The Last Straw that Broke the Camel´s Back

“La gota que derramó el vaso

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  • Meaning

This idiom, which is usually shortened for “this was the last Straw…”, means that someone, who is usually a resistant person, has reached the limit of their endurance and collapses or breaks into a mad streak.

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  • Origin

Being the original 1677 expression, “the last feather that broke the horse´s back”, this expression was originally intended to mean that cargo animals which are well known for having a high limit of endurance, would get their backs broken if even a tiny light thing as an extra feather  was added. It was Charles Dickens who, in the 1800´s changed this expression into “The Straw that broke the camel´s back”. If any person who is well known for having a really high endurance, is burden with more and more trouble or stress, that person would finally collapse.

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  • Example

After being bullied for some months, Johnny decided to take Tae Kwon Do classes where he was taught that violence was never a resource to resort to. One day, while being bullied, he mentally repeated his mantra “The wise man never resorts to violence.” But after a while, he just shouted, “Enough is enough, This is the last straw that broke the camel´s back,” and started kicking everybody until they beeged for piety!

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Sink or Swim

“Hacerla o morir en el intento

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  • Meaning

To fail or succeed in one enterprise by your own effort without the help of anybody else, all by ourselves.

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  • Origin

Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the most famous English poets, used the expression “float or swim” in his writings. In medieval times, women who were suspected to be witches were thrown into deep waters. If they drowned and died, they were considered innocent but if they floated, people thought they were being helped by the devil and they were burned guilty of withcraft. In modern times, we say that when we take a new venture, we have to options: Whether we can succeed or fail. If we succeed, it is like swimming. If we fail, it is like sinking.

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  • Example

I have to take my graduation test next week. I have studied quite a lot. I think I am ready to take the exam but it is going to be so difficult that nothing guarantees I still can make it. It is a matter of sink or swim.

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A Stuffed Shirt

“Ser un creído/ ser un mam…

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  • Meaning

An arrogant person who shows off in order to let others know of their grandiosity, someone who is full-of-her/himself

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  • Origin

William Shakespeare used the expression “A stuffed person” to mean that someone was so full of themselves that people around felt irrated with their boastful arrogant manners. In the 1900´s, with the advent of men´s modern shirt and the use of starch in order to keep them straight up and being them a common garment of  well-to-do men,  it was suggested that a person who showed a fake show-off attitude was as stuffed as a shirt.

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  • Example

-When our business teacher was speaking about successful enterprises, he told us that his own company was so successful that he usually spent between $4,000 and $5,000 pesos everyday in restaurants.

-Did he really say so?

-Yeah! Isn´t it such a wonderful thing to do? Just imagine that you could live up to his standards!

-What I cannot accept is that you had believed that bunch of balloney. Have you seen his car?

-He drives a standard sedan 2010 model. But he says it is just for security reasons.

-Don´t you just get it? He is faking. He is just pretending. He is just a stuffed shirt.

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A White Elephant

“Elefante blanco

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  • Meaning

We use this expression to refer to any monument or building that costs a fortune but in the end it becomes useless whether it is because it does not represent what it was meant to or because it does nt work in the way it was intended to.

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  • Origin

In ancient Siam, there was a legend of a man, who belong to the court of a King, who once received a White elephant as a King. Poeple rumored the King had done so in order to affect him but the man felt so flattered because a White elephant was considered a deity, an honor, a prized possession to take well care of. Taking care of the elephant turned out to be so expensive that the man went from being rich into becoming penniless. This expression, which was first used in the 1800’s, refers to any construction or feat in which lots of money were invested but that in the end turned out to be of no use at all.

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  • Example

President Felipe Calderon ordered the construction of a magnificient monument to celebrate the second century of Mexico´s Independence and, at the same time, the first century of its Revolution War. This monument was intended to be one of the most spectacular sights in our city but in the end it turned out to be something nobody understood. The “Estela de Luz” was ridiculed by people who compared it with a long cookie and they called it “The Suavicrema”. The “Suavicrema” is one of Mexico´s most famous white elephants.

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Touch something/someone with a ten-foot pole

“De lejitos / con pincitas

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  • Meaning

To avoid contact with somebody or someone. To stay far from someone or something at all cost.

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  • Origin

This idiom was coined by a writer who wanted to emphasize the fact that there are situations or persons you prefer to stay far from because they might be dangerous, disgusting, or simply make you feel uncomfortable. If you saw alion lying on the ground, how would you know that it is dead or just sleeping? If it were dead, you wouldn´t be in danger. But how could you know? Maybe by using a ten-foot pole you might move the lion and check. If it wakes up, you still have time to run away. A similar expression is “Like a pest”.

