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Dictionary expressions Dictionary expressions Document Transcript

  • An Asperger Dictionary of Everyday Expressions
  • also by Ian Stuart-HamiltonThe Psychology of AgeingAn Introduction, 4th EditionISBN-13: 978 1 84310 426 1 ISBN-10: 1 84310 426 1of related interestAsperger’s SyndromeA Guide for Parents and ProfessionalsTony AttwoodForeword by Lorna WingISBN-13: 978 1 85302 577 8 ISBN-10: 1 85302 577 1The Complete Guide to Asperger’s SyndromeTony AttwoodISBN-13: 978 1 84310 495 7 ISBN-10: 1 84310 495 4Pretending to be NormalLiving with Asperger’s SyndromeLiane Holliday WilleyForeword by Tony AttwoodISBN-13: 978 1 85302 749 9 ISBN-10: 1 85302 749 9What Did You Say? What Do You Mean?An Illustrated Guide to Understanding MetaphorsJude WeltonIllustrated by Jane TelfordISBN-13: 978 1 84310 207 6 ISBN-10: 1 84310 207 2
  • An Asperger Dictionaryof Everyday Expressions Second Edition Ian Stuart-Hamilton Jessica Kingsley Publishers London and Philadelphia View slide
  • First edition published in 2004 This edition published in 2007 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers 116 Pentonville Road London N1 9JB, UK and 400 Market Street, Suite 400 Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA www.jkp.com Copyright © Ian Stuart-Hamilton 2007 The right of Ian Stuart-Hamilton to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form (includingphotocopying or storing it in any medium by electronic means and whether or not transiently or incidentally to some other use of this publication) without the written permission of the copyright owner except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 or under the terms of a licence issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, England W1T 4LP. Applications for the copyright owner’s written permission to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed to the publisher.Warning: The doing of an unauthorised act in relation to a copyright work may result in both a civil claim for damages and criminal prosecution. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataStuart-Hamilton, Ian. An Asperger dictionary of everyday expressions / Ian Stuart-Hamilton. -- 2nd ed. p. cm. ISBN-13: 978-1-84310-518-3 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 1-84310-518-7 (pbk.)1. Aspergers syndrome--Patients--Language--Dictionaries. 2. English language--Idioms--Dictionaries. I. Title. RC553.A88S865 2007 616.858832003--dc22 2006034311 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN-13: 978 1 84310 518 3 ISBN-10: 1 84310 518 7 ISBN pdf eBook: 1 84642 578 6 Printed and bound in Great Britain by Athenaeum Press, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear View slide
  • To Chirpy, Sunshine, Tikka, Heimat, Flip and Flap
  • IntroductionIt is well documented that people with Asperger’s syndrome and other autismspectrum disorders have difficulty interpreting everyday phrases that must beinterpreted symbolically rather than literally. For example, a little bird told me liter-ally implies that a bird assumed the powers of speech and gave information,whilst the symbolic meaning is of course rather different.1 However, it is worthnoting that everyone can have problems with dealing with phrases like this fromtime to time. In practical terms, the only difference between someone withAsperger’s syndrome and someone without it is the frequency with which thisoccurs. Dealing with this problem is itself difficult. The most obvious solution is tonot interpret any phrase literally. However, not only is it the most obvious, it isalso the most stupid. This would make unambiguous language impossible tounderstand. Advising people to use context to interpret the symbolic meaning ofsomething that is nonsensical if interpreted literally is likewise unworkable, evenfor someone with very high linguistic skills. Arguably the only practical solution is to use a dictionary such as this, whichgives definitions of at least the commoner everyday phrases. The phrases I havechosen for inclusion are ones that appear to be the most often used amongst UKEnglish speakers. There are a considerable number of common American Englishphrases, and some Australian phrases as well. Together, they cover the majority ofthe everyday phrases that are potentially confusing for English speakers in mostcountries. There are of course many other phrases that could have been included,but arguably this is a case of diminishing returns. In other words, it was either adictionary this size or a truly enormous one (at least four times the size) withmany of the phrases being very rare indeed. In making my selections, I chose notto include the following: 1. Contemporary slang, for the simple reason that most of it lasts a few months and then is replaced by other slang. 1 The meaning of a little bird told me and other phrases used in the Introduction are given in the dictionary. 7
  • 8 / AN ASPERGER DICTIONARY OF EVERYDAY EXPRESSIONS 2. A lot of classical and literary references, on the grounds that these cause everybody problems, and there is a large problem of where to stop. This is meant to be a dictionary of commonly used idiomatic phrases, not quotations. Where phrases that are in fact quotations (e.g. salt of the earth) are included, it is usually because they are such a part of everyday speech that most people are probably unaware that they are quotations. 3. Phrases that are largely historical and/or little used. 4. Specialist slang from occupations and professions, unless it is so common that it has entered everyday speech (e.g. pyramid selling). 5. Phrases which really are self-evident (e.g. ‘fast as a hare’ simply means fast). 6. Single ambiguous words (e.g. ‘gay’), for the simple reason that about half the words in an ordinary dictionary fall into this category, and this is intended to be a relatively portable book!Inevitably there will be phrases that have been missed from this dictionary thatshould have been included. This is the fate of every dictionary compiler inhistory. Future editions will attempt to amend wrongs, but please do not contactme with suggestions. This is not because I do not value readers’ comments (farfrom it), but unsolicited suggestions create a difficult problem of copyright. A detailed guide to using the dictionary is provided in the next section of thisbook. I have tried as far as possible to keep things simple and intuitive. Thus,phrases are usually listed as they are spoken, with key words from the phrase pro-viding references back to the phrase. In finishing this Introduction, I hope that this book is of use to people withAsperger’s syndrome, or of course anyone else who is puzzled by an apparentlynonsensical phrase.
  • A guide to using the dictionary(1) Absence of definite and indefinite articlesEntries are without definite and indefinite articles (‘the’, ‘an’, etc.). For example,‘the real McCoy’ is entered as real McCoy.(2) Phrases are usually listed as they are spokenEntries are as far as possible done as they would be spoken. For example, ‘aftertheir blood’ is entered as after their blood, not blood, after their. Where I have feltthere could be difficulties in finding the phrase by this method, I have includeddirections to it using other key words (e.g. walk on air is also referenced under air).(3) Key part of phrasesWhere there are several similar variants of the same phrase, I have usually simplyentered the key part of the phrase; for example, there are various phrases like ‘aman after my own heart’, ‘a boy after their own heart’, etc. The key part of thephrase is after their own heart, and this is the phrase that is provided by this dictio-nary.(4) Use of theirPhrases usually can be used to describe or apply to a variety of people. Forexample, the phrase ‘after their blood’ can be used in the forms ‘after his blood’,‘after our blood’, ‘after my blood’, ‘after their blood’, ‘after her blood’, ‘after itsblood’, ‘after one’s blood’ and ‘after your blood’. Rather than have entries foreach phrase, I have simply included one – namely, after their blood. In nearly allcases, I have used ‘their’ in preference to ‘one’, ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘its’, etc. This is because‘their’ is arguably the most ‘neutral’ form. However, when ‘their’ is used, ‘her’,‘his’, etc. can be substituted in. Where a phrase is given with something other than‘their’ (e.g. are you sitting comfortably?) then this is because the phrase is usually onlyheard in this form. 9
  • 10 / AN ASPERGER DICTIONARY OF EVERYDAY EXPRESSIONS(5) Politeness ratings‘Politeness’ refers to the extent to which a word is likely to offend. The more stars,the more it is likely to offend. The following is a rough guide:* Is unlikely to offend anyone in any situation.** May offend some people – be careful about using it.*** Will always offend or shock some people. Avoid if possible.The politeness ratings are deliberately cautious. They are not intended to judgeother people’s use of language, simply to provide guidance on what should beacceptable to the greatest number of people. Where an entry has more than one definition and there is just a single polite-ness rating, then the same ratings apply to all the definitions. For example: As good as (1) Of equivalent quality. (2) Almost (e.g. ‘as good as done’ means ‘it has almost been completed’).*In this case, definitions 1 and 2 of as good as have the same one star politenessrating. Where different definitions have different ratings, this is clearly indicated. In addition to the politeness rating, I have included additional notes on someentries. This is because there are unusual features concerning these phrases thatshould be noted. For example: All mouth (1) Talkative. (2) Promises or threatens a lot of things verbally, but never actually does anything.** or *** Note: this phrase is usually far more insulting when a person is told directly that they are ‘all mouth’ than when referring to someone who is not present at the time.(6) Means the same as entriesWhere a phrase in the dictionary is described as Means the same as, the phraseusually has the same politeness and formality ratings as the phrase it means thesame as. For example, consider the entry: Add fuel to the fire Means the same as fan the flames.The politeness rating for add fuel to the fire is the same as that for fan the flames.In some instances, a phrase may have a different politeness and formality ratingfrom the phrase it means the same as. In those instances, politeness ratings for thetwo phrases are given separately. This at first may appear complicated, but inpractice it is not! It also enables a reader to recognize similarities in phrases.
  • A GUIDE TO USING THE DICTIONARY / 11(7) Emotional strength of phrasesIt is sometimes difficult to judge how strongly a person feels about somethingfrom the way they speak. When I was planning this dictionary, I had hoped toinclude an ‘emotional content’ rating for each entry. The problem with it is that itjust isn’t feasible to do this. For example, suppose someone uses the phrase ‘getlost’ (meaning ‘go away’). At one extreme this could indicate a very serious loss oftemper, and at the other extreme it could be the mildest of rebukes. It depends onthe person saying it, the context in which they say it, and what their normal sortof language is. For example, a person who habitually swears may not be particu-larly angry when they swear, whereas someone who rarely swears might only doso when they are very angry. I have tried in the definitions to indicate when aphrase is likely to be an emotional one, but it is impossible to be more precise thanthis. The following guide may be of some use, but it should not be depended uponto be always accurate: (a) A person’s tone of voice can indicate a lot. If someone sounds angry, then chances are that they are indeed angry. (b) A phrase that implies violence (e.g. ‘I’ll kill you’) is almost always an expression of anger only, not intent to do real harm. (c) A person who usually doesn’t swear but starts swearing may well be angry. (d) Usually if someone is angry, they don’t just say phrases associated with anger, but also say why they are angry.(8) About the definitionsUsually I have only given the idiomatic versions of phrases, and not their literalones as well. This is to save space. However, note that a large number of thesephrases can be used in a literal sense as well. For example, if someone says that‘John is out to lunch’ it might mean the idiomatic sense that ‘John is insane’ or that‘John has gone out to get his lunchtime meal’.(9) Exaggeration in phrasesPlease note that in providing definitions of phrases I have tried to give their mostliteral meaning. However, the actual meaning implied can vary. For example, outto lunch in its idiomatic use literally means ‘insane’. However, the phrase will oftenbe used in a much milder form. Thus, ‘you’re out to lunch’ more usually means‘your behaviour is unusual’.
  • ACROSS THE BOARD / 13AA to Z Everything.* Accidentally on purpose Something done ‘accidentally on purpose’ is doneA word The phrase ‘a word’ (sometimes intentionally, but appears to be acciden- accompanied by a visual signal to ‘come tal.* here’) means that the speaker wishes to discuss something or provide informa- According to Hoyle In keeping with the tion.* rules and/or expectations. Hoyle was author of a standard reference book onAbove board Legal, usually with the card games, and the phrase spread from implication of being honest and trust- card players to the general public.* worthy. The phrase comes from card games – any manipulating of the cards Ace See ace in the hole, ace up their sleeve, hold under the table (i.e. below board) is likely all the aces, play the ace and within an ace. to be an indication of cheating. Thus, Ace in the hole A hidden advantage; the keeping the hands and cards on the table term comes from a variant of the card (i.e. above board) is more likely to game of poker, in which one card called indicate an honest player.* the ‘hole’ is hidden from the players’Above par Of good standard.* view until betting is completed. Since an ace is a high-scoring card, finding an aceAbove their weight If someone performs in the hole would be an advantage.* ‘above their weight’, then they are per- forming at a higher standard than was Ace up their sleeve A hidden advantage. predicted.* The term is derived from the concept of cheating at cards – keeping an extra aceAbsence of mind Failure to remember card hidden to be added into a player’s and/or pay attention.* hand of cards at an advantageousAC/DC Bisexual.* moment. The term ‘ace up my sleeve’ usually does not imply cheating,Academic interest Something of ‘aca- however.* demic interest’ is of limited usefulness and may be considered an inconsequen- Achilles heel A weakness in an otherwise tial detail.* strong system – it often refers more spe- cifically to a character defect in an other-Acceptable face of… The best example of wise resilient person. The term derives something that is generally seen as unat- from the ancient Greek legend of tractive. The phrase can thus imply that Achilles, who was immune to injury, save what is being discussed is not very for a tiny spot on his heel. Guess how pleasant, and only looks good when someone killed him…* compared to other members of the same category.* Acid test The definitive method of assess- ment (e.g. an ‘acid test’ of a new drivingAccident waiting to happen (1) A situa- safety system might be if more lives are tion or set of circumstances in which an saved). The phrase is derived from the accident is far more likely to happen (e.g. fact that gold is the only metal not to waxing a wooden floor so it is very dissolve in many types of acid. Thus, slippery and then putting a rug on it dipping a piece of metal of unknown might be said to be ‘an accident waiting origin into acid is an acid test of whether to happen’). (2) A derogatory term for a it is gold.* person who through carelessness or lack of intelligence is likely to be the cause of Across the board (1) Totally. (2) Applying accidents or other serious problems.* to all areas rather than just some.*
  • 14 / ACT Act See entries below and: balancing act, Add up Be coherent and believable. The catch in the act, class act, clean up their act, get phrase is usually heard in the negative their act together, hard act to follow and in on (e.g. ‘it doesn’t add up’).* the act. Admirable Crichton A person who is Act the can Means the same as act the fool. good at everything. Named after a char- acter of such attributes in a play by J.M. Act the fool Behave stupidly and/or play- Barrie.* fully.* Adrift See cast adrift. Act the goat Means the same as act the fool. Afraid of their own shadow Very Act together See get their act together. nervous or cowardly.* Act up To be awkward and/or refuse to After a fashion To some extent. The cooperate.* phrase is often used to describe some- Action See action stations, actions speak louder thing that is recognisable as what it is than words and piece of the action. supposed to be, but it is not done very well.* Action stations A command to be prepared to do something. The phrase is After all is said and done Means the same generally used jokingly when expected as when all is said and done. visitors are seen approaching (e.g. ‘action After doing it Be about to start to do stations! – Auntie Mabel is walking up something.* the drive’). The phrase was originally a command given in the navy just before After the fact After something has battle commenced.* happened. The phrase is often used to describe the events after a crime has Actions speak louder than words This occurred.* has two principal meanings. (1) It is more effective to do something than just talk After their blood Angry and seeking to about it. Thus, a person is more likely to have revenge and/or inflict punishment.* impress others with how skilful they are After their head Means the same as after at decorating by actually decorating a their blood. room rather than just talking about how, one day, they will decorate a room. (2) After their own heart Something that People will be judged by what they do pleases a person and is a good representa- rather than what they say. Thus, an tion of their own wishes or ideas; employer who claims to be egalitarian possessing similar attitudes.* but who never actually employs people from ethnic minorities is likely to be After their time Describes something or judged as being racially biased.* someone who worked or lived in a place after another person was there (e.g. ‘I Adam See don’t know from Adam. never met Jane Smith – she was after my time in the office; I’d left and gone to Add fuel to the fire Means the same as fan another job before she arrived’).* the flames. Against the grain Against normal desired Add fuel to the flames Means the same as practice or inclination (e.g. if a person fan the flames. says they are doing something but that ‘it Add insult to injury Make a bad situation goes against the grain’ it means that they worse.* would prefer to be doing it in a radically different manner).* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • ALL GAS AND GAITERS / 15Against the stream Means the same as are thus said to give themselves airs and against the grain. graces or put on airs and graces.*Against the tide Means the same as against Aladdin’s cave Any place that is full of the grain. riches can be described as ‘an Aladdin’s cave’. The phrase is a shortening of aAgainst the wind Means the same as slightly longer phrase (‘it’s like an Alad- against the grain. din’s cave’) that makes reference to theAgainst their religion Against their folk tale in which Aladdin found fabulous beliefs or principles (not necessarily reli- riches in a magically guarded cave.* gious). The phrase is sometimes used Alarm bells See set alarm bells ringing. jokingly to describe something that a person will not do because it would not Alcohol talking Express opinions that are be typical of their behaviour (e.g. a lazy probably the result of inebriation rather person who will not do strenuous work than an expression of something genu- because it is ‘against their religion’).* inely believed or accurate.*Agony aunt A woman who acts as a coun- Alienate their affections Persuade some- sellor or adviser in dealing with people’s one to lose affection for someone.* personal problems. The term originally Alive and kicking To be alive and healthy. referred to a person paid to run an advice The phrase is sometimes used to empha- service on personal problems in a news- size that someone presumed dead or ill is paper. Originally all such people were not (e.g. ‘I thought he’d died’ – ‘No, he’s women, but in recent times men have also very much alive and kicking’).* taken on the role, and are known as agony uncles.* All around Means the same as all round.Agony uncle See agony aunt. All bets are off The phrase means that the situation is unpredictable and it is impos-Agree to differ Agree to hold different sible to foresee what will happen next.* opinions on something and not argue about it.* All-clear An indication that everything is all right and that something dangerousAhead of its time Highly innovative. that was a threat is no longer a threat. The There is often an implication that it is so term comes from World War II, when an innovative that contemporaries have dif- ‘all-clear’ signal was given after a ficulty understanding its true worth, bombing raid was finished.* which will only be properly appreciated by later generations.* All done with mirrors Done by deception and/or illusion.*Ahead of the game More advanced and/or foreseeing further than others.* All ears Very attentive. Often used to describe an attentive listener (e.g. ‘he wasAir See air grievances, clear the air, hanging in all ears’).* the air, hot air, in the air, into thin air, out of thin air, up in the air and walk on air. All ends up Totally.*Air grievances To tell someone the com- All eyes Very attentive. Often used to plaints about them or the institution they describe someone who observes a lot (e.g. represent.* ‘she was all eyes’).*Airs and graces A set of very formal All fingers and thumbs Clumsy.* manners and behaviours indicative of someone who is very ‘upper class’. The All gas and gaiters Pompous.* term is usually reserved for people who All Greek to me Incomprehensible.* are pretending to be socially superior and
  • 16 / ALL GREEK TO ME All guns blazing See with all guns blazing. scattered all around, in a disorganized manner. (2) The phrase can also mean All hands The total personnel working in a ‘disorganized’ or ‘very bad, with little ship. The phrase is sometimes used to coordination’.* describe the total workforce in other areas of work.* All over the shop Means the same as all over the place. All he [or she] wrote See that’s all he [or she] wrote. All over the show Means the same as all over the place. All hell broke loose An exaggerated way of saying that there was a loud distur- All packaging Something that is superfi- bance. The phrase is a quotation from cially appealing but is in reality of poor Milton’s poem Paradise Lost.* quality.* All in a day’s work What can be expected All roads lead to Rome A proverb as part of the normal routine of a particu- expressing the belief that seemingly dif- lar occupation.* ferent events may have the same conclu- sion.* All in good time A phrase indicating that something will be done and that pester- All round (1) Fully comprehensive (e.g. ‘an ing about it is unnecessary.* all round good person’). (2) For everyone (e.g. ‘drinks all round’).* All mouth (1) Talkative. (2) Promises or threatens a lot of things verbally, but All singing, all dancing Used jokingly to never actually does anything.** or *** describe any piece of equipment or tech- Note: this phrase is usually far more nology that is the latest model and has insulting when a person is told directly that lots of extra features. The item in they are ‘all mouth’ than when referring to someone who is not present at the time. question does not necessarily have to sing and dance. The phrase is probably All mouth and no trousers Means the derived from the rather exaggerated same as all mouth (definition 2). The prose used to advertise new plays and phrase is often used to describe a boastful movies (‘All singing! All dancing! Cast of man.* or ** thousands!’ etc.).* Note: like all mouth, more insulting when told to a person directly than when talking All talk Means the same as all mouth.* or ** about someone not present at the time. Note: generally less offensive than all mouth; level of politeness depends on context. All of a dither In a confused and excitable state.* All that glistens The start of a proverb that ends ‘is not gold’. The phrase means that All of a doodah Means the same as all of a not everything that appears valuable is dither. actually valuable.* All of a piece with… Consistent with… * All that jazz And other similar things. The All over bar the shouting Almost phrase is often used in a dismissive sense finished and with a very predictable to mean that the similar things are outcome.* nonsense or of minor importance.* All over the lot Means the same as all over All the rage Very fashionable.* the place. All the right buttons Someone who All over the map Means the same as all presses or operates ‘all the right buttons’ over the place. is competent at what they are doing.* All over the place (1) In describing a All their geese are swans People who physical matter, ‘all over the place’ means believe that ‘all their geese are swans’ * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • ANGRY YOUNG MAN / 17 have an unrealistically good opinion of Always the way A phrase indicating that people or things. The phrase can denote the outcome could have been predicted. either boasting or lack of critical facul- The phrase nearly always expresses a ties.* gloomy fatalism that no matter how hard someone has tried, a bad outcome wasAll there Mentally sane and unimpeded by inevitable because bad outcomes seem to any intellectual handicap. Not all there be the norm.* means the opposite (though it is usually used to imply intellectual handicap rather Amateur night Something done ineptly.* than illness).* Ambulance chasing Making financialAll things being equal If nothing alters. gain out of other people’s misery. The Used to describe a calculation in which it phrase often specifically refers to lawyers is assumed that certain factors will not making money from representing change, thus simplifying the calcula- accident victims in litigation cases.* tion.* Ancient history Something that may onceAll things to all people See be all things to have been scandalous or exciting but that all people. is now such old news that it no longer creates any excitement or interest.*All thumbs Means the same as all fingers and thumbs. And a happy birthday to you too A sar- castic response to someone who has justAll to the good Good. Often used in the shown a display of bad temper.* form ‘that’s all to the good, but’, meaning ‘what has been stated is good, but there And a merry Christmas to you too If are problems that have not been men- said sarcastically, the phrase can be used tioned’.* as a response to a person who has just shown a display of bad temper. TheAll up with All finished with.* phrase is intended as sarcastic, since aAlong about Approximately.* response such as ‘and a merry Christmas to you too’ would be a normal responseAlpha and omega (1) The most important to a pleasant greeting at Christmas time.* aspects of something. (2) The first and the last. The phrase comes from the first And co. And the rest. The phrase is usually (alpha) and last (omega) letters in the used after the name of one person – the Greek alphabet.* ‘and co.’ refers to the people usually asso- ciated with him or her (e.g. ‘John and co.Alright on the night As in ‘it’ll be alright were there’).* on the night’. The belief in theatrical workers that a bad final rehearsal will be And no mistake A phrase added on to the followed by a successful first proper per- end of a statement intended to emphasize formance in front of a paying public. the statement (e.g. ‘Hitler was a bad Thus, the belief that mishaps in rehears- person and no mistake’).* ing or preparing for any big event will Angels See on the side of the angels. not be repeated when the event itself is held.* Angry young man Phrase first used in the 1950s to indicate a young, usually ideal-Altogether See in the altogether. istic person who was dissatisfied with theAlways the bridesmaid Start of a longer existing social and political system. It phrase that finishes with ‘but never the does not mean that the person is neces- bride’. The phrase describes someone or sarily angry with everything.* something that is often the candidate Ankle biter A small child.* for something but ultimately is never chosen.*
  • 18 / ANKLE BITER Another bite at the cherry Means the rather than objects. The term is derived same as second bite at the cherry. from the fact that in the past ‘apple’ meant the pupil of the eye.* Another thing coming See got another thing coming. Apple pie bed A practical joke consisting of an arrangement of bed sheets that Ante See up the ante. makes a bed appear normal, but which Ants in the pants To have ‘ants in the are folded under the bed cover to prevent pants’ is to be restless and/or to fidget a a person lying at full length.* lot.* Apple pie order Everything is correct and Any day When following a statement of neat.* preference (e.g. ‘give me the old boss any Apple polisher A very sycophantic day’), a statement indicating that the person.* stated preference is very strongly believed.* Apple polishing Attempting to gain favour with a person in a position of Any day now Within a few days.* seniority.* Any minute now Soon.* Apple sauce Nonsense.* Any port in a storm The belief that in a Apples and oranges Means the same as crisis any source of relief and/or assis- apples and pears, definition 1. tance is to be welcomed.* Apples and pears (1) Describes an unfair Any time now Soon.* comparison because what are being con- Anyone’s guess Unknown.* sidered are too fundamentally different for the comparison to make sense. Thus, Anything goes No restraints or restric- comparing apples and pears is a foolish tions.* thing – they taste different and which Ape (1) Copy. (2) A state of irrational rage one tastes nicer is a matter of personal or insanity (e.g. ‘when he sees what opinion, not objective fact. (2) The you’ve done to his car he’ll go ape’).* phrase is also used as Cockney rhyming slang for ‘stairs’ (e.g. ‘up the apples and Apeshit Means the same as ape, definition pears to bed’).* 2, but not as polite.*** Apron strings See cut the apron strings and Apology for… A poor example of some- tied to the apron strings. thing (e.g. ‘the meal Peter prepared was an apology for home cooking’).* Are there any more at home like you? This is usually used as a chat-up line, and Appeal from Philip drunk to Philip indicates that the person asking the sober A request that someone reconsid- question likes the person they are ers an earlier decision. It is usually addressing. If the tone of voice is sarcas- implied that the earlier decision was tic, however, it can be a mild rebuke to capricious.* someone who is being a nuisance, Appeal to Caesar Make an appeal to the meaning in essence, ‘please tell me there most important person or highest avail- aren’t any more like you’.* able authority.* Are you sitting comfortably? This is typ- Apple See entries below and: bad apple and ically followed by the phrase ‘then I’ll upset the applecart. begin’. The phrase is used jokingly to mean that someone is about to tell a Apple of their eye In other words, their (usually lengthy or complex) piece favourite. It is usually used about people of information. The phrase comes from * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • AS NEAR AS DAMN IT / 19 children’s TV and radio programmes most phrases containing ‘arse’ can substi- where someone about to tell a story often tute ass.*** begins with this phrase.* Arse about face Back to front.***Argue the toss Argue about a decision that Arse from their elbow See don’t know their has already been made.* arse from their elbow.Ark See out of the ark and went out with the ark. Arse licking Means the same as ass licking.Arm and a leg See cost an arm and a leg. Arse over tit To fall over. The phrase liter-Arm’s length The term is used to denote ally means ‘bottom over chest’, but the lack of friendliness rather than a literal phrase is used for anyone falling over physical distance. Thus, keep at arm’s length rather than almost turning upside down means to avoid being too friendly or whilst falling.*** communicative with someone (e.g. ‘Paul Art for art’s sake The belief that some- remained polite to David but kept him at thing can be done just because it is arm’s length, and never discussed pleasing, rather than for any practical personal matters with him’).* purpose.*Armchair critic A person who lacks any Art form See developed into an art form. practical or applied knowledge of a subject, but based on reading about it Arthur Daley A tradesperson of dubious they feel empowered to offer criticisms. moral character, likely to sell goods that The implication is that such a person are stolen and/or of much lower quality knows too little about the subject, and than advertised. The phrase is the name instead of criticising they should be of a fictional character in a British TV quiet. A prime example of an armchair series who was just such a tradesperson.* critic is a physically unfit person who feels they have the right to judge the per- Article of faith Something that is strongly formance of sportsmen and sports- believed and forms an important part of a women.* person’s general attitudes and behav- iour.*Armed to the teeth (1) To possess a large quantity of weapons. (2) To be very As easy as ABC Very easy.* well-prepared for presenting an argu- As easy as pie Means the same as as easy as ment. (3) To have a large quantity of ABC. equipment.* As every schoolchild knows Used toArmpits See up to the armpits. describe a piece of very basic informa-Army See you and whose army?. tion.*Army marches on its stomach Workers As far as it goes To its limits.* need to be properly fed if they are to As good as (1) Of equivalent quality. (2) function efficiently.* Almost (e.g. ‘as good as done’ means ‘itAround the clock Means the same as has almost been completed’).* round the clock. As much use as a chocolate fire screenArrow in the quiver A skill a person pos- Of no use.* sesses.* As much use as a chocolate teapot Of noArse The word means ‘bottom’. It is rarely use.* used in American English. The word is As near as damn it Slightly ruder version considered moderately rude. Note that of as near as makes no difference.**
  • 20 / AS NEAR AS MAKES NO DIFFERENCE As near as makes no difference Although Asleep at the wheel Inattentive to the job not exactly the same, it is close enough for that is supposed to be done.* all practical purposes.* Ass See ass licking, bet your…, bust their ass, As nice as pie Very pleasant.* chew their ass, don’t give a rat’s ass, drag ass, get their…into gear, haul ass, kick ass, kick their As sure as eggs is eggs In other words, ass, kiss ass, licking ass, pain in the ass, piece of with absolute certainty.* ass, put their ass in a sling, tear ass and whip As the actress said to the bishop The their ass. Note that most phrases contain- phrase is sometimes added after some- ing arse can subsitute ‘ass’ for ‘arse’. thing that could be construed as a double Ass licking Being obsequious to the point entendre. It either (1) indicates that the of stupidity – e.g. being helpful beyond use of the double entendre was deliber- any reasonable expectation, being far too ate and is highlighting it, or (2) indi- polite and conciliatory and/or agreeing cates that the person realised as soon as with everything a person more powerful they made the double entendre that they in status says and does, regardless of had made a potential error and are now whether it is correct. The phrase is most jokingly apologising for it. The tone and often used of someone behaving like this context should indicate which meaning in the hope of gaining promotion at is intended.* work.*** As the crow flies In a straight line.* Ass on the line Ruder version of head on the As you do A sarcastic comment on an line.*** extravagant claim or description (e.g. ‘we At a canter Easily done.* just had to have a three week holiday in Tibet this year’ leading to a reply of ‘as At a lick Rapidly.* you do’).* or ** Note: the phrase can be used as an insult as At a loose end Have nothing to do.* well as a humorous comment. As an insult, it is implying that someone is being At a low ebb In a poor condition. The pretentious or showing off. phrase is used quite commonly to mean ‘depressed’.* Ask for it (1) To be deserving of punish- ment. Thus someone who gets bitten by a At a pinch Describes something that will dog after taunting the poor creature for just about suffice for the task, but is not an hour or so might be said to have been an ideal choice. See in a pinch.* asking for it. (2) There is an offensive At a push Means the same as at a pinch. sexist use of the term that ‘justifies’ rape by saying that a woman ‘provocatively At a rate of knots Moving rapidly.* dressed’ is making a sexual display and At a stretch (1) Something that can be ‘must’ be ‘asking for it’ (i.e. wanting done ‘at a stretch’ can be done, but not sex).* (1) or *** (2) without greater effort than usual. (2) In a Ask for the moon Ask for something that single period of time.* is impossible to attain.* At death’s door Seriously ill, with a high Ask me another A joking reply to a probability of dying.* question, that means ‘I don’t know’.* At each other’s throats Constantly Asking for trouble Behaving in a manner attacking or criticising each other.* that greatly increases the probability of a At full cock With all strength and/or problem or an argument being created.* ability.* Asleep at the switch Means the same as asleep at the wheel. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • AYES HAVE IT / 21At half cock Inadequately prepared or At their fingertips Easily accessed.* inept.* At their wits’ end To have tried to dealAt hand What has to be done now (e.g. ‘the with a problem logically and calmly but task at hand’).* failed.*At heel Under close supervision or Atmosphere that could be cut with a control.* knife Describes the feeling of being in a tense or dangerous situation.*At loose ends Means the same as at a loose end. Auld lang syne See for auld lang syne.At sea To be confused and/or incapable of Avenue See every avenue explored. coping with a situation.* Away with the fairies Daydreaming orAt sixes and sevens To be in a state of con- absent-minded.* fusion.* Awkward age Adolescence; so calledAt the…face A description of being at because it as an age at which many people work within a particular profession (e.g. behave awkwardly, question the rele- ‘at the coalface’ means working as a vance of society, etc., but also are miner, ‘at the chalkface’ working as a awkward in performing adult tasks, such teacher, etc.) * as courtship, assuming more responsibil- ity and so forth.*At the bottom of it To be the original or most important cause (e.g. ‘although Awkward squad (1) A group of people several people were behind the rebellion, who require further training before they Jack was at the bottom of it’).* will be competent to perform the tasks they have been assigned to do. (2) PeopleAt the crossroads At a point of deciding who are predisposed to be uncoopera- between several options. The phrase gen- tive.* erally implies that these choices are important ones.* Axe See axe to grind and given the axe.At the double Quickly.* Axe to grind This generally means one of two things: (1) being obsessed with aAt the drop of a hat Describes a willing- particular cause or argument; or (2) ness to do something with very little having a secret reason for wanting some- encouragement.* thing as well as the reason givenAt the end of the day (1) Literally ‘at the publicly.* end of the day’ or ‘at the end of a work Ayes have it Meaning that the people who shift’. (2) What needs to be done after all support a proposed change are in the things have been considered (e.g. ‘at the majority, and thus the change will be end of the day the decision is yours’).* made. The phrase comes from a methodAt the last minute With very little time to of voting (used in, e.g., the UK Parlia- spare.* ment) in which people for a motion are called ‘ayes’ and those against are calledAt the touch of a button A phrase used to ‘noes’. Hence, the noes have it means that emphasize that an automated process or the majority are against change, and so machine is very easy to use (e.g. ‘you can things will stay as they are.* have hot water at the touch of a button’).*At their beam-ends To be desperate; the phrase nearly always means that the cause of the desperation is a shortage of resources.*
  • 22 / BABES IN THE WOOD B Babes in the wood People who are Back of an envelope See on the back of an innocent of what is going on around envelope. them. The phrase is often used of people Back of beyond Somewhere geographi- who become involved in something they cally distant; there is usually an implica- lack the experience to handle.* tion that the place is also culturally unso- Baby bathed See won’t get the baby bathed. phisticated.* Baby boomer Person born just after World Back of Bourke Australian slang: means War II. So called because there was a the same as back of beyond. dramatic increase in the birth rate (a ‘baby Back of the mind Something that is being boom’) in the late 1940s.* thought about, but is not currently being Baby out with the bath water See throw concentrated upon.* the baby out with the bath water. Back of their brain If a person says they Back burner See put on the back burner. have something ‘at the back of their brain’ then it means they feel they have a Back door An unofficial method. Also see faint memory of something that they in by the back door.* cannot quite recall.* Back down Allow something to happen or Back of their hand See like the back of their acknowledge an argument that had pre- hand. viously been opposed.* Back of their head Means the same as back Back in harness Doing a particular task of their brain. once more. The phrase is often used of someone returning to their job after a Back off (1) A warning to stop interfering vacation or illness.* and/or to physically move further away. (2) Retreat.* (2) or ** (1) Back in the swing of things Returned to Note: this is a phrase that if used in the normality after a period of absence or sense of definition 1 usually does indicate illness.* that a person means it, no matter what their normal language is like. Back into it See put their back into it. Back out Withdraw from involvement in Back is turned See when a person’s back is something.* turned. Back seat See entry below and: take a back Back number (1) An issue of a magazine or seat. newspaper that was issued before the current issue. (2) A person whose skills Back seat driver A person not in a position and/or knowledge are not up to date.* of power who attempts to control the actions of a person in a position of power Back of a cigarette packet Follows the by telling them what to do. The phrase same meaning as back of an envelope. refers to a passenger telling the driver Back of a fag packet Follows the same how he or she should be driving.* meaning as back of an envelope. ‘Fag Back story What has previously taken packet’ means cigarette packet in UK place. The phrase is often used for movie English.* sequels, where knowledge of the ‘back Back of a lorry See off the back of a lorry. story’ (i.e. what happened in the earlier movies) is necessary in order to under- stand fully the plot of the current movie.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BAKER’S DOZEN / 23Back the wrong horse Make an inappro- same way that a bad apple stored with priate choice. The phrase often refers to good apples will pass a rotting fungus to choosing to support the person who them and eventually destroy all the turns out to be the loser in a struggle for stored fruit).* power. * Bad blood Describes a state of hostilityBack to basics To reject complicated between two people or groups (e.g. ‘there methods or details and return to a simpler had been bad blood between the neigh- method.* bours since the argument over the new fence’).*Back to square one To go right back to the start. The origin of the phrase may Bad business See business. refer to games such as snakes and ladders, Bad form Something that is a breach of eti- where an unfortunate throw of the dice quette.* late in the game might result in landing on a snake and thus sending the player Bad hair day A day when everything back to the start (i.e. ‘square one’). seems to be going wrong.* Another explanation is that it refers to a system of describing the layout of a Bad-mouthing Saying unpleasant things football field, and a ball sent back to about something or someone.* square one was in essence the start of a Bad news A person is said to be ‘bad news’ new series of plays.* if they are likely to cause trouble or be aBack to the drawing board To go right hindrance.* back to the start. The phrase derives from Bad place See in a bad place. engineering designs that are so utterly wrong when put into practice that they Bad quarter of an hour A particularly have to be redesigned from the begin- unpleasant short period of time.* ning (i.e. the point at which the first plans Bad taste in the mouth An unpleasant are produced on a drawing board). See on feeling about an event or experience.* the drawing board.* Bad to the bone (1) Totally evil. (2)Back to the jungle To return to a more Lacking a sense of moral responsibility.* primitive way of living. Based on the argument that our ancestors originally Bag See bag of tricks, in the bag, mixed bag, not lived in jungles.* my bag and pack their bags.Back to the wall To be in a difficult situa- Bag and baggage Everything.* tion with little obvious chance of help.* Bag of tricks The term can either refer to aBack up Support. Also see get their back up. specialist collection of equipment (e.g. ‘the technician came along with her bagBackbone See put backbone into them. of tricks and soon mended the computer’)Backroom deal Secret negotiations.* or the specialist skills of a person.*Backs to the wall In a difficult situation.* Bail out (1) Abandon a failing enterprise (an analogy to bailing out of an aircraftBacon See bring home the bacon and save the about to crash). (2) Rescue someone bacon. and/or pay off their debts (an analogy toBad apple An unpleasant or immoral bailing a person out of jail).* person. The term can be used to indicate Bail up To physically corner someone.* that such people are inevitable (e.g. ‘there’s a bad apple in every bunch’). It Baker’s dozen Thirteen.* can also imply that such a person is likely to corrupt those around them (in the
  • 24 / BALANCED PERSONALITY Balanced personality Describes a person Ball is in their court In other words, the with no unusual behaviours. The phrase responsibility for doing something rests comes from the idea that some part with them. The phrase comes from tennis of personality can be imagined to be – the ball cannot be played by someone like weights put on a balance. If one until it is in their part of the court.* partof a personality is over-imposing, Ball of fire A lively person. The phrase is then it would be like a too-heavy often used sarcastically to mean someone weight that would not balance with the who is dull (e.g. ‘boy, he’s a ball of fire’ other weights available. See unbalanced said in a sarcastic tone means that the personality.* person is boring).* Balancing act (1) The process of trying to Ball of string See how long is a ball of string? do several tasks within the same space of time (e.g. ‘Jenny had a busy day – she had Ballistic See go ballistic. to do a tricky balancing act of taking the children to and from school, visiting the Balloon’s gone up Something important dentist’s, dealing with her correspon- has started. The phrase probably derives dence, and checking in with her office’). from the twentieth-century use of (2) Attempting to please several people, barrage balloons (large balloons teth- often with conflicting demands.* ered to wires) that were raised as a primi- tive (but effective) defence against an Ball See entries below and: behind the eight incoming air attack.* ball, crystal ball, crystal ball gazing, drop the ball, have a ball, have a lot on the ball, how Ballpark See ballpark figure, in the ballpark long is a ball of string?, keep balls in the air, and in the same ballpark. keep the ball rolling, keep their eye on the ball, Ballpark figure An estimate.* new ball game, on the ball, play ball, set the ball rolling, pick up the ball and run with it, Balls (1) Testicles. (2) An expression of take the ball and run with it and whole ball of disgust or denial (e.g. ‘that’s balls!’ or wax. ‘that’s a load of balls!’). (3) A synonym for courage (e.g. ‘you’ve got a lot of balls to Ball and chain A hindrance; something do something that brave’).*** that restricts movements or activities. The phrase is sometimes used jokingly to Balls-up A serious mistake.*** refer to a husband or wife.* Banana oil Nonsense.* Ball at their feet A person with the ‘ball at Banana republic (1) A country of minor their feet’ has the best chance they will economic importance (almost always in get of achieving what they want to do.* Central America) whose economic Ball-breaker A person who takes perverse fortunes depend on exporting a foodstuff pleasure in giving work to someone else (such as bananas). The term almost that is ball-breaking. To be called a always has an additional supposition that ‘ball-breaker’ is insulting and usually the country has a corrupt government, implies the person is very angry with you, police force, judiciary, etc., and is techno- but in describing someone else the term logically backward. (2) The phrase is (although very rude) may just indicate sometimes used to indicate a badly run that they demand high standards.*** company or office that is rife with cor- ruption and inefficiency. Both definitions Ball-breaking Something is said to be are insults.* ball-breaking if it is very troublesome, Note: For obvious reasons of politeness, the difficult and/or time-consuming. See phrase ‘banana republic’ should not be used when speaking or writing to a person from ball-breaker.*** a banana republic (either definition). * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BASE / 25Banana skin See slip on a banana skin. slightly damaged goods or goods that are no longer fashionable). (2) SomethingBand See when the band begins to play. that is cheap. There is usually an implica-Bandwagon See jump on the bandwagon. tion that it offers a very rudimentary per- formance when compared with moreBang for the buck Value for money.* expensive versions.*Bang goes… The term means ‘this is the Bargepole See wouldn’t touch them with a ruination of…’ (e.g. ‘When we heard bargepole. about the opening of the toxic waste recycling plant next to our home, all I Bark at the moon Waste time on a protest could think was “bang goes the neigh- that has no effect. Named after the phe- bourhood”’).* nomenon that dogs will sometimes bark at the moon in the night sky.*Bang heads together Tell a group of people off. The phrase is usually used to Bark is worse than their bite The actual describe telling off a group of people punishments a person makes are far less who have been arguing and squabbling severe than their threats of punishment between themselves.* would have one expect. The phrase bite is worse than their bark means the oppositeBang on Absolutely correct.* (i.e. their punishments are worse thanBang their head against a brick wall their threats would suggest).* Engage in a very frustrating task.* Barking up the wrong tree To haveBang to rights An admission that an accu- arrived at an inaccurate conclusion. The sation is correct (as in ‘you’ve got me phrase is derived from hunting – a dog bang to rights’). The phrase derives from following a scent trail that barked when it a slang expression by criminals caught had ‘found’ its target hiding in one tree committing a crime. These days it is gen- when it was in fact in another would of erally used more lightly to indicate that a course be barking up the wrong tree.* person is admitting to making a mild Barnstorming performance A display of error.* great skill. The term is sometimes usedBank See entry below and: break the bank, more negatively to describe something cry all the way to the bank and laugh all the not very subtle.* way to the bank. Barrack room lawyer A non-lawyer whoBank on it If a person feels that they can claims to know everything about a ‘bank on it’ then they feel certain that it person’s legal rights and entitlements and will happen.* by extension what is and is not permissi- ble. It is often implied that the personBaptism of fire A first experience of some- who is a troublemaker is anxious to thing that is far more difficult or provoke conflict over (often spurious) demanding than might be normally demands for ‘legitimate rights’.* expected.* Barrel See barrel of laughs, give both barrels, onBar none With no alternatives or excep- the barrel and over a barrel. tions (e.g. ‘she is the best bar none’).* Barrel of laughs Something very amusing.Bare bones The simplest possible form of The phrase is more often used sarcasti- something which works or makes sense; cally (e.g. ‘that funeral was a barrel of in other words, something with no extra- laughs’).* neous details.* Base See first base, off base, touch all the basesBargain basement (1) A store or part of a and touch base. store selling very cheap goods (typically
  • 26 / BASH Bash See have a bash. Baying for blood Demanding punish- ment or revenge.* Basket case In a poor state of health (typi- cally the term describes mental ill Be a devil An encouragement to do some- health).** thing not quite correct, but which will be enjoyable or rewarding (e.g. encouraging Bat See bat out of hell, go in to bat for them, not someone on a diet to have a cream cake, bat an eyelid, off their own bat, play with a saying ‘be a devil – one cake won’t harm straight bat and right off the bat. your diet’).* Bat out of hell Describes something Be all things to all people Be liked by moving very quickly (e.g. ‘it set off like a everyone. The phrase often implies that bat out of hell and was soon out of the reasons why some people express a sight’).* liking may be different from the reasons Baton See pass the baton and pick up the baton. why other people express a liking.* Bats in the belfry To be insane.* Be-all and end-all The most perfect form something can take. Hence, if something Batten down the hatches Prepare for a is not the be-all and end-all then it is not the difficult situation. The phrase refers to only thing that might be of use.* sealing hatches on a ship in preparation for stormy weather.* Be crook on Be angered by.* Battle lines are drawn The principal Be expecting Be pregnant.* causes of a conflict are established – i.e. Be in at the death Witness the end of an all the sides in a conflict know what they event (not necessarily a death).* will consider a successful conclusion.* Be in good company Hold the same Battle of the bulge The psychological and opinion as other, more exalted people physical effort involved in dieting and (this does not guarantee that the opinion exercise in an attempt to lose weight. The is correct, however).* phrase is a punning reference to the Battle of the Bulge, a key battle of World Be it on their head It is their responsibil- War II.* ity.* Battle of the giants A contest between Be laughing Be in a state of contentment two people or groups who are notably (e.g. ‘you’ll be laughing once the con- skilful.* tract’s accepted’).* Battle royal A vigorous (and often by Be my guest A phrase indicating permis- implication vicious) contest. The term sion to do something or to carry on doing probably derives from a particularly something. The phrase is usually used as barbaric version of cock fighting.* a reply to a question such as ‘do you mind if I do this?’* Battle stations A warning to prepare for imminent combat. The phrase is often Be real Means the same as get real. used jokingly when faced with a difficult Be seeing you Means the same as I’ll be situation (e.g. ‘battle stations, everyone – seeing you.* the boss is on her way and she’s in a bad mood’).* Be the death of … The cause of someone’s ruination or death. The phrase is nearly Bay See bay for the moon, baying for blood and always used in an exaggerated fashion to keep it at bay. indicate that someone is being amusing.* Bay for the moon Means the same as bark Be there for them Offer support and assis- at the moon. tance for someone.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BEAT THE SYSTEM / 27Be there or be square A now rather dated Beat about the bush Means the same as phrase meaning ‘unless you attend this going round the houses. event, you are very unfashionable’.* Beat around the bush Means the same asBeach bum A person who spends most of going round the houses. their time lazing on a beach rather than Beat at their own game Defeat a person at being constructively employed.* something they are skilled at doing.*Bead See take a bead on. Beat swords into ploughshares MoveBeam-ends See at their beam-ends. from being aggressive to being peace- ful.*Bean See bean counting, full of beans, how many beans make five?, not have a bean, not Beat that An expression indicating that it worth a hill of beans and spill the beans. will be hard to do better than something just done. Depending upon who says it,Bean counting Derogatory term for: (1) the expression can range from an expres- being concerned with the facts and sion of admiration (e.g. from a neutral figures of something rather than its emo- spectator) to one of defiance (e.g. if said tional consequences; (2) putting consid- by the person who did the deed to erations of profit and business before someone about to attempt the same moral or spiritual considerations; (3) action as in e.g. an athletics field event).* occupations that involve working with numbers, such as statistics or accoun- Beat the band Be better than everyone tancy.* else.*Bear See bear with a sore head, do bears crap in Beat the bejesus out Means the same as the woods? and loaded for bear. beat the daylights out.Bear fruit Be successful.* Beat the bushes Try hard to achieve some- thing.*Bear the brunt Endure the majority of something unpleasant, such as a punish- Beat the clock Work quickly.* ment.* Beat the daylights out Physically assaultBear with a sore head A person with a with great severity.** bad temper.* Beat the drum Actively and prominentlyBeat See entries below and: chest beating, if support a cause or person.* you can’t beat them join them, miss a beat, not Beat the living daylights out Means the miss a beat and off the beaten track. same as beat the daylights out.Beat a path Make a journey with great Beat the meat Masturbate.*** determination to reach the destination.* Beat the pants off Prove to be far betterBeat a path to their door Show great than another person (e.g. ‘Peter beat the interest in a person. The phrase is usually pants off Richard’).* used in the context of a group of people beating a path to someone’s door after Beat the rap Evade punishment.* the person has done something that makes him or her famous.* Beat the system (1) Find a method of doing something that is supposedly for-Beat a retreat Retreat or withdraw. The bidden by a set of rules and/or regula- phrase comes from the army, when at one tions. The phrase is more often heard in time the signal for troops to withdraw the form you can’t beat the system, that from the battlefield would be made by a argues that some regulations and institu- drum beat.* tions (particularly the legal system)
  • 28 / BEAT THEM HOLLOW cannot be defeated. (2) Find a method of Bedclothes See born the wrong side of the bed- defeating something elaborately struc- clothes. tured and seemingly impossible to Bedside manner A medical doctor’s or defeat.* surgeon’s skills at talking and listening to Beat them hollow Defeat decisively.* patients. The phrase usually is used in a more specific sense of how pleasant the Beat them to it Succeed in doing some- patient finds the experience (e.g. a doctor thing before another person.* good at diagnosing problems but who is Beat to a pulp Inflict severe damage.* rude to patients might be said to be ‘a good clinician with a bad bedside Beat to the punch Anticipate someone’s manner’). The phrase is sometimes used choice of action.* to describe the communication skills of Beat to the world Means the same as dead non-medical people.* to the world. Bee in their bonnet Having a preoccupa- Beaten at the post Be defeated at the last tion about something (generally, some- moment.* thing that is annoying rather than pleasant) – e.g. ‘Sally has a bee in her Beating the chest See chest beating. bonnet about getting rid of the greenfly Beautiful people People noted for their in the garden’.* good looks, wealth, and belonging to a Bee’s knees Joking term meaning ‘the fashionable part of society. The term is best’.* often used sarcastically either about people who obviously aren’t beautiful, Beef about Complain about.* fashionable or rich, or otherwise may be Beeline See make a beeline. used as a negative comment about people who are beautiful, rich and fashionable, Been around If a person has ‘been around’ but are otherwise unappealing.* then they are experienced.* Beaver away Work hard.* Been in the wars Appearing damaged.* Because it is there A reply given when Been there before Already have experi- questioned about the motivation to do ence of an identical or very similar item something which is impractical and/or or event.* dangerous. The speaker is basically indi- Been there, done that A jaded or con- cating that they want to do it simply temptuous dismissal of a proposal to do because it is a challenge. The phrase was something, because the person has first used by a mountaineer called George already done it.* Mallory, who was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. It is perhaps Beer and skittles See not all beer and skittles. worth noting that Mallory was killed Beer talking Means the same as alcohol trying to climb Mount Everest.* talking. Bed See bed of nails, bed of roses, curious Before the Flood A very long time ago.* bed-fellows, get into bed with them, get out of bed on the wrong side, in bed with, put it to bed Before their time (1) Describing some- and they’ve made their bed they’d better lie in it. thing that happened before a person was alive or before they were in a particular Bed of nails A disagreeable situation.* job (e.g. ‘Smith worked here before my Bed of roses An agreeable situation with time’). (2) Describing someone who has no problems.* ideas too advanced or modern for them to be accepted by their contemporaries * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BELOW THE SALT / 29 (e.g. ‘her ideas were before her time and it implied that this is done in order to harm was another 50 years before their worth the person.* was appreciated’).* Believe it or not The phrase indicates thatBefore they could say… Followed by a what follows, although sounding incred- word or phrase (a common one is ‘Jack ible, is in fact true (e.g. ‘believe it or not, Robinson’, but there are many others). people have gone to the Moon’).* Indicates that something happened very Believe you me A statement stressing the quickly.* or ** or *** Note: politeness rating depends on the truthfulness of what is being said (e.g. words used to finish the phrase. Most ‘believe you me, this is an important versions are innocuous. issue’).*Beg the question Make an argument Bell See bell the cat, bells and whistles, ring a without providing proof. Thus, a state- bell, ring their bell, saved by the bell and set ment which ‘begs the question’ raises a alarm bells ringing. logical point which needs an answer for the statement to make complete sense Bell the cat Undertake a dangerous job on (e.g. the phrase ‘I hate liver and onions behalf of a group.* and I ate a whole plate of it’ begs the Belle of the ball The most beautiful question ‘why eat so much of something person at a social gathering.* you hate?’).* Bells and whistles Describes extra facili-Beggar belief Be so incredible (in the strict ties that are provided with a piece of sense of the word, meaning ‘beyond cre- equipment or similar that generally are dence’) that it is extremely difficult to entertaining but provide no particularly believe it.* useful practical purpose.*Beggar on horseback A person who has Belly-up See go belly-up. acquired riches or power and has also become unpleasant.* Bellyful See have a bellyful.Begging See going begging. Below par Means the same as under par.Beginning of the end The start of a Below stairs (1) The area below street level process that leads to the end of some- in houses so equipped. (2) The servants in thing. The phrase is nearly always used to a (rich) household. This use of the phrase describe something seen as the harbinger comes from the fact that the servants typ- of something unpleasant.* ically did a lot of their work (e.g. cooking) in the below stairs area. (3) TheBehind closed doors In secret.* members of staff considered least impor-Behind the eight ball To be in a difficult tant by the management of a company (in position. The term comes from the game joking reference to definition 2).* of pool and refers to being in a position Below the belt Describes behaviour that is where it is very difficult to play a shot.* unfair, often with an implied sadisticBehind the scenes Secretly, or without intention (e.g. ‘asking her about her widespread knowledge.* recently deceased mother at the inter- view was below the belt’). The phraseBehind the times Lacking up-to-date comes from boxing – punches below the information.* belt (i.e. that could hurt the genitals) are not allowed. Contrast with under the belt.*Behind their back If something is done behind a person’s back, it is done without Below the salt Inferior social status.* them being aware of it. Usually it is
  • 30 / BELT AND BRACES Belt and braces Having extra safety Best bib and tucker The most formal, measures in place in case the primary set smartest clothes. The phrase does not of safety measures fail. In other words, imply baby clothes or overalls, but like wearing both a belt and braces (sus- instead refers to items of clothing that penders in US English) to prevent were once part of formal women’s wear.* trousers falling down.* Best foot forward Make the best possible Bend over backwards To do everything attempt at something. The phrase is possible. The phrase is usually used to probably an amendment of an earlier emphasize how hard the work has been phrase ‘best foot foremost’, which would (e.g. ‘I’ve bent over backwards doing this be appropriate advice in adopting, e.g., a project’).* fighting pose in facing an opponent in combat.* Bend the elbow Drink alcoholic bever- ages.* Best of a bad lot Someone or something that is not very good, but was better than Bend their ear Talk to someone. The what else was available.* phrase usually indicates that this talk goes on too long and is far from Best of both worlds If something is the relaxing.* ‘best of both worlds’ then it combines the benefits of more than one thing.* Bend their ear back Means the same as bend their ear. Best of British Short for ‘the best of British luck’, which means simply ‘good Bend with the wind (1) Alter opinions to luck’.* suit the prevailing mood. (2) Alter to adjust to changing conditions.* Best will in the world See with the best will in the world. Beneath them Describes something that is socially, intellectually and/or morally of Bet See all bets are off, bet your…, best bet, don’t such inferior status that it cannot be bet on it, good bet, hedge their bets, I bet and imagined that the person being discussed safe bet. would do it.* Bet your… Followed by the name of Benefit of the doubt See give them the something precious to the person. This benefit of the doubt. varies in politeness: e.g. ‘you bet your life’, ‘you bet your bottom dollar’ or ‘you Benjamin’s mess Means the same as bet your last cent’ (the latter two mean Benjamin’s portion. ‘bet everything you have’) are harmless. Benjamin’s portion The largest share. On the other hand, ‘you bet your ass’ is The phrase is from the Old Testament, in slightly ruder (the phrase refers to a part which Benjamin (Joseph’s brother) of the anatomy, not a donkey). The term receives a substantially larger proportion means ‘it’s absolutely certain’, the impli- of food servings than his brothers.* cation being that a person could wager something very precious to themselves Bent out of shape Irritated and bad- on the outcome because it is an absolute tempered.* certainty.* or ** or *** Berth See give them a wide berth. Note: politeness rating depends on the word or words used to finish the phrase. Beside themselves with anger To be very Better dead than red The slogan of angry.* right-wing members of NATO during Best bet The wisest option to choose (e.g. the Cold War that it would be better to ‘your best bet is to buy it now, because perish in a nuclear war than live under once the sale is over it will cost a lot communist rule imposed by a victorious more’.)* Warsaw Pact. This led to the riposte from * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BEYOND THE PALE / 31 anti-nuclear war campaigners that is was alternatives, both equally unattractive better red than dead, meaning that it was and dangerous.* better to live, albeit under an unpleasant Between the eyes See right between the eyes. regime, than suffer a nuclear war. The phrases are sometimes more generally Between the lines The true meaning of applied to situations where resistance to something as opposed to its superficial something unwelcome has considerable appearance.* costs.* Between you, me and the bedpostBetter half Joking term for partner (partic- Means the same as between you, me and the ularly husband or wife). The phrase was gatepost. created by Sir Phillip Sydney, who meant it rather more seriously.* Between you, me and the gatepost A phrase indicating that what follows isBetter late than never Phrase expressing confidential and should be told to the argument that it is better that some- nobody else.* thing is done than it is not done at all (regardless of whether it is done punctu- Between you, me and the wall Means the ally).* same as between you, me and the gatepost.Better nature A person’s more gentle, Betwixt and between Of uncertain accepting personality attributes.* identity.*Better red than dead See better dead than Beware of Greeks bearing gifts (1) A red. warning to be wary of a gift or other friendly act that is given for no logicalBetter safe than sorry Phrase expressing reason. (2) A warning to be wary of the argument that it is better to be enemies who suddenly begin acting in a cautious and avoid injury than to be hasty conciliatory fashion. The phrase is and get hurt. The phrase is often used as a derived from the story of the Trojan justification for doing something slowly Horse, which was a gift from the Greeks but carefully, even if it puts things behind to the Trojans, and which resulted in the schedule.* fall of Troy.*Better than a poke in the eye with a Beyond me See it’s beyond me. sharp stick Means that something, although not the best possible, is better Beyond the black stump Lacking the than other far worse alternatives.* amenities that are considered normal in an industrialized society.*Better the devil known Meaning that it is preferable to deal with an unpleasant Beyond the grave If someone ‘reaches person whose personality and tactics are from beyond the grave’ it means that even known rather than someone unknown, after they have died, the effects of what who may be nicer, but who could also be they did whilst alive are still being expe- far nastier. There are several permutations rienced.* of this phrase.* Beyond the pale Denotes behaviour that isBetting is that It is anticipated that.* unacceptable by normal standards. The phrase derives from pales, which wereBetween a rock and a hard place Means English settlements in occupied coun- the same as between the Devil and the deep tries. Within the pales English law was blue sea. obeyed, but outside it was not. Hence, beyond the pale lay activities not con-Between the Devil and the deep blue trolled by English law and custom, which sea Faced with choosing between two (in English eyes, if nobody else’s) ‘must’ be uncivilized.*
  • 32 / BEYOND THEIR WILDEST DREAMS Beyond their wildest dreams Something Big cheese The most important person in a that exceeds all expectations.* group or organisation. The phrase is a corruption of an Urdu phrase meaning Bib See best bib and tucker. ‘important thing’.* Bible thumping Having a strong zeal for Big Daddy The leader of a group.* expounding Christian doctrine. The phrase often infers a Christian who Big deal (1) An important event or thing. strongly emphasises the punishments The phrase is often used in the question directed at non-believers at the expense what’s the big deal? (meaning, ‘what is so of consideration of forgiveness and toler- important?’), asked when someone is ance.* making a fuss over something the speaker thinks is unimportant. (2) The phrase can Big… A person described as ‘the big…’ be used in the negative (no big deal) to followed by a single word (e.g. ‘fish’, indicate that something is not important. ‘wheel’, ‘gun’, ‘noise’) is likely to be the (3) Used sarcastically, the phrase can most important person in a particular mean ‘who cares?’ (e.g. ‘big deal! – group or organisation. However, context nobody’s interested’).* is vital in making this judgement. See big cheese.* Big E See give the big E. Big ask (1) Something that is difficult to Big enchilada Means the same as big cheese. achieve. (2) A request to do something Big fish in a small pond A person or that is demanding or onerous.* group who dominate a small set of people Big bickies Australian colloquialism or groups. The implication is that if there meaning ‘lots of money’.* were more people or groups, there would be a good chance that there would be Big boy (1) A man experienced enough to other people/groups who would be be able to cope (e.g. ‘Brian is a big boy more powerful.* now, he can handle this problem by himself ’). (2) A large muscular or fat man. Big girl (1) A woman experienced enough There is often an innuendo that the man to be able to cope (e.g. ‘Berenice is a big has a large penis.* (1) or ** (2) girl now, she can handle this problem by herself ’). (2) A woman with a curvaceous, Big Brother is watching you In other muscular or fat figure. There is often an words, somebody is checking up on what innuendo that the woman has large you are doing. The phrase nearly always breasts.* (1) or ** (2) refers to the government or another important organisation such as the police Big girl’s blouse The phrase is used force or tax inspectors. It is derived from to describe a male who is seen as 1984, a novel by George Orwell, in which cowardly.** everyone led a miserable life and where Big noise An important person.* every activity was controlled by a govern- ment headed by a mysterious but Big tick and a gold star A joking way of ever-present man called ‘Big Brother’.* offering praise.* Big butter and egg man An insulting term Big time Fame, riches and/or success.* describing a person who has become a success in a small town or country region Big white chief See great white chief. who then moves to a big city to try to Bill and coo Show affection. The phrase is appear to be a big success there. There is often used of couples in the early stage of usually an implication that such a person a relationship. The phrase is derived from gets things hopelessly wrong, does not the courtship behaviour of pigeons and know the right social moves, etc.* doves.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BIT ON THE SIDE / 33Bind hand and foot Limit activities interests or opinions tend to be friendly and/or freedom of movement.* with each other).*Bird See bird has flown, bird in the hand, bird of Birthday suit Nakedness.* passage, bird’s-eye view, birds and the bees, Biscuit See take the biscuit. birds of a feather, do bird, early bird, eat like a bird, flip the bird, for the birds, get the bird, Bit See entries below and: champ at the bit, do give them the bird, have a bird, kill two birds their bit and get the bit between the teeth. with one stone, little bird told them and rare bird. Bit of a do A party (e.g. ‘we’re having a bit of a do on Saturday night – would youBird has flown The statement ‘the bird has like to come?’).* flown’ means that someone has disap- peared or escaped.* Bit of a to-do An argument (e.g. ‘Brian and Cathy’s disagreement over the weddingBird in the hand The start of a saying – ‘a plans led to a bit of a to-do between their bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ respective families’).* (i.e. a bird already captured is worth two birds a person has yet to capture; if the Bit of all right Something or someone only place a captured bird can be kept is agreeable. A person considered ‘a bit of in the hand, chasing after more birds all right’ is usually being referred to as means having to put down the bird sexually desirable rather than for any already caught, which would then other aspect of themselves.** escape). The saying implies that it is Bit of crackling An attractive woman. The better to be content with what one has term is dated and offensive.*** already got, since going after something better may mean losing what is already Bit of fluff A derogatory term for a owned and without the guarantee of woman, typically a girlfriend seen as getting something else. Thus, a ‘bird in being attractive but unintelligent. the hand’ is something that may not be Although once considered acceptable, the best available, but at least there is the the term is now thought to be offensive certainty of owning something.* and should be avoided.***Bird of passage A person who rarely stays Bit of rough A person of coarse or unso- in one place or job for very long.* phisticated manners and appearance. The phrase is nearly always used as a descrip-Bird’s-eye view (1) The view from above tion of a sexual partner who is appealing (i.e. as a bird flying overhead would see to people with certain tastes because it). (2) The phrase is sometimes used to their coarseness and lack of sophistica- mean an overview or summary, typically tion are found sexually exciting. See from someone who can offer an impartial rough trade.*** judgement.* Bit of skirt Means the same as bit of fluff.Birds and the bees A euphemism for ‘sexual intercourse’. Most often used Bit of stuff Means the same as bit of fluff. when describing teaching a child the Bit on the side (1) Secretly having sexual basic information about sex (e.g. ‘John’s relations with someone other than an mother told him about the birds and the official partner. (2) A person who engages bees’).* in this activity (e.g. ‘he was her bit on theBirds of a feather People with similar side’). (3) Money earned in addition to a interests or opinions. Shortened form of salaried job (usually with the implication the saying ‘birds of a feather stick that this is illicit payment not being together’ (meaning: people of similar declared to the tax authorities).**
  • 34 / BIT RICH Bit rich A comment that someone is being Bite their lip Suppress the urge to say hypocritical (e.g. ‘it’s a bit rich him com- something in the interests of keeping a plaining like that about Sue when his secret or avoiding starting an argument. behaviour was just as bad’).* Refers to the action of pressing the teeth into the lower lip (without drawing Bit thick (1) Slightly stupid. (2) Unfair. (3) blood) as a facial gesture indicating that a Exaggerated or inaccurate.* (2 and 3) or person could say something on the ** (1) subject but is not going to.* Bitch goddess A person who ‘worships the Bite their tongue Means the same as bite bitch goddess’ is obsessed with making their lip. money and gaining status above consid- erations of friendship, compassion, etc.** Biter bit Describes a person coming to harm by the methods that he or she Bitch slap (1) A blow to the side of the usually uses to do harm to others.* head. (2) A rebuke to a person to remind them that they are of inferior status.** Bits and bobs A collection of unimportant things.* Bite at the cherry An opportunity to do something. See second bite at the cherry.* Bits and pieces Means the same as bits and bobs. Bite is worse than their bark See bark is worse than their bite. Bitten by the bug Gain a strong enthusi- asm for something (e.g. ‘she was bitten by Bite me A general-purpose retort express- the stamp collecting bug at an early ing displeasure with someone.* age’).* Bite off more than they can chew To be Bitter end The very final section of some- over-ambitious and attempt something thing. If a person did something ‘to the that is too difficult.* bitter end’ it generally is implied that he Bite the big one Die.* or she did all that it was possible to do.* Bite the bullet Accept a punishment or Bitter pill Something that is accepted with difficult situation without complaining. difficulty. The phrase is nearly always The phrase comes from the fact that in used in the larger phrase ‘a bitter pill to the days before anaesthesia, soldiers swallow’.* being operated on on the battlefield were Black See entries below and: beyond the given a bullet to bite on, rather than cry black stump, in the black and not as black as out.* they are painted. Bite the dust Die, or be defeated. In spite Black and blue Severely bruised. Thus, of being a staple phrase of Westerns, the ‘beat someone black and blue’ and similar phrase is probably English in origin.* phrases mean to hit someone hard and Bite the hand that feeds Show ingrati- repeatedly.* tude by offending or hurting a person Black and white (1) Describes the who has shown kindness and/or offered opinions and thoughts of someone who monetary or other support.* thinks of things in terms of being totally Bite their hand off Eagerly accept an right or totally wrong, and who does not offer.* recognize that some things are neither wholly right nor wholly wrong (e.g. ‘he Bite their head off Respond in an thinks of things in black and white – unpleasant or aggressive manner. The he can only perceive absolutes’). (2) phrase often implies an irrationally severe Describes something that is very clearly response.* described with no possibility of doubt * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BLESSING IN DISGUISE / 35 (e.g. ‘the matter is a simple black and Black spot An area with a reputation for white issue’). (3) Describes something something unpleasant (e.g. an ‘accident printed or written so that there is no black spot’ is an area where there is a doubt of its existence (e.g. ‘of course it’s higher than usual proportion of acci- true – there it is in black and white in dents).* today’s newspaper’).* Blank See blank cheque, blank look, draw aBlack books A list of people in disgrace, in blank and fire blanks. debt, or similar. Hence to be in someone’s Blank cheque [or check] A promise to black books is to be in disgrace. Not to be pay anything. If person B has a blank confused with little black book.* cheque from person A, it means thatBlack box (1) A device whose contents are person A has authorized person B to buy unknown, but that given a particular whatever person B thinks is appropriate, input is known to produce a particular and that person A will pay the bill.* output. More generally, any device that Blank look A facial expression indicating clearly does something, but whose no recognition.* internal workings are either unknown or are known but are too difficult to under- Blanket See born the wrong side of the blanket stand by non-experts. (2) A device (e.g. and wet blanket. on aircraft) that records the mechanical performance of an aircraft along with Blarney stone See kissed the Blarney stone. bearing, altitude, etc., and if the plane Blast from the past (1) Something capable crashes, can provide valuable information of evoking clear memories of a past event. on what the plane was doing just before it (2) Something that was very popular in crashed. This device is not coloured black the past (particularly a pop song or (it is usually a bright orange colour) but movie).* its name is derived from the fact that pilots called it the ‘black box’ (using defi- Blaze See blaze a trail and like blazes. nition 1) because they claimed not to Blaze a trail Be the first to do something understand how it worked.* that other people can then imitate andBlack dog Depression.* improve upon.*Black look An expression of disgust or Blaze a way Means the same as blaze a trail. anger.* Bleed dry Make very weak. The phraseBlack mark The phrase is often used in a usually refers to someone who has to pay larger phrase such as ‘a black mark some large bills.* against their name’ or ‘a black mark Bleed white Means the same as bleed dry. against someone’. It means that a person is noted for having done something that Bleeding hell Means the same as bloody is disapproved of by other people.* hell.Black market The trade in illegal or stolen Bleeding obvious Very obvious. The property (e.g. ‘there is a thriving black phrase usually denotes that something is market trade in counterfeit goods’).* so obvious that it did not have to be stated.**Black sheep A person who differs from the rest of a group or family, and who is Bless their little cotton socks A joking usually considered to lead a shameful or phrase of praise.* embarrassing life. The phrase comes from Blessing in disguise Something which at a superstition that black sheep were more first appears bad, but which may in fact aggressive or unpleasant than white be good. For example, not winning an sheep.* elephant in a raffle.*
  • 36 / BLIND Blind See entries immediately following Blink of an eye Something that happens this one, and also effing and blinding, flying in ‘the blink of an eye’ happens very blind, go it blind, play a blinder and rob them quickly.* blind. Blinkered vision Having only a limited or Blind alley A piece of thinking that is even just a single opinion about some- wrong and has to be rejected. The term is thing, and being unwilling to change. often used in research and other forms of The term is derived from horse racing; investigation where people must examine some horses are fitted with blinkers a wide range of ideas and theories, some (hoods that partly cover the eyes) that of which are useful and some of which prevent them seeing much to either side are ‘blind alleys’.* of them.* Blind as a bat To have poor eyesight.* Block See knock their block off, on the block, out of the blocks, put their head on the block, Blind bit of… The phrase emphasizes round the block and stumbling block.* what follows (e.g. ‘it won’t make a blind bit of difference’ emphasizes that it will Blonde See entry below and: don’t be blonde. have no effect).* Blonde moment A moment of lack of Blind date An arranged meeting (usually a intelligent thought. The phrase is ‘date’ in the sense of seeing someone potentially offensive and should be with romantic intentions) for two people avoided.*** who do not know each other but whom a Blood See entries below and: after their mutual acquaintance believes will find blood, bad blood, baying for blood, cold each other attractive.* blooded, first blood, hot blooded, in cold blood, Blind leading the blind Poor leadership in their blood, like getting blood out of a stone, with underlings obediently following make their blood boil, make their blood curdle, bad commands. The phrase comes from make their blood freeze, make their blood run the New Testament.* cold, new blood, out for blood, scent blood, sweat blood and young blood. Blind spot (1) An area in the field of vision where nothing can be seen. (2) An area of Blood and iron Military power. The knowledge of which a person is ignorant. phrase is often used to indicate the use of The phrase is often used more specifically force rather than persuasion.* to imply a failure to recognize something Blood and sand An exclamation of that others can clearly understand (e.g. annoyance.** ‘everyone else knows that Edmund is a liar, but Tony seems to have a blind spot Blood and thunder (1) Violent or very about him and cannot see this’).* energetic physical activity. (2) Exagger- ated claims or expressed feelings (e.g. ‘the Blind test A situation in which people test president’s speech on the day war was the worth of something without declared was full of blood and thunder’).* knowing important aspects of its identity (e.g. testing the tastes of different types of Blood is thicker than water A saying that cola without knowing the brand names claims that loyalty to family members is of the colas they are tasting).* greater than loyalty to anything else.* Blind with science Use superior knowl- Blood is up A person whose ‘blood is up’ is edge of science or technology (especially in an argumentative mood.* through use of jargon) to confuse another person.* Blood money Money gained from the death of a person. The phrase can thus mean: (1) money paid as compensation to relatives of a dead person; (2) money paid * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BLOW HIGH, BLOW LOW / 37 to someone to commit a murder; or (3) considered a relatively mild piece of money paid to a person who provides swearing by many people. Nonetheless, information on where someone accused avoid using the phrase if possible.** of murder is hiding. The phrase can also Bloody Norah An expletive.** be used contemptuously to denote money taken by a person for doing some- Bloom is off the rose Something is no thing that involves betraying friends, col- longer as novel or exciting as it was origi- leagues, and/or principles.* nally.*Blood on the carpet Describes a serious Blot on the landscape An ugly building argument in a company or other institu- or other artificial feature that mars the tion (e.g. ‘there was blood on the carpet appearance of area in which it is located. during the pay dispute’). The phrase is a By extension, anything that mars an oth- deliberate exaggeration, and does not erwise agreeable situation.* imply that blood has actually been spilt.* Blot on their copybook A poor piece ofBlood on their hands People who are work or misbehaviour that harms a responsible for the death of someone are person’s reputation. A copybook was a said to have ‘blood on their hands’. The school writing book used to practise pen- phrase can refer to murder, or to causing a manship. Obviously, a blot of ink would death by accident.* make a page of calligraphy look untidy.*Blood, sweat and tears A piece of work Blot on their escutcheon Something that that requires blood, sweat and tears is one harms their reputation. An escutcheon is that requires a great deal of effort. The a heraldic shield.* phrase is an exaggeration, and does not imply that the task will in reality require Blouse and skirt An exclamation of anyone to bleed, sweat or cry.* surprise (West Indian).**Blood will out A phrase expressing the Blow a fuse Be angry.* belief that, eventually, a person’s geneti- Blow a gasket Means the same as blow a cally inherited characteristics (particu- fuse. larly those affecting personality) will display themselves, no matter how they Blow a hole in Render useless.* have been raised.* Blow away (1) Impress with a high level ofBlood’s worth bottling If someone’s skill. (2) Kill.* ‘blood’s worth bottling’, then they are Blow away the cobwebs Gain a new seen as being a pleasant person and/or a outlook on something or feel livelier good worker.* after a period of being relatively listless.Bloody but unbowed Still resolved on the The phrase often implies this is because same course of action in spite of receiving of the rejection of old methods of serious disappointments or pain.* thinking and/or behaving.*Bloody hell An exclamation of annoyance, Blow-by-blow account An account of either used by itself as a one-off piece of everything that happened (as opposed to swearing, or in various grammatical per- a summary of what happened).* mutations (e.g. ‘what the bloody hell’s Blow chunks Vomit.** going on here, then?’, ‘bloody hell, what do you think you’re doing?’, etc.). The Blow high, blow low A phrase used to phrase was at one stage considered more describe something that is inevitable.* offensive than it is these days, but the Blow hot and cold To alternate between frequency of its use in the media has enthusiasm and apathy. See go hot and desensitized people to it, and it is now cold.*
  • 38 / BLOW HOT AND COLD Blow off course Cause a serious disrup- Blow them off Sometimes used in the tion in plans.* same way as blow them, but more commonly means ‘annoy them’.* Blow off steam Release pent-up anger, energy or frustration.* Blow up in their face If something ‘blows up in a person’s face’, then a plan a Blow out of the water Utterly refute an person has made has gone wrong and, in argument or claim.* the process of going wrong, has caused Blow sky-high (1) Completely refute an serious problems for the person.* argument. (2) Utterly destroy something Blow with the wind Change opinions or by an explosion.* plans according to what others are doing Blow the doors off Be considerably better or what circumstances dictate. The than someone or something else.* phrase is usually an accusation of failing to be resolute rather than praise for being Blow the gaff Reveal a secret.* accommodating and/or pragmatic.* Blow the lid off (1) Become uncontrolla- Blowing the money Spending large ble. (2) Reveal a secret.* amounts of money. The implication is Blow the whistle Means the same as blow usually that this is all the money a person the gaff. has or more money than they can afford to spend.* Blow their cover Discover the true identity of someone who has been using Blown away Strongly impressed and/or a false identity.* pleased.* Blow their mind Do something that Blue-arsed fly A busy person.** strongly affects another person (typically Blue-eyed boy [or girl] An especially by doing something that they thought favoured person.* was impossible).* Blue movie Movie that gives a graphic Blow their own trumpet Be boastful.* depiction of sexual activity.* Blow their socks off (1) Impress them. (2) Blue pencil Censorship or censoring. So Have a profound impression because of called because censors of wartime corre- its strength. The phrase is usually applied spondence would often scribble out to a strong alcoholic drink or a very hot offending passages of writing using a spicy meal such as a very hot curry. Note blue pencil.* that because of blow them’s definition (2), there is the potential for a double Blue sky research Research directed at entendre with these phrases.* new areas of study without consideration of possible commercial benefits.* Blow their top Become angry.* Blue streak See talk a blue streak. Blow them (1) In UK English, the phrase is an expression of annoyance. (2) In US Blue touch-paper See light the blue touch- English, the phrase means ‘to engage in paper. oral sex’.* (1) or *** (2) Blue yonder See wide blue yonder. Blow them away Impress them. Note that Bluff See call their bluff. because of blow them’s definition (2), there is the potential for a double entendre Blushes See spare their blushes. with this phrase.* Board See above board, across the board, back to the drawing board, bring on board, come on board, go by the board, on board, on the * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BOOM BOOM! / 39 drawing board, sweep the board and take on assumed to be more noticeable than other board. metals.*Boat See float the boat, in the same boat, push the Bollocks (1) Testicles. (2) An expression of boat out and rock the boat. disgust or denial (e.g. ‘that’s a load of bollocks!’). (3) A derivative – ‘bollocking’Bob and weave Make ducking and – means a severe reprimand (e.g. ‘he got a side-to-side movements (akin to those of bollocking for making that mistake’).*** a boxer in a fight).* Bolt See bolt from the blue, make a bolt for andBob’s your uncle A phrase which basi- shot the bolt. cally means ‘there you have it!’ It is usually used after describing a process or Bolt from the blue Something completely plan, and carries the meaning that things unexpected.* will be easily achieved. Numerous Bomb See go like a bomb and put a bomb under theories of the origin of this phrase have it. been made, but there is no single plausi- ble explanation.* Bondi See give them bondi.Body and soul The phrase means ‘body Bone See entries below and: bare bones, close and mind’ and is used to emphasize that to the bone, cut to the bone, feel in the bones, the speaker is working hard at something make no bones about it and work their fingers and is fully committed to the aims of the to the bone. project he or she is working on (e.g. ‘I’m giving body and soul to this piece of Bone of contention The cause of an work’). * argument or a disagreement.*Body beautiful A body shape considered Bone to pick Having a cause for an to be attractive.* argument with someone.*Body blow A problem that causes serious Bone up on Study.* difficulties.* Book Used as a verb, the term can mean toBog off Impolite way of saying ‘go reserve something (e.g. theatre tickets or away’.** an appointment) or to note somebody down for punishment (e.g. ‘the refereeBog standard Normal or unexceptional booked the soccer player’). See black quality.* books, bring to book, can’t judge a book by its cover, close the book, closed book, cook theBoil See boil down to, come to the boil and off books, go by the book, in my book, in their bad the boil. books, in their good books, little black book,Boil down to Reduce to its basic compo- little red book, make a book, on the books, open nents. Thus ‘boiling down’ a lengthy book, read them like a book, suit their book and story means giving a summary of it.* throw the book at them.Bold as brass Outward-going and brave Boom boom! Used after telling a joke to without apparent concern for what indicate that that is the end of the joke others might think of this behaviour. The and that it is funny. The phrase was origi- phrase may be derived from a Mr Brass nally used by stand-up comedians, but (one time Mayor of London) noted for these days is usually used in a more ironic behaviour of this type. Others have fashion to indicate that the joke isn’t all argued that it is because brass, like all that funny (which of course begs the metals, has no feelings and thus cannot question – why tell the joke in the first comprehend the comments made about place?). A variant is I don’t wish to know it. Because it looks like gold, it might be that, kindly leave the stage, which was said
  • 40 / BOOT by one of a pair of comedians on stage Born in the purple Born to wealthy and after the other had told a joke.* influential parents.* Boot See entries below and: died with their Born the wrong side of the bedclothes boots on, fill their boots, given the boot, hang Means the same as born the wrong side of the up their…, heart sinks into the boots, lick their blanket. boots, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, Born the wrong side of the blanket put the boot in, quake in their boots, seven Born to unmarried parents.* league boots, step into their boots, to boot, to their bootstraps, too big for their boots and Born with a silver spoon in their tough as old boots. mouth Describes a person born into a rich family. Typically there is the added Boot is on the other foot The situation is implication that the family, as well as reversed (e.g. if person A was dominant being rich, has considerable influence over person B but now person B is and is possibly aristocratic.* dominant over person A, then it could be said that ‘the boot is on the other foot’.* Both feet on the ground Sensible and practical and thus unlikely to be prone to Boots and all Totally.* daydreaming or impractical thoughts.* Bootstraps See pull themselves up by their Bottle out Lose courage.* bootstraps and to their bootstraps. Bottom See entries below and: at the bottom Bore the arse off Be very boring.*** of it and get to the bottom of it. Bore the backside off Be very boring.** Bottom drawer Collection of basic house- Bore the pants off Be very boring.* hold items bought by an unattached person (usually woman) living in the Bored rigid Means the same as bored stiff. parental home, in preparation for the day Bored stiff To be very bored (though parts when they marry/cohabit and need the of the anatomy do not have to become said items in a home of their own.* stiff ).* Bottom falls out of it Typically describes Bored to death To be very bored. The how a once-prosperous industry sudd- phrase is not literal.* enly becomes unprofitable because con- sumers suddenly buy another product Bored to tears To be extremely bored (e.g. ‘after an initial period of prosperity, (though crying is not necessary). The the bottom fell out of the dot.com phrase may refer to crying out of frustra- market’). Can also describe a sudden tion at being bored, or may refer to a state decline in popularity in other things.* of such boredom that a person forgets to blink and thus tears well up in their eyes.* Bottom line The most important facts in a situation (e.g. ‘forget the details – what’s Born See entries below and: don’t know they the bottom line?’). The phrase is often are born, not got the manners they were born used to indicate the things that must be with, there’s one born every minute and to the done (rather than things that are desirable manner born. but not essential).* Born and bred A person who is said to be a Bottom of the heap At the least powerful ‘born and bred’ something (e.g. ‘a born and/or prestigious position.* and bred academic’, ‘a born and bread baker’) is felt to be so utterly suited for Bottom of the ladder Means the same as something by background and upbring- bottom of the heap. ing that it is difficult to imagine them Bottom of the pile Means the same as being anything else.* bottom of the heap. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BRAZEN IT OUT / 41Bottom out Reach the lowest point (e.g. of Brahms and Liszt Slang for ‘drunk’. The a line on a graph).* phrase comes from Cockney rhyming slang.*Bottom rung Means the same as bottom of the heap. Brainstorming session A group meeting where ideas on how to solve a problem orBottoms up A salutation before drinking attain a particular target are discussed. an alcoholic drink. The request is to tip The implication is usually that discussion the bottom of the glass upwards in order will not be restricted by having to follow to drink the contents – it does not refer to a rigid agenda.* the drinkers’ bottoms.* Brass farthing Something of no worth.Bought it Died.* The phrase is usually used in a statementBought the farm Means the same as kick such as ‘I wouldn’t give a brass farthing’, the bucket.* and thus is used to indicate that whatever is being discussed is of little or no value –Bounce an idea off them Discuss an idea e.g. ‘I wouldn’t give a brass farthing for with someone.* their chances’ (i.e. ‘I feel their chances areBouncing off the walls (1) Angry.* poor’) or ‘I couldn’t give a brass farthing’ (2) Overexcited and lively.* (i.e. ‘I have no interest in the matter’).*Bowing and scraping Being over- Brass hats Senior officers in the armed respectful to the extent that other people services. Named after the brass ornamen- think a person looks ridiculous. The term tation on the caps of their uniforms.* comes from terms for polite gestures of Brass monkey weather Very cold obedience.* weather. The term is derived from theBowl a googly Do something unexpected. phrase ‘it’s cold enough to freeze the The phrase usually carries the implica- balls off a brass monkey’. The origins of tion that it is not only unexpected but that rather colourful phrase are not also presents difficulties.* known for certain, though interesting theories have been advanced.**Bowl of cherries An agreeable situation or experience.* Brass neck Insolence.*Box and cox Share accommodation with.* Brass ring A desirable prize (e.g. ‘the com- petitors tried hard as they were allBox clever Be skilful, but cautious.* reaching for the brass ring’).*Box into a corner Force a person into a Brass tacks The most important parts of a position where they have a restricted discussion. The phrase let’s get down to range of options. The phrase comes from brass tacks means ‘let’s talk about the boxing: a weaker opponent can be really important things we must discuss manoeuvred by the tactics of the stronger rather than talk about minor details’.* boxer into a corner of the boxing ring, where he (or she) is more vulnerable to Brassed off Means the same as cheesed off. attack.* Brazen it out Survive criticism or interro-Boy next door See girl next door. gation by persisting in expressing an explanation that is false, or at least notBoys will be boys An argument that completely truthful. The inference is that apparently idiotic behaviour is to be a person continues to express their story expected from young males because it is until the critics or interrogators give up ‘in their nature’. The argument has little trying to disprove the story.* scientific merit and cannot be accepted as a valid reason for loutish behaviour.*
