It’s getting cold outside… are you ready for winter?
You might not be prepared for the cold, but your English can be!
Learning winter vocabulary is a great way to discover and practice new words, but there are some words that have a different meaning when they’re used together. Learning these sayings is a great way to improve your English skills!
English Sayings and Phrases and Idioms—Oh My!
There is an old quote from the movie “The Wizard of Oz” that goes like this: “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” (listen to it here). Over the years, many people forgot where the quote came from, but continued using it. Today it’s a saying that people change to fit different topics, like the heading of this section (“Sayings and phrases and idioms—oh my!”).
A saying is a sentence or expression that is memorable (easy to remember) because of the way it sounds or because of what it means. The saying from “The Wizard of Oz” is easy to remember because it has a rhythm when you speak it. An example of a saying that is repeated because of its meaning is “You’re never too old to learn.”
Unlike a saying, a phrase doesn’t have to be a full sentence. Phrases are groups of words that have a specific meaning when you put them together. The phrase “big deal” means something is important, and it is not a full sentence on its own. You can put it into a sentence by saying, “Learning about English phrases is a big deal.”
An idiom is a special kind of saying. The meaning of an idiom is not its exact translation. If someone said that it’s “raining cats and dogs,” that doesn’t mean there are literally (actually) cats and dogs falling from the sky. Instead, it just means that it’s raining a lot. Idioms are tough for English learners because you can understand every word in an idiom and still not understand what the idiom means. You just have to learn them one at a time, and start using them yourself.
Using English Phrases, Sayings and Idioms in Conversation
There are some sayings, phrases and idioms that are well known, but not used that often in actual conversations. For example, many people have heard the phrase “time heals all wounds,” but not many people would use that saying when speaking.
You’re more likely to hear sayings like “time is money” and “time flies” spoken aloud in everyday conversation. To know how common a saying or phrase is, it’s best to either listen for when it’s used or just ask someone.
There are some sayings, though, that can be used in everyday conversations. We’ve put together a list of some of the most common sayings, phrases and idioms related to winter. Learn them and use them to get you through even the coldest of winters!
20 English Phrases, Sayings and Idioms to Keep You Warm During Winter
This first section contains winter sayings and phrases:
1. Catch one’s death
When the weather gets colder, you can catch a cold from the weather. If it’s very cold, though, you might want to go inside or you’ll catch your death.
This doesn’t mean you’ll actually die if you go outside—just that you might get a very serious cold. You can use this phrase as a warning, telling someone to “dress warm or you’ll catch your death!”
2. Cold snap
Autumn and winter are beautiful seasons, but they are also the time when you might experience a cold snap. A cold snap is very sudden cold weather that passes as quickly as it appears. Think of snapping your fingers: quick, short and sudden.
3. Baby, it’s cold outside
The phrase “Baby, it’s cold outside” is not used as often as the rest of the phrases on this list. You should only use it with friends, because the word “baby” is a term of endearment (a nickname you use with someone close to you, like “dear” or “honey”).
It comes from the song by the same name: “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This phrase can be used when someone tells you to go outside and you don’t want to: “But I don’t want to go… baby, it’s cold outside!”
4. Bundle up
Before you can face the cold outside, you have to bundle up, which means to get dressed warmly. A bundle is a tightly wrapped package, so bundling up is like wrapping yourself in warm clothes or blankets like a package!
5. Jack Frost nipping at your nose
You can find this expression in a classic Christmas song by Nat King Cole, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” which you can listen to here. If winter were a person, it would be Jack Frost. “Frost” is the thin layer of ice that covers surfaces when it gets very cold—usually seen on grass.
Jack Frost (also called “Old Man Winter”) is an old character who goes around and nips (gently bites) at people’s noses and toes during winter. So when Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, you feel a biting cold on your face.
6. Blanket of snow
In the winter, you probably use a blanket when you sleep. It’s a thick cloth covering that you put over yourself to keep warm. When snow falls and sticks to the ground, it looks like a blanket of snow is covering the earth.
7. Dead of winter
During winter, not many things grow. Flowers and grass are covered by the snow and trees lose their leaves. The coldest, darkest time of winter is known as the dead of winter.
Even if you like winter, this cold time is not a positive experience. So you might say, “The only thing I want to do in the dead of winter is stay indoors and drink hot chocolate.”
8. Snowed in
When it snows a lot, the snow can pile up high outside your house. If you can’t even open your door because of the snow, that means you are snowed in. Good luck getting out of a house that’s snowed in!
9. To cozy up to someone
Winter is a perfect time to get close to your loved ones and cuddle under a blanket. This is called to cozy up to someone for warmth.
