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En este espacio, y siguiendo el hilo a entradas anteriores, continuamos con nuestros apuntes relativos a expresiones idiomáticas en inglés; en esta ocasión, y concretamente, de aquellas derivadas de las prácticas agrícolas —en castellano abundan: “entre col y col, una lechuga”, “quien siembra vientos, recoge tempestades”…—, o de las que se inspiran en la climatología y los fenómenos asociados a esta —igualmente, en nuestra lengua no faltan: “arrimarse al sol qué más calienta”, “a mal tiempo, buena cara”, “contra viento y marea”, etc.—.

Britain has a storied agricultural past; thus there are many English idioms connected to the country’s rich farming history. Our first idiom combines this notion of an agrarian heritage with an upbeat summertime feel: ‘to make hay while the sun shines’. This expression means that we should take advantage of propitious conditions, i.e. achieve as much as possible before circumstances change back to normal, e.g. ‘My boss is out of the office for the week. I’m going to make hay while the sun shines and catch up on my English studies!’

If we take ourselves out of the office, there’s a good chance we will ‘soak up the sun’. Another way of expressing a desire to partake in the pastime of sunbathing is to say that we are going to ‘catch some rays’. This means we will expose ourselves to the sun’s ultra-violet rays for prolonged periods of time, in order to attain attractive bronzed skin (although many Brits merely turn bright red after time spent in the sun, not attractively brown!).

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The British have a reputation for repressing their emotions. The expression ‘one swallow doesn’t make a summer’ is a handy encapsulation of the national tendency to not get too carried away when something happens, i.e. to stop one’s emotions from overriding one’s plain common sense. This phrase (‘one swallow…’) means that just because one good thing has happened it doesn’t automatically follow that a situation will permanently improve. It could be a unique occurrence. Consider the following dialogue:

Tim: I see that Mary Smith got quite a good mark for her latest exam.

Jill: True. However she needs to maintain her attendance and concentration levels.

Tim: It’s a good start for her this term, though.

Jill: Yes. But you know what they say: ‘one swallow doesn’t make a summer’.

Jill thinks that Mary’s success in the recent exam could just be ‘a flash in the pan’ – a one-off, isolated event rather than a strong indicator of an upward trend. Jill is advising that we wait and see if Mary’s progress continues before assessing her level more thoroughly.

Some of us may experience romance on our holidays. This is known as ‘a summer fling’ and reflects the heady, dizzying sensation of falling in love, perhaps with someone we will know for only a matter of weeks. When someone or something has a positive impact on our lives, making us happier, we say they are ‘a ray of sunshine’. Again, we can see that summer has pleasant connotations, whereas winter is more negative, with its dark nights and cold climate.

Some other phrases and words we can use to talk about the summer include ‘baking hot’ (meaning the weather is hot enough to cook food outside – without using an oven); ‘it’s like an oven out there’, which of course means the same thing as ‘baking hot’; ‘stifling heat’ (‘stifling’ means ‘hot and unpleasant’); ‘Indian summer’, which is when a summer lasts longer than it normally does meaning we have unusually hot weather in autumn (the season following summer), e.g. ‘We’re having an Indian summer this year!’; and others that are related to the sea, which plays a large part in many people’s holiday plans.

For example, if we say that something is ‘a drop in the ocean’, it means it is a very small amount – maybe a lot less than required, e.g. ‘I’ve saved up twenty euros but it’s just a drop in the ocean. I need four thousand.’ If we move our attention to swimming pools – another popular spot during summer – we can say that somebody has been ‘thrown in at the deep end’. This means that somebody has been put into a difficult, pressurised situation with little or no preparation, in the same way that somebody who is learning to swim would find it difficult to be suddenly flung into deep water!

Try out our blog to see how you do with summertime idioms and phrases.


A. Porter

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