Number one for English language teachers

Your English: Idioms: barrel

Type: Article

Tim Bowen shows that understanding these idioms is just like shooting fish in a barrel.

‘The flood water came up so high that we had to move everything upstairs, lock, stock and barrel’. The expression lock, stock and barrel means every single part of a particular thing, situation or place and originally referred to the three constituent parts of a musket, an old type of gun that preceded the rifle.

If someone has you over a barrel, they know that you are in a difficult situation and that you will have to do what they want, as in ‘I simply don’t know what to do. They’ve really got me over a barrel this time’, but if you give someone both barrels, you criticize or attack them verbally with great energy or emotion, as in ‘When they found out what Jack had done, they gave him both barrels’.

A very unpleasant experience or situation can be described as not a barrel of laughs, as in ‘The sea was so rough, the ferry couldn’t get into the harbour for five hours. It wasn’t a barrel of laughs, I can tell you’.

If someone scrapes (the bottom of) the barrel, they use or do something that they know is not very good, because they do not have anything better, for example ‘Fracking is scraping the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel when we should be developing alternative sources of energy’.

If something is very easy to do and success is guaranteed, it can be described as shooting fish in a barrel, as in ‘So many people are using mobile phones when driving that catching them is like shooting fish in a barrel’.

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