All languages have phrases or sentences that cannot be understood
literally. Even if you know all the words in a phrase and
understand all the grammar of the phrase completely, the meaning
may still not be apparent. Many proverbs, informal phrases,
and common sayings offer this kind of problem. A phrase or sentence
of this type is said to be idiomatic. This dictionary is a collection
of the idiomatic phrases and sentences that occur
frequently in the varieties of English that follow the British standard.
The dictionary is designed for easy use by lifelong speakers
of English, as well as by the new-to-English speaker or learner.
Readers who are native speakers of American, Australian, Canadian,
or other varieties of English will find the entries fascinating
and entertaining. Special features, such as numerous
full-sentence examples and a Phrase-Finder Index, make this dictionary
uniquely effective for language learners.
To the User
First, try looking up the complete phrase in the dictionary. The
entries are in absolute alphabetical order; that is, phrases are
alphabetized letter by letter, disregarding spaces, hyphens, and
punctuation. Entry phrases are never inverted or reordered. For
example, in the same boat is listed under in, not as the same
boat, in; boat, in the same; or same boat, in the. In the entry
heads, the word someone or one stands for persons, and something stands for things.
If you do not find the phrase you want, or if you cannot
decide exactly what the phrase is, look up any of its major words
in the Phrase-Finder Index, which begins on page 207. There you
will find listed, under the key word you have looked up, all the
phrases that contain that word. Pick out the phrase you want, and
look it up in the main body of the dictionary.
How to Use
_ (a box) marks the beginning of an example.
also: introduces additional forms within an entry
that are related to the main entry head.
and indicates that an entry head has variant forms that are
the same as, or similar to, the entry head in meaning.
One or more variant forms may be preceded by and.
entry head is the first word or phrase, in boldface type, of an
entry; the word or phrase that the definition explains.
see means to turn to the entry head indicated.
see also means to consult the entry head indicated for additional
information or to find expressions similar in
form or meaning to the entry head containing the 'see also' instruction.
see under means to search within the text of the entry indicated
for a phrase that is in boldface type and introduced by also.
Terms and Symbols
above one's station higher than one's social class or position in society.
He has been educated above his station and is now ashamed
of his parents' poverty. _ She is getting above her station since she
started working in the office. She ignores her old friends in the warehouse.
above someone's head too difficult or clever for someone to
understand. _ The children have no idea what the new teacher is talking
about. Her ideas are way above their heads. _ She started a physics
course, but it turned out to be miles above her head.
according to one's (own) lights according to the way one believes;
according to the way one's conscience or inclinations lead one. _
People must act on this matter according to their own lights. _ John
may have been wrong, but he did what he did according to his lights.
act the goat deliberately to behave in a silly or eccentric way; to
play the fool. (Informal.) _ He was asked to leave the class because
he was always acting the goat. _ No one takes him seriously. He acts the goat too much.
advanced in years old; elderly. _My uncle is advanced in years and can't hear too well.
Many people lose their hearing somewhat when they are advanced in years.
afraid of one's own shadow easily frightened; always frightened,
timid, or suspicious. _ After Tom was robbed, he was afraid of his
own shadow. _ Jane has always been a shy child. She has been afraid
of her own shadow since she was three.
aid and abet someone to help someone, especially in a crime or
misdeed; to incite someone to do something which is wrong.
He was scolded for aiding and abetting the boys who were fighting.
It's illegal to aid and abet a thief.
air of sanctity See odour of sanctity.
airs and graces proud behaviour adopted by one who is trying to
impress others by appearing more important than one actually is.
_ She is only a junior secretary, but from her airs and graces you would
think she was managing director. _ Jane has a very humble background—
despite her airs and graces.
(all) at sea (about something) confused; lost and bewildered. _
Mary is all at sea about the process of getting married.
When it comes to maths, John is totally at sea.
all ears (and eyes) listening eagerly and carefully. (Informal.) _
Well, hurry up and tell me! I'm all ears.
Be careful what you say. The children are all ears and eyes.
(all) Greek to me unintelligible to me. (Usually with some formof be.)
I can't understand it. It's Greek to me. _ It's all Greek to me.
Maybe Sally knows what it means.
all hours (of the day and night) very late in the night or very early in the morning.
Why do you always stay out until all hours of the day and night?
I like to stay out until all hours partying.
all over bar the shouting decided and concluded; finished except
for the formalities. (Informal. An elaboration of all over, which
means “finished.') _ The last goal was made just as the final whistle
sounded. Tom said, “Well, it's all over bar the shouting.'
Tom has finished his exams and is waiting to graduate. It's all over bar the shouting.
all skin and bones See nothing but skin and bones.
all thumbs very awkward and clumsy, especially with one's hands.
(Informal.) _ Poor Bob can't play the piano at all. He's all thumbs.
_ Mary is all thumbs when it comes to gardening.
all to the good for the best; for one's benefit. _ He missed his train,
but it was all to the good because the train had a crash. _ It was all to
the good that he died before his wife. He couldn't have coped without her.
any port in a storm a phrase indicating that when one is in difficulties
one must accept any way out, whether one likes the solution
or not. _ I don't want to live with my parents, but it's a case of
any port in a storm. I can't find a f lat. _ He hates his job, but he can't get another.
Any port in a storm, you know.
airs and graces
apple of someone's eye someone's favourite person or thing. _
Tom is the apple of Mary's eye. She thinks he's great.
Jean is the apple of her father's eye.
armed to the teeth heavily armed with weapons. _ The bank robber
was armed to the teeth when he was caught. _ There are too many
guns around. The entire country is armed to the teeth.
as a duck takes to water easily and naturally. (Informal.) _ She
took to singing just as a duck takes to water. _ The baby adapted to
the feeding-bottle as a duck takes to water.
as black as one is painted as evil or unpleasant as one is thought to be. (Usually negative.)
The landlord is not as black as he is painted. He seems quite generous.
Young people are rarely as black as they are painted in the media.
(as) black as pitch very black; very dark. _ The night was as black
as pitch. _ The rocks seemed black as pitch against the silver sand.
(as) bold as brass brazen; very bold and impertinent.
She went up to her lover's wife, bold as brass.
The girl arrives late every morning as bold as brass.
(as) bright as a button very intelligent; extremely alert. _ The
little girl is as bright as a button. _ Her new dog is bright as a button.
(as) calm as a millpond [for water to be] exceptionally calm.
(Referring to the still water in a pond around a mill in contrast to
the fast-flowing stream which supplies it.)
The English channel was calm as a millpond that day.
Jane gets seasick even when the sea is calm as a millpond.
(as) cold as charity 1. very cold; icy. _ The room was as cold as charity.
It was snowing and the moors were cold as charity.
2. very unresponsive; lacking in passion.
Their mother keeps them clean and fed, but she is cold as charity.
John's sister is generous and welcoming, but John is as cold as charity.
(as) fit as a fiddle healthy and physically fit. (Informal.)
In spite of her age, Mary is as fit as a fiddle.
Tom used to be fit as a fiddle. Look at him now!
(as) happy as a lark visibly happy and cheerful. (Note the variations
in the examples.) _ Sally walked along whistling, as happy as a
lark. _ The children danced and sang, happy as larks.
(as) happy as a lark
(as) happy as a sandboy and (as) happy as Larry;
(as) happy as the day is long very happy; carefree.
Mary's as happy as a sandboy now that she is at home all day with her children.
Peter earns very little money, but he's happy as Larry in his job.
The old lady has many friends and is happy as the day is long.
(as) happy as Larry See (as) happy as a sandboy.
(as) happy as the day is long See (as) happy as a sandboy.
(as) hungry as a hunter very hungry. _ I'm as hungry as a hunter.
I could eat anything! _ Whenever I jog, I get hungry as a hunter.
(as) large as life (and twice as ugly) an exaggerated way of saying
that a person or a thing actually appeared in a particular place.
(Informal.) _ The little child just stood there as large as life and
laughed very hard. _ I opened the door, and there was Tom, large as life.
I came home and found this cat in my chair, as large as life and twice as ugly.
asleep at the wheel not attending to one's assigned task; failing
to do one's duty at the proper time. _ I should have spotted the error.
I must have been asleep at the wheel. _ The management must have
been asleep at the wheel to let the firm get into such a state.
(as) near as dammit very nearly. (Informal.) _ He earns sixty thousand
pounds a year as near as dammit. _ She was naked near as dammit.
(as) plain as a pikestaff very obvious; clearly visible. (Pikestaff
was originally packstaff, a stick on which a pedlar's or traveller's pack
was supported. The original reference was to the smoothness of this
staff, although the allusion is to another sense of plain: clear or obvious.)
_ The ‘no parking' sign was as plain as a pikestaff. How did he
miss it? _ It's plain as a pikestaff. The children are unhappy.
(as) pleased as Punch very pleased or happy. (From the puppetshow
character, who is depicted as smiling gleefully.)
The little girl was pleased as Punch with her new dress.
Jack's as pleased as Punch with his new car.
(as) quiet as the grave very quiet; silent. _ The house is as quiet
as the grave when the children are at school. _ This town is quiet as
the grave now that the offices have closed.
(as) happy as a sandboy
(as) safe as houses completely safe. _ The children will be as safe
as houses on holiday with your parents. _ The dog will be safe as houses
in the boarding-kennels.
(as) sound as a bell in perfect condition or health; undamaged.
_ The doctor says the old man's heart is as sound as a bell. _ I thought
the vase was broken when it fell, but it was sound as a bell.
(as) thick as thieves very close-knit; friendly; allied. (Informal.)
_ Mary, Tom, and Sally are as thick as thieves. They go everywhere
together. _ Those two families are thick as thieves.
(as) thick as two short planks very stupid. (Informal.) _ Jim must
be as thick as two short planks, not able to understand the plans. _
Some of the children are clever, but the rest are as thick as two short planks.
(as) thin as a rake very thin; too thin. _ Mary's thin as a rake
since she's been ill. _ Jean's been on a diet and is now as thin as a rake.
at a loose end restless and unsettled; unemployed. (Informal.) _
Just before school starts, all the children are at a loose end. _ When
Tom is home at the week-ends, he's always at a loose end. _ Jane has
been at a loose end ever since she lost her job.
at a pinch if absolutely necessary. _ At a pinch, I could come tomorrow,
but it's not really convenient. _ He could commute to work from
home at a pinch, but it is a long way.
at a rate of knots very fast. (Informal.) _ They'll have to drive at
a rate of knots to get there on time. _ They were travelling at a rate of
knots when they passed us.
at death's door near death. (Euphemistic.) _ I was so ill that I was at death's door.
The family dog was at death's door for three days, and then it finally died.
at first glance when first examined; at an early stage. _ At first
glance, the problem appeared quite simple. Later we learned just how
complex it really was. _ He appeared quite healthy at first glance.
at full stretch with as much energy and strength as possible. _ The
police are working at full stretch to find the murderer. _ We cannot
accept any more work. We are already working at full stretch.
at full stretch
at half-mast half-way up or down. (Primarily referring to flags.
Can be used for things other than flags as a joke.) _ The flag was
f lying at half-mast because the general had died. _We f ly f lags at halfmast
when someone important dies. _ The little boy ran out of the
house with his trousers at half-mast.
at large free; uncaptured. (Usually said of criminals running loose.)
_ At midday the day after the robbery, the thieves were still at large.
_ There is a murderer at large in the city.
at liberty free; unrestrained. _ You're at liberty to go anywhere you
wish. _ I'm not at liberty to discuss the matter.
at loggerheads (with someone) in opposition; at an impasse; in
a quarrel. _ Mr. and Mrs. Jones have been at loggerheads with each
other for years. _ The two political parties were at loggerheads during
the entire legislative session.
at one's wits' end at the limits of one's mental resources. _ I'm
at my wits' end trying to solve this problem. _ Tom could do no more
to earn money. He was at his wits' end.
at sixes and sevens disorderly; completely disorganized. (Informal.)
_ Mrs. Smith is at sixes and sevens since the death of her husband.
_ The house is always at sixes and sevens when Bill's home by himself.
at someone's beck and call always ready to obey someone. _
What makes you think I wait around here at your beck and call? I live
here, too, you know! _ It was a fine hotel. There were dozens of maids
and waiters at our beck and call.
at the bottom of the ladder at the lowest level of pay and status.
Most people start work at the bottom of the ladder. _ When Ann was declared redundant
, she had to start all over again at the bottom of the ladder.
at the drop of a hat immediately and without urging. _ John was
always ready to go fishing at the drop of a hat. _ If you need help,
just call on me. I can come at the drop of a hat.
at the eleventh hour at the last possible moment. (Biblical.) _ She
always handed her term essays in at the eleventh hour. _ We don't
worry about death until the eleventh hour.
at the end of one's tether at the limits of one's endurance. _ I'm
at the end of my tether! I just can't go on this way! _ These children
are driving me out of my mind. I'm at the end of my tether.
at the expense of someone or something to the detriment of
someone or something; to the harm or disadvantage of someone
or something. _ He had a good laugh at the expense of his brother.
_ He took employment in a better place at the expense of a larger income.
at the top of one's voice with a very loud voice.
Bill called to Mary at the top of his voice.
How can I work when you're all talking at the top of your voices?
avoid someone or something like the plague to avoid someone
or something totally. (Informal.) _ What's wrong with Bob?
Everyone avoids him like the plague. _ I don't like opera. I avoid it like the plague.
avoid someone or something like the plague
babe in arms an innocent or naive person. (Informal.) _ He's a
babe in arms when it comes to taking girls out. _ Mary has no idea
how to fight the election. Politically, she's a babe in arms.
back of beyond the most remote place; somewhere very remote.
(Informal.) _ John hardly ever comes to the city. He lives at the back
of beyond. _ Mary likes lively entertainment, but her husband likes
to holiday in the back of beyond.
back to the drawing-board [it is] time to start over again; [it is]
time to plan something over again, especially if it has gone wrong.
(Also with old as in the examples.) _ The scheme didn't work. Back
to the drawing-board. _ I failed English this term. Well, back to the old drawing-board.
bag and baggage with one's luggage; with all one's possessions.
(Informal.) _ Sally showed up at our door bag and baggage one Sunday
morning. _ All right, if you won't pay the rent, out with you, bag and baggage!
baptism of fire a first experience of something, usually something
difficult or unpleasant. _ My son's just had his first visit to the dentist.
He stood up to the baptism of fire very well. _Mary's had her baptism
of fire as a teacher. She had to take the worst class in the school.
beard the lion in his den to face an adversary on the adversary's
home ground. _ I went to the solicitor's office to beard the lion in his den. _
He said he hadn't wanted to come to my home, but it was better to beard the lion in his den.
beat about the bush to avoid answering a question or discussing
a subject directly; to stall; to waste time. _ Let's stop beating about
the bush and discuss this matter. _ Stop beating about the bush and answer my question.
beat a (hasty) retreat to retreat or withdraw very quickly. _ We
went out into the cold weather, but beat a retreat to the warmth of our
fire. _ The cat beat a hasty retreat to its own garden when it saw the dog.
be a thorn in someone's side to be a constant source of annoyance
to someone. _ This problem is a thorn in my side. I wish I had a solution to it.
