Odd Man Out: Learn Idioms With an ESL Story and Quiz

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
The Phrase "Tilting at Windmills" Comes From "Don Quixote". Culture Club / Getty Images

Here is a story about a man who decided to leave success behind and change his life drastically. Read the story and use the definitions provided below to help with understanding. You'll find idiom definitions and a short quiz on some of the expressions at the end of the story.

Odd Man Out

I recently watched a documentary called Odd Man Out. It was about a man named Bob who decided to live out of his suitcase. Bob had a little money socked away, so he didn't have to live from hand to mouth. I found the reasons for his decision to throw in the towel and become free as a bird compelling. In any case, Bob had been working for over twenty years for a corporation. While he had been successful at his job, and had made plenty of hay while the sun was shining, he still felt he was tilting at windmills. "I mean," he said to himself "how hard can it be to strike out on your own and live off the fat of the land?" The more he pondered the idea the more he came to realize that he wasn't able to see the forest for the trees. Certainly, he never questioned the powers that be, but he did wonder if things might be a bit more interesting if he gave living by the seat of his pants a go.

Bob was very careful not to let on what he was thinking to anyone until he got all his ducks in a row. He knew that such a decision couldn't be made on the spur of a moment. Things could go terribly wrong in the twinkling of an eye. "No," he thought to himself "I need a plan." It was then he remembered his grandfather Bill. Bill was salt of the earth. He never cared too much for the "finer things in life", as he liked to call them. Bill repeatedly told Bob that tagging along with everyone else would eventually get boring. Bill made his living as a jack-of-all-trades. Sure, he never had money to burn, but he managed to get by. More importantly, Bill was content, and never worried about what others were saying or who he had to impress to get promoted. In any case, these memories of Bill came flooding back as Bob began to to prepare to get a new lease on life.

Finally, the big day arrived and Bob announced that he was stepping down as manager. His colleagues were incredulous: "How can you throw all you've worked for down the drain?" they commented. "He's lost his marbles" commented others. However, Bob was in the the prime of life and he was ready for adventure. He walked out the door and never looked back. Who knows where he is and what he's doing today, but my guess is that he's happy - if not wealthy.

Idioms Used in the Story

  • sock away = to save money
  • live from hand to mouth = to live with just enough money to survive
  • live off the fat of the land = to life from the products of nature
  • make hay while the sun is shining = earn money and save while you have the opportunity
  • in the twinkling of an eye = instantly, immediately
  • as free as a bird = completely free and without responsibilities
  • get one's ducks in a row = to do all the necessary preparations in order to do something
  • salt of the earth = simple, honest person without pretensions
  • on the spur of the moment = deciding something without thinking about it
  • by the seat of one's pants = improvising and learning as you go
  • money to burn = money to waste
  • the powers that be = phrase used to speak about those in power
  • tag along = to follow or go with others
  • throw in the towel = to quit
  • jack-of-all-trades = person who does many different types of jobs
  • not able to see the forest for the trees = become so focused on details that you lose knowledge of the more important things in life
  • tilt at windmills = to work on things or dedicate oneself to impossible tasks
  • get a new lease on life = to develop a new attitude towards life
  • the prime of life = the best period of one's life
  • throw something down the drain = to waste something
  • lose one's marbles = to go crazy

Odd Man Out Quiz

1. He's a smart man because he has ____________ a lot of money for his retirement.
2. I'm sure you'l feel _________________ once you graduate from college.
3. Ever since I got the new job, I feel like I've gotten _________________.
4. You'll be surprised how quickly your child will grow up. It sometimes seems that it happened ____________.
5. My grandfather was a (n) ______________________. He did everything!
6. Too many people around the world have to ____________________. It's horrible!
7. Sometimes it seems like I'm ________________ in trying to start a new business.
Odd Man Out: Learn Idioms With an ESL Story and Quiz
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Odd Man Out: Learn Idioms With an ESL Story and Quiz
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