5 American English Idioms to Use When Things Go Wrong

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Stephanie English
November 26, 2015
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3 minutes
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NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 14, 2013: Honky-tonks on Lower Broad

Have you had a bad day, week, or year? Take advantage of it and expand your English with some colorful idioms! Idioms are fun, creative, and advanced ways to express meaning. Here are five common American English idioms that you can use the next time you find yourself talking about a troublesome situation.


1. "Face the music"

Music is usually enjoyable but not so in this idiom! If it’s time to face the music, it’s time to accept the consequences of a bad decision. No one is exactly sure where this idiom comes from. One theory is that it comes from theater, where actors are facing the musicians in the pit below the front of the stage. Another theory is that this saying comes from military ceremonies, such as a dishonorable soldier being thrown out of the military to the sound of drums. Whatever the origin, this idiom is very useful whenever you must bear the results of your poor decision-making.

Examples

  • I ate poorly throughout my 20s and now I have to face the music and change my diet.
  • Sheila lied about her computer skills and now that she’s been transferred to IT, she’ll have to face the music.
  • Your problem won’t go away by ignoring it; you have to face the music!

2. "Out of the woods"

Are you experiencing a negative situation, but the worst part is over? Maybe your company is going through a series of cutbacks, or your country is in a bad recession. Perhaps you’ve suffered from a serious illness, or you’re going through a messy divorce. When the worst part of the bad situation is over, this idiom is for you! Out of the woods is an expression that means out of trouble or danger. It refers to being lost in the woods—when you get out of the woods you are safe, though you aren’t quite home yet.

Examples

  • I had a bad fever last Tuesday but I’m out of the woods now and ready to go back to work.
  • I’ve paid off one credit card, but I’m not out of the woods yet; I still have to pay off the other three!
  • David said he forgives you for stealing his girlfriend. Looks like you’re out of the woods!

3. "On its last legs"

This idiom makes a metaphor out of legs and is often used with things that don’t have any legs at all. "Legs" in this idiom represents energy, power, or strength. When something is on its last legs, it is slowly losing its power or ability to function and will stop functioning or run out of power soon. Your car may not have legs but if it’s on its last legs, then you should start looking for a new car!

Examples

  • My computer is really slow and has crashed a few times recently; I think it’s on its last legs.
  • She used to be the most popular actress in Hollywood but ever since the scandal she’s been on her last legs.
  • These socks are on their last legs; I can nearly see through them!

4. "Bite the bullet"

This idiom has two related but slightly different uses. When there is something you don’t want to do but must, you may find you have to bite the bullet and force yourself to do it. Similarly, you bite the bullet when you bravely endure a bad situation. It is possible that this idiom began from the old practice of having surgery patients bite something in order to manage the pain of surgery.

Examples

  • I bit the bullet and finally told my wife that I lost my wedding ring.
  • You have to sit through this whole opera, so just bite the bullet and stop whining!
  • Annie hates exercise, but three times a week she bites the bullet because she knows it’s good for her health.

5. "On the line"

Sometimes you make choices that jeopardize things that you value. When this happens, you can say you’ve put something on the line. If you gamble, you’re putting money on the line. If you promise something and later do not follow through, you’ve put your good reputation on the line. Something is on the line when it is in danger of being lost.

Examples

  • I put my relationship on the line when I moved abroad, but we’ve managed to stay together despite the distance.
  • Your job is on the line—if you’re late one more time, you’re fired!
  • Don’t tell Suzy that you don’t like her children; it’s not worth putting your friendship on the line.


About the Author:

Stephanie is from the United States and has been teaching English for over six years. She hold a Bachelors degree in Linguistics and Spanish, as well as a Masters degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. As a Verbling teacher, she particularly enjoys teaching through literature, reading, writing, and pronunciation.

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