else who will take over his tasks
and responsibilities.

Pearly gates

In the Bible, the entrance to heaven is described as having pearly gates.

Peeping Tom

A peeping Tom is a person who gets pleasure from secretly watching people. It was coined after Lady
Godiva, the wife of one of the most powerful men in England, rode naked through London so that he
would decrease taxes for the people. The people of the town stayed indoors to not offend her, but a
fellow called Tom couldnt help but peep out at her.

Pig out

What do you like to pig out on? Ice cream, fried chicken, pizza? Whatever it is, youre eating too much
if youre eating like a pig.

Play by ear

This saying literally refers to playing music without using written notation. But if someone says, Im
going to play it by ear when talking about plans, it means the person will deal with things as they
happen in an impromptu manner.

Playing hookie

Hookie isnt some obscure Canadian sport you havent yet heard of; playing hookie means to skip a
class or not go into work.

Play possum
An opossum is an animal that plays dead when caught or threatened by a predator. Thus, to play
possum means that you are pretending to be dead or asleep to avoid a person or situation.

Play second fiddle

In an orchestra, the second fiddle plays music that is less prominent than the first fiddles harmony.
Thus, playing second fiddle means to take on a subordinate role.

Politically correct

This term aims to challenge vocabulary that implies a prejudice, especially in matters concerning race,
gender and sexual orientation. Terms like Native American, little person, and physically challenged are
politically correct; that is, respectful and acceptable to the person or group being described by the term.

Poker face

A person with a poker face doesnt show any emotion and keeps others wondering. An expert poker
player will keep an expressionless face to confuse opponents.

Poster boy, poster girl

Someone so publicly connected to a cause that he or she becomes a symbol for the cause. Usually the
person is famous first, then they become a spokesperson for the cause. Posters, billboards or other ads
may carry their picture in connection with the cause.

Pot calling the kettle black

A person who criticizes another for a fault they have themselves only worse is a pot calling the
kettle black. The pot is blacker than the kettle.

Prima donna

In Italian, a prima donna is the principal female singer in an opera. Since they were prone to creating
dramas, a woman who has a temperamental nature is considered a prima donna.

Pros and cons

The pros and cons are the reasons for and against something. For instance, before making a decision,
it is recommendable to analyze the pros and cons of the situation carefully.

Pull ones leg

When someone pulls your leg, then he or she is teasing you or playing a joke on you. Pull ones weight
To fight global warming, we all need to pull our own weight, in other words, we all need to do our

Push the envelope

In the airplane industry, pushing the envelope originally meant flying an aircraft just beyond its
recommended limits. Thus, pushing the envelope means going to and past the limits.

Put a sock in it

If someone tells you to put a sock in it, then he o she is using this euphemism to say shut up! in a
slightly nicer way. Put on ones thinking cap When you put on your thinking cap, then you are
seriously reflecting on a problem or issue.

Put away nuts for winter

Putting away some nuts away to eat during the cold, winter months, as squirrels are apt to do, is a
metaphor for saving some money for hard financial times.

Put on the back burner

This summer, many people put traveling on the back burner because of the recession and the swine


The term is commonly referred to as an electricity/transmission tower, but in Canada, the word pylon
is also used to describe those little orange cones, which are often used to reroute traffic in construction
zones or as goalposts in a soccer game.

Quit it!
This expression is often used when trying to stop someones annoying action. A mother telling her
children to stop fighting may say, Will you just quit it? or Stop it! or Cut it out!

Raining cats and dogs

This phrase is used when you want to express that it is raining very heavily outside. For instance, This
summer was not good because it was raining cats and dogs on many of the weekends.

R and R
This autumn, you may be in need of a little R and R or rest and relaxation.

Read between the lines

One way people used to write secret messages was by writing in invisible ink between the lines of a
document. Thus, when you read between the lines, you find a covert message that is not obvious or
part of the literal interpretation of the surface message.

Red tape
This term refers to governmental bureaucracy and official processes that are time-consuming and
complex. For instance, When you move to another country, you may face a lot of red tape when
applying for citizenship.
Right-hand man
A right-hand man (or right-hand woman) is someone who you find personally helpful and reliable.

Ring a bell
Do you know John Smith? The name rings a bell, but Im not sure. When something rings a bell, it
reminds you of something, but not well enough that you know exactly what it is youre trying to

Rise to the bait

The act of fishing involves making a fish take the bait on an anglers hook. Thus, when someone rises to
the bait, he or she is doing exactly that was enticed by someone or something.

Robin Hood
Robin Hood was an English outlaw famous for stealing from the rich and giving that wealth the poor.
Thus, a Robin Hood is someone who defends the poor and gives to them.

