Tag Archives: idiom of the day

Idiom of the day - What am I like?

Idiom of the day – What am I like?

Idiom of the day – What am I like?

The English idiom ‘What am I like?’ is a rhetorical question (one we don’t need anybody to answer) that we ask ourselves out loud when we do something a little bit silly – usually in a public place. It has the same sort of meaning as when Homer says ‘Doh!’ in The Simpsons.

For example, at the supermarket you have paid and you’re walking away from the checkout, when the customer behind you calls you back and tells you that you’ve left a potato on the bagging area. You hurry back and collect your errant potato. To cover your embarrassment you say quickly, ‘Oh, thank you! Thanks. What am I like?’ The other customer smiles, but there is no need for them to reply. For example, we wouldn’t hear an exchange like this:

A – Hey! Excuse me! You’ve forgotten a potato.

B – What? Oh no! Thank you. Thanks so much. Oh, what am I like?

A – Well, it seems that you are rather forgetful, careless, and possibly living in a world of your own.

B – Er, thanks again.

We say ‘What am I like?’ in situations where we potentially look silly or odd in a public place. It puts a voice to our feeling of foolishness and awkwardness, and acknowledges publicly that we have done something ‘unusual’ and that we know about it – we are aware of it. To say nothing would be to create an unreal situation where there is an elephant in the room – an unacknowledged error or problem. This would be very uncomfortable for the typical English person, who tries to avoid awkward public situations. Making a joke about it – and making ourselves the butt of the joke – lightens the mood and takes the heat off – making it seem less awkward.

The typical English response to ‘What am I like?’ would be to smile and perhaps say ‘No problem’ or ‘Yes, I’m always doing that too!’ (showing empathy) if you are feeling more friendly. In any case, phatic (non-essential) communication – also called ‘small talk’ –  eases the awks!

Note: this is not an investigation into your true nature: ‘What am I like?’ It’s unlikely we would ever need to ask this question about ourselves, unless we had lost our memory, or we were particularly vain and wanted to hear people eulogising us! In our version, we put more stress on ‘like’ and the intonation is downward at the end, rather than up, as in a normal question.

Other times when you could say ‘What am I like?’:

  • You get to work and realise you haven’t brought your lunch box
  • The waiter gives you the bill and you realise that you’ve forgotten your wallet – oops
  • In the supermarket you try to get a bag of flour down from a high shelf but it lands on the floor, making a huge mess
  • You are rushing to prepare dinner and you drop your favourite blue dinner plate, smashing it on the floor
  • You get home and realise that you have left the TV on all day by mistake

See if you can use this idiom in your daily life today! Leave a comment to tell us how you used it!

Image: chuttersnap

Idiom of the day - It's up to you

Idiom of the day – It’s up to you

The English idiom it’s up to you means:

  • it’s your decision
  • it’s your choice
  • you can decide

We use it when we want to let another person take a decision, without us getting involved in the decision-making process.

It may be that we can’t decide ourselves, or we don’t have an opinion. It may be that the decision is particularly difficult and we don’t want to get involved – and get the blame if it goes pear-shaped (goes wrong)!

You want the full responsibility for the decision – and all of its consequences – to lie with the person whom it will most affect. Maybe because your help could backfire: if you make the wrong decision for your friend it could negatively affect your friendship:

Alex: I’m thinking about applying to Exeter University.

Sue: OK.

Alex: But I can’t decide. I really like Edinburgh.

Sue: I don’t know.

Alex: But what do you think? They’re both great universities. Come on. You must have an opinion.

Sue: It’s up to you, Alan. I really don’t want to tell you what to do.

Idiom of the day - Don’t keep sticking your oar in!

Idiom of the day – Don’t keep sticking your oar in!

To ‘stick (or put) your oar in’ means to interfere or try to have your say in somebody else’s life. It means to offer unwanted help or opinions to somebody who really wishes you would ‘keep your nose out’.

Imagine if you were happily rowing along in a rowing boat, pulling both oars yourself, but then your passenger produced their own oar and stuck it into the water to try to help take the boat in a different direction.

For example:

Rob: My Uncle Mark keeps trying to tell me which universities to apply for. It’s so annoying! I wish he wouldn’t keep sticking his oar in.