- From ‘zeroing in’ to ‘a dime a dozen’, these easy phrases will ensure your next essay is one of a kind
- We’ve also included a bonus saying in Cantonese slang that is all about the numbers
Numbers are one of the first subjects we are taught as children, and knowing basic mathematics is essential for everyday life. So let’s get back to the basics and learn some interesting phrases about numbers. Using these idioms will be as easy as one-two-three.
1. Zero in on
Meaning: to direct all your attention towards one thing
Example: The best way to address the problem of poverty is to zero in on its roots – low wages and high cost of living.
2. It takes two to tango
Meaning: refers to the need for cooperative effort, or describes how a difficult situation or conflict involves two parties who are both responsible for it
Example: It takes two to tango – both Shelley and Peter said hurtful things to each other during the argument.
3. Three square meals a day
Meaning: three nutritionally complete meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner
Example: If you want to keep your mind and body healthy, don’t forget to have three square meals a day.
4. Fire on all four cylinders
Meaning: to operate as powerfully and effectively as possible
Example: After 26 weeks of training, Mavis is ready to fire on all four cylinders.
5. Five-finger discount
Meaning: refers to taking an item from a shop without paying for it
Example: Lily was shocked to see her daughter eating an ice lolly after they had left the supermarket – the toddler had used her five-finger discount.
6. At sixes and sevens
Meaning: in a state of confusion or disarray
Example: The party is not confirmed yet as the organisers are still at sixes and sevens over where to host the event.
7. Seven-day wonder
Meaning: someone or something that generates interest for only a short amount of time
Example: My brother’s interest in music is likely to be another seven-day wonder – he will probably quit learning violin after two weeks.
8. Behind the eight ball
Meaning: describes someone who is at a disadvantage in a difficult situation and is unlikely to escape it
Example: You are putting your children behind the eight ball if you berate them for every mistake they make.
9. On cloud nine
Meaning: describes someone who is extremely happy and excited
Example: My sister has been on cloud nine ever since she successfully bought tickets to see her favourite band.
10. Ten a penny
Meaning: refers to something so common that it has become worthless
Example: Cartoons like this are ten a penny – this company has stopped caring about the quality of its shows.
11. At the eleventh hour
Meaning: at the last possible moment
Example: The venue informed the art fair at the eleventh hour that it would not be allowed to host the event.
12. A dime a dozen
Meaning: refers to things that are plentiful, common or of very little value
Example: Students who can memorise material are a dime a dozen – we’re looking for pupils who can think outside the box.
Here’s a phrase in Cantonese slang ...
走數 zau2 sou3 (jau-sou): “drop the numbers”
Meaning: to not follow through after saying you would do something
In English: to break one’s promise; to fail to keep one’s word
Example: It is not a surprise any more that Peter jau-sau again and failed to clean the dishes.