AE 497 – Expression: On Thin Ice

Learn Australian English in this expression episode of The Aussie English Podcast where I teach you to use the expression ON THIN ICE like a native.

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AE 497 Expression: On Thin Ice

I came from the other end of the Snowy River down in Victoria on a farm out from Orbost and my father, who had the farm, said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could do something about stopping these bloody floods?’.

Every snowmelt the floods would come down and cover the crops and so on.

It was difficult for them.


G’day, guys! G’day, you mob! How is it going?

Remember, ‘you mob’ is a slang term in Australia for ‘you guys’, right, and it is from, I guess, a mob of kangaroos, a group of kangaroos. So, you mob, I hope you’re going well. I hope you’ve been having a ripper of a week.

So, today’s intro scene was about Australia’s greatest-ever engineering feat, the national heritage listed Snowy Hydro Scheme, and the video at the start there was from the Environment Department’s YouTube channel. So, I will leave a link in the transcript if you guys would like to check that out. I would obviously recommend that as you will get exposure to other people speaking with Australian accents and obviously using all kinds of different vocab and everything in English. So, check that out.

Anyway, I’m pretty wrecked, I’m pretty stuffed, I am exhausted. It’s been a lot of running around this week. We’ve had to organise a whole bunch of stuff regarding marriages. So, Kel and I are getting married soon, and we’re just… We’re not having a big thing, right? We’re not making a big deal of it. We’re not really doing a traditional marriage in a church or even with a lot of people there, to be honest, because Kel’s family’s in Brazil, so we just thought it’s probably easier to just do a small thing here in Australia and really just go and sign the papers. So, at the moment, we’re having to go through and get all of the documents ready, so like my birth certificate, my passport, her birth certificate, her passport, the documents to apply for marriage with witnesses. So, today we had to go to the cop shop, to the police station, and have a justice of the peace sign all of these pieces of paper as we were there signing them as well. So, that’s been a bit of a headache, and before that we tried to have our friends witness it, but they screwed it up, they stuffed it up, and signed as the people getting married and not as the witnesses. So, we had to go through it again. Anyway.

Welcome to this episode of Aussie English, guys. We’re getting close to episode 500. So, this is probably going to be the second last expression episode before we hit 500, and something special is going to happen once we get to 500, so stay tuned for that. Anyway.

Aussie English, the Aussie English podcast. Welcome. If you’ve been listening for a long time, it’s good to have you here again. If it’s your first time, welcome, thanks for joining me.

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Welcome to this episode today, guys. This one is ‘on thin ice’. It’s a really good expression. I use this quite a lot, and to be honest, my father used to use this on me quite a lot as a little rambunctious and mischievous teen as I was growing up, but we’ll get into that shortly.

Firstly, let’s get into the Aussie joke, and this one is a good one today, because it involves Batman, right. Dunununah dunununah Batman!’. Batman. Alright. So, the joke is:

What’s man’s favourite food? What is that man’s favourite food?

Are you ready for this? Are you ready?

‘Just-ice’. ‘Just-ice’.

Do you get it? Oh my gosh… So, what’s that man’s favourite food? ‘Just-ice’ as in, ‘justice’, right? If you separate the word ‘justice’ into ‘just-ice’, it’s like saying ‘only ice’, he just likes eating ice, he is only interested in ice, but it’s funny because Batman is obviously a superhero who is interested in justice, justice. ‘Just-ice’, ‘justice’. Badoomsh! Alright.

So, today’s expression is ‘on thin ice’, right, ‘to be on thin ice’. This was suggested by me this week in the Aussie English Classroom Facebook group. So, that’s four members of the Aussie English Classroom. This week we all suggested expressions. I put this one in, I threw this in as my suggestion, and it got voted on and I won. Go me!

So, let’s go through the definitions of the words in the expression ‘on thin ice’, right. I’ll skip ‘to be’. You know what ‘to be’ is.

‘On’. If you’re on something, you’re physically in contact with and supported by something. So, you’re on the surface of something, usually, right? I might put my coffee here that I’ve got on a coaster, the thing that protects the table. I put the coaster on the table, I put my coffee on the table, and then after I finish the coffee, I might put it on the bench next to the sink. Okay? ‘On’.

‘Thin’. ‘Thin’. Something that is ‘thin’ is… it has the opposite surfaces or sides of it very close together. Right? So, a piece of paper is incredibly thin, because each side of the piece of paper is very close together, right. It’s very, very thin. You can use this for describing something like a piece of paper or maybe a stamp or a book. You know, you could have a thin book with very few pages or you could have a thick book with a lot of pages. But you can also describe someone as being ‘thin’ when you want to say that they are not fat. Right? So, like a piece of paper, both sides of the person are very close together. They are thin.

