Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and Cultural References

Give a heads up • Got away from me • Switch gears • Get a shot • A jab

Hello, everyone! I have to start today’s newsletter with an apology. I haven’t published in two weeks. During the first week, I was on vacation. That was planned, but I should have given you a heads up. As for last week, it just got away from me. I hope you’ll forgive me. After all, “to err is human; to forgive divine.” 😅



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You might have noticed that there were a few English idioms right there in my apology! Let’s get started.

First, “to give a heads up” - When we give a heads up, we are warning someone of something. Imagine a person is looking down at the ground, and you see a ball flying through the air. You can shout “heads up!” to tell them to look out for the ball. We do the same thing figuratively. We don’t want people to be surprised and angry about some upcoming event or change of plans, so we warn them about it. We give them a heads up.

Next, “got away from me” - When a time period “gets away from you”, it means that you became very busy with things to do, and therefore, you couldn’t complete some task or project. It’s as if time is an animal that you can’t grab or capture. When it escapes, it gets away from you. In this case, last week became very busy for me, and I was unable to publish the newsletter. The week “got away from me”.

Finally, “to err is human; to forgive, divine.” - I’ve covered this famous saying in a previous post. It means we all make mistakes, so please, be merciful - like a god - and forgive me!

Oh, by the way, notice that I called the one week a “vacation”. That’s American English. In British English it’s called a “holiday”.


Let me switch gears to talk about an important phrase in today’s world - to get a shot.

Everyone is very focused on coronavirus vaccines right now. One dose of the vaccine is also called “a shot” of the vaccine. When you have a dose injected into your arm, it’s called “getting a shot”.

Note something important here - you need the letter “a” before shot. Don’t say, “I got shot.” That means something very different! It means someone fired a gun at you, and you were hit by a bullet!

Also note that the verb for shots is “to get”, not “to take”. You get a shot of vaccine. You don’t take it. However, you do take medicine. For example, if you swallow a pill for a headache, you are taking medicine.

Finally, note that “a shot” is how we say it in American English. In British English, it’s called “a jab”.

Oh, and what about “to switch gears”? That’s means that you want to change the subject. You want to talk about something else. It comes from cars. Cars switch gears to move at different speeds. How that came to mean changing the subject, I just don’t know. 🤔😁


Mapping human emotions

One of my favorite websites is Visual Capitalist. It creates many wonderful images that illustrate complex topics and makes them easier to understand. Recently I found one related to language. It’s a visual guide to human emotion. Enjoy exploring it!


Thanks for being part of Winning English! Remember to like and comment on the post, and as always, if you like what you see, please tell a friend. Thanks, and talk soon!

Bill