It's a piece of cake

It's a piece of cake is all about metaphors and similes.

Your own first language probably has many colourful expressions for everyday, and less usual, situations. Can you identify which ones we use in such circumstances, in English? 'It's a piece of cake' ~ i.e. easy, pleasant, even energy- and confidence-boosting!

  1. When somebody stands between you and something you are trying to watch (deliberately or otherwise), in such a way as to block your view, you might well say: 'Could you move a little, please? ... ... '
    Most of these otherwise standard phrases can be used in other circumstances, but not here. Answer 1 points out, only a little indirectly, that a typical door is opaque (i.e. one can't see through it), whereas a window is transparent.
  2. Current words for such things are always changing, of course; but in an earlier generation, one might have heard (for instance) a theatre or music-hall audience, or perhaps a group of people in the street, refer to something as 'a smasher', 'a hum-dinger' or 'a peach'. What would they probably have been talking about?
    Even in our modern enlightened times, there are still (quite rightly) ways of complimenting an attractive female; but these sample terms are all from a bygone age.
  3. Choose the most accurate and stylish answer.
    'If I were you, I'd avoid going outdoors tomorrow if you possibly can: the forecast says it's going to be raining ... ... '
    Answer 2 is the standard phrase; Answer 1 may be picturesque (and vaguely relevant to large quantities of water) but was a made-up 'distractor'; Answer 3 is in fact a literal translation of a phrase the Welsh use in such circumstances; Answer 4 is not bad, but not quite right (we do speak of the rain 'bucketing down' or even 'coming down in buckets' ~ not literally of course, but meaning 'by the bucketful', i.e. in substantial quantities or even 'dollops' rather than just individual drops).
  4. Choose the most accurate and stylish answer.
    When someone continues to be energetic and enthusiastic about a project, even once everyone else recognises it is far too late to expect any progress or success, we might mock them for ... ...
    Obviously it is not a very good idea to flog (i.e. whip, or otherwise sharply try to stimulate) an animal that you want to cooperate; but doing this to an animal that has already died is not only distasteful, but plainly futile.
    The other Answers contain interesting, and in some cases animal-related phrases but these do not fit the situation.
  5. 'It's a shame you fell straight asleep after supper last night; you should have stayed awake and watched that film, it was an absolute scream.'
    What does this final phrase tell you about the film?
    'A scream' is a rather slangy, elliptical way of referring to something that made one scream with laughter. (Some people used to, or even still occasionally do, alternatively refer to such experiences as 'a hoot'.)
  6. You are out for the day with a group of English friends, who have also brought along some other people that you don't know very well. In casual conversation you ask one of your own friends about one of these other people, and he tells you ~ almost offhandedly ~ 'Oh, Steve? He's all right really, but sometimes I wonder whether he isn't a few sandwiches short of a picnic.'
    What is this supposed to mean?
    Answer 3 was the right one, though each of the others represents a just-about-plausible guess. English (perhaps like your own language?) has many variations on this idea, designed as 'thinly coded' or polite / indirect / euphemistic ways of expressing it: 'not the sharpest knife in the block', 'a few oranges short of a fruit-stall' and various others. The common image is that Steve (or whoever) is 'missing something', or in the cruel old legal phrase 'mentally deficient / defective': i.e. he's not very 'bright'.
  7. Choose the most accurate and stylish answer.
    'When it comes to a crisis, I'm afraid he's about as much use as ... ... .'
    The two essential design features of a teapot are that it should contain and pour its fluid contents safely, and that it should not easily come apart or leak. A teapot made of chocolate would melt very quickly when filled with boiling water, leaving an unpalatable brown mess on your table.
    'A bull in a china shop' conjures up the image of 'an accident waiting to happen' (as we also say; think about that!).
    Answers 3 and 4 also suggest unsuitable and/or futile things, but each of these is more usually used to describe things that drop or sink, including metaphorical uses such as when a supposedly persuasive performance fails to convince anyone (e.g. a speech or drama segment 'goes down badly'), or where a number of singers without instrumental accompaniment begin to slip off-key and 'lose pitch' (usually, downwards).
  8. Choose the most accurate and stylish answer.
    'Our team consists of nice, competent people who all know one another and their duties well, and work very happily together. Bringing in some jumped-up young Motivation Manager is only going to ... ... '
    While Answer 3 also suggests disturbing an established and valuable group of birds, Answer 2 is the appropriate one here. The comfortable, familiar and productive ambiance of the existing team will be rudely shattered if a new person is put in as part of a fashionable commercial / management gambit.
  9. English has many ways of expressing that something is so rare as to be completely unlikely (e.g. that someone ought to do something, but in practice they will never get round to it).
    Which is the LEAST likely way, as expressed here?
    The image of the flying pig (except on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album 'Animals', illustrating their 'Pigs on the Wing' track) is a proverb for impossibility, so Answer 4 is good (and splendidly short and downbeat and dismissive), but Answer 3 seems even more vehement. A flying pig would be one thing; Hell frozen over would be on quite another scale.
    The other two, upper Answers are good for expressing the idea of 'once in a very rare while' rather than 'never at all'.
  10. Choose the most accurate and stylish answer.
    'He served that club for years on end and if there were any decency, they would have made him president once old Cyril retired or died: that would have been such a nice thing for him, after all his other recent bad luck. But instead, they've given him ... ... '
    The vicious phrase at Answer 2 is the most poignant and appropriate here.
    'Hard shoulder' (Answer 3) is the narrow strip of tarmac along the outer edge of each side of a motorway or trunk road ~ not a very safe or hospitable place. Perhaps the imaginary speaker here meant 'giving the cold shoulder' (originally a cold cut of 'yesterday's' cooked meat, i.e. shoulder of mutton), meaning not to bother about being a generous host.
    'A bunch of fives' - a punch (with a closed fist), which is pretty violent, is still not the phrase that we use in these circumstances.

Author: Ian Miles

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