Transport Idioms & Phrasal Verbs

Transport/transportation (transport is more common than transportation in British English) is an everyday experience for many people. So, it’s no surprise it’s such a rich source of idioms:

TRAIN IDIOMS

Mike was so enthusiastic when he started his university course. He worked hard at first, but after a couple of years he ran out of steam. He spent more time hanging out with friends and staying out all night than studying, and his tutor (university teacher) and parents worried that he had gone off the rails. But then Mike fell in love with a student in his department. Now, seven month down the line, he is back on track towards gaining an excellent degree and making his dreams come true.

  • to run out of steam – to lose energy or interest
  • to go off the rails – to start behaving in an unacceptable way
  • down the line – later
  • to be back on track – to be on the way to achieving something (again)

There are more train-related idioms, of course. Here are some:

  • gravy /ˈɡreɪvitrain – work/activity that provides a lot of money without much effort: With his huge bonus, he’s on the gravy train.
  • to lose one’s train of thought – to forget what one was talking/thinking about: Excuse me, I’ve lost my train of thought. 
  • train wreck – a person whose life is a complete mess: I don’t want to be a train wreck. I’m going to take control of my life. (This idiom can also mean a total failure or disaster: This project is a train wreck.)

CAR IDIOMS

When I’m behind the wheel, I try to stay extra focused on the road. But it’s not easy to do when your dad likes to be in the driving seat. When he’s in the same car, being a passenger, he never stops giving me some instructions and criticizing me! He’s quite a distraction.

  • to be behind/at the wheel – to be the driver
  • to be in the driving seat – to be in control of the situation

Here are a few more car idioms:

  • life in the fast lane – active, exciting (and sometimes dangerous) life (OPP life in the slow lane): I’ve had enough of life in the fast lane, so I’m giving up my stressful job and moving to the countryside.
  • to do a U-turn – to change direction (used idiomatically when talking about politics,  for example): Initially, the minister was against increasing road tax, but he has now done a U-turn and is defending the plan.
  • To step up a gear – to start to work/play more effectively or quickly: We need to step up a gear. Otherwise, we’ll never meet the deadline. (to step up a gear = to move up a gear)
  • to reinvent the wheel – to make unnecessary/redundant preparations: We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It’s been done before.
  • to drive sb. round the bend – to make sb. very angry/frustrated: Your humming is driving me round the bend!

PHRASAL VERBS

I was on my way to work when some idiot cut me up on the main road. It drove me round the bend, so I sounded the horn and drove up right behind him. He just drove on. Then he turned right and I did the same; he turned left and so did I. I wasn’t actually following him – I was just driving to work. At one point he speeded up, then immediately slowed down again, forcing me to put on the brakes really hard. The guy was getting on my nerves. Of course if I’d been thinking straight, I would have told myself to pull over and calm down. But by this stage I’d got myself worked up and pride was kicking in. I wasn’t going to give in first. Then, he took me completely by surprise. When I reached my workplace, he pulled in to the car park (British English; American English – parking lot) in front of me and got out of the car. And for the first time I saw who it was – my boss! Now I’m much calmer if someone cuts in on me when I’m driving.

  • to cut sb. up = to cut in on sb. – to suddenly drive in front of another vehicle in a dangerous way
  • to drive on – to continue driving
  • to speed up – to go faster (OPP to slow down)
  • to put on the brakes – to make the car go more slowly
  • to pull over – to move to the side of the road to stop or let sb. pass
  • to calm down – to become less angry or nervous
  • to get oneself worked up – to become very angry/upset/excited
  • to kick in – to begin to have an effect
  • to give in – to accept that you’ve been defeated
  • to pull in to a car park/parking lot  – to move to a car park/parking lot and stop
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No road rage!

PLANE IDIOMS

Although we had some initial problems, now our company is flying high. Of course, we have our loyal customers to thank for that. Even when we were flying by the seat of our pants, there were people believing in us and supporting us. Thanks to them, the production didn’t come to a standstill during the crisis.

  • to be flying high – to be very successful
  • to fly by the seat of one’s pants – to do sth. difficult without much experience or ability
  • to come to a standstill – to stop

More plane idioms:

  • to do sth. on autopilot – to do sth. without thinking: I can cook this dish on autopilot.
  • To take a nosedive – to go down suddenly and fast: The prices have taken a nosedive.
  • To be soaring – to opposite of “to take a nosedive”: The prices are soaring.
  • To be on a collision course – to behave in such a way that it’s likely to cause a major disagreement/fight: The two countries are on a collision course.