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Ill at Ease
If a person is ill at ease in a particular situation, he or she is experiencing discomfort and anxiety. The fact that the person is ill at ease may or may not be noticeable to someone else, but because it is a strong feeling it is very evident to the person who experiences it.
Example #1: John was so ill at ease during the meeting with his supervisor that he spilled his coffee because his hands were shaking.
Example #2: I am really ill at ease with my daughter’s decision to drop out of college, but what can I do?
Example #3: Sheila couldn’t explain why she was so ill at ease on the flight to Rome – she had never feared flying in the past.
Example #4: Fortunately, I am not at all ill at ease when I am in a social situation – I love to meet new people.
Jerk someone Around
The idiom to jerk (someone) around is an example of an expression that originates in the physical world and then becomes used in a symbolic or figurative way. To jerk a person around literally means to push, pull, and be rough and aggressive with a person. As an idiom it means to cause trouble for or make problems for, annoy or irritate someone.
Example #1: John always believed that the boss enjoyed jerking him around and making his life miserable.
Example #2: “Don’t jerk me around,” he said, “just tell me the truth!”
Example #3: If you jerk him around about this deal, he’ll decide not to go through with it.
Example #4: I think that he was just jerking me around and had no intention of paying me the money he owed me.
Keep One’s Head Above Water
If you are in the water and you are not a good swimmer, it is very difficult to keep your head above water. You are in danger of drowning, and it is a very uncomfortable and frightening feeling. The idiom means, not that you are literally drowning, but that you are having problems with finances, maybe buying things you can’t afford. Or perhaps you cannot pay your bills and you owe more money than you earn or have.
Example #1: After the divorce, he couldn’t keep his head above water. After paying the alimony and child support payments.
Example #2: John knows how to keep his head above water, even on his small salary – he doesn’t buy what he can’t afford.
Example #3: One of the first things a young adult has to learn is how to keep his or her head above water without going into debt on credit cards.
Example #4: Please keep your head above water and don’t buy that new car that you want so badly.
To be laid back means to be unworried, calm in the face of difficulties, accepting of what life gives. The idiom describes a person who does not suffer from anxiety, who is friendly and easy to be with, and who is a good example of how we should try to live, at least sometimes. The mental image that comes to mind when using this idiom is of a person stretched out in a chair, hands behind the head, eyes closed.
Example #1: Almost everyone who knows me thinks I am a laid back person – I don’t get too excited about things.
Example #2: John’s boss told him that there is such a thing as being too laid back, especially if you are not getting the work done.
Example #3: If we can be laid back about this problem, the solution will come to us.
Make a Living
To make a living is to be earning sufficient money to pay your bills, have food and shelter, and provide your family, if you have one, with at least the basic needs. It can imply that what seems like enough money is not really enough, because just making a living is insufficient.
Example #1: John complained to his boss that he was barely making a living at his current salary.
Example #2: With only a few sales leads a day, I can ‘t make a living selling these machines.
Example #3: To really make a living being self-employed, you will have to be ready to spend a lot of your time working.
Example #4: This job lets me make a living, but that’s not enough for me – I want to earn more money.
The meaning of the idiom nuts is insane, in need of psychiatric intervention, or behaving in a crazy manner. It is usually applied to people in a humorous way, but can be used as a serious expression. It can also be said about animals.
Example #1: After he found out that he and his wife had won the lottery, he went nuts – I thought he was going to have a heart attack the way he was acting!
Example #2: Bob went nuts at the party last night and embarrassed himself – he must have had too much to drink.
Example #3: Some guy went nuts on campus last week and started shooting at students. Fortunately he didn’t hurt anyone.
Example #4: Sometimes before a thunderstorm, my dog goes a little nuts, barking and running around – apparently she can sense the change in the weather coming.
Off the Hook
This idiom has two completely separate and distinct meanings, depending on the context of use. If you are referring to a person, it means that he or she is not responsible or to blame for something. If you are talking about a telephone, the idiom means that the circuit is open and no one can call the number.
Example #1: According to John, it was not his fault that the advertising campaign was a failure, so he was off the hook for the disaster.
Example #2: John’s boss disagreed and told him that he was not off the hook yet – he might be indirectly to blame for the failure.
Example #3: Sheila’s phone must be off the hook – I’ve been getting a busy signal for the last 2 hours.
Example #4: He is off the hook for the bank robbery – his alibi that he was at the church meeting has been confirmed.
Paint Yourself Into a Corner
If you are painting a floor in a room, and you don’t leave yourself a way to avoid stepping on wet paint to get out, then you have the basic idea of this idiom. It means that you have caused a situation for yourself in which you have no alternative, and the result will not be good. The idea is that this is something to avoid in the future.
Example #1: Judy made some bad decisions at a young age, and she painted herself into a corner in life that was hard to get out of.
Example #2: I didn’t intend to paint myself into a corner , but when I insulted my thesis adviser, that’s what happened.
Example #3: Unfortunately, John’s argument with the boss painted him into a corner – he had to quit.
Example #4: She will paint herself into a corner if she continues getting fired from jobs.
Raise a Fuss
The idiom to raise a fuss means to cause problems by complaining, behaving badly, or being noisy, disorderly or insulting. It usually happens in a public place, but it might be just between two people.
Example #1: I really didn’t mean to raise a fuss about the steak, but it was not cooked correctly and I thought the waiter should know.
Example #2: If the baby raises a fuss tonight after we are gone, just give him a bottle of formula and he’ll go back to sleep.
Example #3: John’s boss apparently raised a fuss when he read the proposal for the new campaign – he didn’t like it and told everyone so.
Example #4: As the police took the burglar away in handcuffs, he raised a fuss and threatened to sue them for brutality.
The idiom to salt away has an interesting origin and meaning. In ancient times, salt was very valuable and was used to pay soldiers in the Roman army. Our modern word “salary” comes from the Latin word for salt, and to salt away means to put money in savings, wherever it comes from.
Example #1: She was very careful not to spend too much money, and she salted away enough to buy a good used car in a few months.
Example #2: My aunt made a lot of money in the stock market when she was younger, and salted it away for the future.
Example #3: My wife thinks we should salt away at least a portion of my paycheck every month, but there are too many things I want to buy right now.
Example #4: Many parents think it is their duty to salt away some money for college for their children.