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Your English: Idioms: knife

Type: Article

Have you ever gone under the knife? Or put the knife in? Tim Bowen sharpens up some idioms.

‘After a relatively poor performance by the swimming team, the knives are out for the head coach’, meaning that he is being subjected to hostile criticism, the aim of which is to remove him from his position.

In several of the race finals, the result was on a knife edge until the very last moment, meaning that the chances of success or failure were more or less equal for both competitors and the final result was extremely uncertain.

If you put the knife in, you criticize someone very strongly, as in ‘He has made a number of serious errors of judgement over the past few weeks and several of his colleagues are planning to put the knife in in the coming days’.

If you then twist the knife, you make a bad situation even worse, as in ‘First they removed him from his position of responsibility and then they twisted the knife by offering him a cut in salary’.

When a particular situation is very tense or embarrassing for the people involved, you can cut the atmosphere with a knife, as in ‘Relations between the two ex-business partners had been deteriorating for months and when she walked into the room you could cut the atmosphere with a knife’.

Like a knife through butter means to move or spread very quickly or easily, as in ‘The virus is particularly dangerous and at certain times of the year can spread like a knife through butter’.

Finally, if you are unfortunate enough to require a surgical operation, you will have to go under the knife, as in ‘Bartlett is going under the knife tomorrow in an attempt to rid him of a persistent knee problem’.

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