KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 19: THE HEAT IS ON

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KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

Lesson 19:  The Heat Is On

The Heat Is On- Glen Frey

In this season of KA Wordcast, we’ve been introducing you to important idioms, phrasal verbs, and other common English expressions.  And we’ve been showing you how to put the phrases to good use in your own writing and conversation.  Summer is here for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and things are starting to “heat up.”  So for today’s lesson, we will look at various heat- and temperature-related phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions.  English has scores of expressions that include the words “heat,” “hot,” “cold,” “warm,” and “cool,” but for this lesson, we will concentrate on only the most common—the ones you are most likely to hear on TV and in movies, see in books and magazines, and come across in everyday conversation: the ones you will want to try out for yourself right away.

This lesson is available to download in PDF format.  To test your knowledge of today’s phrases before the lesson begins, try taking the quick “pre-test” that is downloadable from our website.  Then, after the podcast, you can use the answer sheet to see how well you did and how much you have learned.  Remember that reviewing and practicing over and over again is the best way to “build up” your English speaking and writing skills.  And that is exactly what these Wordcasts are all about.

A phrasal verb is an idiomatic phrase made up of a verb and another element such as a particle, preposition, or combination of both, while an idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from its literal or real meaning that usually can’t be figured out just by looking at it.  (If you’re a first-time listener, you can check out KA Wordcast: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, Lessons 1 through 9 for more detailed explanations.)



 1.   HEAT UP/HEAT something UP

HEAT UP literally means to raise the temperature of something.  The HEATING UP process can occur naturally, as in the first example below, or by using some sort of heating device, as in the last example.

Lucy:  What’s the weather like in Tokyo this time of year?

Ken:    It’s still a bit chilly in the mornings, but it really starts to HEAT UP by mid-day, sometimes reaching nearly thirty degrees!

A roaring fire in the fireplace really HEATS UP the room and gives it a nice, cozy atmosphere. 

Could you set the table for dinner?  We’ll be sitting down to eat just as soon as the casserole in the oven HEATS UP.

More figuratively, to HEAT UP is used to describe a situation or discussion/debate that becomes more contentious, exciting, active, serious, or “heated.”

Our neighbors’ argument was really HEATING UP, and I heard some banging noises, too.  I thought about calling the police, but I didn’t want to meddle.

With the metro workers’ strike HEATING UP in Sao Paolo, officials organizing the FIFA World Cup are worried that thousands of football fans will be stranded without proper transport.

Conflicting editorials in the Times and the Guardian have once again HEATED UP debate on whether taxpayers’ money should be spent on celebrations like the Queen’s Jubilee and royal weddings.



 2.   HEAT someone UP

When someone gets HEATED UP, he or she gets very angry or excited.

Don’t mention Paul’s weight.  He gets really HEATED UP if you do.

Sebastian:      Why are you so HEATED UP, Jenna?  You got a B+ average.

Jenna:             But I was only one point away from an A, and now I won’t get into London University.

Mariner fans became HEATED UP and booed the umpire when he made a bad call in the bottom of the ninth inning and ruined the pitcher’s perfect game.

You can also HEAT someone UP by saying or doing something to upset him or her.  Synonyms include work up, aggravate, irritate, vex, annoy, and madden.

The amount of homework Mr. Dorman expects us to finish over the holidays really HEATS me UP.  I thought holidays were for relaxing and taking it easy. 




To TAKE THE HEAT is a somewhat slangy expression that can mean either to receive or put up with criticism for something or to be punished for something.  Here, “heat” means “intense pressure.”

Why do I always have to be the one who TAKES THE HEAT every time we lose?   There are ten other players on the team, you know.

I knew when I became Chief Editor that I would be under a lot of pressure, but I hadn’t realized just how difficult the job would be, and I really can’t TAKE THE HEAT anymore. 

Author J.K. Rowling is TAKING HEAT for comparing campaigners for Scottish Independence to the Death Eaters—the scariest characters in her Harry Potter books.

By the same token, if someone TAKES THE HEAT OFF you, he or she reduces the amount of criticism or pressure you have to deal with.

Greg:              I’d love to help out with the backdrops for the school musical, Jennie. 

Jennie:          Thanks, Greg.  If you could design and make the scenery for Act Two, that would TAKE some of the HEAT OFF me. 

If we had a maid, it would TAKE some of THE HEAT OFF me around the house and give me more time to devote to my career and spend with the children.



