As with any language, American English is filled with phrases native speakers use that a person learning the language may not be aware of or are uncertain of their usage. If an English language learner attempts to translate these phrases word for word, it may result in a lot of head scratching and confusion, if not downright failure to comprehend or get the message across.
Keep in mind that while both Americans and British use English, Colloquialisms in the U.S. can be very different from their U.K. counterparts. Even within the U.S. there is much variation from region to region. For example, there are expressions in the South that are not used in the North and vice versa. Below are ten common American English phrases that native speakers use in everyday conversation. This list is not exhaustive by any means. However, it is a good start to get the proverbial ball rolling.
Give it a shot – This phrase has nothing to do with shooting a gun or taking a photograph. It means to try something. Ex. “Water skiing doesn’t look too difficult. I’ll give it a shot.”
[This] is killing me – No murder is involved here. “This”, in the context of the sentence, is something that is difficult or painful, in an exasperating way. Ex. “I’ve been walking all day and my feet are killing me.” You may also hear someone say to another person, “You’re killing me.” This can have two meanings – one is when negotiating it means “I find you to be very difficult or uncooperative.” The second meaning is quite the opposite as when something is extremely funny and you can’t stop laughing: “The comedian was killing me with her jokes.”
Just around the corner – This means that the location of whatever you queried about is near by. There may not even be any corners involved. Ex. “There’s a good market just around the corner.” The distance may vary as well, depending on who you are speaking to. For some people, it may be within a one mile radius. For others, especially in rural areas, it may be more than a few miles away.
Hang on (or hold on) – There is no need to look for anything to actually take hold of. This phrase is used when telling someone to wait for a moment, up to several minutes. Ex. “Hang on, I’m cooking dinner right now.”
A pain (also, a pain in the neck, a pain in the butt, or a pain in the ass) – There is nothing that necessarily hurts on a person who uses this colloquialism if it is used like this: “When the bus was late, it really was a pain.” Or “That spoiled child really is a pain the butt.”
Let’s get out of here (also “let’s bounce”, or “let’s blow”) – When it is time to leave a place or exit. Ex. “This nightclub is boring. Time to bounce” and “I’m tired and really want to get out of here.”
Grab a bite – As in let’s get something to eat, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea or a snack. No attack animals or biting anyone is involved. Ex. “I’m hungry so how about we grab a bite before the show.”
Be right back – The person who says this plans on returning shortly. Ex. “I’ll just park the car in the loading zone because I will be right back.”
Check it out – This phrase can mean to look at or examine something closely. Although the pronoun ‘it’ signifies a singular object, in this case it can be used for singular or multiple objects. Ex. “Hey, Bill’s got a new stereo. You should check it out.” or “Check it out, someone left chocolates on the table.”
Ticks me off (also “tees me off” or “pisses me off”) – Anyone who is saying this is upset, angry, or frustrated at a person, object or situation. Ex. “When you show up late for dinner, it really ticks me off.”
Colloquialisms such as these are what give flavor and color to a language. The list of expressions grows every day, so it is nearly impossible to keep up with all of them. The site, Many Things.org lists over 280+ slang expressions. Have fun trying some of these phrases.
Are there American colloquialisms you find confusing or funny?
Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype