The summer holidays are drawing to a close, which means it’s almost time for the kids to go back to school.
It seems fitting, therefore, to take a look at education-related idioms as the next in my series.
As is the case with all idioms, school idioms are an integral part of the English language. Although many of these sayings use words like “learn” and “teach”, few of them actually have anything to do with learning, studying or schooling.
In fact, the majority of these school idioms are used by native speakers outside of the classroom, primarily in a business context.
A-Z of school idioms
A for effort = recognition that someone has tried hard, even if not very successfully
As easy as ABC = very simple and uncomplicated
Be a swot = a student ridiculed for studying excessively
Bookworm = someone who reads or studies a lot
Can’t teach an old dog new tricks = the older you are, the more set in your ways you become
Copycat = someone who copies the words or actions of someone else
Know one’s ABCs = know the most basic things about something
Learn something off by heart = memorising something completely
Learn the hard way = have a bad experience
Learn the ropes = learn how to do a job
Learn your lesson = suffer a bad experience and know not to do it again
Live and learn = to learn as you grow older and gain experience
Make the grade = be satisfactory and of an expected level
Old school = ideas that were popular in the past but which are no longer popular or common
Pass with flying colours = pass a test or complete something easily, with a high score
Pull an all nighter = study throughout the night
Put one’s thinking cap on = think in a serious manner
Saved by the bell = rescued from a difficult situation in the nick of time
School of hard knocks = way of learning valuable lessons in life through practical experience, not through books
School of thought = a particular way of thinking, living, or acting
Skip class/cut class = choosing not to go to school; playing truant
Teach one’s grandmother to suck eggs = giving advice to someone about a subject that they know more about than you do
Teach someone a lesson = doing something to someone, usually to punish them
Teacher’s pet = the teacher’s favourite student
Tell tales out of school = tell secrets or spread rumours
University of life = daily life and work where you learn more than from going to university
Delving a bit deeper
To blot your copybook means to make a mistake that will be noted and remembered. The expression harks back to Victorian times when older schoolchildren would practise handwriting in a ruled line book – called the copybook – using a dip pen and ink from an inkwell. The first line was printed, or copied carefully from the blackboard, and then the pupil filled the entire page with identical lines. Any mistakes, e.g. splodges or ‘blots’ of ink, stood out glaringly, hence the origin of the phrase.
There are plenty more school-related idioms. Are there any others that you can think of to add to this list?