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  • Example

When interviewed about the famous bite Luis Suarez gave him, Giorgio Chiellini joked and said that next time he played versus him, he wouldn´t touch him even with a ten-foot pole!

 

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Water over the dam

“Eso es historia /

Ya lo pasado, pasado

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  • Meaning

Things that belong to the past cannot possibly be changed. We can think about them, learn from them, reflect about them, but never change them.

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  • Origin

The idea behind this expression is simple. When water flows, as in a river,  it cannot go back just by a mere wish. We use this expression to refer to thing that have an irreversible outcome. Even so, we can use the third conditional to think about them, and to learn a moral from them, but we cannot go back to the past and change the situation. A similar expression to this one is, “water under the bridge.”

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  • Example

Mom: Ok, hun. You are a teenager, you are single, you don´t have a fiancé and wow, we know you are pregnant. What are we going to do?

Girl: Oh, mom! I wish I could go back in time and refused to have gone to that lousy party.

Mom: Bla, bla, bla… That is water over the dam. Set your feet on the ground.  What are we going to do?

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Wheel and deal

“Pactar un negocio, cerrar un trato

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  • Meaning

To be involved in important negotiations so as to make lots of money or to get lots of benefits out of a big business.

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  • Origin

Speaking purely about business, we can say that money is the Wheel that makes the world move.  Then if you are an important businessman, you will be dubbed as a big Wheel. In fact, big gamblers at casinos who usually played and bet at the roulette called this artifact the Big Wheel and as a consequence they were called wheelers in return. In the gangsters’ world Wheel and Deal is to do big business associated to crime.

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  • Example

As seen in the TV show Animaniacs…

Pinky: What are we going to do tonight Brain?

The Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky, to wheel and deal to take over the world!

wheel and deal3

A watched pot never boils

“El que espera, desespera

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  • Meaning

There are times when we are anxiously waiting for something to happen. However, the more we wait, the less it happens. Finally, when you decide not to care at all, it occurs.

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  • Origin

Let us picture ourselves watching a pot which is on the stove because we want to enjoy a delicious coffee. We are there, anxiously waiting for the water to boil, but it seems that water is taking forever to get hot enough for us to brew that delicious coffee we are yearning for. The moral of this idiom is that if we want things to happen, we have to relax, keep our lives going and things will come to us when they have to, not when we want them to. Stress and rush are not good advisors.

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  • Example  

My students are watching me write this idiom while they are waiting for me to continue with their class. I feel their eyes stabbing on my back as if with their sight they could speed me up to finish son. I just gently turn around and tell them, “A watched pot never boils!”

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What is good for the goose is good for the gander

“Lo que es bueno para la vaca, es bueno para el becerro

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  • Meaning

What is good for one person is good for the other, but much more especially for your couple since they share a life project in common.

 

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  • Origin

First of all, let us analyze the words goose and gander. A goose is a large bird which looks like a big duck. By saying goose, we normally refer to all the species but it is important to know that in a more scientific way, goose is the term that refers to the female and gander is the one used for the male. Nowadays, and going beyond the sex battle, we might say that what is good for the wife is good for the husband. Extending the meaning, we can safely say that what is good for one member of a group is good for the others.

 

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  • Example

Wife: What are you supposed to be doing?

Husband: I am taking cough syrup. I have just developed a terrible cough

Wife: But this is not yours. It´s our son´s syrup. Go to the doctor to be prescribed.

Husband: Why spending money unnecessarily? What´s good for the goose is good for the gander.

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Wash your Hands of Something

“Lavarse las manos

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  • Meaning

Not to accept a responsibility, to withdraw from an association, to get cold feet, or not to accept to be involved in a situation

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  • Origin

We all are familiar with the biblical passage in which Pontius Pilate announced the excited angry mob that he did not want to take any further responsibility about Jesuschrist’s execution. He mentioned he did not approve on that but that he would not stop the crowd´s will, sealing his decision by washing his hands in front of them all. Nowadays, when we accept no further liability on something, we simply say that we wash our hands.

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  • Example

The governor addressed the citizens last night on TV about the referendum that allowed the state to execute murderers and kidnappers.

The governor, who has always been a democrat and a compassionate human being, raised his voice against this resolution and he also said that he would just wash his hands of this atrocity that violated human rights.

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