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9 Essential Political Idioms in American English

9 Essential Political Idioms in American English

Guest post by Jennifer Renart from Next Step English.

If YOU would like to write a guest post on PurlandTraining.com, please do get in touch!

When students ask me about how to improve their English, one of the things I always recommend is watching the news in English. And you can’t watch the news without running into some common political idioms. Do you know what a spin doctor is? How about a fishing expedition? Keep reading to learn 9 essential idioms about politics in American English, complete with FREE infographic!

Political Idiom 1: Strange Bedfellows

When we say that two people, organizations, etc. make strange bedfellows, we mean that they form an unusual or unexpected political alliance. A sort of political odd couple.

via GIPHY

In the United States, the two main political parties are the Republicans and the Democrats. They are usually adversaries (= they usually oppose or compete with each other), so if a Republican and a Democrat worked together on an issue, we would say that they were strange bedfellows.

Example sentence: Did you hear that Randy Republican and Dorothy Democrat are working together on this new immigration bill? Talk about strange bedfellows!

Political Idiom 2: Lame Duck

This is a political idiom that you often hear after an election. A lame duck is a politician or a government that doesn’t have much real power because their period in office will end soon and their successor has already been elected. We most often use this idiom to talk about the US President, although it can apply to other politicians, too.

Presidential elections in the US take place in early November, but the newly elected president doesn’t start his term until January. The previous president is considered a lame duck from election day until the new president starts. Everyone knows they’re on their way out, so it’s difficult for them to get much accomplished. 

Example sentence: He was hoping to accomplish more during his last days in office, but he’d overestimated how much he could get done as a lame duck.

Political Idiom 3: Spin Doctor

When you spin something, you present information in a particular way, especially one that makes your ideas seem good or your opponents’ ideas seem bad.

So, what’s a spin doctor?

A spin doctor is someone who spins for a living! A spin doctor is someone whose job it is to present information to the public about a politician, an organization, etc. in the way that seems the most positive.

All US presidents have spin doctors. In current American politics, Kellyanne Conway is often referred to as President Trump’s spin doctor.

Example sentence: I’m not interested in the soliloquizing of spin doctors. What are the facts? The plain facts?

(Soliloquize = (usually disapproving) to give a speech about your thoughts, as if you were a character in a play speaking directly to the audience, instead of engaging in a conversation.)

Political Idiom 4: Politically Correct

You probably know that PC can refer to your desktop computer, but did you know that it has a political meaning, too? PC is a short way of saying ‘politically correct’.

If speech or behaviour is politically correct, it makes a deliberate effort not to offend a particular group (or groups) of people.

Political correctness is a hotly debated issue in the United States. On the one hand, it’s obviously wrong to make fun of the disabled or use racial slurs. On the other hand, some people become so worried about being politically correct that they worry that filling their eyebrows might be cultural appropriation. And my sister’s friend actually told her that it was offensive for her to practice yoga because she has European ancestry, not Asian ancestry. (In case you’re wondering, my sister has not quit yoga.)

In the United States, we have people who hate political correctness so much that they behave in offensive ways on purpose. And we have people who are so politically correct that they’re just obnoxious. Luckily, most people live somewhere in the middle.

Is political correctness an issue in your country? Tell us in the comments below!

Political Idiom 5: October Surprise

This American political idiom specifically refers to elections. So, what is an October surprise?

An October surprise is any news event orchestrated or damaging information released in the month before an election, deliberately timed in the hopes of affecting the outcome of the election.

Example sentence: Things look good now, but we need to be prepared for an October surprise. Anything can happen in the final days before an election!

Political Idiom 6: Witch Hunt

These days, you can’t escape this political idiom in American news. It seems to be everywhere on Twitter and other social media!

So what is a witch hunt? A witch hunt is a politically motivated, often vindictive investigation that feeds on public fears.

This popular idiom comes from a dark period in European and American history when people believed that witches were the cause of bad things happening in society. People began accusing members of their communities of witchcraft, and many of those people were executed on the basis of irrational evidence.

This idiom became popular in American politics during the McCarthy Era, when hundreds of Americans were aggressively investigated for potentially being Communists.

Example sentence: No reasonable person could think this investigation was actually after truth or justice. It’s a total witch hunt. 

Related: Are you hungry for more idioms? Check out our latest idioms here!

Political Idiom 7: (To Commit) Political Suicide

Committing political suicide means doing something unpopular that will likely lead to the end of your career as a politician.