  • 42 / BREAD AND BUTTER Bread and butter (1) The main or sole phrase can refer to someone who literally source of income (e.g. ‘I earn my bread was hidden and can now be seen, or to a and butter in a rather dull job’). (2) The person who appears in public after a routine parts of a job (e.g. ‘my bread and period of being reclusive.* butter work is a matter of checking that Break fresh ground Means the same as forms are filled in correctly, but occasion- break new ground. ally I get to do something rather more unusual and exciting’). (3) A description Break new ground Do something innova- of a dull or unrewarding job (e.g. ‘it’s tive.* bread and butter work’).* Break of day Dawn.* Bread and butter letter A letter written as a matter of routine, especially a letter Break rank A person who ‘breaks rank’ from a guest thanking the host or hostess elects to do something that is not for their hospitality during a visit.* approved of by the group to which they belong.* Bread and circuses A description of what keeps the majority of the population Break ship Fail to return to a job after a happy. The phrase comes from Ancient vacation.* Rome, when it was said that most of the Break the back (1) To weaken something population could be kept content with a (e.g. ‘I’ve broken the back of the struc- steady supply of basic foodstuffs and ture, so it should easily fall’). (2) To deal regular entertainments such as the with the hardest parts of a task, thereby Roman circuses (i.e. gladiatorial combats, making the rest of the task easier (e.g. ‘he criminals being fed to wild animals, etc.). broke the back of the problem’).* The phrase is sometimes used in a derog- atory sense to indicate either that a lot of Break the bank To spend more than is people can be satisfied with very basic possessed in savings. The phrase ‘it won’t things and have few intellectually stimu- break the bank’ means that a person can lating interests. It can also be used to afford to buy it. It is sometimes used to imply that government or industry bosses suggest that a person is being mean with are offering superficial forms of happi- their money and that their complaints ness to keep people happy rather than about how expensive something is are dealing with more serious problems.* unreasonable because they can easily afford to buy it.* Bread is buttered See know which side the bread is buttered. Break the ice Use an ice breaker. Bread upon the waters See cast bread upon Break the mould Do something innova- the waters. tive.* Breadline See on the breadline. Break their back A phrase meaning to work very hard (e.g. ‘I’m breaking my Break a butterfly on a wheel Use exces- back on this task’).* sive force to achieve something.* Break their neck Means the same as break Break a leg The phrase actually means their back. ‘good luck’. The phrase was originally used amongst actors, where it is often Breast beating Means the same as chest considered unlucky to say things such as beating. ‘good luck’ before a performance.* Breath See breath of fresh air, breath of life, Break bread with Eat with.* hold their breath, in the same breath, save their breath, take the breath away, waste their breath Break cover Become noticeable after a and with bated breath. period of being hidden from view. The * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BRING TO BAY / 43Breath of fresh air (1) A welcome change Bright young thing An intelligent young from the usual activities. (2) A person is adult. The phrase is nearly always used to said to act like a breath of fresh air if their describe someone who is not only intelli- arrival creates an improvement on what gent but also attractive (and almost was happening before they came.* invariably a young woman) with a friendly outgoing personality.*Breath of life (1) Something that is essen- tial for continued survival. (2) A reviving Bring a plate On a party invitation, it force.* means ‘bring food appropriate for a party with you’.*Breathe down their neck Constantly harass or scrutinize with unnecessary Bring down a peg or two To lower in thoroughness.* status, typically as punishment for arro- gance.*Breathe fire Be extremely angry.* Bring down about their ears (1) Ruin anBred in the bone See what’s bred in the bone. activity. (2) Create misfortune.*Brewery See couldn’t organize a piss-up in a Bring down the curtain Finish an brewery. activity.*Brick short of a load Insane or intellectu- Bring down to earth Forcibly remind ally ungifted.* somebody with an unrealistic interpreta-Brick wall See like banging their head against a tion of a situation of the true state of brick wall. affairs.*Bricking it Means the same as shit bricks. Bring home Make the importance of something apparent.*Bridesmaid See always the bridesmaid. Bring home the bacon To be successfulBridge See bridge the gap, build bridges and or, more generally, to earn money. The cross that bridge when we come to it. phrase probably derives from the ancientBridge the gap Create a connection custom of giving sides of bacon or ham as between two things or people previously prizes in competitions.* thought to have nothing in common or Bring in from the cold Revive someone’s even to be hostile to each other (e.g. ‘real- or something’s popularity after a period ising that the merger would help both of of unpopularity.* them bridged the gap between the chairmen of the two companies’).* Bring into play Introduce something new.*Bridge too far Something that is just beyond what is realistically attainable. Bring on board Integrate into a plan or Thus, someone attempting to reach a include in a group.* bridge too far is destined to fail.* Bring the house down Be a great successBrief See hold a brief. with an audience.*Bright as a button Intelligent and/or Bring them in on it Make someone part of cheerful and/or lively.* a plan or scheme.*Bright-eyed and bushy tailed Means the Bring to bay Capture. The term is from same as bright as a button. hunting with packs of dogs – the ‘bay’ refers to the baying of hounds that haveBright spark A clever person. The phrase trapped the prey.* is nearly always used sarcastically.* Bring to book Punish in a court of law.*
  • 44 / BRING TO BOOK Bring to heel Bring under close supervi- Buck-passing Means the same as passing sion or control.* the buck. Bring to their knees Considerably Buck stops here See passing the buck. weaken and/or defeat.* Buck up Show increased effort and/or Bring to their senses Make someone liveliness.* adopt a more logical opinion or behav- Buck up their ideas Show increased effort iour.* and quality of work.* Bring up short Do something that forces Bucketing down Raining heavily.* someone to stop what they are doing.* Buckley’s chance Australian phrase Bring up to code Renovate to make denoting no or little chance of success.* acceptable to new standards of regula- tions.* Bug Can mean an irritating person (e.g. ‘he’s an annoying little bug’), to annoy Bring up to speed Bring up to date: (e.g. ‘stop bugging me!’) or an illness (e.g. inform someone of all the relevant infor- ‘a lot of people have a nasty flu bug at the mation.* moment’). See also bitten by the bug.* or ** Broad as it’s long Describes the fact that Note: a request to ‘stop bugging me’ is two or more alternatives are equally rather less polite than a general statement that, e.g., ‘work is bugging me’. desirable (e.g. ‘it’s as broad as it’s long whether you do A or B first’).* Bugger all Ruder version of damn all.** Broad beamed Rather larger in the hips Buggin’s turn A task which everyone in and buttocks than might be deemed aes- turn has to do, rather than one which thetically appealing.* someone is chosen to do because of their abilities. For example, in an office Broad church Any organisation or group everyone may take turns to make the that accepts people with a wide range of morning coffee.* beliefs or methods of dealing with the same situation.* Bugs them Annoys them.* Brown study Daydream.* Build a better mousetrap A phrase indi- cating that some inventions or innova- Brown tonguing Means the same as ass tions will have guaranteed success. It licking. derives from the old saying that if a Browned off To be bored.* person invents a better mousetrap, then everyone will beat a path to that person’s Brownie points Credit or praise for doing door (in other words, everyone will want a particular task.* to buy the new mousetrap). At a time Bubble See entry below and: on the bubble when household vermin were more and prick the bubble. common than today, this may have been true, but these days the phrase is prover- Bubble has burst A situation that was suc- bial rather than a recipe for guaranteed cessful has suddenly and dramatically commercial success.* become a failure. The phrase often carries the implication that the situation was Build bridges Persuade people or groups never truly successful in the first place, previously hostile towards each other to and that much of the supposed success become friends, or at least to be less was in fact illusory (e.g. ‘the dot.com hostile.* bubble has burst and shares have plum- Built like a brick shithouse Strong- meted’).* looking.*** * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BURN THE MIDNIGHT OIL / 45Built on sand Created on insecure founda- Bunny boiler A person with psychopathic tions and thus likely to collapse. The or revengeful tendencies. The phrase is phrase is used particularly of logically often used jokingly of an ex-boyfriend or unsound arguments.* girlfriend who was vindictive when the relationship finished. The phrase isBulge See battle of the bulge and have the bulge derived from the film Fatal Attraction, in on. which a spurned woman revenges herselfBull at a gate See charge like a bull at a gate. on the man who rejected her by boiling his daughter’s pet rabbit.*Bull in a china shop A person who is tactless or upsets people by not doing Buried under… Unless a literal physical something with sufficient care and atten- burial is stated, then the term means tion.* ‘overwhelmed by…’ (e.g. ‘buried under paperwork’ means to have far too manyBullshit Bertie A person who talks a lot of administrative duties).* nonsense but is under the delusion that they are an expert.*** Burn a hole in their pocket If a person feels that their money is ‘burning a holeBully for… Followed by ‘you’ or ‘them’ or in their pocket’, then they are anxious to ‘him’ or ‘her’ etc. The phrase means ‘well spend money. The implication is usually done’ (e.g. ‘bully for you – you did really that the person is being impulsive rather well in your exams’). The phrase is often than prudent.* used sarcastically.* Burn daylight Use artificial light when theBum In UK English, the word is slang for a daylight from a window is more than person’s bottom, and is considered adequate for the task being done.* slightly rude. In US English, the word means ‘of poor quality’ or ‘a hobo’ or ‘a Burn out Become exhausted. The phrase is vagrant’ and is considered far less rude.* often used of people who are in demand- (USA) or ** (UK) ing and stressful jobs who reach a point where they are physically and/or psy-Bum bandit British abusive slang for a chologically incapable of continuing in male homosexual. A very offensive their profession.* term.*** Burn out of their system Become tired ofBum steer Misleading information.* doing something.*Bum’s rush To be ignored or rejected.* Burn rubber (1) Drive at high speedBump along the bottom Perform at a and/or recklessly. (2) Leave with great consistently poor level.* urgency.*Bumper to bumper Close together.* Burn the candle at both ends Engage in an activity with too much energy, therebyBums on seats ‘Bottoms on seats’ – in tiring oneself out. Typically there is the other words, a theatre audience. The added implication that the person con- phrase usually refers to the need to attract cerned has been missing sleep, staying up a large enough audience to make a too late, etc.* theatre commercially viable (e.g. ‘the critics hate him, but he’s good at getting Burn the floor Dance.* bums on seats’).* Burn the midnight oil Work long hoursBundle of laughs Means the same as barrel on a project. Usually there is the implica- of laughs. tion that such work is well beyond the limits of normal working hours and thatBunny See bunny boiler and happy bunny. the work is difficult.*
  • 46 / BURN THEIR BOATS Burn their boats Means the same as burn Busman’s holiday A holiday that is spent their bridges. doing an activity that is identical or very similar to that done at work (e.g. a literary Burn their bridges Do something that critic who spends her vacation reading prevents a return to an earlier stage and in new books might be said to be taking a effect commits to a particular plan or busman’s holiday). The phrase is derived course of action (e.g. ‘having resigned from bus drivers, who, in the days when from his job, John had burnt his bridges – buses were horse-drawn, were so he had to move’).* attached to their horses that they would Burn their fingers Fail badly in attempt- spend their holidays looking after their ing to do something. The phrase often horses, or riding on the bus to ensure refers to a failed business or financial their horse was properly cared for by the investment.* substitute driver.* Burning desire Strong desire.* Bust a gut Make a strenuous effort.* Burnt offerings Joking description of Bust their ass (1) Can mean the same as cooked food.* whip their ass. (2) Can also mean the same as bust their balls, but slightly less rude.** Burst the bubble Destroy an illusion.* Bust their balls Work very hard.*** Bursting at the seams At or exceeding maximum capacity.* Busted flush Something that has failed to reach expected standards of performance. Burton See gone for a burton. The phrase comes from the card game of Bury the hatchet Make peace.* poker (a flush is a high-scoring sequence of cards of the same suit; a busted flush Bury the tomahawk Means the same as lacks a card necessary for a complete bury the hatchet. sequence and is very low-scoring).* Bury their head in the sand The process Busy bee A person who always appears to of putting the head in the sand.* be busy, usually with the implication that Bush telegraph Information received from they like being busy. Probably the phrase gossip rather than an official source.* is derived from the observation that bees always appear to be busy, industrious Business Can mean ‘general situation’ animals.* rather than ‘a commercial company’. Thus, bad business, for example, can mean Butcher See fit as a butcher’s dog, have a that the general situation is bad. Monkey butcher’s and more meat on a butcher’s pencil. business means doing things ineptly or in Butler did it A joking attribution of a generally foolish way. See entries below responsibility for something. The phrase and: do the business, in business, like nobody’s is derived from a spate of murder mystery business and mean business.* stories in the 1920s and 1930s where the Business end The component of an appa- butler was the murderer.* ratus that produces the finished product Butter-fingered Prone to dropping (e.g. the ‘business end’ of a rifle is the end things.* of the barrel).* Butter up Flatter.* Business is business A justification for doing unpleasant things to people (e.g. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth firing people who are friends) because a Meaning that they appear innocent. commercial enterprise must pay attention There is usually the implication that this to profitability before emotional consid- appearance is deceptive and in fact they erations.* are guilty of something.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • BY WORD OF MOUTH / 47Butterflies in the stomach Feeling By hook or by crook By any means nervous. The phrase comes from the ‘flut- possible.* tering’ sensation sometimes felt in the By no stretch of the imagination An stomach area when nervous (in fact emphatic denial (e.g. ‘by no stretch of the caused by muscular contractions and imagination would we support this pro- excess stomach acid).* posal’).*Button See all the right buttons, at the touch of By numbers In a mechanical fashion a button, buttonhole, hot button, on the button, without any personal creative input. The press the button and push their buttons. phrase has numerous shades of meaning:Buttonhole To insist on telling someone e.g. (1) Following a set of instructions. (2) something, often against their will. The Performing a task that has become a phrase is often used of people campaign- simple matter of routine. (3) Performing a ing for a cause.* task without enthusiasm and simply doing things in a rote order fashion.*Buy a pup Pay far more for something than it is worth. By a similar reasoning, sell a By the book See go by the book. pup means to sell something for far more By the dozen Means the same as by the ton. than it is worth. Both phrases usually indicate that the seller was acting fraudu- By the gross Means the same as by the ton. lently.* By the same token By the same reasoningBuy time Delay activities in order to gain process.* more time for planning a response.* By the score Means the same as by the ton.Buzz off A request to go away.** Note: the phrase only just gets a ** rather By the seat of the pants Using intuition than * rating – it is very mild, and usually rather than training to accomplish some- does not indicate a high level of anger. thing.*By a canvas In a competition, if someone By the sweat of their brow By their own wins ‘by a canvas’ then they win by a hard work.* small distance or difference in scores. The phrase is derived from rowing (‘canvas’ is By the ton In large quantities. Like similar the distance between the front of the boat phrases (by the dozen/gross/score/yard) the and the first rower). There are similar precise quantity is not indicated by the phrases from other sports which also phrase – only a large quantity is implied. mean by a short distance or difference in Generally, the dimension in which scores – e.g. by a nose or by a head.* quantity is being measured is indicated by the last word in the phrase (e.g. ‘by theBy a head See by a canvas. ton’ indicates as measured by weight, ‘byBy a long chalk See not by a long chalk. the yard’ as measured by length, etc.), but this is not universally applied.*By a long shot By a considerable distance, quantity or margin.* By the yard Means the same as by the ton.By a nose See by a canvas. By their fingertips Only just attainable.*By a whisker By a very small margin.* By word of mouth Spoken (rather than written) communication.*By an eyelash Means the same as by a whisker.By and large Generally.*
  • 48 / CABOODLE C Caboodle See whole caboodle. Call the tune Means the same as call the shots. Caesar’s wife A person who must, because of the nature of their job or position, be Call their bluff If I call your bluff, then it morally beyond reproach.* means that I don’t believe what you are claiming, and I am asking you to prove it Cage See who rattled its cage? (e.g. ‘Harry didn’t believe that Jessica Caged lion A restless person.* owned five Rolls-Royces, so he called her bluff and asked her to show him the Cain See raise Cain. garage where she kept them’).* Cake See cakes and ale and can’t have your cake Call to arms Instructions to prepare for and eat it. conflict or to join a campaign.* Cakes and ale A time of trouble-free Calling card An indication that someone enjoyment.* has visited. The original calling card was Call a spade a spade Speak in a direct literally a small card with the name of the manner.* person and their address that was left at the house if the owner was not in.* Call in a favour Suppose that person A did something for person B and at the time Calm before the storm A period of unnat- asked for nothing in return. If at a later ural calm before the onset of something date person A asked person B to do some- unpleasant, such as an argument.* thing for person A, then this would be Came up Was mentioned.* described as ‘calling in a favour’.* Camp follower An unimportant person Call in their chips Means the same as call who declares allegiance to a group but in a favour. plays no particularly important role in Call it a day Stop doing something. The running or organising the group. The term can be used to describe either term originally described civilians who complete abandonment of something, or followed armies on the march, and who simply stopping work temporarily (e.g. at sold things to the soldiers.* the end of the working day).* Can a duck swim? A sarcastic reply to a Call it a night Cease an activity taking question to which the answer is obvious; place at night and go home to sleep.* for example, it might be the appropriate reply to the question ‘would you like to Call it quits (1) Abandon an activity or be incredibly wealthy?’* plan. (2) Agree that a debt has been paid or a favour returned.* Can it A firm request for someone to be quiet.** Call of nature Need to excrete or urinate.* Can of worms See open a can of worms. Call of the wild An urge to experience living in a country rather than urban Candle See burn the candle at both ends, can’t setting.* hold a candle, not worth a candle and not worth the candle. Call on the carpet Means the same as on the carpet. Candy store See like a child in a candy store. Call the shots Dictate how something Canned laughter Artificial-sounding should be done.* laughter. The term originally specifically referred to laughter soundtracks added * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • CARDS CLOSE TO THE CHEST / 49 on to (usually American) television Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s comedy shows from the 1950s through ear It is impossible to make something to the 1970s. These sounded artificial graceful and refined out of poor-quality and eventually were replaced with the ingredients.* sound of audiences who were watching Can’t make head nor tail of it Cannot the shows as they were made.* understand it.*Cannon fodder (1) Originally, a very Can’t rewrite history See rewrite history. unpleasant term for soldiers considered unimportant for the success of an army in Can’t see the wood for the trees Cannot a battle; their only use was seen as to see the general findings or implications waste enemy shells in killing them (i.e. because of an over-concentration on ‘cannon fodder’). (2) The term is now details.* sometimes used more generally for people considered unimportant and thus Canter See at a canter. most easily dispensed with (e.g. the first Cap See entries below and: feather in their to be made unemployed if a factory needs cap, if the cap fits, put on their thinking cap to lower the size of its workforce). (3) and set their cap at them. People assigned dangerous jobs or tasks.* Cap in hand Someone who is ‘cap inCan’t get a word in edgeways Cannot get hand’ is being obsequious and making a another person or people to listen to request for money or other assistance. what others have to say because they will The phrase comes from a time when prac- not let themselves be interrupted.* tically everybody wore a cap or hat. ACan’t have it both ways See have it both person asking for money would be ways. talking to a social and/or financial superior, and thus out of politenessCan’t have your cake and eat it Meaning would have taken off his cap or hat and that if there are two mutually exclusive held it in their hands. The cap would not choices (i.e. you can have one or the be held out for money as done by, e.g., other) you cannot have one and then the some beggars.* other. The phrase was originally ‘you can’t eat your cake and then have it’, Cap it all Something that finishes a process which makes a lot more sense than the or story. There is usually the implication modern version.* that it is an event that is unexpected (e.g. ‘to cap it all, whilst all this commotionCan’t hear themselves think Be unable was going on, Sarah arrived with news to concentrate because the surroundings that she was pregnant’).* are too noisy.* Capital See with a capital…Can’t hold a candle A judgement of com- parative worth (e.g. if A cannot hold a Carbon copy An exact duplicate. The candle to B, then B is far better than A).* phrase comes from the (now diminish- ing) use of carbon paper to produce aCan’t judge a book by its cover A saying copy of a typed letter.* meaning that the true nature of someone or something cannot be understood just Card-carrying member of… A very from their appearance (i.e. what they have keen, almost fanatical supporter of…* done, their opinions, etc. have to be Cards close to the chest A person that assessed).* keeps or plays their ‘cards close to theCan’t keep a good person down The chest’ is a person who is unwilling to belief that a person with skill and/or discuss his or her plans or thoughts.* ambition will recover from misfortune.*
  • 50 / CARK IT Cards on the table If someone puts their over a long period of time. The phrase is cards on the table, it means that they are meant to create an image of a cow that, expressing clearly what their feelings and when milked, produces money rather intentions are.* than milk.* Cark it Die.** Cash in hand Payment in notes and coins (rather than cheque, credit card, or Carpeting See on the carpet. similar).* Carriage trade The richest customers.* Cash in their chips (1) Stop gambling. (2) Carried by an acclamation A law or Sell a share in a business. (3) Die.* proposal that is accepted with great Cast adrift Isolate from a group or enthusiasm.* abandon.* Carried off by… Killed by… The phrase Cast bread upon the waters Do some- almost invariably refers to death from thing (typically, something virtuous) illness.* without expecting anything in return. Carrot See carrot and stick and dangle a carrot. The phrase is from the Bible.* Carrot and stick A combination of bribe Cast in bronze Means the same as set in (carrot) and threat (stick) to persuade a stone. person to do something. The phrase is Cast-iron case An argument that cannot derived from the fact that animals such as be disproved.* donkeys can be persuaded to follow a person holding an attractive piece of Cast-iron proof Irrefutable proof.* food, such as a carrot, or can be made to Cast their mind back Attempt to remem- move by hitting a stick on to their ber something from the past.* flanks.* Castles in Spain Means the same as castles Carry a torch Be in love with someone in the air. who does not love in return.* Castles in the air An unrealistic set of Carry all before them Be completely vic- plans or expectations.* torious.* Casual pick up See pick up. Carry the can Take responsibility for something.* Cat among the pigeons See put the cat among the pigeons. Carry the day Win.* Cat and mouse See play cat and mouse. Cart before the horse See put the cart before the horse. Cat dragged in See look like something the cat dragged in and look what the cat dragged in. Carved on tablets of stone Permanent and unalterable. There are various permu- Cat got their tongue Describes someone tations of the phrase (e.g. ‘carved in who is silent. The phrase is more often stone’, ‘set in tablets of stone’, etc.).* used in question form (e.g. ‘has the cat got your tongue?’ – i.e. ‘why aren’t you Case the joint Examine the surroundings. saying anything?’).* The phrase is a cliché in gangster films where lowlier members of a criminal Cat in hell’s chance No chance at all (e.g. gang are ordered to examine a building ‘with the present points deficit, they for loot, hidden enemies, etc.* don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of winning the championship’). The phrase Cash cow A very profitable venture that don’t have a cat in hell’s chance means ‘have requires little work to keep profitable even less chance than a cat in hell’ (i.e. the * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • CAUGHT SHORT / 51 phrase emphasizes that there is no glary’, etc. The phrase may indicate a chance).* misdeed of any level of seriousness.*Cat may look at a king A proverb Catch in the crossfire Become a victim of expressing the argument that everyone, a dispute which one was not part of.* no matter what their social status, has the Catch on the hop Find in an unprepared freedom and right to do certain things.* state.*Cat meat (1) Vulnerable to attack. (2) In Catch red-handed Find in the act of doing trouble.* something wrong. Supposedly derivedCat on a hot tin roof Means the same as from poachers found with the blood of cat on hot bricks. the killed animal on their hands.*Cat on hot bricks To be ‘like a cat on hot Catch some zs Sleep (‘zs’ is pronounced bricks’ is to be restless.* ‘zees’).*Cat out of the bag See let the cat out of the Catch the sun Be suntanned or sun- bag. burned.*Cat that ate the canary See like a cat that ate Catch their death Sometimes used in the the canary. longer form of ‘catch their death of cold’. Contract a serious cold.*Cat that got the cream See like a cat that got the cream. Catch their drift Understand their reason- ing. The phrase is often used to describeCat won’t jump A phrase used to indicate understanding something that has been that a plan is impractical.* implied rather than explicitly stated.*Cat’s away See when the cat’s away. Catch their eye Gain their attention.*Cat’s meow Means the same as bee’s knees. Catch their meaning Means the same asCat’s paw A person forced or tricked into catch their drift. doing something illegal or unpleasant for Catch them flat-footed someone else.* Surprise someone.*Cat’s pyjamas Means the same as bee’s Catch them napping Means the same as knees. catch them flat-footed.Cat’s whiskers Means the same as bee’s Catch them on their toes Fail to surprise knees. someone.*Catbird seat See in the catbird seat. Catch 22 A situation in which whatever isCatch a cold (1) Become ill. (2) Encounter done is doomed to fail and/or cause suf- a problem.* fering.*Catch a Tartar Become involved with an Catch with chaff Easily deceive.* uncontrollable person who refuses to Catch with their hand in the cookie jar leave.* Find stealing or committing anotherCatch cold Find unprepared.* misdeed.*Catch fire Become more exciting.* Catch with their pants down Discover doing something embarrassing and/orCatch in the act Find doing something wrong, typically of a sexual nature.* wrong. Is a shortened form of a longer phrase such as ‘catch in the act of com- Caught short (1) Need to urinate. There is mitting a crime’, ‘catch in the act of bur- usually an implication that there is no
  • 52 / CAVIAR TO THE GENERAL lavatory conveniently near. (2) In a disad- would be nice if that happened, but the vantageous position.* probability is low, so other, more realistic alternatives must be found’.* Caviar to the general Something that only a person with refined tastes will Change gear Means the same as shift gear. appreciate and which is unappreciated or Change horses in midstream Change the even disliked by the general population. way of doing something. The implication The phrase is a quotation from Hamlet.* is that this is done after the first way of Central casting See straight from central doing things was already established.* casting. Change of heart Change of feelings or Centre court Means the same as centre stage. attitude.* The phrase is derived from ‘Centre Change of pace A change of lifestyle. The Court’ at Wimbledon, where some of the phrase can mean either a more hectic or most important tennis matches are held.* more relaxed lifestyle – the context Centre stage The centre of attention. Thus should indicate which meaning is a person who ‘takes centre stage’ is the intended.* one being attended to most of all. The Change of scenery A change in jobs phrase comes from the theatre, where the and/or home.* leading actors generally are placed in the area of the stage called ‘centre stage’ (i.e. Change the record A demand that the middle of the stage) for their most someone finds something new to talk or important moments in a play.* write about, because they are being boring and/or annoying by only talking Chain of command The hierarchical or writing about a very limited range of structure of the various levels of leader- topics.* ship in a group or organisation.* Change their mind Alter their opinion.* Chair’s action A decision-making process delegated to the Chair of a committee to Change their tune Alter their opinions or make by him- or herself without the need professed beliefs.* to convene the committee to discuss the matter (i.e. basically the committee trusts Chapter and verse The definitive infor- the Chair to act on its behalf ).* mation on a topic. The phrase comes from giving a precise reference to a passage in Chalk and cheese Describing two totally the Bible by citing the number of the dissimilar things or people (e.g. ‘they are chapter and verse.* as alike as chalk and cheese’).* Charge like a bull at a gate Be reckless Champ at the bit Display impatience. The and/or impulsive.* phrase is derived from a horse champing (i.e. biting down) on the bit (a piece of Charge the Earth Charge a lot of money. metal placed in the mouth and attached There is often an implication of making to the reins) when tired of standing and an excessive profit.* anxious to be moving.* Charity begins at home A saying that Chance in hell Means the same as cat in advises that a person should attend to the hell’s chance. needs of their own family before consid- ering being good to others. The phrase is Chance their arm Take a risk.* less selfish than it may first appear. It is essentially arguing that people who Chance would be a fine thing A phrase profess an idealistic lifestyle but who are nearly always used in reply to an unkind to those who live with them are over-optimistic statement by someone else. The phrase basically means ‘yes, it * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • CHEW THEIR EAR / 53 hardly being charitable. The saying is not Cheek by jowl To be close together. ‘Jowl’ intended to advocate selfishness.* means the same as ‘cheek’.*Charity fuck Having sex with someone Cheer to the echo Give great acclamation because the person felt sorry for them to.* (especially if they are considered physi- Cheesed off To be bored.* cally unattractive).*** Cherry See entry below and: bite at theCharley horse A painful cramp in the arm cherry, bowl of cherries, lose their cherry, pop or leg.* their cherry and second bite at the cherry.Charm offensive A concerted effort to be Cherry on the cake Something that is a nice to people with the aim of winning pleasing bonus, but not essential (e.g. ‘the them over to an argument.* salary for the new job was sufficientChase rainbows Have unrealistic aspira- incentive in itself to join the firm, but the tions.* cherry on the cake was the extra week of vacation’). The phrase is sometimes usedChase the dragon Take heroin by heating sarcastically (typically indicated by it and inhaling the fumes.* context or tone of voice) to mean the finalChase their own tail (1) Engage in a straw.* pointless activity. (2) In a piece of Cheshire cat See grin like a Cheshire cat. research or an investigation, become very confused, to the point where the objec- Chest beating A public show of anger: the tives are no longer clear. (3) A piece of implication is that this is an insincere research which examines the process of display intended to impress, rather than research rather than a genuine phenome- showing genuine feelings.* non.* Chestnut See old chestnut and pull their chest-Chat up Attempt to impress or seduce.* nuts from the fire.Chat up line A conversational ploy Chew the carpet To be so annoyed about intended to begin a conversation leading something as to become illogically to seduction.* angry.*Chattering classes A derogatory term for a Chew the cud To think deeply about section of the middle classes, character- something.* ized by having more than enough leisure Chew the fat Means the same as chew the time to discuss politics, fashion, the arts, rag. the news, etc., but not quite enough intel- ligence for the results of their discussions Chew the rag To discuss something thor- to be worth attending to.* oughly.*Cheap at half the price A deliberately Chew the scenery A style of acting charac- nonsensical expression which means that terised by exaggerated and otherwise whatever is being discussed is cheap.* unsubtle behaviour. The phrase usually implies a bad performance.*Cheap at the price A good bargain.* Chew their ass Means the same as chewCheck out There are several common their ear, but ruder.*** meanings: (1) to examine (e.g. ‘check out the new Ford’); (2) to pay one’s bill and Chew their balls Means the same as chew leave a hotel or similar establishment; or their ear, but far ruder.*** (3) a place where items are paid for in a shop or supermarket.* Chew their ear Tell someone off.*
  • 54 / CHICK FLICK Chick flick A movie that will be primarily Chinless wonder A male member of the enjoyed by women.* British upper classes with the stereotypi- cal behaviour and appearance and with Chick lit Literature that will be primarily limited intellectual abilities. The term is enjoyed by women.* derived from the observation that many Chicken and egg A chicken and egg situa- such individuals have a chin that is not tion occurs when it is impossible to deter- very pronounced.* mine which of two things happened first Chip off the old block A child who is just or which thing caused the other to like their parent in looks and/or behav- happen. The phrase is derived from the iour.* riddle ‘which came first – the chicken or the egg?’ In other words, how can a Chip on their shoulder Being persis- chicken exist without hatching from an tently aggressive or argumentative.* egg, but equally, how can an egg exist if it Chips are down The term is used to is not hatched from a chicken? (Being describe a serious turn of events when very pedantic, the correct answer is ‘the what happens next will almost certainly egg’, since animals capable of laying eggs decide the outcome.* existed a long time before chickens evolved.) * Chop See chop logic, chopping and changing and given the chop. Chicken feed (1) A small amount. (2) An insignificant person or group of people.* Chop logic Be pedantic.* Chicken left on the bone A task not Chopping and changing Constantly totally completed.* changing plans or ideas.* Chicken out Fail to do something because Chuck a sickie Fake illness to take a day of fear of the consequences.* off work.** Chickens come home to roost Means the Chuck it Usually used to advise someone same as come home to roost. to abandon a particular line of reasoning. It can also mean get lost.** Chief cook and bottle washer A joking term for someone placed in general Chuck it down Rain heavily.* charge of things.* Chunks See blow chunks. Child’s play Describes any particularly easy task.* Circle the wagons Unite together to defend a common cause.* Chill out Relax.* Circling the airport Means the same as out Chinaman’s chance See not a Chinaman’s of it. chance. Claim to fame The reason why someone is Chinese whispers The phenomenon that noteworthy. The phrase is often used as a piece of news is told by a succession jokingly of someone who is not particu- of people, the information becomes dis- larly noteworthy (e.g. ‘her claim to fame torted. This has nothing to do with the is that she was in the same class at school Chinese people or language, but refers to as Elton John’).* a children’s game of the same name that used the term ‘Chinese whispers’ for Clanger See drop a clanger. reasons now lost.* Clap eyes on See.* Chink in their armour Means the same as Clap hold of Grab.* Achilles heel. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • CLIMBING THE WALLS / 55Class act Term of approval for somebody Clear as crystal Means the same as clear as who is skilled at their job.* a bell.*Claws into them If person A has their Clear as day Means the same as clear as claws into person B, it means that person a bell. A is controlling what person B does. Clear as mud Very hard to understand. There is usually an implication that this is There is usually the implication that it is a bad thing.* the description that is unclear rather thanClean as a whistle (1) Physically clean. (2) what the description is describing (e.g. Free from any guilt or suspicion of ‘what you’re describing should be easy to wrongdoing.* understand, but your description has made it as clear as mud’).*Clean away If something is ‘clean away’ then it has totally disappeared, leaving no Clear-cut Something that is clear-cut is trace behind.* easy to understand and is without doubt accurate.*Clean bill of health A declaration that a person is healthy or a machine or process Clear off A command to ‘go away’.** is in a good state. The phrase is a maritime Clear out (1) To leave, usually with the one, and refers to a ship being declared implication of taking all belongings as free of any crew or passengers with infec- well. (2) Issued as a command, an order to tious diseases.* leave.* (1) or ** (2)Clean break A total severance. For Clear the air To discuss and settle an example, a person making a ‘clean break’ unsolved problem that had previously in a relationship makes every effort not to caused an emotionally uncomfortable meet the other person again.* state by being unresolved.*Clean breast See make a clean breast of it. Clear the decks Prepare for an event byClean hands Used in a statement such as removing or dealing with anything that ‘have clean hands’ the phrase means ‘free might interfere with the event. The of guilt’.* phrase is derived from naval warfare, where the decks of a ship are cleared ofClean house Improve the running of an anything not essential to battle before organisation, particularly by abolishing going into action.* inefficient and corrupt practices.* Clear up (1) Resolve or solve. (2) MakeClean out (1) Take a lot of money off tidy.* someone else (typically it is implied this is by trickery or skill; e.g. ‘Sally cleaned Cleft stick See in a cleft stick. John out at a game of poker’). (2) Click into place (1) Describes something Describes a lack of something (e.g. ‘I’m or someone that is perfectly suited for the clean out of fruit’).* situation (e.g. ‘the missing piece wasClean sweep See make a clean sweep. found and it clicked into place in the space in the jigsaw’). (2) Describes theClean their clock Utterly defeat some- moment when something is finally one.* fully comprehended (e.g. ‘I had beenClean up Make a large profit.* working at the problem for several days when suddenly everything clicked intoClean up their act Make work or behav- place’).* iour more acceptable and/or to a higher standard.* Climbing the walls Be agitated or annoyed.*Clear as a bell Totally clear or obvious.*
  • 56 / CLIP THEIR WINGS Clip their wings Restrict a person’s Close-run thing Means the same as close freedom of movement or powers. Named call. after the practice of clipping the wings of Close shave Means the same as close call. prized pet birds to prevent them flying away.* Close the book Finish a task with no intention of returning to it.* Cloak and dagger Refers to any secret activity involving danger and spying.* Close the case Means the same as close the book. Clock has beaten them The time allo- cated for an activity has elapsed, so the Close their eyes to Deliberately ignore.* activity must stop.* Close their mind to Create a closed mind.* Clock is ticking A warning that there is a limited amount of time left in which to Close thing Means the same thing as close complete something and/or make a call.* decision.* Close to home A remark that is ‘close to Clock-watching Wanting an activity to home’ is accurate and makes an argument finish. The phrase is usually applied to that a person finds uncomfortable to people who dislike their job and are con- think about.* stantly wondering when it will be time Close to the bone Describes something for a break or to go home, rather than that makes people feel uncomfortable or attending to their work.* embarrassed because it deals with some- Clocking off To finish work. The phrase thing people would prefer was not dis- comes from a once-common practice that cussed.* workers upon arriving would insert a Close to the knuckle Can mean the same card into a ‘clocking machine’ that would as close to the bone. Can also be used to mark when they started and finished describe something that is barely within work on that day. It was used to check on the limits of what people would consider people arriving late or leaving early.* socially acceptable or polite.* Clocking on To start work. See clocking Close to the mark Almost correct.* off.* Close up shop Means the same as shut up Close but no cigar Very close to the shop. desired target but nonetheless a miss. The term comes from fairground stalls where Close your eyes and think of England the prize for hitting a target was a cigar. Supposedly advice given to English The stall holder would cry out ‘close but brides in the Victorian era about how to no cigar’ when someone nearly hit the ‘enjoy’ sexual intercourse. The term is target.* now used more humorously to refer to any event where one must endure some- Close call An event that was nearly a thing unpleasant for a higher cause.** serious accident but in fact passed suc- cessfully.* Closed book Someone (or something) about whom little is known and who dis- Close ranks (1) Unite in a common cause. courages enquiries about their personal (2) The phrase is often used more specifi- life.* cally when a group protects itself from scrutiny by all its members refusing to Closed mind A refusal to change opinion divulge information and/or generally on, or discuss, something. The phrase is being obstructive.* often used to indicate bigotry.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • COLD BLOODED / 57Closed shop Workplace in which a person Cock a snook To make a derisive gesture is compelled to belong to a specific trades at someone. The phrase is only ever used union.* to describe what one person did to another person. It is never used directlyCloth ears Derogatory term for someone as an insult (e.g. nobody ever says ‘I cock not very intelligent or someone who is a snook at you’).* not paying sufficient attention (e.g. ‘hey, cloth ears, why aren’t you listening to Cock an ear Listen for something.* what I’m saying?’).** Cock and bull story A lengthy ramblingCloud cuckoo land A place of impossible story which is usually utterly implausible. ideas; hence, someone said to be living Many explanations for the origin of the there is a person with nonsensical phrase have been advanced.* notions. The term is derived from a play Cock of the walk The most important or called The Birds by the Ancient Greek dominant person in a group.* playwright Aristophenes.* Cock on the block Describes a situationCloud nine A state of extreme euphoria.* in which a person places themselves in aCloven hoof Something evil (the Devil is situation in which if things go wrong, the said to have cloven hoofs). The phrase is consequences will be highly disadvanta- these days likely to be used jokingly.* geous. If the term is used in a business context, the implication is often thatClued up To be knowledgeable.* although the potential penalties areClutch at straws Means the same as grasp at severe (e.g. loss of job) the rewards will be straws. high if the plan is successful.***Coach and horses See drive a coach and Cocked hat See knock into a cocked hat. horses through it. Cockroach hotel A place with poor stan-Coals of fire See heap coals of fire on their dards of hygiene.* head. Code See bring up to code.Coals to Newcastle A pointless activity. Coffee table book A book that is primar- The phrase was invented at a time when ily bought for its artistic appearance Newcastle was the centre of a thriving rather than intellectual content (it is often coal mining industry. Hence, taking also rather large). The phrase derives ‘coals to Newcastle’ would be taking from the habit of some pretentious mid- something to Newcastle that the area dle-class people of having a collection of already had in abundance. * such books placed on a coffee table. TheCoast is clear A phrase used to indicate phrase is generally used in a derogatory that nobody is watching and that some- manner to denote a book that is bought thing can be done without fear of anyone for display rather than serious reading.* witnessing it. The phrase is derived from Coin a phrase To invent a phrase.* smuggling – smugglers would not attempt to land contraband unless they Cold as charity Unpleasantly cold.* were certain that the ‘coast was clear’ (i.e. Cold as ice In describing someone’s mood, that there were no law officers waiting to the phrase means ‘unfriendly’ and/or arrest them).* ‘without pity’.*Coat tails See on the coat tails of them. Cold blooded (1) Describes someone withCob on See have a cob on. no moral sense or remorse (e.g. ‘a cold-blooded killer’). (2) DescribesCobwebs See blow away the cobwebs.