 4.   TURN THE HEAT UP ON someone or something

The phrase to TURN THE HEAT UP ON someone or something means to persuade or increase the pressure on that person or thing.  As in HEAT UP above, “heat” means “intense pressure.”

Coach Davis is TURNING THE HEAT UP ON us to go all the way to the state finals, but our team just isn’t strong enough. 

Mrs. Brown: Are you working late again tonight? 

Mr. Brown:   I’m afraid so.  Management has TURNED THE HEAT UP ON us to increase production by 10 percent by next month, and we’re nowhere near our target.

After a recent report revealed that there have been 74 school shootings in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary School incident in December, 2012, President Obama has TURNED THE HEAT UP ON Americans to do some serious “soul searching.”



5.   WARM UP

We usually use the phrase WARM UP to talk about the weather or the process of reheating food. It literally means to make or become warmer or hotter, as in:

Chris:             Should we go to the beach on Sunday?

Mandy:           Why don’t we wait until it WARMS UP a bit more?  It’s still a little too cold to really enjoy the seaside. 

Son:                Mom!  Is there anything to eat?

Mom:              There’s still half a pizza left over from last night.  Why don’t you WARM it UP?

Could you keep an eye on Matty while I WARM UP his baby bottle?  It’ll just take a moment.

But to WARM UP also has a couple of handy figurative uses in everyday conversation.  First, to WARM UP means to become more friendly or less shy.  Keep in mind that a “warm” person is a friendly person.

The preschoolers WARMED UP to their new teacher after she read them one of their favorite stories.

It took a couple of toasts and a few encouraging words from the host, but the dinner guests finally WARMED UP to one another and started mingling. 

Gordon had worked with us for several weeks before he finally WARMED UP and revealed his funny and even rather quirky side. 

But I’m sure you know that WARM UP can also mean to prepare for some kind of competition or performance.

We WARMED UP by running around the pitch three times before the big match.

To avoid injury to your joints and muscles, be sure to WARM UP properly before going out for a long run.

Is there somewhere the band can WARM UP before their performance?

It’s an old model, so it’ll take the printer a few minutes to WARM UP before you can make copies.

Here are a few vocabulary words you can look at to help you WARM UP before the lesson begins.

WARM-UP (with a hyphen) is a noun or adjective that refers to the light exercise or practice done in preparation for a performance, game or match, or exercise session.  WARM-UP also refers to an act or performance that entertains the audience before the main act or performance starts.

Dougie broke two drumsticks during WARM-UP and had to send one of the roadies out to find some more.

I’m so out of shape.  I get tired just from doing the WARM-UP exercises before the actual run!

I hate to say this, but the WARM-UP act was more talented and entertaining than the band we paid to see.



 6.   WARM something or someone UP

Like HEAT UP, to WARM UP means to raise the temperature of something cold or cool to make it more hot or comfortable, as in:

Kris:   Can I make you a cup of tea or something?

Bea:    I have one here, but could you WARM IT UP for me?  It’s been sitting here a while.

Take my keys and WARM the car UP for me.   The windows are all frosty.

But you can also WARM UP people to get them ready to perform in an athletic or sporting event.

The players arrived a few minutes early, so the coach WARMED them UP with a few short wind sprints and calisthenics.

WARM UP can also mean to prepare an audience for another, more famous performer or act.

The band isn’t quite ready to go on, so we’d better send Benny out to WARM the audience UP with a few jokes. 



 7.   WARM UP TO someone or something

As we mentioned before, a “warm” person is a friendly person.  Our next phrase, to WARM UP TO, means to begin to like, be friendlier towards, or to enjoy someone or something more than you did before.

The new girl in our class, Samantha, started WARMING UP TO me during this morning’s assembly, and it turns out we have a lot in common.

We’ve lived next door to the Howards for nearly seven years, but they’re pretty standoffish, and we have never really WARMED UP TO them. 

The principal held a meeting to WARM the faculty UP TO the changes she’s implementing in the language curriculum.

Can you speak to Martha and try to WARM her UP TO the idea of having other people help her with the costumes.  She always wants to do it all by herself.

One of us will have to WARM Mom UP TO the idea of letting us spend Christmas with Dad this year.  Ever since their divorce, she doesn’t like our spending much time with him.



 8.   COOL OFF

COOL OFF literally means to make something or someone less hot by reducing the temperature.

Allow the cake to COOL OFF completely before icing it.