The last word here, guys. ‘Ice’. ‘Ice’ is frozen water, a brittle transparent crystalline solid, right. The crystal when water freezes, when it goes below 0 degrees Celsius, it becomes ice.

So, let’s go through and define the expression ‘to be on thin ice’, and I wonder if you guys have heard this before. I wonder if anyone has said to you are on thin ice. Be careful you’re on thin ice.

So, if we imagine this literally, if you were literally standing on thin ice, what do you think the message there is, right? It’s that you’re resting on ice that is thin and it’s likely to crack and break, so you’re in a precarious and risky situation. So, literally, if you’re on thin ice, you are standing on ice that is thin, it is liable to crack or break, and you’re likely to fall into the cold water below.

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Figuratively, it is that you are in a precarious or risky situation. So, you might not literally be on ice, but you might be in a dangerous situation, so you are on thin ice, right.

But this one is also often used to mean that you’re already in trouble and that you can’t afford to make another mistake. Right? So, my dad would say this to me when I was a kid and I had already misbehaved, I had already done something wrong, maybe I’d done a few things wrong, and I was at the point of pushing him over the edge. I was at his breaking point. If I had done one more thing, something bad would have happened, like maybe he would ground me or he would give me some kind of penalty or punishment, right? So, he might say to me, ‘Look, you’re on thin ice. No more. No more misbehaviour, Pete’. You’re on thin ice.

So, where does this expression originate from? This idiom is one that originated from Holland or the Netherlands. We also call Holland the Netherlands in English. So, skating, you know skating on ice, was popular there and that’s where it came from originally, skating on ice, on those blades on the bottom of your shoes on ice in winter, and the phrase that you were ‘on thin ice’ was commonly used especially when seas, rivers, streams, etc., would freeze during winter, and then people would skate over them. So, it would be like a warning. Right? You’re on thin ice. Be careful. Don’t, you know, jump up and do any pirouettes or something.

So, anyway, let’s go through the examples of how I would use the expression ‘to be on thin ice’ like a native speaker in my day to day life, right? Okay.

Example number one and this is the literal example. You’ve travelled up to one of the snowfields in the Australian Alps in Australia. So, imagine Thredbo or Mount Buller or Mount Hotham. You’re out snowboarding or skiing one day and you end up off the track, falling down the side of a mountain, a cliff, or ravine, or something, and landing on a frozen lake. You might get knocked out during this fall, you know, you get KOed, you’re… you go black, you’re not conscious, but when you come to, when you wake up, you hear you made shouting out to you from a distance saying, ‘Be careful! Don’t move suddenly or abruptly. You’re on thin ice!’. So, you’re literally on some ice that is thin. Be careful where you put your weight, because if you aren’t careful it might break and you might fall into the water.

Example number two, and I pretty much went over this earlier on. I used to get in trouble with my father all the time as a kid or a teenager. I’d push his buttons. I would push the limits. I would… you know, maybe I would swear or maybe I, you know, did something I wasn’t allowed to do, I misbehaved, I didn’t come home on time, I missed my curfew. If I was already in trouble, I’d misbehave several times before, as I said, my dad might say to me, ‘You’re on thin ice! So, if you make another mistake, you’re in for it. You’re going to be in trouble. You’ll be in real trouble and there’s no turning back. You’ll be grounded. I won’t give you your pocket money. You’ll be punished in some other way. You’re on thin ice.’. Right? It’s kind of like you’re on your final warning. So, don’t misbehave, don’t muck up, don’t do anything wrong.

Example number three. Imagine you’ve just got a promotion at work, but it comes with a probation period. So, probation period, as in, you have to be evaluated after three months, for example, the probation period is three months long, and after three months, they will tell you how you’ve done and if you’ve done well, you’ll get to keep the job. So, imagine, though, while you’re going through this probation period for three months you screw up a few things, you make a few mistakes, you don’t do your job ideally, but only just manage to scrape by. So, your employers or your boss might tell you, ‘Look, you’re doing okay, but you need to shape up, you need to do better, because you’re on thin ice. If you make any more mistakes, we might have to not give you this promotion, we might have to demote you’, right? So, you’re in a risky situation. You need to pay attention and shape up in order to maintain this position. You’re on thin ice.

