Teaching a teenager English-language idioms
September 14, 2006 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Help me come up with a list of cool English-language idioms to teach my teenage foster daughter from Taiwan. Slightly

I know there have been discussions here before about English language idioms, but I didn't see one that fit exactly.

My 16-year-old foster daughter (very proficient in English, but not yet 100 percent fluent -- she was born in the US but lived for ten years in Taiwan) is interested in learning English idioms, and I would like to help her. Although I can buy her books or show her lists on the internet, I would mostly like to introduce idioms in conversations with her.

The ones we both seem to like are those idioms that have an accessible/visual image or explanation. So, for example, she liked "sticky fingers" for the idea of the loot sticking to the hand of the thief. She likes "tip of the iceberg" because I explained about how the non-visible part of icebergs under water is bigger than the visible part.

She also likes idioms that are somewhat off-color, though I would like to only encourage witty & amusing off-color idioms.

Also, I think overly obscure idioms might cause confusion and ridicule, so while I'd love to see historic web sites tracking slang of the 1890s (I know this crowd!), I probably won't teach her those.

So ... favorite internet sites? favorite idiom?
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Education (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
On the other hand, current idioms have jumped the shark.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:56 PM on September 14, 2006

When I was working with students with higher intelligence, we loved playing The Idiom Game during their speech therapy time. It's pretty entertaining for adults too since part of the game is guessing where the sayings originally came from. Playing a game like that might be faster than introducing each idiom in conversation.

If you really do want an internet site, there are some idiom games located here. Just scroll down to see them. They aren't too flashy, but my students seem to like them.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:34 PM on September 14, 2006

Hmm, well, just fishing around randomly:

"Not playing with a full deck."
"Quiet as a church mouse."
"Bats in the belfry."

Hmm. You know what? Those are all old. I think anything I'd come up with will be ancient. I'm totally out of touch.

Were I you, I'd go through Urban Dictionary for some more recent examples. A lot of their stuff is very off-color, but they have so much that you're bound to find some good ones. "umfriend" and "brain 404" are ones I liked a few years ago.
posted by Malor at 7:04 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

You've got a chip on your shoulder.

(This one has always weirded me out)
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 7:09 PM on September 14, 2006

I Googled "American slang" and found these sites:

American Slang Idioms
English Daily: Slang

Some ideas from looking over these sites:

- Tom, Dick, and Harry
- eyes in the back of your head
- five-fingered discount
- Trojan horse
- 24/7
- riding shotgun
- raising the roof
posted by cadge at 7:45 PM on September 14, 2006

The best place to find idioms is ESL sites because they use the idioms as ways of getting people interested in learning non-literal English words. I've always liked ESL Cafe for their super simple design and general fun and simple approach to language learning. Their idioms pages have many suggestions, though not all will fit into your specific criteria. They also have a quiz page which has an idioms section, again pretty simple and easy to check out. These folks have a weekly artwork contest for American idioms which might be fun as a little project.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 PM on September 14, 2006

sharp as a tack, dumb as a sack of hammers
a hard nut to crack
face like an open book
quiet as church mice, smart as a whip
missing some marbles, a few screws loose
what's good for the goose is good for the gander
it's not over until the fat lady sings
getting too big for your britches
everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time
time flies
can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen
a naive person is said to be born yesterday
big fish in a small pond, mayor of turdtown
when being caught "stretching the truth", it was said I "lied like a rug"
I've also been called slow as molasses, told I didn't know my ass from elbow (or a hole in the ground), drank whisky that kicked like a mule and then had to pray to the porcelain god, been so hungry I could have eaten a horse, been run out of town on a rail. When I have to use the bathroom, some people go to powder their nose, drain the lizard, sit on the cold throne, see a man about a dog, or (my fave, check the emergency exits).
If I threw a ball badly, I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, I was throwing like a girl even if ran like the wind.
If I haven't caught a cold, I'd go out and "spend my evenings" catching a flick and looking for trouble.
If I had a good time, I'd be on cloud nine with my head in the clouds. If someone caught me "daydreaming" they might say "the lights are on, but nobody's home"
If I'm confused about something, I'm lost until I can get to the heart of the manner.
Thanks, this was so much fun it should be illegal.
posted by now i'm piste at 8:44 PM on September 14, 2006

Not to spam more, but I really think that explaining the difference between white and blue collar jobs would be very insightful to American culture as a whole.
posted by now i'm piste at 8:48 PM on September 14, 2006

a few sandwiches short of a picnic has always been one of my favourites.
posted by cholly at 8:53 PM on September 14, 2006

You could have fun with the whole "a few Xs short of a full Y" structure and have her try to come up with new ones. A few tacos short of a full lunch platter is my favorite, but once you grasp the concept, it's pretty basic to construct.

The Conceptual Metaphor Homepage is a fun toy for you to find stuff and put it in context for her. Example - Money is a liquid. Liquid Assets, he's all dried up, sponging off you... It's certainly more theoretical than ESL, but it's pretty rich.
posted by Gucky at 9:41 PM on September 14, 2006

Great suggestions!! Y'all reminded me of a bunch of great examples! And I will check out all of the links.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:50 PM on September 14, 2006

As always, I turn to the wiki first and my questions are answered:

Wiktionary (click on NEXT 200 at the bottom for more)
posted by kdern at 10:08 PM on September 14, 2006

This is cool too - search engine for idioms (by keyword)
posted by kdern at 10:09 PM on September 14, 2006

There are quite a few good idiom dictionaries in print, e.g. American Heritage.
posted by Paragon at 1:41 AM on September 15, 2006

Give her a stack of Elmore Leonard novels.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:32 AM on September 15, 2006

If she's at all into games, I HIGHLY suggest an old Infocom text adventure titled Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tails of It.. You may have to hunt around a bit to find it, but this game is well worth it. Instead of the normal text adventure commands like
"west. get sword. Kill ice troll. Kill ice troll with swoard."
you examine the situation and use idioms and other figures of speech to advance in the game. In one scene, you're in a restaurant, and you're interacting with the waitress and some items in the room. You have to
Call her on the carpet. Read her the riot actPull the wool over her eyesEat humble pie
and a whole bunch of others. I'd suggest playing the game with her to help, because some of the idioms are obscure and not at all obvious.

posted by cosmicbandito at 6:38 AM on September 15, 2006

Happy as a Clam
... is one of those two-part expressions where most people have forgotten the second half:

at high tide.
.. presumably since Señor Clam is safer then.

posted by Rash at 9:55 AM on September 15, 2006

If you haven't found enough in the suggestions above, try having her read the sports section. Not only is every headline and article based on an idiom, but almost every article is chock full [where does that come from? :-)] of cultural references.
posted by Araucaria at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2006

Ooh, Nord and Bert would be VERY good, but you'll definitely need to play too. The entire game consists, basically, of puns on old idioms. If you don't know the idioms to START with, it would be absolutely impossible.

But I bet it would be a GREAT way to learn some.
posted by Malor at 3:53 AM on September 16, 2006

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