Playing with idioms 2
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You scracth my back and I’ll scratch yours
I’ll help you to get a copy of thet document if
you promise to reccommend me for
promotion. You know, you scratch my back
and I’ll scratch yours!
Una mano lava l’altra
To scratch:graffiare/scorticare
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Before you can say “Jack Robinson”
I only have to get some bread and milk. You
wait here. I’ll be back before you can say
“Jack Robinson”.
In un batter d’occhio
Jack Robinson: origin…
It would be pleasing to be able to point to a historical figure called
Robinson who was the source of this expression. Regrettably, we can't.
1)It could well be that there was an actual Jack Robinson who was reputed to
be quick in some way, but, if that's the case, any reliable record of him has
disappeared.
2)It is known that the phrase was in circulation by the end of the 18th century
as Mme. Frances D'Arblay (Fanny Burney) used it then in her romantic
novel Evelina, or the history of a young lady's entrance into the world in
1778.
3) Sir John Robinson was the Constable (governatore/guardia) of the Tower of
London for several years from 1660 onward. Some have suggested that he
was the source of the phrase and have bequeathed (ereditare) him a
reputation for hastily chopping off people's heads
4)The lexicographer Francis Grose, in his 1811 edition of the Dictionary of the
Vulgar Tongue defines 'Jack Robinson' thus: "Before one could say Jack
Robinson; a saying to express a very short time, originating from a very
volatile gentleman”
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To have forty winks*
Before the Joneses come over to see us, I’m going
upstairs to have forty winks, I only slept four hours
last night.
Schiacciare un pisolino.
To sleep a wink provide the mental picture of a wink
being the shortest type of sleep available and "forty
winks" therefore gives an indication of an appropriate
short sleep.
*wink: strizzatina d’occhio
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Like the pot calling the kettle black
You are calling me messy? Thet’s like the pot calling
the kettle black! You’re bedroom is so untidy it would
take a month to clean it!
Da che pulpito viene la predica
Il bue che dice cornunto all’asino
N.B. kettle: bollitore
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To hang on by one’s eyelids
The water is rising up. If you don’t get here soon
we’ll all be drowned. As it is, we are hanging on by
our eyelids. Hurry up!
Essere appesi ad un filo
N. B eyelids: palpebre
Eyelashes: ciglia
Eyebrows: sopracciglia
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A live wire
You’ll like Edith. She is always doing things,
always going out and meeting new people. She
is a real live wire
Avere l’argento vivo addosso.
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To have bats in the belfry
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When I told her that I like walking through marshes
looking for insects, she looked at me as though I had
bats in the belfry
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Avere una rotella fuoriposto
N.B belfry – campanile
Marshes: paludi
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To be snug as a bug in a rug
“Look at the warm blankets I put on your bed”, the
mother said to her child. “Get in, you’ll be snug as a
bug in a rug!”
Stare comodo come un pascià
Snug: comodo
Bug: piccolo insetto / baco
Rug: tappeto
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Blue-eyed boy
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James Fenimore can do anything the wants
here. Even if he makes a hundred mistakes a
day, nobody will ever say anything. He is the
professor’s blue-eyed boy
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Essere il pupillo
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To be knee-high to a grasshopper
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I used to go hunting with my dad when I
wasn’t even knee-high to a grasshopper.
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Essere alto come un soldo di cacio
N.P grasshopper - cavalletta
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Never bite the hand that feeds you
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We have been your best customers for years.
How could you suddenly treat us so rudely?
You should never bite the hand that feeds
you…
Non sputare mai nel piatto in cui si mangia
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A man about town
Henry has become a real man about town –
theatre, concerts, all the best restaurants. If
there is something happening in New York,
Henry will be there!
Essere un uomo di mondo
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To go to pot.
You’ve got to come back to the farm.
Everything has gone to pot since you left.
Nobody milks the cows and the chickens are
allowed to roost (appollaiarsi) in the kitchen.
It: Andare a rotoli
Eng: Andare in pentola
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Mum’s the word.
If the news reaches the press we’ll be in big
trouble. Remember, mum’s the word!
