‘Ghost towns,’ ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous,’ and ‘Graveyard Shift’: Idioms and Phrases for a Spooky Halloween (English Vocabulary Lesson)

On today’s episode of Thinking in English, let’s learn some spooky idioms and phrases that you can use everyday, not just on Halloween!


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On Sunday the 31st of October, people around the world will begin to celebrate Halloween in a variety of different ways. In my country, some may dress up in scary costumes, children may trick-or-treat around their neighbourhoods, pumpkins carved in spooky shapes, and millions will watch Hollywood horror movies. In other parts of the world, celebrations are much more diverse! I recorded an episode last year on Halloween – it was one of my first ever episodes so don’t expect it to be the best episode ever – but I’ll link it here anyway!

As you probably already know, Halloween is a holiday associated with all manner of scary, spooky, and terrifying things: monsters, ghosts, death, blood, graveyards, and more! So let’s learn some idioms and phrases that follow these themes. And luckily for you, all of these phrases and idioms can be used in everyday situations, not just on Halloween! Without any further ado, it’s time to introduce today’s new vocabulary… I hope they don’t scare you!


SKELETON IN THE CLOSET

Do you have any skeletons in your closet? Don’t worry – it doesn’t mean having bones where you keep your clothes. Skeletons in your closet is an idiom that means an embarrassing fact or thing that you want to keep a secret. You usually don’t tell anyone about the skeletons in your closet: Often it is something from the past that you are ashamed or embarrassed by! If it was revealed, perhaps it would have a negative affect on your personal, social, or even professional life. 

“The politician resigned before someone discovered the skeletons in his closet”

BLOOD RUN COLD

When was the last time your blood ran cold? If a sound, sight, or thought makes your blood run cold, it frightens you very much! You are so frightened that you can feel it all over your body. Similar idioms include make your skin crawl and make your flesh creep. All of these are excellent idioms to describe when you read a frightening news story, or think about an unnerving situation.

“The screams coming from the old, dark house made my blood run cold”

GHOST TOWN

Have you ever been somewhere that seems like a ghost town? You may think that a ghost town is a town populated by ghosts, but that is not how we use the phrase in English. A ghost town is a deserted place where there are few or no people. A place could be a permanent or actual ghost town, such as an old mining town where everyone left after the mine closed or a town that was never completely finished and the buildings left unsold. Or, a place could be a ghost town only at certain times, often late at night or early in the morning! In this case, we use the phrase like a ghost town.

“My bus arrived in the town at 4am: it felt like a ghost town and I didn’t see anyone!”

LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL

Bats and hell are both common themes found around Halloween. However, the idiom like a bat out of hell is used to describe something very quick and fast, very abrupt, and very sudden. It is often used to describe someone’s speed while going somewhere. The phrase apparently comes from an Air Force expression during World War I. It is very similar to the idiom like a shot used to describe speed!

“She ran down the street like a bat out of hell!”

SCAREDY CAT

Are you a scaredy cat? If so, you are someone who is very easily scared. Scaredy cat is often used to describe children who are too fearful to do something. Someone who is a scaredy cat is scared of things that most people would not be afraid of! You should also know that the phrase fraidy cat can also be used to mean the same thing. 

“Don’t be such a scaredy cat…. Flying on a plane is safer than driving”

SCARED STIFF

If you are a bit of a scaredy cat, you’ve probably been scared stiff before. In fact, I think most people will be scared stiff at least once in their lifetime. If you are scared stiff, you are very afraid, to the point where you are no longer able to move! The adjective stiff suggests that it is hard to move, or it could refer to a ‘stiff’ dead body. Whatever its origins, the phrase scared stiff is very common!

“I was scared stiff before making my acting debut”

DROP DEAD GORGEOUS

Do you know anyone who is drop dead gorgeous? If so, they are very, very attractive. English has many phrases that use the word ‘dead’ ironically or as an idiom: drop dead gorgeous is one the most common of these phrases. In this case drop dead is used as an intensifier (just like very or really) to express surprise or amazement about how attractive and gorgeous a person is!

“The actress looked drop dead gorgeous at the movie premier”

DIG YOUR OWN GRAVE

Have you ever dug your own grave? If you dig your own grave, you create serious problems for yourself by doing something foolish. It is something that will cause you harm, and probably was easy to see or predict would happen. You could dig your own grave by not doing something – like not handing in a university assignment – or you could dig your own grave by doing something wrong or unwise – like staying out drinking all night. Both of these have many potential consequences!

“I’m afraid I’m digging my own grave by turning down that work assignment”

GRAVEYARD SHIFT

Have you ever worked the graveyard shift? Don’t be afraid – it has nothing to do with actual graveyards. The graveyard shift is a work shift that happens overnight, especially after midnight and before 6am. If you have worked a graveyard shift before, you probably know that while it is difficult, usually it is a little more calm than morning or evening shifts!

“The supermarket pays 15% extra wages to employees who do graveyard shifts”

OVER MY DEAD BODY

The phrase over my dead body is used to express that you strongly oppose something or won’t allow it to happen. If you will only allow something to happen over your dead body it means that you would never allow that thing to happen. The only way that thing could happen is if you were dead, and then you couldn’t stop it. A common and funny response to the phrase over my dead body is to say “that can be arranged.”

“I asked my mum if I could get a tattoo… she said ‘over my dead body’” 


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