Commonly Used Construction Idioms in English

Learn Commonly Used Construction Idioms in English with meaning and examples.

(Dumb as a) Bag Of Hammers

  • Meaning: Stupid, oriented toward illogic
  • Example: The news anchor is pretty, but she’s as dumb as a bag of hammers.

Note: In the USA, “dumb as a box of rocks” is more common.

(To) Put a Spanner in the Works

  • Meaning: To sabotage something; to cause something to fail
  • Example: When Josie raised the issue of Eurozone regulations, that really put a spanner in the works, and we had to start over with the design.

Note: The USA equivalent is “throw a wrench into” something, but this is less common.

Accident Waiting To Happen

  • Meaning: A dangerous way of setting up or organizing something
  • Example: Putting tables on the patio with no guardrail is just an accident waiting to happen.

Against The Grain

  • Meaning: Contrary to one’s natural inclinations
  • Example: I’ll do it, but it goes against the grain for me to lie to her like that.

Note: From the fact that to cut against the “grain” or the natural lines of wood is difficult.

An Axe To Grind

  • Meaning: A grievance, a disagreement with someone that justifies confrontation .
  • Example: I have an axe to grind with you – you took credit for all the research I did on the project.

Backing and Filling

  • Meaning: Delaying a decision by making small changes or arguing about small details .
  • Example: The sales team kept backing and filling, but they’re finally on board with the marketing plan.

Useful Construction Idioms in English

Construction Idioms

Bury the Hatchet

  • Meaning: Make peace, agree to end a dispute
  • Example: Ellen and I were always at odds, but we’ve finally decided to bury the hatchet and try to work together.

Note: This is of American origin and may have referred to a practice of some Native American tribes. It is now more widely used.

Mend Fences

  • Meaning: Improve relations after a dispute
  • Example: I’d really like to mend fences with Angela. Our disagreement seems so foolish now.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

  • Meaning: Complex projects take time
  • Example: I realize we’ll have to divert manpower to the programming for the new website, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Shit a Brick

  • Meaning: Be extremely fearful.
  • Example: When the names of the people being laid off were being read, I was shitting a brick.

Note: This is obscene. You can also say “shit bricks.”

Throw a Wrench Into

  • Meaning: To sabotage; to cause to fail
  • Example: Sorry to throw a wrench into your plans, but we can’t launch the product that day – the president will be out of the country.

Note: The UK equivalent is “put a spanner in the works.” Wrench is American; “spanner” is British.

Tighten the Screws

  • Meaning: Increase pressure on someone
  • Example: The government has really been tightening the screws on people who underreport their income.

Toss a Wrench (Spanner) Into

  • Meaning: Sabotage; cause a process to stop
  • Example: By raising the issue of toxics regulations, Carl really tossed a wrench into the project.

Note: Wrench is American; “spanner” is British.

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