Sunday, April 16, 2006


Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

(originally posted March 26, 2006)

"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts."

Definition: Can be best described as never let your guard down.

Origin: Those of you who have seen "Troy" the movie should remember the story of the Trojan Horse... Which is indeed a gift from the Greeks. So... beware of Greeks giving you a gift! It may not be good for you!

Variations : With the computer age, this saying is sometimes transformed into "beware of geeks bearing gifts", usually used by anti-virus companies.


Two heads are better than one

(originally posted March 25, 2006)

"Two heads are better than one"

As you can probably guess, this expression is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, have two people working on the problem, having more than one viewpoint, is better than working alone.

The closest Chinese equivalent would probably be:

三個臭皮匠﹐ 勝過一個諸葛亮


Mushroom treatment

(originally posted March 24, 2006)

"The mushroom treatment"

This one is better illustrated by example.

"We've determined that John is a spy. Instead of revealing him, we decided to give him the mushroom treatment."

Well, how do you grow mushrooms? (蘑菇﹐ not 冬菇)

"You keep them in the dark and you feed them shit."

Though don't take this one literally. :) In this case, it means to deliberately NOT inform someone, to deceive someone (i.e. "keep him in the dark"). And continue to feed him false information ("feed him shit").


It ain't over till the fat lady sings

(originally posted March 23, 2006)

"It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."

Definition: "it ain't over 'til it's over". :D Depending on the context, it can mean two things. If you are losing, it means "don't give up until the game is actually lost". If you are winning, it means "don't let up or they may yet turn things around."

(By the way, "it ain't over till it's over" is coined by baseball great, Yogi Berra, who has a LOT of these pithy sayings.)

Example: "It looks like our school basketball team is having another dismal year. However, it ain't over till the fat lady sings."

Origin: Those of you who have watched Italian opera before knows that this expression probably referred to opera. Indeed, the full phrase was "the opera ain't over until the fat lady sings."

The expression was coined by Dan Cook, a sportswriter for the San Antonian News-Express (newspaper), who also works for the local TV station KENS-TV. The original context was about the NBA team San Antonio Spurs in 1976 to describe their losing season, Cook warned not to count them out just yet. He used it again in 1978, this time on TV when San Antonio Spurs was down three games to one in the Playoffs. Spurs eventually lost the series, but Dick Motta, coach of the opposing team, Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards), used the expression to caution his team not to get overconfident against their next opponent. Motta was widely quoted, and the expression became popular enough that everybody started using it.


All hell breaks loose

(Originally posted March 21, 2006)

"All hell breaks loose"

Defintion: a situation that is suddenly rapidly deteriorating, could be suddenly violent, suddenly chaotic, or both!

Example 1: "At the sound of gunfire in the lobby, all hell breaks loose."
NOTE: People could be running away, not necessarily fighting.

Example 2: "When John punched Sam sitting at the bar, all hell broke loose."
NOTE: People here could be both fighting or fleeing

Origin: First shown up in John Milton's "Paradise Lost", describing the Hell's minions breaking loose.


Writing is on the wall

(Originally posted March 22, 2006)

"writing is on the wall"

Definition: the signs are all there, an impending calamity can
be seen by everybody

EX: "Well, the writing is on the wall, I don't think our project will be funded much longer."

Origin: This is a Bible story, Daniel 5:1 I think. When King Belshazzar, last king of Babylon, held a great feast where wines was drunk from vessels taken from Jerusalem (by the King's father, King Nebuchadnezzer), a hand (of God?) appeared and wrote on a wall, but nobody could understand the writing. Daniel, who had previously interpreted the dream for King Belshazzar, was summoned. Daniel understood the message as foretelling the overthrow of Belshazzar for his opposition of God of Hebrews and his desecration of the temple vessels. That very night, King Belshazzar was killed and his Kingdom split apart.


Idiom, saying, proverb, etc. what are they?

It seems like there is a bit of confusion on what constitues a saying, an idiom, vs. slang, proverb, and so on.

phrase = 片語﹐ part of a sentence, no particular meaning behind it.

EX: "part of a sentence" is a phrase

saying = 俗語﹐ usally old bits of wisdom, often from elders or books

EX: "A stitch in time saves nine" is a saying.

proverb = 諺語, VERY ancient saying, often racially specific. (A lot of proverbs are attributed to a specific race, like "Spanish proverb", or "Chinese proverb", and so on.)

”Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil.“ -- Chinese proverb
"種瓜得瓜,﹐種豆得豆。”-- 中國諺語

idiom = 成語, a group of words, when used together, has a completely different meaning. Idioms are usually regional.

EX: 中國成語﹕“暗送秋波” "dark send autumn waves"?
It means stealthily making gestures of approval/seduction.

EX: American idiom: "It ain't over till the fat lady sings."
“胖女士不歌唱,這就沒完” ? (see link [to be posted])

slang = no direct Chinese equivalent, usually used in modern speech, attributed to specific groups or cultures, similar to idiom, but far more informal.

American slang: "I feel like I am going to puke."
puke = slang for "throw up, vomit"

American slang: "I gotta hit the rack by ten, man."
Translation: "I have to go to bed before ten o'clock."

And finally...

cliche = no directly Chinese equivalent term, it means something's been used so many times, it's extremely boring and old-fashioned, and stupid.

Most of the sayings and proverbs by now are considered cliches.



Welcome to KC's American English blog.

I am Kasey Chang, or in Chinese, 張國聖, or in short, 小張.

I started posting a bunch of American idioms and expressions on a Taiwanese newsgroup, and someone suggested that I archive them somewhere, perhaps for eventual publication.

As I am mostly self-taught (my main area of study is Electrical Engineering), I didn't think about that very far, but I agree that a blog would be a great way to archive this so everybody can access it.

This is primarily aimed at Taiwanese or Chinese trying to learn American English, mostly idioms, but lots of funny English mistakes, interesting words, and other related subjects.

This is NOT a general grammar website. There are enough of those on the web already.

Comments are welcome.

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