~ A ~
A bit much
If something is excessive or annoying, it is a bit much.
A day late and a dollar short
(USA) If something is a day late and a dollar short, it is too little, too late.
A fool and his money are soon parted
This idiom means that people who aren't careful with their money spend it quickly. 'A fool and his money are easily parted' is an alternative form of the idiom. =
A little bird told me
If someone doesn't want to say where they got some information from, they can say that a little bird told them.
If things are A OK, they are absolutely fine.
A penny for your thoughts
This idiom is used as a way of asking someone what they are thinking about.
A penny saved is a penny earned
This means that we shouldn't spend or waste money, but try to save it.
A poor man's something
Something or someone that can be compared to something or someone else, but is not as good is a poor man's version;
a writer who uses lots of puns but isn't very funny would be a poor man's Oscar Wilde.
A pretty penny
If something costs a pretty penny, it is very expensive.
A rising tide lifts all boats
This idiom, coined by John F Kennedy, describes the idea that when an economy is performing well, all people will
benefit from it.
A rolling stone gathers no moss
People say this to mean that that a go-getter type person is more successful than a person not doing any thing.
If something is a steal, it costs much less than it is really worth.
If something is A1, it is the very best or finest.
Abide by a decision
If you abide by a decision, you accept it and comply with it, even though you might disagree with it.
If someone changes their mind completely, this is an about face. It can be used when companies, governments, etc,
change their position on an issue.
If things are done above board, they are carried out in a legal and proper manner.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
This idiom means that when people are apart, their love grows stronger.
Accident waiting to happen
If something is an accident waiting to happen, there's definitely going to be an accident or it's bound to go wrong.
('Disaster waiting to happen' is also used.)
Ace up your sleeve
If you have an ace up your sleeve, you have something that will give you an advantage that other people don't know
A person's weak spot is their Achilles' heel.
An acid test is something that proves whether something is good, effective, etc, or not.
Across the board
If something applies to everybody, it applies across the board.
Across the pond
(UK) This idiom means on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, used to refer to the US or the UK depending on the
Actions speak louder than words
This idiom means that what people actually do is more important than what they say- people can promise things but
then fail to deliver.
Add fuel to the fire
If people add fuel to the fire, they make a bad situation worse.
Add insult to injury
When people add insult to injury, they make a bad situation even worse.
After your own heart
A person after your own heart thinks the same way as you.
Against the clock
If you do something against the clock, you are rushed and have very little time to do it.
Against the grain
If doing something goes against the grain, you're unwilling to do it because it contradicts what you believe in, but you
have no real choice.
Age before beauty
When this idiom is used, it is a way of allowing an older person to do something first, though often in a slightly sarcastic
An agony aunt is a newspaper columnist who gives advice to people having problems, especially personal ones.
Ahead of the pack
If you are ahead of the pack, you have made more progress than your rivals.
Ahead of time
If something happens ahead of time, it happens early or before the set time.
Albatross around your neck
An albatross around, or round, your neck is a problem resulting from something you did that stops you from being
Alike as two peas
If people or things are as alike as two peas, they are identical.
If you have known or suspected something all along, then you have felt this from the beginning.
All and sundry
This idiom is a way of emphasising 'all', like saying 'each and every one'.
If someone says they're all ears, they are very interested in hearing about something.
All eyes on me
If all eyes are on someone, then everyone is paying attention to them.
All fingers and thumbs
If you're all fingers and thumbs, you are too excited or clumsy to do something properly that requires manual dexterity.
'All thumbs' is an alternative form of the idiom.
All hat, no cattle
(USA) When someone talks big, but cannot back it up, they are all hat, no cattle.
Someone who is all heart is very kind and generous.
All hell broke loose
When all hell breaks loose, there is chaos, confusion and trouble.
All in your head
If something is all in your head, you have imagined it and it is not real.
All mod cons
If something has all mod cons, it has all the best and most desirable features. It is an abbreviation of 'modern
convenience' that was used in house adverts.
All mouth and trousers
(UK) Someone who's all mouth and trousers talks or boasts a lot but doesn't deliver. 'All mouth and no trousers' is also
used, though this is a corruption of the original.
All of the above
This idiom can be used to mean everything that has been said or written, especially all the choices or possibilities.
All over the map
(USA) If something like a discussion is all over the map, it doesn't stick to the main topic and goes off on tangents.
All over the place
If something is completely disorganised or confused, it is all over the place.
All over the shop
If something is completely disorganised or confused, it is all over the shop.
All roads lead to Rome
This means that there can be many different ways of doing something.
If you're all set, you are ready for something.
All skin and bone
If a person is very underweight, they are all skin and bone, or bones.
If something is all square, nobody has an advantage or is ahead of the others.
All talk and no trousers
(UK) Someone who is all talk and no trousers, talks about doing big, important things, but doesn't take any action.
All that glitters is not gold
This means that appearances can be deceptive and things that look or sound valuable can be worthless. ('All that
glistens is not gold' is an alternative.)
All the rage
If something's all the rage, it is very popular or fashionable at the moment.
All the tea in China
If someone won't do something for all the tea in China, they won't do it no matter how much money they are offered.
All your eggs in one basket
If you put all your eggs in one basket, you risk everything at once, instead of trying to spread the risk. (This is often used as a negative imperative- 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket'. 'Have your eggs in one basket' is also used.)
All's fair in love and war
This idiom is used to say that where there is conflict, people can be expected to behave in a more vicious way.
If something's all-singing, all-dancing, it is the latest version with the most up-to-date features.
An alter ego is a very close and intimate friend. It is a Latin phrase that literally means 'other self'.
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride
If someone is always a bridesmaid, never a bride, they never manage to fulfill their ambition- they get close, but never
manage the recognition, etc, they crave.
A lawyer who encourages people who have been in accidents or become ill to sue for compensation is an ambulance chaser.
Some use 'Amen' or 'Amen to that' as a way of agreeing with something that has just been said.
An old flame
An old flame is a person that somebody has had an emotional, usually passionate, relationship with, who is still looked on fondly and with affection.
And all that jazz
This idiom means that everything related or similar is included.
Answers on a postcard
This idiom can be used to suggest that the answer to something is very obvious or that the person would really like to
hear what people think.
Ants in your pants
If someone has ants in their pants, they are agitated or excited about something and can't keep still.
Any port in a storm
This means that in an emergency any solution will do, even one that would normally be unacceptable.
Any Tom, Dick or Harry
If something could be done by any Tom, Dick or Harry, it could be done by absolutely anyone.
Apple of your eye
Something or, more often, someone that is very special to you is the 'apple of your' eye.
A man who is tied to a woman's apron strings is excessively dependent on her, especially when it is his mother's apron
Argue the toss
(UK) If you argue the toss, you refuse to accept a decision and argue about it.
Arm and a leg
If something costs an arm and a leg, it is very expensive.
An armchair critic is someone who offers advice but never shows that they could actually do any better.
Armed to the teeth
If people are armed to the teeth, they have lots of weapons.
Arrow in the quiver
An arrow in the quiver is a strategy or option that could be used to achieve your objective.
As a rule
If you do something as a rule, then you usually do it.
As cold as ice
This idiom can be used to describe a person who does not show any emotion.
As cold as stone
If something is as cold as stone, it is very cold. If a person is as cold as stone, they are unemotional.
As cool as a cucumber
If someone is as cool as a cucumber, they don't get worried by anything.
As mad as a hatter
This simile means that someone is crazy or behaves very strangely. In the past many people who made hats went insane because they had a lot of contact with mercury.
As neat as a new pin
This idiom means tidy and clean.
As one man
If people do something as one man, then they do it at exactly the same time or in complete agreement.
As the actress said to the bishop
(UK) This idiom is used to highlight a sexual reference, deliberate or accidental.
As the crow flies
This idiom is used to describe the shortest possible distance between two places.
As you sow, so shall you reap
This means that if you do bad things to people, bad things will happen to you, or good things if you do good things.
Asleep at the switch
If someone is asleep at the switch, they are not doing their job or taking their responsibilities very carefully. 'Asleep at
the wheel' is an alternative.
Asleep at the wheel
If someone is asleep at the wheel, they are not doing their job or taking their responsibilities very carefully. 'Asleep at
the switch' is an alternative.
At a loose end
(UK) If you are at a loose end, you have spare time but don't know what to do with it.
At arm's length
(India) If something is at arm's length, it is very close to you.
At death's door
If someone looks as if they are at death's door, they look seriously unwell and might actually be dying.
At each other's throats
If people are at each other's throats, they are fighting, arguing or competing ruthlessly.
At full tilt
If something is at full tilt, it is going or happening as fast or as hard as possible.
If people are at loggerheads, they are arguing and can't agree on anything.
At loose ends
(USA) If you are at a loose end, you have spare time but don't know what to do with it.
If you are at odds with someone, you cannot agree with them and argue.
If things are at sea, or all at sea, they are disorganized and chaotic.
At the coalface
If you work at the coalface, you deal with the real problems and issues, rather than sitting in a office discussing things in
a detached way.
At the drop of a hat
If you would do something at the drop of a hat, you'd do it immediately.
At the end of the day
This is used to mean 'in conclusion' or 'when all is said and done'.
At the end of your rope
(USA) If you are at the end of your rope, you are at the limit of your patience or endurance.
At the end of your tether
(UK) If you are at the end of your tether, you are at the limit of your patience or endurance.
At your wit's end
If you're at your wit's end, you really don't know what you should do about something, no matter how hard you think
At your wits' end
If you are at your wits' end, you have no idea what to do next and are very frustrated.
An average Joe is an ordinary person without anything exceptional about them.
If someone makes a solemn or serious promise publicly to attempt to reach a certain goal, this is their avowed intent.
Something or someone that is awe inspiring amazes people in a slightly frightening but positive way.
AWOL stands for "Absent Without Leave", or "Absent Without Official Leave". Orignially a military term, it is used when
someone has gone missing without telling anyone or asking for permission.
Axe to grind
If you have an axe to grind with someone or about something, you have a grievance, a resentment and you want to get
revenge or sort it out. In American English, it is 'ax'.
~ B ~
Babe in arms
A babe in arms is a very young child, or a person who is very young to be holding a position.
Babe in the woods
A babe in the woods is a naive, defenceless, young person.
(USA) A baby boomer is someone born in the years after the end of the Second World War, a period when the
population was growing very fast.
If an issue is on the back burner, it is being given low priority.
(UK) If you are on your back foot, you are at a disadvantage and forced to be defensive of your position.
Something that's a back number is dated or out of fashion.
Back the wrong horse
If you back the wrong horse, you give your support to the losing side in something.
Back to back
If things happen back to back, they are directly one after another.
Back to square one
If you are back to square one, you have to start from the beginning again.
Back to the drawing board
If you have to go back to the drawing board, you have to go back to the beginning and start something again.
Back to the salt mine
If someone says they have to go back to the salt mine, they have to return to work.
A backseat driver is an annoying person who is fond of giving advice to the person performing a task or doing
something, especially when the advice is either wrong or unwelcome.
If people feel hate because of things that happened in the past, there is bad blood between them.
A person who cannot be trusted is a bad egg. Good egg is the opposite.
If something's in bad shape, it's in bad condition. If a person's in bad shape, they are unfit or unhealthy.
Bad taste in your mouth
If something leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, you feel there is something wrong or bad about it.
Bad workers always blame their tools
"A bad worker always blames their tools" - If somebody does a job badly or loses in a game and claims that they were
let down by their equipment, you can use this to imply that this was not the case.
Bag of nerves
If someone is a bag of nerves, they are very worried or nervous.
A Baker's dozen is 13 rather than 12.
Bald as a coot
A person who is completely bald is as bald as a coot.
Ball is in your court
If the ball is in your court, it is up to you to make the next decision or step.
A ballpark figure is a rough or approximate number (guesstimate) to give a general idea of something, like a rough
estimate for a cost, etc.
Banana republic is a term used for small countries that are dependent on a single crop or resource and governed badly
by a corrupt elite.
(UK) A banana skin is something that is an embarrassment or causes problems.
An area or an industry, profession, etc, where rules and laws are ignored or flouted is bandit territory.
Baptism of fire
A baptism of fire was a soldier's first experience of shooting. Any unpleasant experience undergone, usually where it is
also a learning experience, is a baptism of fire.
A bar fly is a person who spends a lot of time drinking in different bars and pubs.
Bare your heart
If you bare your heart to someone, you tell them you personal and private feelings. ('Bare your soul' is an alternative
form of the idiom.)
A barefaced liar is one who displays no shame about lying even if they are exposed.
Bark is worse than their bite
Someone who's bark is worse than their bite may well get angry and shout, but doesn't take action.
Barking up the wrong tree
If you are barking up the wrong tree, it means that you have completely misunderstood something or are totally wrong.
Barkus is willing
This idiom means that someone is willing to get married.
(UK) A barrack-room lawyer is a person who gives opinions on things they are not qualified to speak about.
Barrel of laughs
If someone's a barrel of laughs, they are always joking and you find them funny.
If something is a basket case, it is so bad that it cannot be helped.
Bat an eyelid
If someone doesn't bat an eyelid, they don't react or show any emotion when surprised, shocked, etc.
Batten down the hatches
If you batten down the hatches, you prepare for the worst that could happen to you.
Battle of nerves
A battle of nerves is a situation where neither side in a conflict or dispute is willing to back down and is waiting for the
other side to weaken. ('A war of nerves' is an alternative form.)
Be that as it may
Be that as it may is an expression which means that, while you are prepared to accept that there is some truth in what
the other person has just said, it's not going to change your opinions in any significant manner.
Be up the spout
(UK) If a woman is up the spout, she is pregnant.
A bean counter is an accountant.
If something bears fruit, it produces positive results.
Bear the brunt
People who bear the brunt of something endure the worst of something bad.
Beard the lion in his own den
If you confront a powerful or dangerous rival on their territory, you are bearding the lion in his own den.
Beat about the bush
If someone doesn't say clearly what they mean and try to make it hard to understand, they are beating about (around)
Beat someone to the draw
(USA) If you beat someone to the draw, you do something before they do.
Beat swords into ploughshares
If people beat swords into ploughshares, they spend money on humanitarian purposes rather than weapons. (The American English spelling is 'plowshares')
Beat the daylights out of someone
If someone beats the daylights out of another person, they hit them repeatedly. ('Knock' can also be used and it can be made even stronger by saying 'the living daylights'.)
Beat to the punch
If you beat someone to the punch, you act before them and gain an advantage.
Beating a dead horse
(USA) If someone is trying to convince people to do or feel something without any hope of succeeding, they're beating
a dead horse. This is used when someone is trying to raise interest in an issue that no-one supports anymore; beating a
dead horse will not make it do any more work.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder means that different people will find different things beautiful and that the
differences of opinion don't matter greatly.
Beauty is only skin deep
This idiom means that appearances can be deceptive and something that seems or looks good may turn out to be bad.
Beck and call
Someone who does everything for you, no matter when you ask, is at your beck and call.
Someone with bedroom eyes has a sexy look in their eyes.
Bee in your bonnet
If someone is very excited about something, they have a bee in their bonnet.
If something is the bee's knees, it's outstanding or the best in its class.
If you make a beeline for a place, you head there directly.
Been in the wars
(UK) If someone has been in the wars, they have been hurt or look as if they have been in a struggle.
Beer and skittles
(UK) People say that life is not all beer and skittles, meaning that it is not about self-indulgence and pleasure.
Before the ink is dry
<p>If people make an agreement or contract and then the situation changes very quickly, it changes before the ink is
Before you can say Jack Robinson
<p>The term Jack Robinson represents 'a short amount of time'. </p><p>When you do something before you can say
Jack Robinson, you do it very quickly.</p>
Beg the question
In philosophy "to beg the question" is to assume something to be true that has not yet been proved. I have seen the
idiom also to mean that a question is crying out to be asked.
Beggars can't be choosers
This idiom means that people who are in great need must accept any help that is offered, even if it is not a complete
solution to their problems.
When someone is behind bars, they are in prison.
Behind closed doors
If something happens away from the public eye, it happens behind closed doors.
Behind someone's back
If you do something behind someone's back, you do it without telling them.
Behind the times
Someone that is behind the times is old-fashioned and has ideas that are regarded as out-dated.
Believe in the hereafter
A belief in the hereafter is a belief in the afterlife, or life after death. It is, therefore, associated with religions and the
soul's journey to heaven or to hell, whichever way being just deserts for the person based on how they led their life.
Bells and whistles
Bells and whistles are attractive features that things like computer programs have, though often a bit unnecessary.
(USA) <p>To be somewhere with bells on means to arrive there happy and delighted to attend.</p>
If things go belly up, they go badly wrong.
If something isn't up to standard, or someone isn't feeling or doing very well, they are below par.
Below the belt
If someone says something that is cruel or unfair, it is below the belt, like the illegal punches in boxing.
Belt and braces
(UK) Someone who wears belt and braces is very cautious and takes no risks.
Belt and suspenders
(USA) Someone who wears belt and suspenders is very cautious and takes no risks.
Bend over backwards
If someone bends over backwards, they do everything they can to help someone.
Beside the point
If something is beside the point, it's not relevant to the matter being discussed or considered.
If you are beside yourself, you are extremely angry.
Best thing since sliced bread
If something is the best thing since sliced bread, it is excellent. ('The greatest thing since sliced bread' is also used.)
Bet your bottom dollar
(USA) If you can bet your bottom dollar on something, you can be absolutely sure about it.
Better late than never
This idiom suggests that doing something late is better than not doing it at all.
Better safe than sorry
This idiom is used to recommend being cautious rather than taking a risk.
Better than a stick in the eye
If something is better than a stick in the eye, it isn't very good, but it is better than nothing.
Better the devil you know
This is the shortened form of the full idiom, 'better the devil you know than the devil you don't', and means that it is
often better to deal with someone or something you are familiar with and know, even if they are not ideal, than take a
risk with an unknown person or thing.
Between a rock and a hard place
If you are caught between a rock and a hard place, you are in a position where you have to choose between unpleasant
alternatives, and your choice might cause you problems; you will not be able to satisfy everyone.
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
If you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, you are in a dilemma; a difficult choice.
Between the lines
If you read between the lines, you find the real message in what you're reading or hearing, a meaning that is not
available from a literal interpretation of the words.
Between you and me and the cat's whiskers
This idiom is used when telling someone something that you want them to keep secret.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt
If something's beyond a shadow of a doubt, then absolutely no doubts remain about it.
If people behave in such a way that you find it almost impossible to accept that they actually did it, then you can say
that their behaviour was beyond belief.
Beyond our ken
If something's beyond your ken, it is beyond your understanding.
Beyond the pale
If something's beyond the pale, it is too extreme to be acceptable morally or socially.
(USA) The Big Apple is New York.
If someone is making big bucks, they are making a lot of money.
The big cheese is the boss.
An important person in a company or an organisation is a big fish.
Big fish in a small pond
A big fish in a small pond is an important person in a small place or organisation.
A big hitter is someone who commands a lot of respect and is very important in their field.
If someone has a big nose, it means they are excessively interested in everyone else's business.
The big picture of something is the overall perspective or objective, not the fine detail.
This can be used to with the meaning 'very much'- if you like something big time, you like it a lot.
Bigger fish to fry
If you aren't interested in something because it isn't important to you and there are more important things for you to
do, you have bigger fish to fry.
Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' is a proverb meaning that it is better to have something that is certain than
take a risk to get more, where you might lose everything.
Bird's eye view
If you have a bird's eye view of something, you can see it perfectly clearly.
Someone who has a bird-brain, or is bird-brained, is stupid.
Birds and the bees
If a child is taught about the birds and the bees, they are taught about sex.
Birds of a feather flock together
This idiom means that people with similar interests will stick together.
If you are in your birthday suit, you are naked.
Bit between your teeth
If you take or have the bit between your teeth, you take or have control of a situation. (Bit = piece of metal in a horse's
If someone has a small or unimportant role in something, they have a bit part.
A bit player has a small or unimportant role in something.
Bite off more than you can chew
If you bite off more than you can chew, you take on more responsibilities than you can manage. 'Don't bite off more
than you can chew' is often used to advise people against agreeing to more than they can handle.
Bite the bullet
If you have to bite the bullet, you have to accept or face something unpleasant because it cannot be avoided.
Bite the dust
This is a way of saying that somebody has died, especially if they are killed violently like a soldier in battle.
Bite your lip
If you have to bite your lip, you have to make a conscious effort not to react or to keep quiet about something that
Bite your tongue
If you bite your tongue, you refrain from speaking because it is socially or otherwise better not to.
Bits and bobs
Bits and bobs are small, remnant articles and things- the same as odds and ends.
If you do something to the bitter end, you do it to the very end, no matter how unsuccessful you are.
Bitter pill to swallow
A bitter pill to swallow is something that is hard to accept.
Black and white
When it is very clear who or what is right and wrong, then the situation is black and white.
Black as Newgate's knocker
(UK) If things are as black as Newgate's knocker, they are very bad. Newgate was an infamous prison in England, so its
door knocker meant trouble.
If there is a black hole in financial accounts, money has disappeared.
Someone who is the black sheep doesn't fit into a group or family because their behaviour or character is not good
Similar to 'cutting edge', this implies a technology or process that is at the forefront or beyond current practices.
However, because it is unproven, it is often dangerous to use (hence the 'bleeding').
A bleeding heart is a person who is excessively sympathetic towards other people.
Blessing in disguise
If some bad luck or misfortune ultimately results in something positive, it's a blessing in disguise.
Blind as a bat
If you are in total darkness and can't see anything at all, you are as blind as a bat.
Blind leading the blind
When the blind are leading the blind, the people in charge of something don't know anything more than the people
they are in charge of, when they should have greater knowledge.
Blink of an eye
If something happens in the blink of an eye, it happens so fast it is almost impossible to notice it.
Blood and thunder
An emotional speech or performance is full of blood and thunder.
Blood is thicker than water
This idiom means that family relationships are stronger than others.
Blood is worth bottling
(AU) If an Australian says to you "Your blood is worth bottling", he/she is complimenting or praising you for doing
something or being someone very special.
Blood out of a stone
If something is like getting blood out of a stone, it is very difficult indeed.
Blood out of a stone
'You can't get blood out of a stone' means that it is impossible to get something from someone if they don't have it. We
also say that it was 'like getting blood from a stone' when it was very hard to get an answer from someone. 'Blood from
a rock' is an alternative.
Blood, sweat and tears
If something will take blood, sweat and tears, it will be very difficult and will require a lot of effort and sacrifice.
Blow a gasket
If you blow a gasket, you get very angry.
Blow by blow
A blow-by-blow description gives every detail in sequence.
Blow hot and cold
If you blow hot and cold on an idea, your attitude and opinion keeps changing; one minute you are for it, the next you
Blow off steam
(USA) If you blow off steam, you express your anger or frustration.
Blow out of the water
If something, like an idea, is blown out of the water, it is destroyed or defeated comprehensively.
Blow the cobwebs away
If you blow the cobwebs away, you make sweeping changes to something to bring fresh views and ideas in.
Blow your own trumpet
If someone blows their own trumpet, they boast about their talents and achievements.
Blow your stack
If you blow your stack, you lose your temper.
Blow your top
If someone blows their top, they lose their temper.
Someone with blue blood is royalty.
Someone's blue-eyed boy is their favourite person.
Bob's your uncle
(UK) This idiom means that something will be successful: Just tell him that I gave you his name and Bob's your uncle-
he'll help you.
A group of people organised under a single government or authority (national or regional) is a body politic.
Bolt from the blue
If something happens unexpectedly and suddenly, it is a bolt from the blue.
Bone of contention
If there is an issue that always causes tension and arguments, it is a bone of contention.
Bone to pick
If you have a bone to pick with someone, you are annoyed about something they have done and want to tell them how
Boot is on the other foot
When the boot's on the other foot, a person who was in a position of weakness is now in a position of strength.
Born to the purple
Someone who is born to the purple is born in a royal or aristocratic family. ("Born in the purple" is also used.)
Born with a silver spoon in your mouth
If you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you are born into a rich family.
In accountancy, the bottom line is net income, and is used idiomatically to mean the conclusion.
Bounce off the walls
If someone's bouncing off the walls, they are very excited about something.
Bouquet of orchids
Id someone deserves a bouquet of orchids, they have done something worthy of praise.
Box and dice
Box and dice means everything.
(UK) If you box clever, you use your intelligence to get what you want, even if you have to cheat a bit.
Boxing and coxing
If people are boxing and coxing, they are sharing responsibilities so that one of them is working while the other isn't. It
can also be used when couples are sharing a house, but their relationship has broken down and when one is at home,
the other stays out.
