Brexicon lessons: “Hemming and hawing” and other indecisive behaviour

The process of reaching agreement on Brexit continues and some British politicians still cling to the hope of negotiating a better deal. As time for negotiation runs out and the prospect of achieving more favourable terms seems remote, indecisive behaviour and responses attract sharp criticism. 
Here are some useful colloquial expressions for describing indecision, which can easily be applied to meetings and many workplace situations.  

Colloquial expressions are used in speech or in informal writing situations. They create a more casual effect and conversational tone, and importantly, give the impression that you speak English like a native.


1. Hemming and hawing

Meaning: To discuss, deliberate, or contemplate rather than taking action or making up one's mind.
Example: The local council hemmed and hawed for a year before deciding to build the new school.


2. To sit on the fence

Meaning: To avoid making a decision or choice. 
Example: The politician did not commit himself to either side. He just sat on the fence so as not to lose votes from either side. 


3. To sit on one's hands

Meaning: To remain idle when action is needed, perhaps because of fear, indecisiveness, or dislike of the person(s) or situation.
Example: They missed their opportunity because they sat on their hands for too long.


4. To sit out

Meaning: To stop doing something for a period of time, to break off, give up... to stay until the end of something, especially something unpleasant. 
Example: It may not be the ideal solution, but we can’t just sit it out and hope for the best.


5. To play a waiting game

Meaning: To postpone or delay a decision or course of action so as to first see what might happen or what one's opponent(s) might do.
Example: The market is rather volatile at the moment, so I think we're better off playing the waiting game rather than making any hasty decisions.


6. To play for time

Meaning: To try to delay something.
Example: They're just playing for time, hoping that the situation will resolve itself.


7. To drag one's feet/heels

Meaning: To be deliberately slow or reluctant to act.
Example: The government has dragged its heels over this important legislation.

8. To shilly-shally

Meaning: To spend too much time doing something or making a decision because you do not know what is the right thing to do.
Example:  Stop shilly-shallying and make a decision now.


9. To (dilly) dally

Meaning: To waste time, especially by being slow, or by not being able to make a decision.
Example: Most people would rather be doing something instead of just dillydallying.


10. To kick the can down the road

Meaning: To put off confronting a difficult issue or making an important decision. 
Example: I appreciate that he doesn't want to raise taxes, but sooner or later you have to stop kicking the can down the road.

Watch out for further articles in our Brexicon series or contact us for language assistance

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any assistance with international communications such as formulating changes in your company’s operations or policies in response to Brexit.


The London School of English offers high quality English language training for motivated adults from all professional backgrounds. We give you the tools and skills you need to communicate successfully in your field of expertise and to expand your business and career opportunities. Call us on +46 8 5999 4000 or email us at info@londonschool.se for more information about our tailored tuition or simply take our online test to check your English level

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