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10 idioms and what they actually mean!

By Anita Aikara
Last updated on: September 07, 2016 18:29 IST
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Thinking of translating these idioms literally? Don't, says Anita Aikara.

Illustrations: Dominic Xavier/

Have you ever looked like a fish out of water or pulled a leg?

We use these idioms frequently, yet most of us don't know what they really mean.

Take a look at these 10 idioms and their actual meanings

1. To have egg on your face



No eggs involved here!

What it means: To be embarrassed, look foolish/stupid or be caught in an awkward moment because of something that you have done.

No one knows the exact roots of this idiom, but it is believed to have originated in the early 1900s.

That was the time when people threw rotten eggs and vegetables at actors who didn't quite live up to their parts.

For example: The corruption scandal left the government with an egg on its face.

2. That's the way the cookie crumbles


Know that feeling when you're about to bite into a delicious cookie and it just crumbles in your hand and falls to the ground?

Depressing, isn't it?

What it means: Talking about a situation where you have very little or absolutely no control.

For example: When the Sensex crashed, the stockbroker turned to his friend and said, 'Well, that's how the cookie crumbles.'

3. To bark up the wrong tree


No, this one is not about dogs or trees for that matter.

Meaning: To falsely accuse a person of doing something or to pick up the wrong person to do something.

For example: Ekta was barking up the wrong tree when she accused her mother of checking her phone. It was her father who did it.

4. The pot calling the kettle black


Confusing, isn't it?

Because both the pot and the kettle are black. But that's a hint as to what this idiom is all about.

Meaning: Blaming someone for something that you too have done.

For example: Sarita can't cook to save her life, but she laughs at my cooking skills. That's the pot calling the kettle black.

5. To grab the bull by its horns


The word originated in America, where it is a dangerous sport to grab a bull by its horns.

Meaning: To face a problem/challenge without beating around the bush or to do something difficult in a brave manner

For example: When Raj complained to the principal about Rishi, people said he had grabbed the bull by its horns.

6. A spare tire


When we say there's a spare tire in the car, we are actually referring to the fifth tire, which will come handy in case you have a flat tire.

But when we talk of a person's spare tire, we are referring to the fat accumulated around his/her waistline.

For example: 'It's time you got rid of that spare tire,' Rohan's mother said, pointing at his waist.

7. To open a can of worms


What do you get when you open a can of worms? A lot of trouble, of course!

Meaning: Doing something that will only create more problems.

For example: The lawyer asked the client to withdraw the case as it would open a can of worms.

8. A piece of cake


Meaning: A simple task/job or something that is very easy to do.

When something is accomplished easily, people say it was a piece of cake. Makes us wonder about the origins of this word.

For example: 'Travelling by the metro is no piece of cake.'

9. To pull someone's leg


Don't take this phrase literally. It doesn't mean pulling someone's leg physically.

Meaning: To tease or play a joke on someone.

For example: When the intern was reduced to tears at the meeting, the boss said, 'Relax, we were only pulling your leg for coming late.'

The phrase was coined in Britain around the time when thieves there tackled their victims by pulling their leg and dropping them to the ground.

10. To think outside the box


Meaning: To think creatively or in an original way.

This is a common expression used at workplaces, where bosses constantly urge you to think 'out of the box.'

For example: 'Time to think out of the box,' the manager told his team when they were launching a new product.

Which is your favourite idiom? Share it in the messageboard below.

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Anita Aikara /