Special Idioms (Special Idiomatic Expressions)



Your chickens have come home to roost! (aquellos polvos traen estos lodos)
If your chickens have come home to roost, it means that you have started to experience the bad or unpleasant effects of something you have done before.
For example: ‘Last year my mother spent all her hard earned savings on a new flat. But now her chickens have come home to roost and she’s got nothing to live on in her retirement’.

Are you acting the goat?
(actuar de manera tonta)
If you act the goat, then you are deliberately behaving in a foolish or silly way.
For example: ‘Stop acting the goat. You have to get this work done in an hour’s time’. On the other hand, if you get somebody’s goat, you annoy them very much.
For example: ‘It really gets my goat when people don't say thank you’.

Look what the cat’s dragged in!
(complicarle alguien la vida a uno)
This expression came about because cats tend to bring objects such as dead birds or mice, into their owners’ house as presents. It is a funny expression used when someone comes into a room looking very dirty, wet, or untidy.
For example: ‘Look what the cat’s dragged in’, his wife shouted, as her husband returned from football, covered in mud.

Killing the goose that lays the golden egg
(matar la gallina de los huevos de oro)
This expression is used to refer to an action which destroys or ends something which brings you profit or success.
For example: Microsoft is worth millions to the US economy. If the government punishes them for breaking the law, it risks killing the goose which lays the golden egg.


Swan song
(última actuación o esfuerzo antes de retirarse)
Someone's swan song is the last time they do something for which they are famous. The swan song for an actor or performer is the last time that they appear in a play in the theatre.
An example: 'The 1997 Spice Girl tour was Geri's swan song.'

Play it by ear
(tocar de oído, hacer algo sobre la marcha, improvisar)
If you play something by ear, then you decide how to act or respond to a situation as it happens, rather than by planning in advance how you are going to act.
An example: 'You can't prepare for this interview, so just play it by ear.'
If you don't respond or act well, you could be 'out on your ear’. This means you have suddenly been told to leave or been dismissed from a course, job, or group.
An example: 'I messed up the interview, and now I am out on my ear.'

Don't drop a clanger!
(meter la pata, cometer un error garrafal)
This spoken English expression refers to a situation where you say or do something, which embarrasses or insults someone nearby, without you realizing it. The reason we say drop a clanger is because everyone in earshot usually becomes silent, just as when something is dropped which makes a loud noise, like a clang.
An example: 'I dropped a real clanger when I asked George at a party when he was going to marry Sarah. I didn't know he had just left her.'


He's cooking the books!
(falsificar los libros contables)
An informal expression which means to change facts or figures in order to make a situation seem better than it is, or to hide the fact that you have stolen money, usually from the business you work for.
An example: 'This company, which has revealed a million pounds profit, was almost bankrupt when I left last year. Someone must be cooking the books.'

I have bigger fish to fry!
(tener cosas más importantes para hacer)
If you have bigger (or other) fish to fry, it means that you have more interesting, useful or important things to do.
An example: 'That film director is not going to drop in and look at your film script. He's got bigger fish to fry in Hollywood.'
If you are ‘a fish out of water’, it means that you feel uncomfortable because you are in unfamiliar surroundings.
An example: 'I went to this St Valentine's party to have some fun, but I soon discovered that everyone was my mother's age. I felt like a fish out of water!'

He's on a knife-edge
(encontrarse muy ansioso o nervioso)
If someone is on a knife-edge, they are very anxious about the future result of something. 'He's on a knife-edge about his exam results.' This expression also refers to a situation which is delicately balanced, with the result extremely uncertain.
An example: 'The success or failure of this plan was balanced on a knife-edge.'

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!

Lo que es bueno para el pavo es bueno para la pava)
A spoken expression often used by men who think their wives or girlfriends have been doing things that they should not have been doing. If a woman can behave in a certain way, then the man should be allowed to behave in that way, too. Women can use this expression too, but not as well, as a gander is a male goose. 'If my girlfriend can stay at the pub with her friends until closing time, why can't I? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.'

She went out of the frying pan into the fire

(salir de Guatemala para meterse en Guatepeor)

If you go out of the frying pan into the fire, then you go from a bad situation to one that is even worse. 'Sarah, who is obsessed about cleanliness, finally left Paul because he never washed up after meals. But to her horror, she soon discovered that her new boyfriend not only never washed up, but was also incapable of tidying up the house. She had gone out of the frying pan into the fire.'


