Food idioms

Do you know your onions (or which side your bread is buttered)?

Inspired by the shopping bags from a national supermarket, Joy decided to write a short exercise on English food idioms.

(This exercise first appeared in our Autumn 2018 newsletter. We publish our newsletter four times a years. Click here to subscribe.)


In English, we have lots of idioms related to food. Are you familiar with these? Try the exercise. The answers are at the bottom.

[Learning tip: You can find the meaning of all the idioms in this exercise in the Macmillan English Dictionary.]


First, read the examples. Can you identify the idiom?

‘If you’re not sure, just ask David – he really knows his onions when it comes to the new regulations.’

‘By the time we got home, I was exhausted, but the kids were full of beans.’

‘I don’t really like the design of that new office building – it’s just not my cup of tea.’

‘Emma’s ideas are often a bit crazy, but this latest one really takes the biscuit!’

‘Since he was made unemployed, I think Alan’s finding it hard to accept that it’s his wife who’s bringing home the bacon these days, not him.’

‘He spent much more time working on the Chairman’s latest project than ours – he knows which side his bread’s buttered!’


Now, match each idiom on the left with the correct meaning on the right.

1. know your onions a) to earn money to support the family
2. (be) full of beans b) to be the most silly or annoying thing in a series of things
3. not (be) someone’s cup of tea c) to know who to be nice to or what to do in order to gain advantages for yourself
4. take the biscuit d) not to like or consider interesting
5. bring home the bacon e) to have a very good knowledge of a specific subject
6. know which side your bread’s buttered f) to have lots of energy

How many do you think you got right? Check the answers below.



1e; 2f; 3d; 4b; 5a; 6c.


Did you find this useful? We have lots of other articles about English idioms. Click here to see a list.

If you have any questions or comments, leave a reply below.

Do you want to learn English idioms? Send us a message.


Naval-inspired idioms

Cutty Sark - Greenwich, London
Cutty Sark is a clipper ship, used to transport tea from China to Britain. She is on display in Greenwich, London.

During a recent trip with Linda to Greenwich in London (famous for Greenwich Mean Time, the Naval Academy and Royal Observatory), Joy discovered some interesting idioms connected to ships and the sea.

Exercise 1

First , can you match the idiom with its origin?

1) First-rate

2) All at sea

3) No room to swing a cat

4) To push the boat out

5) Show your true colours


a) Helping a seaman push a boat into the water was an act of generosity or kindness.

b) Naval ships sometimes used foreign flags to disguise their identity at sea. Just before a battle, ships would show their own flag (also known as colours).

c) A ship which carried at least 100 guns and was the largest and most powerful type of ship of the Navy.

d) Relates to the practice of whipping with a cat-o’-nine-tails (a kind of whip with several ‘tails’).

e) Early navigators could easily become lost when out of sight of land as it was hard to work out their exact position.



1 c  2 e  3 d  4 a  5 b


Royal Naval College - Greenwich, London
Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London

Exercise 2

Today, these idioms are no longer associated with ships and the sea.

Read these sentences and choose the correct modern meaning for the idiom.

1) Congratulations! You’ve done a first rate job setting up the new order system.

a) useful
b) high quality
c) quick

2) When I first started here, I felt all at sea, but everyone was so friendly I soon settled in.

a) confused
b) excited
c) unhappy

3) She’s just bought a flat in London, but considering it cost £250,000 there’s no room to swing a cat!

a) it’s luxurious
b) it’s very small
c) it’s expensive

4) Don’t worry about the cost – you only get married once – let’s push the boat out!

a) have a party on a boat
b) invite a lot of people
c) spend a lot of money

5) Although I’d met him before, it was only when we started working together that he showed his true colours.

a) saw his real personality
b) saw he was a nice person
c) saw he didn’t like me



1 b  2 a  3 b  4 c  5 a


Ship in a bottle in Greenwich, London
Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle. On display outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.

If you’ve never been to Greenwich, it’s definitely worth a visit – we met up with one of our ‘old’ students from Switzerland there. The National Maritime Museum has many fascinating exhibits, including Nelson’s uniform from the Battle of Trafalgar, with the hole made by the bullet that killed him!

If you have visited Greenwich, we would love to hear about your experience. Leave a reply below.

Do you want to learn English idioms? Send us a message.


Lose your job – vocabulary mind map

Last week’s Words making the headlines looked at the vocabulary of losing your job.

This week we have a vocabulary mind map on the same topic. It’s divided into three reasons for losing your job. Those are then split into verbs (blue boxes) and nouns (pink boxes) with an example sentence to illustrate each one.

You can see the mind map on the Popplet website or download an image file.


lose your job - vocabulary mind map

We also have mind maps of Internet vocabulary and vocabulary for talking about trade.

Do you need to expand your English vocabulary? Contact us to talk how we can help.


Special offer

Vocabulary Organizer by Pete Sharma and Barney BarrettStratford Teachers have a special offer.

Book and pay for a course with us and we will send you a FREE copy of Organising Vocabulary by Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett.


Use the Contact Us page to get in touch.


