Podcast: Drop the ball – Inglês Online

Podcast: Drop the ball

By Ana Luiza | Podcast Inglês Online

Aug 06
Inglês - Podcast Drop the ball

How are you? Hoje, no podcast, eu falo sobre dois idioms pra lá de comuns… Só pra variar :-) Um deles, em particular, é muito comum no inglês americano – eu mesma ouvi outro dia de um American. Não perca!


How are you? You’re listening to the new episode of the Inglês Online podcast. Download the Inglês Online app at the Google Play Store or the Apple Store – search for “inglês online Ana”. Thank you for telling everyone you know about this podcast and, enjoy!

So, you guys, let me start with this very, very popular way of saying you or someone else failed to do something you were supposed to do, or you sort of made a mistake when you were trying to complete a task.

I heard it just the other day, from an American person, for the millionth time. He said “Look, I was supposed to take care of this and get it done, and I didn’t. I dropped the ball.” He said he dropped the ball – it’s a sports metaphor, as you can probably tell, and I’m not sure which sport that comes from but we can guess it’s a sport where we’re not supposed to drop the ball.

So this guy dropped the ball, not literally, but metaphorically in this case. It was his job to complete a task and he didn’t. He dropped the ball. When someone does a poor job of something, or makes a mistake when doing a task of some kind, you can also say that they dropped the ball.

So, the reason I mentioned an American person used that expression with me is, you’re not going to hear too many British people saying that – it’s really more common in the States. So can you think of an example of you dropping the ball… or maybe someone you know? I’m sure you can.

So let’s move swiftly on to our second expression of today. Picture an airplane going down in flames. Done? Cool. So we use the idiom go down in flames to say that something is being, or was completely destroyed, or just was a spectacular failure. That’s a common combination, by the way… To fail spectacularly.

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Anyway, it’s pretty easy to find examples of this expression being used particularly when people are talking about something they didn’t approve of to begin with. Then they see that thing fail, and they talk about the failure saying “It went down in flames.” I mean, it’s a pretty powerful image!

So, do you remember Harvey Weinstein, the big American producer who was accused a while ago of all kinds of sexual offenses? I bet his business went down in flames in the aftermath of those events. Sometimes, advertising campaigns that cost a fortune and were planned for months go down in flames. It happens! The ad campaign is a disastrous failure. I’m sure anyone who’s worked in advertising would have a story to tell about a campaign that went down in flames.

So, this idiom, as you can probably see, applies very well to projects that demanded big efforts, big money and other resources. Then for some reason it all goes wrong. And it also applies very well to things that used to work very nicely, so to speak, and then all of a sudden that thing ceases to exist or goes out of business. Like the Weinstein company. His name certainly went down in flames after all the revelations.

So, what’s your example? Does anything come to mind? Let me know and see you soon.


Key expressions

  • drop the ball
  • go down in flames



you can tell = dá pra você ver

swiftly = rapidamente

in the aftermath = o que acontece após um determinado evento

cease to exist = deixa, para de existir

to go out of business = encerrar atividades, fechar as portas, falir

Latest posts by Ana Luiza (see all)

  • Vera says:

    Hi Ana! I have a question: Go down in flame has the same meaning of go downward spiral?

  • Gilberto Carnasciali says:

    I guess drop the ball may apply to American Football or Rugby games where players are supposed to pass the ball and not drop it.

  • Rômulo Melo says:

    It would make more sense if they said “step on the ball “ , like here in Brazil, right?

    • Ana Luiza says:

      I don’t know, Romulo :-)

      “Step on the ball” makes sense to us, Brazilians

      But “drop the ball” makes sense to English speakers. I *think* the expression comes from baseball, where you can’t drop the ball. So there you go!

      • Rômulo Melo says:

        You are right Ana , as always are . But “ step on the ball “ should make sense for english people, the inventors of the soccer .

  • Gerardo says:

    Remember in Europe, contrarily what journalists wanted us believe about meeting in Russia – V. Putin and D. Tramp – this all go down in flame!

  • Vera says:

    When I’m committed to do a task, I usually don’t drop the ball, because I like finishing my duties brilliantly, so I do it as best as I can.

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