Some idioms about communication you probably know already.
Keep in touch? Get the message? Those are fairly common idioms that you’ve probably heard before.
But what about butter someone up or get a word in edgewise? These are less common and may be new to you.
Here are 40+ idiomatic expressions for talking about communication. How many do you know?
When you’re finished reading the article, try the practice exercise.
to be like talking to a brick wall
If talking to someone is like talking to a brick wall, it means the person is not listening to anything you are saying.
“I tried to get my son to tell me about his new girlfriend, but it was like talking to a brick wall.”
“You never listen to me when you’re watching football. It’s like talking to a brick wall!”
to beat a dead horse
If you beat a dead horse, it means you (a) continue to talk about something that has already been discussed or decided on, or (b) waste your time on something that is never going to happen. Another (less common) variation of the idiom is flogging a dead horse.
“I think the prosecution has more than enough evidence for a conviction already. Calling more witnesses to the stand is just beating a dead horse.” (the first definition)
“The police know the suspect won’t talk. Interrogating him would just be beating a dead horse.” (the second definition)
to beat around the bush
If you beat around the bush, you avoid or delay talking about a subject directly.
“Stop beating around the bush and answer my question.”
“My boss gives direct criticism. She doesn’t beat around the bush at all.”
beside the point
If something is beside the point, it means it is irrelevant or off topic.
“What you think about the new product line is beside the point. What matters is that our customers like it.”
“The fact that you got a good grade in the class is beside the point. You cheated, and that’s not acceptable.”
to bite one’s tongue
If you bite your tongue, you stop yourself from saying something that will likely get you in trouble.
“It’s usually best to bite your tongue instead of getting into political conversations at work.”
“I had to bite my tongue to keep my sarcastic comment from coming out.”
to bring someone up to speed
If you bring someone up to speed, you provide someone with the latest information on a certain subject.
“After my week off, I met with my boss so she could bring me up to speed.”
“Since you missed a few classes, see if one of your classmates can go over their notes with you and bring you up to speed.”
The bottom line is the most important fact to consider.
“The bottom line is that you need to be putting aside some money for retirement.”
“Here’s the bottom line: Human Resources exists to protect the company from you, not the other way around. Just remember that when you talk to them.”
to butter someone up
If you butter someone up, you flatter that person (usually because you want something from that person).
“My years in sales taught me it’s better to butter people up before asking for something.”
“Are you just trying to butter me up, or do you really think it looks like I’ve lost weight?”
to call someone’s bluff
If you call someone’s bluff, you challenge someone to do something that they threatened to do.
“My boss told me I’d be fired if I didn’t work this Saturday. I’m going to call his bluff and call out sick.”
“It’s such an empty threat. We should call her bluff.”
to clear the air
If you clear the air, you make a situation less tense by speaking openly and honestly.
“I think an honest apology will help clear the air.”
“Ignoring the issue isn’t going to make it go away. You need to talk about it and clear the air.”
to drop someone a line
If you drop someone a line, you write someone a letter or email.
“Drop me a line if you’re ever in Los Angeles. We’ll get a drink.”
“I’ve been meaning to drop my friend Marty a line. I haven’t heard from him in years.”
to get a hold of someone
If you get a hold of someone, you find and speak with that person, usually by telephone.
“Let me give you my wife’s phone number too in case you can’t get a hold of me.”
“If you call their customer service number, you can actually get a hold of a real person. Isn’t that great.”
A variation of this idiom is to get hold of someone.
to get a word in edgewise
If you get a word in edgewise, it means you contribute to a conversation with difficulty because the other people are talking without pausing. We often use this expression is the negative, e.g. “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”
“I grew up with six sisters. It was hard to get a word in edgewise around the dinner table.”
“I went out to dinner with a large group of native English speakers. It was fun, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”
to get down to business
If you get down to business, you start talking about what needs to be discussed.
“Well, shall we get down to business and discuss the proposal?”
“In your country, do people make a lot of small talk at meetings before they get down to business?”
to get something off one’s chest
If you get something off your chest, you confess something or criticize/complain about something or someone.
“There’s something I have to get off my chest. How come you didn’t invite me to your wedding?”
“On my last day at work, I’m going to get some things off my chest. It’ll be good to tell people how I really feel.”
to get the message
If you get the message, you are able to infer what someone is trying to communicate to you.
“When she didn’t respond to my texts, I got the message. She wasn’t interested.”
“I saw the look on his face, and I got the message that he wanted to be left alone.”
to get to the point
If you get to the point, you arrive at the most important point of what you want to to say. A variation of this expression is come to the point.
“In some cultures, people communicate directly and like to get to the point fairly quickly.”
“I was in my supervisor’s office for twenty minutes before he finally got to the point and told me why he wanted to speak with me.”
to get one’s wires crossed
If you get your wires crossed with someone, you have a misunderstanding with your listener—you understand one thing, and your listener understands another.
“I thought we had agreed to meet at 8:30, but my friend thought it was 9:30. We got our wires crossed.
“I think we got our wires crossed. That story wasn’t about Bryan, it was about Brett.”
in the loop (opposite = out of the loop)
If you are in the loop, you are aware of information that only a few people know about.
“All my friends talk about is Game of Thrones, and I’ve never seen it. I feel so out of the loop.”
