2 Hot English Idioms Your Feet Will Thank You For Listening To
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So today’s podcast. I thought it was about time that we look at another couple of English idioms. The English language is full of idioms, some of which are very old, but we still use them and some of which are new. Yes, new idioms are coming along all the time. Since I’ve been doing Adept English, I’ve listened more carefully to what idioms I hear people use. I made a rule for myself – if I cover an idiom in a podcast – it must be one I heard someone use in English conversation in the past week. So I might be listening to a friend speaking or a client talking to me or it could be someone speaking on the TV or the radio. But I notice the idiom they use and I might use it for next week’s podcast. Little do they know what influence they’re having! But it also means that you’re learning idioms which people actually use! If you look at English idioms online – there are all kinds of idioms – things I’ve never heard of. There’s no point learning phrases that nobody uses!
So today – ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ and ‘a flash in the pan’.
So first of all, ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’. If you don’t know the English word pan, it’s a noun and it means something that you use to cook in. If you want to cook an omelette, some rice, some noodles, peas, carrots, soup, sausages then probably you would use a pan. If you’re cooking Chinese food, you might use a wok – and a wok is a sort of pan. Typically it’s made of metal – and it has a handle because it gets hot and so that you don’t want to burn your hands when you pick it up. A handle is something that you hold with your hand – doors have handles too. A pan may also have a lid and pan lids – they can have handles too. I tend to like glass lids on my pans because I can see what’s going on inside. And of course, you would cook with a pan over heat – we’d usually refer to that as a hob. The hob is the top of the cooker and it’s powered by gas or electricity. It’s what you put your pans on top of, anyway.
So all this is useful English language for in the house. If you’re cooking with a pan – say you are cooking some eggs, then you wouldn’t put the pan in the oven to cook. The oven is where you would bake your cakes, or roast your chicken or possibly bake your bread. It has a door, to keep in the heat. So, if you are cooking with a pan, you would use it on the top, on the hob, not in the oven.
So what do we mean when we say ‘Out of the frying pan into the fire’? Well, a ‘frying pan’ is just a type of pan. If you put olive oil or butter in a pan and then add something like eggs or onions or fish maybe – and cook them that way – this is known as frying. So that’s a verb ‘to fry’. So a frying pan is just a wide, flat pan that you use for frying things. So ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’. ‘Into the fire’ means that you aren’t cooking on a hob, but you’re cooking on an open fire. Cooking on an open fire – much more fun than cooking on a hob, though perhaps slightly more dangerous maybe? So if you imagine jumping ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ it means that someone has moved from one bad situation to an even worse situation. It’s quite hot in the pan, but even hotter in the fire, I guess.
So an example of where you might use this phrase. It could be a woman who decides that she doesn’t want to do her job any more – she’s working 45 hours a week. She’s fed up, it’s too much. So she applies for another job and hooray, she gets it. But then when she joins her new company, she soon finds that she is working 55 hours a week. So you might say ‘Her working hours are even longer! She’s jumped out of the frying pan into the fire with that new job!’. She thought she was moving job to make life easier, but actually she’s made it much more difficult.
Another example of ‘Out of the frying pan into the fire’. If you decided to sell your car, because you were a bit fed up, it was having problems. Silly things were going wrong with the car – the door wouldn’t shut properly, the lights stopped working. So instead you change it and buy a new car. Lovely. But after you’d had this new car for about a week, you discovered that there was a big problem with the engine that would cost lots of money to fix. Someone might then say to you ‘Ah, I think you’ve jumped out of the frying pan into the fire with your new car’. I’m about to sell my car and buy a new one – so I hope that I’m not tempting fate by using that as my example.
Now the 2nd idiom today with the word pan in it is ‘a flash in the pan’. So what does the word ‘flash’ mean? Well, that’s easy – a flash is a sudden bright light. During a thunderstorm you might talk about flashes of lightning – or if you were driving a car, and you wanted to signal to another driver that they could go in front of you, you might flash your car head lights at them. So a flash is a sudden bright light – which is then gone. So when we say a ‘flash in the pan’ – we tend to mean something which looks bright and good and wonderful, but whoops it’s gone again! It didn’t last very long. So an example might be an author, who writes a brilliant first book – and everyone says ‘Ooh! This is the best author since….whoever’. But then they never write anything else again. So later people might say ‘Oh, he was a bit of a flash in the pan’.
Now the origin of this phrase – and I don’t think most English speakers would know this – I didn’t til I looked it up for this podcast. ‘A flash in the pan’ – it doesn’t mean that suddenly there is a flash of light, while you are cooking your eggs in a pan. No, the word pan here is being used to mean part of a gun. You remember the word gun from the podcast where I talked about the idiom ‘shoot yourself in the foot’? Well, examples of guns are Smith & Wesson or Kalashnikovs – you get the idea? And here the word pan is being used to mean part of a gun. And this is a really old fashioned gun called a musket. So these types of guns often misfired – you’d attempt to shoot with them, but they didn’t fire properly – called a misfire. And when there was a misfire – instead of shooting, you would actually see a flash of light in the pan inside the gun. So it’s a misfire. It’s come to mean something which looks promising, but it doesn’t really work out.
So some more examples of how we might use this phrase, ‘a flash in the pan’.
If someone makes a piece of music – and suddenly it’s in the charts and you hear it everywhere you go – and everybody knows it. And then you never hear another piece of music ever again from that same artist. You might look back and say ‘Ooh – their musical career? It was a bit of a flash in the pan’. Another phrase we use actually in this context, we might say they were a ‘one hit wonder’. I’m sure that you can think of plenty musical artists who have a song that everybody knows, but then never seemed to have any more success. But you can also use ‘a flash in the pan’ for other things too. I might decide ‘You know I really need to have a tidy desk, sort out all my papers, throw things away’. So I’ll spend time tidying up, sorting things out, but by then the next month, it’s a bit untidy again – and the papers are starting to build up again. So you might say my plan to have a tidy desk? Huh – that was a flash in the pan.
Anyway, I hope those two idioms, these two phrases make more sense to you now. Enough for now, have a lovely day, speak to you again soon. Goodbye.