Idiom Sunday #2: Food & Drink

I love idioms. They may just be my favourite thing about language. I love them so much that I created Idiom Sunday, where every Sunday I write about five of my favourite idioms. These may be extremely useful in your IELTS Speaking exam, but only if you use them at the appropriate time. To help you to understand when that appropriate time is, Idiom Sunday is in the form of a quiz. Can you get all the answers right?

1. To take something with a pinch of salt

A little more than a pinch, perhaps.

When would we ‘take something with a pinch of salt’?

A) When the food we’re eating doesn’t have enough flavour (e.g. “This soup tastes like nothing. You should take it with a pinch of salt.”)

B) When we want to talk about the damage we do to the earth (e.g. “Don’t leave the TV on standby. You’re just taking it with a pinch of salt.”)

C) When we know not to take something/someone so seriously.(e.g. “Jim is always exaggerating. You should take everything he says with a pinch of salt.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: C) When we know not to take something/someone so seriously.

When someone makes a claim that we know is exaggerated, we know not to take that person so seriously. For example, let’s say I have a friend called Gary. Gary is always telling me that “today is the day I make my fortune. Today is the day I move out of this dead-end town”. The first time Gary said this, I may have believed him. But now I know it’s just talk, so I need to take what Gary says with a pinch of salt.

When we use this idiom, we are telling people that we should be cautious or sceptical about what is being said. It does not mean that you disbelieve it entirely, but that you think it’s unlikely to be true, and would rather wait for the evidence. For example:

“Global warming is, of course, a serious issue which cannot be ignored. But we should take these predictions of global annihilation with a pinch of salt.”

Useful in the Speaking exam for talking about: Family(“My uncle is forever talking to us about his ‘celebrity connections’. You have to take what he says with a pinch of salt”), Politics (“The Prime Minister’s just given a speech on the world-saving benefits of solar energy, but you need to take what he says with a pinch of salt”), Relationships (“That’s the third time this month my girlfriend has threatened to break up with me. At this point I have to talk every threat with a pinch of salt”).

2. Cry over spilt milk

Why would you tell someone NOT to ‘cry over spilt milk’?

A) Because they were still upset about a past loss(e.g.  “I know you’re upset you didn’t get the promotion, but there’s no point crying over spilt milk.”)

B) Because they were upset at the amount of food wasted (e.g. “Sorry, John, I can’t finish my meal. But don’t cry over spilt milk.”)

C) Because they were upset over a minor incident. (e.g. “Are you really that upset that you lost your pen? You shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, you know.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: A) Because they were still upset about a past loss.

Bad things happen, but we need to move on. This idiom is used to say to people that there is no use in dwelling on the past if nothing can be done about it in the present. What’s done is done. The milk has been spilt, and there is no way to put that milk back in the carton. So why cry about it?

We would not use this idiom for truly serious issues, so in some sense it does have ties to answer C. But we don’t only use it for minor incidences either. Missing out on a great job is not a minor incidence (at least next to a lost pen). But we would never use this idiom to describe past tragedies, like deaths in the family, grave illnesses, or past wars. If used wrongly, it can be very belittling, so make sure not to use it to talk about moving on from tragedies.

“So you made a mistake in your interview. No point crying over spilt milk, just go out and find another interview.”

Useful in the Speaking exam for talking about: Travel (“Sure, the flight was cancelled at the last minute. But I used that time to get some work done. No point crying over spilt milk”), Work (“I’ve missed out on a few promotions in my time, but I won’t cry over spilt milk”), Finance (“It was a risky move buying all those shares, and it backfired. But I’ve learnt from it. There’s no use crying over spilt milk”).

3. Put all one’s eggs in one basket

Ignore the eggs outside the basket. Those are rebel eggs.

What do you think “put all one’s eggs in one basket” means?

A) To fill your shopping bag to the point of bursting(e.g. “You shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. The bag will break before you reach home.”)

B) To add eggs to every meal you make(e.g. “She puts all her eggs in one basket; every time she has us over for lunch it’s eggs, eggs, eggs!”)

C)  To put all your resources in one place(e.g. “They’ve put all their money into one joint account, but I think it’s dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: C) To put all your resources in one place.

It’s not smart to make everything you have (your eggs) dependent on one thing (your basket). If that one thing (the basket) breaks, then all your resources (the eggs) are going to fall through it and smash. It is better to diversify; to put all your eggs into different baskets. It may make them harder to carry, but at least if one basket breaks you won’t lose all the eggs.

