Reflections on The 21 Days of Idioms Challenge

Published on
April 20, 2022
Updated on
November 15, 2022
min read
This article may contain affiliate links
Written by
Alastair Budge

Our inaugural 21 Days of Idioms Challenge is now over. Here’s how it went, everything we learned, and a full list of all of the idioms in the challenge.

Reflections on The 21 Days of Idioms Challenge
Table of contents

On 28th March brave challengers from all over the world took on the challenge of learning and using five idioms every day for 21 days in a row.

There are an estimated 25,000 idiomatic phrases in English. Too many to learn in 21 days, but 5 a day for 25 days is manageable.

The challenge was simple on one level, but hard to complete every day for three weeks in a row.

  • Every day at midnight five new idioms would be posted
  • Challengers had to write, speak, or even create a video using these five idioms
  • That’s it!

From Mexico to Spain, Germany to Ukraine, Algeria to Vietnam, curious minds from all over the world took up the gauntlet and got stuck into this challenge.

It was amazing to see.

From life advice to amazing personal stories, we had a real smorgasbord of experiences and variety in the challenge.

A trio of writers even decided to write a story together that had new twists and turns every day (nice work Iliana/Francisco/Isabella!).

Congratulations to everyone who took part, and I look forward to seeing you in the next challenge.

If you weren’t able to take part in the challenge, here are all of the idioms we covered, and here’s a YouTube playlist with video explanations of all 105 of them

head start: an advantage over everyone else (e.g. His English is better than mine, but he had a head start because he has been living in Edinburgh for 3 years.)

get cracking: get started (e.g. Well, I would like to get cracking and start this challenge.)

don't get me started: used to show that you don't want to talk about a topic (e.g. "Have you seen his new haircut?" / "Don't get me started on the life choices that my son has been making recently")

get the ball rolling: to set an activity in motion (e.g. Have you got the ball rolling on that new project yet?)

hit the road: to set out (on a long journey), to leave (e.g. I think it's time we hit the road - we have a long drive ahead of us)

smell a rat: suspect that something bad is happening (e.g. She has been really nice to me recently, but it seems very strange. I think I can smell a rat.)

the cat is out of the bag: the secret has been revealed. (e.g. You didn't tell him did you? No way! Now the cat is out of the bag)

every man and his dog: many people (has a negative connotation) (e.g. No, I'm certainly not going to go. Every man and his dog will be there.)

have a whale of a time: have a lot of fun (e.g. You should really come with us on Sunday. You'll have a whale of a time.)

get one’s ducks in a row: have everything organised; prepare everything in advance (e.g. She really got her ducks in a row before graduating university.)

heads up!: be careful! attention! (e.g. Heads up - you're speaking next)

go belly up: to fail badly, to go bankrupt (e.g. I had planned to go travelling to Europe this summer but my plans really went belly up after I checked my bank balance.)

not lift a finger: do nothing to help (e.g. He doesn't help with the housework at all. He never lifts a finger as far as that's concerned)

head and shoulders: above far superior to (e.g. I went to the theatre last night. One actress was head and shoulders above the rest of the cast.)

I’m all ears: you have my attention, so you should talk (e.g. OK then, I'm all ears. What did you want to tell me?)

come to terms with (something): feel acceptance toward something bad that has happened (e.g. my mother used to be sad I had moved away from the city, but she has come to terms with it now.)

come clean: to confess; to admit to wrongdoing (e.g. the student initially said that she knew nothing about the graffiti in the gym, but she came clean when she found out that there was CCTV.)

come hell or high water: no matter what happens (e.g. it was snowing outside, but come hell or high water James was determined to visit his grandmother that evening.)

come out in the wash: to be resolved (in the future) with no lasting negative effect; the truth will eventually become known (e.g. don't worry about telling Lucy about it - it will all come out in the wash anyway )

come full circle: return to an original state (e.g. I moved away from Paris in 2007, but after I accepted a job last year I've come full circle)

go out on a limb: assert something that may not be true; put oneself in a vulnerable position (e.g. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I think it was Jack that told Joe about the surprise party)

go nuts: to become crazy (e.g. Francesco went nuts after he found out that the mechanic had charged him an extra €200 for his car repair)

go off the rails: to go wrong, to begin acting strangely or badly (e.g. my sister started hanging out with some strange characters after school and my mother is worried that she is going to go off the rails)

go with the flow: to accept the way things naturally seem to be going (e.g. I used to get really stressed about things but now I just try to go with the flow)

go the extra mile: put forth greater-than-expected effort (e.g. my boss told me that if I wanted a promotion this year I would need to go the extra mile with this project)

come rain and shine: do regularly, whatever the circumstances (e.g. he started running on January 1st, and come rain or shine he jogs for 5km every morning)

on cloud nine: very happy (e.g. my sister got married last year and she has been on cloud nine ever since)

throw caution to the wind: stop being careful, do something risky (e.g. sometimes I think I need to throw caution to the wind and take bigger and bolder decisions)

snowed under: overwhelmed, too busy (e.g. I'm sorry that I can't make it tonight. I'm completely snowed under at work.)

