|achilles heel||This expression refers to a vulnerable area or a weak spot, in an otherwise strong situation, that could cause one’s downfall or failure.|
He’s extremely intelligent, but his inability to speak in public is his Achilles heel.
|alarm bells ringing||If something sets the alarm bells ringing, it makes you begin to worry, because it shows that there may be a problem.|
Alarm bells started to ring when my old neighbour didn’t open his shutters all day and didn’t answer his phone.
|asking for trouble||Someone who is asking for trouble is behaving so stupidly that he/she is likely to have problems.|
Driving fast on these roads is really asking for trouble!
|back to the wall||If you have your back to the wall, you are in serious difficulty.|
With his back to the wall, the supplier had to accept the deal.
|ball and chain||This term refers to a burden or problem that ties you down and prevents you from doing what you want. It can also refer to one’s spouse.|
Our holiday home has become a ball and chain – it’s too much work!
|bane of one’s life||To say that something is the bane of your life means that it is the cause of your problems or your unhappiness.|
The heating system is always breaking down. It’s the bane of my life!
|bite off more than you can chew||If you bite off more than you can chew, you try to do something that is too difficult for you, or more than you can manage.|
As soon as I started to translate the report, I realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew.
|on the blink||If a machine is on the blink, it is not working properly and needs servicing or repair.|
What a nuisance! The photocopier is on the blink again.
|break the back of the beast||If someone breaks the back of the beast, they succeed in overcoming a major difficulty.|
After hours of effort, the technicians finally broke the back of the beast and turned the electricity back on again.
|can of worms||To describe a situation as a can of worms means that it is complicated, unpleasant and difficult to deal with.|
The discovery of the transfer of funds turned out to be a real can of worms.
|carry the can||If you carry the can for another person, you accept blame or take responsibility for something that goes wrong, even if it is not your fault or only partly.|
The author didn’t turn up for the interview and his agent had to carry the can.
|catch 22||A catch 22 situation refers to a frustrating situation where you cannot do one thing without doing a second, and you cannot do the second before doing the first.|
I can’t get a job without a work permit, and I can’t get a work permit without a job. It’s a catch 22 situation!
|chill wind||If you face or feel the chill wind of something, you are beginning to encounter the problems or trouble it causes.|
Many building companies are facing the chill wind of the recession.
|cloud on the horizon||A problem or difficulty that is predictable, or seems likely to arise in the future, is called a cloud on the horizon.|
They are happily married and for the moment there appear to be no clouds on the horizon.
|come to a head||If a problem or difficult situation comes to a head, it reaches a point where action has to be taken.|
The conflict came to a head yesterday when rioting broke out in the streets.
|come hell or high water||If you say that you will do something come hell or high water, you mean that you will do it in spite of the difficulties involved.|
Come hell or high water, I’ve got to be on time for the interview.
|come out in the wash||This expression is used to tell someone not to worry about a mistake or problem because it won’t have any serious effect and everything will work out all right.|
Yes, he was furious when it happened, but don’t worry – it’ll all come out in the wash.
|cross to bear||A person who has a cross to bear have a serious problem or heavy responsibility that they must accept because they cannot change it.|
Alzheimer’s is a cross to bear for the whole family.
|cross that bridge when we come to it||This is another way of saying ‘we will deal with that problem when it occurs and not worry about it before’.|
“What will happen if we can’t repay the loan?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
|crux of the matter||The most vital or main part of a problem is called the crux of the matter.|
The crux of the matter is that he’s too old to live alone in that big house.
|dead man walking||A dead man walking is someone who will inevitably be in great trouble very soon, especially a person who is about to lose their job or position.|
Because of the way he handled the recent riots, the minister is a dead man walking.
|dodge a bullet||If you dodge a bullet, you narrowly avoid a very serious problem or a disaster.|
I dodged a bullet when I missed the plane. It crashed just after take-off.
|elephant in the room||A problem that no one wants to discuss, but is so abvious that it cannot be ignored, is called an elephant in the room.|
Let’s face it, his work is unsatisfactory. It’s an elephant in the room that we need to discuss.
|fat hits the fire||When trouble breaks out, or a situation deteriorates as a result of something said or done, it is said that the fat hits the fire.|
The situation was already tense, but the fat hit the fire when Larry was accused of cheating.
|get to the bottom of||If you get to the bottom of a problem or mystery, you solve it by finding out the true cause of it.|
We have a problem of goods disappearing during transport. Hopefully the investigation will get to the bottom of it.
|go haywire||If something goes haywire, it becomes disorganized or goes out of control.|
The photocopier has gone completely haywire. It’s only printing half of each page!