If something is not brain surgery, it isn't very complicated or difficult to understand or master.
If it's brass monkey weather, or cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, it is extremely cold.
(UK) Someone who has the brass neck to do something has no sense of shame about what they do.
If you get down to brass tacks, you get down to the real business.
Bread and butter
Bread and butter issues are ones that affect people directly and in a very important way.
Used to describe the person that earns the most money. For example - She's the breadwinner in the family.
Break a leg
This idiom is a way of wishing someone good luck.
If you break even, you don't make any money, but you don't lose any either.
If you break ground, or break new ground, you make progress, taking things into a new area or going further than
anyone has gone before. 'Ground-breaking' is used an adjective.
Break the ice
When you break the ice, you get over any initial embarrassment or shyness when you meet someone for the first time
and start conversing.
Break your duck
(UK) If you break your duck, you do something for the first time.
Break your heart
If someone upsets you greatly, they break your heart, especially if they end a relationship.
Breathe down your neck
If someone follows you or examines what you're doing very closely, they are breathing down your neck.
Breathe your last
When you breathe your last, you die.
Bright as a button
A person who is as bright as a button is very intelligent or smart.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
If someone's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they are full of energy and enthusiasm.
Brighten up the day
If something brightens up your day, something happens that makes you feel positive and happy all day long.
Bring a knife to a gunfight
If someone brings a knife to a gunfight, they are very badly prepared for something.
Bring home the bacon
A person who brings home the bacon earns the money that a family live on.
Bring someone to book
If somebody is brought to book, they are punished or made to account for something they have done wrong.
Bring the house down
Something that brings the house down is acclaimed and praised vigorously.
If an organisation is described as broad church, it is tolerant and accepting of different opinions and ideas.
If something is described or defined with broad stokes, then only an outline is given, without fine details.
When someone tries to make themselves popular with somebody, usually in a position of authority, especially by
flattering them, they are brown nosing.
If you try to earn Brownie points with someone, you do things you know will please them.
Brush under the carpet
If you brush something under the carpet, you are making an attempt to ignore it, or hide it from others.
Bull in a China shop
If someone behaves like a bull in a China shop, they are clumsy when they should be careful.
Bun in the oven
If a woman has a bun in the oven, she is pregnant.
Bundle of nerves
Someone who is a bundle of nerves is very worried or nervous.
Burn the candle at both ends
Someone who burns the candle at both ends lives life at a hectic pace, doing things which are likely to affect their
Burn the midnight oil
If you stay up very late working or studying, you burn the midnight oil.
Burn your bridges
If you burn your bridges, you do something that makes it impossible to go back from the position you have taken.
A burning question is something we all want to know about.
Bury the hatchet
If you bury the hatchet, you make peace with someone and stop arguing or fighting.
Bury your head in the sand
If someone buries their head in the sand, they ignore something that is obviously wrong.
A busman's holiday is when you spend your free time doing the same sort of work as you do in your job.
Someone or something that had great potential but ended up a useless failure is a busted flush.
Busy as a beaver
If you're as busy as a beaver, you're very busy indeed.
Butter wouldn't melt in their mouth
If someone looks as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouth, they look very innocent.
Butterflies in your stomach
The nervous feeling before something important or stressful is known as butterflies in your stomach.
Button your lip
If you button your lip, you keep quiet and don't speak. It is also used as a way of telling someone to shut up.
By a hair's breadth
If a person escapes from some danger by a hair's breadth, they only just managed to avoid it. The breadth is the
thickness of a hair, so they probably feel somewhat lucky because the margin between success and what could easily
have been failure was so close.
By a long chalk
(UK) If you beat somebody by a long chalk, you win easily and comfortably.
By a whisker
If you do something by a whisker, you only just manage to do it and come very near indeed to failing.
By dint of
This means 'as a result of' or 'because of': It would be good to think he'd risen to position of Chief Executive by dint of
If you learn something by heart, you learn it word for word.
By hook or by crook
If you are prepared to do something by hook or by crook, you are willing to do anything, good or bad, to reach your
By leaps and bounds
Something that happens by leaps and bounds happens very quickly in big steps.
By the back door
If something is started or introduced by the back door, then it is not done openly or by following the proper
By the book
If you do something by the book, you do it exactly as you are supposed to.
By the same token
If someone applies the same rule to different situations, they judge them by the same token: If things go well, he's full
of praise, but, by the same token, when things go wrong he gets furious.
By the seat of your pants
If you do something by the seat of your pants, you do it without help from anyone.
By the skin of your teeth
If you do something by the skin of your teeth, you only just manage to do it and come very near indeed to failing.
By word of mouth
If something becomes known by word of mouth, it gets known by being talked about rather than through publicity or
~ C ~
Cake's not worth the candle
If someone says that the cake's not worth the candle, they mean that the result will not be worth the effort put in to
Call a spade a spade
A person who calls a spade a spade is one speaks frankly and makes little or no attempt to conceal their opinions or to
spare the feelings of their audience.
Call the dogs off
If someone calls off their dogs, they stop attacking or criticising someone.
Call the shots
If you call the shots, you are in charge and tell people what to do.
Call the tune
The person who calls the tune makes the important decisions about something.
Can of worms
If an action can create serious problems, it is opening a can of worms.
Can't dance and it's too wet to plow
(USA) When you can't dance and it's too wet to plow, you may as well do something because you can't or don't have
the opportunity to do anything else.
Can't hold a candle
If something can't hold a candle to something else, it is much worse.
Canary in a coal mine
(UK) A canary in a coal mine is an early warning of danger.
Card up your sleeve
If you have a card up your sleeve, you have a surprise plan or idea that you are keeping back until the time is right.
A carpetbagger is an opportunist without any scruples or ethics, or a politican who wants to represent a place they have
no connection with.
Carrot and stick
If someone offers a carrot and stick, they offer an incentive to do something combined with the threat of punishment.
Carry the can
If you carry the can, you take the blame for something, even though you didn't do it or are only partly at fault.
Case by case
If things are done case by case, each situation or issue is handled separately on its own merits and demerits.
Cash in your chips
If you cash in your chips, you sell something to get what profit you can because you think its value is going to fall. It can
also mean 'to die'.
Cast doubt on
If you make other people not sure about a matter, then you have cast doubt on it.
Cast pearls before swine
If you cast pearls before swine, you offer something of value to someone who doesn't appreciate it- 'swine' are 'pigs'.
Cast your mind back
If somebody tells you to cast your mind back on something, they want you to think about something that happened in
the past, but which you might not remember very well, and to try to remember as much as possible.
Cast your net widely
If you cast your net widely, you use a wide range of sources when trying to find something.
Castles in the air
Plans that are impractical and will never work out are castles in the air.
Cat among the pigeons
If something or someone puts, or sets or lets, the cat among the pigeons, they create a disturbance and cause trouble.
A cat burglar is a skillful thief who breaks into places without disturbing people or setting off alarms.
Cat fur and kitty britches
(USA) <p>When I used to ask my grandma what was for dinner, she would say "cat fur and kitty britches". This was her
Ozark way of telling me that I would get what she cooked. </p><p> (Ozark is a region in the center of the United
Cat got your tongue?
If someone asks if the cat has got your tongue, they want to know why you are not speaking when they think you
If you have a short sleep during the day, you are cat napping.
(USA) Something that is the cat's pajamas is excellent.
Something excellent is the cat's whiskers.
Catch as catch can
This means that people should try to get something any way they can.
Catch someone red-handed
If someone is caught red-handed, they are found doing something wrong or illegal.
Caught with your hand in the cookie jar
(USA) If someone is caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar, he or she is caught doing something wrong.<br />
Chalk and cheese
Things, or people, that are like chalk and cheese are very different and have nothing in common.
Change horses in midstream
If people change horses in midstream, they change plans or leaders when they are in the middle of something, even
though it may be very risky to do so.
Change of heart
If you change the way you think or feel about something, you have a change of heart.
If you change tack, you use a different method for dealing with something.
Change your tune
If someone changes their ideas or the way they talk about them, they change their tune.
Charity begins at home
This idiom means that family members are more important than anyone else, and should be the focus of a person's
If someone chases rainbows, they try to do something that they will never achieve.
Cheap as chips
(UK) If something is very inexpensive, it is as cheap as chips.
Cheap at half the price
If something's cheap at half the price, it's very cheap indeed.
A cheap shot is an unprincipled criticism.
If someone cheats death, they narrowly avoid a major problem or accident.
Cheek by jowl
If things or people are cheek by jowl, they are very close together.
If people cherry pick, they choose things that support their position, while ignoring things that contradict it.
Chew on a bone.
If someone is chewing on a bone, he or she is thinking about something intently.
Chew the cud
If you chew the cud, you think carefully about something.
Chew the fat
If you chew the fat with someone, you talk at leisure with them.
If something is small or unimportant, especially money, it is chickenfeed.
Chinese walls are regulatory information barriers that aim to stop the flow of information that could be misused,
especially in financial corporations.
(UK) When a story is told from person to person, especially if it is gossip or scandal, it inevitably gets distorted and
exaggerated. This process is called Chinese whispers.
Chip off the old block
If someone is a chip off the old block, they closely resemble one or both of the parents in character.
Chip on your shoulder
If someone has a chip on their shoulder, they are resentful about something and feel that they have been treated
If you cannot get or put a cigarette paper between people, they are so closely bonded that nothing will separate them
or their positions on issues.
Circle the wagons
(USA) If you circle the wagons, you stop communicating with people who don't think the same way as you to avoid their
Someone who's a class act is exceptional in what they do.
Clean as a whistle
If something is as clean as a whistle, it is extremely clean, spotless. It can also be used to mean 'completely', though this
meaning is less common nowadays.
Clean bill of health
If something or someone has a clean bill of health, then there's nothing wrong; everything's fine.
If you make a clean break, you break away completely from something.
Someone with clean hands, or who keeps their hands clean, is not involved in illegal or immoral activities.
When someone has a clean sheet, they have got no criminal record or problems affecting their reputation. In football
and other sports, a goalkeeper has a clean sheet when let no goals in.
If you start something with a clean slate, then nothing bad from your past is taken into account.
If someone makes a clean sweep, they win absolutely everything in a competition or contest.
Clear as mud
If something is as clear as mud, then it is very confusing and unclear.
If something like a sports match or an election is a cliffhanger, then the result is so close that it cannot be predicted and
will only be known at the very end.
Climb on the bandwagon
When people climb on the bandwagon they do something because it is popular and everyone else is doing it.
Close at hand
If something is close at hand, it is nearby or conveniently located.<br />
Close but no cigar
(USA) If you are close but no cigar, you are close to success, but have not got there.
If the result of something is a close call, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the parties involved and to say
who has won or whatever.
If you have a close shave, you very nearly have a serious accident or get into trouble.
Close the stable door after the horse has bolted
If people try to fix something after the problem has occurred, they are trying to close the stable door after the horse
has bolted. 'Close the barn door after the horse has bolted' is alternative, often used in American English.
Close to your heart
If something is close to your heart, you care a lot about it. ('Dear to your heart' is an alternative.)
Closed book to me
If a subject is a closed book to you, it is something that you don't understand or know anything about.
Cloud cuckoo land
If someone has ideas or plans that are completely unrealistic, they are living on cloud cuckoo land.
If you are on cloud nine, you are extremely happy. ('cloud seven' is a less common alternative)
Cloud of suspicion
If a cloud of suspicion hangs over an individual, it means that they are not believed or are distrusted.
Cloud on the horizon
If you can see a problem ahead, you can call it a cloud on the horizon.
Clutch at straws
If someone is in serious trouble and tries anything to help them, even though their chances of success are probably nil,
they are clutching at straws.
Coals to Newcastle
(UK) Taking, bringing, or carrying coals to Newcastle is doing something that is completely unnecessary.
Cock and bull story
A cock and bull story is a lie someone tells that is completely unbelievable.
If you get cold feet about something, you lose the courage to do it.
A cold fish is a person who doesn't show how they feel.
Cold light of day
If you see things in the cold light of day, you see them as they really are, not as you might want them to be.
If you give or show someone the cold shoulder, you are deliberately unfriendly and unco-operative towards them.
If something brings you out in a cold sweat, it frightens you a lot.
If someone suddenly stops taking drugs, instead of slowly cutting down, they do cold turkey.
Accidental or unintended damage or casualties are collateral damage.
If something is collecting dust, it isn't being used any more.
Come a cropper
(UK) Someone whose actions or lifestyle will inevitably result in trouble is going to come a cropper.
If someone comes clean about something, they admit to deceit or wrongdoing.
Come hell or high water
If someone says they'll do something come hell or high water, they mean that nothing will stop them, no matter what
Come out in the wash
If something will come out in the wash, it won't have any permanent negative effect.
Come out of your shell
If someone comes out of their shell, they stop being shy and withdrawn and become more friendly and sociable.
Come rain or shine
If I say I'll be at a place COME RAIN OR SHINE, I mean that I can be relied on to turn up; nothing, not even the vagaries
of British weather, will deter me or stop me from being there.
Come to grips
If you come to grips with a problem or issue, you face up to it and deal with it.
Come up roses
If things come up roses, they produce a positive result, especially when things seemed to be going badly at first.
Come up smelling of roses
(UK) If someone comes up smelling of roses, they emerge from a situation with their reputation undamaged.
Come what may
If you're prepared to do something come what may, it means that nothing will stop or distract you, no matter how hard
or difficult it becomes.
Come with the territory
If something comes with the territory, it is part of a job or responsibility and just has to be accepted, even if unpleasant.
It is the temperature range in which the body doesn't shiver or sweat, but has an idiomatic sense of a place where
people feel comfortable, where they can avoid the worries of the world. It can be physical or mental.
Constitution of an ox
If someone has the constitution of an ox, they are less affected than most people by things like tiredness, illness,
Cook someone's goose
If you cook someone's goose, you ruin their plans.
Cook up a storm
If someone cooks up a storm, they cause a big fuss or generate a lot of talk about something.
Corner a market
If a business is dominant in an area and unlikely to be challenged by other companies, it has cornered the market.
A couch potato is an extremely idle or lazy person who chooses to spend most of their leisure time horizontal in front of
the TV and eats a diet that is mainly junk food.
Could eat a horse
If you are very hungry, you could eat a horse.
Couldn't give two hoots
If you couldn't give two hoots about something, you don't care at all about it.
Cover all the bases
If you cover all the bases, you deal with all aspects of a situation or issue, or anticipate all possibilities. ('Cover all bases'
is also used.)
Crack a nut with a sledgehammer
If you use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, you apply too much force to achieve a result. ('Jackhammer' is also used.)
Crash a party
If you crash a party, or are a gatecrasher, you go somewhere you haven't been invited to.
Cream of the crop
The cream of the crop is the best there is.
If a person said "I hate camping. I don't like giving up my creature comforts." the person would be referring, in
particular, to the comfortable things he/she would have at home but not when camping. At home, for example, he/she
would have complete shelter from the weather, a television, a nice comfortable warm bed, the ability to take a warm
bath or shower, comfortable lounge chairs to relax in and so on. The person doesn't like giving up the material and
psychological benefits of his/her normal life.
Creme de la creme
The creme de la creme is the very best of something.
If someone cries crocodile tears, they pretend to be upset or affected by something.
Cross to bear
If someone has a cross to bear, they have a heavy burden of responsibility or a problem that they alone must cope with.
If someone cries wolf, they raise a false alarm about something.
Cry your eyes out
If you cry your eyes out, you cry uncontrollably.
A cry-baby is a person who gets emotional and cries too easily.
(UK) If something is a bit of a curate's egg, it is only good in parts.
Curiosity killed the cat
As cats are naturally curious animals, we use this expression to suggest to people that excessive curiosity is not
necessarily a good thing, especially where it is not their business.
If people try to curry favour, they try to get people to support them. ('Curry favor' is the American spelling.)
(USA) If something is a curve ball, it is deceptive.
Cut and dried
If something is cut and dried, then everything has already been decided and, in the case of an opinion, might be a little
stale and predictable.
If people try to do something as cheaply or as quickly as possible, often sacrificing quality, they are cutting corners.
Cut down the tall poppies
(AU) If people cut down the tall poppies, they criticise people who stand out from the crowd.
Cut it fine
If you cut it fine, you only just manage to do something- at the very last moment. 'Cut things fine' is the same. 'Cut it a
bit fine' is a common variation.
Cut off your nose to spite your face
If you cut off your nose to spite your face, you do something rash or silly that ends up making things worse for you,
often because you are angry or upset.
Cut the Gordian knot
If someone cuts the Gordian knot, they solve a very complex problem in a simple way.
Cut the mustard
(UK) If somebody or something doesn't cut the mustard, they fail or it fails to reach the required standard.
Cut to the chase
If you cut to the chase, you get to the point, or the most interesting or important part of something without delay.
Cut to the quick
If someone's cut to the quick by something, they are very hurt and upset indeed.
Cut your coat according to your cloth
If you cut your coat according to your cloth, you only buy things that you have sufficient money to pay for.
Cut your teeth on
The place where you gain your early experience is where you cut your teeth.
Cute as a bug
(USA) If something is as cute as a bug, it is sweet and endearing.
Cuts no ice
If something cuts no ice, it doesn't have any effect or influence.
Something that is cutting edge is at the forefront of progress in its area.
~ D ~
Daft as a brush
(UK) Someone who is daft as a brush is rather stupid.
(UK) If something is expected to have a great effect or impact but doesn't, it is a damp squib.
If someone is a dark horse, they are a bit of a mystery.
Day in the sun
If you have your day in the sun, you get attention and are appreciated.
If you are overcharged or underpaid, it is a daylight robbery; open, unfair and hard to prevent. Rip-off has a similar
When there is a period of total silence, there is dead air.
Dead and buried
If something is dead and buried, it has all long been settled and is not going to be reconsidered.
Dead as a dodo
If something's dead as a dodo, it is lifeless and dull. The dodo was a bird that lived the island of Mauritius. It couldn't fly
and was hunted to extinction.
Dead as a doornail
This is used to indicate that something is lifeless.
If something is a dead duck, it is a failure.
Dead from the neck up
Someone who's dead from the neck up is very stupid indeed.
If a race ends in a dead heat, two or more finish with exactly the same result.
Dead in the water
If something is dead in the water, it isn't going anywhere or making any progress.
Dead man walking
A dead man walking is someone who is in great trouble and will certainly get punished, lose their job or position, etc,
This is used as a way of threatening someone: You'll be dead meat if you don't go along.
Dead men's shoes
If promotion or success requires replacing somebody, then it can only be reached by dead men's shoes' by getting rid of
Dead to the world
If somebody's fast asleep and completely unaware of what if happening around them, he or she's dead to the world.
Dear John letter
A letter written by a partner explaining why they are ending the relationship is a Dear John letter.
Death of a thousand cuts
If something is suffering the death of a thousand cuts, or death by a thousand cuts, lots of small bad things are
happening, none of which are fatal in themselves, but which add up to a slow and painful demise.
Death warmed up
(UK) If someone looks like death warmed up, they look very ill indeed. ('death warmed over' is the American form)
Tobacco is the demon weed.
If a person shows derring-do, they show great courage.
Devil finds work for idle hands
When people say that the devil finds work for idle hands, they mean that if people don't have anything to do with their
time, they are more likely to get involved in trouble and criminality.
Devil is in the detail
When people say that the devil in the detail, they mean that small things in plans and schemes that are often
overlooked can cause serious problems later on.
Devil may care
<p>If you live a devil-may-care life it means you are willing to take more risks than most people.</p>
If someone plays Devil's advocate in an argument, they adopt a position they don't believe in just for the sake of the
Diamond in the rough
A diamond in the rough is someone or something that has great potential, but isn't not refined and polished.
Die is cast
If the die is cast, a decision has been made that cannot be altered and fate will decide the consequences.
Different kettle of fish
If something is a different kettle of fish, it is very different from the other things referenced.
Different ropes for different folks
(USA) This idiom means that different people do things in different ways that suit them.
Different strokes for different folks
(USA) This idiom means that different people do things in different ways that suit them.
Dime a dozen
(USA) If something is a dime a dozen, it is extremely common, possibly too common.
Dip your toes in the water
If you dip your toes in the water, you try something tentatively because you are not sure whether it will work or not.
A dirty dog is an untrustworthy person.
If a person has a discerning eye, they are particularly good at judging the quality of something.
Discretion is the better part of valour
This idiom means that it is often better to think carefully and not act than to do something that may cause problems.
Dish the dirt
If you dish the dirt on something or someone, you make unpleasant or shocking information public.<br />
Do a Devon Loch
(UK) If someone does a Devon Loch, they fail when they were very close to winning. Devon Loch was a horse that
collapsed just short of the winning line of the Grand National race.
Do a runner
(UK) If people leave a restaurant without paying, they do a runner.
Do the running
(UK) The person who has to do the running has to make sure that things get done. ('Make the running' is also used.)
Do their dirty work
Someone who does someone's dirty work, carries out the unpleasant jobs that the first person doesn't want to do.
Someone who seems to enjoy doing this is sometimes known as a 'henchman'.
Do's and don't's
The do's and don't's are what is acceptable or allowed or not within an area or issue, etc.
Dog and pony show
(USA) A dog and pony show is a presentation or some marketing that has lots of style, but no real content.
Dog days are very hot summer days.
Dog eat dog
In a dog eat dog world, there is intense competition and rivalry, where everybody thinks only of himself or herself.
Dog in the manger
(UK) If someone acts like a dog in the manger, they don't want other people to have or enjoy things that are useless to
If you are dog tired, you are exhausted.
Something that is a dog's dinner is a real mess.
If some has a dog's life, they have a very unfortunate and wretched life.
If a book is dog-eared, it is in bad condition, with torn pages, etc.
If you ask for a doggy bag in a restaurant, they will pack the food you haven't eaten for you to take home.
If a person is in the doldrums, they are depressed. If a project or something similar is in the doldrums, it isn't making
Dollars for doughnuts
(USA) If something is dollars for doughnuts, it is a sure bet or certainty.
Don't catch your chickens before they're hatched
This means that you should wait until you know whether something has produced the results you desire, rather than
acting beforehand. ('Don't count your chickens until they've hatched' is an alternative.)
Don't give up the day job
This idiom is used a way of telling something that they do something badly.
Don't hold your breath
If you are told not to hold your breath, it means that you shouldn't have high expectations about something.
Don't judge a book by the cover
This idiom means that you should not judge something or someone by appearances, but should look deeper at what is
inside and more important.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
This means that if you are given something, a present or a chance, you should not waste it by being too critical or
examining it too closely.
Don't push my buttons!
This can be said to someone who is starting to annoy you.
Don't sweat the small stuff
(USA) This is used to tell people not to worry about trivial or unimportant issues.
Don't take any wooden nickels
(USA) This idiom is used to advise people not to be cheated or ripped off.
Don't upset the applecart
If you are advised not to upset the applecart, you are being told not to disturb the way things are done because it might
Don't wash your dirty laundry in public
(UK) People, especially couples, who argue in front of others or involve others in their personal problems and crises, are
said to be washing their dirty laundry in public; making public things that are best left private. (In American English,
'don't air your dirty laundry in public' is used.)
Done to death
If a joke or story has been done to death, it has been told so often that it has stopped being funny.
This idiom means 'a very long time'.
A person who doesn't stand up for themselves and gets treated badly is a doormat.
(UK) If something is double Dutch, it is completely incomprehensible.
If someone does a double take, they react very slowly to something to show how shocked or surprised they are.
A double whammy is when something causes two problems at the same time, or when two setbacks occur at the same
If someone uses an argument that could both help them and harm them, then they are using a two-edged sword; it
cuts both ways.
A Doubting Thomas is someone who only believes what they see themselves, not what they are told.
Down and out
If someone is down and out, they are desperately poor and need help.
Down at heel
Someone who is down at heel is short of money. ('Down in heel' is used in American English)
Down for the count
If someone is down for the count, they have lost a struggle, like a boxer who has been knocked out.
Down in the doldrums
If somebody's down in the doldrums, they are depressed and lacking energy.
Down in the dumps
If someone's down in the dumps, they are depressed.
Down in the mouth
If someone is down in the mouth, they look unhappy or depressed.
Down the drain
If something goes down the drain, especially money or work, it is wasted or produces no results.
Down the pan
If something has gone down the pan, it has failed or been ruined.
Down the tubes
If something has gone down the tubes, it has failed or been ruined.
Down to the wire
(USA) If something goes down to the wire, like a competition, then it goes to the very last moment before it is clear
who has won.
