make a killing-

make a big profit quickly

make ends meet -

pay for necessities

get off the ground -

start to be successful



Two young entrepreneurs, who started a new
Internet business two years ago, have today sold the business for    3 million.

Jenny Curtis, co-founder of, says, ‘Everyone thinks we’ve made a killing, but it was hard work. For the first 18 months we couldn’t make ends meet – I couldn’t even buy a new pair of socks! When the business finally got off the ground, we worked 18 hours a day for six months.’

off the cuff -

without preparation

think on your feet -

think as you go along

make up your mind -

make a definite decision


Interviewers always ask difficult questions that nobody could possibly answer off the cuff. So it’s important to be prepared for them. But you can’t prepare for everything, so sometimes you just have to think on your feet. Don’t worry if you make a few mistakes. Just remember what the psychologists tell us: most interviewers make up their minds in the first 30 seconds anyway.

in the red/black -

in debt/credit

feel the pinch -

begin to feel poor

on a shoestring -

with little money to spend



Profits are down this year for the multinational B.I.G. Co, and figures show the company is in the red. B.I.G.’s chief executive says, ‘A slowdown in the world economy means that a lot of companies are feeling the pinch. Many are cutting their expenses and trying to operate on a shoestring, but we’re big enough to keep going normally, and we’ll be back in the black next year.’

find your feet -

get used to a new situation

in at the deep end -

directly into a difficult job

sink or swim -

survive without help


When you start a new job, it takes some time before you feel confident about what to do and how to do it. Ideally, an employer recognises this and allows you to find your feet before taking on anything too difficult. But life is not always ideal, so you may be thrown in at the deep end and have to sink or swim.

big fish -

important people

on board -

actively involved

mind’s eye -



When Herman came to Britain to work, he spoke good English but did not know many idioms. One day at work someone said, ‘Don’t disturb the manager. She’s meeting some big fish from New York.’

‘Big fish?’ Herman asked.

‘Yes, she’s got a new project and she wants to get them on board.’

As Herman reached for his dictionary of English idioms, an extraordinary picture formed in his mind’s eye.

below the belt -

unfair and cruel

sit on the fence -

be neutral

mind your business -

this is private


We often use idioms when we react to bad things. For example, ‘That’s below the belt‘ means someone has said something unfair and cruel in an argument. Idioms can also show that a speaker does not like something: ‘Bob’s sitting on the fence‘ means Bob is refusing to give an opinion, which is not necessarily bad, but the speaker thinks it is. Some idioms are direct and impolite, such as ‘Mind your own business!’ which means ‘This is private. Keep your nose out of it.’

cut corners -

do incomplete work

around the clock -

for 24 hours a day

pull strings -

use influential friends

turn a blind eye -

ignore it


Your employer says you must finish some work by tomorrow. Is it OK to cut corners, or would you work around the clock to do the work properly?

What would you do if somebody offered to pull strings to help you get into a good university or to get a good job?

What if a friend of yours commits a crime? Would you tell the police or turn a blind eye?

up in arms -

protesting strongly

thumbs down -

negative response

get out of hand -

get out of control


Winston Churchill was famous for, amongst other things, his quick wit. On one occasion in parliament, the opposition party was up in arms because Churchill’s government had given the thumbs down to a proposed new law. The debate began to get out of hand and a woman shouted, ‘If I were your wife, I’d give you poison.’ Churchill instantly replied, ‘If you were my wife, I would drink it.’

break the ice -

create a relaxed atmosphere

fall flat -


split their sides -

laughed uncontrollably


I was working as a tour guide and I was having a difficult time with a group of elderly ladies. None of my attempts to break the ice were working, and all my usual jokes were falling flat. I didn’t know what to do to cheer them up.

A bit later I was getting out of the bus and I tripped and fell and tore my trousers. The ladies almost split their sides … and after that, everything was fine!

kiss-and-tell -

telling the details of a love affair

call the shots -

to be the decision maker

days are numbered -

survival is unlikely



The latest disaster for the government is the kiss-and-tell story in yesterday’s Sunday World newspaper, in which a well-known actress told of her two-year affair with the Minister for the Family. As the man who calls the shots in the government’s policy on family values, the Minister’s days are numbered, and the government’s credibility has been severely damaged.

piece of cake -

very easy

take your time -

don’t hurry

catch someone red handed -

catch someone doing something bad


This is a true story about a French burglar. After getting into an empty house easily through an open window, he probably thought his job was a piece of cake. He decided to take his time and went into the kitchen, where he found some champagne. After drinking the whole bottle, he went to look for jewellery in the bedroom but fell asleep on the bed. He did not wake up until the owners returned, catching him red handed.

by the book -

following the rules

turn the tables -

reverse the situation

in the thick of -

in the most active part


Action movie heroes may seem strong and independent, but they have to follow rules:

1.     Never do things by the book. Forget about correct procedures.

2.     Always wait till the last possible moment before turning the tables on the bad guys.

3.     When you’re in the thick of the action, your hair and make-up still have to look good.

score an own goal -

harm yourself

touch base -

get in contact

the gloves are off -

the fight is very aggressive


From British football:

The government has scored an own goal by reducing tax at a time when it needs extra money.

From American baseball:

It would be nice to exchange news. Let’s touch base next week.

From boxing:

The gloves are off in this political campaign, with both candidates using personal attacks and dirty tricks.

do the trick -

solve the problem

step on it -

go faster

miss the boat -

be too late





Today was going to be the day that I started to lose weight. Well, I went for a run in the park with Victoria. I thought that would do the trick, but it nearly killed me. She kept looking back and telling me to step on it. It’s no good. I’ve left it too late. Once you’re over 30, you’ve missed the boat. I’m just going to get fat and enjoy it. Now, where are those chocolates that I threw away?

soft touch -

easy to get things from

on the line -

at risk

on top of -

in control of


Bill had a problem waking up in the mornings. One day his boss said angrily, ‘You’re late for work every day. You probably think I’m a soft touch, but I’m not, and your job’s on the line.’

So Bill went to his doctor, who gave him a pill, which Bill took before he went to bed.

He slept well and woke up early.

Arriving at work, he said, ‘Boss, I’m on top of the problem!’

‘That’s fine,’ said the boss, ‘but where were you yesterday?’

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