Monday, August 26, 2013

"A Small, Powerful Word: Hit" from VOA

Now, Words and Their Stories, a VOA Special English program about American expressions.

I’m Rich Kleinfeldt with some expressions containing the word “hit.”

“Hit” is a small word, but it has a lot of power. Baseball players hit the ball. Missiles hit an airplane. A car hits a tree.

“Hit” also joins with other words to create many colorful expressions. One is “hit the road.” It means to travel or to leave a place, as suggested in this song “Hit the Road.”

Another common expression is “hit the spot.” At first it meant hitting a spot at the center of a target with an arrow. Someone who did so was satisfied with his shooting. Now, hitting the spot usually means that a food or drink is especially satisfying.

Many years ago, Pepsi Cola sold its drink with a song that began “Pepsi Cola hits the spot, twelve full ounces, that’s a lot…”

Another expression involving hit is “hit bottom.” Something that has hit bottom can go no lower. If the price of shares of a stock hits bottom that might be the time to buy it -- its value can only go up.

A student who tells you his grades have hit bottom is saying he has not done well in school.

When a student’s grades hit bottom it is time to “hit the books.” “Hit the books” is another way to saying it is time to study. A student might have to tell her friends she cannot go with them to the movies because she has to “hit the books.”

Not hitting the books could lead to an unpleasant situation for a student. The father or mother may “hit the ceiling” when they see the low grades. Someone who hits the ceiling -- the top of the room -- is violently angry. A wife may hit the ceiling because her husband forgot their wedding anniversary.

To build something of wood, you usually need a hammer. That is what you use to hit nails into the pieces of wood to hold them together. When you “hit the nail on the head” -- exactly on its top -- it goes into the wood perfectly. And when someone says your words or actions “hit the nail on the head” he means what you said or did was exactly right.

If you are tired after hitting all those nails on the head, then it is time to “hit the hay.” That expression comes from the days when people slept on beds filled with dried grass or hay. Some people slept on hay in barns where they kept their farm animals.

​Hitting the hay simply means going to bed. That is a good idea. I think I will hit the hay now.

This VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories was written by Frank Beardsley.

I’m Rich Kleinfeldt.

Other Idioms With Hit:

"hit the jackpot" = win a lot of money. Example: My friend won the lottery and hit the jackpot.

"hit it off" = get along well with another. Example: The teachers at Mission Campus really hit if off.

"hit someone up" = borrow money for a short time. Example: I hit my brother up for $100 until the follow week.


1. When I published my book, I thought I would ______________________. But I really didn't make that much money.
a: hit bottom
b: hit the ceiling
c: hit the books
d: hit the jackpot

2. I'm real short today. Can I ________________ for ten bucks until tomorrow?
a: hit you
b: hit you up
c: hit bottom
d: hit the jackpot

3. Well, it's been a long day, and I think it's time we hit the hay. This means ___________________.
a: get the hay ready for the horses
b: do exercise with hay bales before turning in
c: go to bed and sleep
d: have a whisky before turning in

4. I realized our business ______________ when there were zero sales in August.
a: hit the jackpot
b: hit bottom
c: hit the ceiling
d: hit the books

5. I had to really __________________ because it was close to exam time.
a: hit the road
b: hit it off
c: hit the books
d: hit the ceiling

6. I enjoyed the party because of the people. We really hit it off, meaning ___________________ .
a: we got drunk together
b: we got along with each other
c: we got into the fight in the street
d: we played a game whose object was hitting a target on the wall

7. When you said this economy was going from bad to worse, you really __________________________ .
a: hit the nail on the head
b: hit the spot
c: hit bottom
d: hit it off

8. My father ____________________ when he saw my poor report card. I had to promise him I would do better.
a: hit the spot
b: hit the ceiling
c: hit the books
d: hit me off

9. I really like this fruit drink you gave me. It really ___________________ .
a: hits the spot
b: hits it off
c: hits it up
d: hits me where it hurts

10. "Hit the road" means __________________________________ .
a: bang a hard object on the road's surface
b: begin a trip or leave a place
c: reconstruct a damaged road
d: turn left at the stop sign

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Clothing Expressions" from VOA

Painting by Kay Smith, nationally known
watercolor artist. Her website is

"Hanging Out to Dry"

Now, the VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stories.