  • 58 / COLD COMFORT someone who is unfriendly or seems to was searching in the library yesterday get little pleasure from a social life.* when I came across this’). (3) Means the same as ‘form a mental impression’ (e.g. Cold comfort A gesture or statement that ‘how does he come across to you?’ means is intended to be comforting in a time of ‘what does his appearance and behaviour distress, but which does not ease the make you think he is really like?’).* distress and may even make it worse.* Come again? A request to repeat what has Cold feet Reluctance to do something, or just been said.** fear of doing something. The phrase usually implies that this follows an initial Come clean Confess to doing something.* enthusiasm.* Come down (1) Become calmer. (2) Gain a Cold shoulder See get the cold shoulder. more sensible, rather than idealistic or impractical, opinion of the situation.* Cold turkey See go cold turkey. Come down like a ton of bricks Use Collect dust Stay unused.* considerable strength. The phrase is Collision course (1) If someone sets out often used as a synonym for ‘show on a collision course, then they are inten- extreme anger’ (e.g. ‘I’ll come down on tionally planning to create a dispute. (2) him like a ton of bricks if he disobeys me A situation in which something unpleas- one more time’).* ant (e.g. an argument) is inevitably going Come down off their high horse to happen.* Become calmer or more relaxed after Colour of their money The financial being angry or very moralistic.* probity of what is being offered. If a Come down to earth Become more person asks to see the colour of some- rational and less emotional and/or unre- one’s money, they doubt their honesty or alistic.* ability to pay.* Come down to earth with a bump Colourful language Language containing Receive a rude awakening.* an excessive proportion of swear words.* Come easy Be easily acquired.* Colours to the mast See nail the colours to the mast. Come full circle Return, after temporary changes, to the way things were at the Columbo question A final question that is start.* unexpected and makes a person uneasy and/or forces them to admit something Come hell or high water In other words, they did not want to admit. Named after come what may. The term is usually used the eponymous detective hero of the TV as an assurance that the speaker will do series Columbo, who habitually used this what they have promised to do regardless technique to extract admissions of guilt.* of barriers in their way. The phrase basi- cally means that even if the most awful Come a cropper Have a bad accident or calamities happen, the deed in question meet with serious misfortune.* will be done.* Come a gutser Means the same as come a Come home to roost A problem that has cropper. ‘come home to roost’ is one that a person Come a purler Means the same as come a has created and hoped to avoid, but now cropper. must deal with.* Come across (1) Move from one group to Come home to them Come to under- another (e.g. ‘he has come across from stand.* their group to ours’). (2) Discover (e.g. ‘I * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • COME TO THEIR SENSES / 59Come in from the cold Be accepted by a ‘we will have to do this, come rain or group after a period of being unpopular.* shine’).*Come into line Conform to a set of stan- Come the acid Be unpleasant (e.g. dards, rules or regulations.* by making of fensive or sarcastic comments).*Come into their own Begin working at what they are best suited.* Come the old soldier Pretend to be ill in an attempt to avoid work.*Come it strong Exaggerate.* Come the raw prawn (1) Talk nonsense.Come of age (1) Reach an age to be consid- (2) Lie.* ered an adult in the laws of the country where a person is living (in the UK, 18 Come through for Succeed in doing years). (2) In describing a process, institu- something for someone. The phrase is tion or similar, reach a stage in develop- usually applied to helping someone who ment where it can be considered firmly has a problem.* established.* Come to a bad end Means the same asCome off it An expression of doubt about come to a sticky end. what has just been said (e.g. ‘come off it – Come to a boil Reach the point of greatest that can’t be true!’).** activity (a stage known as being on theCome on (1) An expression meaning boil); there is usually the implication that ‘hurry up’ (e.g. ‘come on, we’ve got to this is the climax of the activity, when leave soon or we’ll be late’). (2) An most things will be resolved.* expression indicating disbelief (e.g. Come to a grinding halt Slow down and ‘come on, that can’t be true!’).** stop.*Come on board Join a group or begin to Come to a pretty pass Become unpleasant support a cause or argument.* and/or worthy of criticism.*Come on in Means ‘come in’.* Come to a sticky end Die in an unpleasantCome on strong (1) Improve considerably. manner.* (2) Be very assertive or argumentative.* Come to blows Become so angry in aCome on to Make amorous approaches dispute that people are close to becoming to.* physically violent.*Come out fighting In an argument or Come to fruition (1) Reach a point where other confrontation, go immediately into an activity produces the rewards that attack rather than spend time in prelimi- were planned and/or hoped for. (2) nary negotiations.* Reach maturity.*Come out in the wash (1) Be solved. (2) Come to grief Suffer misfortune.* Be explained or clarified.* Come to grips with Comprehend.*Come out of their shell Become less shy Come to the boil Means the same as come or cautious.* to a boil.Come out smelling of roses Emerge from Come to the crunch Reach a point where a situation that was potentially damaging something must be done.* to the reputation with an unblemished record, or even an enhanced reputation.* Come to their senses Change to a more logical opinion or behaviour.*Come rain or shine A phrase used to describe something that is inevitable (e.g.
  • 60 / COME TO THINK OF IT Come to think of it A phrase that essen- Comes with the territory If something tially means ‘having thought more care- ‘comes with the territory’, then it is a dis- fully’ (e.g. ‘although I dismissed your advantageous or unappealing aspect of a argument earlier, come to think of it situation. There is usually an implication you’re probably correct’).* that it is tolerated, because the benefits of the situation as a whole outweigh these Come up against a brick wall Means the concerns.* same as hit a brick wall. Comfort food Food that creates a feeling Come up and see me sometime A light- of psychological comfort.* hearted request that a person should call on the speaker in the future. The phrase Coming from Refers to the reason for a was first used by a film actress called Mae person’s behaviour (e.g. ‘where’s he West as a chat-up line in her films. coming from?’ means ‘why is he However, today the phrase does not nec- behaving like that?’).* essarily have that intention.* Coming out The process of coming out of Come up and see my etchings A light- the closet. The phrase is nearly always hearted request that a person should call restricted to declarations of homosexual- on the speaker in the future. The phrase ity.* was once used only as a euphemism for Coming out of their ears Possessing too an invitation to have sexual intercourse, much of something (e.g. a rich person but it rarely has that implication these might be said to have ‘money coming out days (context should indicate which of their ears’).* meaning is intended).* Common as muck Derogatory phrase Come up dry (1) Fail to find anything. (2) describing someone with very vulgar Fail.* tastes and lacking in social etiquette or Come up roses Resolve in a fortuitous refinement, or the sort of items that such manner.* a person would consider acceptable or desirable. The phrase is often used by Come up smelling of roses A person who snobs to denote anyone who is working ‘comes up smelling of roses’ emerges class, but the phrase can also be used from a situation with no trace of scandal about a nouveau riche person who has or wrongdoing being attributed to them. lots of money but very little aesthetic The phrase often indicates that it is taste.** strongly suspected that they are in reality guilty of something, but it has not been Common or garden The most frequently possible to find enough evidence to prove encountered version of something, and it.* by implication, uninteresting.* Come up smiling Be happy and content at Common touch The ability (particularly the end of doing something. The phrase in someone who is a member of a ‘higher’ often implies that this happiness follows social class) to work or socialize with ‘or- a period of unhappiness.* dinary people’.* Come up to scratch Meet an acceptable Compare notes Exchange information standard.* and ideas on a particular topic. The phrase is often used when two or more Come up trumps Do something extreme- people have been working independ- ly well.* ently on the same problem and are then Come up with the goods Successfully brought together to discuss what they produce what was required or hoped for.* have found.* Compliments of the house Free.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • COULD MURDER A… / 61Confucius says… The phrase is com- Cool off Become calmer.* pleted with a brief piece of advice, often Coon’s age A long time (‘coon’ refers to a enigmatic or humorous. The overt claim racoon).* is that this is an example of the wisdom of the Eastern philosopher Confucius. On Cop a plea Try to negotiate.* many occasions, the saying offered will not be by him, but instead is intended Cop hold of Grab.* simply as a humorous observation (e.g. Cop it To receive punishment. See fair cop.* ‘Confucius says no greater pleasure than seeing old friend fall off roof ’). The Copybook See blot on their copybook. sayings are often delivered in an imita- Corn in Egypt Something that is plenti- tion of some Chinese speakers who ful.* haven’t quite mastered English construc- tions (e.g. ‘Confucius he say…’ etc.).* Corner See box into a corner, cut corners, defend their corner, four corners of the earth, inConjure up Create. The phrase is often a corner, in their corner, round the corner and used to describe creating something turn the corner. good from apparently meagre resources.* Corridors of power Term describing theConjure with Contemplate.* workings of government.*Conspicuous by their absence Absent Cost an arm and a leg Cost a great deal of from an event where they were expected. money. Hence give an arm and a leg means The phrase can refer to a person who has to spend a great deal of money.* shirked their duties or someone who has deliberately stayed away from an event as Cost the Earth Be very expensive.* a form of protest.* Cotton on Learn.*Conspiracy of silence Refers to a group Cotton wool See wrap in cotton wool. deliberately keeping something secret or refusing to comment on a particular Couch potato A person who leads a lazy matter.* life and whose leisure hours are spent watching television, typically with theControl freak A person who has an obses- implication that they watch programmes sive or irrational need for everything to of little intellectual merit whilst consum- be done the way they want it, and who ing beer and snack foods.* thus denies other people the opportunity to express themselves freely.* Cough up Pay what is owed.*Conversation piece A topic or item that is Could care less A phrase that is being likely to generate a lot of discussion.* increasingly commonly used to mean couldn’t care less. The context shouldCook the books Engage in creative account- indicate if this is the intended meaning of ing.* the speaker.*Cook their goose Make their life unpleas- Could eat a horse If someone says that ant, typically by punishing them or they ‘could eat a horse’, then they are thwarting their plans.* very hungry. The phrase should not beCook with gas Perform very effectively.* taken literally.*Cookie-cutter Describes something very Could hear a pin drop It was very quiet.* predictable or composed of clichéd Could murder a… Show great eagerness phrases and/or ideas.* to consume a … (e.g. ‘I could murder aCool as a cucumber Calm and without cup of tea’).* signs of panicking.*
  • 62 / COULDN’T…THEIR WAY OUT OF A PAPER BAG Couldn’t…their way out of a paper bag Couldn’t hold a candle to… Of inferior The blank space is filled with a verb quality to…* (common ones are ‘box’ and ‘fight’). The Couldn’t organize a piss-up in a phrase means that someone is too poor at brewery The phrase essentially means the skill described for them to be effec- ‘too stupid to do even the simplest task’. tive (e.g. if someone ‘couldn’t box their A ‘piss-up’ is a drinking party (see pissed). way out of a paper bag’ then they are Since a brewery is by definition full of physically weak and/or a bad boxer).* alcoholic beverages, someone would Couldn’t care less Have no interest or have to be uncommonly stupid not to be concern.* able to organize a drinking party in such a location.*** Couldn’t get arrested (1) Unknown and of little importance. The phrase is often Couldn’t run a whelk stall An insult used in show business to describe the accusing someone of being too stupid to time of obscurity and struggle before do a particular task. The implication is someone becomes famous. (2) The phrase that running a whelk stall is a very easy is occasionally used to describe someone task (whether it is or not has never, to the so successful and well-liked that people author’s knowledge, been empirically refuse to think ill of them, even when examined), and if someone couldn’t do there is strong evidence of wrong- that, then they certainly couldn’t do doing.* whatever the task is under discussion.* Couldn’t give a… The phrase is followed Counsel of despair Something at- by a single word or another phrase. The tempted with little hope of it succeeding meaning is that the speaker has no after everything else that could be interest in whatever is under discussion. attempted has failed.* The phrase varies enormously in polite- Counsel of perfection A solution that ness depending upon the precise words would work but is not pragmatic.* used. See couldn’t give a damn, couldn’t give a fuck and couldn’t give a toss for examples.* Count on the fingers of one hand or ** or *** Describes something that is very rare (e.g. ‘you can count on the fingers of one hand Couldn’t give a damn In other words, to how often that has happened’).* have no interest in whatever is being dis- cussed. The term might originally be Count sheep A method of inducing sleep ‘couldn’t give a dam’ (the ‘dam’ being an (repetitively counting individual Indian coin of low value).** members of an imaginary flock is supposed to have a soothing effect).* Couldn’t give a fig Means the same as couldn’t give a damn, but slightly less rude.* Count the cost Calculate the expense. Typically, this is the expense of repairing Couldn’t give a fuck Means the same as damage resulting from something going couldn’t give a damn, but much ruder.*** wrong or an unexpected accident.* Couldn’t give a monkey’s Means the Count the pennies Be cautious in same as couldn’t give a damn. spending money.* Couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss Means the Count to ten Intentionally wait before same as couldn’t give a damn, but slightly saying something, so that what is said is less rude.* considered rather than rash. The phrase is Couldn’t give a toss Means the same as often given as advice when someone is in couldn’t give a damn. danger of losing their temper when about to make a reply.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE / 63Count your chickens See don’t count your Cramp their style Make it difficult for chickens. another person to perform at their best.*Courage in both hands See take courage in Crash and burn Fail.* both hands. Crash course A rapid course of instructionCourage of their convictions See have the that covers basic information and little courage of their convictions. else.*Cover all the bases Means the same as Crash out (1) Sleep or fall asleep. (2) touch all the bases. Become unconscious.*Cover the costs Pay what is owed.* Crawl out of the woodwork Someone who ‘crawls out of the woodwork’ is anCover their back Protect against criti- unpleasant person who appears when cism.* there are opportunities for personalCover their tracks To remove evidence of gain.* being responsible for something.* Crawling with… If a place is crawlingCover up Hide. The phrase generally refers with ants, then there are a lot of ants; if a to attempts to hide errors or misdoings.* place is crawling with people, then there are a lot of people. The image presumablyCows come home See until the cows come comes from the fact that insects crawl, home. and thus something infested with insectsCrack a book Engage in study.* might be said to be crawling with them. From this the image has extended toCrack a bottle Open a bottle of an alco- talking about places crowded with holic drink (and by implication, have a people.* drink).* Crazy like a fox Describing someone whoCrack heads together Means the same as appears to be doing something insane, bang heads together. but who in reality is acting with greatCrack of dawn Very early morning, when cunning.* the sky is just becoming light.* Creative accounting Accountancy proce-Crack of doom An ominous and/or loud dures designed to hide the true state of noise. The phrase is derived from the affairs. The term originally meant actions noise which, according to the Bible, will that were illegal, but can also mean pro- be heard on the Day of Judgement.* ducing a set of figures which, whilst not actually illegal, are not as forthright asCrack of the whip See fair crack of the whip. they might be.*Crack up (1) Burst into laughter. (2) Suffer Creature of habit Someone who has a set a nervous breakdown or experience routine for doing things and thus how severe mental distress.* they will behave in certain situations isCracked up to be See not all it’s cracked up to easily predicted. There is sometimes the be. implication that a person who is a creature of habit will be annoyed if theirCradle snatching Choosing a sexual or routine is altered.* marital partner considerably younger. Note that there is no implication of Credibility gap The difference between paedophilia – the issue is the age differ- what is claimed to be true and what is ence, not the absolute age of the younger actually true.* person.* Credit where credit is due Praise should be given where it is merited. The phrase is
  • 64 / CREST OF A WAVE often used to describe a good deed by Cross their palm with silver Pay money.* someone who is generally seen in a Cross to bear A burden or difficulty that is negative light (e.g. ‘although Brian was a constant feature of a person’s daily life. usually incompetent, credit where credit The phrase is derived from Christianity, is due – he did plan the party very well’).* and is heard in the longer phrase ‘we all Crest of a wave See on the crest of a wave. have our crosses to bear’ (or similar). The phrase is often used as a mild rebuke to Crimp See put a crimp in. someone who has been complaining Crocodile tears An insincere display of about their misfortunes, since there is an sorrow or regret.* implication that everyone has problems that have to be dealt with without Crook See be crook on and go crook. making a fuss.* Cross as two sticks Annoyed.* Crowning glory The supreme achieve- Cross my heart and hope to die A phrase ment or feature amongst a collection of used to indicate the sincerity of a impressive or praiseworthy things.* promise. The phrase is likely to be used in Cruel to be kind Something that appears a joking manner these days, but when unpleasant in the immediate term, but in originally used, was a more serious oath.* the long term will be beneficial.* Cross purposes Two people or groups are Cruising for a bruising Behaving in a ‘at cross purposes’ when either side mis- manner likely to result in problems (e.g. understands what the other side is trying being physically attacked).* to say. The phrase is often used to describe two groups or people who, if Crumbs from the table An inappropri- they had communicated accurately with ately small share.* each other, would be in agreement. Cry all the way to the bank To be rich in However, because they have misunder- spite of being criticized for what one stood each other, they are arguing.* does. The origin of the phrase is in the Cross swords Argue.* idea that an artist who produces work which the public adores (and buys) but Cross that bridge when we come to it which the critics hate may cry at the Recognize that there is a problem that critics’ comments, but they will cry all the will need to be solved in the future, but way to the bank where they will deposit decide not to spend time either worrying lots and lots of money.* about it or making plans on how to deal with it until the time when it has to be Cry for the moon Be illogically upset dealt with (e.g. ‘at some point in the because something unattainable cannot future we would have to deal with the be had.* problem of how to tell our parents; Cry foul Protest that something is unjust.* however, we decided that for the moment we would enjoy ourselves and cross that Cry from the heart A request or plea that bridge when we came to it’).* expresses a deeply held emotion.* Cross the floor Change allegiance to a Cry their eyes out Be extremely upset.* group previously opposed.* Cry wolf Make a protest or warning that is Cross the Rubicon Make a decision that ignored because previous protests or commits to a particular course of action.* warnings have been false or inaccurate.* Cross their fingers Hope that a plan is Crying over spilt milk Protest or cry over successful.* something that has happened and cannot be repaired or rectified. The phrase is * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • CUT BOTH WAYS / 65 often heard in the form no use crying over ests, etc. The term does not necessarily spilt milk, which means that it is pointless imply a sexual relationship.* crying or protesting about something Curry favour Attempt to win favour. The bad that has happened, because this will phrase is often used disparagingly not solve the problem.* to describe someone who is beingCrystal ball Any method of trying to antic- obsequious.* ipate what will happen in the future.* Curtain twitcher A person who is obses-Crystal ball gazing Speculating on what sively interested in the activities of their will happen in the future. Usually it is neighbours.* implied that this is a forlorn task.* Cushion the blow Something that ‘cush-Cuckoo in the nest An unwelcome inter- ions the blow’ reduces the pain or loper.* unpleasantness of unwelcome informa- tion (e.g. ‘news that she had beenCudgel their brains Work hard at solving accepted by Oxford cushioned the blow a problem.* that she had been rejected by Har-Cultivate their garden Deal with vard’).* personal matters.* Cut a dash Dress and/or behave in a veryCultural baggage A set of preconceptions stylish manner likely to attract attention.* created by being raised in a particular Cut a deal Make an agreement.* culture. These preconceptions may mar or distort understanding.* Cut a long story short Summarize a story or piece of information, or only provideCulture shock Feeling of stress or bewil- the conclusion or other important infor- derment caused by being unable to com- mation. The phrase is nearly always used prehend or react appropriately to a when a speaker has spent too long radical change in environment or describing something and now wants to culture.* hurry through the rest of it.*Culture vulture A person who is keen on Cut a rug Dance energetically.* the arts.* Cut a swathe through ComprehensivelyCunning plan See I have a cunning plan. defeat or refute.*Cup runneth over A Biblical phrase Cut above Of higher quality.* meaning that someone is overwhelmed with happiness and riches.* Cut and dried Completely settled.*Cups See in their cups. Cut and run Escape. The phrase is derived from nautical terminology – it hasCurate’s egg Something which is good in nothing to do with stabbing or similar.* parts, bad in others. The phrase is derived from a cartoon in the (now defunct) Cut and thrust Describes a situation magazine Punch, in which a sycophantic which is highly competitive.* curate, rather than reject a bad egg (acci- Cut bait Means the same as cut the cackle. dentally) given to him by a bishop at the breakfast table, declares that parts of it Cut both ways Something that ‘cuts both are quite excellent.* ways’ has advantages and disadvantages and/or favours more than one side in aCurious bed-fellows People who are on dispute.* friendly terms with each other whom one would not predict would be such, because of different personalities, inter-
  • 66 / CUT CORNERS Cut corners Do a less thorough job than Cut off at the pass To intercept. The originally planned in order to save time, phrase is derived from western films, cost and/or energy.* where a cliché command was to ‘cut them off at the pass’ (i.e. intercept them at the Cut dead Totally ignore a person in situa- pass).* tions where they might have expected some attention to be paid to them.* Cut off in their prime Prevented from continuing working when exhibiting Cut down to size Make a person with an their greatest period of productivity.* overly high opinion of themselves aware of their true status.* Cut off their nose to spite their face A person who would ‘cut off their nose to Cut from a different cloth Very different spite their face’ would damage them- in personality.* selves in their attempts to harm or disad- Cut from the same cloth Very similar in vantage someone else.* personality.* Cut out for Be ideally suited for a particu- Cut it (1) Be of acceptable quality. (2) An lar task or occupation.* abbreviated form of cut it out.* Cut some slack Be less demanding.* Cut it fine Do something with little allow- Cut the… followed by a word or phrase ance made for error or time. The phrase (e.g. cut the cackle). Used by a listener normally is used to indicate that some- interrupting a speaker, it means that the thing was done with very little time to listener is bored with the speaker telling spare.* irrelevant or dull things, and wants the Cut it out A demand that someone stops speaker to cut to the chase.** or *** doing something. The phrase is usually Note: politeness varies according to the word used at the end of the phrase. used to try to stop people doing some- thing annoying or irritating.* Cut the apron strings To become inde- Cut loose (1) Begin to think and/or act pendent of one’s parents.* independently. (2) Exhibit unrestrained Cut the cackle A demand to cut to the behaviour.* chase.** Cut losses Abandon a project even though Cut the cord Means the same as cut the it will mean losing money and/or effort, umbilical cord. because it is clear that the project will not succeed, even if more money and/or Cut the Gordian knot Solve a problem in effort is put into it (i.e. losses are inevita- a direct manner without getting side- ble so stopping now will at least keep the tracked by niceties. The phrase is derived losses as small as possible).* from the ancient legend that whoever could unravel the Gordian knot (a very Cut no ice Have no influence.* intricate knotted rope) would conquer Cut of his/her jib What someone appears Asia. Alexander the Great took the to be like. The phrase nearly always is simple expedient of severing the knot preceded with ‘I don’t like the…’, with his sword (and went on to conquer meaning that the speaker doesn’t like the Asia Minor).* appearance of the person in question. Cut the ground from under their feet The term is a nautical one, referring to the Conclusively demonstrate that the rea- surmised state of a vessel based on the soning or justification for an opponent’s appearance of the jib (one of the main arguments or actions is false or illogical.* sails).* Cut the mustard Be of acceptable quality and/or vigour.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • DAMN ALL TO SHOW FOR IT / 67Cut the umbilical cord Can mean the Cut your coat according to your cloth same as cut the apron strings, but is also used Make the best use of what has been given to denote becoming independent of to you.* anyone or anything that one has previ- Note: the phrase can be used in other forms ously relied upon for help.* (e.g. ‘he must cut his coat according to his cloth’), but the ‘your’ form is theCut their teeth on Describes the first commonest. thing a person gains experience of in a Cuts both ways If something ‘cuts both particular area of work (e.g. ‘I cut my ways’ then it applies to two people or teeth on lecturing to sociology stu- groups, rather than just one person or dents’).* group. The phrase is usually used toCut to ribbons Means the same as cut to indicate that if person or group A has to shreds. do something to please person or group B, then person or group B has to doCut to shreds (1) Comprehensively something to please person or group A as disprove an argument. (2) Humiliate.* well.*Cut to the bone Reduce to the bare Cutting edge The most advanced form of minimum necessary. Often used of finan- something (typically technology or cial cutbacks when a company is in diffi- research). Thus, ‘cutting edge stuff ’ is culties.* something that is technologically highlyCut to the chase Move to the important advanced.* part of the story, missing out unnecessary detail. The phrase can be used by a person impatient to hear the important part of the story (in which case, the phrase has a higher emotional level). D Alternatively, the phrase can be used by a D-Day A day when an important decision speaker to indicate that they are going to will be made or an important project will omit irrelevant details and just concen- be initiated. The term is a reference to the trate on the important bits of their story. Allied invasion of Normandy in World The phrase is derived from movies, where War II, which was coded ‘D-Day’.* the change from one scene to the next can be called a ‘cut’. Hence, a ‘cut to the Dab hand Expert.* chase’ is a move to an exciting chase Daft as a brush The term simply means scene.* or ** being silly. The words are deliberatelyCut to the quick Make someone upset by a nonsensical.* particularly unpleasant insult or tactless Daft on the right side Behave in an appar- remark.* ently eccentric or insane manner butCut up nasty Means the same as cut up which serves the self-interest of the rough. person concerned.*Cut up rough Be aggressive or awkward.* Daggers drawn Describes a situation in which two sides are bitter enemies.*Cut with a knife See atmosphere that could be cut with a knife. Damage control Activity designed to minimize the adverse reaction to a pieceCut your cloth Means the same as cut your of scandal or unfavourable news.* coat according to your cloth. Damn all Nothing.** Damn all to show for it Describes a situa- tion where after a lengthy period of
  • 68 / DAMN STRAIGHT activity, nothing worthwhile has been Davy Jones’s locker Underwater. Thus, produced.** someone who is ‘in Davy Jones’s locker’ has drowned.* Damn straight Absolutely true.** Day in, day out Describes a regularly Damn with faint praise Describe some- occurring event, often with the implica- thing in such a lacklustre fashion that it tion that a monotonous activity is being implies criticism (e.g. describing some- described.* thing as ‘alright, I suppose’).* Day of reckoning (1) The day when a Damned if you do, damned if you don’t person is made to answer for an error or A description of a no-win situation.* sinful act. (2) The day when a person dis- Damp squib Something that promises covers if they have succeeded (or failed) much, but fails to impress.* at something.* Damsel in distress A woman in need of Daylight robbery A rather exaggerated help. The phrase is derived from fairy way of saying that something is expen- stories and similar of a young, helpless sive (e.g. ‘five pounds for a bottle of (and attractive) woman in need of lemonade? – that’s daylight robbery’).* rescuing by a brave (and handsome) Daylights See beat the daylights out and scare knight in shining armour. The phrase is used the daylights. sarcastically and, given its connotations, might in some circumstances be seen as Days are numbered A person or item sexist.* whose ‘days are numbered’ has not long to last before death, destruction or being Dance attendance on Be extremely made obsolete.* helpful.* Dead and buried Absolutely finished with Dance on their grave Show disrespect for no prospect of being returned to.* the memory of a dead person.* Dead as a dodo (1) Absolutely certainly Dance to their tune Obey someone else’s dead. (2) Of no further interest. The dodo wishes.* is an extinct species of bird.* Dancing in the streets An exuberantly Dead as a doornail Absolutely certainly favourable reaction.* dead. A doornail is a component of a Dangle a carrot Offer a person a reward to door knocker.* entice them into doing something or as Dead cat bounce Misleading signs of an incentive to work harder. See carrot and activity or promise in something that in stick.* reality is of no further use. The phrase is Dare See I dare you. used in stocks and shares trading. Shares in a company heading for bankruptcy Dark horse Someone about whom too will show a dramatic fall followed by a little is known for an accurate description slight rise. This may look like the start of to be made.* a revival in fortunes, but more probably Darken their door Visit someone. The the rise will be small and temporary (‘the phrase is these days often used jokingly. dead cat bounce’). The analogy is that if a In early usage of the phrase, ‘never dead cat is dropped from a high building, darken my door again’ was meant as a it will bounce when it hits the pavement, serious warning to someone not to visit but it’s still a dead cat, and will not again.* suddenly bounce back up to the top of the building. (Whether empirical proof of this has been attempted is uncertain.) * * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • DEVIL / 69Dead end Means the same as blind alley. word or phrase – e.g. ‘death on two legs’ is an unpleasant person.*Dead from the neck down Intelligent, but with no discernible emotions.* Death warmed up See like death warmed up.Dead from the neck up Stupid.* Decisions, decisions Said by someone when overworked and having to make aDead in the water Incapable of function- difficult choice. The phrase can also be ing effectively. Hence, an easy target for used ironically (e.g. when there are no attack.* difficult decisions to be made).*Dead letter Something that is no longer Deep doo-doo Slightly ruder version of done. The phrase is often used to describe deep trouble.** defunct laws or outmoded practices.* Deep pockets A person with ‘deepDead man’s shoes Describes an organisa- pockets’ is wealthy.* tion where the only way to gain promo- tion is for someone more senior to die or Deep trouble Very serious trouble.* leave, whereupon a more junior person Deep waters Something very complex will be promoted to fill their shoes. The and/or problematic.* implication is that being clever or innova- tive in such an organisation will not be Deeply engrained Means the same as dyed rewarded with rapid promotion.* in the wool.Dead meat Vulnerable to attack.* Default option The choice that is taken if other options prove unsatisfactory.*Dead of night In the early hours of the morning, when the majority of people Defend their corner Vigorously defend are asleep. * an argument or point of view.*Dead of winter The coldest period of Del Boy A tradesperson of dubious moral winter.* character, likely to sell goods that are stolen and/or of much lower quality thanDead on their feet Exhausted.* advertised. The phrase is the name of aDead ringer An exact copy or double of fictional character in a British TV series something. ‘Dead’ means in this sense who was just such a tradesperson. The ‘absolute’.* phrase is very similar to Arthur Daley, except that typically a ‘Del Boy’ is finan-Dead to the world Very deeply asleep.* cially less successful.*Dead weight Something that affords no Deliver the goods Do what is hoped for.* assistance in carrying it.* Demon drink Alcoholic beverage.*Dead wrong Absolutely wrong. ‘Dead’ in this sense means ‘absolutely’.* Deserts See just deserts.Deadlier than the male A shortening of a Deuce of a… A very difficult… (e.g. ‘a quotation from a poem by Rudyard deuce of a problem’ is ‘a very difficult Kipling which argues that the female of problem’).* the species is deadlier than the male. The Deuce to pay Trouble (e.g. ‘there’ll be phrase is generally used when a woman deuce to pay about this mess’).* has done something particularly vicious. The phrase is potentially sexist, and Developed into an art form Means the caution should be applied in using it.* same as got it down to a fine art.Death on… An unpleasant or dangerous Devil See entries below and: be a devil, example of the category cited in the next between the Devil and the deep blue sea, play
