Idiom 125 – off the hook

We had a new delivery of office supplies coming in at the end of week. It was so big, in fact, that I would have needed to re-arrange a lot of the current stock (Bestand) in the storage room.  But there wasn’t any time for that before the delivery; I had other work to finish, and I was getting worried about the time crunch.

Fortunately, our intern (Praktikant/-in) just finished another project and now has plenty of time to re-arrange the storage room. And just like that, I’m off the hook. 


We use this phrase to describe a situation in which we avoided (vermeiden) an unpleasant task, experience, or encounter. There was something we didn’t want to do;  that ’something‘ disappeared and now, we don’t have to do it anymore!

Off the hook is an angling or fishing idiom – a fish, which was „on the hook“ and facing certain death at the hands of the angler, is now free from the hook and back to swimming around happily.

In case you were wondering what we’d say in German, my best guess would be aus dem Schneider sein. I know that this phrase might have more to do with financial problems, but it’s probably the closest in terms of usage.


Thanks for reading this year and happy holidays! We’ll be back in 2017 with plenty more idioms, misused EU English, and other interesting blog entries!

Misused Words & Expressions in EU Publications – Entry #3 – „eventually“

I knew we’d eventually have to hit this point. Sooner or later, we would have to take a moment and think about the word eventual, which is a „false friend“ of the German word eventuell.

For example: this sentence uses the word in question correctly,

After looking for our friends in the park, we eventually found them near the rose garden. (=in the end)

whereas this one does not:

I’m afraid I won’t be home on time tonight, there is an eventual meeting that I should attend. (= potential)

Let’s see what Mr. Gardner has to say about this most misused of English words:

7) Eventual/eventually

Explanation: Eventual means “occurring at some unspecified time in the future”, eventually means “in the end”. However, in EU texts, these words are often used with a meaning akin to “possible” and “possibly”. Thus, the sentence “eventually, the beneficiary provided documentary evidence”, which the author intended to mean something like “if any documentary evidence were necessary/available, the beneficiary provided it”, actually means that it took the beneficiary a long time to do so. In the examples below, “eventual” is used to mean “possible”, whereas its actual meaning would be “in the long term”.

Examples: “They both opposed an eventual imposition of anti-dumping measures as they considered that it could lead to a cessation of imports of the product concerned from the PRC.” AND “The results thus obtained will be taken into consideration by the Commission with regard to an eventual new request for derogation.”

Alternatives: Possible, any, the possibility of. It may sometimes be better to rework the sentence (e.g. eventual claims should be sent to the paying office = if you wish to make a claim, please write to the paying office).

Exercises: Correct or not? You decide! Leave your answers in the comments!

  1. After many years of decreasing ticketing sales, the museum eventually closed.
  2. We would be pleased to answer any eventual questions you could have.
  3. Laura can’t make it to lunch today because her morning appointments are running eventually longer than planned.
  4. My sister wants to study graphic design, with an eventual  career goal in marketing.

Idiom 124 – to butter someone up

„Honestly, Alex, I don’t think that Harold in Purchasing

will like your new billing software concept too much.

You know how old fashioned he is…“

„I know; I’m a bit worried about his reaction myself.

Guess I’ll just have to butter him up.“

„How are you going to do that?

He doesn’t care about praise or anything like that.“

„Yeah, I know. But I heard he’s a big tennis fan and

my dad always gets extra U.S. Open tickets…“

„No way! That’s totally non-compliant!“

„But it might be helpful…“

In this extreme case, one employee wants to butter another colleague up (ihm Honig ums Maul schmieren) by bribing (bestechen) him with tickets to a tennis tournament. But to „butter someone up“ doesn’t always mean to do something illegal. Sometimes it just means doing favors or praising someone consistently, in order to get them to do what you want. It’s a form of persuasion (Überredungskunst) whereby you do something nice for someone, and they do something nice for you in return.

The origins of this metaphor are unclear. Some claim it comes from an ancient Hindu tradition of throwing balls of butter at statues of gods, in a form of sacrifice (Opfer bringen). Others believe that it is a metaphor comparing the physical act of smearing butter on bread to the metaphorical act of „smearing“ compliments on a person like butter. Or peanut butter. Or Nutella?