Someone who's down-to-earth is practical and realistic. It can also be used for things like ideas.
Drag your feet
If someone is dragging their feet, they are taking too long to do or finish something, usually because they don't want to
Drag your heels
If you drag your heels, you either delay doing something or do it as slowly as possible because you don't want to do it.
Draw a blank
If you try to find something out and draw a blank, you don't get any useful information.
Draw a line in the sand
If you draw a line in the sand, you establish a limit beyond which things will be unacceptable.
Draw a long bow
If someone draws a long bow, they lie or exaggerate.
Draw the line
When you draw the line, you set out limits of what you find acceptable, beyond which you will not go.
Draw the shortest straw
If someone draws the shortest straw, they lose or are chosen to do something unpleasant.
Dress to kill
When someone is dressed to kill, they are dressed very smartly.
Dressed to the nines
If you are in your very best clothes, you're dressed to the nines.
Drink like a fish
If someone drinks like a fish, they drink far too much alcohol.
Drive a wedge
If you drive a wedge between people, you exploit an issue so that people start to disagree.
Drive someone up the wall
If something or someone drives you up the wall, they do something that irritates you greatly.
Drop in the bucket
(USA) A drop in the bucket is something so small that it won't make any noticeable difference.
Drop in the ocean
A drop in the ocean implies that something will have little effect because it is small and mostly insignificant.
Drop someone a line
If you drop someone a line, you send a letter to them.
Drop the ball
If someone drops the ball, they are not doing their job or taking their responsibilities seriously enough and let
something go wrong.
Drunk as a lord
(UK) Someone who is very drunk is as drunk as a lord.
Dry as a bone
If your lawn is as dry as a bone, the soil is completely dry.
If something or someone is having a dry spell, they aren't being as successful as they normally are.
(USA) If something is duck soup, it is very easy.
Duck to water
If you take to something like a duck to water, you find when you start that you have a natural affinity for it.
Ducks in a row
(USA) If you have your ducks in a row, you are well-organized.
Dull as ditchwater
(UK) If something is as dull as ditchwater, it is incredibly boring. A ditch is a long narrow hole or trench dug to contain
water, which is normally a dark, dirty colour and stagnant (when water turns a funny colour and starts to smell bad). (In
American English,'things are 'dull as dishwater'.)
(UK) Dunkirk spirit is when people pull together to get through a very difficult time.
If something is sold by setting a price, then reducing it until someone buys it, it is sold in a Dutch auction. It can also
mean that something is changed until it is accepted by everyone.
Dutch courage is the reckless bravery caused by drinking too much.
If something like a meal is a Dutch treat, then each person pays their own share of the bill.
A Dutch uncle is a person who gives unwelcome advice.
Dwell on the past
Thinking too much about the past, so that it becomes a problem is to dwell on the past.
If someone is a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of a political party, etc, they support them totally, without any questions.
~ F ~
Face like thunder
If someone has a face like thunder, they are clearly very angry or upset about something.
Face the music
If you have to face the music, you have to accept the negative consequences of something you have done wrong.
If you take something at face value, you accept the appearance rather than looking deeper into the matter.
Facts of life
When someone is taught the facts of life, they learn about sex and reproduction.
Fair and square
If someone wins something fair and square, they follow the rules and win conclusively.
Fair crack of the whip
(UK) If everybody has a fair crack of the whip, they all have equal opportunities to do something.
Fair shake of the whip
(USA) If everybody has a fair shake of the whip, they all have equal opportunities to do something.
A fairweather friend is the type who is always there when times are good but forgets about you when things get
difficult or problems crop up.
Fall off the back of a lorry
(UK) If someone tries to sell you something that has fallen of the back of a lorry, they are trying to sell you stolen goods.
Fall off the turnip truck
(USA) If someone has just fallen off the turnip truck, they are uninformed, naive and gullible. (Often used in the
Fall on our feet
If you fall on your feet, you succeed in doing something where there was a risk of failure.
Fall on your sword
If someone falls on their sword, they resign or accept the consequences of some wrongdoing.
Familiarity breeds contempt
This means that the more you know something or someone, the more you start to find faults and dislike things about it
Fast and furious
Things that happen fast and furious happen very quickly without stopping or pausing.
A fat cat is a person who makes a lot of money and enjoys a privileged position in society.
This idiom is a way of telling someone they have no chance.
A fat head is a dull, stupid person.
Fat hits the fire
When the fat hits the fire, trouble breaks out.
Fat of the land
Living off the fat of the land means having the best of everything in life.
Fate worse than death
Describing something as a fate worse than death is a fairly common way of implying that it is unpleasant.
Feather in your cap
A success or achievement that may help you in the future is a feather in your cap.
Feather your own nest
If someone feathers their own nest, they use their position or job for personal gain.
When people are fighting or arguing angrily, we can say that feathers are flying.
Fed up to the back teeth
When you are extremely irritated and fed up with something or someone, you are fed up to the back teeth.
Feel at home
If you feel relaxed and comfortable somewhere or with someone, you feel at home.
If you ask for permission to do something and are told to feel free, the other person means that there is absolutely no
Feel the pinch
If someone is short of money or feeling restricted in some other way, they are feeling the pinch.
If you feel blue, you are feeling unwell, mainly associated with depression or unhappiness.
Feet of clay
If someone has feet of clay, they have flaws that make them seem more human and like normal people.
Feet on the ground
A practical and realistic person has their feet on the ground.
Fiddle while Rome burns
If people are fiddling while Rome burns, they are wasting their time on futile things while problems threaten to destroy
(UK) A fifth columnist is a member of a subversive organisation who tries to help an enemy invade.
(USA) A fifth wheel is something unnecessary or useless.
Fight an uphill battle
When you fight an uphill battle, you have to struggle against very unfavourable circumstances.
Fight tooth and nail
If someone will fight tooth and nail for something, they will not stop at anything to get what they want. ('Fight tooth
and claw' is an alternative.)
If you have a fighting chance, you have a reasonable possibility of success.
Find your feet
When you are finding your feet, you are in the process of gaining confidence and experience in something.
Fine and dandy
(UK) If thing's are fine and dandy, then everything is going well.
Small adjustments to improve something or to get it working are called fine tuning.
Fine words butter no parsnips
This idiom means that it's easy to talk, but talk is not action.
Finger in the pie
If you have a finger in the pie, you have an interest in something.
Fingers and thumbs
If you are all fingers and thumbs, you are being clumsy and not very skilled with your hands.
If you want to ask someone a question and they tell you to fire away, they mean that you are free to ask what you
Fire on all cylinders
If something is firing on all cylinders, it is going as well as it could.
First come, first served
This means there will be no preferential treatment and a service will be provided to those that arrive first.
First out of the gate
When someone is first out of the gate, they are the first to do something that others are trying to do.
First port of call
The first place you stop to do something is your first port of call.
Fish or cut bait
(USA) This idiom is used when you want to tell someone that it is time to take action.
Fish out of water
If you are placed in a situation that is completely new to you and confuses you, you are like a fish out of water.
If there is something fishy about someone or something, there is something suspicious; a feeling that there is
something wrong, though it isn't clear what it is.
Fit as a fiddle
If you are fit as a fiddle, you are in perfect health.
Fit for a king
If something is fit for a king, it is of the very highest quality or standard.
Fit of pique
If someone reacts badly because their pride is hurt, this is a fit of pique.
Fit the bill
If something fits the bill, it is what is required for the task.
Fit to be tied
If someone is fit to be tied, they are extremely angry.
Flash in the pan
If something is a flash in the pan, it is very noticeable but doesn't last long, like most singers, who are very successful for
a while, then forgotten.
If you work flat out, you work as hard and fast as you possibly can.
Fleet of foot
If someone is fleet of foot, they are very quick.
Flesh and blood
Your flesh and blood are your blood relatives, especially your immediate family.
Flogging a dead horse
(UK) If someone is trying to convince people to do or feel something without any hope of succeeding, they're flogging a
dead horse. This is used when someone is trying to raise interest in an issue that no-one supports anymore; beating a
dead horse will not make it do any more work.
Flowery speech is full of lovely words, but may well lack substance.
Fly by the seat of one's pants
If you fly by the seat of one's pants, you do something difficult even though you don't have the experience or training
Fly in the ointment
A fly in the ointment is something that spoils or prevents complete enjoyment of something.
Fly off the handle
If someone flies off the handle, they get very angry.
Fly on the wall
If you are able to see and hear events as they happen, you are a fly on the wall.
Fly the coop
When children leave home to live away from their parents, they fly the coop.
Fly the flag
If someone flies the flag, they represent or support their country. ('Wave the flag' and 'show the flag' are alternative
forms of this idiom)
Food for thought
If something is food for thought, it is worth thinking about or considering seriously.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me
This means that you should learn from your mistakes and not allow people to take advantage of you repeatedly.<br />
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
This idiom is used where people who are inexperienced or lack knowledge do something that more informed people
Foot the bill
The person who foots the bill pays the bill for everybody.
Football's a game of two halves
(UK) If something's a game of two halves, it means that it's possible for someone's fortunes or luck to change and the
person who's winning could end up a loser.
For a song
If you buy or sell something for a song, it is very cheap.
For donkey's years
(UK) If people have done something, usually without much if any change, for an awfully long time, they can be said to
have done it for donkey's years.
(UK) A person who talks for England, talks a lot- if you do something for England, you do it a lot or to the limit.
If you do something for kicks, or just for kicks, you do it purely for fun or thrills.
For my money
This idiom means 'in my opinion'.
For the time being
For the time being indicates that an action or state will continue into the future, but is temporary. I'm sharing an office
for the time being.
Something enjoyable that is illegal or immoral is forbidden fruit.
If the result of, say, a football match is a foregone conclusion, then the result is obvious before the game has even
Forest for the trees
(USA) If someone can't see the forest for the trees, they get so caught up in small details that they fail to understand
the bigger picture.
If the police suspect foul play, they think a crime was committed.
Four corners of the earth
If something goes to, or comes from, the four corners of the earth, it goes or comes absolutely everywhere.
If someone stands four-square behind someone, they give that person their full support.
This is an idiomatic way of describing the media, especially the newspapers.
If someone has a free rein, they have the authority to make the decisions they want without any restrictions. ('Free
reign' is a common mistake.)
Fresh from the oven
If something is fresh from the oven, it is very new.
If someone makes a Freudian slip, they accidentally use the wrong word, but in doing so reveal what they are really
thinking rather than what they think the other person wants to hear.
When relationships are on a friendly footing, they are going well.
From a different angle
If you look at something from a different angle, you look at it from a different point of view.
(USA) If someone is from Missouri, then they require clear proof before they will believe something.
From pillar to post
If something is going from pillar to post, it is moving around in a meaningless way, from one disaster to another.
From rags to riches
Someone who starts life very poor and makes a fortune goes from rags to riches.
This idiom means 'from the beginning'.
From soup to nuts
If you do something from soup to nuts, you do it from the beginning right to the very end.
From the bottom of your heart
If someone does something from the bottom of their heart, then they do it with genuine emotion and feeling.
From the get-go
(USA) If something happens from the get-go, it happens from the very beginning.
From the horse's mouth
If you hear something from the horse's mouth, you hear it directly from the person concerned or responsible.
From the sublime to the ridiculous
If something declines considerably in quality or importance, it is said to have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
From the word go
From the word go means from the very beginning of something.
When something has come full circle, it has ended up where it started.
(UK) If something is the Full Monty, it is the real thing, not reduced in any way.
Full of beans
If someone's full of beans, they are very energetic.
Full of hot air
Someone who is full of hot air talks a lot of rubbish.
Full of piss and vinegar
Someone who's full of piss and vinegar is full of youthful energy.
Full of the joys of spring
If you are full of the joys of spring, you are very happy and full of energy.
If a something is in full swing, it is going or doing well.
Fullness of time
If something happens in the fullness of time, it will happen when the time is right and appropriate.
~ G ~
A game plane is a strategy.
Garbage in, garbage out
If a computer system or database is built badly, then the results will be bad.
(UK) If someone is paid for a period when they are not working, either after they have given in their notice or when
they are being investigated, they are on gardening leave.
If events gather pace, they move faster.<br />
If something gathers speed, it moves or progresses at an increasing speed.
Get your feathers in a bunch
If you get your feathers in a bunch, you get upset or angry about something.
Get along famously
If people get along famously, they have an exceedingly good relationship.
Get away scot-free
If someone gets away scot-free, they are not punished when they have done something wrong. ('Get off scot-free' is an
Get in on the ground floor
If you get in on the ground floor, you enter a project or venture at the start before people know how successful it might
Get it in the neck
(UK) If you get it in the neck, you are punished or criticised for something.
Get my drift
If you get someone's drift, you understand what they are trying to say. ('Catch their drift' is an alternative form.)
Get on like a house on fire
If people get on like a house on fire, they have a very close and good relationship.
Get on your nerves
If something gets on your nerves, it annoys or irritates you.<br />
Get on your soapbox
If someone on their soapbox, they hold forth (talk a lot) about a subject they feel strongly about.
Get out of bed on the wrong side
If you get out of bed on the wrong side, you wake up and start the day in a bad mood for no real reason.
Get the ball rolling
If you get the ball rolling, you start something so that it can start making progress.
Get the green light
If you get the green light to do something, you are given the necessary permission, authorisation.
Get the nod
(UK) If you get the nod to something, you get approval or permission to do it.
Get to grips
If you get to grips with something, you take control and do it properly.
Get up and go
If someone has lots of get up and go, they have lots of enthusiasm and energy.
Get your feet wet
If you get your feet wet, you gain your first experience of something.
Get your goat
If something gets your goat, it annoys you.
Get your hands dirty
If you get your hands dirty, you become involved in something where the realities might compromise your principles. It
can also mean that a person is not just stuck in an ivory tower dictating strategy, but is prepared to put in the effort and
hard work to make the details actually happen.
Get your head around something
If you get your head around something, you come to understand it even though it is difficult to comprehend.
Get your teeth into
<p>If you get your teeth into something, you become involved in or do something that is intellectually challenging or
satisfying.</p><p> </p><p>('Dig you teeth into' and 'sink your teeth into' are also used.) </p>
Ghost of a chance
If something or someone hasn't got a ghost of a chance, they have no hope whatsoever of succeeding.
You can feel or otherwise sense a ghostly presence, but you cannot do it clearly only vaguely.
Gift of the gab
If someone has the gift of the gab, they speak in a persuasive and interesting way.
Gild the lily
If you gild the lily, you decorate something that is already ornate.
If someone is in a gilded cage, they are trapped and have restricted or no freedom, but have very comfortable
surroundings- many famous people live in luxury but cannot walk out of their house alone.
A girl Friday is a female employee who assists someone without any specific duties.
Give a dog a bad name
A person who is generally known to have been guilty of some offence will always be suspected to be the author of all
similar types of offence. Once someone has gained a bad reputation, it is very difficult to lose it.
Give and take
Where there is give and take, people make concessions in order to get things they want in negotiations.
Give as good as you get
If you give as good as you get, you are prepared to treat people as badly as they treat you and to fight for what you
Give it some stick
(UK) If you give something some stick, you put a lot of effort into it.
Give me a hand
If someone gives you a hand, they help you.
Give someone a leg up
If you give someone a leg up, you help them to achieve something that they couldn't have done alone.
Give someone a piece of your mind
If you give someone a piece of your mind, you criticise them strongly and angrily.
Give someone a run for their money
If you can give someone a run for the money, you are as good, or nearly as good, as they are at something.
Give someone enough rope
If you give someone enough rope, you give them the chance to get themselves into trouble or expose themselves. (The
full form is 'give someone enough rope and they'll hang themselves)
Give someone stick
(UK) If someone gives you stick, they criticise you or punish you.
Give the nod
(UK) If you give the nod to something, you approve it or give permission to do it.
Give up the ghost
People give up the ghost when they die.
Give your eye teeth
If you really want something and would be prepared to sacrifice a lot to get it, you would give your eye teeth for it.
Given the day that's in it
(Irish) This idiom is used when something is obvious because of the day that it occurs: traffic, for example would be
busy around a football stadium on game day, given the day that's in it. On any other day the traffic would be
unexplainable, but because its game day its obvious why there is traffic.
The glass ceiling is the discrimination that prevents women and minorities from getting promoted to the highest levels
of companies and organisations.
Gloves are off
When the gloves are off, people start to argue or fight in a more serious way. ('The gloves come off' and 'take the
gloves off' are also used. It comes from boxing, where fighters normally wear gloves so that they don't do too much
damage to each other.)
Glutton for punishment
If a person is described as a glutton for punishment, the happily accept jobs and tasks that most people would try to get
out of. A glutton is a person who eats a lot.
Gnaw your vitals
If something gnaws your vitals, it troubles you greatly and affects you at a very deep level. ('Gnaw at your vitals' is also
Go against the grain
A person who does things in an unconventional manner, especially if their methods are not generally approved of, is
said to go against the grain. Such an individual can be called a maverick.
If things go awry, they go wrong.
If you go blue, you are very cold indeed. ('Turn blue' is an alternative form.)
If a company goes bust, it goes bankrupt.
If you go Dutch in a restaurant, you pay equal shares for the meal.
Go fly a kite
(USA) This is used to tell someone to go away and leave you alone.
Go for broke
If someone goes for broke, they risk everything they have for a potentially greater gain.
Go fry an egg
(USA) This is used to tell someone to go away and leave you alone.
Go hand in hand
If things go hand in hand, they are associated and go together.
Go off on a tangent
If someone goes off on a tangent, they change the subject completely in the middle of a conversation or talk.
If things have gone wrong, they have gone pear-shaped.
Go play in traffic
This is used as a way of telling someone to go away.
Go round in circles
If people are going round in circles, they keep discussing the same thing without reaching any agreement or coming to a
If things go south, they get worse or go wrong.
(UK) If you go spare, you lose your temper completely.
Go the extra mile
If someone is prepared to go the extra mile, they will do everything they can to help or to make something succeed,
going beyond their duty what could be expected of them .
Go the whole hog
If you go the whole hog, you do something completely or to its limits.
Go to seed
If someone has gone to seed, they have declined in quality or appearance.
Go under the hammer
If something goes under the hammer, it is sold in an auction.
If something goes west, it goes wrong. If someone goes west, they die.
Go with the flow
If you go with the flow, you accept things as they happen and do what everyone else wants to do.
A go-to guy is a person whose knowledge of something is considerable so everyone wants to go to him or her for
information or results.
A golden handshake is a payment made to someone to get them to leave their job.
The golden rule is the most essential or fundamental rule associated with something. Originally, it was not a general
reference to an all purpose first rule applicable to many groups or protocols, but referred to a verse in the Bible about
treating people they way you would want them to treat you, which was considered the First Rule of behavior towards
all by all.
Someone with a golden touch can make money from or be successful at anything they do.
If someone has gone fishing, they are not very aware of what is happening around them.
Gone for a burton
(UK) If something's gone for a burton, it has been spoiled or ruined. If a person has gone for a burton, they are either in
serious trouble or have died.
(UK) If things have gone pear-shaped they have either gone wrong or produced an unexpected and unwanted result.
Gone to pot
If something has gone to pot, it has gone wrong and doesn't work any more.
Gone to the dogs
If something has gone to the dogs, it has gone badly wrong and lost all the good things it had.
Someone with good antennae is good at detecting things.
A person who can be relied on is a good egg. Bad egg is the opposite.
Good fences make good neighbours
<p>This means that it is better for people to mind their own business and to respect the privacy of
others.</p><p>('Good fences make good neighbors' is the American English spelling.) </p>
If something's in good shape, it's in good condition. If a person's in good shape, they are fit and healthy.
A spell can mean a fairly or relatively short period of time; you'll hear weather forecasts predict a dry spell. Sports
commentators will say that a sportsperson is going through a good spell when they're performing consistently better
than they normally do.
If you make good time on a journey, you manage to travel faster than you expected.
Good walls make good neighbours
Your relationship with your neighbours depends, among other things, on respecting one another's privacy.
A goody two-shoes is a self-righteous person who makes a great deal of their virtue.
Grab the bulls by its horns
If you grab (take) the bull by its horns, you deal head-on and directly with a problem.
Grain of salt
If you should take something with a grain of salt, you shouldn't necessarily believe it all. ('pinch of salt' is an alternative)
Grain of salt
If you should take something with a grain of salt, you shouldn't accept it as true without looking more carefully at it.
Grasp the nettle
(UK) If you grasp the nettle, you deal bravely with a problem.
This idioms is often used in politics, where it refers to the ordinary people or voters. It can be used to mean people at
the bottom of a hierarchy.
A grass widow is a woman whose husband is often away on work, leaving her on her own.
If you have to work very late at night, it is the graveyard shift.
If someone is on the gravy train, they have found and easy way to make lots of money.
A grease monkey is an idiomatic term for a mechanic.
Grease someone's palm
If you grease someone's palm, you bribe them to do something.
Grease the skids
If you grease the skids, you facilitate something.
If something or someone moves like greased lightning, they move very fast indeed.
If something or someone is going great guns, they are doing very well.
An exclamation of surprise.
This is a term used for the working class masses.
Great white hope
Someone who is expected to be a great success is a great white hope.
Greek to me
If you don't understand something, it's all Greek to you.
Green around the gills
If someone looks green around the gills, they look ill.
(UK) Someone with green fingers has a talent for gardening.
If you are given the green light, you are given approval to do something.
(USA) Someone with a talent for gardening has a green thumb.
The green-eyed monster is an allegorical phrase for somebody's strong jealousy
A greenhorn or someone who is described simply as green lacks the relevant experience and knowledge for their job or
A grey/gray area is one where there is no clear right or wrong.
Grey/gray matter is the human brain.
(UK) In the UK, the grey pound is an idiom for the economic power of elderly people.
The men in grey suits are people who have a lot of power in business or politics, but aren't well-known or charismatic.
Grin and bear it
If you have to grin and bear it, you have to accept something that you don't like.
Grin like a Cheshire cat
If someone has a very wide smile, they have a grin like a Cheshire cat.
Grist for the mill
Something that you can use to your advantage is grist for the mill. ('Grist to the mill' is also used.)
If you are a guinea-pig, you take part in an experiment of some sort and are used in the testing.
If a nation conducts its diplomatic relations by threatening military action to get what it wants, it is using gunboat
If someone is gung ho about something, they support it blindly and don't think about the consequences.
~ H ~
Hair of the dog
If someone has a hair of the dog, they have an alcoholic drink as a way of getting rid of a hangover, the unpleasant
effects of having drunk too much alcohol the night before. It is commonly used as a way of excusing having a drink early
on in the day.
Hairy at the heel
(UK) Someone who is hairy at the heel is dangerous or untrustworthy.
Hale and hearty
Someone who is hale and hearty is in very good health.
Half a mind
If you have half a mind to do something, you haven't decided to do it, but are thinking seriously about doing it.<br />
A half-baked idea or scheme hasn't not been thought through or planned very well.
Hammer and tongs
If people are going at it hammer and tongs, they are arguing fiercely. The idiom can also be used hen people are doing
Hand in glove
If people are hand in glove, they have an extremely close relationship.
Hand that rocks the cradle
Women have a great power and influence because they have the greatest influence over the development of children-
the hand that rocks the cradle. ('The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world' is the full form.)
Hand to mouth
Someone who's living from hand to mouth, is very poor and needs the little money they have coming in to cover their
If someone is better hands down than everyone else, they are much better.
Handwriting like chicken scratch
If your handwriting is very hard to read, it is like chicken scratch.
Hang by a thread
If something hangs by a thread, there is a very small chance indeed of it being successful or surviving.
Hang in the balance
If an outcome is hanging in the balance, there are at least two possibilities and it is impossible to predict which will win
Hang out to dry
If you hang someone out to dry, you abandon them when they are in trouble.
A hangdog expression is one where the person's showing their emotions very clearly, maybe a little too clearly for your
liking. It's that mixture of misery and self-pity that is similar to a dog when it's trying to get something it wants but
daren't take without permission.
Hanged for a sheep as a lamb
This is an expression meaning that if you are going to get into trouble for doing something, then you ought to stop
worrying and should try to get everything you can before you get caught.
Hard as nails
A person who is as hard as nails is either physically tough or has little or no respect for other people's feelings.
(UK) Hard cheese means hard luck.
Hard of hearing
Someone who's hard of hearing is a bit deaf.
If someone puts a lot of pressure on you to do or buy something, they are hard selling it.
Haste makes waste
This idiom means that if you try to do something quickly, without planning it, you're likely to end up spending more
time, money, etc, doing it.
