The difference between English speakers and good English speakers is the ease with which idioms are naturally rolled off the tongue. Idiomatic expressions are a common part of native English speaking. Be it in books, movies, or television shows, we come across several expressions that can’t be interpreted as their literal meanings suggest. One is known to encounter an idiomatic expression once every three minutes in an average English show, movie, play, book, or in conversation with a fluent native English speaker!
Consider ‘paper’. The word may not necessarily represent what it generally means when used in different contexts, especially as a combination with other words or in a phrase.
Boost your conversational skills. Add dynamism and character to your language with these figurative paper idioms.
1. Not worth the paper it’s printed/written on
Meaning: This expression indicates that a printed/written report, agreement, or any other official document in question doesn’t hold any value because of legal reasons or because the person involved does not intend to carry out the stated action. It is also used to imply that something is of no value, monetarily or legally.
Hyperinflation could render a nation’s currency not worth the paper it’s printed on.
The contract has so many loopholes that it is not worth the paper it is printed on.
2. Put (something) (down) on paper
Meaning: This means to physically write/print something down on paper with an intention to make it official. This expression is used when somebody wants to add an air of seriousness or take something up formally after a casual discussion. As opposed to empty words, putting something down on paper makes something casual more serious.
Put your terms on paper and then we’ll talk.
It’s a great idea for a novel. You should put it on paper.
3. Walking papers
Meaning: Walking papers are official papers handed over to someone to dismiss from employment, evict from a legal residence, or just an order to leave. This expression is most commonly used in the context of firing someone from a job. It could also indicate divorce.
They’re downsizing. I just received my severance package and walking papers.
The remaining tenants are being given their walking papers.
4. Paper pusher
Meaning: The expression has a negative connotation. A paper pusher or paper-pusher is a bureaucrat who is very inflexible about following administrative procedures. It is also used to describe a bureaucrat whose primary job involves filing or reviewing paperwork. A lesser-known usage of this expression means a fraudulent criminal or somebody who writes dishonored checks out of habit.
This paper-pusher is all over every little detail of my case!
He quit because he knew he couldn’t make a difference if he stayed a paper pusher.
5. Can’t punch one’s way out of a wet paper bag
Meaning: Derived from how effortless the physical act is, this expression means a person is incompetent, weak or dim. It is used to describe someone who is incapable of doing the most basic, straightforward things. Punch can also be replaced with other verbs in different contexts to indicate how bad somebody is at something, including physical weakness.
Don’t assign it to him. He couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag!
Do you think she’s aggressive? She can’t fight her way out of a wet paper bag!
6. Go peddle your papers
Meaning: This expression is popular among native English speakers and is believed to be derived from newsboys selling papers on the streets. The idiom is often used as a retort when someone is being annoying. ‘Go away’ or ‘leave me alone’ can be replaced with it. This expression can also be used as ‘Go peddle your paper elsewhere’ to indicate that there is nothing more to add or that something doesn’t belong, especially if it is immoral or a waste of time.
If all you want to do is gossip go peddle your papers somewhere else.
“That haircut does not look good on you.” “Oh, go peddle your papers!”
7. Paper tiger
Meaning: Often used to describe an organization or a nation, this expression means that an entity exudes a powerful or threatening impression when in reality, it is not.
Despite its efforts to be authoritative, the new management is no more than a paper tiger in the eyes of the employees.
Unless the assembly has the power to fire the mayor, it will prove to be nothing but a paper tiger!
Idioms add color to language and enrich our lives. Do you know any other interesting paper expressions? Comment to let us know.