Let’s not beat around the bush here: Americans have a way with words.
The idioms and sayings we’ve collectively coined through the years run the gamut from folksy (“couldn’t hit the side of a barn”), to adorable (“cool as a cucumber”) to mean and adorable (“not the sharpest knife in the drawer”).
There’s also a lot of weirdly body-specific Americanisms. We’ve really got a thing for legs: “That idea has legs,” “Break a leg!” “That cost an arm and a leg.”
A few weeks back, we asked non-Americans to share the phrases specific to American English that get under their skin. To keep things balanced, we asked the same folks to share the Americanisms they instantly loved when they first heard them.
See what they had to say below.
‘Hang In There’
“I love [it] mainly because of the imagery it creates in my mind. I begin to picture myself hanging somewhere until I’m attended to. That’s a bit funny.” ― Firdaus Baig, an Indian tutor who teaches Hindi online
“I find this expression intriguing because I don’t think the concept of having a guilty pleasure even exists in Brazil. I have never heard a Brazilian put those two words together. But now that I know this expression, I can think of many things I do that I could call a guilty pleasure!” ― Virginia Langhammer, a Brazilian who teaches Portuguese and owns the Speaking Brazilian Language School
“I love the word ‘hella.’ It originated in the Bay Area, where my wife is from, and it’s very distinct in San Francisco and neighboring counties. My first impression was that it reminded me of the Australian version of the word ‘heaps.’ We use ‘heaps’ to mean a lot of or very, so ‘hella’ is like the American equivalent! It’s short, concise and to the point, which is what Australian slang is all about.” ― Jules Hatfield, an Australian travel blogger
‘Monday Morning Quarterback’
“This hits me personally because I always have a good answer for every problem everyone has…. after they have solved it.” ― Eli Sousa, a Brazilian who teaches Portuguese
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‘That Idea Has Legs’
“I like it because of the visual of a non-living object having legs. The first time I heard it, I thought it meant the idea was so bad it needed to get out of here, but in fact it means the total opposite! I think it’s really cute.” ― Jihan Fawaz, a Lebanese language instructor who runs the YouTube account Learn Turkish With Jihan
“Once, my students asked me what my favorite English word was, and after a brief but vigorous thinking spurt, I realized that it’s probably ‘squeaky clean.’ I haven’t been able to find a reliable source on the origin of the phrase, but most available sources agree that it is likely American and was probably popularized by some old-timey ads.
The reason I like it is the unexpectedness: We usually determine cleanliness by visual signals. A clean object is usually shining, or clear or bright, but the word ‘squeaky’ makes us hear how clean that object is! Additionally, ‘squeaking’ may well be my favorite onomatopoeic word, which means a word that represents sound. Mice and other small rodents squeak, and I have always liked mice. By the way, several of my students now sign their emails to me with ‘Squeaky clean’ instead of ‘Best regards,’ and it makes the daily trudge through my inbox so much more fun!” ― Irina Zaykovskaya, a lecturer in Russian and linguistics at the University of Minnesota who was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia
‘Have A Nice Day’
“It might seem fake and forced at times, but I really like the sentiment behind ‘Have a nice day.’ I always leave with a smile on my face. And it’s a phrase that is so synonymous with Americans, too.” ― Macca Sherifi, a British travel blogger at An Adventurous World
‘A Piece Of Cake’
“Knowing what this one means comes with two bonuses: First, the phrase reassures me that the situation or problem is not a difficult one. The second bonus is that it gives me the image of chocolate cake in my mind. This phrase is reassuring and yummy at the same time.” ― Olga Grijalva Alvarez, a Mexican travel content creator
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‘Break A Leg’
“My first impression of the phrase was not a very good one. I heard it in the movie ‘High School Musical’ and I was confused. It sounds like something negative but it has a positive and a motivating connotation.” ― Baig
‘You’re Bullshitting Me’ (And Other Instances Of Verbing)
“One of the things I love most about the American language is that we can turn almost any noun into a verb. I just found out that this action has a name: verbing. This is fascinating! Verbing does not exist in my native language (Brazilian Portuguese).
What I like about verbing is that it makes communication easy and to the point. I remember an anecdote from about 10 years ago when I had just moved to NYC. I passed by two young women on the street and overheard one of them saying, ‘They bullshitted me.’ That’s when I realized that any noun could be turned into a verb.” ― Langhammer
‘Take An L’
“I like the phrase ‘Take an L’ for ‘Take a loss.’ It’s an easy way to summarize a crappy situation. For Aussies, shortening things is always our preference, so this phrase is perfect! It’s also a bit more reminiscent of street slang, which is more colloquial, friendly and relaxed.” ― Hatfield
‘Under The Weather’
“I use it every time I’m ill. Especially in work correspondence, it feels like the most professional way to communicate an illness.” ― Ipinmi Akinkugbe, a Nigerian British travel blogger who runs the site Férìnàjò
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‘Rain On My Parade’
“I love it because it’s something all women can identify with and it often comes up on a girls’ coffee date. When I first heard it I loved it. It has a nice ring to it.” ― Fawaz
‘Thoughts And Prayers’ (Used Ironically)
“I love how communities affected by gun violence were able to come together online to notice this beaten-up empty platitude, reveal it as such and then repurpose it. I remember noticing someone doing that on Twitter a few years ago and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s clever!’ and then seeing it more and more often, to the point that it is difficult to use or read this phrase unironically.” ― Zaykovskaya
‘Take A Chill Pill’
“I once worked in an office with American colleagues and a micromanager. Our manager was always super stressed and micromanaging every task we did. One day, one of our colleagues asked this manager to take a chill pill. This was the first time I heard of this expression, and I found it so cool.” ― Sindy Chan, a blogger from Germany (by way of Hong Kong) who recently moved to the U.S.
“I just love the visual behind this one, like, what does this even look like?” ― Mitch Hyde, an Australian travel writer based in Singapore
“I remember reading a book when I saw a phrase like ‘I’m riding shotgun.’ I genuinely thought the guy had a shotgun on him and felt it weird because it didn’t fit the plot. I wrote it down and read on to see whether that would turn out to be something important. When I finished the book, I looked it up on the Internet and giggled. Why would people associate the front seat with a weapon? Is that really a habit, people riding with shotguns?” ― Sousa
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