Working Around the Clock
(trabajar las 24 horas del día, trabajar sin descanso)
If you work around or round the clock, this expression means that you work all day and night without stopping.
An example: 'John has been working round the clock to finish the work on time.
If your business runs like clockwork, it means it works very well and happens in exactly the way it is expected to.
An example: 'John soon had the business running like clockwork.'

Skeleton Staff
(plantilla de personal reducida)
Most businesses use a skeleton staff, crew or service at some time during the year. The expression refers to the minimum number of people necessary to run an organisation or service, usually during a holiday or at night.
An example: 'At Easter, we have a skeleton staff answering phones because we don't get much business'.
If you have a skeleton in the cupboard or closet, it means you have an embarrassing secret or scandal in your past which is kept hidden.
An example: ‘That company is going to get raided soon. They have a lot of skeletons in their cupboard.’

Mickey Mouse organisation
(una empresa desorganizada y de poca monta)
A negative expression which describes an organisation or business that is very small, unimportant and not very good at doing what it is supposed to do. This expression comes from the cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, whose owner, Walt Disney, is ironically the creator of a huge and profitable global business.
An example: 'That driving school is a Mickey Mouse organisation. Its cars break down all the time.'


Bring home the bacon
(llevar la batuta económica de una casa, "parar la olla")
An informal expression meaning simply to earn enough money to support your family.
An example: ‘My husband is a published poet, but I am the one who both looks after the family and brings home the bacon.'
This expression is not the same as to 'save someone's bacon', which means that someone is removed from a difficult or dangerous situation.
An example: 'Thank goodness I packed a spare shirt. It saved my bacon, when I spilled coffee on myself just before my presentation.’

Money doesn't grow on trees!
(el dinero no es fácil de encontrar)
An expression often used when explaining why you are not going to give someone any money.
An example: 'I cannot afford to buy you another Rolex watch. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know.'

Money talks
(el dinero habla por sí solo, el dinero todo lo puede)
A saying which means that money gives you influence and power, and allows you to do whatever you want.
An example: ‘That oil tycoon should be in prison by now but in this world, money talks.'
This saying can be confused with, 'Put your money where your mouth is!'
This informal expression means that you give practical support to what you have just said, often in the form of money.
An example: 'You said you believed in the fox-hunting campaign. Put your money where your mouth is!'


Witch-hunt (caza de brujas)
A deliberate attempt to find and punish people whose opinions are seen as wrong or dangerous. Often this is based on false information, and the people who are punished in a witch-hunt are often completely innocent.
An example: 'During the 1950s, there was a witch-hunt in USA organised against the Communists. Many people's careers were ruined, when the finger of suspicion fell on them.'

Banana Republic
(República Bananera, país políticamente inestable)
The term 'banana republic' is a rude way of describing a small country, especially in Africa or Central and South America, that is politically unstable, poor and under-developed and often dependent on financial support from abroad.
An example: 'That is the third coup they have had this year. We should give no more aid to that banana republic.'

Kangaroo Court
(corte no diplomada, tribunal ilegal y arbitrario)
A 'kangaroo court' is an unofficial and illegal court that has been organised by a group of people to examine and usually to punish other members of the same group.
Usually injustice rather than justice is done in a kangaroo court.
An example: 'After the miners' strike failed, angry miners held a kangaroo court to try those miners who had gone to work during the strike.'


Bury the hatchet (hacer las paces)
When two people or two sides bury the hatchet, they agree to stop arguing about something and become friends again.
An example: ‘After being bitter enemies during the hostile takeover bid, Vodaphone and Mannesmann decided to bury the hatchet.’
When peace was made between two American Indian tribes, they used to take the axes or hatchets of both the chiefs and bury them. When hostilities broke out again, the hatchets were dug up again as a declaration of war.

Throw down the gauntlet (aceptar un reto o un desafío)
If you throw down the gauntlet, you do or say something that challenges someone to take action.
An example: ‘The miners threw down their gauntlet to the government, and said they will strike until their demands are met.’
A medieval knight issued a challenge by throwing down a metal leather glove or gauntlet, and his challenge was accepted if the other knight picked up the glove.

Pour oil on troubled waters
(tranquilizar los ánimos, apaciguar los disturbios)
If you pour oil on troubled waters, you try to settle an argument or a dispute by speaking calmly to the people involved.
An example: ‘As a personnel officer, I have had a lot of practice pouring oil on troubled waters.’
In classical times, people believed that oil poured on stormy waters reduced the waves to a calm and allowed ships to ride through a storm.


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