Have you ever been told that you’re barking up the wrong tree? What does it mean to be out of the woods? And what exactly is an olive branch? These are common nature idioms that are used quite often in everyday English conversation. If you’re just learning English, it may not be immediately clear what these phrases mean as they aren’t translated literally – their meanings are a bit more figurative and are determined by context.
So, what is an idiom? An idiom is a group of words that mean something different from their literal definitions. This week, we’re taking a closer look at some of the most common nature-themed idioms you might come across when first learning English. How many of these do you already know and how many are new to you? Let’s find out!
Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: This is used when you are describing someone who is making a mistake or a false assumption about something they are trying to achieve.
Meaning: This idiom comes from an old English proverb that states, “It’s the last straw that breaks the camels back.” In the proverb, it is referring to the camel carrying too much weight, so it suffers and breaks down. As an idiom, it can refer to the last in a series of bad events that makes you feel like you cannot continue.
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Meaning: An olive branch is a symbol of peace. If you are “extending the olive branch,” then you are reconciling or ending a fight in order to be friendly.
Out of the woods
Meaning: If you are “out of the woods” then you have gotten past the worst part of a bad situation. This is a very old expression, dating back to 1792, that refers to the literal situation of being lost in the woods and finding your way out.
Meaning: This refers to someone who is very shy and does not like a lot of attention. The act of shrinking means you are trying to make yourself small so as not to draw attention to yourself.
How many of these idioms do you think you can use correctly in your everyday English? Take our quiz and test your knowledge!
Did any of these idioms surprise you? Have you heard of any others? Let us know in the comments below.