John was a thorn in my side for years before I finally got rid of him.
bed of roses a situation or way of life that is always happy and
comfortable. _ Living with Pat can't be a bed of roses, but her husband
is always smiling. _ Being the boss isn't exactly a bed of roses.
There are so many problems to sort out.
before you can say Jack Robinson almost immediately. _ And
before you could say Jack Robinson, the bird f lew away. _ I'll catch a
plane and be there before you can say Jack Robinson.
be getting on for something to be close to something; to be nearly
at something, such as a time, date, age, etc. (Informal.) _ It's getting
on for midnight. _ He must be getting on for fifty.
beggar description to be impossible to describe well enough to
give an accurate picture; to be impossible to do justice to in words.
_ Her cruelty to her child beggars description.
The soprano's voice beggars description.
beg off to ask to be released from something; to refuse an invitation.
_ I have an important meeting, so I'll have to beg off. _ I wanted
to go to the affair, but I had to beg off.
believe it or not to choose to believe something or not. _ Believe
it or not, I just got home from work. _ I'm over fifty years old, believe it or not.
bend someone's ear to talk to someone at length, perhaps annoyingly.
(Informal.) _ Tom is over there bending Jane's ear about something.
_ I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bend your ear for an hour, but I'm upset.
be old hat to be old-fashioned; to be outmoded. (Informal.) _
That's a silly idea. It's old hat. _ Nobody does that any more. That's just old hat.
be old hat
be poles apart to be very different, especially in opinions or attitudes;
to be far from coming to an agreement.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones don't get along well. They are poles apart. _
They'll never sign the contract because they are poles apart.
best bib and tucker one's best clothing. (Informal.) _
I always put on my best bib and tucker on Sundays.
Put on your best bib and tucker, and let's go to the city.
be thankful for small mercies to be grateful for any small benefits
or advantages one has, especially in a generally difficult situation.
_ We have very little money, but we must be grateful for small
mercies. At least we have enough food. _ Bob was badly injured in the
accident, but at least he's still alive. Let's be grateful for small mercies.
beyond one's ken outside the extent of one's knowledge or understanding.
_ Why she married him is beyond our ken. _
His attitude to others is quite beyond my ken.
beyond the pale unacceptable; outlawed. (The Pale historically was
the area of English government around Dublin. The people who
lived outside this area were regarded as uncivilized.) _ Your behaviour
is simply beyond the pale. _ Because of Tom's rudeness, he's considered
beyond the pale and is never asked to parties any more.
beyond the shadow of a doubt and beyond any shadow of
doubt completely without doubt. (Said of a fact, not a person.) _
We accepted her story as true beyond the shadow of a doubt. _ Please
assure us that you are certain of the facts beyond any shadow of doubt.
beyond words more than one can say. (Especially with grateful and
thankful.) _ Sally was thankful beyond words at being released.
I don't know how to thank you. I'm grateful beyond words.
bide one's time to wait patiently. _ I've been biding my time for
years, just waiting for a chance like this. _ He's not the type to just sit
there and bide his time. He wants some action.
bite someone's head off to speak sharply and angrily to someone.
(Informal.) _ There was no need to bite Mary's head off just
because she was five minutes late. _ The boss has been biting everybody's
head off since his wife left him.
bite the hand that feeds one to do harm to someone who does
good things for you. _ I'm your mother! How can you bite the hand
be poles apart
that feeds you? _ It's a real case of biting the hand that feeds her. She's
reported her stepmother to the police for shop-lifting.
bitter pill to swallow an unpleasant fact that has to be accepted.
_ It was a bitter pill for her brother to swallow when she married his
enemy. _ We found his deception a bitter pill to swallow.
black sheep (of the family) a member of a family or group who
is unsatisfactory or not up to the standard of the rest; the worst
member of the family. _ Mary is the black sheep of the family. She's
always in trouble with the police. _ The others are all in well-paid jobs,
but John is unemployed. He's the black sheep of the family.
blank cheque freedom or permission to act as one wishes or thinks
necessary. (From a signed bank cheque with the amount left blank.)
_ He's been given a blank cheque with regard to reorganizing the workforce.
_ The manager has been given no instructions about how to train
the staff. He's just been given a blank cheque.
blow hot and cold to be changeable or uncertain (about something).
(Informal.) _ He keeps blowing hot and cold on the question of moving to the country.
He blows hot and cold about this. I wish he'd make up his mind.
blow off steam See let off steam.
blow one's own trumpet to boast; to praise oneself. _ Tom is
always blowing his own trumpet. Is he really as good as he says he is?
_ I find it hard to blow my own trumpet, so no one takes any notice of me.
blow the lid off (something) to reveal something, especially
wrongdoing; to make wrongdoing public. (Informal.) _ The police
blew the lid off the smuggling ring. _ The journalists blew the lid off
the group's illegal activities.
blow up in someone's face [for something] suddenly to get ruined
or destroyed while seeming to go well. _ All my plans blew up in
my face when she broke off the engagement. _ It is terrible for your
hopes of promotion to blow up in your face.
blue blood the blood [heredity] of a noble family; aristocratic
ancestry. _ The earl refuses to allow anyone who is not of blue blood
to marry his son. _ Although Mary's family are poor, she has blue blood in her veins.
bone of contention the subject or point of an argument; an unsettled
point of disagreement. _ We've fought for so long that we've forgotten
what the bone of contention is. _ The question of a fence
between the houses has become quite a bone of contention.
born with a silver spoon in one's mouth born with many advantages;
born to a wealthy family; born to have good fortune. _ Sally
was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. _ It never rains when he
goes on holiday. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
bow and scrape to be very humble and subservient. _ Please don't
bow and scrape. We are all equal here. _ The shop assistant came in,
bowing and scraping, and asked if he could help us.
Box and Cox two people who keep failing to meet. (Although they
both sometimes go to the same place, they are never there at the
same time. From characters in a nineteenth-century play, one of
whom rented a room by day, the other the same room by night.) _
Since her husband started doing night-shifts, they are Box and Cox. She
leaves for work in the morning before he gets home. _ The two teachers
are Box and Cox. Mr. Smith takes class on Monday and Wednesday,
and Mr. Brown on Tuesday and Thursday.
break new ground to begin to do something which no one else has
done; to pioneer (in an enterprise). _ Dr. Anderson was breaking new
ground in cancer research. _ They were breaking new ground in consumer electronics.
break one's duck to have one's first success at something. (From
a cricketing expression meaning “to begin scoring.') _ At last Jim's
broken his duck. He's got a girl to go out with him. _ Jane has failed
all her exams up until now, but she's broken her duck by passing French.
break one's word not to do what one said one would; not to keep
one's promise. _ Don't say you'll visit your grandmother if you can't
go. She hates for people to break their word. _ If you break your word,
she won't trust you again.
break someone's fall to cushion a falling person; to lessen the impact of a falling person.
When the little boy fell out of the window, the bushes broke his fall.
The old lady slipped on the ice, but a snowbank broke her fall.
bone of contention
break someone's heart to cause someone emotional pain. _ It just
broke my heart when Tom ran away from home. _ Sally broke John's
heart when she refused to marry him.
break the ice to start social communication and conversation. _
Tom is so outgoing. He's always the first one to break the ice at parties.
_ It's hard to break the ice at formal events.
break the news (to someone) to tell someone some important
news, usually bad news. _ The doctor had to break the news to Jane
about her husband's cancer. _ I hope that the doctor broke the news gently.
breathe down someone's neck to keep close watch on someone,
causing worry and irritation; to watch someone's activities, especially
to try to hurry something along. (Informal. Refers to standing
very close behind a person.) _ I can't work with you breathing
down my neck all the time. Go away. _ I will get through my life without
your help. Stop breathing down my neck.
breathe one's last to die; to breathe one's last breath. _Mrs. Smith
breathed her last this morning. _ I'll keep running every day until I breathe my last.
bring down the curtain (on something) See ring down the curtain
bring home the bacon to earn a salary. (Informal.) _ I've got to
get to work if I'm going to bring home the bacon. _ Go out and get a
job so you can bring home the bacon.
bring something home to someone to cause someone to realize
the truth of something. _ Seeing the starving refugees on television
really brings home the tragedy of their situation. _ It wasn't until she
failed her exam that the importance of studying was brought home to her.
bring something to a head to cause something to come to the
point when a decision has to be made or action taken. _ The latest
disagreement between management and the union has brought matters
to a head. There will be an all-out strike now. _ It's a relief that
things have been brought to a head. The disputes have been going on for months.
bring something to a head
bring something to light to make something known; to discover
something. _ The scientists brought their findings to light.
We must bring this new evidence to light.
brush something under the carpet See sweep something under the carpet.
bull in a china shop a very clumsy person around breakable things;
a thoughtless or tactless person. (China is fine crockery.) _ Look at
Bill, as awkward as a bull in a china shop. _ Get that big dog out of
my garden. It's like a bull in a china shop. _
Bob is so rude, a real bull in a china shop.
burn one's boats and burn one's bridges (behind one) to go
so far in a course of action that one cannot turn back; to do something
which makes it impossible to return to one's former position.
_ I don't want to emigrate now, but I've rather burned my boats by
giving up my job and selling my house. _ Mary would now like to marry Peter,
but she burned her bridges behind her by breaking off the engagement.
burn one's bridges (behind one) See burn one's boats.
burn the candle at both ends to exhaust oneself by doing too
much, for example by working very hard during the day and also
staying up very late at night. _ No wonder Mary is ill. She has been
burning the candle at both ends for a long time. _ You can't keep on
burning the candle at both ends.
burn the midnight oil to stay up working, especially studying, late
at night. (Refers to working by the light of an oil-lamp.) _ I have
to go home and burn the midnight oil tonight. _ If you burn the midnight
oil night after night, you'll probably become ill.
bury the hatchet to stop fighting or arguing; to end old resentments.
_ All right, you two. Calm down and bury the hatchet. _ I wish
Mr. and Mrs. Franklin would bury the hatchet. They argue all the time.
bush telegraph the informal, usually rapid spreading of news or
information by word of mouth. _ The bush telegraph tells me that
the manager is leaving. _ How did John know that Kate was divorced?
He must have heard it on the bush telegraph.
business end of something the part or end of something that
actually does the work or carries out the procedure.
Keep away bring something to light
from the business end of the electric drill in case you get hurt.
Don't point the business end of that gun at anyone. It might go off.
busman's holiday leisure time spent doing something similar to
what one does at work. _ Tutoring pupils in the evening is too much
of a busman's holiday for our English teacher. _ It's a bit of a busman's
holiday to ask her to be wardrobe mistress for our amateur production
in the summer. She's a professional dressmaker.
buy a pig in a poke to purchase or accept something without having
seen or examined it. (Poke means “bag.') _ Buying a car without
test driving it is like buying a pig in a poke. _ He bought a pig in
a poke when he ordered a diamond ring by mail order.
buy something for a song to buy something cheaply. _ No one
else wanted it, so I bought it for a song. _ I could buy this house for a
song, because it's so ugly.
by fits and starts irregularly; unevenly; with much stopping and
starting. (Informal.) _ Somehow, they got the job done, by fits and
starts. _ By fits and starts, the old car finally got us to town.
by leaps and bounds and in leaps and bounds rapidly; by large
movements forward. _ Our garden is growing by leaps and bounds.
_ The profits of my company are increasing in leaps and bounds.
by no means absolutely not; certainly not. _ I'm by no means angry
with you. _ “Did you put this box here?' “By no means. I didn't do it, I'm sure.'
by return post by a subsequent immediate posting (back to the
sender). (A phrase indicating that an answer is expected soon, by
mail.) _ Since this bill is overdue, would you kindly send us your cheque
by return post? _ I answered your request by return post over a year
ago. Please check your records.
by the same token in the same way; reciprocally. _ Tom must be
good when he comes here, and, by the same token, I expect you to behave
properly when you go to his house. _ The mayor votes for his friend's
causes. By the same token, the friend votes for the mayor's causes.
by the seat of one's pants by sheer luck and very little skill.
(Informal. Especially with f ly.) _ I got through school by the seat of
my pants. _ The jungle pilot spent most of his days f lying by the seat
of his pants.
by the seat of one's pants
by the skin of one's teeth just barely; by an amount equal to the
thickness of the (imaginary) skin on one's teeth. (Informal.) _ I got
through that exam by the skin of my teeth. _ I got to the airport late
and caught the plane by the skin of my teeth.
by the sweat of one's brow by one's efforts; by one's hard work.
_ Tom grew these vegetables by the sweat of his brow. _ Sally made
her fortune by the sweat of her brow.
by virtue of something because of something; owing to something.
_ She's permitted to vote by virtue of her age. _ They are members
of the club by virtue of their great wealth.
by word of mouth by speaking rather than writing. _ I learned
about it by word of mouth. _ I need it in writing. I don't trust things
I hear about by word of mouth.
by the skin of one's teeth
call a spade a spade to call something by its right name; to speak
frankly about something, even if it is unpleasant. _ Well, I believe
it's time to call a spade a spade. We are just avoiding the issue. _ Let's
call a spade a spade. The man is a liar.
call it a day to leave work and go home; to say that a day's work
has been completed; to bring something to an end; to stop doing
something. (Informal.) _ I'm tired. Let's call it a day even though
it's only three o'clock. _ They're not engaged any more. They called it
a day. _ I haven't finished this essay, but I'm calling it a day.
call of nature the need to go to the lavatory. (Humorous.) _ Stop
the car here! I have to answer the call of nature. _ There was no interval
in the meeting to take account of the call of nature.
can't hold a candle to someone not equal to someone; unable
to measure up to someone. (Also with cannot.) _ Mary can't hold
a candle to Ann when it comes to playing the piano. _ As for singing,
John can't hold a candle to Jane.
can't make head nor tail of someone or something unable to
understand someone or something. (Also with cannot.) _ John is
so strange. I can't make head nor tail of him. _ Do this report again.
I can't make head nor tail of it.
can't see beyond the end of one's nose unaware of and uncaring
for the things which might happen in the future; not far-sighted.
