Catch Word #177 – Cook the books

Using idioms properly can really help your spoken English sound natural. So join Andrew and Suzanne as they describe how to use two fun idioms: by the book and cook the books!


Fun factbooks

The English language includes a multitude of idioms, or expressions that have different meanings from the literal meanings of the words used in them. Interestingly, it is very common for Canadians to blend two idioms together when speaking. For instance, wake up and smell the roses is a mix of wake up and smell the coffee and stop and smell the roses.

Expressions included in the learning materials

  • By the book
  • To cook the books
  • To a tee
  • A fib
  • The jitters
  • Wiggle room

Sample transcript

Andrew: Our two expressions today are to cook the books and by the book, to cook the books and by the book.

Suzanne: You had mentioned they were opposites, Andrew. How are they exactly opposites?

Andrew: You know what, I think what we’ll do is we’ll define both the expressions first, and then we’ll come back to your question, ’cause it’s a good one, at the end of the episode.

Suzanne: OK.

Andrew: And then we’ll compare and contrast them. ’Cause yeah, this is actually really interesting. I didn’t plan for this, but now that I’m thinking about it, they are opposite in a way.
And maybe the listeners out there, you can try and guess how are these two expressions opposite? It’d be a nice little quiz built into this episode.

Suzanne: Ooh, we love quizzes.

Andrew: Let’s get to our first expression, and it is by the book, by the book. Now, this is not purchase the book, it’s by, b-y, by the book. And so, Suzanne, if you’re doing something by the book, what does that mean?

Suzanne: Yeah, it means that you’re very closely following the rules of whatever it is that you’re doing, whether it’s the law or filling out your taxes, or the rules of a game. Maybe you’re playing a card game or a board game, and you’re really following the rules to a tee, very straight and narrow, very strict. Yeah, that would be following the game by the book.

Andrew: In this expression, the book is the law book or the rule book. You’re doing something by the book, according to the rules or according to the law.

Suzanne: Exactly, yes. It is the written law or rules.

Andrew: Mmhmm. Personally, I find doing things by the book to be a little frustrating ’cause I always want some wiggle room. I always like to bend the rules a little bit.

Suzanne: Me too.

Andrew: But some people find comfort in doing something by the book, so everybody’s different.

Suzanne: I think sometimes, and this is maybe me getting a little philosophical, Andrew, but sometimes, it’s nice to have structure and rules, so that you know where the wiggle room is. I think if you didn’t have people that were really by the book, you wouldn’t know what it would be to be a little off the book, to have the wiggle room, maybe. That’s my philosophical moment by Suzanne.

Andrew: Deep thoughts.

Suzanne: Deep thoughts.

Andrew: Well, Suzanne, let’s get to some examples with by the book.

Suzanne: OK.

Co-worker 1: How’s work going?

Co-worker 2: Uh, it’s OK. You know, I think I’ve told you before, my boss, he’s really strict, and he makes us do everything by the book.

Co-worker 1: Hmm, what’s so bad about that?

Co-worker 2: Nothing really. It’s just very inefficient. You know, if I could do things the way I wanted, I wouldn’t have to stay late at the office every night.

Andrew: In this example, an employee complains about his boss. The boss makes him do everything by the book, and this is annoying because it means he can’t work as fast and as efficiently as he would like. The boss wants everything done according to the official rules of the company, with no exceptions. And it’s true. You know, sometimes when we do things by the book, it can take longer than we think it should


english PodcastAudio/Learning Materials: Culips, Photo: Shutterstock

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Posted in Catch Word.