15 Idioms in English & Their Meanings

Sep 8, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Brooke LaTurno, EIPA 3.8 - Interpreter Coordinator

With all the advance materials, research, and deliberate practice in the world, at the end of the day we never really know what our clients might say or do. Sometimes a client will say something completely out of left field, and as an interpreter it is our duty to roll with it. In those moments, hopefully all the work and professional development we have done up to that point will help us to swiftly get on the same page as our client and create an adequate interpretation of their message.

At times a strong accent or a confusing joke can throw us off, other times our foreheads might wrinkle when we hear a foreign turn of phrase. It is for this reason that interpreters continuously study language and expose ourselves to a variety of language users in both American Sign Language and English, in hopes that we will be able to hold our own in the role of interpreter.

To that end, please enjoy the below list of fifteen idioms written in English and their meanings. Some of these idioms may be familiar, although we may not always use them appropriately. Others may be totally alien. You never know when an idiom from this list might show up in your work. Regardless of whether you are providing services in a medical office, lecture hall, or conference room – idioms find their way into our everyday conversations, sometimes when we least expect it!

A bone to pick (with someone)

Meaning: The need to settle a point of contention with another

Armed to the teeth

Meaning: Thoroughly prepared or equipped

A snake in the grass

Meaning: A duplicitous person

At the drop of a hat

Meaning: Right away, without delay

Banging your head against a brick wall

Meaning: Repeatedly try to do something that is highly unlikely to succeed

Bite the bullet

Meaning: To go ahead and get something unpleasant over with

Burn the midnight oil

Meaning: Staying up late to accomplish something

Face the music

Meaning: To confront whatever consequences await you

Fit as a fiddle

Meaning: Very healthy

From the horse’s mouth

Meaning: Information received directly from the source

Give it a whirl

Meaning: Try it out

Once in a blue moon

Meaning: Seldom

Rare as hen’s teeth

Meaning: Exceptionally rare

Taste of your own medicine

Meaning: To personally experience the same unpleasantness that you previously caused to someone else

The die is cast

Meaning: A course of action has already been set into motion

I hope this list is helpful, and that you enjoyed some of these figurative expressions found in English. As an exercise, pick a few of these idioms and try to use them in conversation throughout your day. Additionally, think about ways you would consider interpreting these idioms into ASL, if they come up during an assignment.

Please let us know in the comments below if you have a favorite idiom that did not make this list, or an idiom that tends to trip you up when you hear it.


The Dutch Proverbs – Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Google Arts & Culture.


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