  • 70 / DEVIL-MAY-CARE Devil’s advocate, play silly devils, raise the Die laughing To laugh a great deal (e.g. Devil, sell soul to the Devil, sup with the Devil ‘you’ll die laughing at the new comedy and talk of the Devil. show’). The phrase is an exaggeration. Although there are recorded cases of Devil-may-care Describes the behaviour people dying after an extended bout of of a person apparently unconcerned with laughing, this is extremely rare.* the consequences of their actions.* Die like flies Die in large numbers.* Devil of a… Means the same as deuce of a… Die of boredom The phrase is usually in the longer form of ‘I could die of Devil to pay Means the same as deuce to pay. boredom’, and is used to express a state of Devil’s own Something that is an extreme extreme boredom. The phrase is a delib- version of something.* erate exaggeration; boredom is not noted as a major cause of death, otherwise the Diamond in the rough Means the same as inhabitants of several English towns (e.g. rough diamond. Barrow-in-Furness) would have a very Dice with death Do something danger- high mortality rate.* ous.* Die on the vine Fail at an early stage.* Did the Earth move for you? (1) The Died with their boots on Died whilst still phrase originally meant ‘did you have an employed. The phrase originally referred orgasm?’ after an unintentionally risible to soldiers who died in battle (‘They Died line in a novel by Hemingway. It is still With Their Boots On’ was the title of a sometimes used in a sexual context. (2) film about Custer’s last stand).* More recently, the phrase has been used in a wider context, to mean ‘did you find Different ball game Means the same as something highly enjoyable?’** new ball game. Diddly squat See got diddly squat. Different kettle of fish Radically differ- ent. See pretty kettle of fish.* Didn’t come down in the last shower of rain Is not naïve.* Dig a hole for themselves Work ineffec- tively, making the situation worse than it Didn’t just fall off a turnip truck Means was before.* the same as didn’t come down in the last shower of rain. Dig a pit for Prepare a trap.* Die See entries below and: cross my heart and Dig deep Use a large amount of (e.g. ‘he hope to die, do or die, straight as a die and to dug deep into his reserves of strength and die for. lifted the heavy weight’).* Die hard Be difficult to get rid of.* Dig in (1) Prepare to be attacked. (2) Eat. (3) In the phrase ‘get a dig in’ or similar, it Die in bed Die from disease or another means to criticize or insult someone or ‘natural’ cause.* something.* Die in harness Die whilst still in paid Dig in the ribs Poke another person in the employment.* ribs with an elbow. The action is done to Die is cast Something is decided. The either warn of danger or alert them to phrase refers to a die used in a game something funny.* (often erroneously called ‘a dice’ which Dig in their heels Be obstinate.* in fact is the plural of ‘die’) – once the die has been cast (i.e. thrown) the outcome is Dig their own grave A person who ‘digs known.* their own grave’ does something that * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • DO IT STANDING ON THEIR HEAD / 71 damages themselves. The phrase is gener- Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells A UK ally used to describe something done phrase that is intended to describe unwittingly.* someone of very conservative opinions who finds any innovation (e.g. popDig up Discover.* music) something to get cross about. TheDig up dirt Through investigation, find phrase comes from a habit of signing damaging information that the people letters to newspapers and magazines with affected had hoped would not be discov- pseudonyms such as ‘disgusted’, ‘angry ered.* taxpayer’ etc. Tunbridge Wells is a small, inoffensive town, but is often usedDim view See take a dim view. jokingly as a place where the sort ofDime a dozen Commonplace.* person who enjoys writing angry letters to newspapers might live.*Diminishing returns (1) The principle that the more a person has of something, Dish it out Provide something. The phrase the less attractive each additional quan- is often used to describe providing gossip tity becomes. For example, a starving or insults.* man might rate a plate of cake very Dish the dirt Gossip.* highly, but having eaten ten plates of cake, it is doubtful if the eleventh plate Distant shores (1) A geographically has the same appeal as the first. (2) Simi- remote place. (2) Something conceptu- larly, the principle that the reward gained ally and/or intellectually radically differ- from extra effort diminishes the more ent.* effort that is applied.* Disturb a hornets’ nest See stir up aDingo’s breakfast Nothing.* hornets’ nest.Dip their toes in Make a tentative first Divide and rule Maintaining supremacy attempt at something.* over opponents by encouraging them to fight amongst themselves rather thanDirty linen See wash dirty linen in public. uniting in opposition.*Dirty weekend A weekend holiday that is Do a disappearing act (1) Escape. (2) principally for the purpose of having sex Make oneself hard to find when there is a with a partner. The phrase originally difficult situation to be faced and/or implied that one or both partners were hard work to be done.* committing adultery and/or were un- married (when sex outside marriage was a Do a number on Treat badly.* bigger societal taboo than it is now).* Do a runner Escape (particularly from theDisappear down a crack in the floor police).* Means the same as let the earth swallow me Do bears crap in the woods? Means the up. same as can a duck swim?***Disappear up their own backside Do bird Spend time in prison.* Slightly ruder version of disappear up their own fundament.*** Do for Work for. The phrase is particularly used of cleaning personnel. See done for.*Disappear up their own fundament A contemptuous phrase describing the Do it in their sleep Means the same as do it behaviour of someone who displays standing on their head. intelligence but lacks the ability to make Do it standing on their head Do some- any practical use of their skills.** thing with little effort because the task is to them an easy one.*
  • 72 / DO IT WITH A HAND TIED BEHIND THEIR BACK Do it with a hand tied behind their Do them proud Do something that would back Means the same as do it standing on make others proud of you. The phrase is their head. often said to describe a well-run funeral (e.g. ‘you did Aunt Gladys proud’).* Do justice to Do something that is of suitable quality.* Do themselves a mischief Cause injury to themselves.* Do or die (1) Describes a situation where something must be done or something Do themselves justice If a person ‘does very unpleasant will happen. (2) De- themselves justice’ then they do some- scribes an heroic attitude to being willing thing that accurately exhibits their to do something dangerous even if it skills.* results in death.* Do to death Repeat a performance or act Do porridge Means the same as do bird. so many times that it loses all entertain- ment value and becomes boring.* Do the business (1) Do what is expected in the situation. (2) Have sexual inter- Do you want a medal? A sarcastic course.* (1) or *** (2) question implying someone is making too much fuss over doing something Do the dirty (1) Behave badly towards worthwhile but trivial.* someone. (2) Have sexual intercourse.* (1) or *** (2) Dob them Inform on someone.* Do the honours Do a task for or on behalf Doctor ordered See just what the doctor of a group (e.g. carve the turkey at Christ- ordered. mas dinner, give a speech on behalf of a Doctors and nurses See play doctors and group, etc.).* nurses. Do the rounds Be disseminated widely.* Dodge the column Malinger or otherwise Do the trick Achieve the desired out- avoid work.* come.* Doesn’t know Christmas from Bourke Do their bit Contribute to something. Street Australian phrase used to describe There is usually the implication that a a not very intelligent person (Christmas person who has ‘done their bit’ has traditionally has brightly lit trees, deco- already contributed or done as much as rations, etc.; Bourke Street in Melbourne can be reasonably expected of them.* is noted for its lighting, displays, etc.). Names of other brightly lit streets may be Do their damnedest Try very hard.** used instead.* Do their head in (1) Become hopelessly Dog The term has two very different collo- confused (e.g. ‘the problem’s so hard it’s quial meanings. (1) When referring to a enough to do your head in’). (2) man, it is a term of joking approval for Physically assault someone (e.g. ‘if you rather daring or risqué behaviour (e.g. don’t watch it I’ll do your head in’). (3) ‘you dog, sir’). (2) However, when Become angry.* (1 and 3) or ** (2) applied to a woman, it is an insulting Do their lolly Means the same as do their remark, meaning that she is ugly. See also nut. life in the old dog yet.* (1) or *** (2) Do their nut Become very angry. Dog and bone Phone.* Do their worst Enact their most extreme Dog and pony show A visually attractive measures or something which shows display.* their abilities to their full extent.* Dog days The hottest days of the year.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • DON’T GET YOUR KNICKERS IN A TWIST / 73Dog eat dog Vicious competition.* Donkey’s years A long period of time.*Dog in the manger A person who doesn’t Don’t ask me The phrase is used as a need or want something, but makes sure reply to a question and indicates that that nobody else gets it (even though the person does not know the answer. they may have a genuine need for it).* There is usually the implication that it was illogical to ask the question (e.g.Dog my cats An expression of astonish- ‘don’t ask me – you know that I wasn’t ment.* there, so how could I possibly tell youDog tired Exhausted.* what happened?’).*Dog’s age A long time.* Don’t be a stranger A phrase in general social use meaning that the personDog’s bollocks Curiously, given the should stay in contact with the speaker.* normal use of the word ‘bollocks’ (see bollocks), this is an expression of praise Don’t be blonde Don’t be stupid. The (albeit not a very polite one). For phrase is potentially offensive and care example, ‘this is the best computer avail- should be taken in using it.*** able – it’s the dog’s bollocks’. The origins Don’t bet on it Meaning ‘it’s not certain’.* of the phrase are obscure, but it may come from a longer saying ‘it’s as clear as Don’t call us, we’ll call you A traditional the bollocks on a dog that this is the response by theatre managers and similar best’.** dismissing poor quality performers after an audition. The term is now generallyDog’s breakfast Means the same as dog’s used as a relatively mild criticism.* dinner. Don’t come crying to me Means the sameDog’s dinner (1) An incoherent mixture of as don’t come running to me. mismatching things. (2) A visually unap- pealing and over-ostentatious manner of Don’t come running to me A warning dress (hence, dressed like a dog’s dinner). that something is inevitably going to Named after the assortment of leftovers produce problems, and that the speaker from human meals that get fed to some will have no sympathy when this dogs.* happens, because the problems could have been foreseen and thus avoided.*Dog’s life A life of hardship and unpleas- antness.* Don’t count your chickens The start of a longer saying – ‘don’t count yourDogs of war Mercenaries.* chickens until they’re hatched’. TheDone and dusted Absolutely finished.* phrase advises a person not to anticipate something and make plans based on thisDone deal Something already settled.* anticipated outcome, but instead to waitDone for Destined for an unpleasant fate. to see what actually happens. Thus, count The phrase nearly always means destined your chickens is to assume optimistically to die or become irreparably damaged. and perhaps mistakenly that something is See do for.* going to happen the way it was planned.*Done in (1) Murdered. (2) Very tired.* Don’t get mad, get even Instead of just complaining about something, do some-Donkey See entries below and: like giving a thing to resolve the problem.* donkey strawberries. Don’t get your knickers in a twistDonkey work Physically demanding Means ‘don’t get over-excited’ or ‘don’t and/or laborious work that is relatively get so annoyed’.** uninteresting.*
  • 74 / DON’T GIVE A… Don’t give a… See entries beginning Don’t mince words A demand that some- couldn’t give a… thing is said clearly and directly.* Don’t give a rat’s ass Have no interest or Don’t pay the ferryman Don’t pay concern.*** someone until they have completed the task.* Don’t give up the day job A negative comment about the quality of something Don’t put all your eggs in one basket In a person produces in pursuing a hobby. In other words, don’t rely on just one thing effect, the comment means ‘don’t give up or spend all your time on just one project your full-time job, because if you tried to or activity. The implication is that if a earn money from what you produce as a person relies on just one thing and it fails, hobby, you’d never get anyone to buy it’. then they have nothing else. For example, The phrase is often used jokingly, rather in investment, it’s unwise to invest in just than as a deeply felt insult.* one company’s shares. The phrase origi- nates with the idea that if a person has a Don’t go there (1) Don’t enquire in too lot of eggs, what happens if he or she puts much detail. (2) Don’t try to imagine the them all in one basket and that basket situation described.* gets dropped? * Don’t have a cat in hell’s chance See cat Don’t shoot the messenger See shoot the in hell’s chance. messenger. Don’t have a hope in hell Means the Don’t start A request not to start com- same as don’t have a cat in hell’s chance. plaining and/or raising an issue likely to Don’t hide your light under a bushel cause an argument, etc.* See hide their light under a bushel. Don’t take no for an answer See no for an Don’t hold your breath See hold their answer. breath. Don’t tell me The phrase is used before the Don’t know from Adam To fail to recog- speaker says something that is an obvious nize (e.g. ‘Do you know this person?’ – logical conclusion from what has just ‘I’ve never seen him before; I don’t know been said. For example, if someone says him from Adam’).* ‘Harry came into the room balancing a box of eggs on top of a pile of papers he Don’t know the half of it See half of it. was carrying’, another person might Don’t know their arse from their elbow reply ‘don’t tell me – he dropped every- A phrase used to describe a person who is thing and broke the eggs’.* not intellectually gifted or lacks the Don’t waste your breath See waste their knowledge required in a particular situa- breath. tion.*** Doom and gloom A pervading feeling of Don’t know they are born A rather con- unavoidable misery.* temptuous phrase indicating that some people do not realize how fortunate their Door to door (1) Visiting all houses in a lives have been and lack experience of district. (2) The complete journey from hardship or difficulties.* one place to another.* Don’t lay a finger on… A warning not to Dos and don’ts Rules.* physically harm someone.* Dose of their own medicine Means the Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth same as taste of their own medicine. See look a gift horse in the mouth. Dot the i’s and cross the t’s Make sure that everything is correct. The phrase is * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • DRAMA QUEEN / 75 particularly used for checking docu- Down in the world Lowered socio- ments.* economic status.*Double bind A difficult situation in which Down on their luck In a state of misfor- any solution is likely to create further tune.* problems.* Down the drain Wasted. The phrase isDouble dip Do the same thing twice. The often used of money that has been fool- phrase can be used in a more specific ishly spent on something useless.* sense of buying what is ostensibly the Down the pan Failed.** same product or service twice because of relatively minor improvements.* Down the river See sell down the river.Double-edged sword Something that Down the road (1) In the future. (2) At a confers advantages but also carries disad- location nearby.* vantages.* Down to a fine art See got it down to a fineDouble jeopardy (1) The principle that a art. person cannot be tried twice for the same crime. (2) Facing two problems, often Down to earth Realistic and unpreten- with the implication that solving one tious.* problem makes the other problem Down to the ground Completely.* worse.* Down to the line Describes a race or otherDouble or nothing Means the same as competition where the competitors are double or quits. evenly matched and the result cannot beDouble or quits A gamble in which a predicted until the competitors cross the person who already owes money agrees finishing line/the event is finished.* to take a further gamble or engage in a Down to the wire Means the same as down competition. If the person wins, then to the line. they no longer owe any money. If they lose, then they owe double the money Downwardly mobile Declining in they previously owed.* socio-economic status.*Doubting Thomas A person who refuses Drag ass Move quickly.** to accept something without very strong Drag on Be tedious.* proof. Named after Jesus’s disciple of the same name who refused to accept the Drag their feet Be unwilling; typically, Resurrection until he had seen Christ’s displaying this lack of enthusiasm by wounds with his own eyes.* doing things slowly or constantly delaying starting something.*Down and dirty (1) Sexually explicit. (2) Unappealing.** Drag their heels Means the same as drag their feet.Down and out (1) A homeless person, often by implication with an addiction Drag their name through the mud problem as well. (2) Utterly defeated.* Means the same as drag through the dirt.Down at heel Looking unkempt. It is Drag through the dirt Publicly attack usually implied that this appearance is someone or something, typically publi- due to poverty rather than choice.* cising unpleasant or embarrassing infor- mation.*Down in the dumps Miserable.* Drama queen Someone who tends to beDown in the mouth Depressed.* over-dramatic in their behaviour and exaggerates problems and successes.*
  • 76 / DRAW A BLANK Draw a blank To fail to find or attain what Dressed up to the nines Very smartly was hoped for. For example, fail to recog- dressed.* nize (e.g. ‘I’d like to help you but I’ve Drill down Examine in very great detail.* drawn a blank; I’ve no recollection of the event at all’); fail to find (e.g. ‘although Drink like a fish Drink excessively.* they searched everywhere they drew a blank and the bracelet was not found’); Drink under the table Drink more fail to win (e.g. ‘although they hoped to alcohol than another person or persons win what should have been an easy without passing out, being sick, or match, they drew a blank’).* similar.* Draw a line under If a line is drawn under Drink with the flies Drink alone.* something, it indicates that it is finished, Drinking in the last chance saloon and something new has begun.* Making one final attempt to do some- Draw first blood See first blood. thing properly.* Draw in their horns Show more re- Drinks are on them They will pay for the strained behaviour.* drinks.* Draw stumps Stop doing something.* Drive a coach and horses through it Disprove an argument that is logically or Draw the line Establish what constitutes factually weak (e.g. ‘that’s ridiculous – I the limits of acceptable behaviour.* could drive a coach and horses through that’).* Draw the short straw (1) Be selected to do something unpleasant that would not be Drive home Ensure that something is fully done voluntarily. (2) Be unlucky.* understood through the use of forceful argument.* Draw their fire Cause a person to attack something other than their original Drive up the wall Annoy.* intended target.* Driving at See what are they driving at? Drawing board See back to the drawing board. Drop a bombshell Provide a piece of unexpected information. It is usually Dress down (1) Verbally reprimand. The implied that the information is unpleas- term is usually used for a situation where ant.* someone in a senior position rebukes someone in a more junior position. (2) Drop a brick Means the same as drop a Wear casual rather than smart clothes.* clanger. Dress rehearsal A practice of an event rep- Drop a clanger To make a mistake, usually licating, as far as possible, the actual con- with the implication that it is an embar- ditions of the event itself.* rassing one. The phrase often is used to describe making an embarrassing Dressed like a dog’s dinner See dog’s remark.* dinner. Drop a hint Make a hint or suggestion.* Dressed to kill Being attractively dressed. There is typically an implication that Drop a line Write a letter or note to what is being worn emphasizes the someone.* person’s sexual attractiveness.* Drop a word in their ear Informally tell Dressed to the nines In very glamorous someone. The phrase is generally used in and/or smart clothes.* situations where the person being told holds a position of power, and is being * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • DRUNK AS A… / 77 approached informally rather than via Drop the ball Make a mistake and/or fail official procedures.* to complete a task.*Drop dead (1) Die suddenly. (2) An offen- Drop the bundle If a person ‘drops the sive remark indicating displeasure at bundle’ they stop doing something they someone. The phrase is often used as a are not very good at.* vigorous denial or response to some- Drop the dime on Inform on someone.* thing.* (1) or ** (2) Drop the pilot Do something without theDrop everything Abandon all ongoing help usually employed (e.g. ‘after a activity. The phrase is usually used to couple of successful attempts with Mary describe appropriate behaviour in an to assist, Sue decided to drop the pilot emergency, when a very serious problem and try doing it by herself ’).* needs to be tackled immediately.* Drop the sprog Give birth.**Drop in Pay a visit.* Drop their aitches Fail to pronounce theDrop in it Get someone into trouble. This letter aitch at the beginning of words can be deliberate (e.g. informing an beginning with ‘h’ (e.g. ‘’urry up with authority figure of someone’s misdeeds) dinner, I’m ’ungry’). The phrase some- or accidental (e.g. a chance remark impli- times refers specifically to a failure to cating someone in a misdeed). Sometimes pronounce the initial letter aitch. the phrase indicates a situation where a However, more generally it is used by person accidentally gets themselves into snobs as a general indicator that (from trouble by accident (more commonly the their viewpoint) a person has poor pro- phrase in this circumstance will be drop nunciation and is ill-educated or working themselves in it).* class.*Drop in the… Followed by a word of Drop their guard Become less defensive.* varying levels of politeness (e.g. ‘soup’, which is polite, or ‘shit’, which is not). Drown their sorrows Attempt to remedy The phrase means the same as drop in it.* a depressed feeling by drinking alcohol.* or ** or *** Note: politeness depends on word used at Drop them (1) Terminate a relationship end of the phrase. (the term usually implies that this is done in an unnecessarily brutal and callousDrop in the ocean A tiny fraction of the manner). (2) Remove someone from a total. In other words, a minute amount.* sports team.*Drop into their lap Obtain effortlessly.* Drop themselves in it See drop in it.Drop it Cease discussing something. Used Drowned rat Someone looking like a as a command (‘drop it!’) is a request that ‘drowned rat’ is soaking wet and dishev- someone stops discussing something elled.* because the subject is annoying or unpleasant.* Drug on the market (1) Of no value. (2) Impossible to sell.*Drop like a hot potato (1) Literally drop as if it were too painful to hold. (2) Drunk as a… The phrase almost inevita- Rapidly and decisively sever social or bl y means ‘ ve r y dru n k’. Words working relations with someone.* commonly used to finish the phrase include ‘skunk’, ‘lord’ and ‘newt’.* or **Drop like flies Die or collapse in large or *** numbers.* Note: politeness level depends on word at end of phrase.Drop names Engage in name dropping.*
  • 78 / DRY AS DUST Dry as dust (1) Lacking water. (2) Boring. The nickname derives from the observa- (3) Very cerebral, with no obvious emo- tion that millers generally get dusty from tionality. * flour whilst working.* Dry eye in the house See not a dry eye in the Dutch courage Gaining courage by house. drinking alcohol. The phrase probably derives from earlier centuries when the Dry run A practice session.* Netherlands and Britain were at war, and Dry spell Period of relatively low produc- the Dutch were seen in negative terms, tivity and/or creativity.* including the (utterly false) idea that they had no real ‘fighting spirit’ and had to get Dry up (1) A command to be quiet. (2) drunk to fight.* Become silent (typically after a period of being talkative). (3) Cease being produc- Dutch treat A ‘treat’ for someone in which tive (typically after a period of being very they pay for all or some of the costs.* productive).* Dutch uncle Someone who acts as an Duck See entry below and: do ducks swim?, adviser or counsellor on an informal dying duck in a thunderstorm, have their ducks basis.* in a row, lame duck, like a duck to water, like Dutchman See I’m a Dutchman. water off a duck’s back, play ducks and drakes with and weather for ducks. Duty bound Compelled to behave in a particular way because of regulations or Duck and dive Avoid attack by being the duties associated with a particular job. flexible and/or using mental agility.* For example, a police officer may person- Due deserts Means the same as just desserts. ally feel that a person caught committing a crime should be let free but, because of Duke it out Fight.* the requirements of being a police officer, Dukes up To raise fists at someone.* is ‘duty bound’ to arrest the person.* Dull as dishwater Very uninteresting.* Dyed in the wool If an attitude or behav- iour is said to be ‘dyed in the wool’ then it Dull as ditchwater Means the same as dull is possessed very firmly, and it will be dif- as dishwater. ficult to change through persuasion or Dull the edge Make less. The phrase can training.* refer to level of interest, sensation, pain or Dying duck in a thunderstorm To have a other things, depending upon context.* forlorn or miserable expression.* Dump them (1) Terminate a relationship (the term usually implies that this is done in an unnecessarily brutal and callous manner). (2) Remove someone from a group.* E Dust away the cobwebs Means the same Eager beaver A keen, enthusiastic person.* as blow away the cobwebs. Ear See entry below and: bend their ear, can’t Dust settles See when the dust settles. make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, cock an ear, chew their ear, drop a word in their ear, easy on Dusty answer A response that is brief and the ear, flea in their ear, have the ear, in one ear uninformative.* and out the other, incline an ear, keep an ear out Dusty Miller Men with the surname for, lend an ear, listen with half an ear, make a ‘Miller’ often are nicknamed ‘Dusty’ (it is pig’s ear, play by ear, prick up their ears, tin ear, unlikely that this is their real first name). turn a deaf ear to and word in their ear. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • EASY ON THE EAR / 79Ear to the ground Having an especially ranks is marked by white chevron stripes good level of knowledge. The phrase is on the sleeves of the uniform.* generally reserved for someone who has Ears are burning A person’s ears are said intensively studied a situation and can to be burning if someone has been foresee future developments.* talking about them when they were notEarly bath See take an early bath. there.*Early bird A person who gets up and is Ears flapping Describes the state of a active earlier in the morning than most person who is eavesdropping on a con- people. There may also be an implication versation.* of being active and more likely to Earth-shaking Something that is ‘earth- succeed. The saying ‘the early bird shaking’ is of great importance. The catches the worm’ argues that those who phrase is often used in the negative (e.g. start early on a project and are generally ‘nothing earth-shaking’) meaning some- lively (i.e. aren’t lazy and sleep until late) thing that is unimportant or is used sar- are more likely to succeed.* castically.*Early days The initial stages of something, Earth-shattering Means the same as when it is too soon to be certain of the earth-shaking. outcome.* Earth swallow me up See let the earthEarn a crust Earn money. The phrase origi- swallow me up. nally meant ‘earn barely enough to survive’, but these days is often used sar- Earth to… A joking phrase imitating the castically to describe a very rich person.* radio calls of ground control to astro- nauts. The implication is that someone isEarn a living Have paid employment. not paying attention and might as well be There is usually an implication that the on another planet because they are so salary is not excessively large.* unresponsive (e.g. ‘Earth to Mark – haveEarn an honest crust Means the same as you heard anything I’ve said?’).* earn an honest penny. Earthly See not have an Earthly.Earn an honest penny Earn money in a Easy as pie Easy.* morally respectable way.* Easy come, easy go (1) The belief thatEarn their corn Work hard and well something easily gained can be easily enough to justify the salary.* lost. (2) A relaxed view of a situation.*Earn their keep (1) Be a productive Easy does it A command to do something member of a household. (2) Be a useful gently and with care.* household appliance. (3) Be a guest in a household who does household chores Easy listening Rather bland music that or similar in exchange for board and requires no great intellectual analysis to lodging.* appreciate and lacks a particularly forceful or aggressive rhythmic struc-Earn their moccasins Prove worthy of ture.* something.* Easy money Money that is easily earned.*Earn their spurs Means the same as earn their moccasins. Easy on the ear Agreeable to hear.*Earn their stripes Prove worthy of some- Easy on the eye Agreeable to see.* thing. The phrase refers to gaining pro- motion in the police, armed forces, etc., Easy on the pocket Affordable.* where advancement through the lower Easy ride A trouble-free experience.*
  • 80 / EASY ON THE EYE Easy Street A lifestyle characterised by appetites and their capacity to eat practi- riches and no hard work.* cally anything.* Easy tiger A very mild rebuke to someone Eat me Means the same as bite me. who is over-keen to do something.* Eat my shorts A rude reply, indicating Easy touch Means the same as soft touch. rejection of what has just been said. The phrase was popularized by the TV show Easy virtue Promiscuity.* The Simpsons.** Easy way See hard way. Eat out of house and home Consume Eat a horse See could eat a horse. large amounts of a host’s food, beyond the bounds of what would be considered Eat alive This has several distinct mean- polite behaviour.* ings. (1) A person threatening to eat someone else alive is very annoyed with Eat their dust Be considerably behind them (the threat is not of course literal). another competitor in a race or other (2) A person repeatedly bitten by insects competition. * can claim to be being ‘eaten alive’. (3) A Eat their heart out (1) Experience longing person who is worried by something to for someone or something. (2) Be the point that it preoccupies their envious. (3) Eat large quantities without thoughts and possibly makes them feel ill restraint. See eat your heart out…* can be said to be ‘eaten alive’ with worry.* Eat this A verbal reply that precedes doing or saying something unpleasant (e.g. Eat crow (1) To be made to do something saying ‘eat this’ before hitting some- unpleasant. (2) Be humiliated.* one).** Eat dirt Be humiliated.* Eat your heart out… The phrase is typi- Eat humble pie To be made to do some- cally followed by the name of a famous thing humiliating or admit to being in person who is a noted exponent of the wrong. ‘Humble pie’ is made from the whatever is under discussion, with the giblets of deer and was traditionally implication that what is being discussed given to the ‘lower orders’. Thus a is better than the named person is or was nobleman made to eat humble pie rather capable of. Thus, after a piano recital, a than venison was being deliberately person might say ‘eat your heart out humiliated.* Anton Rubinstein’. The phrase can be used with serious intent (i.e. the speaker Eat like a bird Eat very little. The excep- really thinks that what is being discussed tion to this is eat like a gannet.* is good) or with ironic intent (i.e. the Eat like a gannet Eat large amounts speaker thinks that what is being dis- (contrast with eat like a bird). Gannets are cussed is poor). See eat their heart out.* birds famed for their voracious appe- Eaten all the pies Is fat. Offensive, and tites.* should not be used.*** Eat like a horse Eat large amounts.* Eating out of their hand See have them Eat like a pig Eat large amounts with bad eating out of their hand. table manners. There is often an implica- Eclipsed by Made less important and/or tion that food is being eaten simply high-ranking by (e.g. ‘the Zog Model IV because it is edible, and the person is was considered very good until it was insensible to the quality of what they are eclipsed by the arrival of the Zog Model eating. Pigs are famed for voracious V’).* Economical with the truth Lying.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • END OF CIVILISATION AS WE KNOW IT / 81Edge out Defeat or replace by relatively Emotional rollercoaster A series of expe- unobtrusive methods.* riences that create a series of very differ- ent emotional responses.*Effing and blinding Swearing.* Emperor’s new clothes Something that isEgg See entries below and: as sure as eggs is ridiculous or of no worth that many eggs, big butter and egg man, chicken and egg, people know is ridiculous or of no worth, curate’s egg, don’t put all your eggs in one but feel they cannot say this because basket, go suck an egg, kill the goose that lays (supposed) experts have said it is praise- the golden egg, lay an egg, over-egg the worthy (e.g. the status of some modern pudding, teach granny to suck eggs and walk art liked by art critics).* on eggshells. Empty nest syndrome Feeling of loneli-Egg on Encourage.* ness in middle-aged parents created byEgg on their face Be embarrassed or their children having reached adulthood humiliated.* and moved out of the family home.*Egg on your chin Your flies are undone.* Empty nester Person experiencing empty nest syndrome.*Electric soup An alcoholic drink.* Empty of ideas (1) Having no ideas orElementary, my dear Watson A joking imagination. (2) Question someone until phrase indicating that the speaker has they run out of anything new to say solved a problem that others have found and/or suggest.* baffling with great ease. The phrase is a (supposed) quotation of Sherlock End in tears See it’ll end in tears. Holmes, the famous fictional detective (in End it all Commit suicide.* reality, he never says this exact phrase in any of the books or short stories, but it is End of civilisation as we know it (1) The a good paraphrase of several very similar literal end of a way of living that is char- quotations).* acteristic of ‘civilized life’. The term has been used to describe the state of a onceElephant never forgets Said by a person civilized country after it has been taken when claiming that they have a good over by a totalitarian, repressive regime memory. Elephants proverbially have (e.g. ‘after the dictator took over, it was good memories and the speaker is com- the end of civilisation as we know it for paring their memory skills to this. They the people of that country’), and also in are not otherwise claiming to be describing the threat to civilisation from elephant-like.* enemy forces (e.g. ‘if they invade, thenEleventh hour The latest possible time it’ll be the end of civilisation as we know that something could be done.* it’). (2) Because the term has been overused in bad melodramas, and partic-Elvis has left the building The person ularly bad science fiction movies (e.g. ‘if who is of interest is no longer there. The the giant ants from Planet Zog take over, phrase is derived from the heyday of rock it’ll be the end of civilisation as we know and roll, when to persuade fans to leave it’), it is now used jokingly as a response after an Elvis Presley concert, it would be to any bad news, no matter how trivial announced that ‘Elvis has left the build- (e.g. ‘the photocopier is broken and ing’ (i.e. there was no purpose to remain- won’t be repaired until tomorrow – this ing there, because the person they were could be the end of civilisation as we interested in was no longer there).* know it’).*Emerge from the ashes Means the same as rise from the ashes.
