Copyright  2000 by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc. Click here for Terms of Use.



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

This Dictionary


_ (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 half-mast


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.


Copyright © 2000 by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc. Click here for Terms of Use.

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.

blue blood


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

(on something).

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.


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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

an alibi.

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

of accidents


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

world, too.

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

with pneumonia.

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

with you?

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

the wash.

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.

come round


_ 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

his profession.

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

spilt milk.

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

culture vultures.

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

one's cloth.

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!


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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 centre.

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

he acquires.

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

him first.

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.

dry run



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


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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

the comedy.


Copyright © 2000 by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc. Click here for Terms of Use.

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

the president.

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

get old.

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.

fighting chance


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

dead horse?

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

forbidden fruit.

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.

forbidden fruit


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


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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

his act.

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

in edgeways.

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

brass tacks?

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

like that.

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

this problem.

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

her breath.

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

my mind.

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

this year.

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 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

the other.

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,'

thought I.

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

about midday.

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

the limit?

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

on one.

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

a lot.

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


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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

the balance.

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