And now, Words and their stories, from VOA learn English.
This program examines words and phrases in the English language.
And today we are talking about an expression that comes from the world of vehicles and the engines that power them.
in a internal combustion engine, a cylinder is said to fire when the fuel is in it ignited, or lit. With that small, contained explosion, the engine starts and the car is ready to go! Most engines have four cylinders. Some very powerful vehicles have six or even eight cylinders!
Which brings us to today’s expression: firing on all cylinders.
When you “shoot all cylinders”, you work or function at the highest possible level of efficiency, speed or productivity. In other words, you are on your top performance. You can’t do much better.
Sometimes we use this expression to indicate that we are using all our energy to do something. We work as best we can. For example, some people can’t fire on all cylinders until they’ve had a good night’s sleep.
We often use this expression in the negative form. For example, I drink two cups of very strong black coffee every morning. The coffee helps my brain come alive. So if someone tries to talk to me in the morning before I’ve had my coffee I could say to them. “Can this wait? I am not firing on all cylinders yet.”
But I probably wouldn’t say that to a supervisor. The expression is very informal†
Now let’s listen to this expression used by two colleagues.
A: Hey, can you give me that notebook? It has all my notes for today’s meeting.
B: (yawns) I’m sorry. Are you talking to me?
A: It seems like you need more sleep. You do realize that this meeting about our project will determine your future for the coming month.
B: I know. It’s just very early. I don’t fire on all cylinders until 10 o’clock.
A: Well, you better get your cylinders started, because that’s where the customer comes in.
Before you start your next big project, make sure you shoot all the cylinders.
And that’s all the time we have for these words and their stories. Until next time… I’m Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote this for VOA Learning English.
Words in this story
combustion engine – n. a heat engine in which the combustion that generates the heat takes place in the engine proper instead of in a furnace
cylinder – n. the piston chamber in an engine: also a long round body, hollow or solid
to light – v. (fuel) to burn
efficiency – n. the ability to do or produce something without waste
peak – adj. have or reach the maximum
performance – n. performing an action
negative – adj. emphasize the bad side of a person, situation, or thing
informal – adj. do not require serious or formal behavior or dress : suitable for normal or everyday use with close friends and family