Example sentence: I know you think these activists are idiots, but you can’t say that publicly. It’s political suicide!

Political Idiom 8: Fishing Expedition

When you go fishing, you dip your line into the water and hope that something bites. You might not catch a fish right away, but if you keep at it, you know that you’ll probably catch something eventually.

So, what is a fishing expedition? It’s a political and legal idiom that we use to describe an investigation carried out without any clearly defined plan or purpose, in the hope of discovering useful negative information about someone.

Example sentence: These document requests can’t possibly lead to the discovery of relevant information! You’re on a fishing expedition, and I think the judge will agree with me!

Political Idiom 9: Red Tape

I saved the best for last!

Have you ever been frustrated by endless paperwork when you need to do something with the government? Then you have been a victim of red tape!

Red tape refers to official rules that seem more complicated than necessary and prevent things from being done quickly.

This is something that I personally love to complain about. Curse you, red tape!

via GIPHY

…which is why, of course, I love the girl described in Cake’s ‘Short Skirt, Long Jacket’! (Jump to 1:32.)

I want a girl who gets up early.

I want a girl who stays up late.

I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity,

Who uses a machete to cut through red tape!

Example sentence: You want us to start construction next week? Think again, buddy! We’ve got at least 6 months of red tape to get through first, and that’s if we’re lucky.

Political Idioms Infographic

I hope you enjoyed learning these popular political idioms. Here’s an infographic to help you remember them! Check out more great infographics for learning English here!9 Essential Political Idioms in American English


Jennifer from Next Step English

Jennifer Renart from Next Step English

Jennifer founded Next Step English so she could help advanced English learners master the vocabulary that native speakers don’t expect them to know. Vocabulary that will make native speakers think, ‘Wow! You really know English!’

In her free time, she loves hiking, playing Bananagrams, and binge-watching British murder mysteries.

You can check out her website, or interact with her on Twitter, Pinterest, or YouTube.

‘Happy learning, English nerds!’ 👊🤓

Earth Hour 2018: The real cost of your mobile phone

Earth Hour 2018: The real cost of your mobile phone

Earth Hour 2018: The real cost of your mobile phone
— Read on blog.oup.com.au/2018/03/23/earth-hour-2018-the-real-cost-of-your-mobile-phone/

Idiom of the day – It’s just one of those things

hpgruesen / Pixabay

We say ‘It’s just one of those things‘ about a situation that we don’t like but that we can neither explain nor change. It often refers to something trivial, rather than life-or-death serious. We often accompany this sentiment with a slightly confused shrug of the shoulders:

‘Why did the train have to be late? Today of all days! I really needed to get to work on time.’

‘I don’t know. It was just one of those things, I suppose.’


‘Why is our broadband reception so poor?’

‘Don’t ask me. I guess it’s just one of those things.’

‘No! I’m going to change our supplier!’


‘Why does the toilet paper always tend to run out just at the worst possible moment?’

‘I haven’t got a clue. It’s probably just one of those things.’

NEW! Podcast – What are Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous?

It’s grammar time!

Please join me as I discuss two tenses that are nobody’s favourites: Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous! Yes, it has to be done! 🙂

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Listen and download the free MP3 lesson: What are Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous? (21 MB, Google Drive)

For more information about Present Perfect click here.

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Free LIVE English Class on YouTube – Helpful Notices

Free LIVE English Class on YouTube – Helpful Notices

Join us live as we talk about the topic of Englishness and look at some of the helpful – yet passive-aggressive – notices that English people so love to put up.

Click here to subscribe to the Purland Training channel on YouTube!

Watch this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu-jmoQ7E9o&t=2092s

Slither.io

FREE Podcast! Episode 24 – Using Mobile Games to Practise Present Continuous Tense

It’s really fun using mobile games to teach grammar! 🙂

Download the games for free here:

Slither.io –
Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=air.com.hypah.io.slither&hl=en
iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/slither-io/id1091944550?mt=8

High Risers –
Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kumobius.android.highrisers&hl=en
iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/high-risers/id1158640510?mt=8

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Thank you!

Episode 18 - Learn 100 Common Irregular Verbs in English

FREE Teaching Podcast! Learn 100 Common Irregular Verbs in English

You can find the beautiful poetic infographic on irregular verbs here:

http://www.stordar.com/irregular-verbs/

Download the free podcast here:

Please write a review at iTunes and subscribe! Thank you! ❤

Grammar tips

Fun and Unusual Ways of Teaching English Grammar in Elementary School

Guest post by Jack Milgram from Custom-Writing.org blog:

Teachers and professors all around the world often develop new methods of teaching grammar to ESL and EFL children.