It got so hot this afternoon, I decided to fill up the paddling pool and let the children splash about and COOL OFF. 

During the hot, humid summer in Tokyo, I’ve found that the best way to COOL OFF is to pop into a convenience store for a few minutes.

But COOL OFF can also be used figuratively to mean to become less angry or vexed—to let the “heat” of your anger die down, in other words.  Chill out, calm down, and take it easy are some other informal phrases you can use in place of COOL OFF.

Shino:             Shouldn’t we go and speak to Koji?  He seems really angry.

Jun:                 Give him some time to COOL OFF first.  We can talk to him later.

It took me all day to COOL OFF after my argument with Mrs. Kent this morning.  She said some really upsetting things to me.

We also sometimes use COOL OFF to talk about love or enthusiasm or passion.

It’s a shame that things COOLED OFF between Dana and Jay.  I thought they were a really nice couple.

At first, Oscar was really passionate about music, but recently his enthusiasm for it seems to have COOLED OFF.




The phrase COOL DOWN is used similarly to COOL OFF in every sense.  Literally, it means to make someone or something less hot by reducing the temperature.

We sat under the huge oak tree at the far end of the park to COOL DOWN.

Cameron:      Ouch!  I burned my mouth.

Lindy:             I told you to wait for the lasagna to COOL DOWN before shoveling it in like that.

Cameron:      I know, but it smelled so good, I couldn’t wait.

COOL DOWN can also be used figuratively to mean to become or make less angry.

Grant:             Don’t walk away from me, Sandy!  I’m talking to you!

Sandy:            I don’t want to speak to you when you are so angry, Grant.   Let’s discuss this after you COOL DOWN a bit.

A heated argument broke out between the two coaches, and the referee had to jump in to COOL them DOWN before it escalated any further.


As a noun, COOL can also mean composure or calmness.  The next three phrases we will be looking at are related to this definition of COOL.


10.                PLAY IT COOL

We looked at to PLAY IT COOL in Lesson 11: Games People Play, but as we’ve said before, the more times you come into contact with a word or phrase, the better you’ll know and remember it.  The informal expression PLAY IT COOL means to do something calmly or in a controlled way so that you don’t show how afraid or nervous you are.

When the principal calls us in, just PLAY IT COOL.  She’ll try to get you to confess by intimidating you, but don’t let her get to you.  

The shoplifter tried to PLAY IT COOL while browsing up and down the aisles, but the store detective spotted him and knew right away that he was up to no good.

PLAY IT COOL can also mean to hold or control one’s temper or feelings.

The coach called time, ran out onto the court, and told his star player to PLAY IT COOL and to stop complaining about the referee’s calls.

Don’t let the students upset you so much.  They’re just kids.  Just PLAY IT COOL. 



 11.                KEEP ONE’S COOL

When you KEEP your COOL, you maintain a calm and controlled attitude, even in an upsetting or nerve-wracking situation.    Keep calm, restrain oneself, control one’s temper, and to go with the flow are some other phrases you can use in place of KEEP ONE’S COOL.

It’ll be hard to see Jack again and to KEEP YOUR COOL after that terrible argument you and he had, but you have to be the adult in this situation.

Somehow, I managed to KEEP MY COOL, even though Logan kept taunting me and being argumentative and condescending.

When you go in for an interview, dress appropriately, speak clearly, smile, and most important of all, KEEP YOUR COOL.


12.                LOSE ONE’S COOL

In contrast, if you LOSE your COOL, you fail to maintain a calm, controlled attitude.  To lose one’s temper, lose one’s composure, work oneself up, and lose control of oneself are some near synonyms.  More informally, you can say freak out, come unglued, flip out, go ballistic, and hit the ceiling.

Wayne LOST HIS COOL again and earned himself a yellow card, much to his teammates’ dismay.

I held my tongue for as long as I could, but Vivian was so irritating that I ended up LOSING MY COOL and yelling at her. 

Whatever you do when you talk to the boss, don’t LOSE YOUR COOL.   You don’t want to say something to jeopardize your job.



13.                HOT UNDER THE COLLAR

HOT UNDER THE COLLAR, which means angry, is an informal phrase that describes someone who easily “loses his or her cool” or is easily angered.

When I questioned Mrs. Prentice’s grading methods, she got all HOT UNDER THE COLLAR and flustered.  She’s very defensive about her work. 

