Mastering a language is no easy feat. You must grasp the grammar, study the vocabulary, and become friend to both synonym and antonym alike. However, the mechanics of a language are just the beginning. American English is positively overflowing with expressions and idioms that, at first glance, make absolutely no sense, even to native English speakers! While the list below doesn’t even begin to cover the wealth of preposterous expressions available to you, it may help shed some light on a few of the most popular.
1) “Burn your bridges.”
This might sound like a waste of a perfectly good bridge, but this American expression actually describes what it means to end a relationship, either with a person, company or organization, forever. Furthermore, it means you ended the relationship in a disastrous way.
For example, one day you wake up and decide to quit your job. Rather than quietly and respectfully submit your letter of resignation, you drive your car into your boss’s office, and write “I quit,” on his forehead with lipstick. Needless to say, your job is finished; it is annihilated, and you are never to return (unless you want to risk being escorted out by security). In short, you have burned your bridge with your job and your former boss.
2) “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
In this moment, the savagery of the American people toward the feline species has no doubt made your blood run cold. Fear not, this is simply an American expression that lets you know that there is more than one way to complete a task.
For the sake of an example, imagine that you need to fix a broken pipe, but you don’t have any of the necessary tools. Feeling broken and alone without the modern convenience of running water, you call a friend and bemoan the fact that you have no tool kit with which to set things right.
Your friend, being the creative type, assures you that there is “more than one way to skin a cat”, and comes over to fix the pipe with nothing but twine and a piece of gum. Your house may now be flooded, but your friend has taught you a valuable lesson about ingenuity.
3)“A penny for your thoughts.”
Before you feel insulted about your brain’s proposed net worth, relax. When somebody offers a penny for your thoughts, they aren’t belittling the value of your intelligence, what they really want is to know what you are thinking about.
In essence, this American expression allows you to reach out to a friend who may look troubled or preoccupied, and invite them to express their feelings. However, you must be prepared for their response, however unsavory. After all, what they are contemplating may be how many ways there are to skin a cat.
4)“Be my guest.”
Finally, a warm and welcoming sentiment that means exactly what it says! This expression is a way of telling somebody to make him or herself comfortable, or to use your possessions as if they were their own.
For example: If somebody asks if they can borrow your car, you could say, “Be my guest.” Just please keep in mind that what happens to the car after that is in the hands of fate. You may also extend the sentiment of “be my guest” to anyone visiting your home.
5) “Break a leg!”
The violence of it all?! How could we ever wish such a terrible injury on anyone? As funny as it sounds, this American expression is actually used to wish somebody the best of luck.
In fact, in the world of theater and acting, it is actually considered bad luck to wish somebody good luck! If you know somebody who is about to go on stage and you want to wish them well, the only thing to say is “break a leg!” However, try to keep in mind that if that they do go on stage and actually fracture a limb, you may be held liable.
Now that you have eluded the dangers of arson, home invasion, and broken legs, you are ready to go out into the world and use these popular American expressions without fear. Enjoy!