(Also with cannot.) _ John is a very poor planner. He can't see beyond
the end of his nose. _ Ann can't see beyond the end of her nose. She's
taken a job without finding out if the firm is financially secure.
can't see one's hand in front of one's face unable to see very
far, usually owing to darkness or fog. (Also with cannot.) _ It was
so dark that I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. _ Bob said
that the fog was so thick he couldn't see his hand in front of his face.
carry all before one to be exceptionally successful. _ He carried
all before him on school prize day. _ In the sports event, Mary just
carried all before her.
carry a torch for someone to be in love with someone who does
not return love; to brood over a hopeless love affair. _ John is carrying
a torch for Jane. _ Is John still carrying a torch for his lost love?
carry the day See win the day.
carry the weight of the world on one's shoulders to appear to
be burdened by many problems. _ Look at Tom. He seems to be carrying
the weight of the world on his shoulders. _ Cheer up, Tom! You
don't need to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
carte blanche complete freedom to act or proceed as one pleases.
(Literally, a white or blank card.) _ We were given carte blanche to
choose the colour scheme. _ They were not instructed where to shop.
It was a case of carte blanche.
cast in the same mould very similar. _ The two sisters are cast in
the same mould—equally mean. _ All the members of that family are
cast in the same mould, and all have ended up in prison.
catch one's breath to resume one's normal breathing after exertion;
to return to normal after being busy or very active. _ I ran so
fast that it took me ten minutes to catch my breath. _ I don't have
time to catch my breath. I have to start work immediately.
catch someone on the hop to find someone unprepared or
defenceless. (Informal.) _ The unexpected exam caught some of the
pupils on the hop. _ The police caught the suspect on the hop and without
catch someone's eye to establish eye contact with someone; to
attract someone's attention. _ Try and catch the barman's eye. _
The shiny red car caught Mary's eye.
catch the sun to become sunburnt. (Informal.) _ The baby's face
is red—she's caught the sun. _ Fair-skinned people catch the sun easily.
Cat got your tongue? Why don't you speak?; Speak up and answer
my question! (Informal.) _ Answer me! What's the matter, cat got
your tongue? _ Why don't you speak up? Cat got your tongue?
carry all before one
caught over a barrel at the mercy of someone; under the control
of someone. (Informal.) _ I'm caught over a barrel, and I have to
do what he says. _ Ann will do exactly what I say. She's caught over a
cause tongues to wag to cause people to gossip; to give people
something to gossip about. _ The way John was looking at Mary will
surely cause tongues to wag. _ The way Mary was dressed will also
cause tongues to wag.
champ at the bit to be ready and anxious to do something; to be
impatient. (Originally said about horses.) _ The children were
champing at the bit to get into the swimming-pool. _ The hounds were
champing at the bit to begin the hunt.
chance one's arm to do something risky or dangerous. _ He certainly
chanced his arm when he was rude to the boss's wife. _ Don't
chance your arm by asking for yet another day off.
change hands [for something] to be sold. (Refers to the changing
of owners.) _ How many times has this house changed hands in the
last ten years? _ We built this house in 1920, and it has never changed
change horses in mid-stream to make major changes in an activity
which has already begun; to choose someone or something else
after it is too late. _ I'm already baking a cherry pie. I can't bake an
apple pie. It's too late to change horses in mid-stream. _ The house is
half built. It's too late to employ a different architect. You can't change
horses in mid-stream.
change someone's tune to change the manner, attitude, or behaviour
of a person, usually from bad to good, or from rude to pleasant.
_ The cashier was most unpleasant until she learned that I'm a
bank director. Then she changed her tune. _ “I shall fine you £150, and
perhaps that will help change your tune,' said the judge to the rude
chapter and verse detailed sources of information. (A reference
to the method of referring to biblical texts.) _ He gave chapter and
verse for his reasons for disputing that Shakespeare had written the play.
_ The suspect gave chapter and verse of his associate's activities.
chapter of accidents a series of misfortunes. _ Yesterday was just
a chapter of accidents—nothing went right. _ The play rehearsal conchapter
sisted of a chapter of accidents, but the opening performance was
cheek by jowl 1. side by side; close together. _ The walkers had
to walk cheek by jowl along the narrow streets. _ The two families lived
cheek by jowl in one house. 2. in co-operation; with a concerted
effort. _ The children worked cheek by jowl to make their mother's
birthday gift in time. _ All members of the transition team worked
cheek by jowl late into the night to get the job done.
cheesed off bored; depressed; annoyed. _ He was cheesed off with
his job. _ She was cheesed off when she missed the bus.
cheese-paring mean; niggardly. _ He was too cheese-paring to eat
properly. _ The cheese-paring old woman will not give to the poor.
chew the cud to think deeply. (Informal. From the cow's habit of
bringing food back from the first stomach into the mouth to chew
it, called chewing the cud.) _ I can't decide where to go on holiday.
I'll have to chew the cud. _ He's chewing the cud about what to do next.
chilled to the bone See chilled to the marrow.
chilled to the marrow and chilled to the bone very cold. _ I
was chilled to the marrow in that snowstorm. _ The children were
chilled to the bone in that unheated room.
chink in one's armour a weakness or vulnerable point that provides
an opportunity for attacking or impressing someone who is
otherwise invulnerable. _ His love for his child is the chink in his
armour. _ Jane's insecurity is the chink in her armour.
chip off the old block a person (usually a male) who behaves in
the same way as his father or resembles his father. (Usually informal.)
_ John looks like his father—a real chip off the old block. _ Bill
Jones is a chip off the old block. He's a banker just like his father.
chop and change to keep changing or altering something. _ The
shop is always chopping and changing staff. _ The firm is constantly
chopping and changing its plans.
clap eyes on someone or something to see someone or something,
perhaps for the first time; to set eyes on someone or something.
(Informal.) _ I wish she had never clapped eyes on her fiancé.
_ I haven't clapped eyes on a red squirrel for years.
cheek by jowl
clear the air to get rid of doubts or hostile feelings. (Sometimes
this is said about an argument or other unpleasantness. The literal
meaning is also used.) _ All right, let's discuss this frankly. It'll be better
if we clear the air. _ Mr. and Mrs. Brown always seem to have to
clear the air with a big argument before they can be sociable.
climb down to admit that one is wrong; to admit defeat. _ They
were sure they were in the right, but they climbed down when we proved
them wrong. _ The teacher was forced to climb down and admit she
had made a mistake.
clip someone's wings to restrain someone; to reduce or put an
end to someone's privileges or freedom. _ You had better learn to get
home on time, or your father will clip your wings. _My mother threatened
to clip my wings if I kept staying out late.
cloak-and-dagger involving secrecy and plotting. _ A great deal
of cloak-and-dagger stuff goes on in political circles. _ A lot of cloakand-
dagger activity was involved in the appointment of the director.
close one's eyes to something to ignore something; to pretend
that something is not really happening. _ You can't close your eyes
to the hunger in the world. _ His mother closed her eyes to the fact that
he was being beaten by his father.
cloud-cuckoo-land an imaginary perfect world. _ He thinks that
he will be able to buy a house easily, but he is living in cloud-cuckooland.
_ She hopes to get a job travelling abroad—she must believe in
clutch at straws to seek something which is useless or unattainable;
to make a futile attempt at something. _ I really didn't think
that I would get the job. I was clutching at straws. _ She won't accept
that he was lost at sea. She's still clutching at straws.
cock-and-bull story a silly, made-up story; a story which is untrue.
_ Don't give me that cock-and-bull story. _ I asked for an explanation,
and all I got was your ridiculous cock-and-bull story!
cock a snook at someone to show or express defiance or scorn
at someone. _ He cocked a snook at the traffic warden and tore up
the ticket. _ The boy cocked a snook at the park attendant and walked
on the grass.
cock a snook at someone
cock of the walk someone who acts in a more important manner
than others in a group. _ The deputy manager was cock of the walk
until the new manager arrived. _ He loved acting cock of the walk and
ordering everyone about.
cold comfort no comfort or consolation at all. _ She knows there
are others worse off than her, but that's cold comfort. _ It was cold comfort
to the student that others had failed also.
come a cropper to have a misfortune; to fail. (Literally, to fall off
one's horse.) _ Bob invested all his money in the shares market just
before it fell. Did he come a cropper! _ Jane was out all night before
she took her exams. She really came a cropper.
come away empty-handed to return without anything. _ All
right, go gambling if you must. Don't come away empty-handed,
though. _ Go to the bank and ask for the loan again. This time try
not to come away empty-handed.
come down in the world to lose one's social position or financial
standing. _ Mr. Jones has really come down in the world since he
lost his job. _ If I were unemployed, I'm certain I'd come down in the
come down to earth to become realistic or practical, especially
after a period of day-dreaming; to become alert to what is going
on around one. (Informal.) _ You have very good ideas, John, but you
must come down to earth. We can't possibly afford any of your suggestions.
_ Pay attention to what is going on. Come down to earth
and join the discussion.
come down with something to become ill with some disease. _
I'm afraid I'm coming down with a cold. _ I'll probably come down
come from far and wide to come from many different places. _
Everyone was there. They came from far and wide. _ We have foods
that come from far and wide.
come full circle to return to the original position or state of affairs.
_ The family sold the house generations ago, but the wheel has come
full circle and one of their descendants lives there now. _ The employers'
power was reduced by the unions at one point, but the wheel has
come full circle again.
cock of the walk
come home to roost to return to cause trouble (for someone). _
As I feared, all my problems came home to roost. _ His lies finally came
home to roost. His wife discovered his adultery.
come in for something to receive something; to acquire something.
_ Mary came in for a tremendous amount of money when her
aunt died. _ Her new play has come in for a lot of criticism.
come into something to inherit something. _ Jane came into a
small fortune when her aunt died. _ Mary does not come into her
inheritance until she comes of age.
come of age to reach an age when one is old enough to own property,
get married, and sign legal contracts. _ When Jane comes of
age, she will buy her own car. _ Sally, who came of age last month,
entered into an agreement to purchase a house.
come off second-best to be in second place or worse; to be the
loser. _ You can fight with your brother if you like, but you'll come
off second-best. _ Why do I always come off second-best in an argument
come out in the wash to work out all right. (Informal. This means
that problems or difficulties will go away as dirt goes away in the
process of washing.) _ Don't worry about their accusation. It'll all
come out in the wash. _ This trouble will go away. It'll come out in
come out of nowhere to appear suddenly. _ Suddenly, a container
lorry came out of nowhere. _ The storm came out of nowhere, and
we were unprepared.
come out of one's shell to become more friendly; to be more
sociable. _ Ann, you should come out of your shell and spend more
time with your friends. _ Come out of your shell, Tom. Go out and
make some friends.
(come) rain or shine no matter whether it rains or the sun shines.
(Informal.) _ Don't worry. I'll be there come rain or shine. _ We'll
hold the picnic—rain or shine.
come round 1. finally to agree or consent (to something). _ I
thought he'd never agree, but in the end he came round. _ She came
round only after we argued for an hour. 2. to return to consciousness;
to wake up. _ He came round after we threw cold water in his face.
_ The boxer was knocked out, but came round in a few seconds. 3. to
come for a visit; to stop by (somewhere). _ Why don't you come
round about eight? I'll be home then. _ Come round some week-end
when you aren't busy.
come to a bad end to have a disaster, perhaps one which is
deserved or expected; to die an unfortunate death. _ I just know that
the young man will come to a bad end. _ The miserly shopkeeper came
to a bad end and was declared bankrupt.
come to a head to come to a crucial point; to come to a point when
a problem must be solved. _ Remember my problem with my neighbours?
Well, last night the whole thing came to a head. _ The battle
between the two factions of the town council came to a head yesterday.
come to an untimely end to come to an early death. _ Poor Mr.
Jones came to an untimely end in a car accident. _ The older brother
came to an untimely end, but the twin boys lived to a ripe old age.
come to a pretty pass to develop into a bad, unfortunate, or difficult
situation. _ Things have come to a pretty pass when people have
to beg in the streets. _ When parents are afraid of their children, things
have come to a pretty pass.
come to grief to fail or be unsuccessful; to have trouble or grief.
_ The artist wept when her canvas came to grief. _ The wedding party
came to grief when the bride passed out.
come to light to become known; to be discovered. _ Some interesting
facts about your past have just come to light. _ If too many bad
things come to light, you may lose your job.
come to the fore to become obvious or prominent; to become
important. _ The question of salary has now come to the fore. _ Since
his great showing in court, my solicitor has really come to the fore in
conspicuous by one's absence having one's absence noticed (at
an event). _ We missed you last night. You were conspicuous by your
absence. _ How could the bride's father miss the wedding party? He
was certainly conspicuous by his absence.
contradiction in terms a seeming contradiction in the wording
of something. _ A wealthy pauper is a contradiction in terms. _ A
straight-talking politician may seem a contradiction in terms.
come to a bad end
cook someone's goose to damage or ruin someone. (Informal.)
_ I cooked my own goose by not showing up on time. _ Sally cooked
Bob's goose for treating her the way he did.
cook the books to cheat in bookkeeping; to make the accounts
appear to balance when they do not. _ Jane was sent to jail for cooking
the books of her mother's shop. _ It's hard to tell whether she really
cooked the books or just didn't know how to add.
cool one's heels to wait impatiently (for someone). (Informal.)
_ I spent all afternoon cooling my heels in the waiting room while the
doctor talked on the telephone. _ All right. If you can't behave properly,
just sit down here and cool your heels until I call you.
cost a pretty penny to cost a lot of money. _ I'll bet that diamond
cost a pretty penny. _ You can be sure that house cost a pretty
cost the earth to cost an enormous sum of money. (Compare with
pay the earth.) _ That huge car must have cost the earth! _ Do I look
as though I can afford a house that costs the earth?
count heads to count people. _ I'll tell you how many people are
here after I count heads. _ Everyone is here. Let's count heads so we
can order the drinks.
crack a bottle to open a bottle. (Informal.) _ Let's crack a bottle
of champagne to celebrate. _ We always crack a bottle of port at
cramp someone's style to limit someone in some way. _ Having
her young sister with her rather cramped her style on the dance f loor.
_ To ask him to keep regular hours would really be cramping his style.
cross a bridge before one comes to it to worry excessively about
something before it happens. _ There is no sense in crossing that
bridge before you come to it. _ She's always crossing bridges before coming
to them. She needs to learn to relax.
cross one's heart (and hope to die) to pledge or vow that the
truth is being told. _ It's true, cross my heart and hope to die. _ It's
really true—cross my heart.
cross swords (with someone) to enter into an argument with
someone. _ I don't want to cross swords with Tom. _ The last time
we crossed swords, we had a terrible time.
cross swords (with someone)
cross the Rubicon to do something which inevitably commits one
to a following course of action. (The crossing of the River Rubicon
by Julius Caesar inevitably involved him in a war with the Senate
in 49 b.c.) _ Jane crossed the Rubicon by signing the contract. _ Find
another job before you cross the Rubicon and resign from this one.
crux of the matter the central issue of the matter. (Crux is Latin
for “cross.') _ All right, this is the crux of the matter. _ It's about
time that we looked at the crux of the matter.
cry one's eyes out to cry very hard. _ When we heard the news,
we cried our eyes out with joy. _ She cried her eyes out after his death.
cry over spilled milk to be unhappy about having done something
which cannot be undone. (Spilled can also be spelled spilt.) _ I'm
sorry that you broke your bicycle, Tom. But there is nothing that can
be done now. Don't cry over spilled milk. _ Ann is always crying over
cry wolf to cry out for help or to complain about something when
nothing is really wrong. _ Pay no attention. She's just crying wolf
again. _ Don't cry wolf too often. No one will come.
culture vulture someone whom one considers to be excessively
interested in the (classical) arts. _ She won't go to a funny film. She's
a real culture vulture. _ They watch only highbrow television. They're
cupboard love affection shown to someone just because of the
things, such as food or clothes, they supply. _ She doesn't love her
husband. It's just cupboard love. _ Her affection for her foster-parents
is a pretence—simply cupboard love.
curl up (and die) to retreat and die; to shrink away because one is
very embarrassed. _ When I heard you say that, I could have curled
up and died. _ Her mother's praises made her want to curl up.
curry favour (with someone) to try to win favour from someone.