Acqua in bocca. (Mum è il suono che si
produce tenendo le labbra chiuse)
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To have bigger fish to fry.
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We do not see much of Bob since he left home
and went to work in New York. I expect he’s
got bigger fish to fry now!
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Avere affari più importanti da sbrigare.
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As Happy as a Sandboy
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I saw Erica last week. She has been as happy
as a sandboy since she started working at
Disney World. She says that it’s the greatest
job in the world!
It: Contento come una Pasqua
Eng: Contento come un venditore di sabbia
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As happy as a sandboy 2
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ORIGIN: not a boy playing in the sand but one peddling it to
the owners of shops and taverns where a fresh layer was
spread on the floor every day to absorb the mud from
customers’ boots. What a sandboy should be proverbially jolly
is not very clear. In Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop (1840), there
is an inn called “The Jolly Sandboys” with a sign representing
three sandboys increasing their jollity. Probably they were just
happy because what they sold for money cost them very little
or nothing. It has been estimated that they could make over £5
a morning and if they were also given the job of clearing out
(pulire/sgombrare) the old sand before laying the new their
happiness might well have been enhanced by the possibility of
finding dropped valuables in it.
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To grasp – to seize the nettle.
It’s now or never, Phil. Seize the nettle and go
ask Laura to marry you. After all she has been
your girlfriend for four years.
Prendere il coraggio a due/quattro mani
Ing: afferrare l’ortica
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To rub someone’s fur in the wrong way.
I just can’t seem to get along with my motherin-law. I always seem to be rubbing her fur in
the wrong way.
Prendere qualcuno per il verso
sbagliato/irritare
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To bring home the bacon
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In the old days, it was the man who brought
home the bacon. Now, times have changed,
and both women and men must go to work to
provide for their family.
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Portare a casa il pane
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To put someone in the picture
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Since you do not know what the strategy is, let
me put you in the picture. First we intend to
consolidatev our domestic position and then
we will try to penetrate the eastern European
markets.
Fare il punto della situazione
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To be so quiet that you could hear a pin drop
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I do not like country road. This total silence
gives me the creeps; it’s so quiet you could
hear a pin drop.
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Non si sente volare una mosca
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To throw the baby out with the bath water.
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When we close the Birmingham branch
(filiale) we must offer Miss Jones a new
position within the company. She’s an
excellent secretary and we mustn’t throw out
the baby with the bath water.
Eliminare il bene insieme al male.
To throw/threw/thrown
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As the crow flies
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As the crow flies, it is only thirty miles from
her house to the nearest town, but by road it’s
nearly sixty.
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In linea d’aria.
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To give someone a taste of his own medicine.
Neal thinks it’s funny to ring people’s
doorbells in the middle of the night, so today
we gave him a taste of his own medicine by
ringing his doorbell all day long while he was
studying.
Chi la fa l’aspetti /dare una lezione
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To be a wallflower
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I used to be such a wallflower until I went on
that self-confident course at the university.
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Fare da tappezzeria.
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To turn/go as red as a beetroot
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He turned as red as a beetroot when he walked
into the ladies’ toilets by mistake!
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Diventare rosso come un peperone
N.B. Beetroot: barbabietola
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To hang/ride on someone’s coat-tails
She got that job by hanging on Jim’s coat-tails.
When he got promoted she made sure she was
kept on as his secretary.
Avere successo sulla scia del successo altrui
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In a nutshell
To put it in a nutshell, the company’s gone
bust!
In poche parole
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To cook the books
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They were worried when they found out that
the tax inspectors were coming in. Everyone
knew the manager had been cooking the
books…
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Falsificare i libri contabili.
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On the Q. T.
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Now we know that the Mayor was receiving
money on the QT from some of the city’s most
important businessmen.
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Sottobanco
On the Q. T. 2
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ORIGIN: The slang term 'qt' is a shortened form of
'quiet’. There's no definitive source for the phrase 'on
the q.t.’ The expression indicates that the subject
under discussion is confidential. Both the US and the
UK claim first ownership of this phrase. US cite their
country’s love of abbreviations The British claim
comes via Robert Hendrickson, in The Facts on File
Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins.