  • 82 / END OF STORY End of story A phrase used at the end of a Enter into the spirit Adopt the same (usually spoken) description to indicate attitude and emotional mood as others.* that that is all there is to relate.* Envelope See push the envelope. End of the line Means the same as end of Err on the right side Make a mistake that the road. in fact is advantageous.* End of the rainbow A non-existent place, Err on the side of… Behave in a manner signifying something that is desirable but that favours one thing over another. The highly unlikely.* commonest use of the phrase is probably End of the road The limit beyond which ‘err on the side of caution’, meaning that something cannot continue.* the action taken is more careful than reckless.* End of the world A serious (but not neces- sarily literally world-ending) problem or Etchings See come up and see my etchings. situation. See it’s not the end of the world.* Eternal triangle An emotional problem in End of their tether The most annoyed which there are three people. The conflict someone can be without actually losing is about which two of the three will their temper.* become the permanent partners and, accordingly, who will be rejected. This is End up (1) Upside down. (2) Another way a staple plot for romantic stories.* of saying the verb ‘end’ (e.g. ‘how did we end up here?’).* Even break A fair opportunity. See never give a sucker an even break.* Enemy See how’s the enemy? Even keel See keep on an even keel. Engraved in stone Means the same as set in stone.* Even stevens Evenly balanced.* Enough is enough (1) A statement of Ever and anon the way Always the same.* warning to cease an activity (typically, an Ever-decreasing circles To go round in argument). (2) Similarly, a statement of ‘ever-decreasing circles’ is to work on exasperation that an activity has gone on problems that never seem to be solved too long.* and in which over time less and less Enough said A statement indicating that worthwhile output is produced.* enough information has been given. The Every avenue explored Means the same phrase is used in several contrasting as no stone unturned. ways: e.g. (1) to compliment a speaker that they have efficiently summarized a Every last one Every member of a group or situation in a few words; (2) to indicate set.* that what the speaker is saying is distaste- ful and no more should be said; (3) to Every man for himself Every person is indicate that what is being said is irritat- responsible for their own survival. The ing; or (4) to indicate that what is being term is used in two common ways. (1) As said may provoke an argument and it a call to escape a dangerous situation (e.g. would be politic to stop speaking.* ‘the building is on fire – every man for himself !’) in which people are urged to Enough to make a cat laugh Something escape rather than attempt to be heroic that is very funny.* and rescue others. (2) As a description of a situation in which everybody was Enough to sink a battleship A large selfish (e.g. ‘it was every man for himself quantity.* in that office’).* Every man Jack Everybody.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • EYE FOR AN EYE / 83Every person for themselves A gender- courts by the names ‘Exhibit A’, ‘Exhibit neutral version of every man for himself. B’, etc.*Every picture tells a story In other words, Extra mile See go the extra mile. something can be deduced from any Eye See entries below and: all eyes, apple of visual scene. The term is sometimes used their eye, better than a poke in the eye with a jokingly when someone enters a room sharp stick, bird’s-eye view, blink of an eye, wearing an unusual facial expression.* blue-eyed boy [or girl], bright-eyed and bushyEvery trick in the book Every possible tailed, by an eyelash, clap eyes on, close their option.* eyes to, close your eyes and think of England, easy on the eye, feast their eyes on, flutter theirEvery which way In all possible direc- eyelashes, get their eye in, give their eye teeth, tions. The phrase often denotes a state of give them the glad eye, green-eyed monster, half confusion or a difficult problem (e.g. ‘I’ve an eye, have an eye for, in a pig’s eye, in the tried every which way to solve it’).* public eye, keep an eye on, keep an eye out for,Everyone has a price Expresses the belief keep half an eye on, keep their eye in, keep their that everyone can be bribed or coerced.* eye on the ball, keep their eyes open, keep their eyes peeled, leap to the eye, make eyes at, mind’sEveryone’s lips See word on everyone’s lips. eye, mote in their eye, my eye, not a dry eye inEverything but the kitchen sink A the house, not bat an eyelid, one in the eye, open joking expression meaning that every- their eyes, pass their eye over, public eye, pull thing that could be included has been. the wool over their eyes, raise their eyebrows, There is usually the implication that a lot raised eyebrows, right between the eyes, scales of what has been included is unneces- fall from their eyes, see eye to eye, sheep’s eyes, sary.* shut their eyes to, sight for sore eyes, smack in the eye, spit in the eye, square eyes, stars in theirEverything in the garden is… The eyes, take their eye off the ball, turn a blind eye phrase nearly always ends with a positive to, twinkle in their eye, up the boo-eye, up to the term such as ‘blooming’, ‘rosy’ or ‘lovely’. eyeballs, when Nelson gets his eye back, with The phrase simply denotes that the situa- eyes closed, with eyes open and worm’s eye tion is agreeable. Occasionally the phrase view. is used for ironic effect and ends with a negative word such as ‘rotten’, in which Eye candy Something or someone that case the phrase means that the situation is looks attractive; there is usually the impli- disagreeable.* cation that the something or someone in question is also of low intellectualEverything’s coming up roses Every- worth.* thing is well.* Eye-catching Visually appealing and/orException that proves the rule Some- noticeable.* thing unusual that will test whether a generally held belief is correct. The word Eye for an eye Part of a longer Biblical ‘prove’ is used in its older sense of ‘test’. phrase that finishes with ‘and a tooth for The phrase does not mean that excep- a tooth’. It expresses the view that tions must automatically support a gener- wrongdoing should be met with retalia- ally held belief.* tory action. The phrase is often inter- preted as justifying any sort of revenge,Excuse my French Means the same as but this is a misreading of the orig- pardon my French.* inal phrase, which argued that revengeExhibit A The most important part of an should never go further than an act of argument or most important evidence. equivalent severity.* The term comes from the practice of Eye of a needle A tiny opening.* labelling items of evidence used in law
  • 84 / EYE OF A NEEDLE Eye of the hurricane Means the same as eye of the storm. F Eye of the storm (1) The essential part of Face as long as a fiddle Means the same an emotional argument. (2) The most as long face. emotionally upsetting part of an argument. (3) The phenomenon that Face fits If someone’s ‘face fits’, then their during a complex situation (such as a attributes make them acceptable for a serious and complex argument) there can particular position or task.* be a period of time when everything Face like a wet weekend Means the same seems unnaturally calm, which gives an as long face. uneasy and illusory sense that everything has been resolved (like a still pocket of air Face off Decide the outcome through con- at the centre of some hurricanes).* frontation.* Eye on the main chance A person with an Face the music Accept punishment for a ‘eye on the main chance’ is constantly misdeed.* searching for methods of becoming rich, gaining promotion or otherwise gaining Face time Time allocated for a meeting success.* with someone (as opposed to time spent conversing with them via emails, tele- Eyeball to eyeball Very close to each other phone calls, etc.).* – the term is nearly always reserved for describing a hostile situation.* Facts of life (1) Information about sexual intercourse and reproduction. (2) Basic Eyeballing (1) To look at something in a information about the way in which not very thorough manner to gain an people behave and what can be expected initial idea of what it is about (e.g. ‘from in the course of daily living.* eyeballing the data I’d say things look promising, but I’ll have to examine it Faint hearted Timid.* more carefully before deciding firmly on Fair The term can mean ‘reasonable’, but in anything’). (2) To try to out-stare some situations it may also mean ‘large’ someone (i.e. if two people stare at each (e.g. ‘he inherited a fair-sized fortune’ or other’s eyes, see which one loses by ‘the dog was a fair size’).* looking away first).* Fair and square (1) Honest. (2) Accurate.* Eyeballs See up to the eyeballs. Fair cop Means the same as bang to rights Eyes are smiling If a person’s ‘eyes are and again derived from slang (as in ‘it’s a smiling’ then they have a happy or con- fair cop’, supposedly said by criminals tented expression.* caught in the act of committing a crime). Eyes bigger than their stomach Eating See cop it.* (or attempting to eat) more than can be Fair crack of the whip A reasonable comfortably digested.* opportunity to attempt to do some- Eyes in the back of their head Being thing.* very observant and/or well-informed.* Fair dinkum (1) Okay. (2) Real.* Eyes out on stalks Expressing extreme Fair dos (1) Reasonable treatment or surprise or interest.* behaviour. The phrase is generally used Eyes wide open Fully aware of the situa- as a request for reasonable treatment. (2) tion; showing a high level of attention.* The phrase can also be used in the same way as credit where credit is due.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • FAMOUS LAST WORDS / 85Fair field and no favour A contest with Fall on their feet Become involved in a no favouritism shown.* rewarding and/or pleasant situation. There is often an implication that this wasFair-haired boy [or girl] Means the same more by luck than intent.* as blue-eyed boy [or girl]. Fall prey to Be a victim of, or be broughtFair suck of the pineapple An expression into decline by.* of disbelief or grievance that someone has done something unfair, such as taken Fall short of Fail to meet the desired more than their fair share of something.* standard.*Fair suck of the sav Means the same as fair Fall through the net Escape detection.* suck of the pineapple. A ‘sav’ is Australian Falling apart (1) When used to describe an slang for a saveloy sausage. emotional state (e.g. ‘I’m so upset it feelsFair weather friend (1) A person who is like I’m falling apart’) then it refers to a only friendly when the situation is state in which a person feels as if they trouble-free. (2) A person who cannot be cannot cope. See pull yourself together for relied upon in times of difficulty.* further discussion of this. (2) When describing a relationship, it means thatFair’s fair A request for reasonable treat- the relationship has serious problems and ment.* may not last.*Fall apart at the seams (1) Fail compre- False colours See show their true colours. hensively. (2) Have a nervous breakdown. (3) Collapse or disintegrate.* False dawn An apparently optimistic sign that is in fact illusory.*Fall between two stools Fail to support or satisfy either of two alternative or Family jewels (1) Treasured possessions. opposing arguments or positions.* (2) The male genitals.* (1) or ** (2)Fall flat Fail. The phrase often specifically Family silver See sell the family silver. means ‘anticlimax’.* Family tree Record of a family’s ancestors.Fall flat on their face Fail, and because of The ‘tree’ refers to the tree-like pattern the failure suffer loss of reputation.* that a visual representation of a person’s lineage can resemble.*Fall for (1) Be deceived by. (2) Fall in love with.* Famous for fifteen minutes A short- lived phenomenon or fashion. Like a nineFall from grace Be no longer liked or days’ wonder, the precise length of fame is regarded as important.* not indicated by the phrase. A personFall into line Begin to follow orders who has been famous for a brief period of and/or work as part of a team rather than time is said to have had their fifteen minutes following individual whims.* of fame.*Fall into place (1) Become understand- Famous last words The term can of course able. (2) Means the same as fall into line. refer to notable phrases made by people when dying. However, it is usually usedFall into their lap Obtain effortlessly.* ironically to comment on somebody’sFall on deaf ears Be ignored or have no over-optimistic or otherwise incautious effect on emotions.* remarks.*Fall on stony ground Means the same as Fan the flames Make an argument more fall on deaf ears. intense by use of provocative language or behaviour. This may be done deliberately or accidentally.*
  • 86 / FAN THE FLAMES Fancy their chances Be hopeful of used humorously to refer to something success.* unpleasant a person would prefer to avoid.* Far and away A method of emphasising ‘far’. Thus ‘far and away better’ means Fatted calf See kill the fatted calf. better by a larger margin than ‘far Favourite daughter A famous woman better’.* especially liked in the country or region Far be it from me to… Strictly speaking, she was born.* the phrase means ‘I am reluctant to…’ Favourite son Male equivalent of favourite (e.g. ‘far be it from me to criticize you’ daughter. means ‘I am reluctant to criticize you’). The phrase is usually used when someone Fear Greeks bearing gifts Means the wants to say something unpleasant but same as beware of Greeks bearing gifts. wishes to make it sound less aggressive.* Feast of reason Erudite conversation.* Far cry from Utterly distinct from.* Feast or famine A situation in which there Far-fetched Implausible.* is either too much or too little, and never the correct amount.* Far-flung A long distance away.* Feast their eyes on Admire.* Fashion victim A person who slavishly follows fashion trends and wears clothes Feather in their cap A praiseworthy that look ridiculous in the mistaken belief achievement.* t h at t h e y a re f a s h i o n abl e a n d trend-setting (e.g. ‘Michelle thought that Feather their nest Accumulate riches, her clothes were the last word in haute usually by illicit means, such as stealing couture, but in reality she was a fashion from their employers.* victim’).* Fed up To be bored to the point of lethargy. Fast girl A now rather dated expression The term derives from hawking – a bird indicating a woman who is considered of prey after eating will usually be sexually promiscuous. * unwilling to hunt and is said to be ‘fed up’.* Fat cat A person who has too much wealth and/or privilege. The phrase is often Fed up to the back teeth (1) Very irritated used to describe senior managers in by something; the phrase usually refers to business who can award themselves out- annoyance at something that has been rageously large salaries and bonuses with going on for some time. (2) Extremely fed apparent impunity.* up.* Fat chance Highly unlikely.* Feed them a line Mislead them.* Fat in the fire The cause of a problem.* Feel free An expression of permission to do something (e.g. ‘feel free to look around Fat lady sings See it isn’t over until the fat lady the house’).* sings. Feel in the bones Intuitively sense some- Fat of the land See live off the fat of the land. thing without being able to give a logical explanation for it.* Fate in their hands An outcome that is dependent on others.* Feel like death Feel very ill or tired.* Fate worse than death The term origi- Feel like shit Feel ill.*** nally referred to a woman’s loss of virgin- ity before marriage (seen at the time as a Feel the draught Experience problems. great moral crime). Today it is generally The phrase is especially used to describe * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • FILTHY RICH / 87 a severe worsening in a person’s Fifteen minutes of fame See famous for finances.* fifteen minutes.Feel the pinch Experience financial Fifth columnists Traitors working within problems.* a country or group with the purpose of weakening it and aiding the enemy.*Feel their age A person who says that they ‘feel their age’ means that they feel they Fifth wheel Something superfluous.* are growing old because they are physi- Fifty-fifty Describes something shared or cally tired or otherwise enfeebled.* apportioned equally (‘fifty’ refers toFeel their collar Arrest them.* 50%).*Feeling oneself See not feeling oneself. Fight a losing battle Be engaged in a task that is inevitably going to fail.*Feeling seedy Feeling unwell.* Fight fire with fire Defend or counter-Feet of clay A single defect in an otherwise attack using the same methods as the praiseworthy personality. The phrase is original attack.* used especially to someone who is made vulnerable by this defect.* Fight shy of Avoid.*Feet under the table If a person has their Fight the good fight Be engaged in an ‘feet under the table’, then they have been arduous task that is for a high moral accepted into a family in which they are cause. The phrase is often used jokingly not a relative by genes or marriage. The to indicate a task that is tedious but nec- term often implies that the person has essary.* done this because the family has wealth Fight to the finish A contest that is fought or influence.* with great vigour. The phrase oftenFell off the back of a lorry Stolen or oth- carries the meaning that the contest will erwise improperly obtained.* continue until one side is utterly defeated.*Fender bender An automobile accident.* Fight tooth and nail Fight vigorously.*Fetch and carry Act as a menial servant carrying things at someone’s orders.* Fighting fit In good physical health and fitness.*Few and far between Rare.* Figure of fun A person who is predomi-Fiddle the accounts Engage in dishonest nantly regarded as somebody to ridicule accounting procedures. The phrase is or laugh at.* often used in two specific circumstances. (1) Where a person has stolen money and Fill their boots (1) Take as much as then attempted to disguise the theft possible. (2) Means the same as fill their through fraudulent accounting. (2) shoes. Where the financial accounts of a firm are Fill their shoes Take over from someone made to look far better than they actually else and succeed in this attempt (e.g. ‘do are.* you think you are experienced enough toFiddling while Rome burns To do some- fill the boss’s shoes?’). More generally, thing trivial while more important things the term can mean ‘to be a replacement of need to be done. The term originates adequate quality’.* with Emperor Nero, who reputedly Filthy rich Very affluent.* played on the fiddle whilst a sizeable part of his capital burnt down.* Final say The ultimate decision. For example, the person with the ‘final say’ is
  • 88 / FINAL SAY the person who will decide what will be Finger on the pulse Be fully aware of the done.* situation.* Final straw The last in a series of annoy- Fingers to the bone See wear their fingers to ances that is the immediate cause of a the bone. person losing their temper. The implica- Fingertips See at their fingertips and by their tion is that the person has been patient fingertips. but the ‘final straw’ was something that provided an irresistible impulse to Finish it off Finish doing something. become angry.* Compare with finish them off.* Find God Acquire a religious faith.* Finish off Depending on the context, the phrase can mean finish it off, finish them off, Find it in their heart Decide to do some- or polish off. thing. The phrase sometimes is used to describe a decision based upon compas- Finish them off (1) Do something that sion rather than logic.* kills or defeats them. (2) Complete a course of treatment. Compare with finish Find their feet Become capable of doing it off.* something. The phrase is often used to describe the process of learning how to Fire and brimstone Describes a stern work effectively in a new job.* moralistic approach, often based upon a puritanical Christian doctrine.* Finders keepers The start of a phrase that ends ‘and losers weepers’. Expresses the Fire and forget A process that once initi- principle that whoever finds something ated needs no more attention in order for has the right to keep it. A dubious moral it to succeed.* and legal principle, but the guiding phi- losophy of unpleasant children (and Fire away In a conversation, ‘fire away’ adults) the world over.* means ‘proceed’. The phrase is often used to indicate that it is permissible to ask Fine balance A problematic distinction questions (e.g. ‘may I ask you some ques- between the membership criteria of two tions?’ may be met with a reply of ‘fire categories.* away’).* Fine kettle of fish Means the same as pretty Fire blanks Try to do something but fail. kettle of fish. The phrase is sometimes used to describe a man who is sterile (e.g. ‘Sue and Tom Fine line If there is a ‘fine line’ between would like to have a baby, but Tom only two categories, then it only requires a fires blanks’).* minute change in the features of some- thing for it to change from being classi- Fire from the hip Respond rapidly fied as being in one category to being without much thought.* classified as belonging in another category.* Fire in their belly Strongly determined.* Fine points Details.* Fired up and ready to go To be in a high state of readiness to do something.* Fine-tooth comb See go through with a fine-tooth comb. Firing on all cylinders Working effi- ciently.* Finest hour Greatest success.* Firing on all six Means the same as firing Finger in the pie Be involved in. The on all cylinders. phrase usually implies that this involve- ment is for personal gain.* Firm hand Sometimes followed by either ‘on the reins’ or ‘on the tiller’. Having * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • FIT THE BILL / 89 good control over something or First things first The most important someone. The phrase often implies that and/or urgent things should be given this control involves the use of disci- priority.* pline.* First up The first thing in a list.*First among equals The best of a group First water Highest quality or the most and/or the leader.* extreme form of something. The term isFirst base (1) The first stage in a plan or derived from a method of grading activity; unless this is reached, nothing diamonds.* else can be done. (2) The early stages of Fish for compliments Behave in a manner sexual activity (‘second base’, ‘third base’ that invites others to pay compliments.* and ‘fourth base’ describe increasing levels of intimacy). (3) The most basic Fish in the sea See more fish in the sea. state (e.g. ‘before we discuss refinements of this plan, let’s establish first base’).* (1 Fish in troubled waters Benefit from a and 3) or ** (2) troubled situation.*First blood The first success in a competi- Fish or cut bait A command to do some- tion, contest or conflict (e.g. ‘the home thing rather than just talk about it.* team drew first blood when they scored Fish out of water A person who is in a sit- after twenty minutes’).* uation for which their skills are totallyFirst come, first served The principle that unsuited and which may even place them the earliest people to apply for something at a disadvantage.* in short supply will be given it, whilst Fish to fry Interests or commitments. latecomers will not get anything because Often heard in the phrase ‘they have supplies have run out.* other fish to fry’, indicating that they areFirst light (1) Dawn or very early in the not solely interested in one thing.* morning. (2) Initial appearance or initial Fishing expedition An enquiry that hopes impression.* to find information but has no precon-First magnitude Means the same as first ceived, specific ideas about what that order. information will be.*First off First.* Fit a quart into a pint pot Means the same as get a quart in a pint pot.First order (1) A very good example of something. (2) Most important.* Fit as a butcher’s dog Very healthy. The phrase probably comes from the observa-First past the post A contest in which the tion that a butcher’s dog will be well-fed winner is decided by whoever is first to on meat.* finish or, alternatively, has the best points score. The phrase is sometimes used in Fit as a fiddle Very healthy.* discussions of elections, in contrast to the Fit as a flea Healthy.* rather more complex proportional repre- sentation system.* Fit for the gods Of high quality.*First thing At the start. The phrase usually Fit like a glove Be a precise fit.* indicates that something should have Fit the bill Be what is required (e.g. in priority at the start of a forthcoming looking for a new lecturer, someone with session/working day (e.g. ‘I want this a PhD and a list of research publications done first thing tomorrow morning’).* will ‘fit the bill’).* Fit to a T To fit exactly.*
  • 90 / FIT TO A T Fit to be tied Annoyed.* Flower of… The best examples of.* Fit to bust With excessive force or energy.* Fluff See bit of fluff. Fits and starts Sporadic.* Fluffy bunny Derogatory term for someone who is naive or not intellectu- Fix their wagon (1) Cause their downfall. ally gifted.* (2) Ruin their plans.* Flushed with success In a euphoric mood Flagpole See run it up the flagpole. following a success.* Flash in the pan Transient. The phrase is Flutter the dovecotes Cause a distur- often used to describe a person who does bance.* something successful or noteworthy on one occasion and then cannot repeat it. Flutter their eyelashes Show a sexual The phrase comes from the use of interest in. The phrase is nearly always muskets: if they misfired, they would used of women.* produce a bright flash (a ‘flash in the Fly a kite Test something or gauge pan’) but not fire anything.* opinion.* Flat out (1) As fast as possible. (2) Without Fly high Prosper.* question.* Fly in the face of Behave in a manner Flavour of the month (1) The current opposed to.* favourite. (2) The current fashion. The negative of this (not flavour of the month) Fly in the ointment Something that mars means ‘unpopular’.* an otherwise acceptable or pleasant situa- tion.* Flea in their ear A rebuke.* Fly off the handle Become angry. The Flea pit A movie theatre or other entertain- phrase normally indicates that this ment venue that is shabby and unfashion- temper loss is sudden and irrational.* able.* Fly on the wall A spy or unobtrusive Flesh and blood Relatives.* observer.* Flesh creep See make flesh creep. Fly on the wheel A person who is far less Flesh nor fish See neither flesh nor fish nor important than they think they are.* fowl. Fly the coop Escape.* Flex their muscles Do something that Fly the flag (1) Represent a particular indicates power (and thus, level of poten- group or belief. (2) Be identified as tial threat).* belonging to a particular group or Flip the bird Make an offensive one- country.* fingered gesture.** Fly the nest Leave. The phrase is often used Flip their lid Become angry or lose a to describe leaving the parental home to normal sense of reason.* live independently.* Flip their wig Means the same as flip their Flying blind Doing something without lid. any guidance or assistance.* Float the boat If something floats a Flying colours See with flying colours. person’s boat, then they find it interest- Foaming at the mouth In a state of excite- ing and/or attractive.* ment or anger.* Flog a dead horse Waste time and energy on a hopeless activity.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • FOR THE HELL OF IT / 91Fob them off Deter. There is usually an limited (e.g. ‘for all they know the implication that this is done by using a solution might never be found’).* weak excuse or failing to provide For auld lang syne Scottish Gaelic adequate reasons.* meaning ‘for a long time ago’, which isFollow in their footsteps Choose a career probably best expressed as for old times’ or journey identical to someone else’s.* sake (i.e. because it was done in the past, it should be respected now). The phrase isFollow suit Behave in a similar way.* from a song by Robert Burns.*Follow their nose (1) Obey instinct rather For crying out loud An expression of than logic. (2) Move forwards. (3) Use a exasperation.** sense of smell to locate something.* For dear life With determination.*Food for thought Something that requires consideration.* For good measure In addition. The phrase often implies that what is being added isFool around Behave in a foolish, unpro- superfluous or is there simply to reinforce ductive manner.* the argument.*Fool’s errand A pointless task which will For grim death Means the same as for dear yield nothing worthwhile. There is often life. the implication that the task is a demand- ing or boring one.* For it (1) In favour of something. (2) Be likely to be punished (e.g. ‘you’ll be for itFool’s gold Something that superficially when Mum catches you’).* appears valuable or useful, but is in fact worthless.* For my money An expression of prefer- ence (e.g. ‘for my money, Chopin was aFool’s paradise See living in a fool’s paradise. better composer than Schumann’).*Foot in both camps Have allies and inter- For old times’ sake An argument that ests in more than one group. There is because something was done in the past, often the implication that the groups in it should be respected now. The phrase is question are opposed to each other.* often used to persuade a reluctant personFoot in it See put their foot in it. to do something because it would remind another person of happy times in theFoot in mouth The state of having said past.* something highly inappropriate.* For real (1) True. (2) Telling the truth. (3)Foot in the door Gained access. The Used as a question, it means ‘is that really implication is usually that access has been true?’* gained to something that is not easily entered, such as a prestigious organisa- For the birds A matter of so little impor- tion.* tance it is not worth attention or fuss. A phrase originally used to describe horseFoot the bill Pay what is owed.* manure that contains seeds that smallFoot wrong See never put a foot wrong. birds may pick at, but is otherwise of little use.*Footloose and fancy free Having no commitments.* For the hell of it For enjoyment or no very obvious reason.*For a song Cheaply.* For the high jump Destined to receiveFor all that In spite of that.* punishment.*For all they know The phrase expresses the fact that someone’s knowledge is
  • 92 / FOR THE HIGH JUMP For the life of them A phrase expressing ing upon the context and tone of voice, that every effort has been made. It is the statement can range from e.g. a polite usually said in conjunction with an refusal to accept payment for doing admission of failure (e.g. ‘for the life of something to a harsh command to stop me I can’t remember where I put it’).* interfering.* For the record The truth. The phrase is Fork out To pay.* often used before issuing a denial of an Forked tongue Someone with a ‘forked allegation (e.g. ‘for the record, I did not tongue’ is lying.* do that’).* Form See bad form, good form and got form. For the ride If someone is along ‘for the ride’ then they have no serious interest in Forty winks A brief sleep.* the activity.* Foul play Deliberate wrongdoing. The For their sins As punishment. The phrase phrase is nearly always used as a is often used in a self-deprecating manner synonym of ‘murder’.* to describe something actually gained through merit (e.g. ‘I’m chief engineer, Foul their own nest Inflict damage on for my sins’).* themselves.* For toffee Usually seen in the form Founding father The originator of some- ‘can’t…for toffee’, meaning that the thing, or a member of a group that origi- activity described is done badly (e.g. nated something. The phrase is often ‘you’re useless at soccer – you can’t play used of the original members of political for toffee’).* or intellectual groups, or people who founded an institution.* For two pins With very little encourage- ment.* Four corners of the earth From all parts of the earth.* For what it’s worth A remark intended to apologize that the information conveyed Four letter word A swear word.* may not be of great interest or value, but Frankenstein’s monster (1) Something should be mentioned. The phrase can that can no longer be controlled by the indicate that something is genuinely of person who created it. (2) Something limited value, or it can be used disparag- unappealing created from spare parts.* ingly (e.g. ‘for what it’s worth, I won the Nobel Prize last week’).* Free and easy Lacking formality or pom- posity.* For yonks For a long time.* Free lunch See no such thing as a free lunch. Forbidden fruit Something desirable that is not permitted. The phrase usually Freeze the blood Frighten.* implies that the fact that something is French leave (1) Unauthorized absence. forbidden is a large part of its attraction.* (2) Departing without providing an Force down their throat Repeatedly explanation. (3) At a social gathering, present something (e.g. an argument).* leaving without saying goodbye to the host and/or hostess.* Force the issue Compel a decision to be taken and/or action to be taken.* Fresh blood Means the same as new blood. Force their hand Compel someone to do Fresh out of… Recently used or sold the something.* last of something (e.g. ‘we’re fresh out of milk’ means ‘we have no more milk’).* Forget it A command not to take further action or interest in something. Depend- * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • FRUITS OF LABOUR / 93Friday afternoon job Something done in From the bottom of their heart Sin- a slipshod manner. The phrase refers to cerely meant.* the concept of workers on a Friday after- From the dead (1) Returning to promi- noon thinking too much about the nence after a period of not being noticed. weekend rather than the job they are (2) From a state of death or being very supposed to be doing, and thus produc- near to death.* ing work of poorer quality.* From the floor Describes something doneFriend at court A friend who has useful by a member of an audience at a meeting. social contacts.* The phrase is often used to describe aFriend in need Part of a longer proverb – speech by an attendee rather than a com- ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’ – mittee member at an important formal meaning that someone who is willing to meeting such as a political rally or help during times of difficulty is a true company annual general meeting.* friend.* From the heart Means the same as from theFriend of Dorothy Slang name for a bottom of their heart. homosexual. The term is derived from From the off From the beginning.* the homosexual workers on the set of the movie The Wizard of Oz who befriended From the same neck of the woods See Judy Garland, who played the part of neck of the woods. Dorothy in the movie.** From the shoulder Forthright.*Friends in high places A person with ‘friends in high places’ is on friendly From the sidelines Means the same as on terms with people who have powerful the sidelines. and/or influential jobs.* From the sublime to the ridiculous (1)Fries See you want fries with that? This phrase was originally somewhat longer, and finished with the wordsFrighten the life out of Give a severe ‘there is but one step’. The phrase in this fright.* context thus means that the difference between something sublime or wonder-Frighten to death Give a severe fright.* ful and something of poor or ridiculousFrog in the throat Hoarse voice.* quality is often very small. (2) The phrase can also be used to describe moving fromFrom day one From the very beginning.* a serious topic to a less intellectual oneFrom hell Something ‘from hell’ is a very (e.g. ‘the TV news last night moved from unpleasant or badly working example of the sublime to the ridiculous: it had a something (e.g. ‘the car from hell’ is a car story about famine followed by one that breaks down a great deal). The about a skateboarding duck’).* phrase is usually used in a joking fashion. From the top From the start. Often refers The term is sometimes used to denote an to starting from the beginning of a piece especially formidable opponent.* of music.*From here to next week (1) For a long From the word go From the beginning.* period of time. (2) In an extreme manner.* Frosting on the cake Means the same as cherry on the cake.From scratch From the beginning, starting with the most basic materials (i.e. Fruits of labour The rewarding aspects of nothing was pre-prepared).* work.*
  • 94 / FUCK Fuck A swear word which can be used in come full circle but nothing has really just about every grammatical context. It changed’).* has numerous meanings, only the main Full fig The ensemble of clothes appropri- ones of which are listed here. (1) The ate for the occasion.* term originally referred to sexual inter- course, and still has this meaning (e.g. ‘I’d Full marks Utterly correct or successful.* like to fuck him’). (2) It can be used to emphasise a point, to mean that the Full Monty The complete thing.* person feels strongly about something Full of beans To be lively and energetic.* (e.g. ‘of course I’m fucking angry’). (3) As a simple swear word (e.g. ‘oh fuck!’ – see Full of it An insult. The phrase varies in the first few minutes of the movie Four precise meaning between contexts and Weddings and a Funeral for further illustra- speakers. However, it is generally implied tion). (4) To mean that something is that a person who is ‘full of it’ has an broken (e.g. talking about a broken (inaccurately) inflated idea of their own machine – ‘it’s fucked’). (5) Used in the worth and is largely inaccurate in their form ‘fuck off ’ it means the same as ‘piss views. The ‘it’ is usually taken to mean off ’ (see pissed). (6) As a term of abuse (e.g. ‘bullshit’.** ‘you fucker’ or, alternatively, ‘fuck you’ or Full of life Vigorous.* ‘go fuck yourself ’). (7) As an expression of exasperation (e.g. ‘fucked if I know’). Full of the joys of spring Cheerful to the (8) As an expression of surprise (e.g. ‘fuck point of being exuberant.* me’ – note this is not a literal request). Full of themselves Very self-satisfied.* Several different usages can be combined in one sentence. Hence, the phrase Full pelt As rapidly as possible.* oft-quoted by linguists about two car Full steam ahead Proceed with great mechanics discussing a broken engine – energy.* ‘the fucking fucker’s fucked’. Which meaning is intended is heavily dependent Full stretch Maximum effort.* upon context. None of them is consid- Full tilt Means the same as full pelt. ered polite, however.*** Note: the frequency with which this word Fullness of time A period of time. The is used varies enormously between people. phrase does not specify how long this Generally, if a person rarely uses the word, then its use indicates a strong emotion or will be, but there is usually an implication surprise. that it will be a quite lengthy period. The phrase is often used in the form in the Fuck all Nothing. See sweet Fanny fullness of time, as a reply to a question Adams.*** about when something will happen. In Fudge factor (1) A manipulation of data to this context, the phrase means ‘at some give a desired, rather than truthful, result. point in the future’ without being any (2) The degree to which such manipula- more specific.* tion has taken place (e.g. ‘a high fudge Fully paid up member A totally commit- factor’ would indicate considerable ted supporter.* manipulation of the data).* Funny as hell Very funny. The phrase is, Full as a goog Drunk.* however, often used sarcastically (i.e. Full circle See wheel has come full circle. The meaning ‘not funny’). The only indica- phrase is also used to mean that after a tions of which meaning is intended are period of change, the situation is as it was context and (if spoken) the intonation of before any change took place (e.g. ‘we’ve the voice.** * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GET A QUART IN A PINT POT / 95Funny old world Unusual things can Gave me the willies In other words, ‘it happen in daily life. The phrase is often made me frightened’. Note for American used as a comment upon hearing about readers: ‘willy’ is one of the numerous something unusual.* UK slang words for the penis, so use of the word in anything but this (respect-Funny thing Something unusual.* able) context can cause amusement toFur will fly There will be trouble.* British listeners.*Future shock Feeling of stress or bewil- Genie See let the genie out of the bottle. derment caused by being unable to com- Gentleman of leisure A man with no prehend technological and cultural employment. The phrase is often used for changes.* someone who is retired or is so rich that they do not need to work.* Gentleman’s agreement An agreementG bound by a code of honour rather than one with any legal standing. The phrase is arguably sexist and should be usedGagging for it Very anxious to have sexual with care.* intercourse. There is often the implica- tion that a person is so desperate for sex Genuine article An authentic example of that they are undignified in their behav- something.* iour.** Get a bang Gain enjoyment.*Gaius publicus Means the same as person in Get a fix on (1) Physically locate. (2) Com- the street. prehend.*Gallery See play to the gallery. Get a grip on yourself Often shortened toGame is up A secret is revealed or a plot ‘get a grip’. (1) The phrase can mean the exposed.* same as pull yourself together. (2) It can also mean that a person should try harder toGame over Something has ended or understand what’s going on.* failed.* Get a kick Enjoy.*Game’s afoot In other words, let’s get started on the task in question. The Get a life A demand to stop wasting time phrase was often used by Sherlock on something seen as frivolous, and do Holmes (who in turn was quoting Shake- something more useful.** speare’s Henry V).* Get a line on Learn about.*Garbage in, garbage out The principle Get a lot of stick Be criticized.* that something is only as good as its ingredients, and that if poor quality Get a move on Hurry up. The phrase can materials are used, the end product will be used as a command by itself (‘get a likewise be of poor quality.* move on!’) where it generally means something more urgent than where theGarden path See lead up the garden path. phrase is within a sentence (e.g. ‘I reallyGather dust Stay unused.* do think we should get a move on’).*Gather steam Prepare.* Get a quart in a pint pot Attempt an impossible task. The phrase often refersGauntlet See run the gauntlet, take up the specifically to attempting to fit an object gauntlet and throw down the gauntlet. into a space too small to accommodate it.*
  • 96 / GET A RISE OUT OF Get a rise out of Annoy.* Get down to the nitty gritty To get to the really important part of the discussion or Get a room A term of admonishment that a to get to the important facts. For many couple of people are being too sexually years considered respectable, in recent explicit in their behaviour in public and times the term has been considered to be should go somewhere private. The phrase politically incorrect by some people since is usually meant kindly.* they argue its origins are in an old slave Get a shift on Means the same as get a move owners’ term for the least valuable slaves. on. Other authorities have said that the term is derived from a term for an unwashed Get across Explain something.* anus. Since neither origin of the term is Get ahead Become successful.* very pleasant, caution over use is accord- ingly advised.* or ** Get along (1) Have amicable relations. (2) A request to leave. (3) Move, especially in Get even Achieve revenge.* the sense of leaving (e.g. ‘we’d better be Get ideas (1) Have plans to do something moving along’ means ‘we had better be that is utterly impractical. (2) Develop going’). (4) Cope.* feelings of a sexual nature.* Get away The phrase generally means one Get in on the act See in on the act. of two things, depending upon the into- nation of the voice of the speaker: (1) go Get in on the ground floor Be involved away; (2) an expression of amazement at with something from the earliest stages.* what has just been said. The context of Get into (1) Become enthusiastic about. (2) the conversation should usually indicate Gain an understanding of.* which was intended.* Get into bed with them Enter into a Get away from it all Leave a stressful or business agreement or pact with unpleasant situation. The phrase is often someone. The phrase does not necessar- used to describe going on holiday.* ily imply a sexual relationship.* Get away with… The phrase is followed Get into shape Become physically fit.* with a word indicating what the person ‘got away with’ (i.e. escaped punishment Get it (1) Understand (2) Have sexual inter- for). It usually is a deliberate exaggera- course on a regular basis.* (1) or ** (2) tion indicating that a person escaped Get it in the neck Receive punishment or punishment (e.g. the phrase ‘get away verbal abuse.* with murder’ rarely literally means this).* Get it off their chest If a person ‘gets Get away with it Do something deserving something off their chest’, then they talk punishment, but avoid the punishment.* about something that has been worrying Get bent A rude reply, indicating rejection or angering them for some time.* of what has just been said.** Get it together (1) Become organized. (2) Get butterflies Get butterflies in the stomach. Cease being confused.* Get by Exist in reasonably tolerable cir- Get laid Have sex.** cumstances. The implication is that the Get lines crossed Means the same as get situation could be better or worse than it wires crossed. is.* Get lost Usually means ‘go away’, with the Get cracking Start working on something implication that the person being told energetically.* this is being a nuisance or is not wanted. Get down to it Begin work.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GET THE BIT BETWEEN THE TEETH / 97 It can also be a rather forceful rejection of the floor first in the morning would bring an argument or an accusation.** bad luck.*Get lucky (1) Have good fortune. (2) Have Get out of it (1) An aggressive way of sex – usually the implication that saying ‘go away’. (2) A way of expressing t h e s e x u a l e n c o u n t e r wa s n o t doubt about what has just been said (e.g. expected.*(1) or **(2) ‘Camilla is having an affair with Edward? – Get out of it, that’s impossible!’).**Get no change out of them Receive no help or fail to get a hoped-for response Get out of their face Cease pestering or from someone.* irritating someone.*Get off (1) Have sexual relations with. (2) Get out of town Expression of amazement The same meanings as get away. See tell or doubt about what has just been said.* them where to get off.*(2) or *** (1) Get over it (1) Recover. (2) A command toGet off my back A request that someone stop fussing or worrying about some- stops pestering or making unreasonable thing.* demands.** Get physical (1) Become sexually active.Get off on the wrong foot Start a rela- (2) Become aggressive. (3) Become physi- tionship in a manner that leads to misun- cally fit.* (2 and 3) or ** (1) derstandings or discord.* Get real An exhortation to think and actGet off the dime Be decisive.* more sensibly and contemplate the real, rather than an imagined, situation.**Get off the ground Successfully start something (e.g. a project or plan).* Get some Have sex.**Get off the mark Begin.* Get stiffed Be given unsatisfactory treat- ment.*Get off their bike Become angry.* Get stuck into Become very interested in.*Get off with Have sexual relations with.** Get stuffed A term of abuse meaning ‘goGet on the right side Become favourably away’ or emphatically rejecting a sugges- regarded.* tion.**Get on their nerves Be annoying or irri- Get the… See entries below: the phrase tating.* being looked for may be under givenGet on their tits Less polite version of get the… on their nerves.*** Get the bird To be a failure. UsuallyGet on with To live or work in harmony describes a stage act that proves unpopu- with. The implication is that the relation- lar with an audience.* ship is one of toleration rather than Get the bit between the teeth Become friendship.* excited about doing something. It isGet on with it (1) Do something. (2) A often implied that someone is so keen to command to do something promptly do something that they are unlikely to be rather than delaying.* (1) or ** (2) dissuaded from their chosen course of action. The term derives from horseGet out more See they should get out more. riding – a horse with the bit (the metalGet out of bed on the wrong side To be section of the reins that should be in the angry or irritable for no obvious reason. back of the horse’s mouth) between the The phrase probably derives from the teeth, is excitable and hard to control.* superstition that putting the left foot on