Misused Words & Expressions in EU Publications – Entry #2 – „to control“

Our second entry in the series on misuse of English in European Union documents take a look at a word that, in Germany, almost all English students and teachers love to hate: CONTROL.

How often have we read (or even written!) sentences that sound like this:

„I controlled your report, and I found a few mistakes.“

„After controlling the meeting minutes, I send them to participants.“

And even: „She was controlled in the tram today, and didn’t have a ticket.“

To non-German speakers, these sentences sound very, very authoritarian. That’s because control is something that comes from power. If you control someone, you force (zwingen!) them to do something!

With that in mind, here’s Jeremy Gardner’s entry on the word „control“ :


Explanation: To control does not usually mean to audit, check or verify and a control is not normally a check or an inspection.

Its most common meaning is “to exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; to direct”. Thus, if we say that “the [European] Commission controlled project X in the Member States”, we do not mean that the Commission audited it, but that the Commission ran it. In combination with a few other terms contained in this list, this misuse can end up sounding quite sinister (e.g. “the Commission’s contract agents were on a mission in the United Kingdom to control execution under Axis II’).

Used as a noun, we do not carry out or perform controls. Controls are more likely to be systems that are in place (passport controls, for example). Hence, we can say that the Court checked to see if the key controls were in place, but not that it carried out controls.

Furthermore, when talking about systems, the best term will often be safeguard. For example, „a number of safeguards are built into the system to ensure that funds are spent correctly“.

 Examples: „Administrative checks must be undertaken on all applications for support and payment claims, and cover all elements that are possible and appropriate to control by administrative means.“

„Apart from the annual review of the reference amount, customs authorities are not obliged to carry out controls after authorization.“

Alternatives: Audit, check, verify, inspect/inspection, safeguard.


Excercises: fill in the blank with the correct word: inspect, look, check, verify

  1. Did you ________ if the warning light is on?

  2. I always ________ the document for mistakes.

  3. After ________ the package for damage, she opened it.

  4. Please ________ whether or not you have activated your account.


Idiom 123 – under the weather

„Hey Nadine, can you mention something quick about the projected sales figures for 2017 in this afternoon’s meeting with the Budgeting Committee?“

„Sorry Alex, but I’m going home after I finish up this e-mail. I’m feeling under the weather and need some rest.“

„Oh no! Okay, then could you send me the figures? I guess I’ll have to do it…“

At this time of year, it’s easy to imagine what we we mean when we talk about feeling under the weather (nicht ganz auf der Höhe sein). We’re not feeling well, we might be getting sick, we might have even had a bit too much to drink the night before and haven’t quite recovered!

There are a few theories about where this idiom came from, and they are all nautical. The first theory stipulates that a ship’s log (Schiffstagebuch) included a column (Spalte) for sick crew members. When this column filled up during times of widespread illness, the names of all additional crew members were listed in the next column, which was often the column for weather. Thus, these sick crew members were listed „under the weather.“

The second theory explains that during times of poor weather and rough seas, crew members who were assigned watch duty on the „weather“ side of the ship, also known as the windward (or in German – Luv) side often became sick after their watch duty was over, as they had been constantly exposed to wind, rain and waves for the duration of their watch.

Which theory do you think makes more sense?

Misused English Words and Expressions in EU Publications – Entry #1 – „actual“

I might be preaching to the choir (offene Türen einrennen) here, but have any of you ever read EU publications and been totally baffled by what you read?

Here’s an example of what I mean: „Evaluating such a unique scheme is a particular challenge for all actors involved. Evaluation modalities have gone through significant changes over recent years“

An easier way to say this could be: „Evaluating this unique scheme is challenging to all involved parties, especially as the evaluation procedure has changed significantly in recent years.“ Does it make more sense now?

Fortunately, there’s an invaluable resource out there, for free, in digital format. It’s (quite descriptively) called Misused English Words & Expressions in EU Publications  and is authored by Jeremy Gardner, who works for the EU Court of Auditors. His website and the 59-page-long .pdf glossary of the misused words and expressions are available at:

I’ll be sharing some of the most useful (for non-EU-employed German speakers) entries from Mr. Gardner’s document, as well as adding a few exercises to each entry for you to try out. Leave your completed exercises, as well as any other thoughts about the Misused Words list in the comments! I’ll get back to you ASAP!