|go pear-shaped||If a plan or project goes pear-shaped, it either goes wrong or it produces an undesirable result.|
Jane organized a treasure hunt in the park for the kids but it all went pear-shaped and everyone was disappointed.
|go through the mill||If you go through the mill, you experience a very difficult period, or are exposed to rough treatment.|
When I was an intern, I was put through the mill. Nothing went unnoticed.
|when the going gets tough …||This expression means that when faced with a difficult or dangerous situation, strong people take action in order to solve the problem.|
Tom has a positive attitude. He often says ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’.
|grasp/clutch at straws||If you are in a desperate situation and you grasp at straws, you try any method, even if it has little chance of success, in an attempt to find a solution.|
In his search for a cure, he turned to a faith healer, knowing that he was grasping at straws.
|hang out to dry||If you abandon someone who is in difficulty, without giving any assistance or support, you hang them out to dry.|
You’ll get no help from Jack. He’ll hang you out to dry if your plan fails.
|high and dry||If you are left high and dry, you find yourself in a difficult situation without help or resources.|
When her husband walked out on her, Amanda was left high and dry with two kids to raise.
|in dire straits||If a person or organization is in dire straits, they are in a very difficult situation.|
The loss of major contracts has put the company in dire straits.
|in the lurch||If something leaves you in the lurch, it leaves you in a difficult or embarrassing situation.|
When Paul missed the last bus, he was left in the lurch.
|in over your head||If you are in over your head, you are involved in something that is too difficult for you to handle.|
I accepted to organize the festival, but I quickly realized that I was in over my head.
|juggle frogs||A person who is juggling frogs is trying to deal with many different tasks at the tame time and finding the situation difficult.|
I’ve got so many things to do at the moment, I feel like I’m juggling frogs!
|last resort||To say that you would so something as a last resort means that it is the last thing you would do if you were desperate and all other courses of action had failed.|
I still haven’t found a hotel for the night; I can always sleep in the car as
a last resort!
|(see) light at end of tunnel||If you see light at the end of the tunnnel, you see signs of hope for the future after a long period of difficulty.|
Sales dropped heavily last year but we’re beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.
|millstone around your neck||Something described as a millstone around your neck refers to a problem or responsibility that becomes a burden and a source of worry.|
The money he borrowed became a millstone around his neck.
|be murder||If something is murder, it is very difficult or uncomfortable.|
The journey home through the storm was absolute murder!
|necessary evil||If you say that something is a necessary evil, you don’t like it but you understand that it has to exist and be accepted.|
Vaccinations are a necessary evil if you want to travel.
|one’s number is up||To say that one’s number is up means that either a person is in serious difficulty and something bad is going to happen, or the time has come when they will die.|
The police have located the escaped prisoner so it looks as if his number is up!
|ostrich strategy/politics||Someone who adopts an ostrich strategy or policy chooses to ignore or evade an obvious problem in the hope that it will resolve itself or disappear.|
Adopting an ostrich strategy will only make matters worse – we’ve got to find a solution.
|out of sync||If two movements or actions are out of sync, they are not coordinated and are not taking place at the same time or at the same speed.|
The traffic lights are out of sync and causing a lot of confusion.
|out of whack||If something is out of whack, it is not working properly or is not in good order.|
The dishwasher is making a funny noise. Something must be out of whack.
|paper over the cracks||To say that someone is papering over the cracks means that they are concealing a problem rather than dealing with it effectively.|
The measures taken to reduce unemployment are just paper over the cracks.
|pass the buck||If you say that someone is passing the buck, you are accusing them of not taking responsibility for a problem and letting others deal with it instead.|
Whenever a customer comes to complain, she always finds a way of looking busy – a great way of passing the buck!
|in a pickle||If you are in a pickle, you are in a difficult situation and need help.|
My car won’t start and the trains are on strike today, so I’m in a real pickle!
|(no) quick fix||To say that there is no quick fix to a problem means that there is no simple solution.|
There is no quick fix for unemployment; major reforms are necessary.
|put on a brave face||When confronted with difficulties, if you put on a brave face, you try to look cheerful and pretend that the situation is not as bad as it is.|
Even in the worst of times she put on a brave face.
|saved by the bell||If you are saved by the bell, something happens at the last minute to rescue you from a difficult situation.|
Saved by the bell! A friend arrived just when I realized I had no money for the parking meter.
|scratch the surface||When you only scratch the surface of a problem or subject, you deal with only a small part of it.|
Some countries are only scratching the surface of their environment problems.
|where the shoepinches||When people talk about ‘where the shoe pinches’, they are referring to an area that is often a source of problems or difficulties.|
She’s sure the public transport system works perfectly, but she’ll find out where the shoe pinches when she starts using it!