_ The solicitor tried to curry favour with the judge. _ It's silly to
curry favour. Just act yourself.
cut a fine figure to look good; to look elegant. _ Tom really cuts
a fine figure on the dance-f loor. _ Bill cuts a fine figure since he bought
some new clothes.
cross the Rubicon
cut a long story short to bring a story to an end. (A formula which
introduces a summary of a story or a joke.) _ And—to cut a long
story short—I never got back the money that I lent him. _ If I can
cut a long story short, let me say that everything worked out fine.
cut and dried fixed; determined beforehand; usual and uninteresting.
_ I find your writing quite boring. It's too cut and dried. _ The
lecture was, as usual, cut and dried. It was the same thing we've heard
for years. _ Our plans are all cut and dried; you can't contribute anything
cut and thrust intense competition. (From sword-fighting.) _
Peter tired of the cut and thrust of business. _ The cut and thrust of
the stock-market is not for John.
cut both ways to affect both sides of an issue equally. _ Remember
your suggestion that costs should be shared cuts both ways. You
will have to pay as well. _ If our side cannot take along supporters to
the game, then yours cannot either. The rule has to cut both ways.
cut corners to reduce efforts or expenditures; to do things poorly
or incompletely. (From the phrase cut the corner, meaning to avoid
going to an intersection to turn.) _ You cannot cut corners when
you are dealing with public safety. _ Don't cut corners, Sally. Let's do
the thing properly.
cut it (too) fine to allow scarcely enough time, money, etc., in order
to accomplish something. _ You're cutting it too fine if you want to
catch the bus. It leaves in five minutes. _ Joan had to search her pockets
for money for the bus fare. She really cut it fine.
cut no ice to have no effect; to make no sense; to have no influence.
_ That idea cuts no ice. It won't help at all. _ It cuts no ice that
your mother is the director.
cut one's coat according to one's cloth and cut one's coat to
suit one's cloth to plan one's aims and activities in line with one's
resources and circumstances. _ We would like a bigger house, but
we must cut our coat according to our cloth. _ They can't afford a holiday
abroad—they have to cut their coat to suit their cloth.
cut one's coat to suit one's cloth See cut one's coat according to
cut one's coat to suit one's cloth
cut one's eye-teeth on something to have done something since
one was very young; to have much experience at something. _ Do
I know about cars? I cut my eye-teeth on cars. _ I cut my eye-teeth on
Bach. I can whistle everything he wrote.
cut one's teeth on something to gain one's early experiences on
something. _ You can cut your teeth on this project before getting
involved in a more major one. _ The young police officers cut their teeth
on minor crimes.
cut someone dead to ignore someone totally. _ Joan was just about
to speak to James when he cut her dead. _ Jean cut her former husband
cut someone down to size to make a person more humble. _
John's remarks really cut me down to size. _ Jane is too conceited. I
think her new managing director will cut her down to size.
cut someone to the quick to hurt someone's feelings very badly.
(Can be used literally when quick refers to the tender flesh at the
base of finger- and toe-nails.) _ Your criticism cut me to the quick.
_ Tom's sharp words to Mary cut her to the quick.
cut teeth [for a baby or young person] to grow teeth. _ Billy is cross
because he's cutting teeth. _ Ann cut her first tooth this week.
cut one's eye-teeth on something
daily dozen physical exercises done every day. (Informal.) _ My
brother always feels better after his daily dozen. _ She would rather
do a daily dozen than go on a diet.
daily grind the everyday work routine. (Informal.) _ I'm getting
very tired of the daily grind. _ When my holiday was over, I had to
go back to the daily grind.
damn someone or something with faint praise to criticize
someone or something indirectly by not praising enthusiastically. _
The critic did not say that he disliked the play, but he damned it with
faint praise. _ Mrs. Brown is very proud of her son's achievements, but
damns her daughter's with faint praise.
damp squib something which fails to be as successful or exciting
as it promised to be. (Informal.) _ The charity ball was a bit of a
damp squib. _ The much-publicized protest turned out to be a damp
dance attendance on someone to be always ready to tend to
someone's wishes or needs. _ That young woman has three men dancing
attendance on her. _ Her father expects her to dance attendance
on him day and night.
Darby and Joan an old married couple living happily together.
(From a couple so-called in eighteenth-century ballads.) _ Her parents
are divorced, but her grandparents are like Darby and Joan. _
It's good to see so many Darby and Joans at the party, but it needs some
young couples to liven it up.
dark horse someone whose abilities, plans, or feelings are little
known to others. (From horse-racing.) _ It's difficult to predict who
will win the prize—there are two or three dark horses in the tournament.
_ You're a dark horse! We didn't know you ran marathons!
Davy Jones's locker the bottom of the sea, especially when it is the
final resting place for someone or something. (From seamen's name
for the evil spirit of the sea.) _ They were going to sail around the
world, but ended up in Davy Jones's locker. _ Most of the gold from
that trading ship is in Davy Jones's locker.
daylight robbery [an instance of] the practice of blatantly or
grossly overcharging. (Informal.) _ It's daylight robbery to charge
that amount of money for a hotel room! _ The cost of renting a car at
that place is daylight robbery.
dead and buried gone forever. (Refers literally to persons and figuratively
to ideas and other things.) _ Now that Uncle Bill is dead
and buried, we can read his will. _ That way of thinking is dead and
dead centre at the exact centre of something. _ The arrow hit the
target dead centre. _ When you put the f lowers on the table, put them
dead on one's or its feet exhausted; worn out; no longer effective
or successful. (Informal.) _ Ann is so tired. She's really dead on
her feet. _ He can't teach well any more. He's dead on his feet. _ This
inefficient company is dead on its feet.
dead set against someone or something totally opposed to
someone or something. _ I'm dead set against the new rates proposal.
_ Everyone is dead set against the MP.
dead to the world sleeping very soundly. (Informal.) _ He spent
the whole plane journey dead to the world. _ Look at her sleeping. She's
dead to the world.
death to something having a harmful effect on something; liable
to ruin something. _ This road is terribly bumpy. It's death to tyres.
_ Stiletto heels are death to those tiles.
die a natural death [for something] to fade away or die down. _
I expect that all this excitement about computers will die a natural
death. _ Most fads die a natural death.
die laughing to laugh very long and hard. (Informal.) _ The joke
was so funny that I almost died laughing. _ The play was meant to be
funny, but the audience didn't exactly die laughing.
Davy Jones's locker
die of a broken heart to die of emotional distress, especially grief
over a lost love. _ I was not surprised to hear of her death. They say
she died of a broken heart. _ In the film, the heroine appeared to die
of a broken heart, but the audience knew she was poisoned.
die of boredom to suffer from boredom; to be very bored. _ I shall
die of boredom if I stay here alone all day. _ We sat there and listened
politely, even though we were dying of boredom.
dig one's own grave to be responsible for one's own downfall or
ruin. _ The manager tried to get rid of his assistant, but he dug his
own grave. He got the sack himself. _ The government has dug its own
grave with the new taxation bill. It won't be re-elected.
dine out on something to be asked to social gatherings because
of the information one has. _ She's been dining out on the story of
her promotion for months. _ The journalist dines out on all the gossip
dirt cheap extremely cheap. (Informal.) _ Buy some more of those
plums. They're dirt cheap. _ In Italy, the peaches are dirt cheap.
dirty look a look or glance expressing disapproval or dislike. (Especially
with get, give, receive.) _ I stopped whistling when I saw the
dirty look on her face. _ The child who sneaked received dirty looks
from the other children. _ Ann gave me a dirty look. _ I gave her a
dirty look back.
do a double take to react with surprise; to have to look twice to
make sure that one really saw correctly. (Informal.) _ When the
boy led a goat into the park, everyone did a double take. _ When the
doctor saw that the man had six toes, she did a double take.
do an about-face to make a total reversal of opinion or action. _
Without warning, the government did an about-face on taxation. _
It had done an about-face on the question of rates last year.
dog in the manger one who prevents others from enjoying a privilege
that one does not make use of or enjoy oneself. (From one of
Aesop's fables in which a dog—which cannot eat hay—lay in the
hay-rack [manger] and prevented the other animals from eating the
hay.) _ Jane is a real dog in the manger. She cannot drive, but she
will not lend anyone her car. _ If Martin were not such a dog in the
manger, he would let his brother have that evening suit he never wears.
dog in the manger
do justice to something 1. to do something well; to represent or
portray something accurately. _ Sally really did justice to the contract
negotiations. _ This photograph doesn't do justice to the beauty of the
mountains. 2. to eat or drink a great deal. (Informal.) _ Bill always
does justice to the evening meal. _ The guests didn't do justice to the
roast pig. There were nearly ten pounds of it left over.
done to a turn cooked just right. _ Yummy! This meat is done to
a turn. _ I like it done to a turn, not too well done and not too raw.
donkey's ages and donkey's years a very long time. (Informal.)
_ The woman hasn't been seen for donkey's ages. _ We haven't had a
holiday in donkey's years.
donkey's years See donkey's ages.
donkey-work hard or boring work. (Informal.) _ His wife picks
f lowers, but he does all the donkey-work in the garden. _ I don't only
baby-sit. I do all the donkey-work around the house.
do one's bit to do one's share of the work; to do whatever one can
do to help. _ Everybody must do their bit to help get things under control.
_ I always try to do my bit. How can I help this time?
dose of one's own medicine the same kind of, usually bad, treatment
which one gives to other people. (Often with get or have.) _
Sally is never very friendly. Someone is going to give her a dose of her
own medicine someday and ignore her. _ The thief didn't like getting
a dose of his own medicine when his car was stolen.
do someone down to do something to someone's disadvantage.
_ He really did me down when he applied for the same job. _ Don't
expect Mr. Black to help you. He enjoys doing people down.
do someone good to benefit someone. _ A nice hot bath really does
me good. _ It would do you good to lose some weight.
do someone proud to treat someone generously. (Informal.) _
What a good hotel. The conference has done us proud. _ He certainly
did his daughter proud. The wedding reception cost a fortune.
do someone's heart good to make someone feel good emotionally.
(Informal.) _ It does my heart good to hear you talk that way.
_ When she sent me a get-well card, it really did my heart good.
do justice to something
do the trick to do exactly what needs to be done; to be satisfactory
for a purpose. (Informal.) _ Push the car just a little more to
the left. There, that does the trick. _ If you give me two pounds, I'll
have enough to do the trick.
double Dutch language or speech that is difficult or impossible to
understand. _ This book on English grammar is written in double
Dutch. I can't understand a word. _ Try to find a lecturer who speaks
slowly, not one who speaks double Dutch.
doubting Thomas someone who will not easily believe something
without strong proof or evidence. (From the biblical account of the
apostle Thomas, who would not believe that Christ had risen from
the grave until he had touched Him.) _ Mary won't believe that I
have a dog until she sees him. She's such a doubting Thomas. _ This
school is full of doubting Thomases. They want to see his new bike
with their own eyes.
down at heel shabby; run-down; [of a person] poorly dressed. _
The tramp was really down at heel. _ Tom's house needs paint. It looks
down at heel. also: down-at-heel _ Look at that down-at-heel
down in the mouth sad-faced; depressed and unsmiling. _ Ever
since the party was cancelled, Barbara has been looking down in the
mouth. _ Bob has been down in the mouth since his girlfriend left.
down on one's luck without any money; unlucky. (Euphemistic
for poor or penniless.) _ Can you lend me twenty pounds? I've been
down on my luck lately. _ The gambler had to get a job because he
had been down on his luck and didn't earn enough money to live on.
down to earth practical; realistic; not theoretical; not fanciful. _
Her ideas for the boutique are always very down to earth. _ Those philosophers
are anything but down to earth. also: down-to-earth _
She's far too dreamy. We want a more down-to-earth person.
drag one's feet to act very slowly, often deliberately. _ The government
are dragging their feet on this bill because it will lose votes.
_ If the planning department hadn't dragged their feet, the building
would have been built by now.
draw a blank to get no response; to find nothing. (Informal.) _ I
asked him about Tom's financial problems, and I just drew a blank. _
We looked in the files for an hour, but we drew a blank.
draw a blank
draw a line between something and something else to separate
two things; to distinguish or differentiate between two things.
(The a can be replaced with the.) _ It's necessary to draw a line
between bumping into people and striking them. _ It's very hard to
draw the line between slamming a door and just closing it loudly.
draw a red herring to introduce information which diverts attention
from the main issue. (See also red herring.) _ The accountant
drew several red herrings to prevent people from discovering that he
had embezzled the money. _ The government, as always, will draw a
red herring whenever there is a monetary crisis.
draw blood to hit or bite (a person or an animal) and make a
wound that bleeds. _ The dog chased me and bit me hard, but it didn't
draw blood. _ The boxer landed just one punch and drew blood
dream come true a wish or a dream which has become a reality.
_ Going to Hawaii is like having a dream come true. _ Having you
for a friend is a dream come true.
dressed (up) to the nines dressed in one's best clothes. (Informal.
Very high on a scale of one to ten.) _ The applicants for the job were
all dressed up to the nines. _ The wedding party were dressed to the
dressing down a scolding. _ After that dressing down I won't be late
again. _ The boss gave Fred a real dressing down for breaking the
drive a hard bargain to work hard to negotiate prices or agreements
in one's own favour. _ All right, sir, you drive a hard bargain.
I'll sell you this car for £12,450. _ You drive a hard bargain, Jane, but
I'll sign the contract.
drive someone up the wall to annoy or irritate someone. (Informal.)
_ Stop whistling that tune. You're driving me up the wall. _
All his talk about moving to London nearly drove me up the wall.
drop a bombshell to announce shocking or startling news. (Informal.)
