Offices & Resources

US American Slang and Common Expressions

Common Expressions

Bend Over Backwards:

Everybody bent over backwards to help her. Everyone tried very hard to help her.

Scratch Someone's Back:

If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.” I know you don't like doing housework, but I'll help you with the boxes if you promise to return the favor.


It sounds like her car is a real lemon. No sooner did she drive it home from the dealer's than it proved defective and started breaking down.

On the line:

He was warned that his job was on the line because of his lack of concern for his duties. When he was alerted that he was in danger of losing his job, he began to take his obligations with the company more seriously.

Make ends Meet:

Things are so expensive nowadays that it's very difficult to make ends meet. I have hardly enough to pay all the bills.

The early bird catches the worm:

I'll get up real early to get a place at the head of the line. That way I'll get the tickets I want, for sure!

Money talks:

I know full well that money has the power to influence people, but I refuse to pay extra for a service that is owed to me as a client.

Turn [someone] off:

The date started out OK, but he really turned me off when we went for a snack after the movies. He disgusted me when he tried to talk with his mouth full.

Spill the beans:

He was planning on surprising her with the tickets for their anniversary, but someone spilled the beans. It's too bad that someone told her about the trip beforehand and ruined Harry's surprise.

Knock someone‘s socks off:

You ought to see Fred's new car. It'll knock your socks off! You'll get so enthused and excited you won't know what to do.

Feel Like a Million Bucks (Dollars):

He says he's feeling like a million bucks now. Apparently the pain in his knee is all gone. It's good that he's feeling so wonderful.

(With thanks to the Wellesley College International Student Handbook)

You will learn that American slang is changing all the time and you will frequently hear phases or sayings that you don’t understand. The online Urban Dictionary can be very helpful as you try to follow the changes in language!


buck: dollar ($)

chicken: coward

cool: excellent; superb

couch potato: a person who watches too much television

dude: a person

face-off: confrontation

flick: movie

freebie: something that does not cost money

goof: a silly and foolish person

hip: sensible; informed

humungous: really big

I.D.: identification

jerk: stupid or annoying person

laid back: relaxed; calm

neat: cool; great

okay (OK): decent

pumped (up): excited

screw up: to make a mistake

totally: really; completely

uptight: nervous; anxious