  • 98 / GET THE COLD SHOULDER Get the cold shoulder To be made to feel Get their goat Annoy.* unwelcome. The phrase derives from the Get their hands dirty (1) Be directly medieval habit of giving a guest cold involved in an illicit or immoral activity. shoulder of mutton (which is fairly (2) Be engaged in manual labour.* unappetising and was normally reserved for the most junior of servants) when they Get their head down (1) Start work (the had out-stayed their welcome.* phrase generally refers to scholastic work). (2) Sleep.* Get the fuck out Ruder version of get the hell out.*** Get their head round… Comprehend something.* Get the goods on Obtain information about.* Get their hooks into Gain control of.* Get the green light Receive encourage- Get their…into gear A request to work or ment or permission to do something.* move faster. The two commonest uses of the phrase are probably ‘get their asses Get the hand of Attain mastery and/or into gear’ and ‘get their arses into gear’. understanding of.* Politeness varies according to the word Get the hang of Learn.* used.* or ** or *** Get the heck out Politer version of get the Get their mitts on Gain access to, or pos- hell out.* session of.* Get the hell out (1) Escape quickly. (2) Get their oats Have sexual intercourse.** Used as a command, an impolite way of Get their own back Obtain revenge.* telling someone to leave.** Get their rocks off Have sexual inter- Get the jump on Come into an advanta- course.*** geous position.* Get their sea legs Get used to something.* Get the measure Understand.* Get their shit together Ruder version of Get the message Means the same as get the get their act together.*** measure. Get their skates on Become more active Get the nod Be approved.* and lively. The phrase is often used as a Get the picture Comprehend.* command (e.g. ‘get your skates on! – we must be out of here in five minutes’).* Get the show on the road Begin a project or journey.* Get their socks on Move faster.* Get the wind up Annoy or unsettle.* Get their zs Sleep. ‘Zs’ is pronounced ‘zees’.* Get their act together Begin working properly.* Get them up (1) Wake someone (usually by waking them with a phone call or calling Get their back up Cause annoyance.* at their house). (2) In Australian slang, the Get their dander up Means the same as get term means to tell someone off.* their back up. Get this show on the road (1) Commence Get their end away Means the same as have a journey.* (2) Launch into a planned their end away. action.* Get their eye in Acquire an ability.* Get to an art form Become very skilled.* Get their fingers burnt Means the same as Get to grips with Comprehend.* burn their fingers. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GIVE IT A MISS / 99Get to the bottom of it Discover the cause GIGO Abbreviation of garbage in, garbage of something (e.g. ‘Sarah declared that out. she would get to the bottom of the Gild the lily Spoil something attractive by problem’).* adding supposed ‘improvements’.*Get to the point A demand that a speaker Ginger group A group that motivates announces the point of the story. The term others into being more active or enthusi- is usually used when people are irritated astic.* with a speaker who is taking too long to impart his or her message, giving unnec- Gird the loins Prepare to do something.* essary details, etc.** Girl next door A woman of average attrac-Get up and go A high level of energy or tiveness, from a similar social back- enthusiasm.* ground, seen as a realistic prospect as a partner (as opposed to a fantasy figure ofGet up steam Prepare to do something. a very beautiful woman with a fabulously There is usually an implication that at large income who in reality would be first progress will be slow, but will accel- unattainable). The male version of the erate and/or get more efficient.* ‘girl next door’ is (not surprisingly) theGet up their nose Annoy.* boy next door.*Get wind of Learn that. The phrase usually Give a dog a bad name Proverbial expres- applies to a situation where someone sion, meaning that a bad reputation is learns about something they were not hard to lose.* supposed to know about.* Give a gobful Means the same as give aGet wires crossed Be confused about mouthful.** something.* Give a mouthful Verbally abuse some-Get you An exclamation of mild criticism, one.* implying that what has been said is unfair Give an arm and a leg See cost an arm and or inaccurate.* a leg.Get your act together Means the same as Give and take (1) Accepting each other’s pull yourself together. needs and wishes. (2) Peaceful co-exis-Ghost at the feast A person who spoils the tence in which nobody dominates a enjoyment of what should be a happy group and everyone is willing to make occasion by being depressing.* allowances for others’ needs and wishes. Do not confuse with give or take.*Ghost in the machine The mind (as distinct from the brain).* Give as good as they get Respond to an attack with an equally effective level ofGhost of a chance A remote possibility. force.* Most often heard in the form not a ghost of a chance, meaning no possibility at all.* Give both barrels To use a very strong verbal attack.*Ghost walks A theatrical expression meaning that people are about to be paid Give colour to Means the same as lend their salaries.* colour to.Gift of the gab The skill of being a persua- Give it a go Make an attempt at some- sive speaker. The phrase is sometimes thing.* used rather more loosely to mean ‘talk- Give it a miss Forego.* ative’.*
  • 100 / GIVE IT A REST Give it a rest A relatively forceful request (just about) polite, but the gesture it that an activity is stopped. For example, if describes would be considered offen- someone has been nagging about some- sive.* thing or talking about the same thing Give the game away (1) Tell a secret that incessantly, the phrase ‘give it a rest!’ explains how something works. The means ‘please stop, you’re being annoy- implication is usually that people have ing’.* been baffled or entertained by something Give it a whirl Means the same as give it because they cannot understand how it a go. was happening. When the game has been given away, the bafflement or entertain- Give it houseroom Be willing to use ment goes with it. (2) Play so badly that something or be associated with it.* the opposing side wins. The implication Give it some welly Do something ener- is that if play had been to the normal getically.* standard expected, then the opposing side would have been unlikely to win.* Give it to (1) Punish or do something violent towards. (2) Have sexual inter- Give the green light Encourage or permit course with.* (1) or ** (2) something to be done.* Give it up Cease.* Give the lead Indicate to other people how they should behave.* Give it up for… Applaud.* Give the nod Approve.* Give me a break (1) A forceful request to stop something annoying (normally, Give their eye teeth Means the same as criticising or nagging): e.g. ‘give me a give their right arm. break – I’m doing the best I can’. (2) A Give their right arm Indicates that the statement of disbelief on hearing some- person in question would be prepared to thing that sounds improbable (e.g. ‘give give up a lot in order to do something me a break – that’s just too stupid to be (e.g. ‘I’d give my right arm to get tickets believed’).** for the Final’). The offer to have their Give me strength An expression of exas- right arm amputated is not literal.* peration.** Give them a bloody nose Inflict a serious Give or take (1) Approximately. (2) Within defeat or setback on someone.* a range of error of (e.g. ‘the room is five Give them a break A request to someone metres long, give or take a couple of to stop pestering or nagging another centimetres’). Do not confuse with give person (e.g. ‘give her a break – can’t you and take.* see she’s finding things hard enough Give over A request to stop doing some- without you pestering her?’).** thing (e.g. ‘all that noise! – give over!’).** Give them a fit Annoy.* Give the big E Reject or dismiss a person Give them a mouthful Attack verbally.* with considerable insensitivity for their feelings.* Give them a piece of their mind Verbally criticize someone (e.g. ‘John gave Mary a Give the elbow Reject or dismiss. The piece of his mind’).* phrase is often used of dismissing someone from employment or ending a Give them a thick ear Physically punish.* relationship.* Give them a wide berth Avoid contact Give the finger Means the same as give with.* them the bird, Definition 2. The phrase is * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GIVE THEM WHAT FOR / 101Give them an even break Provide patronising. Whether the phrase is someone with an opportunity to do intended to be sarcastic is dependent on something. The term often refers to an the context. Give them the benefit of the opportunity to work or to prove that doubt is unrelated to this phrase.* someone can do a particular task.* Give them the benefit of the doubtGive them an inch Part of a longer Make a conclusion that favours someone proverb that finishes with ‘and they’ll when the evidence is ambiguous (e.g. ‘the take a mile’. An argument that showing case against her was not absolutely con- weakness or a concessionary nature will clusive, so the jury gave her the benefit of lead to people taking advantage and the doubt and decided she was not gaining far more than they are entitled guilty’).* to.* Give them the bird (1) To shout abuse at aGive them bondi Physically assault performer or sports player. (2) To make someone.* an offensive hand gesture by raising the middle finger and keeping the otherGive them enough rope A saying that fingers in a clenched fist. The phrase in finishes with ‘and they’ll hang them- both senses is polite, but performing the selves’. The argument that some individ- gesture described in definition 2 would uals given sufficient opportunity will be considered offensive.* bring harm on themselves.* Give them the creeps Make someone feelGive them grief (1) Annoy. (2) Strongly nervous or revolted.* criticize.* Give them the flick Reject.*Give them gyp Annoy and/or be painful.* Give them the glad eye Indicate aGive them hell (1) Reprimand. (2) Make romantic or sexual interest in another their lives unpleasant.* person.*Give them one To have sexual intercourse Give them the pip Annoy them.* with someone (e.g. ‘I’d like to give her one’). The phrase is nearly always used by Give them the shove Fire them from a a man about a woman. Use of the phrase job.* is not recommended.*** Give them the slip (1) Avoid. (2) Escape.*Give them something to cry about A Give them the time of day Spend at least phrase used as a threat to someone who is a short amount of time with someone. making an unnecessarily vociferous The phrase is often heard in the negative protest about something trivial. The form – wouldn’t give them the time of day – threat is that if they don’t stop protesting, indicating that they would not even then a punishment that will give them a spend a tiny amount of time with another legitimate reason for protest will be person. See owe them the time of day.* administered.* Give them the willies Frighten them orGive them the benefit of… If the phrase make them feel uneasy.* is finished with a phrase such as ‘my wisdom’, ‘his experience’ or similar, then Give them their head Allow them to do it is usually intended as a sarcastic something as they choose, without comment. For example, ‘Helen gave attempting to control them.* Chris the benefit of her experience’ may mean that Helen taught Chris something Give them what for Punish. The phrase is genuinely useful, but it probably means often used in the form ‘I’ll give you what that Helen was telling Chris things he for’.* already knew, and that Helen was being
  • 102 / GIVE THEMSELVES AIRS AND GRACES Give themselves airs and graces See airs employees. The phrase is sometimes and graces. applied to members of minority groups.* Give up (1) Surrender. (2) Cease working Glass houses See people in glass houses. on a problem or task because it has Gloves are off A contest or dispute is proved to be too difficult.* becoming increasingly vicious.* Give up the ghost (1) Die or become Glutton for punishment A person who beyond repair. (2) Lose all hope.* seems to become involved in difficult or Given away with… Followed by a name dangerous situations to a perverse or phrase describing something com- extent.* monplace (e.g. ‘cornflakes’). Denotes Gnash their teeth Show angry behav- something commonplace that can be iour.* easily attained.* Gnomes of Zurich The people in charge Given the axe Can mean the same as given of the Swiss banking system. The phrase the sack. Can also refer to the ending of a derives from a period when it was felt that process (e.g. ‘after ten years of broadcasts, banks based in Switzerland were specu- the soap opera was given the axe’).* lating on the money markets and Given the boot Means the same as given the adversely affecting economic conditions. sack. The term may come from an image The term is meant to be a joking one.* of a cross employer kicking a sacked Go a bundle Be very enthusiastic.* worker off the premises. However, the term can simply mean to be made redun- Go ahead, make my day The phrase basi- dant where the employee has not misbe- cally means ‘do what you are intending haved.** and I will make you regret it’. The phrase was originally said by Clint Eastwood in Given the bullet Means the same as given a film in which he played a tough detec- the sack. tive facing a criminal who was planning Given the chop Can mean the same as to shoot him – the implication was that if given the sack. Can also refer to a product the criminal had tried to shoot, Eastwood or similar on which production will be would have shot him before he could discontinued.* reach his gun.* Given the hook Means the same as given Go ape Means the same as go apeshit, but the sack. more polite.* Given the sack To be fired from a job. The Go apeshit (1) Become very angry. (2) term refers to an employee leaving a job Become very excited.*** being given a sack to carry away their Go as you please Unrestricted.* personal belongings.* Go at it like a rabbit Be sexually promis- Glad hand Insincere, over-exuberant cuous.** greeting.* Go back a long way If people ‘go back a Glad rags Best or most glamorous clothes, long way’, then they have known each particularly the sort of clothing worn to a other for a considerable period of time.* party.* Go ballistic To become very angry.* Glad to see the back of… Be glad that someone or something has gone.* Go bananas (1) Become very annoyed. (2) Go insane.* Glass ceiling An unacknowledged barrier preventing the promotion of women * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GO FASTER STRIPES / 103Go behind their back To do something Go down A phrase with some surprisingly secretly. The phrase can imply that this is different meanings: (1) Be imprisoned for done in order to harm that person (see a crime. (2) Engage in oral sex. (3) Leave behind their back), but it can also imply that university at the end of a term or if one person refuses to do something, semester. (4) Be received (especially with another person is approached in secret to reference to a talk or other presenta- see if they will do the same thing (e.g. tion).* (1, 3 and 4) or ***(2) ‘Tom refused to do this for them, so they Go down a bomb Be very popular.* went behind his back and they secretly asked Harry if he would be willing to do Go down badly Be badly received.* it’).* Go down fighting Showing defianceGo belly-up (1) To fail catastrophically. (2) even when faced with inevitable defeat.* To die or fail past the point of recovery. The term is derived from the fact that a Go down like… Followed by a phrase fish, when it dies, will float to the surface indicating an unpopular thing, an unpop- belly upwards.* ular activity or something that is bound to fail. The commonest form is go downGo Buddha Become enigmatic and hard to like a lead balloon, but there are many understand.* others varying in politeness (e.g. ‘go down like a bucket of cold sick’, ‘goGo bung (1) Fail. (2) Die. (3) Become down like a comedian in a funeral bankrupt.* parlour’, ‘go down like Glasgow EmpireGo bush Reject formality and adopt a on a wet Monday night’, etc.). All mean simpler way of life.* ‘to fail badly’, usually with the added implication of becoming unpopular.* orGo by the board Describes an activity ** or *** such as a project abandoned because it is no longer feasible.* Go down like a lead balloon Fail igno- miniously.*Go by the boards Means the same as go by the board. Go down well Be well received.*Go by the book Perform a procedure Go down with all guns blazing Means exactly as described in official guidelines the same as go down fighting. or rules.* Go down with all hands Suffer a seriousGo cold turkey Experience withdrawal defeat or loss.* symptoms after stopping taking addic- Go downhill Decline.* tive drugs. Can be used jokingly to describe a craving following giving up Go Dutch Share the cost.* something pleasurable but non-addictive (e.g. a craving for watching soap operas Go easy on them (1) Give a less harsh pun- having vowed to stop watching poor ishment than might have logically been quality television programmes).* expected. (2) A request that a punishment be made less harsh (e.g. ‘I think youGo commando Not wear underwear should go easy on them, since they didn’t underneath clothes. The phrase was fully realize what they were doing’).* popularised by the TV comedy Friends.* Go faster stripes Decorative stripesGo crackers (1) Become insane. (2) painted on the side of a car in a similar Become very excited.* manner to the decoration seen on racing cars. The phrase usually implies that theGo crook (1) Fall ill. (2) Become annoyed.* decoration is inappropriate and the car’s owner has an unrealistically high
  • 104 / GO FIFTY-FIFTY opinion of their car’s and their driving Go mad (1) Become insane. (2) Become performance.* angry. (3) Have (usually boisterous) fun. (4) Enjoy. (5) An instruction to enjoy Go fifty-fifty Means the same as go halves. something (e.g. a person giving another Go figure An expression of bemusement, person a toy or something frivolous typically said after someone has done might say ‘go mad’, meaning ‘enjoy it’).* something that does not seem logical or Go native A contemptuous phrase used by fair (e.g. ‘nobody was cross with him and Victorian colonialists to describe a white he said there was nothing troubling him, colonialist settler who rejected the values but he spent the day looking and acting of white European society and instead depressed – go figure’).* adopted the lifestyle of the indigenous Go for broke Risk everything on one population. By extension, the phrase action that will either bring spectacular describes anyone who rejects officially rewards or produce ruination.* sanctioned norms of behaviour in favour of the norms of another culture.* Go for it A phrase exhorting people to work hard for a particular goal. During Go nuclear Become very angry.* the 1980s it became synonymous with Go nuts Means the same as go mad. success-obsessed people who seemed to value money and power above friendship Go off the deep end React in an extreme and trust. Accordingly, it is sometimes way. There is often the implication that used ironically to parody such a person.* this reaction is illogically extreme.* Go for the jugular Make a very aggressive Go off with a bang Be a great success.* attack or criticism.* Go on Depending upon the intonation of Go forth and multiply The phrase (a quo- the speaker’s voice and the context of the tation from the Bible) is sometimes used conversation, this may mean several as a euphemism for fuck off.** things, but most commonly: (1) it is a request to carry on with what the person Go gold Attain success.* was talking about before an interruption Go great guns Do something with great or (2) it is an expression of amazement at enthusiasm and/or energy.* what the speaker has just been told.* Go halves Divide or share equally (typi- Go on about Excessively talk about some- cally, share the cost of something).* thing.* Go head to head Have a confrontation.* Go one better Do something better than someone else. The phrase is often used to Go hot and cold Feel embarrassed or imply that something has been done out shocked.* of an obsessive urge to be better than Go in to bat for them To support some- everyone else (e.g. ‘you just have to go one’s cause.* one better than everyone else, don’t you?’).* Go it alone Work alone.* Go overboard Be overenthusiastic.* Go it blind Behave carelessly without prior thought.* Go pear-shaped Go seriously wrong.* Go like a bomb Move extremely quickly.* Go places Be successful.* Go like gangbusters Behave in an ener- Go platinum Attain success.* getic manner.* Go postal The phrase originally meant ‘become homicidal’, but more generally * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GO TO THE WALL / 105 means ‘become very angry’. The phrase Go through the hoops Endure difficul- originated in the USA after a spate of ties. The phrase is often used for having mass murders in which disgruntled postal to undertake a difficult series of tests or a workers killed their colleagues.* difficult training course.*Go public (1) Reveal a secret. The phrase Go through the motions Perform a task usually describes revealing a secret by with no real enthusiasm or thorough- informing the news media. (2) Go from ness.* being a private to a public company.* Go through the roof (1) Become veryGo round in circles Perform a task that angry (e.g. ‘she went through the roof seems to accomplish nothing except when she heard the news’). (2) Increase in increase the level of frustration. There is value or size at a great rate (e.g. ‘house usually the implication that any attempt prices have gone through the roof in the to find a solution leads back to the last two years’).* original problem.* Go through with a fine-tooth comb ToGo round the houses See round the houses. examine in minute detail.*Go south Means the same as go west, defini- Go to blazes An expression of angry rejec- tion (1). tion or dismissal.*Go spare (1) Become enraged. (2) Become Go to earth Hide.* superfluous to requirements.* Go to glory Be destroyed.*Go steady Have a long-term relationship Go to ground Means the same as go to earth. with a sexual or romantic partner. The phrase is usually reserved for relation- Go to hell An impolite way of telling ships that do not involve cohabitation.* someone to go away or vigorously reject- ing what they have said.**Go suck an egg A forceful request to stop interfering and/or to leave.** Go to hell and back Endure great hardship and/or suffering.*Go the distance Last the full length of an arduous event.* Go to hell in a handbasket Means the same as go to hell in a handcart.Go the extra mile Make an especially strenuous effort.* Go to hell in a handcart Deteriorate.**Go the rounds Be disseminated widely.* Go to it (1) Do something briskly. (2) A command to do something without anyGo their own way Act independently.* further delay.*Go their separate ways (1) If people ‘go Go to pieces Become upset and/or their separate ways’ then after a period of anxious to the extent of being incapable being united by belonging to the same of functioning normally.* group, they move away from the group (e.g. through changed ideologies, Go to pot Means the same as go to the dogs. changed jobs, etc.). (2) Cease a friendship or relationship.* Go to the country In politics, the phrase means ‘call a general election’.*Go through hell Endure great hardship and/or suffering.* Go to the dogs Show a severe decline.*Go through the ceiling Means the same Go to the pack Means the same as go to the as go through the roof. dogs. Go to the wall Fail.*
  • 106 / GO TO THEIR HEAD Go to their head Something that ‘goes to Going off (1) In British colloquial lang- their head’ predominates their thoughts. uage, something that is either becoming The phrase is generally used in two rotten or going off the boil. (2) Beginning contexts: (1) if alcohol goes to a person’s to dislike. (3) In Australian colloquial head, then they are drunk; and (2) if language, a term of praise for a social success goes to a person’s head, then they gathering that is enjoyable.* become conceited and/or arrogant.* Going places Becoming successful (but Go to town (1) Do something very thor- not necessarily yet successful).* oughly. (2) Do something in an extrava- Going strong Doing well. The phrase is gant manner.* often used in the form ‘still going strong’, Go too far Means the same as overstep the indicating that the original quality is still mark. preserved.* Go up in smoke Utterly fail.* Going to the dogs Getting progressively worse.* Go west (1) Become damaged or unusable (there is often an implication that this is Gold digger A derogatory phrase describ- the result of extensive use and/or ing someone who feigns affection for a ageing). (2) Seek out a better lifestyle. rich person but is principally interested in The context usually unambiguously indi- their wealth.* cates which meaning is intended.* Golden calf Something admired for mate- Go with a bang Means the same as go off rialistic or greedy reasons.* with a bang. Golden egg See kill the goose that lays the Go with the flow Copy or accept the pre- golden egg. vailing mood and/or behaviour.* Golden handcuffs A substantial payment Go without saying It is expected.* given on starting a new job with the proviso that the new employee agrees to God’s gift to… Strictly speaking, some- stay with the new employers for at least a thing that is very good for the named fixed period of time.* recipient. However, the phrase is nearly always used ironically (e.g. ‘God’s gift to Golden handshake A payment given to a women’ describes someone whom person on retiring or leaving an women do not usually find desirable).* employer.* Goes with the territory Something that is Gone coon Something or someone whose an inevitable feature of a situation.* fate (usually death) is a foregone conclu- sion (‘coon’ refers to a racoon).* Going begging Something that is ‘going begging’ is available because nobody has Gone for a burton The phrase when orig- so far claimed it. There is sometimes the inally used in World War II meant ‘to implication that if nobody takes it, it will have died’. However, it is now used more be thrown away.* generally about machinery and plans which are so faulty that they must be Going, going, gone The phrase tradition- abandoned.* ally marks the end of an auction item, meaning that the item can no longer be Gone loco Gone insane.* bid for. The phrase is sometimes used Gone to seed To have reached a stage jokingly to indicate that an offer for where a person is considered too infirm something is about to be withdrawn to continue in their job or, less drastically, unless there is a response.* a stage where a person is doing a job as a matter of routine without being particu- * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GOT THEIR NAME WRITTEN ALL OVER IT / 107 larly energetic or innovative. The phrase Good spread A plentiful and varied supply comes from gardening – some plants, of food provided for a meal. The phrase is particularly vegetables, need to be picked generally used to describe a buffet-type before they have a chance to grow seed meal at a party, wedding reception or pods (i.e. ‘go to seed’) because after this similar.* point they are generally unusable.** Goof around Behave in a foolish, unpro-Gone to the great…in the sky To have ductive manner.* died. The blank is filled in with a term Goose See goose is cooked, kill the goose that associated with an activity of the lays the golden egg and wouldn’t say boo to a deceased’s (e.g. a dead teacher might be goose. said to have ‘gone to the great classroom in the sky’).* Goose is cooked In trouble.*Gone west Broken.* Gory details Joking phrase that means the information that might be censored ifGood and… The phrase is intended to someone prudish or sensitive was listen- emphasize the meaning of the word or ing.* words that follow. For example, ‘good and dead’ means that something (or Gospel truth The truth.* someone) is definitely dead. The emphasis is usually unnecessary.* Got another thing coming If someone has ‘got another thing coming’, then theyGood as new (1) Something old that is are about to receive something unpleas- indistinguishable from something new. ant that they did not expect.* (2) Something that has been successfully restored to its original state.* Got diddly squat Means the same as got squat.Good bet A wise choice that is unlikely to prove wrong.* Got form Have a criminal record.*Good for a laugh Entertaining. The Got it down to a fine art Be very skilful.* phrase is sometimes used to describe Got it in for… Have a vindictive attitude something that is of little value except to towards.* provide an amusing diversion.* Got it in one Comprehended at once.*Good form (1) Correct etiquette. (2) A good physical condition. (3) Good pros- Got it in them Have the ability.* pects.* Got squat To have or to know nothing.*Good innings Successful life and/or Got their hallmark Means the same as got career.* their signature.Good nick Good condition.* Got their name written all over it BeGood offices Assistance.* absolutely characteristic of something a specific person would do or be capable ofGood run for their money See run for doing. The phrase is often used in one of their money. two ways – either to denote somethingGood Samaritan Someone who offers that a person is not admitting to doing assistance without expectation of but is almost certainly by them (e.g. ‘deny reward.* it all you will, but it’s got your name written all over it’) or to describe some-Good screw (1) Large salary or profit. (2) thing that is ideally suited to a person An enjoyable sexual partner or sexual (e.g. ‘the job that’s been advertised has encounter.* (1) or *** (2) your name written all over it’).*
  • 108 / GOT THEIR NUMBER Got their number Means the same as have case. Thus, the phrase means ‘people their number. always think that the grass is always greener on the other side’. For example, a Got their signature Be absolutely charac- person working for Company A might teristic of something a specific person believe that someone working in would do.* Company B has a better job. However, by Got what it takes Have the necessary abili- the same argument, someone working for ties.* Company B might believe that someone working in Company A has a better job.* Got you (1) An exclamation upon captur- ing or finding someone. (2) An exclama- Grass grow under their feet See not let the tion indicating that a person finally grass grow under their feet. understands what someone has been Grass roots The ‘ordinary’ members of the trying to explain.* public or a group (e.g. ‘grass roots Grab the bull by the horns Means the opinion’ is what ‘ordinary’ people think same as take the bull by the horns. about something).* Grab the headlines Be the most discussed Grave See turn in their grave. piece of news.* Graven image Something or someone that Grab the limelight Means the same as grab is the subject of misplaced over-rever- the headlines. ence.* Grab with both hands Accept eagerly.* Gravy train A system that offers high financial rewards in exchange for dispro- Grand old man Revered older person who portionately easy work. The phrase is is a noted exponent in their field of often used to describe jobs that seem expertise.* unduly easy for the high salaries Grandstand finish An exciting conclu- awarded, and that appear to be unfairly sion.* awarded.* Grasp at straws In a situation where a Gray area American spelling of grey area. solution to a problem is being sought, Grease the wheels Ensure that something and so far every possible solution has works efficiently. There is sometimes an failed, a person might be said to ‘grasp at implication that bribes are used to ensure straws’ if they place hope in an implausi- that something works efficiently.* ble solution which an unbiased observer can see is hopelessly wrong.* Grease their palm Bribe or persuade.* Grasp the nettle Deal directly with a diffi- Greased lightning Something very fast- cult situation or problem.* moving.* Grass is always greener The start of a Greasy spoon A café with low standards of longer phrase that ends ‘on the other cleanliness, service and cuisine.* side’. The phrase ostensibly expresses the Great and the good Rich and famous belief that conditions must be more people.* favourable somewhere else. However, the phrase is usually used as a warning to Great one for… A person who is noted for people who are dissatisfied with their a particular activity or behaviour.* current situation and who want a change Great outdoors A phrase usually intended to consider the fact that practically sarcastically, denoting an enjoyment of everyone believes that another situation activities that take place out of doors, would be preferable, and merely thinking this does not mean that it is actually the * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • GRUB’S UP / 109 such as hiking, camping and many Grey matter The brain cells and hence, by sports.* association, the intellect. For example, if something ‘exercises the grey matter’ it isGreat stuff Excellent.* intellectually demanding.*Great unwashed Ordinary people or, Grin and bear it Tolerate something more specifically, working-class people. unpleasant or unwelcome without com- The phrase is usually used jokingly, but is plaint. The phrase is often used in the considered unpleasant by some people form ‘you’d better grin and bear it’ or and so should be avoided.** ‘you’ll have to grin and bear it’, meaningGreat white chief The person in charge. that not only must something be Care should be used in using this phrase accepted as inevitable, but complaints since it is potentially racist on two counts: will not be welcome.* (a) the assumption that the most impor- Grin like a Cheshire cat Have a very big tant person is white, and (b) the phrase is grin. The phrase comes from the a supposed imitation of Native American Cheshire cat, a character in Alice in Won- use of English.** derland, who would slowly disappear –Greatest thing since sliced bread A the last part of his image that disappeared humorous way of saying that something was his grin.* is a useful invention. The phrase is also Grind to a halt Slow down and stop.* used ironically to indicate that what is under discussion is useless.* Grindstone See keep nose to the grindstone.Greeks bearing gifts See beware of Greeks Grip See get a grip on yourself. bearing gifts. Grist to the mill Experience. The phrase isGreen around the gills Looking often used to describe something that in nauseous.* itself is not very rewarding or interesting, but which cumulatively with other expe-Green-eyed monster Jealousy.* riences will increase a person’s knowl-Green fingers Ability to do gardening or edge and skills.* horticulture.* Ground Zero (1) The epicentre of a bombGreen light An indication or command to blast (particularly a nuclear bomb). (2) begin.* More generally, the most important target or aim.*Green welly brigade Members of the British upper classes (named after the Grounds for… The phrase is usually green wellington boots many of them followed by ‘argument’, ‘discussion’ or a few years ago wore when in the ‘divorce’, though many other words or country).* phrases are possible. The phrase means ‘basis for’ or ‘reasons for’. Thus ifGrey area Something about which there is someone has ‘grounds for an argument’ uncertainty. This can refer to doubts they have reasons for being angry. about whether something belongs to one ‘Ground’ can mean ‘basis’ or ‘root’.* category or another (e.g. ‘the issue of what is pornographic and what is not is a Grow on trees See it doesn’t grow on trees. grey area’) or, more generally, to an issue Grow up A demand that someone behaves where a definitive answer has not been sensibly.** found (e.g. ‘whether time travel will ever be possible is still something of a grey Grown grey [or gray] Become ill.* area for scientists’).* Grub’s up The food is ready for eating.*
  • 110 / GUN TO THEIR HEAD Gun to their head Someone with a ‘gun to Had their day (1) Be no longer of use. (2) their head’ feels compelled to do some- Be no longer fashionable.* thing because of threats of punishment or Hail fellow well met An over-effusive something unpleasant.* greeting.* Gunning for Show hostility towards.* Hair of the dog Sometimes followed by Guns at dawn The phrase originally the words ‘that bit you’. The phrase referred to fighting a duel with pistols describes a (supposed) hangover cure in (traditionally held at dawn). The phrase is which a small quantity of alcohol is now usually used jokingly to describe a drunk.* dispute that has become too emotionally Hair-splitting Being pedantic.* serious.* Half a chance A weak opportunity. The Gut instinct Intuition.* phrase is often used to describe how keen Gutful of piss Drunk.*** a person is to do something (e.g. ‘given half a chance, she’ll make an attempt to Gutter press Newspapers characterised by do it’). * sensationalist stories, little intellectual contemplation and with scant regard for Half a loaf Something that is not all that is propriety.* needed, but is nonetheless better than nothing at all.* Half a minute Means the same as half a moment. H Half a mo Means the same as half a moment. Hackles See raise their hackles. Half a moment (1) A brief period of time. (2) A request that someone briefly stops Had a few In a state of intoxication or what they are doing (e.g. ‘half a moment, near-intoxication.* I’d like a word with you’).* Had it (1) Damaged, ill or worn out beyond Half an eye Attend to something in a lack- hope of recovery. (2) Means the same as lustre fashion.* had it up to here. (3) In a situation where death, defeat or destruction is inevitable.* Half-baked Not properly prepared.* Had it up to here To be tired to the point Half cut Inebriated.* of anger of hearing about or dealing with Half inch Steal. From Cockney rhyming a particular person or situation (e.g. ‘I’ve slang for ‘pinch’.* had it up to here with answering ques- tions about when the new photocopier Half measures (1) Little enthusiasm or will arrive’). The phrase can also be used commitment. (2) Poor quality and/or in other forms (e.g. ‘I’ve had it up to the inadequate.* eyeballs’ – see up to the eyeballs).* Half of it The most important features. The Had their chips Completely failed. The phrase is most often used in the form don’t phrase is derived from gambling in know the half of it, meaning that the most casinos, where a gambler can only gamble important piece of information has not for as long as they have gambling chips to been revealed.* play with. Once they have lost all their Halfway house (1) The midpoint in a chips (i.e. had all their chips) then they journey or activity. (2) A compromise. (3) must stop playing.* A hostel for long-term patients and pris- * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • HANG IN THERE / 111 oners being rehabilitated into the com- with no money available for luxuries or munity.* entertainment.*Halt, who goes there? The traditional Handbags at dawn A joking phrase challenge of a military sentry. The phrase describing a state of disagreement is sometimes used jokingly as a greeting.* between two women.*Halves See not by halves. Handed on a plate Provided with some- thing without exhibiting the effort orHam actor A poor actor.* skill normally expected to attain it.*Ham it up In acting, a bad performance Hands down Without doubt.* characterized by ridiculously exagger- ated emotions.* Hands off (1) Do not touch. (2) Do not approach. (3) Do not interfere with.*Hamlet without the prince An event where the person who should have been Hands-on (1) A ‘hands-on’ activity is one the most important person there is that requires a person to take part in the missing.* activity (i.e. it is not done automatically). (2) A ‘hands-on’ approach is one in whichHammer and tongs Vigorously.* a person becomes involved in the activity,Hammer home Ensure that something is rather than delegating the work to fully understood through the use of someone else.* forceful argument.* Hands-on knowledge Knowledge acqu-Hand in glove In close association. The ired through practical experience rather phrase usually refers to an illicit activity.* than solely from theory.*Hand in the dinner pail Die.* Handsome is as handsome does A proverb expressing the view that what aHand it to them Congratulate or praise person does is more important than what them.* they appear to be.*Hand on the tiller The person with their Hang a left Go to the left.* ‘hand on the tiller’ is in control.* Hang a right Go to the right.*Hand on the torch (1) Teach someone. (2) Pass the responsibility for something Hang about This can mean the same as (particularly something with a long tradi- hang around, but in British slang it can tion) on to someone else.* also be used to indicate that a person has just realized that something is wrongHand over fist Recklessly and/or rapidly. (e.g. ‘hang about! – there’s something The phrase is usually heard in the longer wrong about this’).* phrases of spend money hand over fist and make money hand over fist.* Hang an idea on Use something to examine the worth and/or substance ofHand them in (1) Return something. (2) an argument or idea.* Present someone to the police or similar organisation so that they can be Hang around Wait. There is often an arrested.* implication of rather aimless behaviour with no real purpose.*Hand tied behind their back See do it with a hand tied behind their back. Hang fire Wait.*Hand to mouth Only the basic necessities. Hang in there (1) Show determination. (2) For example, a ‘hand to mouth existence’ Manage to preserve something even is one in which there is only money avail- though experiencing strong opposition.* able for essential foodstuffs, shelter, etc.,
  • 112 / HANG LOOSE Hang loose Relax.* Happy as a pig in muck Means the same as happy as a clam. Hang of a… A large quantity of.* Happy as a pig in shit Means the same as Hang on Has all the same meanings as hang happy as a clam.*** about. It can also mean hold it. The precise meaning is conveyed by context.* Happy as a sandboy Means the same as happy as a clam. Hang on in there Encouragement to per- severe at a difficult or unpleasant task.* Happy as Larry Means the same as happy as a clam. Hang on their lips Listen with great atten- tion.* Happy bunny Means the same as happy camper. Hang out with Spend time socially with.* Happy camper Joking term for someone Hang them out to dry Leave them in a who is happy or at least content with difficult situation.* what they have received. The term is Hang tough Be resolute.* often used in the negative (e.g. ‘following her announcement that there would be Hang up (1) Terminate a telephone call. (2) no Christmas bonus this year, the A phobia or other irrational fear or workers were not happy campers’).* dislike.* Happy hunting ground Native American Hang up their… Followed by the name of term for a paradise in the after-life.* an item associated with an occupation (e.g. ‘hang up their boots’). Retire from Hard act to follow Someone or some- paid employment.* thing who has been very good and whom it will be difficult to match in ability. The Hanged, drawn and quartered The term phrase is often used of a good worker originally referred to a particularly when they retire (e.g. ‘Harry retires gruesome form of execution. It tends to tomorrow – he was such a good worker, be used today more jocularly to indicate he’ll be a hard act to follow’).* being told off or punished.* Hard as nails (1) A harsh personality with Hanging in the air Unresolved (e.g. ‘the an absence of emotional warmth. (2) committee members failed to reach Physically hard.* agreement and the issue was left hanging in the air’).* Hard at it Working energetically.* Hanging offence Originally a serious Hard boiled Resilient and experienced.* criminal offence that carried the death Hard case A resilient and aggressive person penalty. The phrase is often used in a prone to violence.* joking manner to describe practically any type of transgression (the less serious the Hard cheese Bad luck.* transgression, the greater the irony with Hard nosed A harsh personality with an which the phrase is being used). The absence of emotional warmth.* phrase can also be used in the form ‘I didn’t realize it was a hanging offence’, Hard put Finding it difficult.* where the speaker is implying that the reaction to a transgression the speaker is Hard way The difficult or painful way to accused of is far too extreme for the do something. Often contrasted with the nature of the transgression.* easy way, which is the relatively easier and/or less painful way of achieving the Hanging over them Threatening.* same ends. Having accomplished some- thing the ‘hard way’ is often presented as Happy as a clam Extremely happy.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • HAVE A NICE DAY / 113 being more fulfilling and praiseworthy Have a butcher’s Have a look. The phrase than having reached the same ends using is derived from Cockney rhyming slang the ‘easy way’. The exception is during (‘butcher’s hook – look’).* an interrogation or an enquiry, when Have a cadenza Be agitated.* someone states ‘this can be done the easy way or the hard way’ (or similar). The Have a cob on Be angry.* phrase then means that the truth will inevitably be found, and this can be done Have a cow Lose their temper. Not, as by a quick confession (the easy way) or some people suppose, invented by the after prolonged questioning, possibly scriptwriters of the television show The involving physical violence (the hard Simpsons, but certainly popularized by way).* that programme.*Hat See at the drop of a hat. Have a dig Insult or criticize.*Hat in hand Means the same as cap in hand. Have a down on Dislike.*Hatches, matches and despatches Have a field day Have an enjoyable Humorous description of the section of a and/or successful time. The phrase is newspaper listing births (‘hatches’), most often used to describe an easy engagements and weddings (‘matches’), victory over opponents, but it is used in and obituaries (‘despatches’).* other situations as well.*Hate their guts Strongly dislike.* Have a go Attempt.*Hats off to… Show praise or thanks to…* Have a go at Criticize or nag.*Haul ass Move quickly.** Have a good mind to… Be seriously intending to.*Haul over the coals Give a severe telling-off. The phrase comes from a Have a heart A plea to have more compas- medieval form of punishment.* sion.*Have a ball Have a very enjoyable time.* Have a lend of Australian term meaning to take advantage of a person’s gullibleHave a bash (1) Make an attempt to do nature (e.g. ‘can’t you see that she’s something. The phrase usually indicates having a lend of you?’).* that the attempt is likely to be not very skilful. It should be noted that in British Have a lot on the ball Be very skilful.* English, the phrase is often used by Have a mind of their own Be capable of someone being modest about their making a decision independent of other efforts. (2) Host a party* people’s advice or opinions.*Have a belly Have a tantrum.* Have a mountain to climb Have some-Have a bellyful Have so much of some- thing difficult to do.* thing that it feels unpleasant. The phrase Have a naughty Australian slang for ‘have can refer to over-eating or over- drinking, sex’.** or can mean that a person has heard more than they want about something (e.g. Have a nice day Usually said on ending a ‘I’ve had a bellyful of your complaints’).* conversation, the term is simply a polite way of terminating what is being said. ItHave a bird Lose one’s temper or other- in effect means the same as ‘farewell’ wise lose a sense of calmness.* (‘fare well’ – i.e. ‘do well in what you are about to do’). However, for some reason the term annoys some individuals (partic- ularly the British), who see the phrase as