_ They really dropped a bombshell when they announced that
the president had cancer. _ Friday is a good day to drop a bombshell
like that. It gives the business world the week-end to recover.
draw a line between something and something else
drop back to go back or remain back; to fall behind. _ As the crowd
moved forward, the weaker ones dropped back. _ She was winning
the race at first, but soon dropped back.
drop in one's tracks to stop or collapse from exhaustion; to die
suddenly. _ If I keep working this way, I'll drop in my tracks. _ Uncle
Bob was working in the garden and dropped in his tracks. We are all
sorry that he's dead.
drop someone to stop being friends with someone, especially with
one's boyfriend or girlfriend. (Informal.) _ Bob finally dropped Jane.
I don't know what he saw in her. _ I'm surprised that she didn't drop
drown one's sorrows to try to forget one's problems by drinking
a lot of alcohol. (Informal.) _ Bill is in the bar drowning his sorrows.
_ Jane is at home drowning her sorrows after losing her job.
dry run an attempt; a rehearsal. _ We had better have a dry run for
the official ceremony tomorrow. _ The children will need a dry run
before their procession in the pageant.
eager beaver someone who is very enthusiastic; someone who
works very hard. _ New volunteers are always eager beavers. _ The
young assistant gets to work very early. She's a real eager beaver.
eagle eye careful attention; an intently watchful eye. (From the
sharp eyesight of the eagle.) _ The pupils wrote their essays under the
eagle eye of the headmaster. _ The umpire kept his eagle eye on the
early bird someone who gets up or arrives early or starts something
very promptly, especially someone who gains an advantage of some
kind by so doing. _ The Smith family are early birds. They caught
the first ferry. _ I was an early bird and got the best selection of f lowers.
eat humble pie to act very humbly, especially when one has been
shown to be wrong; to accept humiliation. _ I think I'm right, but
if I'm wrong, I'll eat humble pie. _ You think you're so smart. I hope
you have to eat humble pie.
eat like a bird to eat only small amounts of food; to peck at one's
food. _ Jane is very slim because she eats like a bird. _ Bill is trying
to lose weight by eating like a bird.
eat like a horse to eat large amounts of food. (Informal.) _ No
wonder he's so fat. He eats like a horse. _ John works like a horse and
eats like a horse, so he never gets fat.
eat one's hat a phrase telling the kind of thing that one would do
if a very unlikely event were actually to happen. _ I'll eat my hat if
you get a rise. _ He said he'd eat his hat if she got elected.
eat one's heart out 1. to be very sad (about someone or something).
_ Bill spent a lot of time eating his heart out after his divorce.
_ Sally ate her heart out when she had to sell her house. 2. to be envious
(of someone or something). (Informal.) _ Do you like my new
watch? Well, eat your heart out. It was the last one in the shop. _ Eat
your heart out, Jane! I've got a new girlfriend now.
eat one's words to have to take back one's statements; to confess
that one's predictions were wrong. _ You shouldn't say that to me. I'll
make you eat your words. _ John was wrong about the election and
had to eat his words.
eat out of someone's hands to do what someone else wants; to
obey someone eagerly. (Often with have.) _ Just wait! I'll have
everyone eating out of my hands. They'll do whatever I ask. _ The
treasurer has everyone eating out of his hands. _ A lot of people are
eating out of his hands.
eat someone out of house and home to eat a lot of food (in
someone's home); to bring someone to the point of financial ruin
by eating all the food in the person's house. (Informal.) _ Billy has
a huge appetite. He almost eats us out of house and home. _ When
the young people come home from college, they always eat us out of
house and home.
either feast or famine either too much (of something) or not
enough (of something). (Also without either.) _ This month is very
dry, and last month it rained almost every day. Our weather is either
feast or famine. _ Sometimes we are busy, and sometimes we have
nothing to do. It's feast or famine.
elbow-grease physical exertion; hard work. (The “grease' may be
the sweat that exertion produces.) _ It'll take some elbow-grease to
clean this car. _ Expensive polishes are all very well, but this f loor needs
eleventh-hour decision a decision made at the last possible
minute. _ Eleventh-hour decisions are seldom satisfactory. _ The treasurer's
eleventh-hour decision was made in a great hurry, but it turned
out to be correct.
enough is as good as a feast a saying that means one should be
satisfied if one has enough of something to meet one's needs, and
one should not seek more than one needs. _We have enough money
to live on, and enough is as good as a feast. _ I cannot understand
why they want a larger house. Enough is as good as a feast.
enter the lists to begin to take part in a contest or argument. _
He had decided not to stand for Parliament, but entered the lists at
enter the lists
the last minute. _ The family disagreement had almost been resolved
when the grandfather entered the lists.
escape someone's notice to go unnoticed; not to have been
noticed. (Usually a way to point out that someone has failed to see
or respond to something.) _ I suppose my earlier request escaped your
notice, so I'm writing again. _ I'm sorry. Your letter escaped my notice.
everything but the kitchen sink almost everything one can think
of. _ When Sally went off to college, she took everything but the kitchen
sink. _ When you take a baby on holiday, you have to pack everything
but the kitchen sink.
everything from A to Z almost everything one can think of. _
She knows everything from A to Z about decorating. _ The biology
exam covered everything from A to Z.
every time one turns around frequently; at every turn; with
annoying frequency. _ Somebody asks me for money every time I turn
around. _ Something goes wrong with Bill's car every time he turns
(every) Tom, Dick, and Harry everyone without discrimination;
ordinary people. (Not necessarily males.) _ The golf club is very
exclusive. They don't let any Tom, Dick, or Harry join. _ Mary's sending
out very few invitations. She doesn't want every Tom, Dick, and
Harry turning up.
expecting (a child) pregnant. (A euphemism.) _ Tommy's mother
is expecting a child. _ Oh, I didn't know she was expecting.
expense is no object See money is no object.
extend one's sympathy (to someone) to express sympathy to
someone. (A very polite and formal way to tell someone that you are
sorry about a death in the family.) _ Please permit me to extend my
sympathy to you and your children. I'm very sorry to hear of the death
of your husband. _ Let's extend our sympathy to Bill Jones, whose
father died this week.
eyeball to eyeball person to person; face to face. (Informal.) _
The discussions will have to be eyeball to eyeball to be effective. _ Telephone
conversations are a waste of time. We need to talk eyeball to
escape someone's notice
face the music to receive punishment; to accept the unpleasant
results of one's actions. (Informal.) _Mary broke a dining-room window
and had to face the music when her father got home. _ After failing
a maths test, Tom had to go home and face the music.
face value outward appearance; what something first appears to
be. (From the value printed on the “face' of a coin or banknote.)
_ Don't just accept her offer at face value. Think of the implications.
_ Joan tends to take people at face value, and so she is always getting
fair crack of the whip a fair share of something; a fair opportunity
of doing something. _ He doesn't want to do all the overtime.
He only wants a fair crack of the whip. _ They were supposed to share
the driving equally, but James refused to give Ann a fair crack of the
fair do's fair and just treatment [done to someone]. (Informal.) _
It's hardly fair do's to treat her like that. _ It's not a question of fair
do's. He treats everyone in the same way. also: Fair do's! Be fair!;
Be reasonable! _ Fair do's! You said you would lend me your bike if I
took your books home. _ I know I said I'd baby-sit tonight, but fair
do's—I hate to work late.
fair game someone or something that it is quite permissible to
attack. _ I don't like seeing articles exposing people's private lives, but
politicians are fair game. _ Journalists always regard film-stars as fair
fall about to laugh heartily. (Informal.) _We fell about at the antics
of the clown. _ The audience were falling about during the last act of
fall apart at the seams to break into pieces; to fall apart. _ This
old car is about ready to fall apart at the seams. _ The plan won't succeed.
It's falling apart at the seams already.
fall between two stools to come somewhere between two possibilities
and so fail to meet the requirements of either. _ The material
is not suitable for an academic book, and it is not suitable for a
popular one either. It falls between two stools. _ He tries to be both
teacher and friend, but falls between two stools.
fall by the wayside to give up and quit before the end (of something);
not to succeed. (As if one became exhausted and couldn't
finish a foot-race.) _ John fell by the wayside and didn't finish college.
_Many people start out to train for a career in medicine, but some
of them fall by the wayside.
fall down on the job to fail to do something properly; to fail to
do one's job adequately. (Informal.) _ The team kept losing because
the coach was falling down on the job. _ Tom was sacked because he
fell down on the job.
fall foul of someone or something to do something that annoys
or offends someone or something; to do something that is contrary
to the rules. _ He has fallen foul of the police more than once. _ The
political activists fell foul of the authorities. _ I hope I don't fall foul
of your sister. She doesn't like me. _ John fell foul of the law.
fall from grace to cease to be held in favour, especially because of
some wrong or foolish action. _ He was the teacher's prize pupil until
he fell from grace by failing the history exam. _Mary was the favourite
grandchild until she fell from grace by running away from home.
fall into line to conform. _ If you are going to work here, you will
have to fall into line. _ He likes to do as he pleases. He hates having
to fall into line.
fancy someone's chances to have confidence in someone's
[including one's own] ability to be successful. (Informal.) _ We all
think she will refuse to go out with him, but he certainly fancies his
chances. _ The other contestants are so talented that I don't fancy his
chances at all.
far cry from something a thing which is very different from something
else. _ What you did was a far cry from what you said you were
fall apart at the seams
going to do. _ The song they played was a far cry from what I call
feast one's eyes (on someone or something) to look at someone
or something with pleasure, envy, or admiration. _ Just feast
your eyes on that beautiful juicy steak! _ Yes, feast your eyes. You won't
see one like that again for a long time.
feather in one's cap an honour; something of which one can be
proud. _ Getting a new client was really a feather in my cap. _ It
was certainly a feather in the journalist's cap to get an interview with
feather one's (own) nest to use power and prestige selfishly to
provide for oneself, often immorally or illegally. _ The mayor seemed
to be helping people, but was really feathering her own nest. _ The
building contractor used a lot of public money to feather his nest.
feel fit to feel well and healthy. _ If you want to feel fit, you must
eat the proper food and get enough rest. _ I hope I still feel fit when I
feel it beneath one (to do something) to feel that one would
be humbling oneself or reducing one's status to do something. _
Tom feels it beneath him to scrub the f loor. _ Ann feels it beneath her
to carry her own luggage. _ I would do it, but I feel it beneath me.
feel like a million dollars to feel well and healthy, both physically
and mentally. _ A quick swim in the morning makes me feel
like a million dollars. _ What a beautiful day! It makes you feel like
a million dollars.
feel like a new person to feel refreshed and renewed, especially
after getting well or getting dressed up. _ I bought a new suit, and
now I feel like a new person. _ Bob felt like a new person when he got
out of the hospital.
feel something in one's bones to sense something; to have an
intuition about something. (Informal.) _ The train will be late. I feel
it in my bones. _ I failed the test. I feel it in my bones.
fiddle while Rome burns to do nothing or something trivial while
something disastrous happens. (From a legend that the emperor
Nero played the lyre while Rome was burning.) _ The Opposition
doesn't seem to be doing anything to stop this terrible parliamentary
fiddle while Rome burns
bill. It's fiddling while Rome burns. _ The doctor should have sent for
an ambulance right away instead of examining her. He was just fiddling
while Rome burned.
fighting chance a good possibility of success, especially if every
effort is made. _ They have at least a fighting chance of winning the
race. _ The patient could die, but he has a fighting chance since the
fight shy of something to avoid something; to keep from doing
something. _ She fought shy of borrowing money from her father, but
had to in the end. _ He's always fought shy of marrying.
fill dead men's shoes See step into dead men's shoes.
fill someone's shoes to take the place of some other person and
perform satisfactorily in that role. (As if you were wearing the other
person's shoes.) _ I don't know how we'll be able to do without you.
No one can fill your shoes. _ It'll be difficult to fill Jane's shoes. She did
her job very well.
fill the bill to be exactly the thing that is needed. _ Ah, this steak
is great. It really fills the bill. _ This new pair of shoes fills the bill
find it in one's heart to do something to have the courage or
compassion to do something; to persuade oneself to do something.
_ She couldn't find it in her heart to refuse to come home to him. _
Could you really find it in your heart to send her away?
find one's feet to become used to a new situation or experience.
_ She was lonely at first when she left home, but she is finding her
feet now. _ It takes time to learn the office routine, but you will gradually
find your feet.
find one's own level to find the position or rank to which one is
best suited. (As water “seeks its own level.') _ You cannot force junior
staff to be ambitious. They will all find their own level. _ The new
pupil is happier in the lower class. It was just a question of letting her
find her own level.
find one's tongue to be able to talk. (Informal.) _ Tom was speechless
for a moment. Then he found his tongue. _ Ann was unable to find
her tongue. She sat there in silence.
find time to catch one's breath See get time to catch one's breath.
fine kettle of fish and pretty kettle of fish a real mess; an unsatisfactory
situation. _ The dog has eaten the steak we were going to
have for dinner. This is a fine kettle of fish! _ This is a pretty kettle of
fish. It's below freezing outside, and the boiler won't work.
fine state of affairs an unpleasant state of affairs. _ This is a fine
state of affairs, and it's all your fault. _ What a fine state of affairs
you've got us into.
fish for compliments to try to get someone to pay you a compliment.
(Informal.) _ When she showed me her new dress, I could tell
that she was fishing for a compliment. _ Tom was certainly fishing
for compliments when he modelled his new haircut for his friends.
fish in troubled waters to involve oneself in a difficult, confused,
or dangerous situation, especially with a view to gaining an advantage.
_ Frank is fishing in troubled waters by buying more shares in
that firm. They are supposed to be in financial difficulties. _ The firm
could make more money by selling armaments abroad, but they would
be fishing in troubled waters.
fit for a king splendid; of a very high standard. _ What a delicious
meal. It was fit for a king. _ Our room at the hotel was fit for a king.
fit someone in(to something) to succeed with difficulty in
putting someone into a schedule. _ The doctor is busy, but I can try
to fit you into the appointment book. _ Yes, here's a free appointment.