There is another meaning to the phrase, which isn’t as nice: to try to get closer to someone by being extra nice and friendly. In this meaning, you’re usually extra friendly because you want something from the other person. For example, when a car salesman tries to cozy up to you, he does so to sell you a more expensive car.
10. Season’s greetings
The winter months might be cold and dark, but they are full of festivities and holidays. In December, around or during Christmas time, saying “Season’s greetings!” is a way to wish someone a happy holiday.
11. Brace yourself, winter is coming
Even if you don’t watch the popular TV show “Game of Thrones,” you’ve probably heard of it (or the books), or seen an advertisement for the show. One of these ads says “Brace yourself, winter is coming.”
“Brace yourself” means “prepare yourself,” so this saying means you should get ready for winter. You can use the phrase to talk about anything unpleasant that is on the way. For example, “Brace yourself, the final exam is coming.”
Winter-themed English Idioms
There are many English idioms that use words related to winter—like “ice” and “snow”—but are not actually about winter. Since they are idioms, they have special meanings (instead of the actual translations of the words). The rest of the items on this winter list are all idioms:
12. Snowed under
When you have so much work that you don’t even know where to start, you are snowed under. Imagine your work is like snow, and you have so much surrounding you that you can’t even move!
You can use this idiom to talk about work, school or anything else. For example:
“I’d love to go shopping with you, but I’m snowed under with housework.”
13. Put something on ice
Putting something on ice means delaying or pausing it until later. The idiom comes from the way you put certain foods (like meat) on ice to keep them fresh until you want to use them.
This phrase is used most often when talking about ideas, tasks or projects. For example, at work you might hear:
“Let’s put this project on ice until we hire more people to work on it.”
14. Not a snowball’s chance in hell
Usually, hell is known as a place that is extremely hot and fiery. A snowball in hell would melt right away! So when something has “a snowball’s chance in hell,” it has absolutely no chance at all of happening. For example, someone who doesn’t know how to swim probably has “a snowball’s chance in hell” of being an Olympic swimmer.
Adding “not” before the idiom makes it even more negative, showing that there’s even less of a chance. To keep your sentence grammatically correct, you’ll have to add the word “have/has” after “does not/doesn’t,” like this: “He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing the class; he’s failed every exam this semester!”
“Not a snowball’s chance in hell” can also be used alone as a response that means “No way!” For example, if someone asks you, “Are you going to Cindy’s holiday party, even though she started dating your ex-boyfriend?” you can respond, “Not a snowball’s chance in hell!”
15. When hell freezes over
When hell freezes over is another idiom that refers to how hot hell is. Put simply, the phrase means “never.” The idea is that hell will never ever freeze. So if I say “I’ll go on a date with you when hell freezes over,” that means that I’ll probably never go on a date with you—since the chances of hell freezing are very, very low.
16. Break the ice
Meeting new people is easier if you know how to break the ice. Breaking the ice, or using an ice breaker, is a way to start a conversation with someone. Sometimes when people don’t know each other, the atmosphere can be cold and unwelcoming (that’s the “ice”) until something happens to relax them (“breaking the ice”).
You can “break the ice” by giving someone a compliment, or just by giving them a nice smile. Anything that gets people talking or makes them more relaxed is a good ice breaker. “To break the ice” can also mean to be the first to do something. For example:
“Sally broke the ice at the party by being the first to start dancing.”
17. To leave someone out in the cold
If you don’t let someone join an activity or a group, that’s like closing the door and leaving them outside in winter: It leaves them out in the cold. For example, “Tony was left out in the cold when his co-workers all went out to lunch without him.”
18. Walking on thin ice
It’s dangerous to walk on thin ice because it can break at any moment and you can fall through. That’s why the idiom walking on thin ice means to be in a risky situation that can easily go bad.
For example, if you miss a lot of days of school, you might be walking on thin ice. Missing an exam or homework assignment might mean trouble for you.
19. Tip of the iceberg
Icebergs are huge chunks of ice that float in waters in very cold areas of the world. What you see above the water is just a tiny part of the full iceberg, since most of it is underwater. When you say something is the tip of the iceberg, you’re saying it’s just a small part of something much bigger and mostly unseen.
This usually has a negative meaning, and is used to describe problems. For example, “The homeless people you see in this homeless shelter are just the tip of the iceberg—there are many others living out in the streets.”
20. Cold hands, warm heart
Just because your hands are cold, that doesn’t mean you are a cold person. Similarly, just because you don’t show emotion, that doesn’t mean you don’t feel it!
Cold hands, warm heart means that people who are cold on the outside might be warm and caring inside. For example:
“She never cries, but you can tell she cares a lot. She has cold hands but a warm heart.”
Now that you’re all bundled up from the cold weather with sayings, phrases and idioms, you’re ready to face the winter!
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