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Symphony in slang (idioms)

An excellent resource for teaching/learning colloquial English and slangs, and a funny video to show graphically lots of idioms to make up a surreal story of this man's life.

Note: idioms here are American English from the 60's, but most of them are still in use today and many of them are used in British English too and are commonly used in normal conversation.

Saint Peter- You may enter. Next Please.

Man- Howdy, Dan. What's new? How's tricks? What's cooking?

Saint Peter- What's cooking? How's tricks? Hmm. What a strange language you bring from the earth. I don't seem to follow you. I shall refer you to the master of the dictionary, Noah Webster. Perhaps he can understand you.  Mr. Webster, this newcomer's vocabulary is so unusual that I am unable to record his life on earth. Would you mind seeing if you can comprehend his odd manner of speech? Now, young man, go ahead with the story of your life.

Man- Sure thing, Dad! Well, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth...

Webster- Silver spoon in your mouth ?

Man- Yes, silver spoon in my mouth.

Webster- Mmmm... proceed.

Man- Then I seemed to grow up overnight. One day at the crack of dawn, I got up with the chickens to hunt a job and got a job slinging hash because the proprietor was shorthanded. But I couldn't cut the mustard, so the guy gave me the gate.

So I went back to my little hole in the wall. I was beside myself with anger. Then I decided to get a train ticket to Texas and there made some dough punching cattie. From there I flew to Chicago. There a beautiful girl stepped into the picture.

Our eyes met. My breath came in short pants, and I got goose pimples. I was all thumbs. Mary's clothes fit her like a glove. And she looked mighty pretty with her hair done up in a bun. She had good-looking pins, too. Finally, she gives me a date. I put on my white tie and tails, and, brother, did she put on the dog!

We went around together for some time... painting the town red, going to the Stork Club... and a box at the opera. After the opera, I had a cocktail, and Mary had a Moscow Mule. At dinner, Mary let her hair down and ate like a horse. By then, my money was running out on me, so I write a check. It bounced. Brother, I was really in a pickle. The proprietor drew a gun on me, but I gave him the slip and hid in the foothills. In no time, the law was on my heels.

On the witness stand, the judge tried to pump me, but it seemed that every time I opened my mouth, I put my foot in it. So he sent me up the river to do a stretch in the jug. I was up against it and felt myself going to pot. But I raised the big stink, and they finally let me talk to an undercover man. After going through a lot of red tape, he sprung me. It sure felt good to stretch my legs again, and I went straight to the bus station and caught a Greyhound for New York.

On arriving, I dropped in on Mary and threw myself at her feet. I asked her to marry me, but she turned her back on me and got on her high horse. I couldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole. She wouldn't say a word. Guess the cat had her tongue. So I walked out on her.

After that I went to pieces. Feeling lonely, I went down to Joe's Malt Shop where a bunch of the boys were hanging around. Ah, the music was nice. The guy at the piano played by ear. I felt a tug at my elbow. It was the soda clerk. We sat down and chewed the rag a while.

I heard from the grapevine that Mary was going around with an old flame. That burned me up because I knew he was just feeding her a line. But the guy really spent his money like water. I think he was connected with the railroad. As they danced, I tried to chisel in, but the guy got in my hair, so I left.

Outside it was raining cats and dogs. I was feeling mighty blue, and everything looked black. But I carried on. I went to the Thousand Islands. There I became a beachcomber. But I still thought of Mary, and a tear ran down my cheek.

So I send her a cable. Next day, she sends me back a wire. I rushed back to the US on a cattle boat and hotfooted it over to Mary's apartment. But when I opened the door, I noticed quite a few changes.

Why, Mary, Mary had a bunch of little ones. The groom had his hands full, too. So, all this struck me so funny that I died laughing. And here I am.

Well, what do you think? Did you follow me?

Webster- Well, I... uh..., I, mm, he, well, I... uh...

Man- What's the matter? Can't you talk? Has the cat got your tongue?

Here is a list of the idioms appearing on the video together with an explanation to normal English. I made corrections, modifications and additions but the original list came from the now disappeared


