Food talk is big among those who live in America’s melting pot

(Shutterstock)

Maybe American-English speakers think with their stomachs, because they often express themselves in the language of cooking. Good friends who like the same things are “like two peas in a pod.” Any bad situation that gets worse moves “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Something really easy is “a piece of cake.”

If you talk to an American, it probably won’t be long before he or she uses one of these food-based idioms.

Simmer down

When things get tense, people’s tempers can boil over like a covered pot of soup on a stove that’s too hot. Just as you’d turn the heat down on that soup and keep it warm at a low bubble, you might tell an overexcited person to simmer down before he explodes.

In conversation: “You don’t need to scream just because we missed the bus. Simmer down!”

Too many cooks in the kitchen

Small kitchen, too many cooks (Thinkstock)

When you want to get something done, more people isn’t necessarily better. Just as too many people in a kitchen will get in each other’s way, too many people working on one task can make it hard to finish the job.

In conversation: “Do you two want me to help you set up your tent? Or will that be too many cooks in the kitchen?”

Half-baked

Some ideas are fully developed and ready to put into practice. Then there are the ones that aren’t. They are as disappointing as a cake that isn’t baked all the way through. If someone came to you with a plan that needed more time and thought, you might tell him or her that it is half-baked. But be careful — the phrase is mildly insulting.

In conversation: “You think you’re going to save enough money for a luxury car by putting aside only $10 a week? That sounds half-baked to me.”

Hot Potato

Hot potatoes are better eaten than held. (Shutterstock)

Have you ever tried to hold a baked potato? They keep their heat for a long time. If you can hold a hot potato, you probably toss it from hand to hand or look for someone else to throw it to just to keep from getting burned. People try to get rid of a difficult or controversial matter that comes to them in the same way.

In conversation: “Among all the topics discussed in that debate, the tax increase was the hot potato. No one would touch it!”

Melting Pot

Many cultures and colors in the melting pot that is New York City (Flickr/Jesse Garrison)

All sorts of ingredients go into a cooking pot, each having its own taste and character. When they’re melted together those tastes combine into something that’s new, different and better than the recipe’s individual parts. Societies that encourage diversity in race, ethnicity, culture and outlook are the same way.

In conversation: “In New York City you can find clubs with music from dozens of cultures around the world. It’s a real melting pot.”

Other resources for learning English
The American English resource center and the American English page on Facebook can help you master conversational English. The Voice of America offers news stories, podcasts, and other free tools that help students at different levels.

- Mark Trainer

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