This is one of a series of colourful images illustrating idioms from different countries. Each one has been translated literally into English and its meaning explained. You can find the others here, along with some interesting cultural observations (thanks to James, from hotelclub.com).
BACKGROUND David Cameron is bracing himself for a bruising showdown with Brussels after he hardened his stance in a £1.7bn budget row with the EU as the European commission threatened to retaliate by placing Britain’s multibillion pound EU budget rebate on the table. As Britain appeared to lose a key ally in its battle with the EU, with the Netherlands suggesting that it would meet the demand on it for an extra payment, the prime minister insisted that Britain would not pay the full £1.7bn demanded by the commission. Full story >>
CARTOON The cartoon by Chappatte from The International New York Times shows David Cameron (and his dog) looking out of the window of his official London residence 10 Downing Street. A policeman is standing guard outside and a Union Jack flag is fluttering above the door. On the floor, lies a doormat resembling the flag of Europe with the letters EU on it.
EXPLANATION In informal English a doormat is someone who allows other people to treat them badly and does not complain, so that can't be what the cartoonist had in mind since it's the EU which is bullying Cameron. I think that Cameron has put the EU doormat there expecting people to wipe their feet on it (you can see the dirt marks), which is his way of getting his own back on the EU. Other interpretations are possible!
BACKGROUND As U.S. generals and Secretary of State John Kerry warn that the strategic Syrian border town of Kobani could fall to ISIS militants, the Turkish military has deployed its tanks on its side of the frontier but only watched the slaughter. Turkey’s inaction despite its supposed participation in a coalition forged to crush the extremist group is frustrating Washington and its NATO allies, and reviving a rebellion by Turkish Kurds. Read more >>
CARTOON To understand the cartoon, you need to be familiar with an English idiom: to hide/bury/stick your head in the sand, which means to refuse to think about an unpleasant situation, hoping that it will improve so that you will not have to deal with it. • Parents said bullying was being ignored, and accused the headmaster of burying his head in the sand. The expression alludes to an ostrich, which is believed incorrectly to hide its head in a hole in the ground when it sees danger. This explains why the Turkish tank is portrayed as half-ostrich.
BACKGROUND The UK Parliament has backed British participation in air strikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq. After a seven-hour debate, MPs voted for military action by 524 votes to 43. The Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour leaderships all backed air strikes although some MPs expressed concerns about where it would lead and the prospect of future engagement in Syria. The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said RAF planes could be called into action as early as Sunday. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Dave Brown from The Independent is based on a painting by Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder entitled The Blind Leading The Blind. The original painting depicts a procession of six blind, disfigured men. They pass along a path bordered by a river on one side and a village with a church on the other. The leader of the group has fallen on his back into a ditch and, because they are all linked by their staffs, seems about to drag his companions down with him. Bruegel based the work on the Biblical parable of the blind leading the blind from Matthew 15:14, in which Christ refers to the Pharisees. In Dave Brown's version, the man in the ditch is former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose sectarian government has been blamed for helping to fuel a Sunni uprising in the country. The 'companions' he is dragging into a pool of quicksand are US President Barack Obama, and UK political party leaders David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and Ed Miliband, who all gave their support to UK air strikes.
IDIOM The blind leading the blind is used to describe a situation where uninformed and incompetent people leading others who are similarly incapable. • I tried to explain how the software works, but it was a case of the blind leading the blind, really. See The Phrase Finder for more on this expression.
COMMENTARY The Independent has argued against the UK joining the US-led coalition in Iraq, and the cartoon reflects that position. The quicksand is an obvious metaphor for getting 'bogged down' in another unwinnable war in Iraq.
