Built up an appetite? Then you may be interested in what’s happening in Milan. The 2015 World Expo is in full swing, and the future of the global food system is on the menu.

If you’re learning American English, you should know that “building up an appetite” and “being on the menu” don’t have to involve food.

They are examples of the culinary metaphors Americans use to make their conversations more colorful and to convey ideas more effectively. Below are several more:

Icing on the cake


What it means: Something good that is added to something that is already good.
In conversation: “I received a big raise at work. The same day, my boss gave me an extra week of vacation. It was icing on the cake.”

Big cheese

What it means: An important, powerful or influential person.
In conversation: “She must be a big cheese in the company. Everyone listens to what she says, including the company president!”

Best thing since sliced bread


What it means: Used to show enthusiasm for how great a person or thing is.
In conversation: “You got me a new bike for my birthday! You’re the best thing since sliced bread.”

Food for thought

What it means: Something to think about.
In conversation: “The school principal wants to abolish the use of exams in the classroom. Some teachers don’t agree but say the idea is food for thought.”

Couch potato


What it means: A person who sits for long periods of time on the couch, usually eating snack food and watching TV.
In conversation: “Let’s go for a walk or a bike ride. I don’t want to be a couch potato.”

Learn more

Other idioms common in everyday American speech include those related to summer, soccer and the ocean.

ShareAmerica offers a series of everyday conversations that include audio clips to help practice English. The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.