Why? Let’s be honest—grammar is one of the most boring school things.

Dozens of rules, massive texts, pointless exercises… Even many adults can’t interest themselves in these usual topics and repetitive tasks.

To find an easy way to learn English grammar, you should bring creativity and innovations into a teaching process.

Custom-Writing.org collected some excellent tips and games that will help you to vary grammar activities:

  1. Use technologies

When we talk about innovative ways of teaching English grammar, the first thing we remember is technologies.

It isn’t only children who can’t live without their smartphones and iPads, these devices have become an integral part of our lives as well. That’s why you should get benefits from children’s love for technologies.

Grammar teaching will become more interesting if you let children do the things they like.

For example, send students on devices pictures of famous characters from cartoons and fairy tales. Then, ask them to describe whose pictures did they get or make up a story about these characters.

This exercise will definitely interest children. Moreover, they couldn’t be distracted by apps or the internet while preparing their stories.

More grammar tips

  1. Learn songs and audio books

Listening is one of the significant parts of learning a language. Make sure, your grammar English lessons include audiobooks, songs, or podcasts.

Moreover, this is an excellent opportunity to make learning interesting!

All children like an emotional approach to teaching. Why not listen to the story of Tom Sawyer?

This novel is a perfect choice to teach English grammar to children and make their pronunciation perfect by asking them to repeat after the readers.

Songs help hundreds of teachers around the world to make students focus on grammar lessons. Singing aloud is a lot of fun, and even adult students like to participate in such an activity.

This activity is useful because it’s easier for our memory to keep songs than texts. You’ll see—even at the end of the semester, your students will still be able to remember quotes from the songs they listened to.

  1. Watch videos and cartoons

Perfect conditions to learn basic English grammar is when you know what hobbies children have and use them for teaching purposes.

For example, you can know what cartoons are popular among the children and show them some fragments from them. Nowadays, there are a lot of short cartoons which are full of interesting vocabulary and easy to learn.

But usually, English grammar lessons in elementary school don’t last long. That’s why short YouTube videos can be perfect to use.

One of the best choices is Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons. Look at this short video about conjunctions in the English language. Children will be sure to like it!

  1. Use the Internet

How to learn English easily? The answer is—play a lot!

And the Internet can help you with this approach. There are lots of websites with ESL and EFL games which are absorbing and useful at the same time.

There is a great diversity of fun games to learn English—word search, crosswords, puzzles, and so on. These activities will not only help you with grammar but also improve your analytical and logical skills.

If your students don’t have access to computers—teach them what apps to download on their smartphones to develop language skills.

You can even make a competition between students. Make two or four teams and find out who can complete a grammar game in the shortest time.

  1. Play instead of studying

Grammar English games are important for learning, especially, when the learners are kids.

If you need to get children’s attention, use some activities in English teaching.

Custom-Writing.org prepared a list of games and activities which are easy to play in a classroom:

  • Hangman

Short and fun activity for grammar and spelling improvement. Everyone knows how to play this game—but how we can use it in the sake of learning? Ask children to guess difficult words to practice spelling of new vocabulary.

  • This weekend I…

Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep students’ attention. These times, you can start one interesting game which will help you to keep children focused and challenge their memory. Start the games with “This weekend I… rode a bicycle and…” The task of students to repeat the said sentence and continue it with a new action. The game lasts until one of the students forget a part of a long sentence.

  • Call my bluff

You can also play one of fun activities for ESL students–the game Call my bluff. Just ask students to write down three sentences—two of them must be true, and one must be a lie. Other students try to guess which one is false. This game is great to know each other and also helps to train syntax and conjugation.

  • No, I don’t

Another game from grammar practice activities is called No, I don’t. The task is to ask a teacher or other students questions. They get a point when the answer is “No, I don’t,” and no points when the answer is “Yes, I do.” The most interesting part in this game is when students imagine absurd questions like “Do you live on a tree?” or “Did you ever visit the Moon?”

Elementary grammar lessons shouldn’t be boring! It’s possible to turn any topic into a game—you just need to find the right approach.

To find more study tips visit the Custom-Writing.org blog—you’ll know how to study productively or how to choose a major.

Jack MilgramJack Milgram graduated from the University of Central Florida and can currently be found in his hometown of Jersey City, NJ. He has never found sitting in an office appealing, and that’s why freelancing was his career solution. He enjoys sharing his knowledge with others through blogging.