I mentioned last week that a number of expressions we use in our language tend to be inspired by numbers, since we tend to rely on them so much. I am sure this is not really news for anybody, and we are all familiar with expressions such as ‘a bird in hand is worth two in the bush,’ but as usual I will try to focus on expressions that may not quite be commonly known.

Accordingly, we will pick expressions that are informal and contemporary, and suitable for use in daily conversation. For today, the idioms are loosely connected with the number ‘two.’

Two can play at that game

This is one of those perfectly innocuous sounding expressions that actually work extremely well as a threat or a warning.

The idiom is best used in contexts where you disapprove of someone’s behaviour or strategy, and want to threaten that you can employ the same strategy in retaliation.

Let me explain with an example or two: ‘I know you are trying to spread some nasty rumours about me, but you know what, two can play at that game, so you better watch out!’

Or consider another example: ‘This cricket team will be difficult to beat since they use sledging to upset their opponents and distract them. But guess what? Two can play at that game!’

As I hinted earlier, this is an informal expression suitable for conversational English.

Have two left feet

This is an idiom with a very specific use: a handy, humorous excuse to refuse dancing.

If you claim to have two left feet, you are saying that you have poor coordination, or are awkward with balance and therefore cannot dance well, or at all.

Typically, though, claiming to have two left feet simply is a way to admit that one cannot dance.

You might say, for example: ‘For someone with two left feet, I was still quite popular on the dance floor and quite a hit at all the college parties.’ Or: ‘I know I am expected to dance at the wedding, but I have two left feet, so I am really hoping to get out of it.’ I like this idiom for the image it invokes: of someone stumbling, tripping over themselves and moving very awkwardly.

Two-bit

This is a handy adjective that you can use in a dismissive tone to describe something as insignificant and lacking any value. For context, two-bit refers to 25 cents--a very small amount of money.

Here is an example: ‘We won the world cup only two months ago, but today lost the match to this two-bit team!’

Also: ‘I have a very small role in the play, where I play a two-bit thief that gets caught in the first scene.’

Nilesh Jahagirdar

nilesh@skillspark.com