Echarle leña al fuego
To make a bad situation worse by saying o doing something that does not help to fix the situation but instead, it just helps to make the problem bigger.
Livy, a famous Roman writer was the first to use this expression. The logics behind this expression is simple: If you pour water on a fire, this will go out. However, if instead of water, you pour fuel (e.g. coal, wood, oil, petrol, gas, etc) on that fire, the only thing you will get is to make that combustion brighter and hotter. If we speak in a metaphorical way and we correlate fire with a problem, then we can say that anything that makes that piece of trouble worse is “fuel”. A synonym to this expression is “To fan the flames.”
- How to use it:
John: “Why are you so serious, Mike?”
Mike: “My girlfriend is really mad because I forgot that yesterday was her birthday.”
John: “Did she ask you why you didn´t go to see her?”
Mike: “Yeah, and trying to make her happy I told her that I was taking Tango lessons with Caroline because I know that she would like me to invite to dance together one day.”
John: “Did she feel much better then?”
Mike: “Oh no, she got really mad because according to her, Caroline has a crush on me. But I didn´t know anything about that.”
John: “So, she was angry because you forgot her birthday and then you made the problem worse by telling her you spent the day dancing Tango with Caroline.”
Mike: “Yeah. I wanted to give her a surprise and I just added fuel to the fire.”
El Talón de Aquiles
The vulnerable spot that a person has. A weakness someone who is normally strong has.
Homer, famous Greek poet, wrote the Iliad. This is the famous story concerning the Trojan War. In it, Achilles who was the greatest hero and warrior had only one weak spot: his heel. As the story goes, Achilles´mother wanted him to be an invincible warrior. In order to get this aim, she took her baby to a magic river, River Styx. Whatever part of the body that its enchanted fluids touched became invulnerable. Since Achilles´mother was holding him by the heel, this particular spot reamined uncovered and unprotected consequently. In the end of the story, Achilles got killed by a poisoned arrow that hit his heel.
- How to use it:
Student A: “Isn´t Mike the best athlete at school? Nobody can defeat him in any competition.”
Student B: “Yeah, you are right. It´s a shame that he was expelled from the college´s team by the coach because he started a fight in the dressing rooms.”
Student A: “Unfortunately, his rude behavior has always caused him trouble. No doubt that getting along with others is Mike´s Achilles´ heel!”
El As Bajo la Manga
To have a secret advantage that will later make you come out victorious.
The origin of this idiom goes back to the 1500´s when most people didn´t have any pockets in their clothes. As a consequence of this, they had to carry their belongings under their sleeves. Some time later, following this ancient tradition of carrying your possessions in the sleeves, magicians kept doing the same so as to trick their audiences in amusement. During the 19th century, dishonest card players kept winning cards in their sleeves covertly to inadvertedly pull them out when there was a chance to win.
Player: ” Coach, do something. We are losing the game and I don´t see how we can turn the table in our favor.”
Coach: “There is no need to worry. I have an ace up my sleeve. Hey, Messi, come over here. We need your help! You´ll play with us!”
Player: “Wow! This is what I call a real ace up your sleeve!”
Adapted from: Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms by Marvin Terban, Scholastic Preference, New York.