|put a spanner in the works||To put a spanner in the works (or throw a (monkey) wrench) means to cause problems and prevent something from happening as planned.|
A new motorway was planned but a group of ecologists managed to put a spanner in the works.
|spell trouble||If something spells trouble, it signifies possible problems in the future.|
The prolonged cold weather spells trouble for this year’s harvest.
|spiral out of control||When difficulties or costs spiral out of control, they get worse or increase continuously, creating a situation that becomes difficult to manage.|
Some items were expensive but we were careful not to let the costs spiral out of control.
|on a sticky wicket||If you find yourself on a sticky wicket, you are in a situation that is difficult to deal with.|
They’ve refused to sign the contract so we’re on a sticky wicket now!
|stir up a hornet’s nest||If you stir up a hornet’s nest, you do something which causes a commotion and provokes criticism and anger.|
His letter to the Board stirred up a real hornet’s nest.
|stop the rot||When you prevent a situation from deteriorating, especially in business or politics, you stop the rot.|
There was so much conflict in the office that a new manager was appointed to stop the rot.
|stumbling block||A problem or obstacle that prevents you from achieving something isa stumbling block.|
My father adapted quite well but the language was always a stumbling block for my mother.
|take the bull by the horns||To take the bull by the horns means that a person decides to act decisively in order to deal with a difficult situation or problem.|
When the argument turned into a fight, the bar owner took the bull by the horns and called the police.
|take the easy way out||If you take the easy way out, you choose the easiest way to deal with a difficult situation, even if it is not the best solution.|
The weather conditions were so bad that Mary took the easy way out and cancelled her appointment.
|tar baby||This term refers to a sticky situation or problem for which it is virtually impossible to find a solution.|
He was advised not to get involved in the controversy which was considered a ‘tar-baby’ issue.
|teething problems||The difficulties encountered during the initial stage of an activity or project are called teething problems.|
We had some teething problems when we first opened the bookshop, but now everything is okay.
|thorny issue||If you are faced with a thorny issue, you have to deal with a difficult or unpleasant problem.|
Copyright and content duplication are thorny issues these days.
|throw money at||If you throw money at something, you try to solve a problem by spending money on it, without using any other methods.|
The refugee problem cannot be solved just by throwing money at it!
|throw it over the wall||If someone throws something over the wall, they deal with part of a problem or project, then pass the responsibility to another person or department without any communication or coordination.|
You can’t just manufacture a product then throw it over the wall to the sales department!
|tide over||If you tide someone over, you support them through a difficult period for a certain length of time.|
With this weather it’s impossible to get to the shops, but we have enough food to tide us over until next week.
|tight spot||Someone who is in a tight spot is in a very difficult situation.|
The recent strike has put the airline company in a tight spot.
|tip of the iceberg||The tip of the iceberg is the part that is known of a problem or situation which is thought to be much more serious.|
Journalists say that the report on corruption only examines the tip of the iceberg.
|trilemma||This term is used for a situation which is even more difficult than a dilemma, because a choice must be made between three options that seem equally undesirable.|
|twist in the wind||If someone is left to twist in the wind, they are left to face a difficult situation without any assistance or support.|
He walked out of the press conference and left his agent twisting in the wind.
|unmitigated disaster||An unmitigated disaster is a complete failure or a total catastrophe.|
The organization of the tournament was an unmitigated disaster!
|uphill battle||A person faced with an uphill battle has to struggle against very unfavourable circumstances.|
After the terrible accident, his recovery was an uphill battle all the way.
|vicious circle||When the solution to a problem creates another problem similar to the original, or makes it worse, so that the process starts all over again, the situation is called a vicious circle.|
I borrowed money to reimburse Paul. Now I’ve got to reimburse the bank, with interest. It’s a vicious circle.
|wave a dead chicken||When faced with a serious problem, if you take steps that you know in advance will be futile, to show that you made an effort, you wave a dead chicken.|
The TV set was permanently damaged, but the technician decided to wave a dead chicken to satisfy the old lady before announcing the bad news.
|wheels fall off||When a situation gets out of control and everything starts to go wrong,the wheels fall off.|
The wheels fell off her career when she started taking drugs and cancelling concerts.
|without a hitch||If something happens without a hitch, it takes place exactly as planned, without any difficulties.|
The ceremony went off without a hitch, to our great relief!
|work cut out for you||If you have to face a difficult task or a challenging situation, you have your work cut out for you.|
I’ve got a month to reorganize the accounts department. I have my work cut out for me!
|yoke around neck||An obligation, commitment or restraint that becomes an oppressive burden is called a yoke around one’s neck.|
When John lost his job, the repayments on the house became a yoke around his neck.