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Understanding American English Phrases

Understanding American English Phrases

Date: Sep 27 2011

Topic: Idioms and Slang

Author: englishteacher24/7


If you desire to learn Fluent American English, it is necessary to understand the many idioms, phrases, slang etc.  It's possible to increase your vocabulary of phrases to add to your formal study of English.

I've been publishing these mini lessons in the Teacher's Forum and this actually is Mini Lesson No. 20 there.  However, they will be published here also as lessons accessible from my profile page. 

Mini Lesson No. 1

Weigh in / A leg up / You nailed it

A. Weigh in= To offer your opinion or judgement in a discussion, argument or a certain matter.

Origin/Background of the phrase:

To determine the weight class of a fighter such as boxers or wrestlers, they must prove they are eligible for their weight class. Once their weight has been confirmed, they can proceed with the fighting match.

When used as a phrase, you are making your opinion known. Here are some examples:

1. With the campaign season starting, the public is waiting for the Republican candidates to "weigh in."

2. Everyone was waiting for the president to "weigh in" concerning his plan to improve the economy.

3. Until the referee "weighs in," we won't know if the basketball shot made when the clock ran out will count!

B. A leg up= To gain an advantage or receive a helping hand.

Origin/Background of the phrase:

The first known use of this phrase was in 1837.

This phrase is from the act of an equestrian receiving assistance in mounting a horse. The person helping the rider would cup his hands (put them together with the inside facing up) tp allow the rider to use the cupped hands as a step while the other person lifted him up and over onto the horse.

Can you imagine how this phrase can be used to indicate someone received help or has an advantage? Here are some examples:

1. The runner sacrificed going to a celebration party to get "a leg up" on the competition by receiving a good nights rest.

2. College students are always trying to get "a leg up" to be accepted by a college!

3. To get "a leg up" for a job interview, it helps if you can meet someone from the company.

C. You nailed it= To get something absolutely right (correct) or you were successful at doing something.

Origin/Background of the phrase:

I could not determine the origin of this phrase, however, my guess concerning the logic of the phrase may be that when you nail something, you attach something to a definite point. When using the phrase, you're correct on a certain point. Here are some sample statements:

1. Jane "nailed it" when she predicted the winning team.

2. "Daughter, "you nailed it" when you got all "A's" on your report card!"

3. The Defense Attorney "nailed it" when he proved the defendant was in another place, thus, vindicating his client of all criminal charges.

English lessons from within:

Determining the mood of the speaker/writer:

It is important to understand the mood of the speaker/writer, this is the foundation of the words that will follow. As you gain experience learning English, you will learn not to take everything in a literal sense. Your goal will be to discern the mood of the speaker/writer.

I've started a new lesson entitled: "Inside the language" which I invite you to read on my profile page.

Well, that's all I have for you in this session, here are the phrases for

Mini Lesson No. 21

A shoe-in / Waiting for the other shoe to drop / Caved and Caved-in

Until next time, use English as much as you can!


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United States

Lizaza, here is the reason why they named themselves “The Black Eyed Peas”

“Resourceful and driven, Will.I.Am and Apl.de.Ap doubled their efforts and decided to reinvent themselves. They took on a third member, Taboo, whom they met at Ballistics, a Los Angeles break dancing club, and christened themselves the Black Eyed Peas, “a name that we felt was soulful, like our music,” Taboo told Fox News. The group’s efforts were rewarded in short order when they signed a major label contract with Interscope Records in July of 1997.”

Now, concerning the actual black eyed peas, they are very popular in the southern part of the United States and a necessary ingredient in “soul food cooking” among Black Americans.  Poor people would eat black eyed peas and corn bread which was filling, inexpensive and very nutritious.

As was stated, the group used the name as a play on words to define their music.

Thanks for your question, I hope this helps!

06:35 AM Nov 19 2011 |




Dear julito, thank u for your kind respond. I know that peas are seeds .i can’t make out why it’s somehow cool for a hip hop band to be called like that. Are they peas coz they pop and hop like peas? 

01:36 PM Nov 17 2011 |



Saudi Arabia

Thank you teacher for your effort to help us improving our English to take it to better level.

keep it up always.

Good luck.

08:50 AM Nov 17 2011 |




Lizaza, the black-eyed pea is a bean , an edible seed  from some leguminous plants

08:45 PM Nov 16 2011 |




Dear Teacher, help me please to understand the name of one popular hip hop band Black Eyed Peas It sounds weird Why are they called like this? 

04:59 PM Nov 16 2011 |


United States

You’re welcome Miss_Verse and Julito!

Mini Lesson No. 2 (21) I intend to post after the lesson which I’m doing on the Self-Study English Development Exercise series on “The Edmund Fitzgerald”

You can find the link on my profile page.  I believe it will be helpful to advance your English learning.  I hope to see you there!

07:15 AM Oct 27 2011 |

1 person likes this




Thanks for  helping  us  with your  valuables lessons.-

08:37 PM Oct 23 2011 |




Thanks a lot for the lesson, very useful, colourful and interesting.

07:57 PM Oct 23 2011 |


United States

It’s been said that “the United States and the United Kingdom are two great nations separated by a common language.” 

English was introduced into the Americas by British colonization and has been used, modified and made over by the inhabitants.  Two-thirds of the people speaking English speak the form of English used in the United States, to the dismay of the mother country, which language is referred to as “Standard English.”

I am not qualified to go any further, but if you’re interesed, here is a link for information in depth.


Thanks for your inquiry.

12:40 PM Oct 21 2011 |




I like your lesson so much. It is very informative, indeed.

May I ask you a question? You said: “If you desire to learn Fluent American English”

Please, can you briefly explain me what is a difference between American English and English English ( I mean English that uses in UK)?

Million thanks in advance.

11:42 AM Oct 21 2011 |

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