“I’ve tried to befriend my boss so that I can be in the loop on what’s happening with the company.”
to keep in mind
If you keep something in mind, you are aware of it and consider it. A variation of this expression is to bear in mind.
“Please keep in mind that there will be a lot of traffic tonight because of the football game.”
“When choosing between two words in English, keep in mind that most synonyms have subtle differences that you should be aware of.”
to keep/stay in touch
If you keep in touch with someone, you maintain contact with that person.
“Do you keep in touch with many of your friends from high school?”
“I use LinkedIn to keep in touch with old coworkers and other professional contacts.”
to keep someone posted
If you keep someone posted, you provide that person with updated information about a certain topic.
“My daughter’s teacher is very good at keeping us posted on her progress at school”
“I’m glad your mother’s surgery went well. Please keep me posted on how she’s doing.”
to keep something under one’s hat
If you keep something under your hat, you keep a secret. We often use this expression in the imperative.
“Not many people know I’m pregnant right now, so keep it under you hat.”
“Management is going to lay some people off. Keep it under your hat, though. No one is supposed to know.”
on the same page
If you are on the same page with someone, the two of you are in agreement about something.
“Teams play well when their star players are on the same page with their coaches.”
“Parents must be on the same page when it comes to disciplining their children.”
on one’s mind
If something is on your mind, it means that you are thinking about that thing.
“Our English teacher gives us a few minutes at the end of each class to talk about what’s on our mind.”
“I can tell something is on your mind. Tell me about it.”
to play phone tag
If you play phone tag with someone, you and the other person repeatedly call each other and get each other’s voicemail.
“I’ve been playing phone tag with my best friend. We’re both lawyers, and are often in court and unable to answer the phone.”
“Kate hasn’t gotten a hold of her mother yet today. They’ve been playing phone tag.”
to pull someone’s leg
If you pull someone’s leg, you playfully try to get that person to believe something that isn’t true.
“Are you pulling my leg, or did you really meet Christian Bale?”
“I’m just pulling your leg. There weren’t really sharks swimming in the streets of Miami after the hurricane.”
to put someone on the spot
If you put someone on the spot, you make that person spontaneously answer a difficult question.
“One of my students always puts me on the spot by asking difficult grammar questions.”
“You should get the interview questions in advance. You don’t want the interviewer to put you on the spot.”
to put it in a nutshell
If you put something in a nutshell, you give a concise summary of what something is.
“In a nutshell, the documentary is about how Americans are more polarized than ever when it comes to politics.”
“In a nutshell, high school was an awkward time in my life.”
to put your foot in your mouth
If you put your foot in your mouth, you say something you regret which causes someone else to feel bad.
“I asked her how her cat was, not knowing that it had just died. I really put my foot in my mouth.”
“I once asked a woman when her baby was due, and she wasn’t pregnant. I’ll never put my foot in my mouth like that again.”
to speak one’s mind
If you speak your mind, you honestly state how you really feel.
“Our supervisor generally lets us speak our minds during our weekly meetings.”
“Recently, politicians seem more comfortable speaking their minds and being direct with the public.”
to spread like wildfire
If something spreads like wildfire, it spreads very quickly.
“Bad news spreads like wildfire.”
“The news about the scandal spread like wildfire. By lunchtime, everyone in the company had heard about it.”
straight from the horse’s mouth
If you get something straight from the horse’s mouth, you hear it from a person who has direct knowledge of something.
“Why are you asking me what our manager thinks? Why don’t you ask her and get the information straight from the horse’s mouth?”
“This is not speculation; I’m getting this information straight from the horse’s mouth.”
to stretch the truth
If you stretch the truth, you exaggerate to make something sound better than it is.
“Saying you’re fluent in French might be stretching the truth a bit. You took two semesters in college and went to Paris once.”
“Politicians might not tell outright lies in their speeches, but they certainly tend to stretch the truth.”
to take something with a grain of salt
If you take something with a grain of salt, you are skeptical about the information and don’t immediately accept it as being true.
“It’s always a good idea to take what you read on the internet with a grain of salt.”
“The witness admitted to being intoxicated. I’d take his testimony with a grain of salt.”
to talk something over
If you talk something over, you discuss something with someone in order to get their opinion before you make a decision.
“Before making major purchases, you should always talk it over with your spouse.”
“I’d like to talk this over with my lawyer before I sign it.”
to talk something/someone up
If you talk something/someone up, you speak positively about that person or thing in order to influence other people’s opinions.
“My interviewer was talking up the position, but I could see through it. It didn’t sound like a good opportunity.”
“Our realtor really talked up the house, but we didn’t see what was so great about it.”
to touch base
If you touch base with someone, you briefly have a conversation with that person.
“My boss is pretty hands off. Sometimes we go the entire day without touching base.”
“Maybe we can all touch base at the end of the week and talk about the progress we’ve made.”
word of mouth
If something spreads by word of mouth, it spreads by real people having conversations with other people.
“Now that we have more of a marketing budget, we won’t have to rely on just word-of-mouth advertising.”
“This restaurant is so good that they don’t need to advertise. People find out about the place by word of mouth.”
Don’t forget to try the practice exercise.
For more idiomatic expressions, see these articles on idioms and phrasal verbs.