BACKGROUND Scotland has voted No to independence, prompting a huge sigh of relief to echo through the corridors of Westminster. It means David Cameron has not gone down as the prime minister who lost the United Kingdom. But the political consequences of a No vote are huge. This is because Westminster has vowed to say yes to more devolution. The leaders of the three largest UK parties have promised that the Scots will get more powers over their taxes, welfare and spending. Many Conservatives believe extra devolution to Scotland should be matched by giving English MPs a greater say over English laws. Giving English MPs greater powers would open up another constitutional can of worms. Labour would be hugely cautious, and not just because its Scottish MPs would resist any loss of influence at Westminster. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Brian Adcock from The Independent shows the three main UK party leaders (Cameron, Clegg and Miliband) standing in front of a can of worms labelled 'Constitutional Reforms', which has just been opened by SNP leaderAlex Salmond. Salmond is waving them goodbye as he walks off carrying his can opener in a Scottish flag.
COMMENTARY The cartoon is a literal illustration of the idiom 'to open a can of worms' (see below). After losing the referendum, Salmond resigned, but he may yet have the last laugh as the concessions he won on more powers for Scotland have left the UK political parties in disarray.
IDIOM To open a can of worms is to create situation that involves a complicated set of problems that you discover when you start dealing with it. • The government's plans for compulsory data retention has opened a can of worms. This expression alludes to a container of bait used for fishing, which when opened reveals an inextricable tangle of worms.
BACKGROUND Scotland goes to the polls on September 18 and voters will be asked to answer the question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" The latest opinion polls suggest that the result is too close to call. Read more >>
CARTOON The cartoon by Heath from the Mail on Sunday shows a party where people are discussing Scottish independence. Those in favour have the Scottish flag painted on their faces, and those against the Union Jack. However, one man has both flags painted on his face, and tells his interlocutor, "To tell you the truth, I'm in two minds."
EXPLANATION If you are in two minds about something, you are uncertain or to have difficulty in making a decision. • I'm in two minds about accepting the job. The joke is that the man has two flags painted on his face to show that he is undecided.
BACKGROUND A dramatic surge in support for Scottish independence has been confirmed by a further poll that shows that next week's referendum is on a knife edge, with a gap of just one percentage point between yes and no. The poll by TNS found that support for independence has jumped by six points in the last month, putting the yes vote at 38% and the no vote at 39%, wiping out a 12-point lead for the pro-UK campaign led by former chancellor Alistair Darling. The switch in support will delight the yes campaign but deeply alarm their opponents, coming after a YouGov poll found the pro-independence vote had a narrow one-point lead for the first time. Read more >>
CARTOON The cartoon by Dave Brown from The Independent shows Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish Nationalist PartyAlex Salmond as a chip shop owner wearing a string vest and apron. He's holding Alistair Darling, leader of the pro-Union Better Together campaign by the scruff of the neck, having dipped him in batter like a piece of fish (or a Mars bar). Salmond tells us in his strong Scottish accent, "An' noo ah'm gonna gonnae deep fry 'em!" (= "And now I'm going to fry them").
COMMENTARY To fully understand the cartoon you have to know an English idiom. If someone takes a battering, they are defeated heavily. • Once again, our team took a battering on Saturday. And batter is a liquid mixture of milk, flour, and eggs, used in cooking (especially deep frying), so there's a deliberate play on words by the cartoonist. There's also a play on words in the name of the chip shop. Chippy is an informal word for a fish and chip shop, but it's also an adjective meaning 'touchy and defensive, especially on account of having a grievance or a sense of inferiority', qualities sometimes associated with Alex Salmond, and something of a Scottish stereotype. Nicola is Nicola Sturgeon, his deputy. The cartoon also gives a cultural nod to the Scots' love of deep fried food in general.