We can apply this metaphorical idiom to lots of situations, but it is especially useful when talking about work, future, and finance. Our most obvious resource is money, so we could say it’s dangerous to put all our money into one account, instead of separating it into current accounts, savings accounts, ISAs etc. Another resource we have is hope of happiness, and if we place all our hope into one basket, like our dream job, what if that dream job doesn’t make us happy? All our hope of happiness disappears.

“Mark’s dropping everything to travel abroad in the hope of finding his dream job, but he’s putting all his eggs in one basket.”

Useful in the Speaking exam for talking about: Finance (“I like to separate my money into various different accounts; I don’t think it’s wise to put all your eggs in one basket”), Environment(“The government has put so much money into wind energy, but there are other options; they need to be careful not to put all their eggs in one basket”), Security (“All his passwords on the internet are the same. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s putting all his eggs in one basket”).

4. Bigger fish to fry

When would we have ‘bigger fish to fry’?

A) When we feel what we have isn’t enough (e.g. “Sure, the flat-screen TV is nice. But I need bigger fish to fry, like a 3DTV with surround sound.”)

B) Where there is a bigger target to reach or issue to attend (e.g. “I’m not trying to reach the small businesses. I have bigger fish to fry.”)

C)When we feel something is lacking in quality (e.g. “Your argument is unconvincing. I need bigger fish to fry.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: B) Where there is a bigger target to reach or issue to attend.

We use this idiom when we want to tell someone that we have something more important or more interesting to do. It’s quite a useful idiom for the work setting, or when talking about ambition. If I suggested to you that you should accept a low wage in an easy job, you might tell me ‘no, I have bigger fish to fry’. You have more ambition than that; what you want to do is more important.

“I told Tom that he should be happy with the money he’s making right now, but he just told me he had bigger fish to fry.”

Useful in the Speaking exam for talking about: Education (“Sure, I could be happy with scoring a 7.0 in the IELTS exam. But I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”), Fame/Media (“Many people are happy with their low-paying, anonymous lives. Me, I have bigger fish to fry.”), Conservation (“I think that protecting wildlife is important, but surely we have bigger fish to fry right now with the economic downturn?”)

5. Apples and oranges

This idiom does fail to take the notorious appange into consideration.

Last up, what do you think it means to compare ‘apples and oranges’?

A) To compare two things that we feel are almost completely different (e.g. “Why compare Ferrari with Ford? That’s pretty much apples and oranges.”)

B) To compare two things that we feel are quite similar (e.g. “Now, there is some grounds for comparing Ferrari with Aston Martin. They may not be identical, but they’re apples and oranges.”)

C) To compare two things that we feel are almost identical (e.g. “Let’s talk about Ferrari and Lamborghini. Because, to me, that’s apples and oranges.”)

Scroll down for the answer!

Answer: A) To compare two things that we feel are almost completely different.

It’s pretty useless to compare two things that don’t have any relation, so we use the term ‘apples to oranges’ to say that any discussion comparing these two things would be meaningless. Just as apples and oranges are both fruit, the two things being compared usually have at least one thing in common, but beyond that any comparison would be pointless.

This idiom is used a lot to prevent arguments from even occurring. If you want to explain to your friend why Ford is a better car make than Ferrari, he might tell you not to even bother because you’d be comparing ‘apples and oranges’. This is not always the case though, and ‘apples and oranges’ can just be used to intimidate or silence an opponent. Sometimes, there is actual grounds for comparison.

“Ben told me not to talk about ‘Avatar’ and ‘Titanic’ because it was like comparing apples and oranges. But I still think it’s important in the discussion of James Cameron’s development as a director.”

Useful in the Speaking exam for talking about: Fashion & Trends(“You can’t compare 60’s fashion with today’s fashion; that’s apples and oranges”), Character (“Ted and Fred are so different you can’t compare them. That’d be like comparing apples and oranges”), Transport (“I don’t think there’s much use in comparing cycling to driving; that’s just apples and oranges”).

So, how did you do? Let us know in the comments section below. Hopefully this article has added some idioms to your vocabulary and you feel a bit more confident about using them in the Speaking exam. If you have any more body part idioms you want to share with me and my students, add them to the comments below! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Sunday!

One comment
  1. Sushmita Choudhury November 21, 2013 at 9:28 am

    That lesson has enormous worth I guess.Personally I am passionate about learning Idioms. Thank you for being a primary vehicle to travel in this exciting journey.I regularly follow your lessons.