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Archive Language Point 166

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Idioms: shoulder, back and neck

Alice & Tim in the kitchen

Idioms use language metaphorically rather than literally. When Tim said Alice was 'giving him the cold shoulder' he meant she was being to be deliberately or intentionally unfriendly or rude to him (the metaphorical meaning). He didn't mean that she was giving him a cold part of her body at the side of her neck, (the literal meaning).

Idioms are also fixed groups of words so you can't change the wording of an idiom. For example, you can say someone has to 'shoulder a lot of responsibility' (meaning the are in charge of a lot of things) but you can't say someone has to 'neck a lot of responsibility'.

Idioms with 'shoulder':

have a chip on your shoulder

seem angry all the time because you think you have been treated unfairly or feel you are not as good as other people

He's got a real chip on his shoulder because he's so short. He thinks he always has to prove how strong manly he is.

head and shoulders above
a lot better than

Of course she's going to win – she's head and shoulders above everyone else in the competition.

a shoulder to cry on
someone who is willing to listen to your problems and give you sympathy, emotional support or help and encouragement

She's a great boss. If ever you've got any problems you can go to her and she'll give you a shoulder to cry on.

Idioms with 'back':

get someone's back up
annoy someone

She's late practically every day. It really gets my back up. Why should I always have to come in on time when she doesn't have to?

keep your back covered
do something now to make sure that if there is a problem later, you will not be blamed for it

I know you don't want to do all this paperwork but you need to keep your back covered in case there's an accident.

Idioms with 'neck':

have to brass neck to do something
not be embarrassed to do something

I couldn't believe he had the brass neck to ask her how old she was.
stick your neck out for someone
do something risky or take a chance

I told the boss that you were a really reliable worker. I stuck my neck out for you, so don't let me down, OK?

be up to your neck
be very busy or have a lot of work to do

I'd love to come to your party this weekend but I don't think I can. I'm up to my neck just now, revising for my exams.

get it in the neck
be blamed, criticized or punished for something

If I'm late one more time this week, I'll really get it in the neck from the boss.


Fancy a brew? (informal)
Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?

our paths cross
we meet each other

mates (informal)

hold a grudge
have a strong feeling of anger and dislike for a person who you feel has treated you badly


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