American Culture

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: American Idioms Explained (G-P)

A little boy raising his hand

A little kid standing next a drawing of a Light BulbAdjusting to life in a new culture can be challenging enough without language getting in the way. We’re here to explain even more idioms you’ll hear in the USA so these phrases actually make sense. Missed part 1 of our American idioms series? Check that out too!


Get off my back

When you want someone to stop bothering or pressuring you about something.

Example: “Get off my back about wearing my pajamas in the dining hall! They’re really comfortable!”


Hit the books

To study for school.

Example: “I haven’t studied for today’s test yet. Time to hit the books!”


Hold your horses

To slow down or stop what you’re doing. Bonus points for adding “cowboy” or “cowgirl” at the end.

Example: “Hold your horses, you can study later. Let’s keep playing video games.”


Icing on the cake

Something that makes a good thing even better.

Example: “This ice cream is so good! And it was free! Talk about icing on the cake.”


In hot water

To be in trouble after doing something bad.

Example: “Whoever ate all of my ice cream is really in hot water!”


Jump the gun

To act too soon.

Example: “Remember, you don’t want to…” “Wait too long!” “…Actually, I was going to say you don’t want to jump the gun.”


Keep your cool

Maintain composure in a stressful situation.

Example: “I probably should have kept my cool before interrupting you, right?” “Yes.”


Let the cat out of the bag

To reveal a secret.

Example: “Why did you let the cat out of the bag? Now they know all of our secret idioms!”


Monday morning quarterback

Someone who criticizes a decision after it’s made. For instance, a choice during an American football game (usually played on Saturday or Sunday).

Example: “Don’t be such a Monday morning quarterback! Her new hairstyle is…interesting.”


a dog with a tennis ball on its nose On the ball

Way to describe someone who’s especially alert or good at doing something.

Example: “How are you so on the ball about doing homework?” “I have no friends to distract me.”


Once in a blue moon

When something is very rare.

Example: “I’m on time for my 8am class once in a blue moon.” “What? Why is the moon out at 8am?” “Read this list of idioms, my friend.”


Out of left field

Something random and surprising. Like your roommate finally taking out the garbage.

Example: “That surprise quiz was totally out of left field!”


Paint the town red

To go out and have wild fun at night.

Example: “I heard art majors love to party. They really know how to paint the town red.”


Paint yourself into a corner

To trap yourself in a difficult situation by not thinking things through. Because you live a life of danger, excitement and poor planning.

Example: “Write an outline first for your paper, or you might paint yourself into a corner.”


Passed with flying colors

Did very well on something.

Example: “How was your graphic design test?” “I passed with flying colors!”


Play it by ear

To make a decision in the moment, rather than planning too much in advance.

Example: “Should we plan out our presentation on how to be prepared?” “No, let’s play it by ear.”


Plead the fifth

To refuse to answer a question because it won’t reflect well on you.

Example: “Why didn’t you put more effort into this presentation?” “I plead the fifth, professor.”


Pull your leg

A way to greet other people at the gym. Just kidding, it means to lie to someone in a playful, teasing manner.

Example: “I knew they were pulling my leg with that definition.”


Can’t get enough? Check out our other post, Cat Got Your Tongue? American Idioms Explained (A-F).

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