Three successes one after the other is a hat trick.
A piece of criticism that destroys someone's reputation is a hatchet job.
Have a bash
If you have a bash at something, you try to do it, especially when there isn't much chance of success.
Have a go
If you have a go, you try to do something, often when you don't think you have much chance of succeeding.<br />
Have a trick up your sleeve
If you have a trick up your sleeve, you have a secret strategy to use when the time is right.
Have the floor
If someone has the floor, it is their turn to speak at a meeting.
Have your cake and eat it too
If someone wants to have their cake and eat it too, they want everything their way, especially when their wishes are
Have your collar felt
If someone has their collar felt, they are arrested.
Have your tail up
If someone has their tail up, they are optimistic and expect to be successful.
Have your work cut out
If you have your work cut out, you are very busy indeed.
Having a gas
If you're having a gas, you are having a laugh and enjoying yourself in company.
He'll rue the day
He'll rue the day that he crossed me. This means that the person will one day bitterly regret what they have done.
Head for the hills
If people head for the hills, they run away from trouble.
Head is in the clouds
If a person has their head in the clouds, they have unrealistic, impractical ideas.
Head nor tail
If you can't make head nor tail of something, you cannot understand it at all or make any sense of it.
Head on a spike
If someone wants a head on a spike, they want to be able to destroy or really punish a person.
Head on the block
If someone's head is on the block, they are going to be held responsible and suffer the consequences for something
that has gone wrong.
Head over heels in love
When someone falls passionately in love and is intoxicated by the feeling has fallen head over heels in love.
Heads will roll
If heads will roll, people will be punished or sacked for something that has gone wrong.
A headstrong person is obstinate and does not take other people's advice readily.
Healthy as a horse
If you're as healthy as a horse, you're very healthy.
Hear a pin drop
If there is complete silence in a room, you can hear a pin drop.
Hear on the grapevine
To receive information indirectly through a series of third parties, similar to a rumour.
Heart in the right place
If someone's heart is in the right place, they are good and kind, though they might not always appear to be so.
Heart in the right place
If someone's heart is in the right place, their intentions and feelings are good.
Heart in your boots
If you're heart is in your boots, you are very unhappy.
Heart in your mouth
If your heart is in your mouth, then you feel nervous or scared.
Heart isn't in it
If your heart is not in something, then you don't really believe in it or support it.
Heart misses a beat
If your heart misses a beat, you are suddenly shocked or surprised. ('Heart skips a beat' is an alternative)
Heart of gold
Someone with a heart of gold is a genuinely kind and caring person.
If you ask someone a question and they say this, they have no idea.
The heavenly bodies are the stars.
If someone is heavy-handed, they are insensitive and use excessive force or authority when dealing with a problem.
Hedge your bets
If you hedge your bets, you don't risk everything on one opportunity, but try more than one thing.
Hell for leather
If you do something hell for leather, especially running, you do it as fast as you can.
Hell in a handcart
If something is going to hell in a handcart, it is getting worse and worse, with no hope of stopping the decline.
If you have to try to co-ordinate a very difficult situation, where people want to do very different things, you are
Here today, gone tomorrow
Money, happiness and other desirable things are often here today, gone tomorrow, which means that they don't last
for very long.
Hiding to nothing
If people are on a hiding to nothing, their schemes and plans have no chance of succeeding. 'Hiding to nowhere' is an
High and dry
If you are left high and dry, you are left alone and given no help at all when you need it.
High and mighty
The high and mighty are the people with authority and power. If a person is high and mighty, they behave in a superior
and condescending way.
If someone is high-handed, they behave arrogantly and pompously.
A high-wire act is a dangerous or risky strategy, plan, task, etc.
A Himalayan blunder is a very serious mistake or error.<br />
Hit a nerve
If something hits a nerve, it upsets someone or causes them pain, often when it is something they are trying to hide.
Hit and miss
Something that is hit and miss is unpredictable and may produce results or may fail.
Hit the airwaves
If someone hits the airwaves, they go on radio and TV to promote something or to tell their side of a story.
Hit the bull's-eye
If someone hits the bull's-eye, they are exactly right about something or achieve the best result possible. "Bulls-eye"
and "bullseye" are alternative spellings.
Hit the ceiling
If someone hits the ceiling, they lose their temper and become very angry.
Hit the fan
When it hits the fan, or, more rudely, the shit hits the fan, serious trouble starts.
Hit the ground running
If someone hits the ground running, they start a new job or position in a very dynamic manner.
Hit the hay
When you hit the hay, you go to bed.
Hit the mark
If someone hits the mark, they are right about something.
Hit the nail on the head.
If someone hits the nail on the head, they are exactly right about something.
Hit the road
When people hit the road, they leave a place to go somewhere else.
Hit the roof
If you lose your temper and get very angry, you hit the roof.
Hit the sack
When you hit the sack, you go to bed.
Hoist with your own petard
If you are hoist with your own petard, you get into trouble or caught in a trap that you had set for someone else.
Hold all the aces
If you hold all the aces, you have all the advantages and your opponents or rivals are in a weak position.
Hold the baby
(UK) If someone is responsible for something, they are holding the baby.
Hold the bag
(USA) If someone is responsible for something, they are holding the bag.
Hold the fort
If you hold the fort, you look after something or assume someone's responsibilities while they are away.
Hold your horses
If someone tells you to hold your horses, you are doing something too fast and they would like you to slow down.
Hold your own
If you can hold your own, you can compete or perform equally with other people.
Someone who is holier-than-thou believes that they are morally superior to other people.
A hollow victory is where someone wins something in name, but are seen not to have gained anything by winning.
This is a way of expressing surprise: "Holy smoke! Look at all of those geese!"
The home stretch is the last part of something, like a journey, race or project.
(UK) This is a cliched way of telling the driver of a vehicle to start driving. It is supposed to be an order to a chauffeur (a
privately employed driver).
If someone claims that something is the honest truth, they wish to sound extra-sincere about something.
Honours are even
If honours are even, then a competition has ended with neither side emerging as a winner.
Hook, line, and sinker
If somebody accepts or believes something hook, line, and sinker, they accept it completely.
Hop, skip, and a jump
If a place is a hop, skip, and a jump from somewhere, it's only a short distance away.
Hope against hope
If you hope against hope, you hope for something even though there is little or no chance of your wish being fulfilled.
Hope in hell
If something hasn't got a hope in hell, it stands absolutely no chance of succeeding.
If you stir up a hornets' nest, you do something very controversial that causes a lot of trouble and anger.
A hornets' nest is a violent situation or one with a lot of dispute. (If you create the problem, you 'stir up a hornets'
Horns of a dilemma
If you are on the horns of a dilemma, you are faced with two equally unpleasant options and have to choose one.
Horse of a different color
(USA) If something is a horse of a different color, it's a different matter or separate issue altogether.
Horse trading is an idiom used to describe negotiations, especially where these are difficult and involve a lot of
Horses for courses
Horses for courses means that what is suitable for one person or situation might be unsuitable for another.
If a company is bought out when it does not want to be, it is known as a hostile takeover.
Language that is full of words but means little or nothing is hot air.
Hot as blue blazes
If something's as hot as blue blazes, it's extremely hot.
Hot as Hades
If something's as hot as Hades, it's extremely hot.
(USA) A hot button is a topic or issue that people feel very strongly about.
If you hot foot it out of a place, you leave very quickly, often running.
(USA) A hot ticket is something that is very much in demand at the moment.
Hot under the collar
If you're hot under the collar, you're feeling angry or bothered.
If you get into hot water, you get into trouble.
Someone who is hot-blooded is easily excitable or passionate.
A hot-headed person gets angry very easily. (The noun 'hothead' can also be used.)
If you want to show disbelief or surprise about an action, you can ask a question using 'how come'. How come he got
the job? (You can't believe that they gave the job to somebody like him)
How do you like them apples
(USA) This idiomatic expression is used to express surprise or shock at something that has happened. It can also be used
to boast about something you have done.
How long is a piece of string
If someone has no idea of the answer to a question, they can ask 'How long is a piece of string?' as a way of indicating
This is used as a way of asking people how they are and how things have been going in their life.
Hue and cry
Hue and cry is an expression that used to mean all the people who joined in chasing a criminal or villain. Nowadays, if
you do something without hue and cry, you do it discreetly and without drawing attention.
~ I ~
I hereby give notice of my intention
Hereby is used sometimes in formal, official declarations and statements to give greater force to the speaker' or the
writer's affirmation. People will say it sometimes to emphasise their sincerity and correctness.
I should cocoa
(UK) This idiom comes from 'I should think so', but is normally used sarcastically to mean the opposite.
I'll eat my hat
You can say this when you are absolutely sure that you are right to let the other person know that there is no chance of
your being wrong.
I've got a bone to pick with you
If somebody says this, they mean that they have some complaint to make against the person they are addressing.
I've got your number
You have made a mistake and I am going to call you on it. You are in trouble (a threat). I have a disagreement with you.
I understand your true nature.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it
Any attempt to improve on a system that already works is pointless and may even hurt it.
If the cap fits, wear it
This idiom means that if the description is correct, then it is describing the truth, often when someone is being
criticised. ('If the shoe fits, wear it' is an alternative)
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride
This means that wishing for something or wanting it is not the same as getting or having it.
If you will
'If you will' is used as a way of making a concession in a sentence: He wasn't a very honest person, a liar if you will.
Here, it is used a way of accepting that the reader or listener might think of the person as a liar, but without commit the
writer or speaker to that position fully.
If you'll pardon my French
(UK) This idiom is used as a way of apologising for swearing.
Ill-gotten gains are profits or benefits that are made either illegally or unfairly.
In a cleft stick
If you are in a cleft stick, you are in a difficult situation, caught between choices.
In a flash
If something happens in a flash, it happens very quickly indeed.
In a heartbeat
If something happens very quickly or immediately, it happens in a heartbeat.
In a jam
If you are in a jam, you are in some trouble.
In a jiffy
If something happens in a jiffy, it happens very quickly.
In a nutshell
This idiom is used to introduce a concise summary.
In a pickle
If you are in a pickle, you are in some trouble or a mess.
In a tick
(UK) If someone will do something in a tick, they'll do it very soon or very quickly.
In all honesty
If you say something in all honesty, you are telling the complete truth. It can be used as a way of introducing a negative
opinion whilst trying to be polite; in all honesty, I have to say that I wasn't very impressed.
In an instant
If something happens in an instant, it happens very rapidly.
In broad daylight
If a crime or problem happens in broad daylight, it happens during the day and should have been seen and stopped.
If people are in cahoots, they are conspiring together.
In cold blood
If something is done in cold blood, it is done ruthlessly, without any emotion.
In dire straits
If you're in dire straits, you're in serious trouble or difficulties.
In donkey's years
'I haven't seen her in donkey's years.' - This means for a very long time.
In dribs and drabs
If people arrive in dribs and drabs, they come in small groups at irregular intervals, instead of all arriving at the same
When things happen in droves, a lot happen at the same time or very quickly.
In for a penny, in for a pound
If something is worth doing then it is a case of in for a penny, in for a pound, which means that when gambling or taking
a chance, you might as well go the whole way and take all the risks, not just some.
In full swing
If things are in full swing, they have been going for a sufficient period of time to be going well and very actively.
In high gear
(USA) If something is in high gear, it is in a quick-paced mode. If someone is in high gear, they are feverishly on the fast
In hot water
If you are in hot water, you are in serious trouble.
In my bad books
If you are in someone's bad books, they are angry with you. Likewise, if you are in their good books, they are pleased
In my book
This idiom means 'in my opinion'.
In my good books
If someone is in your good books, you are pleased with or think highly of them at the moment.
In one ear and out the other
If something goes in one ear and out the other, you forget it as soon as you've heard it because it was too complicated,
In over your head
If someone is in over their head, they are out of the depth in something they are involved in, and may end up in a mess.
In rude health
(UK) If someone's in rude health, they are very healthy and look it.
In someone's pocket
If a person is in someone's pocket, they are dependent, especially financially, on them.
(UK) If you have something in spades, you have a lot of it.
If someone is in stitches, they are laughing uncontrollably.
If people do things in tandem, they do them at the same time.
In the black
If your bank account is in credit, it is in the black.
In the club
(UK) If a woman's in the club, she's pregnant. 'In the pudding club' is an alternative form.
In the dock
If someone is in the dock, they are on trial in court.
In the doghouse
If someone is in the doghouse, they are in disgrace and very unpopular at the moment.
In the doghouse
If someone is in the doghouse, they are in disgrace because they have done something wrong.
In the face of
If people act in the face of something, they do it despite it or when threatened by it.
In the family way
If a woman is in the family way, she is pregnant.
In the flesh
If you meet or see someone in the flesh you actually meet or see them, rather than seeing them on TV or in other
In the hot seat
If someone's in the hot seat, they are the target for a lot of unwelcome criticism and examination.
In the know
If you are in the know, you have access to all the information about something, which other people don't have.
In the long run
This means 'over a long period of time', 'in the end' or 'in the final result'.
In the loop
If you're in the loop, you are fully informed about what is happening in a certain area or activity.
In the making
When something is in the making, it means it is in the process of being made.
In the offing
If something is in the offing, it is very likely to happen soon.
In the pink
If you are in very good health, you are in the pink.
In the pipeline
If something's in the pipeline, it hasn't arrived yet but its arrival is expected.
In the red
If your bank account is overdrawn, it is in the red.
In the same boat
If people are in the same boat, they are in the same predicament or trouble.
In the soup
If you're in the soup, you're in trouble.
In the swim
If you are in the swim, you are up-to-date with and fully informed about something.
In the swing
If things are in the swing, they are progressing well.
In the twinkling of an eye
If something happens in the twinkling of an eye, it happens very quickly.
This means one after the other. Example: She spoke to each of the guests in turn.
In two minds
If you are in two minds about something, you can't decide what to do.
In your element
If you are in your element, you feel happy and relaxed because you are doing something that you like doing and are
good at. "You should have seen her when they asked her to sing; she was in her element."
In your face
If someone is in your face, they are direct and confrontational. (It is sometime written 'in yer face'colloquially)
In your sights
If you have someone or something in your sights, they are your target to beat.
If people walk in Indian file, they walk in a line one behind the other.
An Indian giver gives something, then tries to take it back.
If there is a period of warmer weather in late autumn, it is an Indian summer.
Ins and outs
If you know the ins and outs of something, you know all the details.
Into each life some rain must fall
This means that bad or unfortunate things will happen to everyone at some time.
Into thin air
If something vanishes or disappears without trace, it vanishes into thin air; no-one knows where it has gone.
Someone who rules or controls something with an iron fist is in absolute control and tolerates no dissent. An iron fist in
a velvet glove is used to describe someone who appears soft on the outside, but underneath is very hard. 'Mailed fist' is
an alternative form.
Irons in the fire
A person who has a few irons in the fire has a number of things working to their advantage at the same time.
Is Saul also among the prophets?
It's a biblical idiom used when somebody known for something bad appears all of a sudden to be doing something very
It ain't over till the fat lady sings
This idiom means that until something has officially finished, the result is uncertain.
It cost an arm and a leg
If something costs an arm and a leg, it is very expensive indeed.
It cost the earth
If something costs the earth, it is very expensive indeed.
It never rains but it pours
'It never rains but it pours' means that when things go wrong, they go very wrong.
It takes two to tango
This idiom is used to suggest that when things go wrong, both sides are involved and neither side is completely
It's an ill wind that blows no good
This is said when things have gone wrong; the idea being that when bad things happen, there can also be some positive
It's no use crying over spilt milk
This idiom means that getting upset after something has gone wrong is pointless; it can't be changed so it should be
People who live in ivory towers are detached from the world around them.
~ J ~
If everything has frozen in winter, then Jack Frost has visited.
A jack-of-all-trades is someone that can do many different jobs.
(UK) This idiom is used when people promise good things for the future that will never come.
Jane Doe is a name given to an unidentified female who may be party to legal proceedings, or to an unidentified person
in hospital, or dead. John Doe is the male equivalent.
(UK) Jersey justice is very severe justice.
To emphasise just how black something is, such as someone's hair, we can call it jet-black.
Someone who says they want to comfort, but actually discomforts people is a Job's comforter. (Job's is pronounced
'jobes', not 'jobs')
Jobs for the boys
Where people give jobs, contracts, etc, to their friends and associates, these are jobs for the boys.
Jockey for position
If a number of people want the same opportunity and are struggling to emerge as the most likely candidate, they are
jockeying for position.
John Doe is a name given to an unidentified male who may be party to legal proceedings, or to an unidentified person
in hospital, or dead. Jane Doe is the female equivalent.
John Q Public
(USA) John Q Public is the typical, average person.
A Johnny-come-lately is someone who has recently joined something or arrived somewhere, especially when they want
to make changes that are not welcome.
Joined at the hip
If people are joined at the hip, they are very closely connected and think the same way.
If you are juggling frogs, you are trying to do something very difficult.
Jump on the bandwagon
If people jump on the bandwagon, they get involved in something that has recently become very popular.
Jump the gun
If you jump the gun, you start doing something before the appropriate time.
Jump through hoops
If you are prepared to jump through hoops for someone, you are prepared to make great efforts and sacrifices for
Jungle out there
If someone says that it is a jungle out there, they mean that the situation is dangerous and there are no rules.
If the jury's out on an issue, then there is no general agreement or consensus on it.
Just around the corner
If something is just around the corner, then it is expected to happen very soon.
Just coming up to
If the time is just coming up to nine o'clock, it means that it will be nine o'clock in a very few seconds. You'll hear them
say it on the radio in the morning.
If a bad or evil person gets their just deserts, they get the punishment or suffer the misfortune that it is felt they
Just in the nick of time
If you do something in the nick of time, you just manage to do it just in time, with seconds to spare.
Just off the boat
If someone is just off the boat, they are naive and inexperienced.
Just what the doctor ordered
If something's just what the doctor ordered, it is precisely what is needed.
~ K ~
When people take the law into their own hands and form courts that are not legal, these are known as kangaroo court.
Keen as mustard
(UK) If someone is very enthusiastic, they are as keen as mustard.
If you keep abreast of things, you stay informed about developments.
Keep at bay
If you keep someone or something at bay, you maintain a safe distance from them.
Keep body and soul together
If you earn enough to cover your basic expenses, but nothing more than that, you earn enough to keep body and soul
Keep it under your hat
If you keep something under your hat, you keep it secret.
If you keep mum about something, you keep quiet and don't tell anyone.
If you keep posted about something, you keep up-to-date with information and developments.
Keep someone at arm's length
If you keep someone or something at arm's length, you keep a safe distance away from them.
Keep the wolf at bay
If you keep the wolf at bay, you make enough money to avoid going hungry or falling heavily into debt.
Keep up with the Joneses
People who try to keep up with the Joneses are competitive about material possessions and always try to have the
latest and best things.
Keep your chin up
(UK) This expression is used to tell someone to have confidence.
Keep your chin up
This idiom is used as a way of encouraging someone and telling them not to give up.
Keep your ear to the ground
If you keep your ear to the ground, you try to keep informed about something, especially if there are rumours or
Keep your eye on the ball
If you keep your eye on the ball, you stay alert and pay close attention to what is happening.
Keep your eyes peeled
If you keep your eyes peeled, you stay alert or watchful.
Keep your fingers crossed
If you are keeping your fingers crossed, you are hoping for a positive outcome.
Keep your hair on
Keep your hair on is advice telling someone to keep calm and not to over-react or get angry.
Keep your head above water
If you are just managing to survive financially, you are keeping your head above water.
Keep your nose clean
If someone is trying to keep their Nose Clean, they are trying to stay out of trouble by not getting involved in any sort of
Keep your nose to the grindstone
If you keep your nose to the grindstone, you work hard and seriously.
Keep your options open
If someone's keeping their options open, they aren't going to restrict themselves or rule out any possible course of
Keep your pecker up
If someone tells you to keep your pecker up, they are telling you not to let your problems get on top of you and to try
to be optimistic.
Keep your powder dry
If you keep your powder dry, you act cautiously so as not to damage your chances.
Keep your shirt on!
This idiom is used to tell someone to calm down.
Keep your wig on!
(UK) This idiom is used to tell someone to calm down.
Kettle of fish
A pretty or fine kettle of fish is a difficult problem or situation.
Kick a habit
If you kick a habit, you stop doing it.
Kick away the ladder
If someone kicks away the ladder, they remove something that was supporting or helping someone.
Kick in the teeth
Bad news or a sudden disappointment are a kick in the teeth.
Kick something into the long grass
If an issue or problem is kicked into the long grass, it is pushed aside and hidden in the hope that it will be forgotten or
Kick the ballistics
It means you realise the intensity of a situation. For example, there is too much unemployment now, so the prime
minister must kick the ballistics and change his policy.
Kick the bucket
When someone kicks the bucket, they die.
Kick up your heels
If you kick up your heels, you go to parties or celebrate something.
If someone is handled with kid gloves, they are given special treatment and handled with great care.
Kill the goose that lays the golden egg
If you kill the goose that lays the golden egg, you ruin something that is very profitable.
Kill two birds with one stone
When you kill two birds with one stone, you resolve two difficulties or matters with a single action.
A kindred spirit is someone who feels and thinks the way you do.
King of the castle
The king of the castle is the person who is in charge of something or in a very comfortable position compared to their
Kiss of death
The kiss of death is an action that means failure or ruin for someone, a scheme, a plan, etc.
Kiss something goodbye
If someone tells you that you can kiss something goodbye, you have no chance of getting or having it.<br />
A kissing cousin is someone you are related to, but not closely.
(UK) Kitchen-sink drama deals with ordinary people's lives.
Kith and kin
Your kith and kin are your family; your next of kin are close relations you nominate to deal with your affairs in the event
of your death on a document, like a passport.
A knee-jerk reaction is an instant, instinctive response to a situation.
Knight in shining armour
A knight in shining armour is someone who saves you when you are in great trouble or danger.
Knit your brows
If you knit your brows, you frown or look worried.
Knock 'em dead
'Knock 'em dead' is used as a way of wishing someone luck before they give a performance or have to appear before
people, as in an interview, etc. ('em = them)
Knock on wood
This idiom is used to hope for good luck.
Knock on wood
This idiom is used to wish for good luck. ('Touch wood' is also used.)
Knock your socks off
If something knocks your socks off, it amazes and surprises you, usually in a positive way.
Know a hawk from a handsaw
If someone knows a hawk from a handsaw, they are able to distinguish things and assess them.
Know full well
When you know full well, you are absolutely sure that you know.
Know the ropes
Someone who is experienced and knows how the system works know the ropes.
Know which side one's bread is buttered on
If you know which side one's bread is buttered on, you know where your interests lie and will act accordingly to protect
or further them.
Know your onions
If someone is very well-informed about something, they know their onions.
Know your place
A person who knows their place doesn't try to impose themselves on others.
~ L ~
Labor of love
A labor of love is a project or task undertaking for the interest or pleasure in doing it rather than the reward, financial
Labour of love
A labour of love is a project or task undertaking for the interest or pleasure in doing it rather than the reward, financial
If something or someone is a lame duck, they are in trouble.
Land of nod
If someone has gone to the land of nod, they have fallen asleep or gone to bed.
Lap of the gods
If something is in the lap of the gods, it is beyond our control and fate will decide the outcome.
Larger than life
If something is excessive or exaggerated, it is larger than life.
If an elderly person does something special before they die, it is a last hurrah.
The person who has the last laugh ends up with the the advantage in a situation after some setbacks.
The last straw is the final problem that makes someone lose their temper or the problem that finally brought about the
collapse of something. It comes from an Arabic story, where a camel was loaded with straw until a single straw placed
on the rest of the load broke its back.
A last-ditch attempt is a desperate attempt that will probably fail anyway.
Laugh to see a pudding crawl
(UK) Someone who would laugh to see a pudding crawl is easily amused and will laugh at anything.
If someone becomes a laughing stock they do something so stupid or wrong that no one can take them seriously and
people scorn and laugh at them.
Law unto yourself
If somebody's a law unto themselves, they do what they believe is right regardless of what is generally accepted as
Lay down the law
If someone lays down the law, they tell people what to do and are authoritarian.
Lead someone up the garden path
If someone leads you up the garden path, they deceive you, or give you false information that causes you to waste your
time. 'Lead someone down the garden path' is also used.
Lead with the chin
If someone leads with their chin, they speak or behave without fear of the consequences.
Leave no stone unturned
If you look everywhere to find something, or try everything to achieve something, you leave no stone unturned.