The ROI, or return on investment or sometimes just return, is the ratio of money gained or lost on
an investment or project relative to the amount of money initially put into it. If you have a great idea
you want to implement in your organization, you may need to prove whether it will have a good ROI.

Roll with the punches

You dont have to be in a boxing match to roll with the punches; it simply means to adjust to events as
they happen or go with the flow.

Rome was not built in a day

Originally a Latin proverb,Rome was not built in a day refers to the fact that when trying to achieve
great things in life, it takes time, perseverance and patience and cant be done in a day.

Rub salt on the wound

Making a bad experience more painful is like rubbing salt on a wound.

Rug rats
This term doesnt refer to a rodent attracted to your carpet. Its an affectionate term for small children.

Rule of thumb
A rule of thumb is a general guideline that is not strictly accurate and is usually based on experience. A
rule of thumb in writing, for instance, is to always proofread what you write.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.
Sadder but wiser
This clich expresses knowledge that was acquired after something sad or bad has happened to you.
Such as in, Sadder but wiser, she will never trust someones words without a written agreement.

Sands of time
This phrase comes from the ancient measurement of time with the use of an hourglasses, and it refers
to the passing of time.

Saved by the bell

Originally, saved by the bell was boxing slang used when a box, after being knocked down, was safe
after the ringing of the bell. Today, if you say you are saved by the bell, it means an unexpected event
has spared you from doing something you didnt want to.

Saving for a rainy day

There are ups and downs in our lives and in our bank accounts. Saving for a rainy day means to put
aside some money as savings in case we lose our job or are faced with a large, unexpected expense.

To schlep is to move slowly or carry something clumsily; for example, I schlepped my hairdryer over
from India to Canada only to discover there are different-sized electrical outlets here.

School of hard knocks

When a person goes through a very difficult time, that person has been through the school of hard
knocks. Many newcomers struggling to settle in to Canada could certainly make that claim.

To be scot-free is to be free from obligation or penalty in a situation. For example, He got away scot-
free, while all of us had to clean up after the party all night long.

Seal of approval
The council gave the communitys action plan its seal of approval. In other words, it means endorsing

See the big picture

Before you let yourself get bogged down in the details of a problem or a situation, youll want to step
back and see the bigger picture so you dont lose track of what you are doing by the smaller things.

See the light

To see the light is to understand something or to realize the truth. For example, After being arrested
for drinking and driving three times, he finally saw the light and understood the negative consequences
of his actions.

Sleeping with the enemy

A saying that needs little explanation. The recent coalition between the Liberals, New Democrats and
Bloc Qubcois is a great example, though.
Sock it away
While we no longer hide money in the toes of our socks as was once a custom in the early 20th century,
to sock it away means to put money aside for another day.

So what?
So what? is a rude reply to information offered, which means Who cares? or What is left to talk
about? It usually means the discussion is over or one party wants it to be over.

A scrooge is someone who is mean and miserly. This word comes from the name of a character in one of
the most well-known stories in English. Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer
Scrooge, a mean and greedy man who was more concerned about money than about people. This story
has continuously been in print since it was first published in 1843. It has been made into movies plays,
and operas, and has been retold in countless ways.

Start off on the wrong foot

This means to start a relationship badly, such as in John and Fernando started off on the wrong foot
because of their prejudices.

Seven years of bad luck

In Roman superstition, if one broke a mirror, he or she would have seven years of bad luck. Why
seven? This is a mystic number in Roman mythology.

Seventh heaven
The immigrant who hit the jackpot and won the lottery was in seventh heaven. It means to be
extremely happy and euphoric.

Literally, this is a medical condition suffered by people who have been under fire in a war situation. It
can also be used to describe a person who has been affected negatively by a shocking or distressing

Show me the money

This infamous line comes from a scene in the 1996 movie Jerry MacGuire, where sports agent MacGuire
(Tom Cruise) asks his football player client what he wants. Football player Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.)
screams into the phone show me the money! as he hops around his kitchen. Not only did Gooding win
an Oscar for his performance, the line is now an integral expression of American vernacular about
financial success. It also inspired the new game show of the same name starring William Shatner.

Show the white flag

The white flag is an international symbol of surrender. Thus, if you get tired of arguing with a friend for a
long time, you can just show the white flag and give in to their argument.
Skeleton in the cupboard
Politicians are always worried that the media will find their skeletons in the cupboard that is, the
secrets from their past that could be damaging to their lives now.

Sleep tight and dont let the bed bugs bite

You can say this phrase when you want to wish someone a good, restful nights sleep.