Here we go with:

1) Actual


“Actual” is sometimes used to refer to something that is happening now. However, in English it means “real” or “existing”. Sometimes, native speakers use the word informally to express surprise or give new (or more truthful) information, much like German speakers would use tatsächlich or eigentlich.

Authentic Example:

„This appropriation is intended to cover basic salaries of the staff, as listed in the attached table, based on the actual regulations and on the probable adjustments“. =aktuell

Alternatives: Current, present.

Further Examples of Correct Usage:  

„Dr. Herrmann isn’t in the office today. She’s actually in Cottbus, meeting with some project leaders.“ = tatsächlich

„Could you stop doing that and focus on your actual work instead?“ =eigentlich


Exercises: fill in the blank with the correct word – actual(ly), current(ly), present(ly)

  1. a) We’re all ___________ in the office. Nobody is on vacation.
  2. b) I don’t think that’s the ___________ problem. Henry just didn’t want to go into it.
  3. c) I don’t need to see the figures from the first quarter; I need the ___________ quarterly figures!
  4. d) Are you ___________ going to go to the Halloween party dressed as Donald Trump? You’re absolutely crazy!


idiom 122 – to draw a blank

„Hey Walter, I’m trying to find the number for the lady who called in and left a message requesting an offer. What was her name again?“

„It was… wait a minute. Sorry Elizabeth, I’m totally drawing a blank here.“

„Did you write it down?“

„I must have, but I can’t find it anywhere!“

Sometimes, we just can’t remember some specific bit of information. It happens to everyone. In this case, English native speakers use the idiom „to draw a blank“ to describe the gap (Lücke) in our memory.

The origins of this idiom date back to Elizabethan England, when the first national lotteries were introduced in order to raise funds for the expansion of the royal fleet. Participants‘ tickets were drawn (gezogen) from one pot, and prize tickets were drawn from another. However, sometimes the „winner“ was drawn with a blank prize ticket, meaning that the winner’s prize was „nothing.“

It took nearly three hundred years until this term first appeared in written and idiomatic form, when in 1824, US-American writer Washington Irving (famous for the Halloween classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) wrote the following line, describing the feeling of taking unfair credit for someone else’s work:

„It is like being congratulated on the high prize when one has drawn a blank.“

Nowadays, when we draw a blank, we’re not only describing that memory gap, but also an unsuccessful attempt to do something, much like the German idiom „eine Niete ziehen,“ which also has it’s linguistic origins in Renaissance-era lottery systems – the blank ticket was called a „Niete“ in the Dutch lottery system.

idiom 121- the „gut feeling“/ „my gut tells me“

Two colleagues are looking for some important paperwork in their boss’s office:

„Karen, can you remember where Mrs. Simson left that contract I asked you about?“

„I thought she left it on her windowsill…but I’ve got a gut feeling (Bauchgefühl) that she just took it with her by accident.“

Karen could have also said, „…but my gut tells me that she just took…“

The word gut means Bauch or Wampe in German. When we’ve got a gut feeling, we mean that we have a strong but irrational feeling that something is the way it is. We can’t logically explain why (using our head) or how we feel about it (using our hearts)- but the feeling is undeniable (unverkennbar), just like when you’re hungry and your gut is telling you to eat!

Often in English class, my learners won’t be able to explain why they used a certain grammar form or vocab term, but they have answered correctly thanks to their gut feeling. Research has even shown that making decisions based on what your gut tells you will often lead to more desirable outcomes!

Also important: when you’re describing your Bauchgefühl in English, be careful to only use the singular form. The plural form of the word, guts, has a much bloodier meaning: we use this slang term to mean Darm, Innereien, or Eingeweide. So watch out!

Should I stay or should I go?

So, 51,9% of British citizens have voted NOT to remain a member state of the European Union. You were probably faced with this bit of news this morning when you awoke, or maybe a colleague told you once you arrived at your workplace, or maybe you’re reading this for the first time and are shocked about it!

If you are shocked, you’re not alone.

Conversations here at the school with trainers and other staff members all have taken a tone of surprise, but also one of bafflement (Verblüffung). Many European stock markets such as the DAX or London Stock Exchange have posted major losses so far today; the British pound has hit a 30 year exchange rate low and David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has resigned.