Leave well alone
If you leave something well alone, you keep a safe distance from it, either physically or metaphorically.
Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing
If the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, then communication within a company, organisation, group,
etc, is so bad that people don't know what the others are doing.
Left in the dark
If you are left in the dark about something, you aren't given the information that you should have.
Left to your own devices
If someone is left to their own devices, they are not controlled and can do what they want.
A left-handed compliment is one that sounds like praise but has an insulting meaning. ('Backhanded compliment' is an
Legend in your own lunchtime
Somebody who becomes a legend in their own lifetime acquires fame, but often only to a select or specialist audience,
while they are still alive.
Lend an ear
If you lend an ear, you listen to what someone has to say. ('Lend your ear' is an alternative form.)
Leopard can't change its spots
This idiom means that people cannot change basic aspects of their character, especially negative ones. ("A leopard
doesn't change its spots" is also used.)
Lesser of two evils
Something that is the lesser of two evils, is an unpleasant option, but not as bad as the other.
This is used to emphasise how extreme something could be: 'We hadn't got the money to phone home, let alone stay in
a hotel.' This emphasises the utter impossibility of staying in a hotel.
Let bygones be bygones
If people decide to let bygones be bygones, they decide to forget old problems or grievances they have with each other.
Let sleeping dogs lie
If someone is told to let sleeping dogs lie, it means that they shouldn't disturb a situation as it would result in trouble or
Let the cat out of the bag
If you accidentally reveal a secret, you let the cat out of the bag.
Let the chips fall where they may
This means that we shouldn't try to control events, because destiny controls them.
Let the devil take the hindmost
This idiom means that you should think of yourself and not be concerned about other people; look after yourself and
let the devil take the hindmost.
Let the genie out of the bottle
If people let the genie out of the bottle, they let something bad happen that cannot be put right or controlled.
Let the grass grow round your feet
If you let the grass grow round your feet, you delay doing things instead of taking action.
Let your hair down
If someone lets their hair down, they relax and stop feeling inhibited or shy.
Letter of the law
If people interpret laws and regulations strictly, ignoring the ideas behind them, they follow the letter of the law.
Level playing field
If there's a level playing field everybody is treated equally.
If someone lies low, they try not to be found or caught.
Lie through your teeth
Someone who is always lying, regardless of what people know, lies through their teeth.
Life and limb
When people risk life and limb, they could be killed or suffer serious injuries.
Light at the end of the tunnel
If you can see light at the end of the tunnel, then you can see some signs of hope in the future, though things are
difficult at the moment.
Light bulb moment
A light bulb moment is when you have a sudden realisation about something, like the light bulbs used to indicate an
idea in cartoons.
Light years ahead
If you are light years ahead of others, you are a long way in front of them in terms of development, success, etc.
Someone or something that attracts a lot of negative comment, often diverting attention from other problems, is a
Like a beached whale
Once a whale is on a beach, it cannot get back into the easily, so if you are completely stuck somewhere and can't get
away, you are stranded like a beached whale.
Like a bear with a sore head
(UK) If someone's like a bear with a sore head, they complain a lot and are unhappy about something.
Like a cat on hot bricks
If someone is like a cat on hot bricks, they are very nervous or excited.
Like a cat that got the cream
If someone looks very pleased with themselves and happy, they look like a cat that got the cream.
Like a duck to water
If someone has a natural talent for something and enjoys it, they take to it like a duck to water.
Like a fish needs a bicycle
If someone needs something like a Fish Needs a Bicycle, they do not need it at all, originally a feminist slogan: A woman
needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
Like a fish out of water
If someone feels like a fish out of water, they are very uncomfortable in the situation they are in.
Like a hawk
If you watch something or someone like a hawk, you observe very closely and carefully.
Like a headless chicken
If someone rushes about like a headless chicken, they move very fast all over the place, usually without thinking.
Like a rat deserting a sinking ship
If people leave a company because they know that it's about to have serious problems, or turn their back on a person
about to be in a similar situation, they are said to be like rats deserting a sinking ship.
If something happens like clockwork, it happens at very regular times or intervals.
Like father, like son
This idiom is used when different generations of a family behave in the same way or have the same talents of defects.
Like lambs to the slaughter
If somebody does something unpleasant without any resistance, they go like lambs to the slaughter.
Like peas in a pod
If people or things are like peas in a pod, they look identical.
Like pulling teeth
If something if like pulling teeth, it is very difficult, especially if trying to extract information or to get a straight answer
Like taking candy from a baby
(USA) If something is like taking candy from a baby, it is very easy to do.
Like the back of your hand
If you know something like the back of your hand, you know it very well indeed.
Like the clappers
If something is going like the clappers, it is going very fast.
Like there's no tomorrow
If you do something like there's no tomorrow, you do it fast or energetically.
Like two peas in a pod
Things that are like two peas in a pod are very similar or identical,
Like white on rice
(USA) If you do something like white on rice, you do it very closely: When Bob found out I had front row tickets for the
concert, he stuck to me like white on rice.
If something happens or spreads like wildfire, it happens very quickly and intensely.
Someone who is lily-livered is a coward.
Lines of communication
Lines of communication are the routes used to communicate by people or groups who are in conflict; a government
might open lines of communication with terrorists if it wished to negotiate with them.
The lion's share of something is the biggest or best part.
When people pay lip service to something, they express their respect, but they don't act on their words, so the respect
is hollow and empty.
Little pitchers have big ears
(USA) This means that children hear more and understand the world around them better than many adults realize.
A person who is very active, both mentally and physically, is a live wire.
Lo and behold
This phrase is used to express surprise.
A loan shark lends money at very high rates of interest.
When people lock horns, they argue or fight about something.
Lock the stable door after the horse has bolted
If someone takes action too late, they do this; there is no reason to lock an empty stable.
Lock, stock and barrel
This is an expressions that means 'everything'; if someone buys a company lock, stock and barrel, they buy absolutely
everything to do with the company.
Long in the tooth
If someone is long in the tooth, they are a bit too old to do something.
Long time no see
'Long time no see' means that the speaker has not seen that person for a long time.
Look after number 1
You are number one, so this idiom means that you should think about yourself first, rather than worrying about other
Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves
(UK) If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves, meaning that if someone takes care not to
waste small amounts of money, they will accumulate capital. ('Look after the pence and the pounds will look after
themselves' is an alternative form of this idiom.)
Look before you leap
This idiom means that you should think carefully about the possible results or consequences before doing something.
Look on the bright side
If you look on the bright side, you try to see things in an optimistic way, especially when something has gone wrong.
Look out for number one
If you look out for number one, you take care of yourself and your interests, rather than those of other people.
Look what the cat dragged in
This idiom is used when someone arrives somewhere looking a mess or flustered and bothered.
Lose the plot
If someone loses the plot, they have stopped being rational about something.
Lose your lunch
(UK) If you lose your lunch, you vomit.
Lose your marbles
If someone has lost their marbles, they've gone mad.
Lose your shirt
If someone loses their shirt, they lose all their money through a bad investment, gambling, etc.
Low-hanging fruit are things that are easily achieved.
Lower than a snake's belly
Someone or something that is lower than a snake's belly is of a very low moral standing.
Lower the bar
If people change the standards required to make things easier, they lower the bar.
Lower your sights
If you lower your sights, you accept something that is less than you were hoping for.
Luck of the draw
To have the 'Luck of the draw' is to win something in a competition where the winner is chosen purely by chance.
~ M ~
Mad as a badger
If someone is as mad as a badger, they are crazy.
Mad as a hornet
(USA) If someone is as mad as a hornet, they are very angry indeed.
Mad as a March hare
Someone who is excitable and unpredictable is as mad as a March hare.
Someone who rules or controls something with a mailed fist is in absolute control and tolerates no dissent. A mailed fist
in a velvet glove is used to describe someone who appears soft on the outside, but underneath is very hard. 'Iron fist' is
an alternative form.
Something major league is very important.
Make a better fist
If someone makes a better fist of doing something, they do a better job.
Make a killing
If you make a killing, you do something that makes you a lot of money.
Make a meal
If someone makes a meal of something, they spend too long doing it or make it look more difficult than it really is.
Make a mint
If someone is making a mint, they are making a lot of money.
Make a monkey of someone
If you make a monkey of someone, you make them look foolish.
Make a mountain out of a molehill
If somebody makes a mountain out of a molehill, they exaggerate the importance or seriousness of a problem.
Make a pitch
If you make a pitch for something, you make a bid, offer or other attempt to get it.
Make a request
If you request something, or make a request, you are asking for something you want or need.
Make a song and dance
(UK) If someone makes a song and dance, they make an unecessary fuss about something unimportant.
Make an enquiry
If you make an enquiry, you ask for general information about something.
Make bets in a burning house
(USA) If people are making bets in a burning house, they are engaged in futile activity while serious problems around
them are getting worse.
Make ends meet
If somebody finds it hard to make ends meet, they have problems living on the money they earn.
If you make hay, or may hay while the sun shines, you take advantage of an opportunity as soon as it arises and do not
If you make headway, you make progress.
Make money hand over fist
If you make money hand over fist, you make a lot of money without any difficulty.
Make no bones about it
If somebody make no bones about a scandal in their past, they are open and honest about it and show no shame or
Make out like a bandit
(USA) If someone is extremely successful in a venture, they make out like a bandit.
If someone makes waves, they cause a lot of trouble.
Make your blood boil
If something makes your blood boil, it makes you very angry.
Make your flesh crawl
If something makes your flesh crawl, it really scares or revolts you. ('Make your flesh creep' is an alternative. 'Make
your skin crawl' is also used.)
Make your hair stand on end
If something makes your hair stand on end, it terrifies you.
Make yourself scarce
If someone makes themselves scarce, they go away from a place, especially to avoid trouble or so that they can't be
Man in the street
The man in the street is an idiom to describe ordinary people, especially when talking about their opinions and ideas.
Man of his word
<p align="left">A man of his word is a person who does what he says and keeps his promises.</p>
Man of letters
A man of letters is someone who is an expert in the arts and literature, and often a writer too.
Man of means
A man, or woman, of means is wealthy.
Man of parts
A man of parts is a person who is talented in a number of different areas or ways.
Man of straw
A weak person that can easily be beaten of changed is a man of straw.
Man of straw
A man of straw is a a weak person or argument that is easily defeated.
Man of the cloth
A man of the cloth is a priest.
Man on the Clapham omnibus
(UK) The man on the Clapham omnibus is the ordinary person in the street.
Man's best friend
This is an idiomatic term for dogs.
A man's man is a man who does things enjoyed by men and is respected by other men.
Many a slip twixt cup and lip
There's many a slip twixt cup and lip means that many things can go wrong before something is achieved.
Many hands make light work
This idiom means that when everyone gets involved in something, the work gets done quickly.
Mark my words
Mark my words is an expression used to lend an air of seriousness to what the speaker is about to say when talking
about the future. You often hear drunks say it before they deliver some particularly spurious nonsense.
Mark someone's card
If you mark someone's card, you correct them in a forceful and prompt manner when they say something wrong.
A marked man is a person who is being targeted by people who want to do them harm or cause them trouble.
Matter of life and death
If something is a matter of life and death, it is extremely important.
A mealy-mouthed person doesn't say what they mean clearly.
Meat and potatoes
The meat and potatoes is the most important part of something. A meat and potatoes person is someone who prefers
plain things to fancy ones.
Meet someone halfway
If you meet someone halfway, you accept some of their ideas and make concessions.
Meet your expectations
If something doesn't meet your expectations, it means that it wasn't as good as you had thought it was going to be; a
Meet your Maker
If someone has gone to meet their Maker, they have died.
Meet your match
If you meet your match, you meet a person who is at least as good if not better than you are at something.
If negotiations between countries or parties are held through press releases and announcements, this is megaphone
diplomacy, aiming to force the other party into adopting a desired position.
A melting pot is a place where people from many ethnicities and nationalities live together.
Memory like a sieve
If somebody can't retain things for long in his or her memory and quickly forgets, he or she has a memory like a sieve. A
sieve has lots of tiny holes in it to let liquids out while keeping the solids inside.
Memory like an elephant
'An elephant never forgets' is a saying, so if a person has a memory like an elephant, he or she has a very good memory
When people mend fences, they try to improve or restore relations that have been damaged by disputes or arguments.
Method in his madness
If there's method in someone's madness, they do things in a strange and unorthodox way, but manage to get results.
If something is Mickey Mouse, it is intellectually trivial or not of a very high standard.
If someone has the Midas touch, they make a lot of money out of any scheme they try.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
Big or great things start very small.
Millstone round your neck
A millstone around your neck is a problem that prevents you from doing what you want to do.
Mind the gap
Mind the gap is an instruction used on the Underground in the UK to warn passengers to be careful when leaving the
tube or train as there is quite a distance between the train and the platform.
Mind your own beeswax
(USA) This idiom means that people should mind their own business and not interfere in other people's affairs.
Mind Your P's and Q's
If you are careful about the way you behave and are polite, you mind Your P's and Q's.
If something is in mint condition, it is in perfect condition.
A misery guts is a person who's always unhappy and tries to make others feel negative.
Miss is as good as a mile
A miss is as good as a mile means that if you fail, even by the smallest margin, it is still a failure.
Miss the boat
If you miss the boat, you are too late to take advantage of an opportunity.
Monday morning quarterback
(USA) A Monday morning quarterback is someone who, with the benefit of hindsight, knows what should have been
done in a situation.
Money for jam
If something's money for jam, it's a very easy way of making money.
Money for old rope
(UK) If something's money for old rope, it's a very easy way of making money.
If people launder money, they get money made illegally into the mainstream so that it is believed to be legitimate and
Money makes many things
This means that money is important.<br />
Money to burn
If someone is very rich, they have money to burn.
If children get up to monkey business, they are behaving naughtily or mischievously. This is the same as 'monkeying
If something's a moot point, there's some disagreement about it: a debatable point. In the U.S., this expression usually
means that there is no point in debating something, because it just doesn't matter. An example: If you are arguing over
whether to go the beach or to the park, but you find out the car won't start and you can't go anywhere, then the
destination is said to be a moot point.
Moral fibre is the inner strength to do what you believe to be right in difficult situations Example: He lacked the moral
fibre to be leader (In American English the correct spelling is 'fiber'.)
Moral high ground
If people have/take/claim/seize, etc, the moral high ground, they claim that their arguments, beliefs, etc, are morally
superior to those being put forward by other people.
More haste, less speed
The faster you try to do something, the more likely you are to make mistakes that make you take longer than it would
had you planned it.
More heat than light
If a discussion generates more heat than light, it doesn't provide answers, but does make people angry.
More than meets the eye
If there is more than meets the eye to something, it is more complex or difficult than it appears.
More than one string to their bow
A person who has more than one string to their bow has different talents or skills to fall back on.
More than one way to skin a cat
When people say that there is more than one way to skin a cat, they mean that there are different ways of achieving
the same thing.
Mountain to climb
If you have a mountain to climb, you have to work hard or make a lot of progress to achieve something.
If you would move mountains to do something, you would make any effort to achieve your aim. When people say that
faith can move mountains, they mean that it can achieve a lot.
Move the goalposts
When people move the goalposts, they change the standards required for something to their advantage.
Mover and shaker
A person who is a mover and shaker is a highly respected, key figure in their particular area with a lot of influence and
Much ado about nothing
If there's a lot of fuss about something trivial, there's much ado about nothing.
Mud in the fire
The things that cannot be changed in the past that we usually forget about are mud in the fire.
Mud in your eye
This is a way of saying 'cheers' when you are about to drink something, normally alcohol.
If someone is mud-slinging, they are insulting someone and trying to damage that person's reputation.
Muddy the waters
If somebody muddies the waters, he or she makes the situation more complex or less clear.
Mum's the word
When people use this idiom, they mean that you should keep quiet about something and not tell other people.
Murder will out
This idiom means that bad deeds can't be kept secret forever.
Where people are behaving in morally and ethically questionable ways, they are in murky waters.
Music to my ears
If something someone says is music to your ears, it is exactly what you had wanted to hear.
Mutton dressed as lamb
Mutton dressed as lamb is term for middle-aged or elderly people trying to look younger.
My dogs are barking
(USA) When someone says this, they mean that their feet are hurting.
This idiom is added to an adjective to show that you disagree with it: 'He's shy.' 'Shy my eye- he's just planning
This idiom is used to show that you do not believe what someone has just said.
My hands are full
If your hands are full, you have so much to do that you cannot take on any more work, responsibilities and so on.
My hands are tied
If your hands are tied, you are unable to act for some reason.
My heart bleeds
If your heart bleeds for someone, you feel genuine sympathy and sadness for them.
My heart goes out to someone
If your heart goes out to someone, you feel genuine sympathy for them.
My way or the highway
This idiom is used to say that if people don't do what you say, they will have to leave or quit the project, etc.
~ N ~
Nail in the coffin
A nail in someone or something's coffin is a problem or event that is a clear step towards an inevitable failure.
If a game, election, contest, etc, is a nail-biter, it is exciting because the competitors are so close that it is impossible to
predict the result.
Nature abhors a vacuum
This idiom is used to express the idea that empty or unfilled spaces are unnatural as they go against the laws of nature
Neck and neck
If two competitors or candidates, etc, are neck and neck, then they are very close and neither is clearly winning.
Neck of the woods
If someone talks about their neck of the woods, they mean the area where they live.
Needle in a haystack
If trying to find something is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it means that it is very difficult, if not impossible to
find among everything around it.
Neither fish nor fowl
Something or someone that is neither fish nor fowl doesn't really fit into any one group.
Neither use nor ornament
Something that serves no purpose and is not aesthetically pleasing is neither use nor ornament.
Nerves of steel
If someone has nerves of steel, they don't get frightened when other people do.
If you have some money saved for the future, it is a nest egg.
Never a rose without the prick
This means that good things always have something bad as well; like the thorns on the stem of a rose.
Never darken my door again
<p align="left">This is a way of telling someone never to visit you again.</p>
If something needs new blood, it has become stale and needs new ideas or people to invigorate it.
New brush sweeps clean
'A new brush sweeps clean' means that someone with a new perspective can make great changes. However, the full
version is 'a new brush sweeps clean, but an old brush knows the corners', which warns that experience is also a
valuable thing. Sometimes 'broom' is used instead of 'brush'.
New kid on the block
A new kid on the block is a person who has recently joined a company, organisation, team, etc, and does not know how
things work yet.
New lease of life
If someone finds new enthusiasm and energy for something, they have a new lease of life.
(UK) A New man is a man who believes in complete equality of the sexes and shares domestic work equally.
New York minute
(USA) If something happens in a New York minute, it happens very fast.
People who don't like new methods, technologies, etc, describe them as newfangled, which means new but not as good
or nice as the old ones.
Nick of time
If you do something in the nick of time, you do it at the very last minute or second.
(USA) If someone gives you a nickel tour, they show you around a place. ('Fifty-cent tour' is also used.)
A night owl is someone who goes to bed very late.
Ninth circle of hell
In Dante's Inferno, the ninth circle of hell is the centre where the worst punishments are found, so it is used
idiomatically for something that couldn't get worse.
Nip it in the bud
If you nip something in the bud, you deal with a problem when it is still small, before it can grow into something
If people get down to the nitty gritty, they concentrate on the most important and serious issues.
No bed of roses
If something isn't a bed of roses, it is difficult.
No can do
No can do means that the speaker can't do whatever it is that has been asked of him or her.
No great shakes
If someone is no great shakes at something, they are not very good at it.
No holds barred
If there are no holds barred, there are no rules of conduct; you can do anything.
No ifs or buts
Ifs and Buts is a term used to describe the reasons people give for not wanting to do something. To show that you don't
wish to accept any excuses, you can tell somebody that you wish to hear no ifs or buts Here IF & BUT have become
No love lost
If there is no love lost between two people they have a strong enmity towards or hate for the other and make no effort
to conceal it.
This means without mercy. We can say no quarter given or asked.
This idiom means that something is certain or definite.
No questions asked
If something is to be done and no questions asked, then it doesn't matter what methods are used or what rules are
broken to ensure that it gets done.
No skin off my nose
If something's no skin off your nose, it doesn't affect or bother you at all.
No smoke without fire
<p>This idiom means that when people suspect something, there is normally a good reason for the suspicion, even if
there is no concrete evidence.</p><p>('Where's there's smoke, there's fire' is also used.) </p>
If someone has no spine, they lack courage or are cowardly.
No spring chicken
If someone is no spring chicken, they are not young.
No time for
If you have no time for an activity, you have absolutely no desire to spend or waste any time doing it. You can have no
time for people, too.
No time like the present
If people say that there's no time like the present , they believe that it is far better to do something now than to leave it
for later, in which case it might never get done.
No time to lose
If there's no time to lose, then it's time to get started otherwise it won't be finished on time.
No use to man or beast
If something or someone is no use to man or beast, they it or they are utterly useless.
Nod's as good as a wink
(UK) 'A nod's as good as a wink' is a way of saying you have understood somethin that someone has said, even though it
was not said directly.
None so blind as those who will not see
This idiom is used when people refuse to accept facts presented to them. ('None so deaf as those who will not hear' is
Nose in the air
If someone has their nose in the air, they behave in a way that is meant to show that they are superior to others.
(UK) A nosy parker is someone who is excessively interested in other people's lives. ('Nosey parker' is an alternative
Not all there
If someone isn't all there, they are a little bit stupid or crazy.
Not bat an eye
If someone doesn't bat an eye, they do not react when other people normally would.
Not born yesterday
When someone says that they weren't born yesterday, they mean that they are not naive or easily fooled.
(UK) If something is not cricket, it is unfair.
Not enough room to swing a cat
If a room is very small, you can say that there isn't enough room to swing a cat in it.
Not give a monkey's
(UK) If you couldn't give a monkey's about something, you don't care at all about it.
Not have two pennies to rub together
If someone hasn't got two pennies to rub together, they are very poor indeed.
Not know beans about
(USA) If someone doesn't know beans about something, they know nothing about it.
Not much cop
Describing a film or something as not much cop is a way of saying that you didn't think much of it.
Not my cup of tea
If something is not your cup of tea, you don't like it very much.
Not the only pebble on the beach
If something is not the only pebble on the beach, there are other possibilities or alternatives.
Not to be sneezed at
If something is not to be sneezed at, it should be taken seriously.
If a story or explanation will not wash, it is not credible.
Notch on your belt
A success or achievement that might help you in the future is a notch on your belt.
Nothing to crow about
If something's nothing to crow about, it's not particularly good or special.
Now and then
This idiom means 'occasionally'.
Null and void
If something's null and void, it is invalid or is no longer applicable.
A number cruncher is an accountant or someone who is very good at dealing with numbers and calculations.
Nuts and bolts
The nuts and bolts are the most essential components of something.
Nutty as a fruitcake
Someone who's nutty as a fruitcake is irrational or crazy. (This can be shortened to 'a fruitcake'.)
~ O ~
An object lesson serves as a warning to others. (In some varieties of English 'abject lesson' is used.)
Odds and ends
Odds and ends are small, remnant articles and things- the same as bits and bobs.
If someone looks off colour/color, they look ill.
Off the beaten track
Somewhere that's off the beaten track is in a remote location.
Off the chart
If something goes off the chart, it far exceeds the normal standards, good or bad, for something.
Off the cuff
If you do something off the cuff, you do it without any preparation.
Off the hook
If someone is off the hook, they have avoided punishment or criticism for something they have done.
Off the mark
If something is off the mark, it is inaccurate or incorrect.
Off the rails
If someone has gone off the rails, they have lost track of reality.
Off the scale
If something goes off the scale, it far exceeds the normal standards, good or bad, for something.
Off the shelf
If a product is off the shelf, it can be used straightaway without any setting-up.
Off the track
If something puts or throws you off your track, it distracts you or keeps you from achieving what you want.
Off the wall
Something that is off the wall is unconventional.
Off your chump
(UK) If someone is off their chump, they are crazy or irrational.
Off your rocker
(UK) Someone who is off their rocker is crazy.
Off-hand means without preparation. People say that they don't know the answer off-hand, meaning that they don't
know it at that time.
An old chestnut is something that has been repeated so many times that it has lost its impact.
Old friends and old wine are best
This idiom means that the things and people that we know well are better than the unfamiliar.
If something's old hat, it seems rather old fashioned and dated.
Oldest trick in the book
The oldest trick in the book is a well-known way of deceiving someone, though still effective.
If you hold out or offer an olive branch, you make a gesture to indicate that you want peace.
