BEAT (SOMEONE) TO THE PUNCH, BEAT THE BUSHES, BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL: American English Idioms #11

Welcome to American English Idioms: Lesson 11. In this lesson you have 3 American English idioms to read, listen to, translate, and pronounce in English. Please focus and do your best so that you can learn and improve your knowledge of American English idioms. Don’t forget to use the comments section below to share your thoughts and what you’ve learned today.

Directions 1: Watch the video 2 or more times, and pay close attention to the audio and text.

Directions 2: Read the following text in English, then translate it using the translator on this page into your language if needed. When you finish, feel free to write a comment in the comments section below and let us know how you feel about what you’ve learned, as well as what you’ve learned.

BEAT (SOMEONE) TO THE PUNCH — to do something before someone else does it

1. They decided to make an offer to buy the house, but when they did, they found that someone else had already bought it. Someone beat them to the punch.

2. Linda was going to invite him out to lunch but he beat her to the punch. He invited her before she had a chance to ask him.

To beat someone “to the punch” is one who gets to the bottom of the problem or resolution sooner than others. For example: “The kids were playing in the driveway, and their ball hit my car. When I went to look for it, the kids had gone to the store. By the time I got to the store, the store had closed. My wife had beat me to the punch.”

In addition to being one of my favorite words, the phrase “to beat somebody to the punch” means to be better or more successful than they are at doing something. The example I use most often is being the first one in a room to say hello to someone you meet, so when someone else says hello first, you beat them to the punch. This is one of those English words that we don’t really have a good definition for, and yet, it is one of our most widely used phrases.

BEAT THE BUSHES — to search exhaustively

1. We’ll have to beat the bushes if we want to find another editor as good as Arthur was.

2. I’ve beat the bushes trying to find the right spare part for my old car, but I haven’t found it yet.

Compare to: leave no stone unturned

Examples:

  1. don’t leave any rock unturned.

2. This is the closest you’ll ever get to beating the bushes.

3. I beat the bushes all over town looking for that piece of equipment.

4. We’ll have to beat the bushes if we want to find another editor as good as Arthur was.

BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL — in a difficult situation or position

1. Barbara’s parents have told her to study medicine but she really wants to study law. How is she going to explain this to them? She’s behind the eight ball.

2. My wife wants me to hire my brother-in-law to work in my company, but I don’t want to because he’s very lazy. I’m behind the eight ball on this one.

Synonyms: back to the wall; in a bind/fix/jam; between the devil and the deep blue sea; between a rock and a hard place The expression comes from the game of billiards, or pool, in which the eight ball is always pocketed last. If one accidentally sinks the eight ball before the others, one automatically loses the game. Trying to hit another ball that is too close to the eight ball is seen as a risky situation.

Besides the expression, the eight ball also has a slang meaning. A “fool” is someone who tries to take advantage of an easy situation. Behind the eight ball can also mean to be in a bad situation. We’re all behind the eight ball.

What does a ball have to do with this definition? I’m not sure, but the meaning behind this definition is very clear. In a sense, we are always behind the eight ball. We are behind our own success and always behind on some project.

Behind the ball can also mean that you’re out of luck, out of money, and/or behind schedule. Behind the eight ball means that you’re in a difficult or impossible situation or that you’re in a jam or fix.

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