Slush fund
A slush fund is a money account that is secret and used for corrupt purposes, such as bribery.

Smart Alec
This term originated from Alec Hoag, a thief who operated in 1840s New York and never got caught.
Thus, a smart Alec is a conceited person who likes to show off their conniving ways.

Smell a rat
When you feel that something is not good, then you can say that you smell a rat. For instance, She
told me that she will read my application, but I smell a rat I dont think she will, as I sense shes lying.

Snake in the grass

A snake in the grass is a person who betrays you despite of your friendship. To illustrate, Shannon
lost her job, after her friend said some lies to her boss. Her friend is really like a snake in the grass.

No, not someone who sneaks up on you, but a term used to describe running shoes.

So near and yet so far

This clich means that you have almost achieved something, yet the final step seems impossible to
achieve. For instance, The report is almost done, but the conclusion is still so near and yet so far.

Son of a gun
This phrase is used to express disbelief or disappointment. It is a euphemism for son of a bitch.

Soul patch
A newish term for a small growth of beard under a mans lower lip. Sort of the opposite of a Fu Manchu

Speak of the devil

Theres an old superstition where it was thought that talking about the devil was going to make him
appear. If you are engaged in a conversation about someone who is not present, and he suddenly
appears, you can say speak of the devil!

Spill the beans

I know that he told you everything. Spill the beans! Tell me what he said! To spill the beans is to tell
someone everything you know about a situation.
Spitting image
When someone tells you that you are the spitting image of your mom or dad, it means that you look
like that parent.

Squeaky clean
A squeaky-clean person is someone who doesnt have any defects, or who has no criminal records, or
it can even mean someone who is always well-groomed.

Start from scratch

Many newcomers to Canada have to start from scratch. This phrase denotes that something needs to
be started from the beginning, regardless of the previous work that has been done.

Steal someones thunder

Stealing someones thunder is to take credit for something that someone else has done. For instance,
My team mate stole my thunder after I spent 10 hours working on the presentation.

Stick in the mud

A stick in the mud is someone who is not willing to change or do new things. A stick in the mud
stubbornly wants things to stay the same.

Stick to ones guns

Her dad wanted her to be a doctor, but she stuck to her guns and entered art school. When you stick
to your guns, you stand by your ideals and beliefs no matter the consequence.

Stiff upper lip

When his dad passed away, he kept a stiff upper lip. In other words, keeping a stiff upper lip means
not showing your emotions when you are hurt or sad.

Strike while the iron is hot

To strike while the iron is hot means to do something while you have an opportunity or rare opening
to succeed. For example, That job offer is really good. Id strike while the iron is hot and apply.

String along
To follow someone or something, but not intending to follow through with it means you are stringing
along. For example, She decided to string along with them and go to the fundraising event, even
though she wasnt going to do any work when she got there.

Survival of the fittest

Coined by naturalist Herbert Spencer, this phrase refers to animals adaptability to an environment. It
expresses that someone strong will prevail over others.

Swallow the bait

When you swallow the bait, you accept an offer or fall for a covert action. For instance, Jeff
swallowed the bait. He bought the most expensive computer, just so he could get the free printer, but it
was the salesperson who won in the situation he made twice the profit.
Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Take a back seat

When you take a back seat, you are either putting in less effort or giving more responsibility to
another person. For instance, After working many hours on the project, he took a back seat and let the
team member finish it.

Take a leaf out of someone elses book

Anna should take a leaf out her classmates book, since she goes to conversational classes every day
to improve her English. In this case, the classmate is improving her language skills, so Anna wants to do
the same in order to be more successful.

Take a rain cheque

I would love to go to the party tonight, but I will have to take a rain cheque. In other words, by taking
a rain cheque, you are declining an offer, but saying that you can accept it later on.

Take down a peg

A peg is used to change the pitch of an instrument when it is being tuned. When someone is taken
down a peg, it means that the persons self-importance is lowered and consequently he or she is
humbled as a result.

Take ones hat off to someone

She took her hat off to the contestant who won the competition. In other words, its when you
express your admiration for a person even when you have lost or conceded to that person.

Take the ball and run

Referring to the sport of football, the saying take the ball and run with it can be used as a metaphor
for moving forward on an idea or new direction.

Take the wind out of ones sails

In sailing, a boat can be stopped if the wind does not touch its sails. Thus, to take the wind out of ones
sails is to stop him or her and put that person at a disadvantage.

Take under ones wings

My aunt took the orphan girl under her wings, since she cared for her and wanted to protect her. To
take someone under your wings means to care for them when they are vulnerable or disadvantaged.

