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Michael IELTS Band 9
Professional Teacher
Everyday UK Expressions (11): Pull out all the stops

Pull out all of the stops

Today, I will also include a little tip on learning idioms.

Tip of the day: Be realistic and persevere. 

It takes time to master a new idiom. Idioms are often hard to learn because a) they are expressive, b) they can have unusual forms, c) they usually don’t translate directly into other languages, and d) it can often be hard to feel the exact context (especially if you are learning them only from written examples).

Don’t be disappointed if you don’t master an idiom the first time you try to use it - keep going.

“Pull out all of the stops” is a compliment used when someone has done something really well e.g. a musical performance, or provided a fantastic experience.

“John’s party last night was fantastic.  There was great music, great food and drink, and he had arranged his house perfectly. He really pulled out all of the stops.”

The expression has a musical origin which could help you understand its meaning better. I’ll leave it to you and Google to find out!

Can you share some sentences which include “pull out all of the stops”? 

Sep 29, 2016 6:58 AM
Comments · 6

Translateability is definitely an important point! I believe the difficulty of idioms depends largely on this. For example, a Chinese will pick up "a wolf in sheep's clothing" very easily, because the Chinese equivalent is word-for-word identical (披着羊皮的狼, which literally means "a wolf who wears sheep skin"). Only slightly harder are idioms that aren't word-for-word the same, but share close semantic overlap. For example, "misery loves company" is very close to the Chinese idiom 同病相怜 (literally "fellow patients pity each other").

"Pull out all the stops" strikes me as quite difficult to translate in Chinese. One equivalent Chinese idiom I can think of is 破釜沉舟 (pofu chenzhou). This is a lovely expression that literally means "smash the cauldrons and sink the ships". Its origins go back to the Warring States period, when a general was preparing to siege a city with an exhausted and demoralised army. In order to motivate them, he smashed the cauldrons and sank the ships to let the soldiers know that without victory there would be no food and no return home. Against all odds, the general's tactic worked and he captured the city.

破釜沉舟 does capture the feel of "pull out all the stops": the idea of investing a lot of effort into something in order to do it well. However it implies more sacrifice, and overlaps with "in for a penny, in for a pound". Another alternative is 竭尽全力 (jiejin quanli, literally “exhaust your utmost effort"), but that idiom is less positive than "pull out all the stops". To me, "pull out all the stops" strongly implies success, whereas to me personally (a Chinese person would know better), 竭尽全力 simply refers to the effort spent...

September 29, 2016
I tried my best to complete my project so I pulled out all stops after a long time hard working.
September 30, 2016

I was watching a concert of Anna Fusek(Flutist)and she played it so well that pulled out all of the stops.

Thank you@Michael for another nice idiom:)

September 29, 2016

The supper was amazing. He prepared well for it. The dishes were delicious, the music was soft and quiet and his smile was bright and shining like a star. He put out all of the stops.

Yes, of course. Pull out.

September 29, 2016
Thanks, Alan.  I realise that these discussions won't be enough for most students to master new idioms, especially very figurative ones with no close equivalent in their languages.  But every little helps!  Thanks for your contributions. 
September 30, 2016
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Michael IELTS Band 9
Language Skills
English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Learning Language
German, Italian