Have you ever considered all the English expressions that include words about clothes? Let’s see if I can name a few off the cuff -- or without any preparation.
People wear pants to cover the lower part of their bodies. We sometimes say that people who are restless or nervous have ants in their pants. They might also fly by the seat of their pants. They use their natural sense to do something instead of their learned knowledge. Sometimes, people may get caught with their pants down. They are found doing something they should not be doing. And, in every family, one person takes control. Sometimes a wife tells her husband what to do. Then we say she wears the pants in the family.

Pants usually have pockets to hold things. Money that is likely to be spent quickly can burn a hole in your pocket. Sometimes you need a belt to hold up your pants. If you have less money than usual, you may have to tighten your belt. You may have to live on less money and spend your money carefully. But once you have succeeded in budgeting your money, you will have that skill under your belt.

I always praise people who can save their money and not spend too much. I really take my hat off to them. Yet, when it comes to my own money, I spend it at the drop of a hat -- immediately, without waiting. And sadly, you cannot pull money out of a hat. You cannot get money by inventing or imagining it.

Boots are a heavy or strong kind of shoes. People who are too big for their boots think they are more important than they really are. I dislike such people. I really do. You can bet your boots on that. Yet, truly important people are hard to replace. Rarely can you fill their shoes or replace them with someone equally effective.

My father is an important person. He runs a big company. He wears a suit and tie and a shirt with sleeves that cover his arms. Some people who do not know him well think he is too firm and severe. They think he is a real stuffed shirt. But I know that my father wears his heart on his sleeve. He shows his feelings openly. And, he knows how to keep his shirt on. He stays calm and never gets angry or too excited.

Also, my father has never lost his shirt in a business deal. He is too smart to lose all or most of his money. This is because my father rolls up his sleeves and prepares to work hard. He often has a special plan or answer to a problem that he can use if he needs it. He is like a person who does magic tricks. We say he has a card up his sleeve.

This VOA Special English program “Words and Their Stories” was written by Jill Moss. I’m Faith Lapidus.


1. I wouldn't invest in that company if I were you. If you do, you might _____________________ .
a: make a lot of money
b: lose your shirt
c: take your hat off
d: fly by the seat of your pants

2. Ready for this? Let's roll up our sleeves and ________________ .
a: take a break
b: drink a couple of beers
c: take off our pants
d: get to work

3. Because our salaries aren't large, we've needed to budget our income every month. Fortunately, we have that skill ___________________.
a: out of a hat
b: under our belts
c: in our shirts
d: next to our boots

4. People who are too big for their boots think _______________________ .
a: they need to buy a smaller size
b: they need to return to school to get more training
c: they are not ready to take on extra work
d: they are more important than they really are

5. Another way to say "He wears his heart on his sleeve" is "______________________ ."
a: He cries at the drop of a hat
b: He's a real stuffed shirt
c: He doesn't know how to tighten his belt
d: He has something up his sleeve

6. I've got ten dollars and it's burning a hole in my pocket. This means
a: the ten dollar bill was left in the sun too long
b: I will probably spend the ten dollars soon
c: I'm angry there isn't more than ten dollars in my pocket
d: I need change for the bus

7. If you know how to keep your shirt on, you know how to _________________________ .
a: sew on your buttons
b: feel comfortable even though it's hot
c: stay calm and never get angry
d: impress people with your sense of fashion

8. Tom's wife wears the pants in the family. This means that __________________ .
a: Tom's wife has a job but Tom doesn't
b: Tom's wife likes to do carpentry jobs
c: Tom's wife is the person who controls the family
d: Tom's wife needs a new dress

9. If an employee is "flying by the seat of his pants," it's likely _______________________ .
a: he doesn't have much experience
b: he's trying to do the job too fast
c: he's cutting a lot of corners
d: he's using his extensive experience to instruct others

10. Speaking "off the cuff" means _____________________________ .
a: wearing a short sleeve shirt while speaking
b: rolling up your sleeves before you begin to speak
c: speaking without preparation
d: speaking without blaming anyone for anything

Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Hot Idioms" from VOA

Now, the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

“Hot” is a simple, easily understood word. So are most of the expressions made with the word hot -- but not always, as we shall see...