But what comes now? Should we, the citizens or residents of the European Union, fear for the future? I’ve spent some time in the office this morning looking for helpful, not scary information about the future of the UK and the EU. A Reuters article posted at 6 AM this morning has done a very good job of answering a few of my most burning questions. I’ll summarize a few things for you to keep in mind while discussing the BREXIT (in English) with your friends, family, co-workers or even other passengers on the S-Bahn while heading home from work!

1.„The EU is in shock and entering uncharted territory. No member state has ever left and Article 50 of the EU treaty, which sets out how a state can exit the bloc, offers little detail.“ Anyone who claims (behaupten) to know what is going on is either a very, very high level EU policymaker- or they’re just lying to you! This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue to discuss what could happen- just remember that the BREXIT is a unique situation and that there is no exact plan for how a member state leaves the EU.

Article 50, the tricky bit of the Lisbon Treaty that regulates withdrawal (Rücktritt) from the EU, only has the following excerpts to explain what exactly will happen:

„A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention … The Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.“ So far, so good. Nobody in the EU wants to burn bridges with the UK, which will hopefully remain a trading partner with the EU for a long time.

„It shall be concluded … by the Council, acting by a qualified majority.“ A qualified majority does not constitute the usual 51% majority- in some cases, 55% is necessary and in others, 72% of country votes or 65% of the represented EU population are necessary.

„The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification … unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.“ So, two years after the withdrawal agreement has been submitted (which hasn’t officially happened yet), the UK will stop being a member. Unless they are given more time, or decide to leave even earlier.

2.  What is the EU’s immediate response?

„There has been a mantra of Three Rs from EU leaders speaking on Friday: Regret (Bedauern) – at losing nearly a fifth of the EU economy and more of its military and global clout; Respect – for the will of the British people; and Resolve (Entschlossenheit)to keep the rest of the Union together. „

Which of these do you feel the most? Are you upset at the idea of a European Union without the United Kingdom? Or are you surprised and amazed that a majority of Britons have decided to take a very difficult path? I feel a mixture of these two- as a non-EU citizen, I don’t have much say about the resolve of the EU to remain strong!

3. Where does the EU go from here?

„The Union needs quickly to fill a 7-billion-euro hole in its 145-billion-euro annual budget, which is currently fixed out to 2020, as it loses Britain’s contributions while saving on what Britons receive from EU accounts.“ These contributions have been, admittedly (zugegebenermaßen), higher than their paybacks, which you can see from this graphic:

UK payments to EU budget since 1973

„EU leaders may push for a quick show of unity on holding the bloc together in the face of eurosceptics inspired by the result in Britain — including National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who leads polls for next April’s French presidential election.“ The last thing  in  EU leadership needs is further unrest or mistrust of the currents political situation.

4. What really happens now?

„In principle, nothing changes immediately. Britons remain EU citizens and business continues as before. In practice, many believe trade, investment and political decisions will quickly anticipate British departure from the bloc. The EU could also face a Britain breaking apart if europhile Scots make another push for independence and seek to join the EU on their own.“ This is not the end of the story, this is only the interesting plot twist that gets you interested and keeps you engaged!



What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you able to understand why the majority (Mehrheit) of UK citizens voted the way they did? Do you think there will be similar referendums in other EU member states in the future? Is it a historic moment?

I’ll be sure to revisit this topic in the coming weeks as the EU/UK divorce (Scheidung) continues to unfold!

idiom 120- the metaphorical „ballpark“ (PART 1)

Overheard in conversation between a car mechanic and a customer:


Customer: So, how much will it cost to repair the brakes?


Mechanic: I can’t tell you exactly until after a thorough inspection.

But I could say a ballpark figure (Pi mal Daumen), maybe $750?

Likewise, the car mechanic could have also said:

But I’d say somewhere in the ballpark of (grob geschätzt) $750.

This is a baseball stadium, also known as a ballpark– specifically, this is Citizens‘ Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Speakers of American English love to use the „ballpark“ as a metaphor when talking about estimated, inaccurate amounts. This started roughly in the 1960s when the ballpark was first used by scientists as a metaphor for an acceptable range of data results.

I’ll be continuing to explore the use of the baseball park, playing field, and the diamond (Raute) itself in the next few blog entries as I’ve just recently realized how many different metaphors American English speakers talk from place where this game is played.

Stay tuned!