Take it with a grain of salt

Sometimes some news stories should be taken with a grain of salt. In other words, people shouldnt
believe everything they read, but instead be critical of what they are taking in.

Take the bull by the horns

To approach a situation bravely and act in a direct manner is to take the bull by the horns.
Tattle tale
A tattle tale is an informer. For example, My kid is such a tattle tale. Every time one of his friends
does something bad, he tells the teacher.

The birds and the bees

As your children get older, there will come a time when youll need to talk to them about the birds and
the bees in other words, sex.

The bloom is off the rose

Are you a new immigrant who is finding your Canadian dream wilting? You could say the bloom is off
the rose. Literally this means that the blooms of a rose have withered. Figuratively, it means that
something has lost its freshness or excitement.

The pen is mightier than the sword

An ancient saying that means the written word is more powerful than wars and fighting.

The house has seen better days

A person who utters such a euphemism is basically belittling something, without being overtly critical.

Theres no place like home

Dorothy (Judy Garland) says this line at the end of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, as she clicks her
ruby slippers together, in order to return to her home in Kansas. At the beginning of the movie, she
dreams of going to a better place, but when she ends up in a faraway land beyond the rainbow, she
realizes theres really no better place than home. This movie holds special meaning for many who come
to realize that home and family are the most important things in life.

Theres no such thing as a free lunch

This phrase was widely popularized by economist Milton Friedman. It expresses that everything costs
something, and even when something is portrayed as free, there are indeed hidden costs associated
with it.

Third degree
A third degree is an intense act of torture or interrogation used to obtain information or a confession.
For example, He confessed after the police gave him the third degree. Today, it means a slightly less
violent way of getting information out of someone, simply by questioning them intensely.

The Big Apple

The Big Apple is a nickname for New York City. It was first used in the 1920s by John Fitzgerald, a
horseracing writer for the New York Morning Telegraph, after he heard people from the horse racing
community in New Orleans use it.

The coast is clear

Originally a military term, the coast is clear means that there is no danger or obstacle in the way.
Everything is clear, so you can do whatever you want.
The emperors new clothes
This is the title of a fairy-tale by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, and it has become a metaphor in
modern-day English. It refers to a situation in which people dont say the truth because they are scared
or because they dont want to look stupid. Just as in the story, in which nobody told the king that he was

The game is up
This expression uses the word up as over. It means that something has come to an end. For
example, I realized the game was up when he started packing to leave.

The grass is always greener on the other side

This phrase refers to the tendency people have to look at other peoples lives and think that what they
have is better.

The jig is up
When a deceitful scheme is exposed, then the jig is up. In other words, the secret is out.

The last laugh

Halfway through the game, they were winning. Yet, our team had the last laugh we took their
cheerleaders out for sodas after the game. In other words, having the last laugh means that even
though you may lose in a situation, you still get the final and ultimate vindication in some way that
makes up for that loss.

The three Rs
The three Rs are: reading, writing, and arithmetic (or rithmetic, as it were). It describes the basic skills
of the elementary school program in North America, but ironically, it is obvious that two of the words do
not begin with an R. This phrase can also stand for reduce, reuse, and recycle as well.

The walls have ears

Always be careful with what you say in the office and remember that the walls have ears. This means
that a conversation can be easily overheard by someone else and the things you say can be used against
you later on.

The whole nine yards

This idiom denotes everything that is available or required for something. For example, When he
moved to Toronto, he took all his furniture, books, shoes the whole nine yards.

Theyre acting like rabbits

Since rabbits are known for their high fertility, this euphemism for a couple in love isnt really difficult to
figure out.

Third world
This phrase is used to refer to the worlds poor and underdeveloped countries. However, now is more
suitable to call them developing or underdeveloped countries, which is more politically correct.
Thorn in ones side
A thorn in ones side is something that keeps troubling or annoying someone. For example, The
hungry dog that keeps barking at her every day for more food is a thorn in Annas side.

Those were the days

Feeling nostalgic, someone might say these words to express that life was better in the past. It may be
spoken by exhausted first-time parents who long for some sleep, or an adult with too many
responsibilities and too little hair thinking back to his fun, teenage years.

Tie the knot

Knots are part of many marriage rituals around the world and symbolize union and love. Thus, to tie
the knot is a slang phrase means to get married.

Tit for tat

It is tit for tat. If he pushes me, I will push him back. This phrase denotes that a negative action is
received with a negative response. In brief, tit for tat is retaliation.

Toe the line

To toe the line is to conform to rules and regulations. For instance, The new program coordinator will
make us toe the line to achieve our objectives faster.

You could say the prime minister recently received a tongue-lashing from the Opposition for not doing
enough for Canadians regarding the economic downturn.

