Cold English Idioms
The weather in the UK is suddenly getting cold, with our first proper frosts. Apparently we are getting weather from Sweden and Norway and we might even have a white Christmas, which has not happened in a long time. I guess, this is why I’m hearing so many English idioms related to cold at the moment. It was the Prime Minister who was On Thin Ice in the Brexit negotiations with the EU. Or the NHS being Snowed Under with extra work because of the Pandemic.
Anyway, while I snuggled under my blanket on the sofa and watched the English news, subconsciously an Adept English idioms lesson was born. Idioms are relevant and always fun to talk about, confusing to new English language learners and used all the time, definitely worth spending some time on them today in our English language lesson podcast.
Although you might not care about English idioms, or even about the English weather (trust me it’s all we talk about in the UK!), this lesson is much more useful to your English language learning than you might think at first glance. We build our English lessons around listen and learn, our system of English language learning.
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Transcript: English Idioms Associated With Cold Weather
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Idioms with a cold flavour
Now, we’ve not done any idioms for a while, so how about we do some today, which relate to cold weather? It’s not really got that cold yet in the UK, but winter is definitely coming, and if you’re in the northern hemisphere, the top half of the world, particularly those countries to the north and to the east of the UK – well, it’ll be getting pretty chilly now. So let’s deal with some idioms, which reference cold weather – but which of course, being idioms, have nothing to do with cold weather! They have a different meaning altogether.
I don’t desire to change anything in England except the weather.
⭐ Oscar Wilde
To be ‘snowed under’
So the first one sounds like a verb – ‘to be snowed under’. You might hear your boss at work saying of someone ‘No, she can’t do that work – she’s snowed under!’. Well, your first thought I guess, if you’re taking that literally, is that the person the boss is talking about is somewhere stuck in her house, because of snow.
It sounds like there’s been a big fall of snow and the person can’t get out of their house, can’t come to work. But no, that’s not it. The verb we would use if someone was stuck in their house because of snow – we’d say ‘She’s snowed in’, meaning that the snow is stopping her from getting out.
A photograph of beautiful winter sunrise over Bodmin Moor as we talk about English idioms related to cold weather.
If we say someone is ‘snowed under’ – it means that they’re ‘overwhelmed’, O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M-E-D, overwhelmed usually with work. They have too much to do – they’ve so much to do that it’s as though a large fall of snow has landed on them – and they can’t do anything because of it. ‘They’re snowed under’ – as though the volume of work they have to do is sitting on top of them, over their head. So we usually only use this phrase in the form where it’s like an adjective, a description ‘snowed under’. We wouldn’t say ‘Oh, I’m going to snow her under’. So ‘snowed under’ is usually the only form we use.
A student might complain that they are ‘snowed under with assignments or essays’. Or someone who’s advertised a job, a vacancy may be ‘snowed under’ with job applications, with people applying for the job. So the picture is as though there were a big pile of job applications sitting on top of the person covering them up. The pile’s so big that you can’t actually see them, underneath all the paperwork. That’s ‘snowed under’.
To skate on thin ice
What about the next one – the idiom ‘to be skating on thin ice’? So vocabulary first – ‘to skate’, S-K-A-T-E means to put on ice skates, to put them on your feet. They’re like a blade, like little knives on the bottoms of your boots. And if it’s cold, you might go [on]to the surface of a lake, when it’s frozen and skate. So ice skating is something that you would see in the Winter Olympics.
It’s a sport and they do it to music. That’s ice skating. And if you’re ‘skating on thin ice’, then obviously this is dangerous, if you’re on a lake. ‘Thin’, T-H-I-N is the opposite of ‘thick’. If the ice is thin, it’s not very strong. The ice could crack and break and you could fall down the hole in the ice into cold water.
I’ve seen enough films where there is a scene where this happens, to be able to imagine how horrible an ending this could be, being in a cold lake, under the ice. So if we say someone is ‘skating on thin ice’, it means that they’re taking a big risk, they’re doing something which is risky. And all that make seem fine – then very suddenly it all goes wrong and it’s not fine and there’s little you can do about it.
So it goes wrong and the result is really, really bad. So you might tease your boss about a sensitive subject – and it might look as though your boss is OK with this joke, this teasing. But then something you say just pushes the boss further and he or she reacts big time, and punishes you, perhaps by giving you lots of horrible work. We might say then that in mocking or teasing your boss, you were ‘skating on thin ice’.
You might be ‘skating on thin ice’ with your teacher, because this is the third time this week you’ve been late to her class. You might be ‘skating on thin ice’ if you put things on your CV which aren’t entirely true. It could all go wrong, people might find out – and instead of it making you look good, it might make you look really bad. That’s ‘skating on thin ice’, taking a big risk, with a bad consequence.
Ice breakers and ‘to break the ice’
What about to phrase ‘to break the ice’? Well, this one has an entirely different meaning. The literal meaning, first of all? Well, in cold countries there are times when it’s necessary to ‘break the ice’. Ice, I-C-E is frozen water and it’s hard. And it forms in cold countries wherever there’s water or moisture, it freezes. And perhaps this stops things working.
Or ice gets in the way – particularly if you’re trying to use transport, you’re trying to move about. So if you talk about an ‘ice-breaker’ in a very cold country, it generally means something that breaks the ice up, or one of those ships, with a reinforced hull, a strengthened underside and the ship’s job is to break through the sea ice.
So that’s the more literal meaning of the phrase. But if you hear it in a different context ‘to break the ice’ or ‘to use an ice breaker’ is talking about something that happens socially, when people meet for the first time and they don’t know each other.
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Sometimes, particularly if you’re polite and British, it can be a little awkward when you first meet new people. People don’t know each other and they don’t know what to say to each other, perhaps. So you might get someone who’s very good at making conversation, or showing interest in people they don’t know, or someone who’s funny or confident and this initial awkwardness doesn’t bother them. And we might say then that they are good at ‘breaking the ice’.
So ‘the ice’ in this context means the awkwardness, the tendency to hold back that sometimes people have when they meet new people. If you’re on a training course, they might use ‘icebreaker exercises’, aimed to get the group mixing, talking to one another, when they’ve only just met. So an ice breaking exercise might ask people in the group to form pairs, two people talking just to one another and then to ‘talk about your journey getting here’ or ‘talk about why you’re on the course’.
Or you might throw a ball around the room to different people and if you’re the one holding the ball, you’re expected to tell the group a fact, something about yourself. So ice breakers aim to get over that initial awkwardness and get people talking.
So there we have it – Adept English helping you learn English language, with ‘snowed under’, ‘skating on thin ice’, ‘breaking the ice’ and ‘ice breakers’.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.