So, hopefully now, guys, you understand the expression ‘to be on thin ice’. Obviously, literally, this would be to be on ice that is thin, that is likely to break or crack. So, you are in a precarious or risky situation.

Figuratively, this can mean that you are in a dangerous situation that isn’t necessarily related to ice breaking at all.

And lastly, it can mean that you’re in trouble, you’re already in trouble and you can’t afford to make another mistake, and you’re on your final warning. Okay? You’re on thin ice.

So, as usual, guys, let’s go through a little listen and repeat exercise here where you guys can practice your pronunciation. Okay? So, listen and repeat after me. Let’s go.


To be

To be on

To be on thin

To be on thin ice x 5

Good job! Focus on linking those words. There’s a few things going on there. You will see though, if you join up to the Aussie English Classroom, when I break this down in the 10-minute video that I do each week for the pronunciation exercises, you will see the sort of little tidbits, the little important bits of information, about connected speech there, okay? To be on thin ice. Hopefully, that makes sense.

So, let’s go through and conjugate this just in the present tense, guys. Okay, so ‘I am’, ‘You are’, etc., but we’ll contract ‘am’, ‘are’, and ‘is’ on to the previous pronouns. Okay? So, let’s go.

I’m on thin ice

You’re on thin ice

She’s on thin ice

He’s on thin ice

We’re on thin ice

They’re on thin ice

It’s on thin ice

Good job! Good job! And I hope you paid attention to how those words are linking together, the connected speech there, okay? Anyway.

Let’s get into the Aussie English fact for today, guys, and then we will finish up, and I will bid you farewell for this week. All right.

So, today’s Aussie fact. It’s all about the Snowy Hydro Scheme. And so, my thought pattern was, okay, the phrase is ‘on thin ice’. What is there in Australia that is ice or snow or the cold that I can talk about? And I thought about the Snowy Mountains, and then I thought about the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme. So, I wonder if you guys have heard about this.

So, what is it. The Snowy Hydro Scheme is a hydroelectricity and irrigation complex in south-east Australia. The Scheme consists of 16 major dams, seven power stations, one pumping station, and over 225 kilometres of tunnels, pipelines, and aqueducts that were constructed between the years of 1949 and 1974. So, (it) went for about 25 years.

Astonishingly, only 2% of the construction work is visible above the ground. It was completed on time and in budget in 1974 at a total cost of $820 million dollars, which today, is the equivalent of more than $6 billion dollars. Pretty Penny.

So, this scheme was the largest-ever engineering project undertaken in Australia and was overseen by Chief Engineer, Sir William Hudson. Around two thirds of the workforce employed in the construction of the Snowy Hydro Scheme were recently-arrived immigrant workers desperate for work who originated from over 30 different foreign countries. The total number of workers on the Scheme was more than 100,000 in that 25-year period, and the official death toll reached 121 people. I don’t know if that’s a lot or if that’s not very many. Sounds like a lot.

At the completion of the project, the Australian government maintained much of the diverse workforce and created the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, SMEC, which remains an international engineering consultancy company up to today.

So, why was the Snowy Hydro Scheme built? You know, why was it put into place?

The Snowy Hydro Scheme was implemented to solve a yearly problem for farmers and inhabitants of south eastern Victoria. So, every year here in the snowfields in the Australian Alps the snow would fall on the Great Dividing Range and it would melt in spring time and summer time obviously, and then flood the low-lying flood plains and river flats in places like East Gippsland in southeast Victoria as the water flowed out into Bass Strait and into the Tasman Sea. Thus, each year, farmers didn’t know if their crops would be ruined by these floods or not.

In order to divert the excess snowmelt water and spare the farmers their yearly headache, the Snowy Hydro scheme was implemented, and this had numerous benefits including channeling the water away from the farmers crops into the Murray and Murrumbidgee River irrigation areas, which allowed farmers to access this water via the irrigation systems, and also, they were able to harness the power of the water and turn into electricity using hydroelectricity. Right?

So, how was this done? The water falls about 800 meters and travels through large hydroelectric power stations, which generate peak-load power for the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Victoria.

And in 2016, The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectricity System/Scheme, whatever you want to call it, was added to the Australian National Heritage List.

So, whether you’re into skiing and snowboarding, hiking or camping, or you just want to check out the dams and power plants and other things related to these Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme, the Snowy Mountains in the Australian Alps are definitely a beautiful spot worth checking out if you find yourself in the south east of Australia.

Anyway, guys that’s it for today. I hope you enjoy this episode. I hope you have a lovely week and I’ll see you soon. Catch ya!

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