I can fit you in.
fix someone up (with something) to arrange to provide someone
with something. (Informal.) _ We fixed John up with a room
for the night. _ The usher fixed us up with seats at the front of the
theatre. _ We thanked the usher for fixing us up.
flash in the pan something that draws a lot of attention for a very
brief time. (Informal.) _ I'm afraid that my success as a painter was
just a f lash in the pan. _ Tom had hoped to be a singer, but his career
was only a f lash in the pan.
flea in one's ear a severe scolding. (Informal.) _ I got a f lea in
my ear when I tried to give Pat some advice. _ Margaret was only trying
to help the old lady, but she came away with a f lea in her ear.
flesh and blood 1. a living human body, especially with reference
to its natural limitations; a human being. _ This cold weather is more
flesh and blood
than f lesh and blood can stand. _ Carrying £300 is beyond mere f lesh
and blood. 2. one's own relations; one's own kin. _ That's no way
to treat one's own f lesh and blood. _ I want to leave my money to my
own f lesh and blood.
flight of fancy an idea or suggestion that is out of touch with reality
or possibility. _ What is the point in indulging in f lights of fancy
about foreign holidays when you cannot even afford the rent? _ We
are tired of her f lights of fancy about marrying a millionaire.
flog a dead horse to try to continue discussing or arousing interest
in something that already has been fully discussed or that is no
longer of interest. _ Stop arguing! You have won your point. You are
just f logging a dead horse. _ There's no point in putting job-sharing
on the agenda. We've already voted against it four times. Why f log a
fly a kite to spread rumours or suggestions about something, such
as a new project, in order to find out people's attitudes to it. _ The
government is f lying a kite with these stories of a new airport. _ No
official proposal has been made about redundancies. The management
is f lying a kite by dropping hints.
fly-by-night irresponsible; untrustworthy. (Refers to a person who
sneaks away secretly in the night.) _ The carpenter we employed was
a f ly-by-night worker who did a very bad job of work. _ You shouldn't
deal with a f ly-by-night merchant.
flying visit a very short, often unexpected visit. _ She paid us a
f lying visit before leaving town. _ Very few people saw her in the office.
It was just a f lying visit.
fly in the face of someone or something to disregard, defy, or
show disrespect for someone or something. _ John loves to f ly in
the face of tradition. _ Ann made it a practice to f ly in the face of standard
fly in the ointment a small, unpleasant matter which spoils something;
a drawback. _ We enjoyed the play, but the f ly in the ointment
was not being able to find our car afterwards. _ It sounds like a good
idea, but there must be a f ly in the ointment somewhere.
foam at the mouth to be very angry. (Informal. Related to a “mad
dog'—a dog with rabies—which foams at the mouth.) _ Bob was
flight of fancy
furious—foaming at the mouth. I've never seen anyone so angry. _ Bill
foamed at the mouth in sheer rage.
follow one's heart to act according to one's feelings; to obey one's
sympathetic or compassionate inclinations. _ I couldn't decide what
to do, so I just followed my heart. _ I trust that you will follow your
heart in this matter.
follow one's nose 1. to go straight ahead, the direction in which
one's nose is pointing. (Informal.) _ The town that you want is
straight ahead on this motorway. Just follow your nose. _ The chief 's
office is right around the corner. Turn left and follow your nose. 2. to
follow a smell to its source. (Informal.) _ The kitchen is at the back
of the building. Just follow your nose. _ There was a bad smell in the
basement—probably a dead mouse. I followed my nose until I found
follow suit to follow in the same pattern; to follow someone else's
example. (From card-games.) _ Mary went to work for a bank, and
Jane followed suit. Now they are both head cashiers. _ The Smiths went
out to dinner, but the Browns didn't follow suit. They ate at home.
food for thought something to think about. _ I don't like your idea
very much, but it's food for thought. _ Your lecture was very good. It
contained much food for thought.
fool's paradise a condition of apparent happiness that is based on
false assumptions and will not last. (Treated as a place grammatically.)
_ They think they can live on love alone, but they are living in
a fool's paradise. _ The inhabitants of the island feel politically secure,
but they are living in a fool's paradise. They could be invaded at any
fools rush in (where angels fear to tread) people with little
experience or knowledge often get involved in difficult or delicate
situations which wiser people would avoid. _ I wouldn't ask Jean
about her divorce, but Kate did. Fools rush in, as they say. _ Only the
newest member of the committee questioned the chairman's decision.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
foot the bill to pay the bill; to pay (for something). _ Let's go out
and eat. I'll foot the bill. _ If the insurance firm goes bankrupt, don't
worry. The government will foot the bill.
foot the bill
forbidden fruit someone or something that one finds attractive or
desirable partly because the person or thing is unobtainable. (From
the fruit in the garden of Eden that was forbidden to Adam by God.)
_ Jim is in love with his sister-in-law only because she's forbidden fruit.
_ The boy watches that programme only when his parents are out. It's
force someone's hand to force one to do something that one is
unwilling to do or sooner than one wants to do it. (Refers to a handful
of cards in card-playing.) _ We didn't know what she was doing
until Tom forced her hand. _ The committee didn't want to reveal their
plans so soon, but we forced their hand.
for days on end for many days without a break. _ We kept on
travelling for days on end. _ Doctor, I've had this pain for days on end.
forget oneself to forget one's manners or training. (Said in formal
situations in reference to bad table manners or bad taste.) _
Sorry, Mother, I forgot myself. I didn't mean to use a swear-word. _
John, we are going out to dinner tonight. Please don't forget yourself
and gulp down your food.
forgive and forget to forgive someone (for something) and forget
that it ever happened. _ I'm sorry we quarrelled, John. Let's forgive
and forget. What do you say? _ It was nothing. We'll just have to
forgive and forget.
for sale See on sale.
for the record so that (one's own version of ) the facts will be
known; so there will be a record of a particular fact. _ I'd like to
say—for the record—that at no time have I ever accepted a bribe from
anyone. _ For the record, I've never been able to get anything done
around city hall without bribing someone.
foul one's own nest to harm one's own interests; to bring disadvantage
upon oneself. _ He tried to discredit a fellow MP with the
prime minister, but just succeeded in fouling his own nest. _ The boss
really dislikes Mary. She certainly fouled her own nest when she spread
those rumours about him.
foul play illegal activity; a criminal act. _ The police investigating
the death suspect foul play. _ Foul play cannot be ruled out.
free and easy casual. _ John is so free and easy. How can anyone
be so relaxed? _ Now, take it easy. Just act free and easy. No one will
know you're nervous.
(fresh fields and) pastures new new places; new activities. (From
a line in Milton's poem Lycidas.) _ I used to like living here, but it's
fresh fields and pastures new for me now. _ Peter has decided to leave
teaching. He's looking for fresh fields and pastures new. _ It's all very
well to seek pastures new, but think of the unemployment situation.
from pillar to post from one place to another or to a series of other
places. _My father was in the army, and we moved from pillar to post,
year after year. _ I went from pillar to post trying to find a telephone.
from rags to riches from poverty to wealth. _ The princess used
to be quite poor. She certainly moved from rags to riches when she married.
_ When I inherited the money, I went from rags to riches.
from stem to stern from one end to another. (Refers to the front
and back ends of a ship. Also used literally in reference to ships.)
_ Now, I have to clean the house from stem to stern. _ I polished my
car carefully from stem to stern.
from the word go from the beginning. (Informal.) _ I knew about
the problem from the word go. _ She was doing badly in the class from
the word go.
from the year dot and since the year dot for a very long time;
since very far back in time. (Informal.) _ Mr. Jones worked there
from the year dot. _ I've known Mike since the year dot.
full of oneself conceited; self-important. _ Mary's very unpopular
because she's so full of herself. _ She doesn't care about other people's
feelings. She's too full of herself.
full of the devil always making mischief. (Informal.) _ Tom is a
lot of fun, but he's certainly full of the devil. _ I've never seen a child
get into so much mischief. He's really full of the devil.
full steam ahead forward at the greatest speed possible; with as
much energy and enthusiasm as possible. (From an instruction given
on a steamship.) _ It will have to be full steam ahead for everybody
if the factory gets this order. _ It's going to be full steam ahead for me
this year. I take my final exams.
full steam ahead
fun and games 1. playing around; someone's lively behaviour.
(Informal.) _ All right, Bill, the fun and games are over. It's time to
get down to work. _ I'm tired of your fun and games. Go away and
read a book. 2. difficulties; trouble. _ There will be fun and games
when her father sees the broken window. _ There will be fun and games
if the children are home late.
fun and games
game at which two can play a manner of competing which two
competitors can use; a strategy that competing sides can both use.
_ The mayor shouted at the town council, “Politics is a game at which
two can play.' _ “Flattery is a game at which two can play,' said John
as he returned Mary's compliment. also: two can play at that game
two people can compete, using the same strategy. _ I'm sorry you're
being so hard to deal with. Two can play at that game.
generous to a fault too generous. _ My favourite uncle is generous
to a fault. _ Sally—always generous to a fault—gave away her
get a black eye to get a bruise near the eye from being struck.
(Note: Get can be replaced with have. See the variations in the examples.
Get usually means to become, to acquire, or to cause. Have usually
means to possess, to be, or to have resulted in.) _ I got a black
eye from walking into a door. _ I have a black eye where John hit me.
also: give someone a black eye to hit someone near the eye so
that a dark bruise appears. _ John became angry and gave me a black
get above oneself to think or behave as though one is better or
more important than one is. _ John has been getting a bit above himself
since he was promoted. He never goes for a drink with his old colleagues.
_ There was no need for her to get above herself just because
she married a wealthy man.
get a clean bill of health [for someone] to be pronounced healthy
by a doctor. (Also with have. See the note at get a black eye. From
the fact that ships were given a clean bill of health before sailing only
after the absence of infectious disease was certified.) _ Sally got a
clean bill of health from the doctor. _ Now that Sally has a clean bill
of health, she can go back to work. also: give someone a clean
bill of health [for a doctor] to pronounce someone well and
healthy. _ The doctor gave Sally a clean bill of health.
get a good run for one's money to receive what one deserves,
expects, or wants; to be well compensated for effort, money, etc.,
spent. (Informal. Also with have.) _ If Bill gets a good run for his
money, he will be satisfied. _ Even if she does get the sack now, she's
had a good run for her money. She's been there for years.
get a lucky break to have good fortune; to receive a bit of luck.
(Informal. Also with have. See the note at get a black eye.) _ Mary
really got a lucky break when she got that job. _ After losing three times,
John finally had a lucky break.
get a lump in one's throat to have the feeling of something in
one's throat—as if one were going to cry; to become emotional or
sentimental. (Also with have. See the note at get a black eye.) _
Whenever they play the national anthem, I get a lump in my throat.
_ I have a lump in my throat because my friends are going away.
get a slap on the wrist to get a light punishment (for doing something
wrong). (Informal.) _ He created quite a disturbance, but he
only got a slap on the wrist. _ I thought I'd just get a slap on the wrist
for speeding, but I got fined £200.
get a start to receive training or a big opportunity in beginning
one's career. _ She got a start in show business in Manchester. _ She
got a start in modelling when she was only four. also: give someone
a start to give one training or a big opportunity in beginning
one's career. _ My career began when my father gave me a start in
get a tongue-lashing to receive a severe scolding. _ I really got a
tongue-lashing when I got home. _ She got a terrible tongue-lashing
from her mother. also: give someone a tongue-lashing to give
someone a severe scolding. _ I gave Bill a real tongue-lashing when
he got home late.
get away (from it all) to get away from one's work or daily routine;
to go on a holiday. _ I just love the summer when I can take time
off and get away from it all. _ Yes, that's the best time to get away.
get a word in (edgeways) to succeed in saying something when
other people are talking and one is being ignored. (Often in the negative.)
_ It was such an exciting conversation that I could hardly get
get a good run for one's money
a word in edgeways. _ Mary talks so fast that nobody can get a word
get back on one's feet to become independent again; to become
able to move around again. (Note the variations with own and two
in the examples.) _ He was sick for a while, but now he's getting back
on his feet. _ My parents helped a lot when I lost my job. I'm glad
I'm back on my own feet now. _ It feels great to be back on my own
two feet again.
get butterflies in one's stomach to get a nervous feeling in one's
stomach. (Informal. Also with have. See the note at get a black eye.)
_ Whenever I have to go on stage, I get butterf lies in my stomach. _
She always has butterf lies in her stomach before a test. also: give one
butterflies in one's stomach to cause someone to have a nervous
stomach. _ Exams give me butterf lies in my stomach.
get by (on a shoe-string) to manage to live (on very little money).
_ For the last two years, we have had to get by on a shoe-string. _ With
so little money, it's hard to get by.
get carried away to be overcome by emotion or enthusiasm (in
one's thinking or actions). _ Calm down, Jane. Don't get carried
away. _ Here, Bill. Take this money and go to the sweet-shop, but don't
get carried away.
get cold feet to become timid or frightened. (Also with have. See
the note at get a black eye.) _ I usually get cold feet when I have to
speak in public. _ John got cold feet and wouldn't run in the race. _
I can't give my speech now. I have cold feet.
get credit (for something) to receive praise or recognition for
one's role in something. (Especially with a lot of, much, etc., as in
the examples.) _ Mary should get a lot of credit for the team's success.
_ Each of the team captains should get credit. also: give someone
credit (for something) to praise or recognize someone for
doing something. _ The coach gave Mary a lot of credit. _ The director
gave John much credit for his fine performance.
get down to brass tacks to begin to talk about important things.
(Informal.) _ Let's get down to brass tacks. We've wasted too much
time chatting. _ Don't you think that it's about time to get down to
get down to brass tacks
get down to business to begin to get serious; to begin to negotiate
or conduct business. _ All right, everyone. Let's get down to business.
There has been enough playing around. _ When the president
and vice-president arrive, we can get down to business.
get in someone's hair to bother or irritate someone. (Informal.)
_ Billy is always getting in his mother's hair. _ I wish you'd stop getting
in my hair.
get into full swing to move into the peak of activity; to start moving
fast or efficiently. (Informal.) _ In the summer months, things
really get into full swing around here. _ We go skiing in the mountains
each winter. Things get into full swing there in November.
get into the swing of things to join in the routine or the activities.
(Informal.) _ Come on, Bill. Try to get into the swing of things.
_ John just couldn't seem to get into the swing of things.
get nowhere fast not to make progress; to get nowhere. (Informal.)
_ I can't seem to make any progress. No matter what I do, I'm
just getting nowhere fast. _ Come on. Go faster! We're getting nowhere
get off lightly to receive very little punishment (for doing something
wrong). _ It was a serious crime, but Mary got off lightly. _
Billy's punishment was very light. Considering what he did, he got off
get off to a flying start to have a very successful beginning to
something. _ The new business got off to a f lying start with those
export orders. _ We shall need a large donation from the local council
if the charity is to get off to a f lying start.
get one's come-uppance to get a reprimand; to get the punishment
one deserves. _ Tom is always insulting people, but he finally
got his come-uppance. Bill hit him. _ I hope I don't get my comeuppance
get one's fill of someone or something to receive enough of
someone or something. (Also with have. See the note at get a black
eye.) _ You'll soon get your fill of Tom. He can be quite a pest. _ I
can never get my fill of shrimps. I love them. _ Three weeks of visiting
grandchildren is enough. I've had my fill of them.
get down to business
get one's fingers burned to have a bad experience. (Also used
literally.) _ I tried that once before and got my fingers burned. I won't
try it again. _ If you buy shares and get your fingers burned, you then
tend to leave your money in the bank.
get one's foot in the door to achieve a favourable position (for
further action); to take the first step in a process. (People selling
things from door to door used to block the door with a foot, so it
could not be closed on them. Also with have. See the note at get a
black eye.) _ I think I could get the position if I could only get my foot
in the door. _ It pays to get your foot in the door. Try to get an appointment
with the managing director. _ I have a better chance now that I
have my foot in the door.
get one's just deserts to get what one deserves. _ I feel better
now that Jane got her just deserts. She really insulted me. _ Bill got
back exactly the treatment which he gave out. He got his just deserts.
get one's money's worth to get everything that has been paid for;
to get the best quality for the money paid. _Weigh that pack of meat
before you buy it. Be sure you're getting your money's worth. _ The
show was so bad we felt we hadn't got our money's worth.
get one's nose out of someone's business to stop interfering
in someone else's business; to mind one's own business. (Informal.)