Albert:           What did you have to do that for?  I’ve spent hours working on this castle!

Hannah:         Don’t get so HOT UNDER THE COLLAR, Albert.  It’s just Legos, and only a few pieces fell off.   You can easily put it back together.



 14.                (FULL OF) HOT AIR

HOT AIR is a slang expression that simply means nonsense.

Don’t give me that HOT AIR!  You’re not making any sense!

If you ask me, the president’s speech was just so much HOT AIR.  There wasn’t a word of truth in it.

A person who is FULL OF HOT AIR may talk a lot, but he or she doesn’t say anything important or sensible.  Full of beans and full of it are near synonyms.

Ethan:             Leia told me that Mr. Wainwright is quitting because he got a job working as a DJ for a radio station.  Is that true?

Quinn:            Leia’s FULL OF HOT AIR.   Mr. Wainwright is leaving to go back to graduate school to get his master’s degree.

Jeremy says he’s training to run a marathon, but I think he’s FULL OF HOT AIR.  A runner-in-training just wouldn’t eat as much fast and junk food as he does.



15.                BLOW HOT AND COLD

Perhaps you have a friend who absolutely loves someone or something one day and detests that same person or thing the following day. Or perhaps he or she is very interested in something, but easily changes his or her mind.   To describe such a person, you can say that he or she BLOWS HOT AND COLD, which means to be very changeable or uncertain.

I really wish Mike would stop BLOWING HOT AND COLD about what school he wants to go to.  Application deadlines are tomorrow, and he’ll miss them all if he doesn’t make up his mind.

My lab partner Tristan BLOWS HOT AND COLD all the time.  One day he’s nice and enthusiastic and the next he’s lazy and rude.  I can’t figure him out.



 16.                OUT COLD

OUT COLD refers to a person who is unconscious, sound asleep, or even “dead” drunk in a way that makes him or her look like a corpse or dead body.

Poppy fell over in the playground and bumped her head on the pavement.  She was OUT COLD for at least a minute.  She probably has a concussion.

After a long day of playing on the beach, the children were OUT COLD as soon as we got into the car and started home.



17.                COLD FEET

If you get COLD FEET, you lose the confidence or nerve to do something.  In other words, you become scared or afraid.

Sally:              I’m not sure if I can go through with this.  Have you seen how many people are out there in the audience?

Jim:                 You can’t get COLD FEET now, Sally.  All these people have come to watch you dance. 

As their wedding day drew near, Sophie became more and more worried that her fiancé Joe would get COLD FEET and leave her standing at the altar.



18.                GIVE someone the COLD SHOULDER

When you GIVE someone the COLD SHOULDER, you aren’t friendly towards that person because you are angry with or don’t want to speak to him or her.  Often, the person who gets the COLD SHOULDER doesn’t understand why you are acting so indifferently towards him or her.

Penny:            Am I being paranoid, or did Megan just give me the COLD SHOULDER?

Duncan:         She was probably just in a rush to get somewhere, Penny.  Don’t take it personally.

I hadn’t given Monica any reason to be so angry with me, so I’m confused as to why she GAVE me the COLD SHOULDER at softball practice today. 

The Prime Minister GAVE his Japanese counterpart the COLD SHOULDER at the G-7 meeting, further aggravating the friction between the two nations.



19.                COLD, HARD CASH

When you pay someone using COLD, HARD CASH, you give him or her bills or coins rather than paying with a check or credit or debit card.

Mrs. Jones:    Thanks for babysitting, Ella.  Can I write you a check?

Ella:                I prefer to be paid in COLD, HARD CASH, if possible.  I don’t have a bank account yet.

A rare books collector from Charing Cross offered to pay me £50,000 in COLD, HARD CASH for my first-edition copy of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, but I don’t want to part with such a treasure.




When you THROW COLD WATER ON something like a party or idea or relationship, you destroy or ruin it.

Jenny and Mike seemed to be getting along fine until Mike started making fun of her in front of their friends and THREW COLD WATER ON the relationship.

I thought my suggestion for getting more parents to take part in school activities was a good one, but as usual, the head teacher THREW COLD WATER ON it.




Now that you have a good understanding of all the key phrases we have examined today, you can go back and check out your score on the “pre-test” exercise.  How did you do?

KA WORDCAST Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 19 PRETEST

We’ll be back again next week with lots more useful phrasal verbs for you to study and get to know.

KA Wordcast Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 19 PRETEST ANSWERS