Organising Vocabulary

Everybody always needs to learn new vocabulary. Sometimes it’s the specialist words and phrases you need for an important meeting. Very often, you just want more words so you can contribute to and understand more in general conversation.

Before you can learn new vocabulary, you need to collect and record it. The most effective language learners establish a personal system for storing and reviewing new vocabulary.

Watch the video for advice on how to organise your vocabulary.

Special OfferVocabulary Organizer by Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett

So, don’t forget, book and pay for a course with us and we will send you a FREE copy of Organising Vocabulary by Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett.

Use the Contact Us page to get in touch.

‘Growing’ your business

A crop of tomatoesStrawberry plants bearing fruit

Did you know, when we talk about business, we use a lot of idioms connected with gardening and growing?

How many garden and growing idioms can you find in these short conversations? Can you guess what they mean?

Listen to each conversation then try the exercise. The transcripts and answers are at the bottom of the page.


How many garden and growing idioms do you hear?

Money for advertising

The new contract

The interviews

Office closure


Can you match the idioms to their meanings?

1 plough money into a  to produce a result (especially after a long period of hard work)
2 perennial problem b  to separate out (a smaller group from a larger group / people who are less suitable from those who are more suitable)
3 bear fruit c  to go into a different direction/ business area
4 dig out d  to put (a lot of) time/money into a project
5 a crop of e  to result from
6 weed out f  to find something you have not used or seen for a long time
7 stem from g a group of people who achieve something or become known for something at the same time (eg graduates)
8 branch out  h  something which always exists, never seems to change

Transcripts and answers

WeedsCrop of applesa spade

Money for advertising

A: How was the meeting?

B: Well, the Board want to plough more money into advertising, but I think we should be spending it on getting the products right first!

A: Hmm, I know what you mean. It’s a perennial problem:  increase advertising without having any new products or develop new products but lack the budget to promote them!


The new contract

A:  Did you hear we got the Strathco contract?

B: That’s great – all that hard work has finally borne fruit.

A: Yes, I’ll have to go back and dig out the research I did right at the beginning  of the process – over a year ago!


The interviews

A: Have you finished all the interviews?

B: Yes, just did the last few this morning – there’s a really strong crop of graduates this year, so we’ve got lots of good candidates.

A: That’s good to hear –how many are we taking?

B: Only 10, so I’ve now got the difficult job of weeding out the less suitable ones.


Office closure

A: Have you heard they’re closing the Leicester office?

B: Yes – their results have been pretty bad for the last couple of years, haven’t they?

A: Yeah, I think it all stems from relying on one or two big clients and when they lost those contracts….

B: You’re right – we should make sure that doesn’t happen here.

A: Yes but we could also branch out into other areas of business …….



1d 2h 3a 4f 5g 6b 7e 8c


By Joy


If you have any questions or comments, leave a reply below.

Do you want to learn English idioms? Send us a message.


Business idioms

It cost an arm and a leg!
It cost an arm and a leg!

Idioms are fixed phrases with a specific meaning.

Our latest video looks at idioms about time and money that are common in the business world. After you watch, test yourself with the quiz.

Now test yourself. The answers are at the bottom of the page.

Quiz 1

Choose the correct definition for each idiom.

1. at the eleventh hour

  1. go at your own pace
  2. at the last possible moment
  3. very quickly

2. stony broke

  1. have no money
  2. do something quickly and cheaply
  3. very expensive

3. in no time

  1. not up to date
  2. very quickly
  3. go at your own pace

4. cost an arm and a leg

  1. in debt
  2. have no money
  3. very expensive

Quiz 2

Choose the correct idiom to complete each sentence.

1. Don’t rush. It’s better to ____ and get it right the first time.

  1. take your time
  2. cost an arm and a leg
  3. cut costs

2. They are so _____ .They don’t even use Facebook and Twitter.

  1. in the red
  2. stony broke
  3. behind the times

3. It’s no surprise the company went out of business. They’d been _____ for nearly 2 years.

  1. in the red
  2. behind the times
  3. at the eleventh hour

4. If you _____ now, it can sometimes be more expensive in the long-term.

  1. take your time
  2. cut corners
  3. cost an arm and a leg

by Barney


If you have any questions or comments, leave a reply below.

Do you want to learn some English idioms? Send us a message.



Quiz 1: 1. b, 2. a, 3. b, 4. c

Quiz 2: 1. a, 2. c, 3. a, 4. b

get – business: answers

On MondayFinancial problems, we posted a new video of Joy and Louise talking about problems in a company.

In that conversation they used get indifferent ways and in different idioms.

The activities page had three exercises.

You can download the answers to those exercises here.


If you are interested in learning English vocabulary with Stratford Teachers, send us a message.


get – business

This week we focus again on the verb get.

Get is a little word but has many uses in English. You can read about some of the meanings here.

Last time, you listened to Louise and Joy having an informal conversation on the phone.

This time, watch the video and listen to Louise and Joy talking about the problems at a company.

After you watch the video, download the activities. Try and do the first activity before you look at the transcript.


Download the activities.

Download the transcript.

Come back on Wednesday to see the answers.


By Joy, Louise and Barney


If you have any questions or comments, leave a reply below.

If you are interested in learning with Stratford Teachers, send us a message.