_ Go away! Get your nose out of my business! _ Bob just can't seem
to get his nose out of other people's business. also: keep one's nose
out of someone's business to refrain from interfering in someone
else's business. _ Let John have his privacy, and keep your nose
out of my business, too!
get one's second wind (Also with have. See the note at get a black
eye.) 1. for one's breathing to become stabilized after exerting oneself
for a short time. _ John was having a hard time running until
he got his second wind. _ “At last,' thought Ann, “I have my second
wind. Now I can really swim fast.' 2. to become more active or productive
(after becoming tired for a time.) _ I usually get my second
wind early in the afternoon. _ Mary is a better worker now that she
has her second wind.
get one's teeth into something to start on something seriously,
especially a difficult task. (Informal.) _ Come on, Bill. You have to
get your teeth into your biology. _ I can't wait to get my teeth into
get one's teeth into something
get on the good side of someone to get into someone's favour.
_ You had better behave properly if you want to get on the good side
of Mary. _ If you want to get on the good side of your teacher, you must
do your homework. also: keep on the good side of someone to
stay in someone's favour. _ You have to work hard to keep on the good
side of the manager.
get out of the wrong side of the bed to get up in the morning
in a bad mood. _ What's wrong with you? Did you get out of the wrong
side of the bed today? _ Excuse me for being cross. I got out of the wrong
side of the bed.
get someone off the hook to free someone from an obligation.
(Informal.) _ Thanks for getting me off the hook. I didn't want to
attend that meeting. _ I couldn't get Tom off the hook by myself. also:
get off the hook to get free from an obligation. _ She did everything
she could to get off the hook. _ I couldn't get off the hook by
get someone's number to find out about a person; to learn the key
to understanding a person. (Informal. Also with have. See the note
at get a black eye.) _ I'm going to get your number if I can. You're a
real puzzle. _ I've got Tom's number. He's ambitious.
get something off one's chest to tell something that has been
bothering you. (Also with have. See the note at get a black eye.) _ I
have to get this off my chest. I broke your window with a stone. _ I
knew I'd feel better when I had that off my chest.
get something out of one's system to be rid of the desire to do
something; to do something that you have been wanting to do so
that you are not bothered by wanting to do it any more. _ I bought
a new car. I've been wanting to for a long time. I'm glad I finally got
that out of my system. _ I can't get it out of my system! I want to go
back to university and get a degree.
get something under one's belt (Informal. Also with have. See
the note at get a black eye.) 1. to eat or drink something. _ I'd feel
a lot better if I had a cool drink under my belt. _ Come in out of the
cold and get a nice warm meal under your belt. 2. to learn something
well; to assimilate some information; to get work done. _ I have to
study tonight. I have to get a lot of algebra under my belt. _ I have to
get all these reports under my belt before I go home.
get on the good side of someone
get the ball rolling See start the ball rolling.
get the brush-off to be ignored or sent away; to be rejected. (Informal.)
_ Don't talk to Tom. You'll just get the brush-off. _ I went up
to her and asked for a date, but I got the brush-off.
get the hang of something to learn how to do something; to learn
how something works. (Informal. Also with have. See the note at get
a black eye.) _ As soon as I get the hang of this computer, I'll be able
to work faster. _ Now that I have the hang of starting the car in cold
weather, I won't have to get up so early.
get the last laugh to laugh at or ridicule someone who has laughed
at or ridiculed you; to put someone in the same bad position that
you were once in. (Also with have. See the note at get a black eye.)
_ John laughed when I got a D on the final exam. I got the last laugh,
though. He failed the course. _ Mr. Smith said I was foolish when I
bought an old building. I had the last laugh when I sold it a month later
for twice what I paid for it.
get the runaround to receive a series of excuses, delays, and referrals.
(Informal.) _ You'll get the runaround if you ask to see the manager.
_ I hate it when I get the runaround. also: give someone the
runaround to give someone a series of excuses, delays, and referrals.
_ If you ask to see the manager, they'll give you the runaround.
get the shock of one's life to receive a serious (emotional) shock.
(Also with have. See the note at get a black eye.) _ I opened the
telegram and got the shock of my life. _ I had the shock of my life when
I won £5,000.
get the show on the road to get (something) started. (Informal.)
_ Hurry up! Let's get the show on the road. _ If you don't get the
show on the road now, we'll never finish today.
get time to catch one's breath and find time to catch one's
breath to find enough time to relax or behave normally. (See also
catch one's breath.) _ When things slow down around here, I'll get time
to catch my breath. _ Sally was so busy she couldn't find time to catch
getting on (in years) growing older. _ Grandfather is getting on
in years. _ Yes, he's really getting on.
getting on (in years)
get to one's feet to stand up, sometimes in order to address the
audience. _ On a signal from the director, the singers got to their feet.
_ I was so weak, I could hardly get to my feet.
get to the bottom of something to get an understanding of the
causes of something. _ We must get to the bottom of this problem
immediately. _ There is clearly something wrong here, and I want to
get to the bottom of it.
get under someone's skin to bother or irritate someone. (Informal.)
_ John is so annoying. He really gets under my skin. _ I know
he's a nuisance, but don't let him get under your skin.
get what is coming to one to get what one deserves, usually something
bad. _ If you cheat, you'll get into trouble. You'll get what's coming
to you. _ Bill got what was coming to him when Ann left him. also:
give one what is coming to one to give one what one deserves.
_ Jim gave Bill what was coming to him.
get wind of something to hear about something; to receive information
about something. (Informal.) _ I just got wind of the job
vacancy and have applied. _Wait until the treasurer gets wind of this.
Somebody is going to get in trouble.
gild the lily to add ornament or decoration to something which is
pleasing in its original state; to attempt to improve something which
is already fine the way it is. (Often refers to flattery or exaggeration.)
_ Your house has lovely brickwork. Don't paint it. That would be gilding
the lily. _ Oh, Sally. You're beautiful the way you are. You don't
need make-up. You would be gilding the lily.
give a good account of oneself to do (something) well or thoroughly.
_ John gave a good account of himself when he gave his speech
last night. _ Mary was not hungry, and she didn't give a good account
of herself at dinner.
give as good as one gets to give as much as one receives. _ John
can hold his own in a fight. He can give as good as he gets. _ Sally
usually wins a formal debate. She gives as good as she gets.
give credit where credit is due to give credit to someone who
deserves it; to acknowledge or thank someone who deserves it. _
We must give credit where credit is due. Thank you very much, Sally.
_ Let's give credit where credit is due. Mary is the one who wrote the
report, not Jane.
get to one's feet
give ground to retreat (literally or figuratively). _ When I argue
with Mary, she never gives ground. _ I approached the barking dog,
but it wouldn't give ground.
give it to someone straight to tell something to someone clearly
and directly. (Informal.) _ Come on, give it to me straight. I want to
know exactly what happened. _ Quit wasting time, and tell me. Give
it to me straight!
give of oneself to be generous with one's time and concern. _ Tom
is very good with children because he gives of himself. _ If you want
to have more friends, you have to learn to give of yourself.
give one one's marching orders to sack someone; to dismiss
someone from employment. (Informal.) _ Tom has proved unsatisfactory.
I decided to give him his marching orders. _ We might even
give Sally her marching orders, too.
give oneself airs to act in a conceited or superior way. _ Sally is
always giving herself airs. You'd think she had royal blood. _ Come on,
John. Don't behave so haughtily. Stop giving yourself airs.
give one's right arm (for someone or something) to be willing
to give something of great value for someone or something. _ I'd
give my right arm for a nice cool drink. _ I'd give my right arm to be
there. _ Tom really admires John. Tom would give his right arm for
give someone a piece of one's mind to reprimand or scold someone;
to tell someone off. _ I've had enough from John. I'm going to
give him a piece of my mind. _ Sally, stop it, or I'll give you a piece of
give someone or something a wide berth to keep a reasonable
distance from someone or something. (Originally referred to sailing
ships.) _ The dog we are approaching is very bad-tempered. Better
give it a wide berth. _ Give Mary a wide berth. She's in a very bad
give someone pause for thought to cause someone to stop and
think. _ When I see a golden sunrise, it gives me pause for thought.
_ Witnessing an accident is likely to give all of us pause for thought.
give someone the shirt off one's back to be very generous or
solicitous towards someone. _ Tom really likes Bill. He'd give Bill
give someone the shirt off one's back
the shirt off his back. _ John is so friendly that he'd give anyone the
shirt off his back.
give someone tit for tat to give someone something equal to what
one has received; to exchange a series of things, one by one, with
someone. (Informal.) _ They took my car after I took theirs. It was
tit for tat. _ He punched me, so I punched him. Every time he hit me,
I hit him. I just gave him tit for tat.
give something a lick and a promise to do something poorly—
quickly and carelessly. (Informal.) _ John! You didn't clean your
room! You just gave it a lick and a promise. _ This time, Tom, comb
your hair. It looks as if you just gave it a lick and a promise.
give something a miss not to go to something; not to bother with
something; to leave something alone. (Informal.) _ Betty decided
to give the fair a miss this year. _ I regretted having to give Monday's
lecture a miss, but I was just too busy to attend.
give something one's best shot to give a task one's best effort.
(Informal. Often with it.) _ I gave the project my best shot. _ Sure,
try it. Give it your best shot!
give the devil her due See give the devil his due.
give the devil his due and give the devil her due to give your
foe proper credit (for something). (This usually refers to a person
who has acted in an evil way—like the devil.) _ She's generally
impossible, but I have to give the devil her due. She's always honest.
_ John may squander money, but give the devil his due. He makes
sure his family are well taken care of.
give the game away to reveal a plan or strategy. (Informal.) _
Now, all of you have to keep quiet. Please don't give the game away.
_ If you keep giving out hints, you'll give the game away.
give up the ghost 1. to die; to release one's spirit. (Considered formal
or humorous.) _ The old man sighed, rolled over, and gave up
the ghost. _ I'm too young to give up the ghost. 2. to quit; to cease trying.
_ Don't give up the ghost. Keep trying! _ The runner gave up
the ghost and failed to complete the race.
give voice to something to express a feeling or an opinion in
words; to speak out about something. _ The bird gave voice to its
give someone tit for tat
joy in the golden sunshine. _ All the people gave voice to their anger
with the government.
glut on the market something on the market in great abundance.
_ Right now, small computers are a glut on the market. _ Some years
ago, small transistor radios were a glut on the market.
glutton for punishment someone who seems to like doing or seeking
out difficult, unpleasant, or badly paid tasks. _ If you work for
this charity, you'll have to be a glutton for punishment and work long
hours for nothing. _ Jane must be a real glutton for punishment. She's
typing Bill's manuscript free of charge and he doesn't even thank her.
go against the grain to go against the natural direction or inclination.
_ You can't expect me to help you cheat. That goes against the
grain. _ Would it go against the grain for you to lend her money?
go back on one's word to break a promise which one has made.
_ I hate to go back on my word, but I won't pay you £100 after all. _
Going back on your word makes you a liar.
go begging to be unwanted or unused. (As if a thing were begging
for an owner or a user.) _ There is still food left. A whole lobster is
going begging. Please eat some more. _ There are many excellent books
in the library just going begging because people don't know they are
go broke to run out of money and other assets. _ This company is
going to go broke if you don't stop spending money foolishly. _ I made
some bad investments last year, and it looks as though I may go broke
go by the board to get ruined or lost. (This is a nautical expression
meaning to fall or be washed overboard.) _ I hate to see good
food go by the board. Please eat up so we won't have to throw it out.
_ Your plan has gone by the board. The entire project has been
go down fighting to continue the struggle until one is completely
defeated. _ I won't give up easily. I'll go down fighting. _ Sally, who
is very determined, went down fighting.
go downhill [for something] to decline and grow worse and worse.
(Also used literally.) _ This industry is going downhill. We lose money
every year. _ As one gets older, one tends to go downhill.
go down in history to be remembered as historically important.
_ Wellington went down in history as a famous general. _ This is the
greatest affair of the century. I bet it'll go down in history.
go down like a lead balloon to fail, especially to fail to be funny.
_ Your joke went down like a lead balloon. _ If that play was supposed
to be a comedy, it went down like a lead balloon.
go Dutch to share the cost of a meal or some other event with someone.
_ I'll go out and eat with you if we can go Dutch. _ It's getting
expensive to have Sally for a friend. She never wants to go Dutch.
goes without saying [something] is so obvious that it need not
be said. _ It goes without saying that you must keep the place clean.
_ Of course. That goes without saying.
go for someone or something to attack someone or something;
to move or lunge towards someone or something. _ The dog went
for the visitor and almost bit him. _ He went for the door and tried
to break it down.
go from bad to worse to progress from a bad state to a worse state.
_ This is a terrible day. Things are going from bad to worse. _ My cold
is awful. It went from bad to worse in just an hour.
go haywire to go wrong; to malfunction; to break down. (Informal.)
_ We were all organized, but our plans suddenly went haywire.
_ There we were, driving along, when the engine went haywire. It was
two hours before the breakdown lorry came.
go in for something to take part in something; to enjoy (doing)
something. _ John doesn't go in for sports. _ None of them seems to
go in for swimming.
going great guns going energetically or fast. (Informal.) _ I'm over
my cold and going great guns. _ Business is great. We are going great
guns selling icecream.
go in one ear and out the other [for something] to be heard
and then forgotten. (Informal.) _ Everything I say to you seems to
go in one ear and out the other. Why don't you pay attention? _ I
can't concentrate. Things people say to me just go in one ear and out
go down in history
go it alone to do something by oneself. (Informal.) _ Do you need
help, or will you go it alone? _ I think I need a little more experience
before I go it alone.
go like clockwork to progress with regularity and dependability.
