If you go shopping in the United States, you might hear someone say that an item “costs an arm and a leg.” Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to give up a limb to buy it. Americans use the expression when talking about things that are extremely expensive.
Fortunately, learning English isn’t one of them. Below are six money-related phrases you can use in everyday speech:
What it means: The ability to make money or to be successful in all one does. The expression comes from the legend of King Midas, whose touch turned everything to gold.
In conversation: “Everything Linda does is a success. She really has the Midas touch.”
What it means: Each person pays for himself or herself; to share the cost. It’s said the expression comes from Dutch doors, which have top and bottom halves that open separately.
In conversation: “When I go out to lunch with my colleagues at work, each pays for his or her own meal. We go Dutch.”
Feel the pinch
What it means: To have less money than one used to have, and less than one feels is necessary. The phrase goes back to the early 17th century, when Shakespeare’s King Lear said he would accept “necessity’s sharp pinch” — or do without many of the things he had always had.
In conversation: “When we had to pay for the university education of all three of our children at the same time, we really felt the pinch.”
Hit the jackpot
What it means: To get rich or find something of value. The expression comes from what is known as “the jackpot” in gambling — the money divided among the winners.
In conversation: “I went to the library not expecting to find any of the books that were on my list, but I hit the jackpot. I managed to find all seven of them.”
In the black/in the red
What it means: In the black means making a profit. In the red means losing money, or not making a profit. The expressions come from a time when accountants used paper and ink. Back then, profits were written in black ink and losses were written in red ink.
In conversation: “The company lost money the first four years, but now it’s making money and is finally in the black” and “Some years my business makes a profit, but other years I’m in the red.”
The American English website has a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English, including the In the Loop guide to the origin and meaning of common American idioms. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.