An Unpleasant Colleague

Learn Idioms through Reading

Angry businessman with colleagues in the background
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Here is a story about a man who took himself a little too seriously and, as a result, was quite unpopular with his colleagues. You'll find idiom definitions and a short quiz on some of the expressions at the end of the story. Try reading the story one time to understand the gist without using the idiom definitions. On your second reading, use the definitions to help you understand the text while learning new idioms.

An Unpleasant Colleague

Tim was one of the least liked people at work. That wasn't always the case, but, over time, he became the one person everyone in the office tried to avoid. Of course, there was a reason for this. In fact, there were many reasons. Most importantly, Tim wasn't liked because he had won the rat race. He was number one and people were jealous - pure and simple. Still, it's important to remember that even the high man on the totem pole may have days on which they're in bad sorts. That was true last week and, as you can imagine, his colleagues were more than happy to thumb their nose at him.

It all started when Peter ruffled Tim's feathers by announcing a drop in sales. Tim felt Peter had let things slide and therefore sales had decreased. Of course, this rubbed Peter in the wrong way. In fact, he stirred up the hornet's nest by blaming Tim for having ridden roughshod over the sales force.

They, in turn, had reacted badly and not worked hard enough. Peter claimed that the sales force would never bite the hand that feeds it. They continued to argue for some time and soon everyone was involved.

Sales is an essential part of any business, and there are cycles when sales are up and sales are down.

Still, it is never a good idea to wash your dirty linen in public, but Tim was angry at Peter and was in bad sorts. Tim accused Peter of passing the buck and then started to list all the things Peter had supposedly done wrong. Unfortunately for Tim, Peter had a number of the sales force on his side. They backed him up and complained of Tim's continual pressuring tone. In the end, Tim had to eat humble pie and everyone returned to their desk with a slight smile on their face.

Idioms Used in the Story

ruffle someone's feathers = to bother someone
rub someone the wrong way = to make a bad impression on someone else
ride roughshod over someone = to treat a person with little consideration, to treat a person poorly
high man on the totem pole = the most important person in an organization
in bad sorts = feeling bad, in an unfortunate position
the last straw = the final thing that someone does to make someone very angry
thumb one's nose at someone or something = to ignore, to not take seriously
rat race = everyday life and work
eat humble pie = to be forced to accept that one is not the best. to be humiliated
put one's food in the one's mouth = to say something that is embarrassing
bite the hand that feeds it = to criticize one's place of work or means of earning a living
wash one's dirty linen in public = to complain about others in public
pass the buck = to not take responsibility for something
stir up a hornet's nest = to make a great deal of trouble
let something slide = to ignore a situation

John's Key Idiom Quiz

  1. Peter doesn't feel very well. He's _________ so stay out of the way.
  2. Most people have to get up early and face the ___________ to make a living.
  3. I really wish you hadn't said that. You really ___________ your ___________.
  4. It's your job. Don't _____________________ by criticizing the boss. 
  5. That's Bob he's the _______________ in this office. Treat him with respect.
  6. She doesn't like Anna because she ______ her ________________.
  7. One of the first things that happens after college is that you _______________ trying to get a job. 
  8. You really ____________________ by asking that question. He's furious!

Quiz Answers

  • in bad sorts
  • rat race
  • put your foot in your mouth (correct above)
  • bite the hand that feeds it
  • high man on the totem pole
  • rubs her the wrong way
  • eat humble pie
  • stirred up a hornet's nest

    More Idioms and Expressions in Context Stories

    Learn more expressions using stories with one or more of these further idioms in context stories with quizzes.