 •    +What’s new? How’s tricks? What’s cookin’? ( An informal greeting. Another way of saying, "hello")
 •    I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. ( I was born into a rich family. )  
 •    I seemed to grow up +overnight. ( My time as a child seemed to pass by quickly. [OVERNIGHT= suddenly, very quickly )  
 •    +At the crack of dawn. (In the beginning of a new day)  
 •    +I got up with the chickens. ( Roosters/cocks are known to crow at the sunrise, so this expression is synonymous with rising up early)  
 •    I got a job slinging hash. ( This refers to serving food in a restaurant, especially a cheap establishment)  
 •    The proprietor was +short-handed. ( Being short-handed means not having enough employees to do the necessary work because you need more "hands" to help you, more people)  
 •    I couldn’t cut the mustard. (I was not adequately skilled to do the work that was required)  
 •    He gave me the gate. ( I was fired/dismissed from my job.)  
 •    My little hole in the wall. (A small dingy room)  
 •    I was beside myself with anger. (I was very very upset/crossed/angry)
 •    I made some dough (Made some money) punching cattle. ( Herding cows)  
 •    +I flew to Chicago. (Travelled to Chicago by airplane)  
 •    +A beautiful girl stepped into the picture. (I met an attractive woman and she became significant to me) [if something gets into the picture, or somebody steps into the picture, they become an important part of the story]
 •    +Our eyes met. (We noticed each another)
 •    My breath came up short panted. (I was breathing harder than normal due to my excitement)  
 •    +I got goose pimples. (I got nervous) [GOOSE PIMPLES are those little lumps you get all over your skin when you feel cold, or nervous, or afraid, etc.]  
 •    +All thumbs. (Clumsy, as if all your fingers became thumbs, so you wouldn't be able to do things properly)
 •    +Her clothes fit her like a glove. (Her dress was clung closely to her body, a very tight fit.)  
 •    Her hair done up in a +bun. (She wore her hair pinned up) [a bun may also be a roll of bread]
 •    She had good looking pins too. (She had attractive legs)  
 •    +She gives me a date. (She agrees to spend time with him in a casual setting in order to become better acquainted) [a date, especially in AmE is a romantic appointment]  
 •    I put on my white tie and tails. (I dressed in a formal tuxedo.)  
 •    She put on the dog. (She wore a formal evening gown and looked very attractive in it.)  
 •    +We went around together for some time. (we dated for an extended period of time) 
 •    Painting the town red. ( Enjoying parties all over the city)  
 •    The Stork Club ( The name of a popular Nightclub known for its Jazz music)
 •    +A box at the Opera. (Balcony seats at an Opera performance)  
 •    +A cocktail and a Moscow Mule (Types of alcoholic drinks)
 •    +Let her hair down (Acted in a relaxed manner) and ate like a horse (she ate a real lot)  
 •    My money was running out on me. (I was spending all my money quickly)  
 •    I write a check and it +bounced. (There was not enough money in the back to cover my expenses so they rejected it)  
 •    In a pickle. (In an uncomfortable situation)
 •    The proprietor +drew a gun on me. (Pulled out a pistol and pointed it at him)  
 •    +I gave him the slip. (I managed to escape without incurring any harm)
 •    I hid in the foothills. (I hid among small hills at the base of a mountain)
 •    +In no time (shortly thereafter) the law was on my heels. (The police were very close to catching me.)  
 •    On the witness stand, the judge tried to pump me. (The judge tried to get information out of me and/ or get me to admit wrong doing)
 •    Every time I opened my mouth, +I put my foot into it. (I kept saying the wrong thing.)   [or simply "I put my foot in it"]
 •    He sent me up the river to do a stretch in the jar. (Sent to jail for a long period of time)   
 •    +I was up against it. (Feeling pressure for being in an unfortunate situation) and going to pot. (declining into a bad physical condition)
 •    I raised a big stink. (Protested vigorously)
 •    After going through a lot of red tape. (Bureaucracy and confusing processes)  
 •    He sprung me. (I was released from prison.)
 •    It felt good to +stretch my legs again. (To experience freedom; to have a walk again after being at home/work etc, probably sitting for a long time)
 •    I went to the bus station and caught a greyhound. (Rode a bus back to town) [the Greyhound is the American public coach company])  
 •    I dropped in on Mary. (I made her a surprise visit.)  
 •    +I threw myself at her feet. (Made a request for mercy and grace.)  
 •    +She turned her back on me. (Ignored what I had to say.)  
 •    +She got on her high horse and I could not touch her with a 10-foot pole. (She would not listen to him because she felt that she was better than me)  
 •    +The cat had her tongue. ( She didn't say anything)
 •    +I walked out on her. (Left her presence, especially in a rude manner.)  
 •    +I went to pieces. (I became very upset/sad.)  
 •    …where a bunch of the boys were +hanging around. (...where some guys I new were just spending time doing nothing in particular. A BUNCH is a group, THE BOYS are my friends or mates and to HANG AROUND is to spend time together, doing nothing in particular, just enjoying each other's company)  
 •    The guy at the piano +played by ear. (Without the use of sheet music)
 •    I felt +a tug at my elbow. (Someone was pulling on his arm)  
 •    We chewed the rag awhile. (To make conversation, small talk)
 •    +I heard from the grapevine (I heare a rumour; somebody told me; people were talking about it and I found out) that Mary was going around with an old flame. (Someone she used to date, an old boyfriend)
 •    +That burned me up (I became very angry.) because I knew he was just feeding her a line. (Telling her what she wanted to hear in order to take advantage of her in some way; fooling her into loving him)  
 •    +He spent his money like water. (He was very generous with his money, spent lots of it.)  
 •    +He was connected with the railroad. (He worked for a railroad company)  
 •    As they danced, +I tried to chisel in. (Interrupt their good times, get in the way)  
 •    The guy got in my hair. (He was a constant nuisance.)  
 •    It was raining cats and dogs. (It was raining very hard) [this is an old idiom nobody uses anymore, at least in the UK]
 •    I was feeling mighty +blue (Very sad. MIGHTY= Powerfully=very very) and everything was black. (Looked hopeless)
 •    +I carried on. (Continue to persevere.)  
 •    I went to a thousand islands. (A group of more than 1,800 islands of northern New York and southeast Ontario, Canada, in the St. Lawrence River at the outlet of Lake Ontario. The islands, some of which are privately owned, are a popular resort area.)
 •    I became a beachcomber. (A rover/wanderer/nomadic man who lives on the beach with no home or occupation.)  
 •    +A tear ran down my cheek. (To cry softly)  
 •    So I sent her a cable. (He sent a telegram to Mary.)  Next day she sends me back a wire. (She sent a telegram to him)  
 •    I rush back to the US on a cattleboat. (A cargo ship for the transport of livestock) and hotfooted over to Mary’s apartment. (To run quickly)
 •    +Mary had a bunch of little ones. (Small children)
 •    The groom had his hands full too. (He was very busy. GROOM= bridegroom= the man who marries the bride. This word is only used for the wedding day, but colloquially you can use it afterwards, mainly if you just discovered that they had married)
 •    +I died laughing. (I laughed a real lot, uncontrollably)
 •    +Did you follow me? (Did you understand what I said?)

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