Hendrickson says that ‘on the QT’ comes from a
British ballad in 1870. However, this has been
disputed as he provided no evidence for the claim.
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Bread and Butter
I can’t possibly close the shop. It’s my bread
and butter.
Pane quotidiano
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To be dead as a doornail
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no
doubt whatever about that. Marley was as dead
as a doornail.”
Essere morto stecchito
Doornail: borchia sulla porta
To be dead as a doornail…
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If you hammer a nail through a piece of timber and
then flatten the end over on the inside so it can’t be
removed again (a technique called clinching), the nail
is said to be dead, because you can’t use it again.
dating from about 1350. Its meaning is disputed but
most likely it referred to the costly metal nails
hammered into the outer doors of the wealthy (most
people used the much cheaper wooden pegs (pioli)),
which were clinched on the inside of the door and
therefore were “dead,” that is, could not be used
again. Dead as a herring dates from the 16th century
and no doubt alludes to the bad smell this dead fish
gives off, making its death quite obvious.
To be dead as a doornail…2
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The usual reason given is that a doornail was
one of the heavy nails on the outside of a
medieval door, or possibly the phrase refers to
the particularly big one on which the knocker
rested. A doornail, because of its size and
probable antiquity, would seem dead enough
for any proverb; the one on which the knocker
sat might be thought particularly dead because
of the number of times it had been knocked on
the head.
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To keep something under one’s hat.
I’ll tell you what the boss plans to do next
month but you have got to promise to keep it
under your hat.
Tenere la bocca chiusa
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To hang on
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Hang on, Harry! The police will be here in a
minute.
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Tenere duro
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To get in someone’s hair.
“Billy is a good boy, but sometimes he really
gets in my hair especially when it’s raining and
he can’t go out to play”, said his mother.
Fare innervosire
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To know the ropes / to show someone the
ropes.
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For this first week George will accompany you
to show you the ropes; then you’ll be on your
own.
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Insegnare i trucchi del mestiere
Rope: corda
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To take something like a duck to water.
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I always thought Paul would be good at
languages and I was right. He has taken to
Spanish like a duck to water.
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Prendere confidenza
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To make ends meet.
If it weren’t for your pay, Alex, I do not know
how we would make ends meet this month.
Tirare fino alla fine del mese
N.B “fare combaciare gli estremi”
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To look like death warmed up
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My God, Claudia! What have you been doing lately?
Aren’t you sleeping at night? You look like death
warmed up.
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Avere una brutta cera
*cera: wax
*cera (aspetto): look “avere una bella cera”---to look
well
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A watched pot never boils.
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You are not going to make Conrad get here any
quicker by constantly looking out of the
window. Remember, a watched pot never
boils.
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Non essere così impaziente.
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Knight in shining armour.
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Jane has been waiting twenty years for her
knight in shining armour.
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Il Principe Azzurro
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A chip off the old block.
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Peter is a great fisherman just like his father;
he is a chip off the old block.
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Tale padre tale figlio
N.B. Una scheggia dal vecchio blocco
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To be chicken.
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Come on, Silvia! Jump! Are you chicken?
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Essere un coniglio
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To drink like a fish.
I’m not surprised he is in hospital with a liver
(fegato) complaint. He has been drinking like a
fish for years.
Bere come una spugna
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To stick out like a sore thumb.
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Why did you have to wear jeans to that formal dinner
party? You stuck out like a sore thumb.
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Essere un pugno nell’occhio.
N. B. Saltare agli occhi come un pollice dolente.
To stick/stuck
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To be the icing on the cake.
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I was thrilled when my son won a gold medal
at the last Olympic Games. Then when my
daughter won a bronze medal too, well, that
really was the icing on the cake.
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Essere la ciliegina sulla torta.
N.B. icing - glassa
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Not to have a leg to stand on
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You say that I killed the widow of Dr. Bones,
but, my dear Holmes, I’m afraid that you do
not have a leg to stand on.
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Non avere prove.
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Playing with idioms 2