Eerie English idioms and phrases

Charlotte Guest
A girl in a costume running up the stairs to the front door of a house that is covered in Halloween decorations

As the leaves turn golden and the air becomes crisp, it's not only the ghosts and ghouls that come out to play. Halloween may happen only once a year, but learning about spooky idioms and phrases can add an exciting twist to your language journey throughout the year. So, grab your torch and let's delve in.

Eerie English idioms and phrases
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Ghost of a chance

Meaning: Very little to no possibility of success

When you have a "ghost of a chance," it means that your chances of success are so slim that they are nearly as elusive as a ghost. That is definitely not the case with your language learning goals though.

Skeleton in the closet

Meaning: A hidden or embarrassing secret.

Much like skeletons hidden in closets, we all have secrets. These hidden aspects of our lives are the skeletons in our personal closets. In the English language, this idiom refers to unspoken matters or uncomfortable truths hidden away from everyone. Fear not this doesn't involve any real skeletons. 

Devil's Advocate

Meaning: To argue the opposing side of an issue, often to cause debate.

Originally from the Latin term' advocatus diaboli'. A devil's advocate is someone who challenges a viewpoint in a discussion to stimulate critical thinking. They raise counterarguments to test the strength of an idea or argument being presented.

Speak of the Devil

Meaning: When a person you're talking about appears unexpectedly.

Used to comment on the coincidence of someone mentioned in a conversation or thought immediately appearing or arriving.

For example, you may find yourself in a conversation about learning a language, only to have a fluent speaker of said language appear out of nowhere.

The witching hour

Meaning: The time of night when witches are believed to be most active

The witching hour can vary from person to person. Some find inspiration at dawn, while others prefer the hush of midnight. But traditionally, it's usually around the early hours of the day, around 3 a.m. If you're a fan of horror movies, you may know the trope of waking up around 3 a.m. to signal an impending supernatural event.

Graveyard shift

Meaning: A work shift that covers the late hours of the night, typically from midnight to 8 a.m.

Still on the subject of time, the graveyard shift gets its name from the eerie hours it covers and the fact that it can be a lonely and challenging time to work. This term is widely used in the context of employment. The term likely got its name because it covers the time when cemeteries and graveyards are quiet and inactive.

Haunted by past mistakes

Meaning: Continuously troubled or burdened by past errors or regrets.

The term describes feeling constantly troubled or burdened by past mistakes, blunders, or wrongdoings. It implies that the person is bothered or 'haunted' by it. For example, you might be haunted by an embarrassing language blunder or a cultural faux pas.

Ghost town

Meaning: A place that is deserted and has no people.

A ghost town is a term used to describe a once-populated or busy place that has significantly declined or become entirely abandoned. Empty streets, vacant buildings, and a general absence of residents or activity can characterize them.

One example is the many ghost towns of the American Gold Rush that were often left once the gold mines ran dry. The buildings are still standing, but with no one inhabiting them.

As you delve further into English language learning, incorporating spooky idioms and phrases can bring added enjoyment and complexity to your conversations. Therefore, do not hesitate to explore the unsettling side of language. It is a journey that is guaranteed to be thrilling.

May the spirits of communication guide you on your path to mastering languages.

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