English-Learners’ Dictionary Delivers in Explaining Idioms

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 06, 2008 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Merriam-Webster’s Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary had been released. It delivers on a promise contained in its promotional materials that it would describe a great deal of English idioms.

It lists and explains, for example, 23 English idioms that use the word “hell,” none of which, by the way, would have been considered acceptable in the English-speaking household I grew up in, where we generally didn’t use emphatic language at all. But if you are learning English and want to understand other folks, you have to know what these words, mean, right?

Here are a few excerpts from the “hell” list.

come hell or high water--informal--used to say that something will definitely happen or be done even though other events or situations might make it difficult. I will be there on time, come hell or high water. go to hell in a handbasket--see handbasket when hell freezes over--informal + impolite--used to say that you think that something will never happen. I'll apologize when hell freezes over. [=I'll never apologize]

OK, I acknowledge I fished for something a bit sensational to get you to read a blog entry about a dictionary.

The 1,994-page volume contains plenty of other idioms used in non-emphatic conversation. It has an accompanying Web site with a blog, pronunciation exercises, and other tools that might be useful for teaching ELLs.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.