storm in a teacup: a situation where people are upset about something unimportant or temporary (e.g. I heard about Tara's news, but if you ask me I think it's a storm in a teacup.)

get the picture: understand what’s happening (e.g. OK, I've got the picture now. I can see what's going on.)

get a word in edgeways: be able to say something while someone else is talking a lot (e.g. she talks for England - it's hard to get a word in edgeways)

get carried away: become overly enthusiastic (e.g. he got very carried away when he heard his brother would be coming)

get wind of: hear about (e.g. ever since Paul got wind of his colleague's promotion, he has lost enthusiasm for his job)

get in shape: undertake a program of physical conditioning; exercise regularly (e.g. Phillis decided that her goal for 2022 was to get in shape)

give and take: negotiations, the process of compromise (e.g. it's always give and take with that class. They never do what you want unless they get something in return. )

give one’s two cents (that’s my two cents): offer an opinion, suggest something (e.g. I'll give you my two cents on the matter. I don't think you should go to the UK.)

give lip service: to talk about supporting something without taking any concrete action (e.g. the Prime Minister gave lip service to climate change but failed to say anything substantial)

give someone a piece of your mind: angrily tell someone what you think (e.g. I'm going to give Jake a piece of my mind when I next see him. I can't believe he did that to Laura!)

give someone a run for their money: compete effectively with the leader in a particular field (e.g. she is really doing well at work at the moment. She is giving her colleagues a run for their money and she only started two weeks ago!)

take the wind out of someone’s sails: to reduce someone’s confidence, often by doing something unexpected (e.g. he was having such a great time at school, but the accident really took the wind out of his sails)

take five: to take one brief (about five minutes) rest period (e.g. OK team, great work. Let's take five.)

take a rain check: decline an invitation but suggest that you’ll accept it at a later time. (e.g. thanks for inviting me, Paula, but I'm going to take a rain check. I have to wash my hair.)

take something with a pinch (grain) of salt: if you take what someone says with a pinch of salt, you do not completely believe it. (e.g. it's important to take everything Keith says with a grain of salt, as he is prone to exaggerating)

take (someone) to the cleaners: defeat very badly (e.g. did you see the Manchester Derby? City were really taken to the cleaners in the second half.)

fish out of water: a person who is in unfamiliar, confusing surroundings (e.g. She is very comfortable back in Rome, but when she leaves the city she is like a fish out of water)

cat got your tongue?: don’t you have anything to say? (e.g. What's up, cat got your tongue?)

grab (take) the bull by the horns: to begin forthrightly to deal with a problem (e.g. The thing I like about Archie is that he always grabs the bull by the horns)

go to the dogs: to become disordered, to decay (e.g. San Francisco used to be such a beautiful city, but it has really gone to the dogs in the past few years.)

by a whisker: by a very short distance (e.g. I was so close to getting that promotion, but Gianni beat me by a whisker)

bolt from the blue: something completely unexpected (e.g. when he got the news about his sister, it was a real bolt from the blue)

red herring: a misleading clue; something intended to mislead (e.g. I know that there was a t-shirt left at the crime scene, but I think it was a red herring)

until you’re blue in the face: for a long time with no results (e.g. you can shout until you're blue in the face. I'm not going to change my mind.)

give/add colour to: describe in greater detail (e.g. can you add some colour to that description please?)

paint the town red: go out to pubs/bars and have a party (e.g. lots of British people come to Malta and paint the town red.)

put your foot down: use your authority to stop negative behaviour (e.g. I'm going to have to put my foot down and say that you can't behave like that in this office.)

put words into someone’s mouth: attributing an opinion to someone who has never stated that opinion (e.g. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but would you say that you were happy in your job?)

put someone on the spot: force someone to answer a question or make a decision immediately (e.g. Georgia put me on the spot when she asked if I had heard from Joseph.)

put your foot in your mouth: say something that you immediately regret (e.g. as soon as I told him about Alice, I realised I had put my foot in my mouth)

put down roots: establish oneself in a place; settle (e.g. ever since Luigi put down roots in Bristol, he has fallen in love with the city)

in full swing: when something, such as an event, gets into full swing, it is at its busiest or liveliest time. (e.g. when I arrived there the party was in full swing)

in one fell swoop: all at once, in a single action (e.g. in one fell swoop she managed to please both her critics and her biggest fans)

in one’s element: in a situation which is entirely suitable, familiar, or enjoyable. (e.g. Peter absolutely loves performing on stage. He really is in his element.)

in the works: under development; coming soon (e.g. Sure, I will have that report for you by Monday. It's in the works.)