BACKGROUND After wrestling with threats ranging from Russia to Islamist insurgency in the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama took a break from a NATO summit to visit Britain's prehistoric Stonehenge monument on Friday. "How cool is this?" Obama said as he wandered starry-eyed in his shirt sleeves among the towering stone megaliths. "It's spectacular," said Obama, as he gazed at the circle of towering megaliths while sheep grazed in a nearby field. "Knocked it off the bucket list," he said, using a term for must-do experiences before one dies. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Bob from The Telegraph shows Obama at Stonehenge sitting on a, um, stone. He's dressed as a tourist (camera, Union Jack baseball cap, trainers, and bum bag) and is ticking off items on his bucket list (see below). In addition to seeing Stonehenge, he's visited Wales, met the Queen, and attended a barbecue at Downing Street. The only thing he hasn't done is defeat ISIL (aka Islamic State or ISIS), the Sunni jihadist group in the Middle East.
COMMENTARY A bucket list is a list of the things you want to do before you reach a certain age, or before you die. • Making this trip to Australia is the first thing on my bucket list. The expression is fairly recent (first known use 2006), and comes from the idiom to kick the bucket (= to die). In the cartoon, we can assume that Obama's bucket list is a list of things he wants to do before the end of his presidency in January 2017. The cartoonist seems to be making a comment about Obama's perceived inability to make foreign policy decisions.
More than 1,400 children were sexually abused during a period of over 16 years by gangs of paedophiles after police and council bosses turned a blind eye for fear of being labelled racist, a damning report has concluded. Senior officials were responsible for “blatant” failures that saw victims, some as young as 11, being treated with contempt and categorised as being “out of control” or simply ignored when they asked for help. Full story >>
VOCABULARY If you turn a blind eye (to something), you pretend you do not notice something, because you should do something about it but you do not want to. • We're not supposed to park here, but the authorities usually turn a blind eye.
Alistair Darling has upset the odds after coming out on top in a snap poll carried out minutes after last night's landmark TV referendum debate with Alex Salmond.The surprise outcome - after Mr Salmond was made favourite to triumph in the prime-time encounter - came after the First Minister struggled to answer repeated questions about the possible currency of an independent Scotland. Both sides claimed victory as the audience of 350 people, drawn from equal numbers of Yes and No supporters, drifted away from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow at the end of the most dramatic night yet in the long independence campaign. However, Mr Darling's team appeared more upbeat given the pressure on Mr Salmond to give the trailing Yes campaign a boost as the battle enters its final six weeks. Full story >>
IDIOM When you "draw blood" you make your opponent bleed. Therefore, when you "draw first blood", you hurt your opponent before he hurts you. In which sport does one aim to do this? Boxing, of course! According to some scholars, the idiom "to draw first blood" comes from the world of boxing. The expression is also used metaphorically to mean, "to score a victory over someone". • In the debate, it was the visitors who drew first blood. (source: The Hindu)
BACKGROUND Israel will destroy all of the tunnels that lead from Gaza to southern Israel, with or without a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Israeli troops have destroyed dozens of tunnel branches so far during the 24-day operation in Gaza, Netanyahu said Thursday at the start of a special Cabinet meeting to discuss the security situation. "We are determined to complete this mission with or without a cease-fire, and therefore I will not agree to any proposal that does not allow the IDF to complete this work, which is important for the security of Israel’s citizens," Netanyahu said. The tunnels would have allowed Hamas to kidnap and murder Israeli soldiers and civilians, and to infiltrate Israeli territory to commit terrorist acts, Netanyahu said. adding, "We are destroying that capability now." Read more >>
CARTOON The cartoon by Chappatte from the International New York Times shows Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu waving from a tank and saying, "Tunnels destroyed!" UN Secretary GeneralBan Ki-moon, who is standing nearby with one arm akimbo, adds, "And all bridges to peace too!" In the background we can see the burning ruins of buildings marked "Gaza".
COMMENT The tunnels are real but the bridges are metaphorical ones. Ban Ki-moon is saying that Israel's continuing offensive in Gaza has destroyed any chance of a peace agreement.
IDIOM To build bridges means to improve relationships between people who are very different or do not like each other. A local charity is working to build bridges between different ethnic groups in the area. There's even an organization called Building Bridges for Peace, which promotes peace and conflict resolution throughout the world.
