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A Guide to Medical and Conversational Idioms in English

Learning a language’s idioms is often the final step to really speaking like a native, and, of course, it can be very helpful in avoiding misunderstandings! Check out these lists of the most common examples of idioms you are likely to hear, and try to use a few the next time you see an opportunity! 


Hospital and Healthcare Idioms

Below are U.S. idioms you may hear around your hospital:

  1.  Go under the knife – means undergoing surgery
  2.  A taste of your own medicine – experience the same unpleasant or harmful treatment that one has given to others.
  3.  At death’s door – to be close to death
  4. Just what the Dr ordered – exactly what is wanted or needed to Improve the situation/condition
  5. Take a turn for the worse – to get worse (sicker)  often suddenly
  6. On the mend – healing and becoming well again
  7. Headstart – an advantage over everyone else
  8.  Gut feeling – send of impression that your subconscious is working on someone or some situation
  9.  Joined at the hip – to be exceptionally close to someone
  10.  Find your feet – to adjust to a new place or situation
  11.  Hands are tied – you are prevented from doing something, or it is  not within your power
  12. As pale as a ghost – Extremely pale
  13.  A bitter pill to swallow – An unpleasant fact that one must accept
  14. Have one foot in the grave – To be near death
  15. Under the weather – not feeling well.
  16. Sick and tired of -Extremely annoyed by something that occurs repeatedly
  17.  Forty winks – short naps
  18. On its last legs – near the end of life
  19. Out of sorts – a little unwell
  20. Black and Blue – badly bruised
  21. Alive and Kicking – In good health despite health problems
  22. On the back burner – It’s not a priority
  23. It’s not rocket science – which means it’s easy
  24. I will stick an IV – will insert an IV
  25. What a “hard stick!” – means difficult veins
  26. Crunching the numbers- means doing a lot of calculations.
  27. Put something off – put in a delay
  28. Call the shots – to make major decisions
  29. Slacking off – working lazily
  30. Have a lot on your plate -Have a lot of responsibilities
  31. Learning curve - the rate of gaining experience or new skills
  32. 24/7 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  33. I’m buckling down – I am focusing and putting a lot of energy into a project
  34. She goes the extra mile – She does more than expected
  35. Work in progress – work continues
  36. To work something out – to find a solution to a problem
  37. Shift work – work at different times of the day
  38. Carry out the task – complete the order
  39. Called off – canceled
  40.  Propped up bed – elevated head of the bed


U.S. Conversational Idioms

Here is a list of idioms you may hear during casual conversations with Americans:

  • Get the hang of it: to learn how to do something well, develop a skill, or gain an understanding of something. “It took me a few tries, but I finally got the hang of driving a manual car.” 
  • Sit tight: wait and don’t take any further action, usually for a short period of time. 

“I’m sorry honey,  I’ve hit traffic. Please sit tight, and I’ll be there in 20 minutes!” 

  • Idioms using the word “hit” 
  • Hit traffic: to encounter traffic. “I hit so much traffic on my way home, it took me an hour to go three miles!” 
  • Hit a wall: to be unable to go past a certain point, often in reference to something you’re working on. Can also be used to express that you are very tired and need to go to sleep. “I’ve really hit a wall on my novel. I can’t figure out how to end it.” “Roxanne’s birthday party was very fun, but I really hit a wall around 2 am and had to get a cab home” 
  • Hit the hay/sack: to go to sleep/bed. “It’s been a great night, but I’m exhausted. I’m going to go home and hit the sack” 
  • Hit [someone] up: a very informal way to say to contact someone, most often used by younger people. “What time do you think you will get here?” “I’m not sure, but I’ll hit you up when I am on the way.” 
  • Ring a bell: to sound familiar. “Do you remember Keisha, that girl we went to high school with?” “No, that name doesn’t ring a bell” 
  • Cut to the chase: get to the point. “You’ve been talking for forty-five minutes, and I still don’t know what you want. Can you please cut to the chase already?” 
  • Up in the air: to be uncertain. “My schedule for next week is still up in the air, but I’ll let you know about dinner as soon as possible.” 
  • To “get over”: to recover. “I finally got over that cold I had for three weeks” 
  • Make ends meet: to make enough money to cover all of your expenses. “My mom had to work two jobs just to make ends meet” 
  • Keep me posted/in the loop: keep informed. “I’m not sure yet when I can take a vacation, but I'll keep you posted.” 
  • To be “down” or “up” for something: somewhat confusingly, both of these phrases mean to want to or agree to do something. “Are you up for a movie tonight?” “Yeah, I’m down.” 
  • So far so good: the progress on something has been a success up to now. “How’s your new job?” “So far so good!”