(keep) in the dark: (make) unaware of something (e.g. I don't know about that. He has kept me in the dark about it all.)

chip in: help by donating money or time (e.g. Daniel's daughter is running 10km for charity, and I told her that we would all chip in.)

the ball is in your court: it's your decision or responsibility to do something now (e.g. I told Renata how I feel. The ball is in her court now.)

make the cut: to be selected (e.g. Juan was disappointed when he heard that he wasn't going to make the cut for the new project team.)

throw in the towel: give up (e.g. I started this challenge with high hopes, and I'm determined not to throw in the towel)

keep your eye on the ball: pay attention (e.g. when you start a new job it's important to keep your eye on the ball)

in the nick of time: just in time; with no time to spare (e.g. there was a lot of traffic and we only got to the train station in the nick of time)

once in a blue moon: very occasionally (e.g. Sandy was a great singer in his youth, but he only sings once in a blue moon nowadays.)

to miss the boat: to miss an opportunity (e.g. Tracy wanted to apply to Oxford University, but by the time she had made up her mind she had missed the boat. Applications closed on December 31st.)

round-the-clock: something that is ongoing for 24-hours a day (e.g. Zadie's job is no 9-5. It requires round-the-clock attention, and is really starting to wear her out.)

call it a day: it’s time to stop working on something (e.g. Bruno started his new business full of optimism, but after a bad tourist season he decided to call it a day)

down in the dumps: depressed, sad (e.g. I'm sorry you're feeling down in the dumps. Would a cup of tea do anything to help?)

up for grabs: available for anyone (e.g. the prize money was up for grabs, and Jim decided he would try his utmost to get it.)

up in arms: angry, protesting (usually said of a group) (e.g. after the announcement of yet another ugly hotel being built, the village residents were up in arms.)

up in the air: not yet decided (e.g. I'd love to tell you that you were chosen, but really it's still up in the air.)

down the road: in the future (in your lifetime) (e.g. down the road I'd love to start diving, but it's a question of finding the time)

have a bone to pick (with someone): to want to discuss something someone has done that has angered or annoyed you. (e.g. I've got a bone to pick with Emile after I saw what he did to the painting.)

have one’s cake and eat it, too: to want two incompatible things (usually used in the negative) (e.g. I'm sorry but you can't have your cake and eat it.)

have something in the bag: be certain to win (e.g. Victoria applied for a job last week and she's sure she has it in the bag.)

have it out with someone: to have an argument with someone in order to settle a dispute (e.g. Helen and Archie had it out last week. I'm glad I wasn't there to see it.)

have your say: express your opinion on something (e.g. OK, sure. Alexander, it's time for you to have your say. What do you think of my idea?)

wet behind the ears: inexperienced, immature, new to something (e.g. he had only started working at the company a couple of weeks before, so it was natural for him to be wet behind the ears)

wet your whistle: drink something (alcoholic) (e.g. come on, you're got 20 minutes before you need to meet Jack. You've got time to wet your whistle.)

break the ice: to get something started, particularly by means of a social introduction or conversation (e.g. to break the ice, Susan asked James whether he had ever owned a pet tortoise.)

in hot water: in need of help; in trouble (e.g. after her boss found out that she had been interviewing with one of their competitors, Angela was in serious hot water.)

(keep) one's head above water: to succeed/survive despite difficult conditions (e.g. Duncan was struggling to keep his head above water after he lost a major client.)

when in Rome: when you visit a new place, follow the customs of the people there (e.g. I've never eaten this before, but when in Rome)

where there’s smoke, there’s fire: if there is typical evidence of something, the most likely explanation is that it is actually occurring. (e.g. No, I know that there's no evidence that Marcus took money from the company, but it wouldn't be the first time he has been accused of it. You know what they say: where there's smoke, there's fire.)

where there’s a will, there’s a way: if you have a strong desire to accomplish something, you will achieve it even in the face of considerable odds. (e.g. my daughter told me she wasn't sure if she was smart enough to become a doctor, but I reminded her she is smart and determined, and that where there's a will, there's a way.)

when push comes to shove: at a point when the situation must be confronted and dealt with, if forced to answer (e.g. when push comes to shove, I have to say I prefer his earlier work)

when the chips are down: when a situation becomes urgent or difficult (e.g. when the chips are down, you know you can rely on Julian)

go pear-shaped: to fail; to go wrong (e.g. ever since Hamish started working at the company, things have been going pear-shaped)

take the biscuit: be the most extreme instance (normally about something negative) (e.g. she had behaved badly before, but the incident yesterday really takes the biscuit!)

spill the beans: reveal a secret (e.g. come on, spill the beans. Do you know what Luis is planning for his birthday?)

bite off more than you can chew: try to do more than one is capable of doing (e.g. I was given that promotion but I'm afraid that I've bitten off more than I can chew)

piece of cake: very easily done (e.g. you can do it - it's a piece of cake!)

rule of thumb: a general principle or guideline, not a specific formula (e.g. as a rule of thumb, David only eats at restaurants with fewer than 10 tables)

not enough room to swing a cat: a very small space (e.g. the young couple moved into a new apartment. They loved it, but there wasn't enough room to swing a cat.)

jump on the bandwagon: to follow a trend; follow the crowd (e.g. after Emily got a tattoo all of her friends have jumped on the bandwagon and got one too.)

up to scratch: meeting a basic standard of competence or quality (e.g. she inspected the car to see if it was up to scratch.)

the whole shebang: everything, all the parts of something (e.g. when deciding what food and drinks to bring to the party, Klaus always makes sure to get the whole shebang. He doesn't do things by halves.)

Want to get early access to all of our next challenges? Become a member of Leonardo English.

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