Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you ever heard somebody say “in a nutshell” in English?

Are there phrases like this that you just can’t seem to understand?

There are phrases that feature a word about food that actually have nothing to do with that food.

We’re going to look at such phrases today, and help you to understand what they mean and how to use them.

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We have a question that came to us through Instagram about a common phrase.

Hi ladies,

I love your show, and I listen to it all the time! I have a question that I am hoping you can answer.

I wanted to learn more about the phrase “in a nutshell.” I am hoping that you can help to explain this and tell me how I can use it in conversation.

Thank you very much,


Understanding A Little Background

This is a great question, and you may have wondered about this phrase too.

“In a nutshell” is a great phrase and quite helpful in nature.

This is one of those phrases that provides imagery, and it’s fun to say.

You will find that this phrase is used a lot, and it may even make you hungry since it references food in a way.

Like other idioms, this is a phrase that references food but has nothing to do with it at all.

We’ve done other episodes about this type of idiom, and these are well worth reviewing.

These phrases start to see that food idioms are actually quite common.

They have nothing to do with the food, but they have a special meaning in conversation.

You want to learn about what these phrases mean, how to use them, and how they can work well in everyday conversation.

Understanding The True Meaning

So you want to understand what the phrase “in a nutshell means.”

Once you understand what this phrase you will see how it fits into your conversations.

So what does this phrase mean?

It’s saying basically or what it comes down to.

It’s almost saying that you’re breaking it down or getting it back to basics.

You might say “So I don’t know if I will go, but I probably will. We’ll see. In a nutshell, I don’t know yet!”

Double Meanings In Vocabulary

Idioms are a very interesting aspect of conversation, and they are fun to use.

We’ve talked about idioms before since they are so common, and you have likely heard some of these episodes.

We did an episode on idioms where we talked about horses--AEE 1276: An Episode About Animals That’s Not About Animals.

What it comes down to with that episode and with this is that sometimes there are double meanings in the phrases and words that we use.

You might miss an analogy or a joke if you don’t know and understand the double meanings in things.

So in this episode you will see that though the focus is on a food, such as nuts, that the phrases aren’t about actual food at all.

We start by helping you to understand what “in a nutshell” means, and you might be surprised at how many other idioms there are like this.

Though this can be a confusing aspect of conversation, it’s one that you really want to learn and understand.

Once you see that these phrases and others like it can be fun, you will break through the confusion and be able to start practicing.

This is when you take your vocabulary up and really start to have fun with your conversations.

Related Idioms To Use

Though “in a nutshell” may seem like a great idiom, there are other related idioms.

There are other idioms that feature the word “nut” that you may find very useful in conversation.

So what other idioms can you use that are similar in nature?

  • Someone/something that’s nuts: This essentially means that they are crazy. They are off or don’t seem right, or they are just a little crazy. You might say “She thinks “I’m nuts for wanting to run the marathon but I don’t care.”
  • Nuts!: It’s kind of like saying “oh no!” It means that something didn’t happen the right way or something went off track. This is very casual and sort of old fashioned sounding. It’s almost like a cartoon, and you don’t hear it much anymore.
  • A “something” nut: It’s saying that you are very obsessed or enamored with something You can’t get enough of it and it’s almost a part of you. You would say something like “I can’t come. I’m a total basketball nut and the game is on tonight.”
  • A tough nut to crack: It means that it’s not easy to do. This can either be a thing or a person. It might be something that you are trying to get an answer to, or somebody that’s a bit tough in nature to get to know. You could say something like “I wanted to get the gossip out of Jason but he’s a tough nut to crack!” You could also say something like “Man, I can’t find my way around. This city is a tough nut to crack!”

It’s important to know these because this is a common word with many different uses.

These phrases are common and can be used in conversation more often than you might realize.

There are other phrases like this, but we’ve started to show you that these exist and how you could use them when talking to others.

Roleplay To Help

These types of phrases are great to use, and it can be very helpful to see them at work in a roleplay.

In this roleplay, Lindsay is telling Michelle about her latest vacation plan.

Lindsay: “So we are taking a red eye…”

Michelle: “Oh Lindsay–you’re nuts! You always do that and regret it!”

Lindsay: “I know, I know. But it’s worth it. So I’ll take the red eye to San Francisco and then take another flight to Hawaii, but then I have to rent a car and drive 50 miles to my hotel.”

Michelle: “So in a nutshell, it’s going to take you a million years to get there!”

Lindsay: “Well, I’m a travel nut. It doesn’t matter. I love it. I think you should take a red eye sometime.” 

Michelle: “Nah.”

Lindsay: “You’re a tough nut to crack, Michelle. You might like it!”

Michelle: “Oh nuts! I forgot my phone. I’ll be right back!”

You wouldn’t use all of these at once, but you can start to see how these phrases work.

Practice using them and see how natural they become to you, and work well in your conversations.


Learn multiple idioms and meanings of a word so you are prepared when you hear them in an unfamiliar context.

These are a great start, and they can be a lot of fun to use in your conversations.

This is a unique aspect of conversation, and it’s a great one to learn.

Try using such a phrase in English, and see how it takes your conversations to another level.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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