Vocabulary Quiz #5: Idiomatic Expressions

By Mark Nichol

Revise these sentences so that the idiomatic expressions are rendered correctly.

1. He said he’d touch bases with me tomorrow.

2. I remember how I used to wile away the hours during summer vacation.

3. She awaited the news with baited breath.

4. We found ourselves in dire straights.

5. The gophers are wrecking havoc with my garden.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: He said he’d touch bases with me tomorrow.
Correct : He said he’d touch base with me tomorrow.

The other person is touching just one base — that of the person he is contacting.

2.
Original: I remember how I used to wile away the hours during summer vacation.
Correct : I remember how I used to while away the hours during summer vacation.

The expression “while away” refers to passage of time, not to trickery, which is the meaning of wile.

3.
Original: She awaited the news with baited breath.
Correct : She awaited the news with bated breath.

One’s breath is not baited, as if set up to be caught; it is bated (the word is a shortened form of abated), meaning “restrained.”

4.
Original: We found ourselves in dire straights.
Correct : We found ourselves in dire straits.

The expression “dire straits” refers to difficulty, not an undeviating line.

5.
Original: The gophers are wrecking havoc with my garden.
Correct : The gophers are wreaking havoc with my garden.

Although havoc can involve wreckage, havoc is not wrecked; it’s wreaked, or caused.

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4 Responses to “Vocabulary Quiz #5: Idiomatic Expressions”

  • Kathy Steinemann

    A few more:

    “Could care less” should be “couldn’t care less.”
    “Irregardless” should be “regardless.”
    “Make due” should be “make do.”
    “Free reign” should be “free rein.”
    “Should of” should be “should have.”

  • D.A.W.

    “Home in on”, etc., come from the days of the carrier pigeon and the homing pigeon.
    In what was probably a case of “reverse acronym making”, the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and many allied armed forces had/have a missile (a SAM) named the HAWK = “Homing All-the-Way Killer” – or simply the Hawk missile.
    In the case of the HAWK, the homing mechanism involved the use of radar. In the case of the Sidewinder missile, the homing mechanism involved electronics to detect the infrared waves coming from hostile aircraft.
    Over the decades, Sidewinders have armed an astonishing variety of warplanes: a) more fighter planes than we can remember, b) attack planes like the A-7 Corsair II, and the AV-8 Sea Harrier of the Royal Navy, c) attack helicopters like the AH-64 Apache (for self-defense against fighter planes), and d) patrol planes like the P-3 Orion and the P-8 Poseidon (for self-defense against enemy stalkers). There has been an Army version of the Sidewinder, called the Chaparral system (long gone now), and a navy version for the Chinese navy called the “Sea Chaparral” (long gone now in favor of more advanced SAMs).
    D.A.W.

  • D.A.W.

    “In other words”, and not “another words”, or “another word’s”.
    Also, we have mentioned this one before: “A tough ROW to HOE” (as in farming & gardening), and not “A tough role to know”, “A tough roe to sow”, “A tough rope to tow”, “A tough roll to tow”, or anything else.

    “Toe the line, and then go heave-ho on the tow.”
    This sounds like boot camp in the Navy, the Marines, or the Coast Guard!

  • venqax

    And lines are toed, not towed
    Anchors are aweigh, not away
    You don’t have another thing coming, just another think
    There is sleight, not slight, of hand
    Your interest is piqued, not peaked
    You home-in on something, don’t hone it
    Rein can be had free, not reign
    There are cardsharps, not sharks
    It’s a shoo-in, not a shoe
    Much about nothing is ado, not adieu

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