On a fishing expedition
If someone is on a fishing expedition, they are trying to get information, often using incorrect or improper ways to find
On a roll
If you're on a roll, you're moving from success to success.
On a silver platter
If you hand or give something on a silver platter to someone, you let them have it too easily.
On Carey Street
(UK) If someone is on Carey Street, they are heavily in debt or have gone bankrupt.
On good terms
If people are on good terms, they have a good relationship.
If something is on hold, no action is being taken.
If plans are put on ice, they are delayed and no action will be taken for the foreseeable future.
On pins and needles
If you are on pins and needles, you are very worried about something.
This means that she is waiting impatiently and excitedly for something.
On the ball
If someone's on the ball, they are well-informed and know what's going on in their area of responsibility or interest.
On the blink
(UK) Is a machine is on the blink, it isn't working properly or is out of order.
On the blower
(UK) If someone is on the blower, they are on the phone.
On the case
If someone is on the case, they are dealing with a problem.
On the cheap
If you do something on the cheap, you spend as little as possible to do it.
On the dot
If someone says that they're leaving at seven on the dot, don't be late; they mean at exactly seven o'clock.
On the factory floor
On the factory floor means the place where things are actually produced.
On the fiddle
(UK) Someone who is stealing money from work is on the fiddle, especially if they are doing it by fraud.
On the fly
If you do things on the fly, you do things without preparation, responding to events as they happen.
On the game
(UK) A person who is on the game works as a prostitute.
On the ground
Events on the ground are where things are actually happening, not at a distance.
On the hoof
If you decide something on the hoof, you do it without planning, responding to events as they happen.
On the house
If you get something for free that would normally have to be bought, especially in a bar or restaurant, it is on the house.
On the lam
If someone is on the lam, they are hiding from the police or authorities, especially to avoid arrest or prison.
On the level
If someone is honest and trustworthy, they are on the level.
On the line
If somebody's job is on the line, they stand a very good chance of losing it.
On the make
If someone is on the make, they are trying to make a lot of money, usually illegally.
On the map
If a place becomes widely known, it is put on the map. A place that remains unknown is off the map.
On the never-never
(UK) If you buy something on the never-never, you buy it on long-term credit.
On the nod
(UK) If something is accepted by parliament or a committee majority, it is on the nod.
On the nod
(UK) Someone who's on the nod is either asleep or falling asleep, especially when the shouldn't or are are in a position
unusual for sleep, like sitting or standing.
On the rebound
If someone is on the rebound, their relationship has recently ended and they are emotionally unstable.
On the right foot
If you start something or set off on the right foot, you get off to a good start.
On the ropes
When something or someone is on the ropes, it or they are doing badly and likely to fail.
On the run
If someone is on the run, they are avoiding arrest and hiding from the police.
On the same page
If people are on the same page, they have the same information and are thinking the same way.
On the shelf
If something like a project is on the shelf, nothing is being done about it at the moment.
On the sly
If someone does something on the sly, they do it furtively or secretly.
On the stump
When politicians are campaigning for support and votes, they are on the stump.
On the take
(UK) Someone who is stealing from work is on the take.
On the tip of your tongue
If a word is on the tip of your tongue, you know you know the word, but you just can't quite remember it at the
On the trot
(UK) This idiom means 'consecutively'; I'd saw them three days on the trot, which means that I saw them on three
On the up and up
If you are on the up and up, you are making very good progress in life and doing well.
On the wagon
If someone is on the wagon, they have stopped drinking alcohol.
On top of the world
If you are on top of the world, everything is going well for you.
On your high horse
When someone is on their high horse, they are being inflexible, arrogant and will not make any compromises.
On your last legs
If someone's on their last legs, they're close to dying.
Once bitten, twice shy
If somebody is said to be once bitten twice shy, it means that someone who has been hurt or who has had something
go wrong will be far more careful the next time.
Once in a blue moon
If something happens once in a blue moon, it happens very rarely indeed.
One bad apple
The full form of this proverb is 'one bad apple spoils the barrel', meaning that a bad person, policy, etc, can ruin
everything around it.
One fell swoop
If something is done at one fell swoop, it is done in a single period of activity, usually swiftly and ruthlessly.
One for the road
A last drink before leaving a pub or bar is one for the road.
One hand washes the other
This idiom means that we need other people to get on as cooperation benefits us all.
One man's meat is another man's poison
This idiom means that one person can like something very much, but another can hate it.
One over the eight
(UK) Someone who is one over the eight is drunk.
One swallow does not make a summer
This means that one good or positive event does not mean that everything is all right.
If one person does all the work or has all the responsibility somewhere, then they are a one-man band.
A one-off event only happens once and will not be repeated.
A one-trick pony is someone who does one thing well, but has limited skills in other areas.
Open all hours
If a shop or suchlike is open all hours, it only closes, if at all, terribly late.
If a person is an open book, it is easy to know what they think or how they feel about things.
Opening a can of worms
If you open a can of worms, you do something that will cause a lot of problems and is, on balance, probably going to
cause more trouble than it's worth.
Opportunity knocks but once
This idiom means that you only get one chance to achieve what you really want to do.
Other side of the coin
The other side of the coin is a different, usually opposing, view of a situation. ('Flip side of the coin' is an alternative.)
Out and about
If someone is out and about, they have left their home and are getting things done that they need to do.
Out in the sticks
(UK) If someone lives out in the sticks, they live out in the country, a long way from any metropolitan area.
Out like a light
If you are out like a light, you fall fast asleep.
Out of hand
If something gets out of hand, it gets out of control.
Out of pocket
If you are out of pocket on a deal, you have lost money.
Out of sight, out of mind
Out of sight, out of mind is used to suggest that someone will not think or worry about something if it isn't directly
visible or available to them.
Out of sorts
If you are feeling a bit upset and depressed, you are out of sorts.
Out of the blue
If something happens out of the blue, it happens suddenly and unexpectedly.
Out of the box
Thinking out of the box is thinking in a creative way. However, it can also be used for a ready-made product that
requires no specialist knowledge to set it up.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
If you get out of one problem, but find yourself in a worse situation, you are out of the frying pan, into the fire.
Out of the woods
If you are out of the woods, you have emerged safely from a dangerous situation, though the idiom is often used in the
Out of this world
If something is out of this world, it is fantastic.
Out of your hair
If you get someone out of your hair, you get them to stop bothering or annoying you. ('Stay/keep/get out of my hair!'
can be used as imperatives)
Out of your mind
If someone is out of the mind, they are so emotional about something that they are no longer rational.
Out of your own pocket
If someone does something out of their own pocket, they pay all the expenses involved.
Out on a limb
If somebody's out on a limb, they are in a very exposed position and could get into difficulties.
Out to lunch
If someone's out to lunch, they are crazy or out of touch.
Out to lunch
If someone is out to lunch, they are not very aware of things around them.
Over a barrel
If someone has you over a barrel, they have you in a position where you have no choice but to accept what they want.
Over and over
If something happens over and over, it happens repeatedly.
Over my dead body
If you say that something will happen over your dead body, you will not let it happen.
Over the counter
Medicines and drugs that can be sold without a doctor's prescription are sold over the counter.
Over the hill
If someone is over the hill they have reached an age at which they can longer perform as well as they used to.
Over the moon
If you are over the moon about something, you are overjoyed.
Over the top
<p>If something is over the top, it is excessive or unnecessary.</p><p>It refers to the moment a soldier leaves the
Over your head
If something is over your head, or goes over your head, it is too complex or difficult for you to understand.
Over-egg the pudding
(UK) If you over-egg the pudding, you spoil something by trying to improve it excessively. It is also used nowadays with
the meaning of making something look bigger or more important than it really is. ('Over-egg' alone is often used in this
~ P ~
Packed like sardines
If a place is extremely crowded, people are packed like sardines, or packed in like sardines.
Paddle your own canoe
(USA) If you paddle your own canoe, you do things for yourself without outside help.
Pain in the neck
If someone is very annoying and always disturbing you, they are a pain in the neck. Pain in the butt, or pain in the ass
(USA), and Pain in the arse (UK) are less polite alternative forms.
Paint the town red
If you go out for a night out with lots of fun and drinking, you paint the town red.
Paint yourself into a corner
(USA) If someone paints themselves into a corner, they get themselves into a mess.
A painted Jezebel is a scheming woman.
If you open a Pandora's box, something you do causes all sorts of trouble that you hadn't anticipated.
A paper tiger is a person, country, institution, etc, that looks powerful, but is actually weak.
Par for the course
If something is par for the course, it is what you expected it would be. If it is above par, it is better, and if it is below par,
it is worse.
If you learn something parrot fashion, you learn it word for word. A parrot is a bird from South America that can talk.
Part and parcel
If something is part and parcel of your job, say, it is an essential and unavoidable part that has to be accepted.
If something passes muster, it meets the required standard.
Pass the buck
If you pass the buck, you avoid taking responsibility by saying that someone else is responsible.
Pass the time of day
If you pass the time of day with somebody, you stop and say hello, enquire how they are and other such acts of social
Patience of Job
If something requires the patience of Job, it requires great patience.
Pay on the nail
If you pay on the nail, you pay promptly in cash.
Pay the piper
When you pay the piper, you have to accept the consequences of something that you have done wrong or badly.
Pay through the nose
If you pay through the nose for something, you pay a very high price for it.
The pecking order is the order of importance or rank.
Pen is mightier than the sword
The idiom 'the pen is mightier than the sword' means that words and communication are more powerful than wars and
(USA) Something that is very unimportant is penny ante.
Penny wise, pound foolish
Someone who is penny wise, pound foolish can be very careful or mean with small amounts of money, yet wasteful and
extravagant with large sums.
England is known to some as perfidious Albion, implying that it is not trustworthy in its dealings with foreigners.
Perish the thought
Perish the thought is an expression meaning that you really hope something will not happen.
Pick up the tab
A person who pays for everyone picks up the tab.
(USA) A pick-up game is something unplanned where people respond to events as they happen.
Pie in the sky
If an idea or scheme is pie in the sky, it is utterly impractical.
Piece of cake
If something is a piece of cake, it is really easy.
Pieces of the same cake
Pieces of the same cake are things that have the same characteristics or qualities.
Pig in a poke
If someone buys a pig in a poke, they buy something without checking the condition it was in, usually finding out later
that it was defective.
Pigs might fly
If you think something will never happen or succeed, you can say that 'pigs might fly' (or 'pigs can fly' and 'pigs will fly'-
the idiom is used in many forms)
(UK) If you work for pin money, you work not because you need to but because it gives you money for extra little
luxuries and treats.
Pinch of salt
If what someone says should be taken with a pinch of salt, then they exaggerate and distort things, so what they say
shouldn't be believed unquestioningly. ('with a grain of salt' is an alternative.)
(UK) In the UK, the pink pound is an idiom for the economic power of gay people.
If someone receives a pink slip, they receive a letter telling them they have lost their job.
A pipe dream is an unrealistic, impractical idea or scheme.
If food is piping hot, it is very hot indeed.
Place in the sun
If you have your place in the sun, you find wealth, happiness or whatever you are looking for in life.
Plain as a pikestaff
(UK) If something is as plain as a pikestaff, it is very clear.
Plain as the nose on your face
If something is as plain as the nose on your face, it is very clear and obvious.
A plain Jane is a woman who isn't particularly attractive.
If something is relatively easy and there are no problems doing it, it is plain sailing.
Plan is an alternate or fall-back position or method when the initial attempt or plan goes wrong.
When someone is wearing a plastic smile, they are appear to be happier with a situation or events than they actually
are. This is actually a description of the forced smile you might see in many photographs.
Play fast and loose
If people play fast and loose, they behave in an irresponsible way and don't respect rules, etc.
If someone plays hardball, they are very aggressive in trying to achieve their aim.
Playing havoc with something is creating disorder and confusion; computer viruses can play havoc with your programs.
If people play hooky, they don't attend school when they should and don't have a valid reason for their absence.
Play into someone's hands
If you play into someone's hands, you do what they were expecting you to do and take advantage of this.
Play it by ear
If you play it by ear, you don't have a plan of action, but decide what to do as events take shape.
Play out of your skin
If someone plays out of their skin, they give an outstanding performance.
Play second fiddle
If you play second fiddle, you take a subordinate role behind someone more important.
Play the field
Someone who plays the field has sexual relationships with many people.
Play the fool
If someone plays the fool, they behave in a silly way to make people laugh. ('Act the fool' is and alternative form.)
Play with fire
If people take foolish risks, they are playing with fire.
Playing to the gallery
If someone plays to the gallery, they say or do things that will make them popular, but which are not the right things to
Poetry in motion
Something that is poetry in motion is beautiful to watch.
Pointy-heads are supposed intellectuals or experts, but who don't really know that much.
A poison pill is a strategy designed to prevent a company from being take over.
Pop the question
When someone pops the question, they ask someone to marry them.
Pop your clogs
When someone pops their clogs, they die.
Pork barrel politics involves investing money in an area to get political support rather than using the money for the
Pot calling the kettle black
If someone hypocritically criticises a person for something that they themselves do, then it is a case of the pot calling
the kettle black.
If you take pot-luck, you take whatever happens to be available at the time.
Pound of flesh
If someone wants their pound of flesh, the force someone to pay or give back something owed, even though they don't
need it and it will cause the other person a lot of difficulty.
Pour oil on troubled waters
If someone pours oil on troubled waters, they try to calm things down.
Powder your nose
If somebody goes to powder your nose, it is a euphemism for going to the lavatory (toilet).
Powers that be
The powers that be are the people who are in charge of something.
Preaching to the choir
If someone preaches to the choir, they talking about a subject or issue with which their audience already agrees.
('Preaching to the converted' is an alternative form.)
Presence of mind
If someone behaves calmly and rationally in difficult circumstances, they show presence of mind.
Press the flesh
When people, especially politicians, press the flesh, they meet members of the public and shake their hands, usually
when trying to get support.
Pressed for time
If you are pressed for time, you are in a hurry or working against a very tight schedule.
The primrose path is an easy and pleasurable lifestyle, but one that ends in unpleasantness and problems.
A prince charming is the perfect man in a woman's life.
Problem is thirty
If a problem is 30, the problem is the person who sits 30 cm from the computer screen. It is used to describe people
that lack technical knowledge and can be used when you insult someone who's having computer problems.
Proclaim it from the rooftops
If something is proclaimed from the rooftops, it is made as widely known and as public as possible.
A prodigal son is a young man who wastes a lot on money on a lavish lifestyle. If the prodigal son returns, they return to
a better way of living.
Pull in the reins
When you pull in the reins, you slow down or stop something that has been a bit out of control.
Pull no punches
If you pull no punches, you hold nothing back.
Pull out all the stops
If you pull out all the stops, you do everything you possibly can to achieve the result you want.
Pull out of the fire
(USA) If you pull something out of the fire, you save or rescue it.
Pull someone's leg
If you pull someone's leg, you tease them, but not maliciously.
If you pull strings, you use contacts you have got to help you get what you want.
Pull the fat from the fire
If you pull the fat from the fire, you help someone in a difficult situation.
Pull the other one, it's got brass bells on
This idiom is way of telling somebody that you don't believe them. The word 'brass' is optional.
Pull the trigger
The person who pulls the trigger is the one who does the action that closes or finishes something.
Pull the wool over someone's eyes
If you pull the wool over someone's eyes, you deceive or cheat them.
Pull up your socks
If you aren't satisfied with someone and want them to do better, you can tell them to pull up their socks.
Pull your chain
(USA) If someone pulls your chain, they take advantage of you in an unfair way or do something to annoy you.
Pull your finger out!
(UK) If someone tells you to do this, they want you to hurry up. ('Get your finger out' is also used.)
Pull your punches
If you pull your punches, you do not use all the power or authority at your disposal.
Pull your weight
If someone is not pulling their weight, they aren't making enough effort, especially in group work.
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps
If you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you make the effort to improve things for yourself.
A punching bag (or punch bag) is a person who gets a lot of unfair criticism.
A pup's chance is no chance.
Push comes to shove
If or when push comes to shove, the situation has become some bad that you are forced to do something: If push
comes to shove, we'll just have to use our savings.
Push the envelope
This means to go to the limits, to do something to the maximum possible.
Pushing up the daisies
If someone is said to be pushing up the daisies, they are dead.
Put all your eggs in one basket
If you put all your eggs in one basket, you risk everything on a single opportunity which, like eggs breaking, could go
Put or get someone's back up
If you put or get someone's back up, you annoy them.
Put some mustard on it!
(USA) I think its used to encourage someone to throw a ball like a baseball hard or fast.
Put somebody's nose out of joint
If you put someone's nose out of joint, you irritate them or make them angry with you.
Put someone out to pasture
If someone is put out to pasture, they are forced to resign or give up some responsibilities.
Put the pedal to the metal
If you put the pedal to the metal, you go faster.
Put to the sword
If someone is put to the sword, he or she is killed or executed.
Put two and two together
If someone puts two and two together, they reach a correct conclusion from the evidence.
Put you in mind
If something suggests something to you, it puts you in mind of that thing.
Put you in the picture
If you put someone in the picture, you tell them the information they need to know about something.
Put your foot down
When someone puts their foot down, they make a firm stand and establish their authority on an issue.
Put your foot in it
If you put your foot in it, you do or say something embarrassing and tactless or get yourself into trouble.
Put your foot in your mouth
If you put your foot in your mouth, you say something stupid or embarrassing.
Put your hand on your heart
If you can out your hand on your heart, then you can say something knowing it to be true.
Put your heads together
If people put their head together, they exchange ideas about something.
Put your money where your mouth is
If someone puts their money where their mouth is, they back up their words with action.
Putting the cart before the horse
When you put the cart before the horse, you are doing something the wrong way round.
A Pyrrhic victory is one that causes the victor to suffer so much to achieve it that it isn't worth winning.
~ Q ~
Quart into a pint pot
(UK) If you try to put or get a quart into a pint pot, you try to put too much in a small space. (1 quart = 2 pints)
Queen of Hearts
A woman who is pre-eminent in her area is a Queen of Hearts.
(UK) A strange person is a queer fish.
If someone is in a lot of trouble, especially financial, they are in Queer Street.
Queer your pitch
If someone queers your pitch, they interfere in your affairs and spoil things.
Question of time
If something's a question of time, it's certain to happen, though we don't know exactly when.
Someone who goes to the front of a queue instead of waiting is jumping the queue.
Quick as a flash
If something happens quick as a flash, it happens very fast indeed.
If you make some money easily, you make a quick buck.
Quick off the mark
If someone is quick off the mark, they are very quick to use, start or do something new.
Quick on the trigger
Someone who is quick on the trigger acts or responds quickly.
(UK) If somebody is quids in, they stand to make a lot of money from something.
Quiet as a mouse
If someone's as quiet as a mouse, they make absolutely no noise.
~ R ~
Rack and ruin
If something or someone goes to rack and ruin, they are utterly destroyed or wrecked.
Rack your brain
If you rack your brain, you think very hard when trying to remember something. ('Rack your brains' is an alternative.)
Ragged blue line
(USA) This term was used to signify the Union forces (who wore blue uniforms) in the American Civil war .
Rags to riches
Someone who starts life very poor and becomes rich goes from rags to riches.
Raining cats and dogs
When it is raining cats and dogs, it is raining very heavily.
If you save something, especially money, for a rainy day, you save it for some possible problem or trouble in the future.
(USA) If someone raises Cain, they make a big fuss publicly, causing a disturbance.
If something raises eyebrows, it shocks or surprises people.<br /></p>
Rake over old coals
(UK) If you go back to old problems and try to bring them back, making trouble for someone, you are raking over old
Rake someone over the coals
(USA) If you rake someone over the coals, you criticize or scold them severely.
Rank and file
The rank and file are the ordinary members of a company, organisation, etc, excluding the managers and directors.
The rat race is the ruthless, competitive struggle for success in work, etc.
Rather you than me
Rather you than me is an expression used when someone has something unpleasant or arduous to do. It is meant in a
good natured way of expressing both sympathy and having a bit of a laugh at their expense.
If you get a raw deal, you are treated unfairly.
Read from the same page
When people are reading from the same page, they say the same things in public about an issue.
Read someone the riot act
If you read someone the riot act, you give them a clear warning that if they don't stop doing something, they will be in
If something is the real deal, it is genuine and good.
Something that's the real McCoy is the genuine article, not a fake.
A real trooper is someone who will fight for what they believe in and doesn't give up easily.
Recipe for disaster
A recipe for disaster is a mixture of people and events that could only possibly result in trouble.
If you give someone the red-carpet treatment, you give them a special welcome to show that you think they are
important. You can roll out the red carpet, too.
If something is a distraction from the real issues, it is a red herring.
Red letter day
A red letter day is a one of good luck, when something special happens to you.
Red light district
The red light district is the area of a town or city where there is prostitution, sex shops, etc.
If someone sees red or the red mist, they lose their temper and self-control completely.
Red rag to a bull
If something is a red rag to a bull, it is something that will inevitably make somebody angry or cross.
This is a negative term for the official paperwork and bureaucracy that we have to deal with.
Reinvent the wheel
If someone reinvents the wheel, they waste their time doing something that has already been done by other people,
when they could be doing something more worthwhile.
A Renaissance man is a person who is talented in a number of different areas, especially when their talents include both
the sciences and the arts.<br />
Rest is gravy
(USA) If the rest is gravy, it is easy and straightforward once you have reached that stage.
Rest on your laurels
If someone rests on their laurels, they rely on their past achievements, rather than trying to achieve things now.
Revenge is sweet
When you are happy to be proved right, then you know that revenge is sweet.
If you rewrite history, you change your version of past events so as to make yourself look better than you would if the
truth was told.
Rhyme or reason
If something is without rhyme or reason, it is unreasonable. ('Beyond rhyme or reason' is an alternative.)
A rice missionary gives food to hungry people as a way of converting them to Christianity.
Rich as Croesus
Someone who is as rich as Croesus is very wealthy indeed.
If someone rides roughshod over other people, they impose their will without caring at all for other people's feelings.
Right as rain
If things are right as rain, then everything is going well in your life.
(UK) A right royal night out would be an extremely exciting, memorable and fun one.
Right up my alley
If something is right up your alley, it suits you perfectly.
Right up your street
If something is ideal for you, it is right up your street.
Ring a bell
If something rings a bell, it reminds you of something you have heard before, though you may not be able to remember
it very well. A name may ring a bell, so you know you have heard the name before, but cannot place it properly.
If you have a ringside seat, you can observe something from a very close and clear position.
Rip van Winkle
Rip van Winkle is a character in a story who slept for twenty years, so if someone is a Rip van Winkle, they are behind
the times and out of touch with what's happening now.
Rise and shine
If you wake up full of energy, you rise and shine.
Rise from the ashes
If something rises from the ashes, it recovers after a serious failure.
Road to Damascus
If someone has a great and sudden change in their ideas or beliefs, then this is a road to Damascus change, after the
conversion of Saint Paul to Christianity while heading to Damascus to persecute Christians.
Rob Peter to pay Paul
If you rob Peter to pay Paul, you try to solve one problem, but create another in doing so, often through short-term
Rock the boat
If you rock the boat, you destabilise a situation by making trouble. It is often used as advice; 'Don't rock the boat'.
If something is not rocket science, it is not very complicated or difficult to understand. This idiom is normally used in
Roll out the red carpet
If you roll out the red carpet, you treat someone in a special way, especially when welcoming them.
Roll with the punches
If you roll with the punches, you are flexible and able to adapt to difficult circumstances.
Rolling in the aisles
If the audience watching something are laughing loudly, the show has them rolling in the aisles.
Rome was not built in a day
This idiom means that many things cannot be done instantly, and require time and patience.
Rooted to the spot
If someone is rooted to the spot, they canot move, either physically or they cannot think their way out of a problem.
If people see things through rose-colored (coloured) glasses, they see them in a more positive light than they really are.
If people see things through rose-tinted glasses, they see them in a more positive light than they really are.
Rough and ready
If something is rough and ready, it has not been carefully prepared, but is fit for its purpose. If a person is rough and
ready, they are not very refined or mannered.
Rough around the edges
If someone is rough around the edges, they haven't mastered something, though they show promise.
A rough diamond is a person who might be a bit rude but who is good underneath it all.
If something has rough edges, it is still not a finished product and not all of a uniform standard.
If something, especially something made from wood or stone, is rough-hewn, it is unfinished or unpolished.
Round the bend
If someone has gone round the bend, they have stopped being rational about something. If something drives you round
the bend, it irritates you or makes you angry.
Round the houses
If you go round the houses, you do something in an inefficient way when there is a quicker, more convenient way.