The words hot potato, for example, give you no idea at all to the meaning of the expression “hot potato.”

The potato is a popular vegetable in the United States. Many people like baked potatoes, cooked in an oven or fire. Imagine trying to carry a hot, baked potato in your hand. It would be difficult -- even painful -- to do so. Now we are getting close to the meaning of “hot potato.”

Some publicly-disputed issues are highly emotional. The issues must be treated carefully, or they will be difficult and painful if an elected official has to deal with them -- as difficult and painful as holding a hot potato.

One such hot potato is taxes...

Calling for higher taxes can mean defeat for a politician. And yet, if taxes are not raised, some very popular government programs could be cut. And that
also can make a politician very unpopular. So the questions must be dealt with carefully -- the same way you would handle any other hot potato.

Another expression is “not so hot.” If you ask someone how she feels, she may answer “not so hot.” What she means is she does not feel well.

“Not so hot” also is a way of saying that you do not really like something. You may tell a friend that the new play you saw last night is “not so hot.” That means you did not consider it a success.

A “hot shot” is a person -- often a young person -- who thinks he can do anything. At least he wants to try. He is very sure he can succeed. But often he fails. The expression was born in the military forces. A “hot shot” was a soldier who fired without aiming carefully.

Hot is a word that is often used to talk about anger.

A person who becomes angry easily is called a “hothead.” An angry person's neck often becomes red. We say he is “hot under the collar.” You could say that your friend “is no hothead.” But he got “hot under the collar” when someone took his radio.

In 1963, “hotline” appeared as a new expression.

Photo: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy June 3, 1961 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy June 3, 1961

The hotline was a direct communications link between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States. The hotline had an important purpose: to prevent accidental war between the two competitors during the period known as the Cold War. The American president and the Soviet leader were able to communicate directly and immediately on the hotline. This helped prevent any conflict during an international crisis.

You have been listening to the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

Our program was written by Marilyn Rice Christiano.

I’m Warren Scheer.


1. A person with a tendency to get mad is a "_____________________ ."
a: hotshot
b: hothead
c: hot potato
d: hot guy

2. A "hotline" ________________ .
a: a special telephone connection that allows parties to reach each other quickly
b: a dangerous, live wire from a fallen pole
c: very fast inner city metro
d: the line of a fisherman who has unusually good luck

3. The problem of gun control in the United States is a political ___________________.
a: hothead
b: hot potato
c: hot under the collar
d: hot explosion

4. Maria saw Juan from a distance and confided in her friend Sara, "He's a hot guy." By that, she meant __________________ .
a: he loses his temper easily
b: he eats too many potatoes
c: he's a handsome man
d: he's going to be a politician

5. Tom said that the movie he saw last night wasn't too hot. He meant that _____________________ .
a: it wasn't very good
b: there wasn't enough violence in it
c: there wasn't enough sex in it
d: it was just the right temperature

6. A "hot shot" is someone who ______________________________ .
a: is not confident in himself
b: is very skillful and knows it
c: gets angry at the drop of a hat
d: is an excellent marksman

7. A stockbroker who says "This company is really hot right now." _______________________ .
a: is trying to get me to sell my stock in the company
b: is trying to persuade me to buy stock in the company
c: is discouraging me from investing in the company
d: is saying that the company's current popularity is only temporary

When Sam dated Norman's girlfriend, normally mild-mannered Norman suddenly ________________________.
a: felt like a hot potato
b: quickly reached for the lover's hotline
c: wanted nothing more than to take hot shot at Sam
d: got hot under the collar

9. David said, "I'm really hot for you, Jennifer." _______________________ .
a: This meant that Jennifer really liked David
b: This meant that David was crazy about Jennifer's baked potatoes
c: This meant that David really liked Jennifer
d: This was a request to Jennifer that she please lower the temperature in her apartment

10. If a person is full of "hot air", that means the person ______________________.
a: talks too much and doesn't really say much
b: has a digestive problem
c: is just like a hot shot only more egotistic
d: is always slightly off the ground