This happens to me every year – the end of February has come too quickly!
As regular readers will know, all through 2015, I will be dedicating the last Friday of the month to the funniest, most descriptive, and sometimes downright oddest English idioms. I won’t try to tell you where they came from, but I will explain them, show you how to use them, and give you some other fixed expressions to use in your spoken and written English.
I hope that you’ve all had the chance to use the Love Idioms we looked at in January. This month, the subject is the weather.
If you live, work or study with people from the UK, you’ll know how much we love to talk (or rather complain) about the weather. You might already have heard some of the idioms we have for heavy rain: It’s raining cats and dogs, it’s great weather for ducks, the heavens have opened, and I’ve been drowned standing are all good descriptions of summer weather in the UK.
Complaining about the weather is so intrinsic to British culture, however, that we complain about the weather even when we’re not complaining about the weather at all. Today I’m looking at a set of weather related idioms that do far more than describe what’s falling out of the sky.
A bolt from the blue (n.)
The news was an absolute bolt from the blue.
A bolt from the blue is something dramatic which happens very suddenly or unexpectedly. The literal meaning would be lightning coming from a clear blue sky. Try to imagine how shocked you would be. Although a bolt from the blue could be a flash of inspiration, more often it has a negative connotation.
Snowed under (adj.)
I can’t talk now, I’m completely snowed under.
You are snowed under when you have a massive amount of work to do. Imagine papers and to-do-lists piling up on your desk in the same way that snow piles up in a blizzard. When you start to feel overwhelmed, you’re snowed under.
Under the weather (adj.)
I had a cold last week and I’m still feeling under the weather.
To feel under the weather is to feel unwell. You might not be so unwell that you have to miss work or school, but everyday tasks seem much harder than usual and you wish you were back in your bed. Some people will use under the weather as a euphemism when somebody is actually hungover. Others will use it sarcastically when somebody is at work but is clearly too ill to be there. My students like this idiom as it is one of the easiest to use while still sounding natural.
Weather the storm (vb.)
The company weathered the storm of the banking crisis and is growing faster than ever.
When you weather a storm, you continue to work through a difficult period. Imagine the metaphorical storm that might be created at work by some bad publicity or a budget cut. Outside of work, it could be exam stress, money worries, or difficulties in a relationship. When you weather the storm you manage to come out the other side and succeed after that difficult period of time has passed.
It never rains but it pours
I lost my wallet on the bus, and then I came home to a huge phone bill. It never rains but it pours!
It never rains but it pours is another one of our absolutely fixed expressions. It means that if one thing starts to go badly, then everything else seems to go worse. English speakers say this from frustration when everything seems to be going wrong. In the week before I moved to Vienna, I caught a terrible cold, my credit card details were stolen, and I got locked out of my house. Have you had a day when you’ve felt like this?
As you can see, we use most of our weather idioms when we’re having a bad day. However, after ending last month’s set of idioms on the definition of heartbroken, I wanted to finish this post on a more positive note.
Foul-weather friend (n.)
I have lots of acquaintances, but only a few really foul-weather friends.
I love this expression.
I think it’s a fantastic way of describing those friends who are completely loyal, who are always there for you in hard times, and who you can be completely honest with even when you’re angry, upset, or just want to rant about life. Fair-weather friends are the people who are only there when things are going well. Foul-weather friends are exactly the opposite. They are real lifelong companions.
I don’t find it quite as lovely, but you can also use the expressions fair-weather and foul-weather when you’re talking about sports fans. My dad, for example is a lifelong, foul-weather fan of a small football team in the Scottish Highlands. He goes to their matches in the pouring rain and the driving wind, and he continues to support them even when they lose.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the UK’s favourite idioms. If you have any suggestions for March’s theme, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Remember that I work as a private English tutor for adults and children in Vienna. If you’re looking for help with any area of English, please contact me.
Until next time
Mairi : )