If you rub shoulders with people, you meet and spend time with them, especially when they are powerful or famous.
Rub someone up the wrong way
If you annoy or irritate someone when you didn't mean to, you rub them up the wrong way.
If an organisation, company, government, etc, is like a rudderless ship, it has no clear direction and drifts about without
reaching its goals.
Ruffle a few feathers
If you ruffle a few feathers, you annoy some people when making changes or improvements.
Rule of thumb
Rule of thumb means approximately.
Run a mile
If someone "Runs a mile", they do everything they can to avoid a situation. Example: "I was worried that he'd take one
look at me and run a mile."
Run around the bush
(USA) If you run around the bush, it means that you're taking a long time to get to the point.
Run before you can walk
If someone tries to run before they can walk, they try to do something requiring a high level of knowledge before they
have learned the basics.
Run circles around someone
If you can run circles around someone, you are smarter and intellectually quicker than they are.
Run into the sand
If something runs into the sand, it fails to achieve a result.
Run out of gas
If a campaign, project, etc, runs out of gas, it loses energy and momentum, and progress slows or halts.
Run rings around someone
If you run rings around someone, you are so much better than them that they have no chance of keeping up with you.
Run the gauntlet
If somebody is being criticised harshly by a lot of people, they are said to run the gauntlet.
Run the show
If someone runs the show, they like to be in control and make all the decisions.
Run your mouth off
If someone runs their mouth off, they talk too much.
If something is run-of-the-mill, there is nothing exceptional about it- it is ordinary or average.
Running on empty
If you are exhausted but keep going, you are running on empty.
If people take a dangerous and unnecessary risk, they are playing Russian roulette.
When something is described as a rusty needle, it is badly damaged but still works, or if someone very is sick or tired
but still manages to do things at a fairly good level. An alternative form is "a tarnished needle".
~ S ~
Something that is a sacred cow is held in such respect that it cannot be criticised or attacked.
Safe and sound
If you arrive safe and sound, then nothing has harmed you on your way.
A proposition that is a safe bet doesn't have any risks attached.
Safe pair of hands
A person who can be trusted to do something without causing any trouble is a safe pair of hands.
Safety in numbers
If a lot of people do something risky at the same time, the risk is reduced because there is safety in numbers.
(USA) A Saigon moment is when people realise that something has gone wrong and that they will lose or fail.
Sail close to the wind
If you sail close to the wind, you take risks to do something, going close to the limit of what is allowed or acceptable.
Sail under false colours
Someone who sails under false colours (colors) is hypocritical or pretends to be something they aren't in order to
Your salad days are an especially happy period of your life.
Salt in a wound
If you rub salt in a wound, you make someone feel bad about something that is already a painful experience. 'Pour salt
on a wound' is an alternative form of the idiom.
Salt of the earth
People who are salt of the earth are decent, dependable and unpretentious.
If someone saves face, they manage to protect their reputation.
Save someone's bacon
If something saves your bacon, it saves your life or rescues you from a desperate situation. People can also save your
Save your skin
If someone saves their skin, they manage to avoid getting into serious trouble.
Saved by the bell
If you are saved by the bell, you are rescued from a danger or a tricky situation just in time.
If someone has some character defects, but has a characteristic that compensate for their failings and shortcomings,
this is their saving grace.
(USA) If you say uncle, you admit defeat. ('Cry uncle' is an alternative form.)
People say this when pouring a drink as a way of telling you to tell them when there's enough in your glass.
If you do something on someone else's say-so, you do it on the authority, advice or recommendation.
Scales fall from your eyes
When the scales fall from your eyes, you suddenly realise the truth about something.
Scare the daylights out of someone
If you scare the daylights out of someone, you terrify them. (This can be made even stronger by saying 'the living
This idiom is used as a pejorative term for a sexually promiscuous woman, especially an adulteress.
Scattered to the four winds
If something's scattered to the four winds, it goes out in all directions.
If you can scent blood, you feel that a rival is having difficulties and you are going to beat them.
If someone escapes scot free, they avoid payment or punishment. 'Scot' is an old word for a tax, so it originally referred
to avoiding taxes, though now has a wider sense of not being punished for someone that you have done.
Scraping the barrel
When all the best people, things or ideas and so on are used up and people try to make do with what they have left,
they are scraping the barrel.
Scream blue murder
If someone shouts very loudly in anger, or fear, they scream blue murder.
If someone has a screw loose, they are crazy.
The seamy side of something is the unpleasant or sordid aspect it has.
A searching question goes straight to the heart of the subject matter, possibly requiring an answer with a degree of
honesty that the other person finds uncomfortable.
If some has second thoughts, they start to think that an idea, etc, is not as good as it sounded at first and are starting to
If you overcome tiredness and find new energy and enthusiasm, you have second wind.
See eye to eye
If people see eye to eye, they agree about everything.
If someone sees red, they become very angry about something.
See the light
When someone sees the light, they realise the truth.
See you anon
(UK) If somebody says this when leaving, they expect to see you again soon.
Seed money is money that is used to start a small business.
Seeing is believing
This idiom means that people can only really believe what they experience personally.
Seen better days
If something's seen better days, it has aged badly and visibly compared to when it was new. The phrase can also be
used to describe people.
Sell down the river
If you sell someone down the river, you betray their trust.
Sell like hot cakes
If a product is selling very well, it is selling like hot cakes.
Sell your birthright for a mess of pottage
If a person sells their birthright for a mess of pottage, they accept some trivial financial or other gain, but lose
something much more important. 'Sell your soul for a mess of pottage' is an alternative form.
Sell your soul
If someone sells their soul, their betray the most precious beliefs.
Send someone to Coventry
(UK) If you send someone to Coventry, you refuse to talk to them or co-operate with them.
Separate the sheep from the goats
If you separate the sheep from the goats, you sort out the good from the bad.
Separate the wheat from the chaff
When you separate the wheat from the chaff, you select what is useful or valuable and reject what is useless or
Separate the wheat from the chaff
If you separate the wheat from the chaff, you separate things that are of a high standard from things that are of low
Set in stone
If something is set in stone, it cannot be changed or altered.
Set the wheels in motion
When you set the wheels in motion, you get something started.
Set your sights on
If you set your sights on someone or something, it is your ambition to beat them or to achieve that goal.
Seven sheets to the wind
If someone is seven sheets to the wind, they are very drunk.
If you are in seventh heaven, you are extremely happy.
Shades of meaning
Shades of meaning is a phrase used to describe the small, subtle differences in meaning between similar words or
phrases; 'kid' and 'youth' both refer to young people, but carry differing views and ideas about young people.
Shaggy dog story
A shaggy dog story is a joke which is a long story with a silly end.
Shake a leg
If you shake a leg, you are out of bed and active.
(UK) If you go somewhere by Shanks's pony, you walk there.
Shape up or ship out
If someone has to shape up or ship out, they have to improve or leave their job, organisation, etc.
Sharp as a tack
(USA) If someone is as sharp as a tack, they are very clever indeed.
Someone who isn't easily deceived or fooled is a sharp cookie.
If you shed light on something, you make it clearer and easier to understand.
If the sands are shifting, circumstances are changing.
If people shilly-shally, they can't make up their minds about something and put off the decision.
Ship came in
If your ship has come in, something very good has happened to you.
Shipshape and Bristol fashion
If things are shipshape and Bristol fashion, they are in perfect working order.
Shoe is on the other foot
If the shoe is on the other foot, someone is experiencing what they used to make others experience, normally negative
If you do something on a shoestring, you try to spend the absolute minimum amount of money possible on it.
Shoot yourself in the foot
If you shoot yourself in the foot, you do something that damages your ambition, career, etc.
Shooting fish in a barrel
If something is like shooting fish in a barrel, it is so easy that success is guaranteed.
Short end of the stick
If someone gets the short end of the stick, they are unfairly treated or don't get what they deserve.
If somebody gives you short shrift, they treat you rudely and brusquely, showing no interest or sympathy.
Shot across the bow
A shot across the bow is a warning to tell someone to stop doing something or face very serious consequences.
Shot in the dark
If you have a shot in the dark at something, you try something where you have little hope of success.
A shotgun marriage, or shotgun wedding, is one that is forced because of pregnancy. It is also used idiomatically for a
compromise, agreement or arrangement that is forced upon groups or people by necessity.
Show me the money
When people say this, they either want to know how much they will be paid for something or want to see evidence that
something is valuable or worth paying for.
Show someone a clean pair of heels
If you show someone a clean pair of heels, you run faster than them when they are chasing you.
A shrinking violet is a shy person who doesn't express their views and opinions.
Sick and tired
If you are sick and tired of something, it has been going on for a long time and you can no longer tolerate it.<br />
Sick as a dog
If somebody's as sick as a dog, they throw up (=vomit) violently.
Sick as a parrot
If someone's sick as a parrot about something, they are unhappy, disappointed or depressed about it.
Sick to death
If you are sick to death of something, you have been exposed to so much of it that you cannot take any more.
Sight for sore eyes
Someone or something that is a sight for sore eyes is a pleasure to see.
Sight to behold
If something is a sight to behold, it means that seeing it is in some way special, either spectacularly beautiful or, equally,
incredibly ugly or revolting, etc.
Signed, sealed and delivered
If something's signed, sealed and delivered, it has been done correctly, following all the necessary procedures.
Silence is golden
It is often better to say nothing than to talk, so silence is golden.
The silly season is midsummer when Parliament is closed and nothing much is happening that is newsworthy, which
reduces the press to reporting trivial and stupid stories.
A silver bullet is a complete solution to a large problem, a solution that seems magical.
The silver screen is the cinema.
A silver surfer is an elderly person who uses the internet.
Since time immemorial
If something has happened since time immemorial, it's been going on for such a long time that nobody can remember a
time without it.
Sing from the same hymn sheet
If people are singing from the same hymn sheet, they are expressing the same opinions in public.
Sink or swim
Of you are left to sink or swim, no one gives you any help and it's up to you whether you fail or succeed.
Sit on the fence
If someone sits on the fence, they try not to support either side in a dispute.
Someone who's sitting pretty is in a very advantageous situation.
A sitting duck is something or someone that is easy to criticise or target.
Six feet under
If someone is six feet under, they are dead.
Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other
This is an idiom used when there is little or no difference between two options.
Sixes and sevens
If something is all at sixes and sevens, then there is a lot of disagreement and confusion about what should be done.
The sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question is the most important question that can be asked about something.
Skate on thin ice
If someone is skating on thin ice, they are taking a big risk.
Skeleton in the closet
If someone has a skeleton in the closet, they have a dark, shameful secret in their past that they want to remain secret.
Skin and bones
If someone is skin and bones, they are very underweight and look bad.
Skin in the game
A person who has skin in the game has invested in the company they are running.
Skin someone alive
If someone skins you alive, they admonish and punish you hard.
An unauthorised, or hidden program or activity, often research-oriented, and out of the bureaucratic chain of
command is known as a 'skunkworks'.
Slap on the wrist
If someone gets a slap on the wrist, they get a very minor punishment when they could have been punished more
Sleep like a baby
If you sleep very well, you sleep like a baby.
Sleep like a log
If you sleep like a log, you sleep very soundly.
Sleep well- don't let the bedbugs bite
This is a way of wishing someone a good night's sleep.
Sleight of hand
Sleight of hand is the ability to use your hands in a clever way, like a magician performing tricks you can't see.
A slim chance is a very small chance.
Slip of the tongue
If you say something accidentally, it is a slip of the tongue.
A person from whom it is difficult to get anything definite or fixed is a slippery customer.
A slippery slope is where a measure would lead to further worse measures.
Slough of despond
If someone is very depressed or in despair, they're in a slough of despond.
Slow boat to China
This idiom is used to describe something that is very slow and takes a long time.
Slow but sure
If something or someone is slow but sure, they may take their time to do something, but they are reliable.
Smack in the face
If something is a smack in the face, it is a shock, usually one that impedes progress.
If something is small beer, it's unimportant.
If someone is small fry, they are unimportant. The term is often used when the police arrest the less important
criminals, but are unable to catch the leaders and masterminds.
A smart Alec is a conceited person who likes to show off how clever and knowledgeable they are.
A smarty pants is someone who displays the intelligence in an annoying way.
Smell a rat
If you smell a rat, you know instinctively that something is wrong or that someone is lying to you.
Smoke and mirrors
An attempt to conceal something is smoke and mirrors.
Smoke like a chimney
Someone who smokes very heavily smokes like a chimney.
Smoke the peace pipe
If people smoke the peace pipe, they stop arguing and fighting.
Heavy industries like iron and steel production, especially if they produce a lot of pollution, are smokestack industries.
A smoking gun is definitive proof of someone's guilt.
Smooth as a baby's bottom
If something is smooth as a baby's bottom, it has a regular, flat surface.
<p>If something is smooth sailing, then you can progress without difficulty.</p><p>('Plain sailing' is an also used.) </p>
Snake in the grass
Someone who is a snake in the grass betrays you even though you have trusted them.
Snake oil salesperson
A person who promotes something that doesn't work, is selling snake oil.
(USA) A snow job is an attempt to persuade or deceive someone, especially when flattery is used.
Snug as a bug in a rug
If you're as snug as a bug in a rug, you are feeling very comfortable indeed.
So it goes
This idiom is used to be fatalistic and accepting when something goes wrong.
So on and so forth
And so on and so forth mean the same as etcetera (etc.).
Sod's law states that if something can go wrong then it will.
Soft soap someone
If you soft soap someone, you flatter them.
Some other time
If somebody says they'll do something some other time, they mean at some indefinite time in the future, possibly
never, but they certainly don't want to feel obliged to fix a specific time or date.
Something nasty in the woodshed
Something nasty in the woodshed means that someone as a dark secret or an unpleasant experience in their past.
Sound as a bell
If something or someone is as sound as a bell, they are very healthy or in very good condition.
Sound as a pound
(UK) if something is as sound as a pound, it is very good or reliable.
When someone says something critical or negative because they are jealous, it is a case of sour grapes.
Sow the seeds
When people sow the seeds, they start something that will have a much greater impact in the future.
Spanner in the works
(UK) If someone puts or throws a spanner in the works, they ruin a plan. In American English, 'wrench' is used instead of
Spare the rod and spoil the child
This means that if you don't discipline children, they will become spoilt.
Speak of the devil!
If you are talking about someone and they happen to walk in, you can use this idiom as a way of letting them know you
were talking about them.
Spend a penny
(UK) This is a euphemistic idiom meaning to go to the toilet.
Spend like a sailor
Someone who spends their money wildly spends like a sailor.
Spick and span
If a room is spick and span, it is very clean and tidy.
Spill the beans
If you spill the beans, you reveal a secret or confess to something.
Spinning a line
When someone spins you a line, they are trying to deceive you by lying.
Spinning a yarn
When someone spins you a yarn, they are trying to deceive you by lying.
Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
If the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, someone lacks the willpower to change things they do because they derive
too much pleasure from them.
Spirit of the law
The spirit of the law is the idea or ideas that the people who made the law wanted to have effect.
If someone is spitting blood, they are absolutely furious.
If a person is the spitting image of somebody, they look exactly alike.
If people split hairs, they concentrate on tiny and unimportant details to find fault with something.
Spoil the ship for a ha'pworth of tar
(UK) If someone spoils the ship for a ha'pworth (halfpenny's worth) of tar, they spoil something completely by trying to
make a small economy.
If something is spot on, it is exactly right.
Sprat to catch a mackerel
If you use a sprat to catch a mackerel, you make a small expenditure or take a small risk in the hope of a much greater
Spur of the moment
If you do something on the spur of the moment, you do it because you felt like it at that time, without any planning or
A Sputnik moment is a point where people realise that they are threatened of challenged and have to redouble their
efforts to catch up. It comes from the time when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, the Sputnik 1, and beat
the USA into space.
A square meal is a substantial or filling meal.
(UK) The Square Mile is the City, the financial area of London.
Square peg in a round hole
If somebody's in a situation, organisation, etc, where they don't fit in and feel out of place, they are a square peg in a
If something is squeaky clean, it is very clean indeed- spotless. If a person is squeaky clean, they have no criminal record
and are not suspected of illegal or immoral activities.
Squeaky wheel gets the grease
(USA) When people say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, they mean that the person who complains or protests
the loudest attracts attention and service.
Squeeze blood out of a turnip
(USA) When people say that you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip, it means that you cannot get something from a
person, especially money, that they don't have.
Stand in good stead
If something will stand you in good stead, it will probably be advantageous in the future.
Stars and stripes
The stars and stripes is the American flag.
Stars in your eyes
Someone who dreams of being famous has stars in their eyes.
State of the art
If something is state of the art, it is the most up-to-date model incorporating the latest and best technology.
Someone who wants to preserve the status quo wants a particular situation to remain unchanged.
Steal someone's thunder
If someone steals your thunder, they take the credit and praise for something you did.
Steer clear of
If you steer clear of something, you avoid it.
Stem the tide
If people try to stem the tide, they are trying to stop something unpleasant from getting worse, usually when they don't
Step on it
This idiom is a way of telling someone to hurry up or to go faster.
Step up to the plate
If someone steps up to the plate, they take on or accept a challenge or a responsibility.
Stick out like a sore thumb
If something sticks or stands out like a sore thumb, it is clearly and obviously different from the things that are around
Stick to your guns
If you stick to your guns, you keep your position even though people attack or criticise you.
Stick your neck out
If you stick you neck out, you take a risk because you believe in something.
Stick your neck out
If you stick your neck out, you take a risk.
A stick-in-the-mud is someone who doesn't like change and wants things to stay the same.
A sticking point is a controversial issue that blocks progress in negotiations, etc, where compromise is unlikely or
(UK) <p>If someone comes to a sticky end, they die in an unpleasant way.</p><p> </p><p>(Meet a sticky end' is also
(UK) If you are on a sticky wicket, you are in a difficult situation.
Stiff upper lip
(UK) If you keep your emotions to yourself and don't let others know how you feel when something bad happens, you
keep a stiff upper lip.
A stiff-necked person is rather formal and finds it hard to relax in company.
Still in the game
If someone is still in the game, they may be having troubles competing, but they are not yet finished and may come
Still waters run deep
People use this idiom to imply that people who are quiet and don't try to attract attention are often more interesting
than people who do try to get attention.
Stitch in time saves nine
A stitch in time saves nine means that if a job needs doing it is better to do it now, because it will only get worse, like a
hole in clothes that requires stitching.
This idiom is a way of emphasizing that there were absolutely no signs of life or movement.
If a place is a stone's throw from where you are, it is a very short distance away.
(USA) A stool pigeon is a police informer.
Storm in a teacup
If someone exaggerates a problem or makes a small problem seem far greater than it really is, then they are making a
storm in a teacup.
A straw man is a weak argument that is easily defeated. It can also be a person who is used as to give an illegal or
inappropriate activity an appearance of respectability.
A straw poll is a small unofficial survey or ballot to find out what people think about an issue.
Straw that broke the camel's back
The straw that broke the camel's back is the problem that made you lose your temper or the problem that finally
brought about the collapse of something.
If people are streets ahead of their rivals, they are a long way in front.
Strike a chord
If strikes a chord, it is familiar to you, reminds you of something or is connected to you somehow.
Stroll down memory lane
If you take a stroll down memory lane, you talk about the past or revisit places that were important to you in the past.
(You can also 'take a trip down memory lane'.)
Strong as an ox
Someone who's exceedingly strong physically is said to be as strong as an ox.
Stubborn as a mule
Someone who will not listen to other people's advice and won't change their way of doing things is as stubborn as a
Stuffed to the gills
If someone is stuffed to the gills, they have eaten a lot and are very full.
Sure as eggs is eggs
These means absolutely certain, and we do say 'is' even though it is grammatically wrong.
If something is sure-fire, it is certain to succeed. ('Surefire' is also used.)
A person's swansong is their final achievement or public appearance.
Swear like a sailor
Someone who is foul-mouthed and uses bad language all the time, swears like a sailor.
Swear like a trooper
Someone who is foul-mouthed and uses bad language all the time, swears like a trooper.
If you sweat blood, you make an extraordinary effort to achieve something.
Sweep things under the carpet
If people try to ignore unpleasant things and forget about them, they sweep them under the carpet.
Swim against the tide
If you swim against the tide, you try to do something that is very difficult because there is a lot of opposition to you.
('Go against the tide' is an alternative form.)
Swim with the fishes
If someone is swimming with the fishes, they are dead, especially if they have been murdered. 'Sleep with the fishes' is
an alternative form.
Swim with the tide
If you swim with the tide, you do the same as people around you and accept the general consensus. ('Go with the tide'
is an alternative form.)
If things are going swimmingly, they are going very well.
Swings and roundabouts
If something's swings and roundabouts, it has about as many disadvantages as it has advantages.
~ T ~
Tables are turned
When the tables are turned, the situation has changed giving the advantage to the party who had previously been at a
Tackle an issue
If you tackle an issue or problem, you resolve or deal with it.
Take a leaf out of someone's book
If you take a leaf out of someone's book, you copy something they do because it will help you.
Take a punch
If somebody takes a blow, something bad happens to them.
Take a raincheck
If you take a rain check, you decline an offer now, suggesting you will accept it later. ('Raincheck' is also used.)
Take a straw poll
If you take a straw poll, you sound a number of people out to see their opinions on an issue or topic.
Take by the scruff of the neck
If you take something by the scruff on the neck, you take complete control of it.
Take for granted
If you take something for granted, you don't worry or think about it because you assume you will always have it.
If you take someone for granted, you don't show your appreciation to them.
Take it on the chin
If you take something on the chin, something bad happens to you and you take it directly without fuss.
Take someone down a peg
If someone is taken down a peg (or taken down a peg or two), they lose status in the eyes of others because of
something they have done wrong or badly.
Take someone for a ride
If you are taken for a ride, you are deceived by someone.
Take someone to the woodshed
If someone is taken to the woodshed, they are punished for something they have done.
Take the biscuit
(UK) If something takes the biscuit, it is the absolute limit.
Take the bull by its horns
Taking a bull by its horns would be the most direct but also the most dangerous way to try to compete with such an
animal. When we use the phrase in everyday talk, we mean that the person we are talking about tackles their problems
directly and is not worried about any risks involved.
Take the chair
If you take the chair, your become the chairman or chairwoman of a committee, etc.
Take the floor
Start talking or giving a speech to a group
Take the plunge
If you take the plunge, you decide to do something or commit yourself even though you know there is an element of
Take the rough with the smooth
People say that you have to take the rough with the smooth, meaning that you have to be prepared to accept the
disadvantages as well of the advantages of something.
Take up the torch
If you take up the torch, you take on a challenge or responsibility, usually when someone else retires, or leaves an
Take your breath away
If something takes your breath away, it astonishes or surprises you.
Take your eye off the ball
If someone takes their eye off the ball, they don't concentrate on something important that they should be looking at.
Take your eye off the ball
If you take your eye off the ball, you don't pay attention to something when you should be and miss something
Take your hat off to somebody
If you take your hat off to someone, you acknowledge that they have done something exceptional or otherwise deserve
Taken as read
If something can be taken as read, it is so definite that it's not necessary to talk about it.
Talk a blue streak
(USA) If someone talks a blue streak, they speak quickly and at length. ('Talk up a blue streak' is also used.)
Talk nineteen to the dozen
If someone talks very quickly, they talk nineteen to the dozen.
Talk of the town
When everybody is talking about particular people and events, they are he talk of the town.
Talk out of the back of your head
If someone is talking out of the back of their head, they are talking rubbish.
Talk out of your hat
If someone is talking out of their hat, they're talking utter rubbish, especially if compounded with total ignorance of the
subject on which they are pontificating. ('Talk through your hat' is also used.)
If you talk shop, you talk about work matters, especially if you do this outside work.
Talk the hind legs off a donkey
A person who is excessively or extremely talkative can talk the hind legs off a donkey.
Something that is likely to be hard to achieve or fulfil is a tall order.
A tall story is one that is untrue and unbelievable.
(UK) This is an exclamation used for encouragement before doing something difficult or dangerous.
If someone has tasted blood, they have achieved something and are encouraged to think that victory is within their
Taste of your own medicine
If you give someone a taste of their own medicine, you do something bad to someone that they have done to you to
teach them a lesson.
Teach your grandmother to suck eggs
When people say 'don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs', they mean that people shouldn't try to teach someone
who has experience or is an expert in that area.
Tear your hair out
If someone is tearing their hair out, they are extremely worried or agitated about something.
Tears before bedtime
(UK) This idiom is used when something seems certain to go wrong or cause trouble.