_ The building project is progressing nicely. Everything is going like
clockwork. _ The elaborate pageant was a great success. It went like
clockwork from start to finish.
good enough for someone or something adequate or fine for
someone or something. _ This seat is good enough for me. I don't
want to move. _ That table isn't good enough for my office.
good-for-nothing a worthless person. _ Tell that good-for-nothing
to go home at once. _ Bob can't get a job. He's such a good-for-nothing.
good riddance (to bad rubbish) [it is] good to be rid (of worthless
persons or things). _ She slammed the door behind me and said,
“Good riddance to bad rubbish!' _ “Good riddance to you, madam,'
go off at a tangent to go off suddenly in another direction; suddenly
to change one's line of thought, course of action, etc. (A reference
to geometry. Plural: go off at tangents.) _ Please stick to
one subject and don't go off at a tangent. _ If Mary would settle down
and deal with one subject she would be all right, but she keeps going
off at tangents.
go off at half cock to proceed without proper preparation; to speak
(about something) without adequate knowledge. (Informal.) _
Their plans are always going off at half cock. _ Get your facts straight
before you make your presentation. There is nothing worse than going
off at half cock.
go off the deep end to become angry or hysterical; to lose one's
temper. (Informal. Refers to going into a swimming-pool at the deep
end—rather than the shallow end.) _ Her father went off the deep
end when she came in late. _ The teacher went off the deep end when
she saw his work.
go over someone's head [for the intellectual content of something]
to be too difficult for someone to understand. _ All that talk
about computers went over my head. _ I hope my lecture didn't go over
the pupils' heads.
go over someone's head
go over something with a fine-tooth comb and go through
something with a fine-tooth comb; search something with a
fine-tooth comb to search through something very carefully. (As
if one were searching for something very tiny which is lost in some
kind of fibre.) _ I can't find my calculus book. I went over the whole
place with a fine-tooth comb. _ I searched this place with a fine-tooth
comb and didn't find my ring.
go round in circles to keep going over the same ideas or repeating
the same actions, often resulting in confusion, without reaching
a satisfactory decision or conclusion. _ We're just going round
in circles discussing the problems of the fête. We need to consult someone
else to get a new point of view. _ Fred's trying to find out what's
happened, but he's going round in circles. No one will tell him anything
go sky-high to go very high. (Informal.) _ Prices go sky-high whenever
there is inf lation. _ Oh, it's so hot. The temperature went sky-high
go so far as to say something to put something into words; to
risk saying something. _ I think that Bob is dishonest, but I wouldn't
go so far as to say he's a thief. _ Red meat may be harmful in some
cases, but I can't go so far as to say it causes cancer.
go the distance and stay the distance to do the whole amount;
to play the entire game; to run the whole race. (Informal. Originally
sports use.) _ That horse runs fast. I hope it can go the distance. _
This is going to be a long, hard project. I hope I can go the distance. _
Jim changes jobs a lot. He never stays the distance.
go the whole hog to do everything possible; to be extravagant.
(Informal.) _ Let's go the whole hog. Order steak and lobster. _ Show
some restraint. Don't go the whole hog and leave yourself penniless.
go through something with a fine-tooth comb See go over something
with a fine-tooth comb.
go through the motions to make a feeble effort to do something;
to pretend to do something. _ Jane isn't doing her best. She's just going
through the motions. _ Bill was supposed to be raking the garden, but
he was just going through the motions.
go through the proper channels to proceed by consulting the
proper persons or offices. _ If you want an answer to your question,
go over something with a fine-tooth comb
you'll have to go through the proper channels. _ Your application will
have to go through the proper channels.
go to Davy Jones's locker to go to the bottom of the sea; to drown.
(Thought of as a nautical expression.) _ My uncle was a sailor. He
went to Davy Jones's locker during a terrible storm. _ My camera fell
overboard and went to Davy Jones's locker.
go to hell and go to the devil to go away and stop bothering
(someone). (Informal. Use caution with both phrases, and especially
with hell.) _ He told her to go to hell, that he didn't want her. _ Leave
me alone! Go to the devil!
go to rack and ruin to become ruined or destroyed, especially due
to neglect. _ That lovely old house on the corner is going to go to rack
and ruin. _ My lawn is going to rack and ruin.
go to seed See run to seed.
go to someone's head to make someone conceited; to make someone
overly proud. _ You did a fine job, but don't let it go to your
head. _ He let his success go to his head, and soon he became a complete
go to the devil See go to hell.
go to the limit to do as much as is possible to do. _ Okay, we can't
afford it, but we'll go to the limit. _ How far shall I go? Shall I go to
go to the loo See go to the toilet.
go to the toilet and go to the loo to eliminate bodily wastes
through defecation or urination. (Loo is an informal word meaning
“toilet.') _ The child needed to go to the toilet. _ After drinking
so much, he had to go to the loo.
go to the wall to be defeated; to fail in business. (Informal.) _ During
the recession, many small companies went to the wall. _ The company
went to the wall because of that contract. Now it's broke and the
employees are redundant.
go to town to make a great effort; to work with energy or enthusiasm.
(Informal.) _ They really went to town on cleaning the house.
It's spotless. _ You've really gone to town with the food for the party.
go to town
go to waste to be wasted; to be unused (and therefore thrown
away). _ Eat your potatoes! Don't let them go to waste. _ He never
practises on the piano. It's sad to see talent going to waste.
grasp the nettle to tackle a difficult or unpleasant task with firmness
and determination. _We must grasp the nettle and do something
about our overspending. _ The education committee is reluctant to
grasp the nettle of lack of textbooks.
Greek to me See all Greek to me.
green about the gills See pale around the gills.
green around the gills See pale around the gills.
green with envy envious; jealous. _ When Sally saw me with Tom,
she turned green with envy. She likes him a lot. _ I feel green with envy
whenever I see you in your new car.
grin and bear it to endure something unpleasant with good
humour. _ There is nothing you can do but grin and bear it. _ I hate
having to work for rude people. I suppose I have to grin and bear it.
grind to a halt to slow to a stop. _ By the end of the day, the factory
had ground to a halt. _ The train ground to a halt, and we got
out to stretch our legs.
grist to the mill something which can be put to good use or which
can bring advantage or profit. (Grist was corn brought to a mill to
be ground and so kept the mill operating.) _ Some of the jobs that
we are offered are more interesting than others, but all is grist to the
mill. _ The firm is having to sell rather ugly souvenirs, but they are
grist to the mill and keep the firm in business.
grit one's teeth to grind one's teeth together in anger or determination;
to show determination. _ I was so angry that all I could do
was stand there and grit my teeth. _ All through the race, Sally was
gritting her teeth. She was really determined.
grow on someone [for something] to become commonplace to a
person. (The someone is usually one, someone, a person, etc., not a
specific person.) _ That music is strange, but it grows on you. _ I
didn't think I could ever get used to this town, but after a while it grows
go to waste
hail-fellow-well-met friendly to everyone; falsely friendly to everyone.
(Usually said of males.) _ Yes, he's friendly, sort of hail-fellowwell-
met. _ He's not a very sincere person. Hail-fellow-well-met—
you know the type. _ He's one of those hail-fellow-well-met people that
you don't quite trust.
hail from somewhere [for someone] to come originally from
somewhere. (Informal.) _ I'm from Edinburgh. Where do you hail
from? _ I hail from the Southwest.
hair of the dog (that bit one) an alcoholic drink taken when one
has a hangover. (Informal.) _ Oh, I have a terrible hangover. I need
a hair of the dog. _ That's some hangover you've got there, Bob. Here,
drink this. It's a hair of the dog that bit you.
hale and hearty well and healthy. _ Doesn't Ann look hale and
hearty after the baby's birth? _ I don't feel hale and hearty. I'm really
hand in glove (with someone) very close to someone. _ John is
really hand in glove with Sally, although they pretend to be on different
sides. _ The teacher and the headmaster work hand in glove.
hand it to someone give credit to someone, often with some reluctance.
(Informal. Often with have to or must.) _ I must hand it to
you. You did a fine job. _ We must hand it to Sally. She helped us
handle someone with kid gloves to be very careful with a sensitive
or touchy person. _ Bill has become so sensitive. You really have
to handle him with kid gloves. _ You don't have to handle me with
kid gloves. I can take what you have to tell me.
hand-me-down something, such as an article of used clothing,
which has been “handed down,' or given, to someone because
another person no longer needs it. (Informal.) _ Why do I always
have to wear my brother's hand-me-downs? I want some new clothes.
_ This is a nice shirt. It doesn't look like a hand-me-down at all.
hand over fist [for money and merchandise to be exchanged] very
rapidly. _ What a busy day. We took in money hand over fist. _ They
were buying things hand over fist.
hand over hand [moving] one hand after the other (again and
again). _ Sally pulled in the rope hand over hand. _ The man climbed
the rope hand over hand.
hang by a hair and hang by a thread to be in an uncertain position;
to depend on something very insubstantial. (Informal.) _ Your
whole argument is hanging by a thread. _ John hasn't yet failed geometry,
but his fate is hanging by a hair.
hang by a thread See hang by a hair.
hang fire to delay or wait; to be delayed. _ I think we should hang
fire and wait for other information. _ Our plans have to hang fire until
we get planning permission.
hang in the balance to be in an undecided state; to be between
two equal possibilities. _ The prisoner stood before the judge, his life
hanging in the balance. _ The fate of the entire project is hanging in
hang on by an eyebrow and hang on by one's eyebrows to
be just hanging on or just surviving. _ He hasn't yet failed, but he
is just hanging on by an eyebrow. _ The manager is just about to get
sacked. She is hanging on by her eyebrows.
hang on by one's eyebrows See hang on by an eyebrow.
hang one's hat up somewhere to take up residence somewhere.
(Informal.) _ George loves London. He's decided to buy a f lat and hang
his hat up there. _ Bill moves from place to place and never hangs his
hat up anywhere.
hang on someone's every word to listen carefully and obsequiously
to everything someone says. _ He gave a great lecture. We
hung on his every word. _ Look at the way John hangs on Mary's every
word. He must be in love with her.
hang on to someone's coat-tails to gain good fortune or success
through another person's success, rather than through one's own
hand over fist
efforts. _ Bill isn't very creative, so he hangs on to John's coat-tails.
_ Some people just have to hang on to somebody else's coat-tails.
Hang on to your hat! and Hold on to your hat! Prepare for a
sudden surprise or shock. (Informal.) _ Are you ready to hear the
final score? Hang on to your hat! We won ten–nil! _ Guess who got
married. Hold on to your hat!
hard-and-fast rule a strict rule. _ It's a hard-and-fast rule that
you must be home by midnight. _ You should have your project completed
by the end of the month, but it's not a hard-and-fast rule.
hard cash cash, not cheques or credit. (Informal.) _ I want to be
paid in hard cash, and I want to be paid now! _ No plastic money for
me. I want hard cash.
hardly have time to breathe to be very busy. _ This was such a
busy day. I hardly had time to breathe. _ They made him work so hard
that he hardly had time to breathe.
hard on someone's heels following someone very closely. (Informal.)
_ I ran as fast as I could, but the dog was still hard on my heels.
_ Here comes Sally, and John is hard on her heels.
hard on the heels of something soon after something. (Informal.)
_ There was a rainstorm hard on the heels of the high winds.
_ They had a child hard on the heels of getting married.
hark(en) back to something (Harken is an old form of hark,
which is an old word meaning “listen.') 1. to have originated as
something; to have started out as something. _ The word icebox
harks back to the old-fashioned refrigerators which were cooled by ice.
_ Our modern breakfast cereals hark back to the porridge and gruel
of our ancestors. 2. to remind one of something. _ Seeing a horse and
buggy in the park harks back to the time when horses drew milk wagons.
_ Sally says it harkens back to the time when everything was delivered
by horse-drawn wagon.
hate someone's guts to hate someone very much. (Informal.) _
Oh, Bob is terrible. I hate his guts! _ You may hate my guts for saying
so, but I think you're getting grey hairs.
haul someone over the coals to give someone a severe scolding.
_ My mother hauled me over the coals for coming in late last night.
_ The manager hauled me over the coals for being late again.
haul someone over the coals
have a bee in one's bonnet to have an idea or a thought remain
in one's mind; to have an obsession. _ She has a bee in her bonnet
about table manners. _ I had a bee in my bonnet about swimming. I
couldn't stop wanting to go swimming.
have a big mouth to be a gossiper; to be a person who tells secrets.
(Informal.) _ Mary has a big mouth. She told Bob what I was getting
him for his birthday. _ You shouldn't say things like that about
people all the time. Everyone will say you have a big mouth.
have a bone to pick (with someone) to have a matter to discuss
with someone; to have something to argue about with someone.
_ Look, Bill. I've got a bone to pick with you. Where is the money
you owe me? _ I had a bone to pick with her, but she was so sweet
that I forgot about it. _ Ted and Alice have a bone to pick.
have a brush with something to have a brief contact with something;
to have a brief experience of something, especially with the
law. (Sometimes a close brush.) _ Ann had a close brush with the law.
She was nearly arrested for speeding. _ When I was younger, I had a
brush with death in a car accident, but I recovered.
have a case (against someone) to have much evidence which can
be used against someone in court. (Have can be replaced with build,
gather, assemble, etc.) _ Do the police have a case against John? _
No, they don't have a case. _ They are trying to build a case against
him. _ My solicitor is busy assembling a case against the other driver.
have a chip on one's shoulder to feel resentful; to bear resentment.
_ What are you angry about? You always seem to have a chip
on your shoulder. _ John has had a chip on his shoulder about the police
ever since he got his speeding ticket.
have a down on someone to treat someone in an unfair or hostile
way; to have hostile feelings towards someone; to resent and
oppose someone. _ That teacher's had a down on me ever since I
was expelled from another school. _ The supervisor has a down on anyone
who refuses to work overtime.
have a familiar ring [for a story or an explanation] to sound familiar.
_ Your excuse has a familiar ring. Have you done this before? _
This exam paper has a familiar ring. I think it has been copied.
have a foot in both camps to have an interest in or to support
each of two opposing groups of people. _ The shop steward had been
have a bee in one's bonnet
promised promotion and so had a foot in both camps during the
strike—workers and management. _ Mr. Smith has a foot in both
camps in the parents/teachers dispute. He teaches maths, but he has a
son at the school.
have a go (at something) to give something a try. (Informal.) _
I've never fished before, but I'd like to have a go at it. _ Great, have a
go now. Take my fishing rod and give it a try.
have a good command of something to know something well.
_ Bill has a good command of French. _ Jane has a good command
of economic theory.
have a good head on one's shoulders to have common sense;
to be sensible and intelligent. _ Mary doesn't do well in school, but
she's got a good head on her shoulders. _ John has a good head on his
shoulders and can be depended on to give good advice.
have a heart to be compassionate; to be generous and forgiving.
_ Oh, have a heart! Give me some help! _ If Ann had a heart, she'd
have made us feel more welcome.
have a heart of gold to be generous, sincere, and friendly. _ Mary
is such a lovely person. She has a heart of gold. _ You think Tom stole
your watch? Impossible! He has a heart of gold.
have a heart of stone to be cold and unfriendly. _ Sally has a
heart of stone. She never even smiles. _ The villain in the play had a
heart of stone. He was an ideal villain.
have a heart-to-heart (talk) to have a sincere and intimate talk.
_ I had a heart-to-heart talk with my fathe