BACKGROUND The death toll in Gaza has topped 1,400, with more than 40 people dying after another day of intense Israeli bombardment from air, sea and land. The toll is now greater than in both previous rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Palestinian officials in Gaza said on Thursday that 8,200 people had been wounded in the four-week operation. Up to 80% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians, according to local non-government organisations and the UN. Three civilians on the Israeli side and 56 soldiers have been killed so far. Read more >>
CARTOON The cartoon by Dave Brown from The Independent uses an English idiom to make a point about the conflict in Gaza. To use 'a sledgehammer to crack a nut' means to use disproportionate force or expense to overcome a minor problem. The cartoon shows a blood-spattered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, which is lying in a pool of blood and, one supposes, represents the Palestinian militant Islamist organisation Hamas. The head of the sledgehammer is in fact a bomb — a reference to the Israeli bombs which have killed so many civilians in Gaza. The title of the cartoon 'Nuts' is an informal word meaning 'crazy', and tells us what the cartoonist thinks about Israel's response to the Hamas rocket attacks, as well as being a play on the idiom represented by the cartoon. The fact that the nut has not been cracked may also be significant.
There are few things more American than a meal at McDonald's — which might be bad news for the restaurant's 418 Russian locations. A Russian consumer protection agency has, in fact, filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s in Russia, believe it or not. The lawsuit alleges its food violates health codes and has too many calories. If successful, McDonald's could have to remove cheeseburgers, milkshakes and the Filet-o-Fish from its menu. But as tensions between the US and Russia escalate, the targeting of a premier American brand is raising eyebrows. NBC said McDonald's "could be the next victim of a proxy war" between the two powers. Full transcript >>
IDIOM AND WORDPLAY Beef is meat from a cow, but it's also an informal word for a complaint. If you have a beef with someone, you’re not sharing a steak, you have a gripe.
BACKGROUND The Commonwealth Games are taking place in Glasgow, running from Wednesday 23 July (which features the opening ceremony) through to Sunday 3 August. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Paul Thomas from the Daily Express shows UK Prime Minister David Cameron and some of his cabinet colleagues watching the high jump event at the Commonwealth Games live on TV. Cameron comments, "If Russia was in the Commonwealth, Putin would be for the high jump ..."
EXPLANATION If you say that someone is (in) for the high jump, you mean that they are going to be punished because they have done something bad or are responsible for something that failed. • She'll be for the high jump when her mother finds out she's been smoking. Cameron is, of course, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin's supposed involvement in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Eastern Ukraine last week.
GRAMMAR Note the use of the second conditional to talk about an unreal possibility. See The English Club for more on this grammar point.
BACKGROUND The United States upped pressure on Vladimir Putin on Sunday over his response to the Malaysia Airlines jet shoot-down in eastern Ukraine, with Secretary of State John Kerry noting on CNN that it was a “moment of truth” for the Russian president. Russia has denied any involvement, and Putin said Ukraine’s military campaign against the rebels was to blame. But Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be "ridiculous" for the international community trust what Putin has said. Full story >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Paul Thomas from the Daily Express shows Russian president Vladimir Putin at his desk in the Kremlin. In front of him there's a sign which says "The Buck Stops Elsewhere". One official comments to another "Putin's in denial ..."
EXPLANATION The cartoonist plays on the expression "The buck stops here", which was popularized by U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who kept a sign with that phrase on his desk in the Oval Office. The phrase refers to the fact that the President has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions. The expression is said to have originated from poker, in which a marker or counter was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the "buck", as the counter came to be called, to the next player. A related idioms is "to pass the buck", which means to attribute responsibilty for one's actions to someone else. Read more >>
VOCABULARY If someone is in denial, they refuse to accept the unpleasant truth about a situation or admit what they are feeling. • I think she's still in denial about his death.