The problems that a project has when it's starting are the teething problems.
Tempest in a teapot
If people exaggerate the seriousness of a situation or problem, they are making a tempest in a teapot.
Ten a penny
(UK) If something is ten a penny, it is very common. ("Two a penny" is also used.)
Test the waters
If you test the waters, or test the water, you experiment to see how successful or acceptable something is before
That is the way the cookie crumbles
"That's the way the cookie crumbles" means that things don't always turn out the way we want.
That's all she wrote
(USA) This idiom is used to show that something has ended and there is nothing more to say about something.
The ball's in your court
If somebody says this to you, they mean that it's up to you to decide or take the next step.
The be all and end all
The phrase 'The be all and end all' means that a something is the final, or ultimate outcome or result of a situation or
The common weal
If something is done for the common weal, it is done in the interests and for the benefit of the majority or the general
The grass is always greener
This idiom means that what other people have or do looks preferable to our life. The complete phrase is 'The grass is
always greener on the other side of the fence'.
The more the merrier
The more the merrier means that the greater the quantity or the bigger the number of something, the happier the
speaker will be.
The penny dropped
When the penny drops, someone belatedly understands something that everyone else has long since understood.
The plot thickens
When the plot thickens, a situation become more complicated and difficult.
The sands of time
The sands of time is an idiom meaning that time runs out either through something reaching an end or through a
person's death. It comes from the sand used in hourglasses, an ancient way of measuring time.
The short straw
If you take the short straw, you lose a selection process, which means that you have to do something unpleasant.
The sun might rise in the west
When people say this, they mean that they don't expect something to happen.
The world and his wife
If the world and his wife were somewhere, then huge numbers of people were present.
Their bark is worse than their bite
If someone's bark is worse than their bite, they get angry and shout and make threats, but don't actually do anything.
There are many ways to skin a cat
This is an expression meaning there are many different ways of doing the same thing.
There's no such thing as a free lunch
This idiom means that you don't get things for free, so if something appears to be free, there's a catch and you'll have
to pay in some way.
There's the rub
The meaning of this idiom is 'that's the problem'.
Thick and fast
If things are happening thick and fast, they are happening so fast they seemed to be joined together.
Thick as thieves
If people are thick as thieves, they are very close friends who have no secrets from each other.
If a person is thick-skinned, they are not affected by criticism.
Thin as a rake
A rake is a garden tool with a long, thin, wooden handle, so someone very thin is thin as a rake.
Thin blue line
(UK) The thin blue line is a term for the police, suggesting that they stand between an ordered society and potential
chaos. (Police uniforms are blue.)
Thin end of the wedge
The thin end of the wedge is something small and seemingly unimportant that will lead to something much bigger and
If there's a thin line between things, it's hard to distinguish them- there's a thin line between love and hate.
If somebody is thin-skinned, they are very sensitive to any sort of criticism.
A person who is thin-skinned is very sensitive to things like criticism.
Think outside the box
If you think outside the box, you think in an imaginative and creative way.
Think the world of
To hold something or someone in very high esteem. To love or admire immensely.
If someone is given the third degree, they are put under a great deal of pressure and intimidation to force them to tell
the truth about something.
The third rail of something is dangerous to alter or change. Originally, the third rail is the one carrying the electricity for
Thorn in your side
A thorn in your side is someone or something that causes trouble or makes life difficult for you.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword
This means that violent people will be treated violently themselves.
Three sheets to the wind
If someone is three sheets to the wind, they are drunk.
Thrilled to bits
If you are thrilled to bits, you are extremely pleased or excited about something.
Through the ceiling
If prices go through the ceiling, they rise very quickly.
Through the floor
If prices go, or fall, through the floor, they fall very quickly.
Through thick and thin
If someone supports you through thick and thin, they support you during good times and bad.
Throw a sickie
If you pretend to be ill to take a day off work or school, you throw a sickie.
Throw caution to the wind
When people throw caution to the wind, they take a great risk.
Throw down the gauntlet
Throw down the gauntlet is to issue a challenge to somebody.
Throw in the towel
If you throw in the towel, you admit that you are defeated or cannot do something.
Throw someone a line
If someone throws you a line, they give you help when you are in serious difficulties.
Throw someone in at the deep end
If you are thrown in at the deep end, you have to deal with serious issues the moment you start something like a job,
instead of having time to acquire experience.
Throw someone to the wolves
If someone is thrown to the wolves, they are abandoned and have to face trouble without any support.
Throw the baby out with the bath water
If you get rid of useful things when discarding inessential things, you throw the baby out with the bath water.
Throw the book at someone
If you throw the book at someone, you punish them as severely as possible.
Throw your hat in the ring
If someone throws their hat in the ring, they announce that they want to take part in a competition or contest. 'Toss
your hat in the ring' is an alternative.
Throw your weight around
If someone throws their weight around, they use their authority or force of personality to get what they want in the
face of opposition.
Thumb your nose at
If you thumb your nose at something, you reject it or scorn it.
Thumbs down & thumbs up
If something gets the thumbs up, it gets approval, while the thumbs down means disapproval.
Tickle your fancy
If something tickles your fancy, it appeals to you and you want to try it or have it.
If you are very pleased about something, you are tickled pink.
If something tickles you pink, it amuses you.
Tie the knot
When people tie the knot, they get married.
If things or people are kept on a tight rein, they are given very little freedom or controlled carefully.
If you run a tight ship, you control something strictly and don't allow people much freedom of action.
Tighten your belt
If you have to tighten your belt, you have to economise.
Till the pips squeak
If someone will do something till the pips squeak, they will do it to the limit, even though it will make other people
Till you're blue in the face
If you do something till you're blue in the face, you do it repeatedly without achieving the desired result until you're
Tilt at windmills
A person who tilts at windmills, tries to do things that will never work in practice.
Time and again
If something happens time and again, it happens repeatedly. ('Time and time again' is also used.)
Time and tide wait for no man
This is used as a way of suggestion that people should act without delay.
Time of your life
If you're having the time of your life, you are enjoying yourself very much indeed.
A time-honoured practice is a traditional way of doing something that has become almost universally accepted as the
most appropriate or suitable way.
Tip of the iceberg
The tip of the iceberg is the part of a problem that can be seen, with far more serious problems lying underneath.
Small changes may have little effect until they build up to critical mass, then the next small change may suddenly
change everything. this is the tipping point.
Tired and emotional
(UK) This idiom is a euphemism used to mean 'drunk', especially when talking about politicians.
Tit for tat
If someone responds to an insult by being rude back, it's tit for tat- repaying something negative the same way.
To a fault
If something does something to a fault, they do it excessively. So someone who is generous to a fault is too generous.
To a man
If a group of people does, believes, thinks, etc, something to a man, then they all do it.
To a T
If something is done to a T, it is done perfectly.
To err is human, to forgive divine
This idiom is used when someone has done something wrong, suggesting that they should be forgiven.
To little avail
If something is to little avail, it means that, despite great efforts, something ended in failure, but taking comfort from
the knowledge that nothing else could have been done to avert or avoid the result.
To the end of time
To the end of time is an extravagant way of saying 'forever'.
Toe the line
If someone toes the line, they follow and respect the rules and regulations.
Tomorrow's another day
This means that things might turn out better or that there might be another opportunity in the future.
Tongue in cheek
If something is tongue in cheek, it isn't serious or meant to be taken seriously.
Too big for your boots
If someone is too big for their boots, they are conceited and have an exaggerated sense of their own importance.
Too big for your britches
If someone is too big for their britches, they are conceited and have an exaggerated sense of their own importance.
Too many chiefs and not enough Indians
When there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians, there are two many managers and not enough workers to
Too many cooks spoil the broth
This means that where there are too many people trying to do something, they make a mess of it.
Toot you own horn
If someone toot their own horn, they like to boast about their achievements.
The most important or influential person is the top dog.
If something is top notch, it's excellent, of the highest quality or standard.
If you touch base with someone, you contact them.
This idiom is used to wish for good luck. ('Knock on wood' is also used.)
If something is touch-and-go, it is very uncertain; if someone is ill and may well die, then it is touch-and-go.
Tough as old boots
Something or someone that is as tough as old boots is strong and resilient.
A tough cookie is a person who will do everything necessary to achieve what they want.
Tough nut to crack
If something is a tough nut to crack, it is difficult to find the answer or solution. When used about a person, it means
that it is difficult to get them to do or allow what you want. 'Hard nut to crack' is an alternative.
Tough row to hoe
(USA) A tough row to hoe is a situation that is difficult to handle. ('A hard row to hoe' is an alternative form.)
<p>If people trade barbs, they insult or attack each other.</p>
Tread the boards
When someone treads the boards, they perform on stage in a theatre.
If someone is treading water, they are making no progress.
Tried and tested
If a method has been tried and tested, it is known to work or be effective because it has been successfully used long
enough to be trusted.
A person who is true blue is loyal and dependable, someone who can be relied on in all circumstances.
If someone shows their true colours, they show themselves as they really are. ('True colors' is the American spelling.)
A trump card is a resource or strategy that is held back for use at a crucial time when it will beat rivals or opponents.
Truth will out
Truth will out means that, given time, the facts of a case will emerge no matter how people might try to conceal them.
If people or organisations are fighting for control of something, it is a turf war.
Turn a blind eye
When people turn a blind eye, they deliberately ignore something, especially if people are doing something wrong.
Turn a deaf ear
If someone turns a deaf ear to you, they don't listen to you.
Turn a new leaf
If someone turns a new leaf, they change their behaviour and stop doing wrong or bad things.
Turn the corner
To get over a bad run. When a loss making venture ceases to make losses, it has "turned the corner".
Turn the other cheek
If you turn the other cheek, you are humble and do not retaliate or get outwardly angry when someone offends or
hurts you, in fact, you give them the opportunity to re-offend instead and compound their unpleasantness.
Turn the tables
If circumstances change completely, giving an advantage to those who seemed to be losing, the tables are turned.
Turn up like a bad penny
If someone turns up like a bad penny, they go somewhere where they are not wanted.
Turn your nose up
If someone turns their nose up at something, they reject it or look odwn on it because they don't think it is good
enough for them.
Twenty-four seven or 24/7 means all the time, coming from 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Twinkling of an eye
If something happens in the twinkling of an eye, it happens very quickly.
Twist someone's arm
If you twist someone's arm, you put pressure on them to try to make them do what you want them to do.
If you add or throw in your two cents, you give your opinion on an issue.
Two left feet
A person with two left feet can't dance.
Two peas in a pod
<p>If things or people are like two peas in a pod, they look very similar or are always together.</p>
Two sides of the same coin
If two things are two sides of the same coin, there is much difference between them.
Someone who is two-faced will say one thing to your face and another when you're not there.
~ U ~
If a government changes its position radically on an issue, especially when they have promised not to do so, this is a U-
Ugly as a stick
(USA) If someone is as ugly as a stick, they are very ugly indeed.<br />
An ugly duckling is a child who shows little promise, but who develops later into a real talent or beauty.
If you're in uncharted waters, you are in a situation that is unfamiliar to you, that you have no experience of and don't
know what might happen. ('Unchartered waters' is an incorrect form that is a common mistake.)
(USA) Uncle Sam is the government of the USA.
Under a cloud)
If someone is suspected of having done something wrong, they are under a cloud.
Under a flag of convenience
If a ship sails under a flag of convenience, it is registered in a country where taxes, etc, are lower than in the country it
comes from, so if someone does something under a flag of convenience, they attempt to avoid regulations and taxes by
a similar means.
Under false colours
If someone does something under false colours/colors, they pretend to be something they are not in order to deceive
people so that they can succeed.
If someone is being attacked and cricitised heavily, they are under fire.
Under lock and key
If something is under lock and key, it is stored very securely.
Under the radar
If something slips under the radar, it isn't detected or noticed.
Under the table
Bribes or illegal payments are often described as money under the table.
Under the weather
If you are feeling a bit ill, sad or lack energy, you are under the weather.
Under the wire
(USA) If a person does something under the wire, they do it at the last possible moment.
Under your breath
If you say something under your breath, you whisper or say it very quietly.
Under your nose
If something happens right in front of you, especially if it is surprising or audacious, it happens under your nose.
Under your skin
If someone gets under your skin, they really annoy you.
Under your thumb
Someone who is manipulated or controlled by another person is under his or her thumb.
Unwavering loyalty does not question or doubt the person or issue and supports them completely.
Up for grabs
If something is up for grabs, it is available and whoever is first or is successful will get it.
Up in the air
If a matter is up in the air, no decision has been made and there is uncertainty about it.
(UK) If you up sticks, you leave somewhere, usually permanently and without warning- he upped sticks and went to
Up the ante
If you up the ante, you increase the importance or value of something, especially where there's an element of risk as
the term comes from gambling, where it means to increase the stake (the amount of money bet).
Up the creek
If someone or something is up the creek, they are in real trouble. 'Up the creek without a paddle' is an alternative, and
'up shit creek (without a paddle)' is a ruder form.
Up the duff
(UK) If a woman is up the duff, she's pregnant.
Up the spout
(UK) If something has gone up the spout, it has gone wrong or been ruined.
Up the stick
(UK) If a woman is up the stick, she's pregnant.
Up the wall
If someone goes up the wall, they get very angry.
Up to scratch
If something doesn't come up to scratch, it doesn't meet the standard required or expected.
Up to snuff
If something isn't up to snuff, it doesn't meet the standard expected.
Up to speed
If you bring someone up to speed, you update them on something.
Up to the eyes
You you are up to your eyes in something, you are deeply involved or to have too much of something like work. ('Up the
neck', 'up to the eyeballs' and 'up to the ears' are also used.)
Up to the neck
If someone's in something up to the neck, they are very involved in it, especially when it's something wrong.
Up to your neck
If someone is very involved in something, they are up to their neck in it, especially if it is something bad or immoral.
The upper crust are the upper classes and the establishment.
If you have the upper hand, you have the advantage.
Upset the apple cart
If you upset the apple cart, you cause trouble and upset people.
~ V ~
Vale of tears
This vale of tears is the world and the suffering that life brings.
This idiom is used to describe a person who appears gentle, but is determined and inflexible underneath. ('Iron fist in a
velvet glove' is the full form.)
Vent your spleen
If someone vents their spleen, they release all their anger about something.
Vicar of Bray
(UK) A person who changes their beliefs and principles to stay popular with people above them is a Vicar of Bray
A vicious circle is a sequence of events that make each other worse- someone drinks because they are unhappy at
work, then loses their job... 'Vicious cycle' is also used.
If something is virgin territory, it hasn't been explored before.
If you do a volte-face on something, you make a sudden and complete change in your stance or position over an issue.
~ W ~
Waiting in the wings
If someone is waiting in the wings, or in the wings, they are in the background, but nearby, ready to act on short notice.
A wake-up call is a warning of a threat or a challenge, especially when it means that people will have to change their
behaviour to meet it.
Walk a fine line
If you have to walk a fine line, you have to be very careful not to annoy or anger people or groups that are competing.
('Walk a thin line' is an alternative.)
Walk a mile in my shoes
This idiom means that you should try to understand someone before criticizing them.
Walk a tightrope
If you walk a tightrope, you have to be very careful not to annoy or anger people who could become enemies.
Walk in the park
An undertaking that is easy is a walk in the park. The opposite is also true - "no walk in the park".
Walk on eggshells
If you have to walk on eggshells when with someone, you have to be very careful because they get angry or offended
Walk the green mile
Someone or something that is walking the green mile is heading towards the inevitable.
A woman politician given an unimportant government position so that the government can pretend it takes women
seriously is a wallflower.
War of words
A war of words is a bitter argument between people or organisations, etc.
Warm the cockles of your heart
If something warms the cockles of your heart, it makes you feel happy.
If someone is on the warpath, they are very angry about something and will do anything to get things sorted the way
Warts and all
If you like someone warts and all, you like them with all their faults.
Wash your hands of something
If you wash your hands of something, you disassociate yourself and accept no responsibility for what will happen.
Waste not, want not
If you don't waste things, you are less likely to end up lacking.
Watch your six
(USA) This idiom means that you should look behind you for dangers coming that you can't see.
Watching paint dry
If something is like watching paint dry, it is really boring.
Water off a duck's back
If criticism or something similar is like water off a duck's back to somebody, they aren't affected by it in the slightest.
Water over the dam
(USA) If something has happened and cannot be changed, it is water over the dam.
Water under the bridge
If something belongs to the past and isn't important or troubling any more, it is water under the bridge.
(UK) A watering hole is a pub.
Weak at the knees
If people go weak at the knees, they have a powerful emotional reaction to something and feel that they might fall
Wear sackcloth and ashes
If someone displays their grief or contrition publicly, they wear sackcloth and ashes.
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Someone who wears their heart on their sleeve shows their emotions and feelings publicly.
Weather a storm
If you weather a storm, you get through a crisis or hard times.
Weight off your shoulders
If something is a weight off your shoulders, you have relieved yourself of a burden, normally a something that has been
troubling you or worrying you.
Wet behind the ears
Someone who is wet behind the ears is either very young or inexperienced.
A wet blanket is someone who tries to spoil other people's fun.
Wet your whistle
If you are thirsty and have an alcoholic drink, you wet your whistle. "Whet your whistle" is also used.
What can you expect from a hog but a grunt?
(USA) This means that you can't expect people to behave in a way that is not in their character- a 'hog' is a 'pig', so an
unrefined person can't be expected to behave in a refined way.
What goes around comes around
This saying means that of people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them.
What will be will be
The expression what will be will be is used to describe the notion that fate will decide the outcome of a course of
events, even if action is taken to try to alter it.
What's good for the goose is good for the gander
This idiom means that the sexes should be treated the same way and not be subjected to different standards.
What's your take on that?
This idiom is way of asking someone for their opinion and ideas.
Whatever floats your boat
When people say this, they mean that you should do whatever makes you happy.
Wheels fall off
When the wheels fall off something, it goes wrong or fails. ('Wheels come off' is an alternative.)
When hell freezes over
An impossible or very unlikely situation or event
When in Rome, do as the Romans
This idiom means that when you are visiting a different place or culture, you should try to follow their customs and
When it rains, it pours
This idiom means that when things go wrong, a lot of things go wrong at the same time.
Where the rubber meets the road
(USA) Where the rubber meets the road is the most important point for something, the moment of truth. An athlete
can train all day, but the race is where the rubber meets the road and they'll know how good they really are.
Where there's a will, there's a way
This idiom means that if people really want to do something, they will manage to find a way of doing it.
Whet your appetite
If something whets your appetite, it interests you and makes you want more of it.
Which came first the chicken or the egg?
This idiomatic expression is used when it is not clear who or what caused something.
While the cat's away, the mouse will play
People whose behaviour is strictly controlled go over the top when the authority is not around, which is why most
teenagers have parties when their parents have gone on holiday. The parents are the scary authority figures, but the
cat's away and the kids are the mice partying and enjoying their freedom.
Whistle for it
If someone says that you can whistle for something, they are determined to ensure that you don't get it.
A whistle-stop tour is when someone visits a number of places quickly, not stopping for long.
(USA) If someone is whistling Dixie, they talk about things in a more positive way than the reality.
Whistling in the dark
If someone is whistling in the dark, they believe in a positive result, even though everybody else is sure it will not
Whistling past the graveyard
(USA) If someone is whistling past the graveyard, they are trying to remain cheerful in difficult circumstances.
('Whistling past the cemetery' is also used.)
White as a sheet
A bad shock can make somebody go as white as a sheet.
White as snow
If something or someone is as white as snow, they are perfect or completely uncorrupted and honest.
A white elephant is an expensive burden; something that costs far too much money to run, like the Millennium Dome in
If you tell a white lie, you lie in order not to hurt someone's feelings.
If something is white-bread, it is very ordinary, safe and boring.
Who wears the pants?
(USA) The person who wears the pants in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.
Who wears the trousers?
(UK) The person who wears the trousers in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.
Whole ball of wax
(USA) The whole ball of wax is everything.
Whole kit and caboodle
The whole kit and caboodle means 'everything' required or involved in something. ('Kaboodle' is an alternative
Whole new ball game
If something's a whole new ball game, it is completely new or different.
The whole shebang includes every aspect of something.
If you give someone a wide berth, you keep yourself well away from them because they are dangerous.
Wide of the mark
If something is wide of the mark, it is inaccurate or incorrect.
Wild goose chase
A wild goose chase is a waste of time- time spent trying to do something unsuccessfully.
Will never fly
If an idea or project, etc, will never fly, it has no chance of succeeding.
Something that deceives by its appearance is a will-o’-the-wisp; it looks good, but turns out to be a disappointment.
Win by a nose
If somebody wins by a nose, they only just beat the others.
If something is done to pretend to be dealing with an issue or problem, rather than actually dealing with it, it is window
Wing and a prayer
If you do something on a wing and a prayer, you try to do something and hope you'll succeed even though you have
very little chance of success.
Winner takes all
If everything goes to the winner, as in an election, the winner takes all.
Wipe the floor with
(UK) If you wipe the floor with someone, you destroy the arguments or defeat them easily.
Wipe the smile of someone's face
If you wipe the smile of someone's face, you do something to make someone feel less pleased with themselves.
With a heavy hand
If someone does something with a heavy hand, they do it in a strict way, exerting a lot of control.
(UK) If a woman's with child, she's pregnant.
With flying colours (colors)
If you pass something with flying colours (colors), you pass easily, with a very high mark or grade.
Wither on the vine
If something withers on the vine, it fails to get the intended result, doesn't come to fruition.
Without a hitch
If something happens without a hitch, nothing at all goes wrong.
Wolf in sheep's clothing
A wolf in sheep's clothing is something dangerous that looks quite safe and innocent.
Wood for the trees
(UK) If someone can't see the wood for the trees, they get so caught up in small details that they fail to understand the
Word of mouth
If something becomes known by word of mouth, it is because people are talking about it, not through publicity, etc.
Word of the law
The word of the law means that the law is interpreted in an absolutely literal way which goes against the ideas that the
lawmakers had wished to implement.
Words fail me
If words fail you, you can't find the words to express what you are trying to say.
Work like a dog
If you work like a dog, you work very hard.
Work your fingers to the bone
If you work your fingers to the bone, you work extremely hard on something.
Work your socks off
If you work your socks off, you work very hard.
Work your socks off
If you work your socks off, you work very hard indeed.
Work your tail off
If you work your tail off, you work extremely hard.
World at your feet
If everything is going well and the future looks full of opportunity, you have the world at your feet.
World is your oyster
When the world is your oyster, you are getting everything you want from life.
If you worm information out of somebody, you persuade them to tell you something they wanted to keep from you.
Worm's eye view
A worm's eye view of something is the view from below, either physically or socially.
Worse for wear
If something's worse for wear, it has been used for a long time and, consequently, isn't in very good condition. A person who's worse for wear is drunk or high on drugs and looking rough.
Worse things happen at sea
This idiomatic expression is used as a way of telling someone not to worry so much about their problems.
Worth your salt
Someone who is worth their salt deserves respect.
Wouldn't touch it with a bargepole
(UK) If you wouldn't touch something with a bargepole, you would not consider being involved under any circumstances. (In American English, people say they wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole)
Wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole
(USA) If you wouldn't touch something with a ten-foot pole, you would not consider being involved under any
circumstances. (In British English, people say they wouldn't touch it with a bargepole)
Wrap yourself in the flag
If someone wraps themselves in the flag, they pretend to be doing something for patriotic reasons or out of loyalty, but
their real motives are selfish. ('Drape yourself in the flag' is an alternative form of this idiom)
Wrench in the works
(USA) If someone puts or throws a wrench, or monkey wrench, in the works, they ruin a plan. In British English,
'spanner' is used instead of 'wrench'.
If something is writ large, it is emphasised or highlighted.
Writing on the wall
If the writing's on the wall for something, it is doomed to fail.
Written all over your face
If someone has done something wrong or secret, but cannot hide it in their expression, it is written all over their face.
Wrong end of the stick
If someone has got the wrong end of the stick, they have misunderstood what someone has said to them.
If you start something on the wrong foot, you start badly.
~ X ~
The dangers for people in the military that civilians do not face, for which they receive payment, are known as the X
X marks the spot
This is used to say where something is located or hidden.
If something is x-rated, it is not suitable for children.
~ Z ~
The time when something important is to begin is zero hour.
If the police have a zero tolerance policy, they will not overlook any crime, no matter how small or trivial.
This is used to tell someone to be quiet.
Zip your lip
If someone tells you to zip your lip, they want to to shut up or keep quiet about something. ('Zip it' is also used.)