Tooth and nail

The protesters will fight tooth and nail against the new reform. In other words, to go tooth and nail is
to use all your energy and resources to achieve something, even desperately so.

Top brass
The top brass are the most important people in an organization, such as chief executive officers and

Touch wood
Based on a superstition that knocking on or touching wood would keep the evil spirits away, this phrase
is used to avert bad luck or misfortune. Often, youll see a Canadian say touch wood, then actually find
a nearby wood object to knock on, such as a door.

Trojan horse
According to Virgils Aeneid, during the war between Greece and Troy, the Greek gained entrance to
Troy by hiding inside a big wooden horse. This phrase is now used to denote a subversive group or a
danger that attacks from within.
Trump card
When playing games, a card in the trump suit is reserved for winning. Thus, a trump card is something
that gives one person a winning advantage over his or her opponent.

A woollen knitted hat that is common for most Canadians to wear in winter, thanks to the cold climate.

Turn a blind eye

To turn a blind eye means to ignore something that is happening or has just happened. For instance,
Many people are turning a blind eye to climate change and continue wasting energy and littering on
the streets.

Turn over a new leaf

After all the turmoil, I decided to turn over a new leaf and move to Canada. Turning over a new leaf is
to reform your ways and begin something over again.

Beware of two-faced people. They can say they care for you, yet at the same time they could be saying
bad things behind your back.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

Walk in the Park

A walk in the park refers to a task or activity that is easy and straightforward.

Walk the Green Mile

To walk the green mile means to move towards the inevitable.

Warm the Cockles of Your Heart

Something or someone who warms the cockles of your heart makes you happy.

Warts and All

Accepting someone warts and all means accepting a persons flaws.

Wash Your Hands of Something

To wash your hands of something means accepting no responsibility or involvement in a particular


Waste Not, Want Not

If you dont waste things, you will always have enough of what you need at a later time.
Water Under the Bridge

Water under the bridge means putting an event or matter in the past. It is no longer important or

Weapon of mass destruction

A weapon of mass destruction is a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon that is capable of causing a
lot of damage. This term has been around for awhile, but it became famous again recently after U.S.
President George W. Bush invaded Iraq with the excuse that they had weapons of mass destruction. The
weapons were never found.

Wear ones heart on ones sleeve

They love each other so much, but she is the one who wears her heart on her sleevehe never shows
his emotions for her. In other words, to wear your heart on your sleeve is to show your emotions

Wet blanket
Just like a wet blanket can extinguish a fire a person who is a wet blanket can have a depressing effect
on others and lower enthusiasm.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

This phrase means that you can turn a bad situation into something positive, or at least a learning
experience, if youre wise enough to be proactive about it.

When the cats away, the mice will play

Small-business owners may understand this expression very well after noticing that their employees are
not getting any work done while they are away.

When the chips are down

He is really slow when writing reports, but when the chips are down, he is unstoppable In other
words, when there is a difficult or stressful time, you manage to get the work done or find a solution.

White lie
Traditionally, white is associated with purity. Thus, a white lie is a false statement used to avoid
hurting someones feelings.

Wide of the mark

Many of the answers in the exam were wide of the mark, which upset the professor. To be wide of
the mark means providing a very wrong answer.

Wild goose chase

This saying, meaning a pursuit of something that is unlikely to be caught, or something futile, originated
in a speech by Mercutio in Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet (1592): Nay, if our wits run the Wild-Goose
chase, I am done.
Win hands down
In horse racing, a jockey who is winning has his hands down on his horse, since he doesnt need to put
any pressure on the animal to advance further. Hence, winning hands down means you are winning
with little effort.

With flying colours

He passed his citizenship test with flying colours. In other words, when you do something with flying
colours, you do it with an abundance of success.

Wolf in sheeps clothing

This metaphor from one of Aesops Fables refers to someone who pretends to be amiable, even though
he or she actually has malicious intentions, like the wolf plotting to eat the sheep. In other words, be
aware because appearances can be deceptive.

Wrong side of the tracks

Historically, many towns were divided by tracks, and each of the sides were characterized either by
richness or poverty. For instance, To be born on the wrong side of the tracks can have a hugely
negative impact in someones life.

Canadian Immigrants CanSpeak section helps you learn English phrases, slang and clichs in a quick, fun
way. To get started, simply click on one of the letters to pull up a words and their definitions. From A to
Z, youll find many of the most common and popular turns of phrase used by Canadians.

X marks the spot

In pirate maps, the X marked the location of the treasure, and in the scene of a crime, it marks the
location of where the action happened. This phrase is used to say where something is located.