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!”

These are not known for being great conversation partners. (Photo by MabelAmber from Pixabay)

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)

Beating a dead horse is futile—it won’t bring it back to life. (Image by Pixelwunder by Rebecca from Pixabay)

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.”

President Trump doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s pretty direct with his comments. (Photo by geralt from Pixabay)

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.”

Whether you agree with taxes is beside the point. You have to pay them, and that’s that. (Photo by stevepb from Pixabay)

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.”

Sometimes it’s best to bite your tongue instead of saying something that will get you in trouble. (Photo by lascot studio from Pexels)

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.”

If you miss work for a few days, you’ll need a coworker to bring you up to speed. (Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

bottom line

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.”

The bottom line is that you need to get some exercise if you want to be healthier. (Photo by stevepb from Pixabay)

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?”

“Awww, do you mean it, or are you just trying to butter me up?” (Photo by RobinHiggins from Pixabay)

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.”

This idiom comes from poker. To call someone’s bluff means to match a bet to force an opponent to expose cards that are weaker than what they represented.  (Photo by barskefranck from Pixabay)

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.”

An apology can help clear the air. (Image by JenDigitalArt from Pixabay)

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.”

(Photo by geralt from Pixabay)

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.

It’s nice when you call a company and can immediately get a hold of a real person. (Photo by ernestoeslava from PIxabay)

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.”

If you’re out with a talkative group, it might be hard to get a word in edgewise. (Photo by ELEVATE from Pexels)

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?”

They’ve already gotten down to business at this meeting. (Photo by delphinmedia from Pixabay)

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.”

It looks like they both had to get something of their chests. (Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels)

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.”

The dogs might not get the message, but the owners will. (Photo by PhotoMIX Company from Pixabay)

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.”

The person she’s talking to won’t get to the point. (Photo by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay)

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.”

If your friend is late because he thought he was supposed to meet you somewhere else, then you got your wires crossed. (Photo by JESHOOTS-com from Pixabay)

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.”

If you go camping for a week and don’t have internet access, you’re going to be out of the loop when you get back. (Photo by bhossfeld from Pixabay)

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.”

When tipping at a restaurant, keep in mind that most servers depend on tips and don’t receive much money from their employers. (Photo by LuckyLife11 from Pixabay)

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.”

How many of your old classmates do you keep in touch with? (Photo by paseidon from PIxabay)

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.”

Hopefully your child’s teacher keeps you posted on your child’s progress. (Photo by nappy from Pexels)

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.”

She wants you to keep something under your hat. (Photo by philm1310 from Pixabay)

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.”

These two people aren’t on the same page. (Photo by geralt from Pixabay)

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.”

Something is definitely on her mind. (Photo by DanaTentis from Pixabay)

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.”

With the popularity of texting, phone tag isn’t as common as it once was. (Photo by JESHOOTS-com from Pixabay)

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.”

If someone tells you they saw Bigfoot, they’re probably pulling your leg. (Image by Bernell from Pixabay)

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.”

It looks like someone may have put him on the spot with a difficult question. (Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels)

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.”

In a nutshell, Harry Potter is about a boy who learns he is a wizard and starts attending a special school for wizards and witches. (Photo by NatashaG from Pixabay)

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.”

If you’ve ever asked a non-pregnant woman if she was pregnant, then you’ve definitely put your foot in your mouth. (Photo by Pexels from Pixabay)

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.”

Good therapists should make their patients feel comfortable speaking their minds. (Photo by cvpericias from Pixabay)

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.”

Gossip spreads like wildfire. (Image by mohamed_hassaan from Pixabay)

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.”

Don’t speculate if you can get your information straight from the horse’s mouth. (Photo by christels from Pixabay)

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.”

Some job applicants stretch the truth during job interviews. (Photo by styles66 from Pixabay)

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.”

You should always take the gossip you hear with a grain of salt. (Photo by Baruska from Pixabay)

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.”

Many people decide to talk things over with their lawyer before they sign an important contract. (Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

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.”

A server might talk up the specials so that customers order them. (Photo by NjoyHarmony from Pixabay)

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.”

(Photo by rawpixel from Pixabay)

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.”

Many restaurants get new customers by word of mouth. (Photo by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

 

Don’t forget to try the practice exercise.

For more idiomatic expressions, see these articles on idioms and phrasal verbs.