Here are all the idioms from the Idioms of the Day box on the homepage of the website. Hope you find them useful!

Idioms are  defined as groups of words whose meaning is different from the individual words. For instance, ‘out of the blue’ has nothing to do with the meaning of ‘blue’; it means ‘completely unexpectedly’. Idioms can be of great value to learners in everyday spoken English, but they are not common in academic writing!!!

call it a day

If you call it a day, you decide to stop doing what you’ve been doing that day.

– I think it’s time to go home, I’m exhausted.   -Yeah, let’s call it a day and get some rest.

pick someone’s brain(s)

To pick someone’s brain(s) means to ask them for advice because they know a lot about a subject.

Can I pick your brains about the research methods assignment? I have to write one this term and I don’t know how to organize it.

a wake-up call

A wake-up call is something that shocks you, making you realize how serious a problem is and causing you to take action.

Failing the very first assignment was a real wake-up call for her – she had to take her studies seriously from now on.

it’s all Greek to me

If you say ‘it’s all Greek to me’, you mean you don’t understand something that is written or said.

I’ve tried reading one of our professor’s publications, but it’s all Greek to me.

make a meal (out) of something

When you make a meal out of something, you spend more time and energy doing something than is necessary.

He’s been asked to write a brief paragraph summarizing the main points, but he’s making a real meal out of it.

on the tip of your tongue

If something like a word, answer or name is on the tip of your tongue, you know it but cannot remember it.

I know this, no, no don’t tell me… oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue!

go the extra mile

If you go the extra mile, you make a special effort to do or achieve something.

If you aren’t prepared to go the extra mile, you won’t get the top grade.

in the same boat

If two or more people are in the same boat, they are in the same unpleasant or difficult situation.

I’m finding academic writing really difficult, but it helps to know we’re all in the same boat.

on the same wavelength

If two people are on the same wavelength, they understand each other well because they share the same attitudes, interests and opinions.

My brother is ten years older than me, but we’re very close – we’ve always been on the same wavelength.

off the top of my head

If you say something off the top of your head, it means that what you are saying is an immediate reaction and not carefully considered, so it might not be correct.

I can’t remember off the top of my head which plan they used, but it certainly wasn’t this one.

not lift a finger

If someone doesn’t lift a finger to do something or help someone, they do not do anything.

She didn’t lift a finger for the group report this term, so the group members gave her a low score in the peer evaluation form.

pull someone’s leg

If you pull someone’s leg, you tease them by telling them something that is not true.

Mark hasn’t really quit his job. He was just pulling your leg to see your reaction.

your hands are tied

If your hands are tied, you are not free to do something you would like to do.

I would like to help you but my hands are tied by the department’s regulations. I’m afraid you aren’t entitled to a third deadline extension.

tighten your belt

If you tighten your belt, you make an effort to spend less money.

I have to tighten the belt for the next few months so I can afford to go away for holidays this summer.

under the weather

If you are under the weather, you are feeling ill.

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather for a couple of weeks – maybe I should go see my GP.

the icing on the cake

The icing on the cake is something that makes a good situation even better.

e.g. I got a distinction for my dissertation, but the icing on the cake was that my supervisor wants me to present with her in a conference.

However, the phrase can be used ironically (to mean the opposite); the icing on the cake can be something that makes a bad situation even worse.

e.g. So, this morning my alarm didn’t go off, there was no hot water, I missed the bus, got caught in the rain, arrived 20 minutes late, but forgetting my notes for the seminar was the icing on the cake.

the tip of the iceberg

The tip of the iceberg is only a small part of a much larger problem or matter.

What you learn in class is just the tip of the iceberg. You need to study at home as well.

know something like the back of your hand

When you know something (especially a place) like the back of your hand, you know it very well.

– Shall we ask for directions? – No, we don’t have to. I know these streets like the back of my hand.

feel on edge

If you’re feeling on edge, you’re feeling nervous and unable to relax.

I have to apologise for shouting at you yesterday; I’m feeling a bit on edge these days.

not somebody’s cup of tea

If something is not your cup of tea (pronounced together as kʌpətiː), you don’t like it or you’re not interested in it.

Thanks for the invite, but horror films aren’t really my cup of tea. 

play it by ear

To play it by ear means to deal with a situation by reacting as things happen, rather than having a plan.

-Would you like to get together next week? – I don’t know yet because I’m a bit busy, so let’s just play it by ear.

be on the right track

When you are on the right track, you are doing something in a way that will bring good results.

Your extended writing draft suggests that you’re on the right track. You’ve shown a good understanding of using sources and writing critically, but you need to be a bit careful with your paragraphing.

put all your eggs in one basket

To put all your eggs in one basket means to depend for your success on a single plan or person.

I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, so I applied for several master’s programmes, not just the one in the University of Edinburgh.

bite off more than one can chew

To bite off more than you can chew means you are trying to do too much or something that is too difficult.

I think I bit off more than I could chew when I accepted to organise this party.

in the long run

In the long run means not immediately, but at a time in the future.

I know it involves putting in more effort now, but I think it’s the best solution in the long run.

speak of the devil

You say ‘speak of the devil’ when somebody you’ve been talking about appears unexpectedly.

Did you hear what happened to James yesterday – oh, speak of the devil, here he is.

have/get butterflies (in your stomach)

If you have/get butterflies in your stomach, you have a nervous feeling in your stomach before doing something.

I always get butterflies in my stomach before a performance no matter how much I’ve practised.


a piece of cake

When something is a piece of cake, it is very easy to do.

I’m sure the exam next week will be a piece of cake for me. I’ve been studying for weeks!

slip my mind

If something slips your mind, you forget it, or forget to do it.

-What was his name again? – I’m afraid it’s slipped my mind.

think on your feet

To think on your feet means to be able to think and react to things very quickly.

Even though preparation is vital, you might have to think on your feet when you are taking part in a seminar.