  • 114 / HAVE A POP AT insincere, and some Britons may say it in Have it coming to them Be likely to be a deliberately exaggerated American punished for past misdeeds.* accent to denote an insincere business- Have it easy Have a less demanding expe- person.* rience than might normally be ex- Have a pop at Attack or criticize.* pected.* Have a seat Sit down.* Have it in for Have feelings of animosity towards.* Have a shot at Attempt.* Have it off Have sexual intercourse.*** Have a thing about Have an unnatural preoccupation about.* Have it your way A response that in effect means ‘I don’t believe your argument, but Have a tiger by the tail Be responsible for I can’t be bothered to persuade you oth- completing a task that, once started, erwise, so carry on believing it’ (e.g. cannot easily be abandoned or given to ‘okay, have it your way – John and Sarah someone else, and which has proven to be are having an affair. However, I don’t unexpectedly problematic.* believe it’).* Have an eye for Have an appreciation of. Have its moments Be good or enjoyable in The phrase is often used to describe an parts.* ability to identify good works of art or talent.* Have kittens Be apprehensive.* Have another thing coming Means the Have no truck with Have no dealings same as have another think coming. with.* Have another think coming A person Have nothing on them (1) Have no who ‘has another think coming’ needs to incriminating evidence against some- reconsider their plans or expectations. one. (2) Be less able than someone else The phrase is often used as a rebuke (e.g. (e.g. ‘you may think you’re good, but you ‘if you think you’re going out of this have nothing on Brian’). (3) Possess no house dressed like that, then you’ve examples of a desired item. The desired another think coming’).* item is usually money (e.g. ‘I’d like to give you some money, but I’ve nothing on Have bottle Possess courage and/or me’).* common sense.* Have other fish to fry Have other matters Have designs on Plan to do something to to attend to. The phrase is often used to the person or item in question. There is indicate that a person has more important usually an implication that this will be things to do than deal with the problem done either illegally or at least in a being discussed (e.g. ‘I can’t be bothered morally questionable manner.* with this – I’ve other fish to fry’).* Have I got news for you A phrase indicat- Have the bulge on Have an advantage over ing that the speaker is about to tell some- someone else.* thing very surprising.* Have the courage of their convictions Have it away Have sexual intercourse.** Being prepared to put their beliefs to the Have it both ways Manage to gain the test (e.g. ‘if you really think your car is benefits from two seemingly contradic- faster than mine, then you should have tory things. The phrase is often heard in the courage of your convictions and race the negative form can’t have it both ways, me at the local track’).* meaning that a person can either have Have the drop on Be in an advantageous one thing or another, but not both.* position over someone.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • HEAD THE BILL / 115Have the ear To be favoured by someone Have them down as… Have a firm and to be able to gain access to them opinion of.* when others might find it difficult (e.g. Have them eating out of their hand ‘the minister will get what he wants as he Have someone doing exactly what is has the ear of the King’).* wanted (e.g. ‘I’ll get her so well trainedHave the guts Possess the courage.* that she’ll be eating out of my hand’).*Have the heart Have the level of compas- Have them going Successfully deceive sion necessary to do something. The them.* phrase nearly always means ‘have a low Have to their name Own.* enough level of compassion’. Thus, ‘he didn’t have the heart to do it’ means he Have your cake and eat it See can’t have had too much compassion and could not your cake and eat it. do something which required a sterner, less sentimental attitude.* He who lives by the sword A proverb that finishes with ‘dies by the sword’. In otherHave the history Be capable of doing words, someone who uses violent or something.* unpleasant methods is likely to have them used against themselves.*Have the hots for Find sexually desir- able.** Head and shoulders above Considerably better than.*Have the jump on Means the same as have the drop on. Head around See get their head round.Have the last laugh Be proven correct Head hunting Recruiting a person for a after opposing arguments initially job with a rival employer.* seemed more plausible.* Head in the clouds Absent-minded orHave the last word Have the final judge- daydreaming, rather than attending to ment or pronouncement on something.* the task that is supposed to be done.*Have their ass in a sling Means the same Head in the sand Behaving irrationally by as put their ass in a sling. ignoring problems that should be dealt with. Named after the ostrich’s fabledHave their ducks in a row (1) Be orga- habit of sticking its head in the sand nized. (2) Have a clear plan or memory of when it senses danger.* something.* Head on the block See put their head on theHave their end away Have sexual inter- block. course.** Head on the line See put their head on theHave their guts for garters An indication line. that someone is cross with someone else. The threat expressed is not literal.** Head or tail of it See can’t make head nor tail of it.Have their number Understand them.* Head over heels Turned upside down.Have their wings clipped (2) Have their The phrase is generally used to describe influence or status reduced. (2) Be the initial feeling of being in love.* restricted in what they can do.* Head screwed on the right way Sensible.*Have their work cut out To have a diffi- cult task to do.* Head the bill Be the most important person. The phrase is typically used ofHave them cold Have the power to decide the star of a show, but can be used their fate.*
  • 116 / HEAD TO HEAD jokingly to describe the most important Heart on their sleeve See wear their heart on member of an organisation.* their sleeve. Head to head See go head to head. Heart sinks into the boots Describes a sudden onset of feelings of depression Headless chicken See like a headless chicken. (e.g. ‘my heart sank into my boots on Heads up (1) A warning or alert to look out hearing the news’).* for something. (2) A contest between two Heart to heart A discussion about emo- people. (3) Alert or competent.* tional or personal issues between two Heads will roll There will be trouble. The people. The phrase generally implies that phrase generally refers to situations one person has an emotional problem where people are likely to be sacked for that the other person is trying to help poor performance or mismanagement.* solve.* Heap coals of fire on their head Make Heart’s content See to the heart’s content. someone feel remorseful.* Heart’s desire The most wished-for thing Heaps of… A large quantity of… * or person.* Hear them out Listen to what they have to Heartbeat away (1) A short distance away. say.* (2) A short period of time away.* Heart and soul If a person is described as Heat of the moment Something done in putting ‘heart and soul’ into something, the ‘heat of the moment’ is done without then they have worked very hard.* forethought during a busy activity when there is not time for contemplation Heart bleeds for them A phrase that orig- before doing something. The implication inally sincerely meant sympathy for is that something done in the heat of the another person. The phrase is now often moment is probably not what would be used ironically to indicate complete lack done if there were time for planning of sympathy.* beforehand.* Heart in the mouth A very nervous or Heave-ho Rejection. Thus, ‘give the apprehensive state.* heave-ho to’ means ‘reject’.* Heart in the right place Have well- Heave into view Become visible.* meaning intentions.* Heavens above An expression of surprise.* Heart of gold Kindly and well-inten- tioned.* Heavens opened It rained.* Heart of hearts The beliefs and attitudes Heavy going Intellectually difficult and/ that a person truly believes (which may or boring to comprehend.* differ from the beliefs that they claim to Heavy on… A large quantity of….* have when talking to other people).* Heavy on their feet Moving clumsily Heart of ice Unaffected by emotional con- and/or slowly. This is contrasted with siderations.* light on their feet, describing someone who Heart of oak Brave.* is nimble (and also usually assumed to be fast-moving).* Heart of stone Cruel and/or unfeeling.* Heavy weather See make heavy weather of it. Heart of the matter The fundamental cause or most important features of Heck of a… (1) A lot of a … (2) An excel- something.* lent example of… (3) A high magnitude of….* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • HEWERS OF WOOD AND DRAWERS OF WATER / 117Hedge their bets Avoid committing to just Hell hath no fury The start of a quotation one thing (e.g. ‘the man was uncertain that finishes with ‘like a woman scorned’. who would win and hedged his bets, The phrase is used when a woman exacts saying that the first candidate was most revenge for something done to her. The likely, but the second still had a chance’). term is potentially sexist, and use of it is The term can be used in a derogatory cautioned against.* sense, implying that someone does not Hell of a… Means the same as heck of show dedication to a particular cause or a….** cannot decide. It can also imply sensible caution. The term comes from betting – a Hell on… (1) An unpleasant example of person ‘hedging a bet’ would place a bet the category cited in the next word or in the opposite direction to lessen the phrase (e.g. ‘hell on two legs’ is an losses if the first bet failed. For example, unpleasant person). (2) Has a damaging suppose a woman bets 100,000 dollars at or unpleasant effect (e.g. ‘these shoes 10 to 1 on Team A to beat Team B. If she look nice but they’re hell on my feet’).* wins, she gets 1,000,000 dollars, but if she loses, she loses 100,000 dollars. Hell to pay Trouble (e.g. ‘there’ll be hell to Suppose that she now puts a second bet pay’ means ‘there’ll be trouble’).* of 20,000 dollars at 5 to 1 on Team B to Hell’s half acre A long distance.* beat Team A. If Team A wins, she wins 1,000,000 less the 20,000 lost bet, Helping hand Assistance.* giving her a net gain of 980,000 dollars. Hen pecked Pestered and nagged by a If Team B wins, she wins 100,000 dollars woman. The phrase can cause offence, so from the second bet, and loses 100,000 caution is advised.** dollars from the first bet – in other words, she comes out without loss (but without Her indoors Joking term for ‘wife’ or the second bet, remember she would female partner. Likewise, him indoors have lost 100,000 dollars). Thus, the means husband or male partner.* second, ‘hedging’ bet has a small effect if Her Majesty’s Pleasure Prison.* the big bet wins but makes the loss far less serious if the big bet loses.* Here today, gone tomorrow Transitory.*Heffalump trap A misfortune that a Here’s looking at you A salutation before person brings upon themselves through drinking an alcoholic drink. The phrase their own foolishness. The phrase is was used by Humphrey Bogart in the derived from the stories of Winnie the movie Casablanca (more accurately, he Pooh.* said ‘here’s looking at you, kid’). This explains why the phrase is often said inHeir and a spare Two children of the same an execrable accent which is supposed to parents (sometimes specifically two be Humphrey Bogart, but spoken by an brothers). The phrase is derived from Englishman is usually simply embarrass- married couples in various royal families ing.* and the nobility who would carry on pro- ducing children until they had at least Hero to zero A person whose status two sons – the eldest to inherit the title declines to a point of being disliked and another son who would inherit if and/or being considered of insignificant anything untoward happened to the status.* eldest son.* Hewers of wood and drawers of waterHell for leather Very quickly.* Members of the general workforce con- sidered unimportant and interchange-Hell freezes over See until hell freezes over. able.*
  • 118 / HIDDEN AGENDA Hidden agenda The secretly intended High jump See for the high jump. outcome of an activity that is not the High maintenance Someone who is in same as the aim that is publicly claimed. many respects desirable, but who has The term is often used to describe expensive tastes and a demanding per- company managers who tell the workers sonality.* they are working for one set of outcomes, but who are in secret really working for High old… Especially noteworthy.* another set that will benefit them but be detrimental to the rest of the workforce.* High on the hog Luxurious living.* Hide their light under a bushel Describes High spots (1) Most noteworthy things. someone who is modest about their (2) Most enjoyable things. (3) Places of skills or achievements. The phrase is often entertainment.* heard in the form don’t hide your light under High street (1) The principal district for a bushel, which means ‘don’t be so everyday shopping needs in a town or modest’. The phrase is from the New Tes- city. (2) Used as an adjective, the typical tament.* features of something bought in shops in Hiding to nothing If someone is on a this area (e.g. ‘if you shop on the Internet, hiding to nothing, then they are engaged things are cheaper than high street on a task which will not yield anything prices’).* useful.* High, wide and handsome Of impres- High and dry In a difficult situation.* sive, aesthetically pleasing appearance.* High and low Everywhere.* Highly strung Permanently anxious.* High as a kite Intoxicated.* Hilt See up to the hilt. High days and feast days Special occa- Him indoors See her indoors. sions. The phrase is sometimes used in its His Nibs Strictly speaking, a facetious term original Christian sense of days in the for someone who has a too high opinion Christian calendar that are marked by of their own importance. However, the special religious services.* phrase seems to be mellowing to mean High days and holidays Special occa- simply ‘him’.* sions.* Hit a brick wall Discover a difficulty with High dudgeon Anger.* a plan that is either impossible or very difficult to solve.* High end Expensive and/or highest quality.* Hit and miss Imprecise. The phrase is often confused with hit or miss.* High five A gesture involving two people slapping raised palms together. The Hit and run (1) A ‘hit and run’ accident is gesture is used as a greeting/congratula- where a driver hits someone (usually a tion. Thus, someone calling for a ‘high pedestrian) and drives off in an attempt to five’ is asking for the listener to use this evade arrest. (2) The damage caused by an gesture.* accident of this type.* High flyer Successful person.* Hit for six (1) Have a profound effect on someone. (2) Be profoundly affected.* High ground The person or group who possess the ‘high ground’ are at an advan- Hit home (1) Be accurate. (2) Make a tage.* remark that is accurate and makes an argument that a person finds uncomfort- High heaven See smell to high heaven. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • HOLD IN CONTEMPT / 119 able to think about. (3) Make the impor- Hit the town Enjoy an evening of socialis- tance of something apparent.* ing in a town or city. There is usually the implication that this involves consump-Hit it off Form a friendly relationship.* tion of alcohol and not very cerebralHit on Indicate a sexual interest in.** entertainment.*Hit on an idea Have an idea.* Hit the trail Means the same as hit the road.Hit or miss Of variable quality. The phrase Hit the turps Means the same as hit the is often confused with hit and miss.* bottle. It does not mean that a person is lit- erally drinking turps.*Hit paydirt Discover something very lucrative or informative.* Hitch horses together Work amicably.*Hit the big time Become successful, Hitch their wagon to a star Make use of famous and/or rich.* contacts with a more powerful and/or successful person to advance one’sHit the bottle Drink alcohol excessively. career.* The term can describe a single bout of drinking or long-term alcohol abuse (e.g. Hobson’s choice No option. Named after ‘he’s been hitting the bottle for years’).* a seventeenth-century stable owner who hired horses and, instead of the usualHit the buffers Fail.* practice of allowing customers to chooseHit the ceiling Means the same as go their horses, made them take whichever through the roof. was the next available on the rota.*Hit the deck Dive to the ground.* Hog the limelight Means the same as steal the limelight.*Hit the ground running Be ready- prepared to start a job or, alternatively, to Hoist by their own petard To fall victim be suitably qualified for a job. The impli- to their own plans. A petard was a primi- cation is that a person so equipped will tive explosive device – thus, the phrase get the job in question done quickly and originally meant ‘blown up by their own efficiently.* bomb’. *Hit the hay Go to bed.* Hold a brief Represent or support a partic- ular argument or cause. Conversely, holdHit the jackpot (1) Win a major prize. (2) no brief means ‘does not represent or Do something that has unexpectedly support a particular argument or cause’.* beneficial and/or successful results.* Hold a gun to their head Force a personHit the mark (1) Make a correct judgement to do something they would not have or answer. (2) Succeed.* voluntarily done.*Hit the nail on the head Give an answer Hold all the aces To have all the advan- or judgement that is exactly right.* tages available.*Hit the road (1) Begin a journey. (2) A dis- Hold all the cards Means the same as hold missive statement indicating that some- all the aces. one is no longer welcome.* Hold court Be the dominant person in aHit the roof Means the same as go through group. The phrase nearly always refers to the roof. a person who dominates a group ofHit the sack Go to bed.* friends.*Hit the skids Decline severely.* Hold in contempt Have strong feelings of dislike towards someone or something.*
  • 120 / HOLD IT Hold it A demand to stop so that what has porarily in charge. The ‘hold’ in the just been said or done can be thought phrase is probably derived from the same about and/or discussed.* idea as using ‘grip’ in get a grip on yourself.* Hold no brief See hold a brief. Hold the stage Be the most dominant person in a situation.* Hold on Means the same as hang on. Hold their breath Wait anxiously for Hold on to themselves Show self- something to happen. Conversely, if reliance (i.e. rather than relying on others someone says don’t hold your breath, then for help).* they mean that it is unlikely that Hold the… The phase often means ‘do not anything will happen.* use the…’ (e.g. ‘hold the mayo on my Hold their hand (1) Offer support when a burger’). However, there are exceptions person is feeling sad or insecure. (2) (e.g. see the definitions below).* Instruct someone in a new skill at a Hold the field Remain undefeated.* slower rate than would normally be con- sidered appropriate because the person is Hold the front page (1) A phrase used by feeling insecure or uncertain of their abil- newspaper editors instructing printers to ities.* stop printing because a new story has just been reported that will necessitate Hold their horses A forceful method of changing what goes on the front page (i.e. asking someone to wait.* there is some exciting news). (2) The Hold their own Successfully maintain phrase is more often used jokingly to their position in a competition or announce that something new or unex- argument.* pected has happened.* Hold their tongue Say nothing.* Hold the fort Can mean the same as hold the shop or may mean that a person should Hold them to it Make them fulfil a carry on for the moment with a difficult promise they have made.* job and that help is going to be provided Hold themselves Means the same as hold soon.* on to themselves. Hold the line (1) Remain on the telephone Hold to ransom Threaten to do some- whilst the person on the other end is thing unpleasant unless demands are temporarily absent. (2) Maintain an met.* expressed belief or argument in spite of criticism.* Hold up (1) A delay. (2) A demand for a pause.* Hold the phone (1) Means the same as hold it. (2) An expression indicating that Hold water Be plausible.* there is important information that needs to be attended to.* Holding the baby See left holding the baby. Hold the purse strings Control the Hole in the head Phrase denoting an finances.* undesirable state of affairs. The phrase ‘I’d sooner have a hole in the head’ Hold the shop To look after things for a denotes that the person thinks what is while. The phrase was used by a senior being offered is unattractive – it is shop or store assistant who would tell a doubtful if they honestly would prefer junior member of staff that they were in this.* charge of things whilst the senior assis- tant went out for a while. From this usage Holier than thou Unattractive, sanctimo- the phrase has spread to any situation in nious behaviour. The phrase often refers which someone is told that they are tem- contemptuously to a person who uses * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • HORSE APIECE / 121 outwardly pious behaviour to attempt to ioned, and potentially politically incor- demonstrate that they are morally rect.** superior.* Honest penny Money earned by honestHoly grail Something that is highly means.* sought-after and elusive. This can be a Honour among thieves The concept that physical object or something abstract even amongst otherwise dishonest (e.g. ‘a true grand unifying theory is the groups of people, there may be a code of holy grail of physics’). It does not have to basic conduct and decency. The phrase have religious connotations.* often specifically refers to thievesHoly of holies (1) The most sacred part of refusing to aid the police in capturing a a place of worship. (2) A place of especial fellow criminal.* importance.* Honour bound Compelled to do some-Home and dry Successfully completed.* thing out of a sense of moral obligation.*Home and hosed Means the same as home Honours are even No difference in per- and dry. formance.*Home free Means the same as home and dry. Hook, line and sinker The entire thing. The term is derived from fishing (theHome from home A place that is as com- hook, line and sinker are in effect the bits fortable or desirable as one’s true home.* of the fishing tackle which the fish couldHome, James The phrase is often followed potentially swallow – usually only the with ‘and don’t spare the horses’. A hook is taken in).* jocular phrase told to a driver (whether or Hook up (1) Meet. (2) Provide.* not they are called James or indeed male) on starting a journey home. The phrase is Hoops See go through the hoops and put a reference to the instruction given by a through the hoops. rich person to their driver in the days Hop in Get in.* when the horse and carriage was the pre- ferred method of travel for rich people.* Hop it A request to go away (actually hopping away is not necessary).**Home run A decisive act that is unambigu- ously advantageous. Named after the Hop the twig (1) Die. (2) Leave.* most direct method of scoring a point in baseball.* Hope against hope Maintain faith in something in spite of strong evidence inHomeward o’er the lea Travel in the favour of a contrary position.* direction of home. The phrase is a mis- quotation from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Hope chest Means the same as bottom Written in a Country Churchyard and is drawer. intended as an ironic or comical phrase. A Hope in hell See don’t have a hope in hell. journey that actually requires traversing a lea (i.e. pasture land) is not literally Hope springs eternal A phrase (actually implied.* an adaptation of a line of poetry by Alex- ander Pope) expressing the argumentHone the idea Develop an idea into a logi- that people can be optimistic even in dif- cally more satisfying form.* ficult situations.*Honest broker An impartial mediator.* Hornets’ nest A problematic situation that,Honest injun An expression of sincerity. like a real hornets’ nest, is normally best Currently seen as somewhat old-fash- left undisturbed. See stir up a hornets’ nest.* Horse apiece Evenly matched.*
  • 122 / HORSE OF ANOTHER COLOUR Horse of another colour Something that Hot ticket A very popular theatrical per- is radically different.* formance or concert.* Horse opera A story (typically a movie) set Hot to trot Ready for action.* in the American ‘wild west’.* Hot under the collar Angry about some- Horse sense Common sense.* thing.* Horse’s mouth The definitive source of Hothouse flower A person who is overly information. Hence, straight from the horse’s sensitive and/or incapable of dealing mouth means information that is com- with even slightly difficult or demanding pletely reliable.* situations.* Horses for courses People differ in their House divided against itself An organi- skills; thus, one person will have the best sation that fails to work effectively skills to tackle one sort of problem, whilst because of disputes between its members. a different person would be best at The implication is that the organisation is dealing with another type of problem.* likely to fail because of this.* Hostage to fortune (1) A foolish or incau- House of cards An over-ambitious plan tious remark that incriminates or creates that is almost certain to fail.* problems for the person who said or Houseroom See give it houseroom. wrote it. (2) A promise that is impossible to fulfil.* How far can they go? What are the limita- tions on their activities? The phrase is Hot air A derogatory term for a lot of sometimes used to describe the limits on talking without any practical results the extent of sexual activity that a person coming from it. The phrase is often used is willing to allow.* of political candidates at election time making plenty of promises about how How long is a ball of string? Means the they will improve the electorate’s lives same as how many beans make five?* but then failing to change anything once elected.* How many beans make five? The phrase is obviously nonsensical – when given as Hot and cold running… Readily avail- an answer to a question it means ‘I don’t able….* know’. There is often an implication that the question itself is either pointless or Hot blooded Passionate. Contrast with silly. However, note that the phrase know cold blooded.* how many beans make five means ‘intelli- Hot button A controversial topic.* gent’.* Hot off the press The latest news or How the land lies The current situation.* gossip.* How the other half lives The lifestyles of Hot on the heels Closely following. The another socio-economic group. The phrase can literally mean that someone is phrase nearly always refers to the extrav- physically close to a person ahead of agant lifestyles of some wealthy people.* them, or it can mean that there is little How’s the enemy? Another way of asking difference between two competitors or ‘what’s the time?’ Given that we live in a candidates.* world in which so many things have to be Hot potato A troublesome situation that it done to deadlines, it’s perhaps not sur- would be wise to avoid being involved prising that some people see time as ‘the with.* enemy’.* Hot seat See in the hot seat. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • I WANT YOUR BABIES / 123How’s your father The phrase is not used sympathy or agreement from the listener as a question, but rather is used to (e.g. ‘well, I ask you, what was I supposed describe something unseemly, liable to to do?’).* provoke embarrassment, or fraught with I bet This has two principal meanings. (1) complications or trouble. For example, At the start of a phrase it means ‘given the ‘the whole affair was a right how’s your information I have, I predict the follow- father’ might be taken to mean that the ing will happen’ (e.g. ‘I bet they’ll be affair in question was complicated and married within twelve months’). (2) As a unseemly. The phrase may also be used as response to something, an expression of a euphemism for ‘sexual intercourse’.* disbelief (e.g. ‘it says in the paper thatHowl at the moon Means the same as bark taxes will come down next year – huh! I at the moon. bet!’).*Hug a tree Derogatory term for a rather I dare you The phrase has two very differ- naive love of counter-culture.* ent meanings depending upon the context and the tone of voice. (1) TheHum and haw Be indecisive.* phrase can mean that the speaker isHumble pie See eat humble pie. daring someone to do something. (2) It can also mean ‘do not dare to do it’.Hundred and one reasons Lots of Typically, the first is followed by a reasons.* description of what the speaker wants toHung, drawn and quartered A corrup- happen (e.g. ‘I dare you to throw a tion of hanged, drawn and quartered (a snowball at the teacher’), whilst the person who is executed by hanging is second is said by itself or is repeated for ‘hanged’, not ‘hung’).* emphasis (e.g. ‘I dare you, I just dare you’).*Hung like a… Possessing a penis of a size commensurate with the animal named in I don’t wish to know that, kindly leave the rest of the phrase (e.g. ‘hung like a the stage See boom boom.* horse’ indicates a large penis).*** I for one A phrase emphasising theHurl chunks Vomit.* strength of belief in the statement (e.g. ‘I for one don’t believe it’).*Hustle their ass Means the same as move their ass. I have a cunning plan A joking phrase used as an introduction to a plan orHustle their butt Means the same as move proposal. It is a quotation from a popular their ass. British TV comedy series Blackadder, in which a well-meaning but intellectually ungifted dogsbody called Baldrick would regularly announce that he had ‘aI cunning plan’ before expounding a com- ically impractical proposal.*I am not worthy A sarcastic or humorous I tell a lie Phrase said immediately after response to an invitation, an offer, or a someone has realized they have just said compliment. The phrase imitates the something that is incorrect (e.g. ‘Brian is response of an overly obsequious servant older than Sue. No wait, I tell a lie – it’s given a reward by the head of the house- the other way round’).* hold (e.g. ‘I am not worthy of such benef- icence, oh great one’).* I want your babies Joking statement (often made by a man) indicating grati-I ask you An expression of disgust. The tude for something that someone has phrase is usually intended to elicit done for them.*
  • 124 / I’D SOONER…THAN… I’d sooner…than… The phrase sets an tain’. The argument that, if problems unattractive (and usually implausible) arise, often the only way to solve them is action against the action being discussed to make an extra effort and/or compro- (e.g. ‘I’d sooner mud wrestle my grand- mise.* mother than see that film’). The phrase If the shoe fits Means the same as if the cap varies in politeness dependent upon how fits. polite (or rude) the first action in the phrase is. The phrase should not be taken If wishes were horses The start of a literally – what the speaker is indicating longer proverb, which ends ‘then fools is that they find the action being dis- would ride’. The proverb argues that cussed unattractive.* or ** or *** merely hoping for something will not make it happen.* Ice breaker (1) Something done deliber- ately to initiate conversation between If you can’t beat them join them A piece people who do not know each other. This of advice that argues that if an enemy can vary from starting a simple discussion cannot be defeated, then it might be (e.g. ‘isn’t the weather nice at this time of pragmatically sensible to join with the year?’) to a party (e.g. an ‘ice breaker’ enemy. The phrase is usually used in a party for new students). (2) Something humorous way.* that attempts to reconcile people who are not communicating with each other fol- If you can’t lick them join them Means lowing a disagreement.* the same as if you can’t beat them join them. Icing on the cake Means the same as cherry I’ll be a monkey’s uncle An expression of on the cake. surprise.* If it kills them If someone says that they I’ll be seeing you A phrase said on parting will do something even ‘if it kills them’ it that indicates that the person speaking means that they will make a considerable hopes that they and the person they are effort.* talking to will meet again in the future. It should usually be taken as a friendly If it looks like a duck This is actually the gesture.* start of a much longer phrase – ‘if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and I’ll get you A threat of punishment or quacks like a duck, it’s a duck’. The revenge.* phrase simply expresses the view that if I’ll go to the foot of our stairs An expres- something or someone looks and acts like sion from the North West of England it’s supposed to, then it is what it appears indicating total amazement.* to be.* I’ll kill you Almost invariably a threat of If looks could kill Describes a very hostile punishment or revenge rather than actual expression.* murder.* If the cap fits The start of a longer saying – Ill wind See it’s an ill wind. ‘if the cap fits, wear it’. It means that a criticism that has been made is probably I’m a Dutchman A phrase added on to the an accurate one. The implication is that end of a statement the speaker does not either the person should accept the criti- believe (e.g. ‘if he’s a graduate of Harvard cism or do something about making then I’m a Dutchman’). The phrase can changes so the criticism no longer also be used in the form ‘or I’m a Dutch- applies.* man’, where it follows a statement of what the speaker does believe (e.g. ‘it’s a If the mountain won’t come to fake or I’m a Dutchman’).* Mohammed The rest of the phrase is ‘then Mohammed must go to the moun- * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • IN DEEP DO-DO / 125I’m all right, Jack An accusation that In all but name Functioning exactly like someone is being selfish; because their something or someone with an official interests are protected, they have no title or label, but without the title or interest in helping others. The phrase is label. For example, at various times in often used of someone who has a well- history weak monarchs have been told (or over-) paid job who can cause misery everything they should do and say by to others through either inaction (e.g. a advisers, who might thus be said to rule worker not fulfilling a contract on time) the country ‘in all but name’.* or action (e.g. a government minister In at the death Means the same as in at the issuing ludicrous policies) but whose kill. own position is seemingly utterly impregnable and unaffected by the con- In at the kill Be present at the conclusion. sequences of their actions.* There is often an implication that this proves rewarding or profitable.*Impression management Attempting to create a favourable impression.* In bad odour Not favoured.*Improve the shining hour Make optimal In bed with (1) Formed a close alliance use of the situation and/or time allo- with. (2) Having sexual relations with.* cated.* In business Means ‘everything is pre-In a bad place Feeling depressed, bur- pared, so we can start work’. It is used in dened with problems and vulnerable.* conversation more than writing (e.g. ‘we’ve got everything we need, so nowIn a cleft stick In a difficult situation we’re in business’).* where any possible solution is far from satisfactory.* In by the back door To gain admission or acceptance by unconventional means.In a corner In a difficult position or situa- The phrase is frequently used to mean tion. Thus, out of a corner (or out of a tight gaining admission or acceptance by corner) refers to an escape from a difficult illegal methods.* situation.* In cahoots In conspiracy.*In a fog Baffled.* In clover In a state of great contentment.In a hole In a difficult situation.* The phrase comes from the fact that cowsIn a huff In a bad mood.* prefer pasture with a high content of clover.*In a jiffy In a short period of time.* In cold blood Something done in coldIn a nutshell In summary.* blood is done deliberately and withoutIn a pig’s eye An expression of disbelief.* the excuse of being angry and tempo- rarily incapable of controlling one’sIn a pinch Means the same as in a tight spot. actions. A murder in cold blood is one See at a pinch. that was carefully planned rather than,In a rut In a boring, uninspiring, depress- for example, the unfortunate result of an ing situation that is difficult to escape. argument that became violent.* The phrase usually describes an unap- In deep Involved in a situation to a great pealing job or lifestyle.* extent. If the situation is an illegal one,In a tight corner Means the same as in a then a person ‘in deep’ is in serious corner. danger of criminal prosecution if caught.*In a tight spot In a difficult situation.* In deep do-do Slightly ruder version of inIn Abraham’s bosom Dead; in Heaven.* deep water.**
  • 126 / IN DEEP SHIT In deep shit Ruder version of in deep In good time (1) Eventually. (2) On time or water.*** ahead of schedule. Context should indicate which meaning is intended.* In deep water In serious trouble.* In harness (1) At work. (2) Working In dock Being repaired. Do not confuse together.* with in the dock.* In hock In debt.* In Dutch Encountering problems.* In hot water In trouble.* In evidence Something ‘in evidence’ is something that can be noticed. The In kilter Balanced or harmonious.* phrase usually implies that what can be In like Flynn The term means to perform a noticed is important or unusual.* quick and successful seduction. It origi- In fine feather In a good mood.* nated from tales of the supposed success of the film star Errol Flynn in such In fine fettle In good condition.* matters.** In first flush In the early stages, when In midstream In the middle of a process.* showing the greatest promise and energy.* In mothballs Not being used. There is usually an implication that, although not In fits In a state of great amusement.* being used, it may be used on future In for a penny, in for a pound Describes occasions.* a situation in which any commitment or In my book A phrase that means ‘in my interest makes someone irredeemably personal opinion’ (e.g. ‘in my book it’s part of something.* okay to do that’).* In for it Expecting to receive punishment.* In on it Means the same as in on the act. In for the chase Ready for action.* In on the act To have knowledge of what’s In force In large quantities.* going on. Hence, get in on the act means to gain knowledge of what’s going on. In full cry Describes a forceful protest.* There is often an added implication that In full flight Escaping as quickly as to be ‘in on the act’ is to be aware of possible.* something being kept secret from most people.* In full flood Displaying a high level of energy.* In one ear and out the other If a person is told something and it’s said that it’s ‘in In full flow Can mean the same as in full one ear and out the other’, then it is flood, but also can mean talking without implied that either (1) the person was not hesitation.* paying attention or (2) the person lacked In full swing At the maximum level of the intellectual ability to understand activity.* what they were told.* In funds (1) Financially solvent. (2) Pos- In one piece Unharmed.* sessing money.* In over their head Means the same as out In germ At a preparatory stage.* of their depth. In good nick To be in good condition.* In parentheses (1) Pertinent to what is being discussed, but not essential. (2) An In good odour Favoured.* additional piece of information.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • IN THE HOT SEAT / 127In passing Describes something done In the catbird seat In a position of impor- without any importance or emphasis tance or power.* being attached to it. The phrase is usually In the clear (1) No longer in danger. (2) used to describe something that is said.* Free from blame. (3) In a sports competi-In perspective Considered objectively.* tion, a long way ahead of opponents in points or distance.*In pocket Having made a profit or at least not made a loss.* In the club Pregnant.**In pod Pregnant.** In the dark Aware of a problem, but lacking sufficient information to form anIn pop At the pawnbroker’s.* adequate opinion.*In purdah Barred from contact with In the dock (1) Being accused of wrong- others. The phrase originally referred to doing. (2) Being a defendant in a trial. Do Indian women kept hidden from strang- not confuse with in dock.* ers.* In the doghouse In disgrace.*In shirtsleeves A shirt or blouse is the out- ermost garment on the upper half of the In the driving seat In control.* body (i.e. other things are being worn as In the end (1) The final outcome of a well). The phrase denotes that the process. (2) What something actually weather is warm or hot.* means when all the details are reduced toIn stitches In a state of great amusement.* the most basic issues.*In the air The phrase can mean hanging in In the family way Pregnant.* the air, but it may also mean ‘promised’ or In the first place Initially.* ‘likely to happen soon’.* In the flesh Physically present. The phraseIn the altogether Naked.* is often used in describing meeting aIn the bag (1) If something is ‘in the bag’ famous person who has previously only then it is almost certain that it will be been seen on television, at the movies, achieved (e.g. ‘are you sure you can do etc., or, alternatively, meeting a person this job?’ – ‘don’t worry, it’s in the bag’). with whom one has corresponded, talked (2) In a state of drunkenness.* to on the telephone, etc., but never physi- cally met.*In the balance In other words, undecided. For example, if it is unsure if a very sick In the frame (1) Suspected of having done person is likely to live or die, it is said that something. (2) The centre of attention.* their life is ‘in the balance’.* In the fullness of time See fullness of time.In the ballpark To be approximately In the Gazette Have a bankruptcy publi- correct.* cized.*In the black To have a bank account in In the gift of… Something that the person credit.* named in the phrase has the power toIn the buff Naked.* grant (e.g. ‘the prize is in the gift of Simon’ means that Simon will decide toIn the can Already completed. The phrase whom the prize will be given).* comes from movie-making – developed film is kept in circular cans.* In the hole Owe money.*In the cards Means the same as on the cards. In the hot seat Be responsible for a crucial decision. The phrase is often used for the person in charge of something.*
  • 128 / IN THE KNOW In the know Means the same as in on the act. In the round A play or concert in which the audience surrounds the whole of the In the lap of the gods If something is ‘in stage.* the lap of the gods’ then its outcome can no longer be influenced, and things must In the running A plausible candidate for be allowed to take their course.* something. The phrase is usually used in describing applicants for a job or poten- In the limelight To be the centre of atten- tial prize-winners. Someone who has tion. The phrase is derived from the days little or no chance of being chosen is said when theatre spotlights were called to be out of the running.* ‘limelights’, and the star of the show would be lit especially strongly by them.* In the saddle In control.* In the long run In other words, in the In the same ballpark Means the same as in future. The phrase nearly always is the same league. applied in situations where the immedi- In the same boat Have the same problems ate value of something is compared with and advantages as another person (e.g. its long-term usefulness (e.g. ‘in the long ‘we’re in the same boat – you and I both run buying a more expensive hi-fi will be need to find a solution to this problem or worth it, because it will need repairing we’re both in equal trouble’).* less often’).* In the same breath Refers to a situation In the loop (1) Part of a group or process. where someone says one thing and then (2) Privy to information known only to a follows it with another statement that limited few people. The opposite is out of apparently contradicts the first (e.g. ‘in the loop.* the same breath he promised greater In the lurch In a problematic situation.* spending power and higher taxation’).* In the money Rich.* In the same league To be of approxi- mately equivalent quality or ability.* In the nick of time Just in time.* In the shit Less polite version of in the In the open (1) Not secret. (2) Outdoors.* soup.*** In the palm of their hand In their In the soup Experiencing a serious control.* problem.* In the picture Comprehending.* In the sticks In a remote rural location. In the pink Healthy.* The phrase is a relative one, and generally denotes somewhere that the speaker In the pipeline In preparation.* thinks is obscure, rather than being In the public eye A person ‘in the public obscure by a more objective measure.* eye’ is well known and their activities are In the tent pissing out There are various reported with considerable frequency by versions of this phrase, which in its the news media.* longest form is something like ‘I’d sooner In the pudding club Pregnant.** have them in the tent pissing out than outside the tent and pissing in’. The In the raw (1) Naked. (2) In very cold phrase expresses the view that it is better weather. (3) In its most basic form.* to have an unpleasant person as an ally In the red Have a bank account in debit, or than as an enemy.*** more generally be in debt.* In the thick of it In the most demanding In the road Being an obstruction.* and/or busiest part of something.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • INSIDE INFORMATION / 129In the twinkling of an eye Something private chat or needs to convey a piece of that happens ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ information in a more private setting.* happens very quickly.* In their sights Describes something that isIn the wrong box (1) In a difficult situa- wanted or desired and is likely to be tion. (2) Misclassified.* attained. *In the zone In a position to finish some- In their veins If someone has something in thing successfully.* their veins, then they are very gifted at it.*In their bad books In disgrace.* In tow If someone is ‘in tow’ then they are accompanying someone else, usually in aIn their bad graces Not liked.* position of inferiority.*In their blood Genetically inherited.* In trim In good condition.*In their corner Offering support and In two minds Undecided.* encouragement.* In with Friendly with.*In their cups Drunk.* In with a shout Has a reasonable chance.*In their dreams A response indicating that what has just been said is hopelessly In your face (1) Describes a person who is beyond what the speaker is capable of too strident or unsubtle. (2) A term of accomplishing (e.g. ‘when I’m a million- abuse indicating that something has been aire’ leading to the reply ‘in your achieved that an opponent did not dreams!’).* expect.* (1) or ** (2)In their element In a situation for which Incline an ear Be favourable towards.* they are ideally suited.* Indian file A group of people followingIn their face Very direct and confronta- each other in a single line (i.e. rather than tional. See in your face.* walking side-by-side).*In their good books In favour.* Indian giver Someone who gives a present only to take it back at a later date. TheIn their good graces Liked.* phrase is potentially racist and should beIn their grip In their control or capable of used with caution.** coming under their control.* Indian summer (1) A period of warmIn their hair Being irritating.* weather towards the end of the summer season when normally the first signs ofIn their hip pocket Means the same as in autumn would be expected. (2) A period their pocket. of unusually high productivity and/orIn their pocket Under another person’s success in later life.* control.* Industrial action A strike by a labour forceIn their range Means the same as in their – in other words, industrial inaction.* reach. Industrial strength Very powerful.*In their reach Capable of being attained.* Ins and outs The full details of some-In their shell-like The full phrase is ‘in thing.* their shell-like ear’, an overly poetic Inside information Information that is phrase said for comic effect. The phrase supposed to be kept secret. The phrase essentially means that the speaker wants a nearly always refers to confidential plans dealing with strategy or similar.*
  • 130 / INSIDE OUT Inside out If someone knows something be used liberally. See money doesn’t grow on ‘inside out’ then they know everything trees.* there is to know about it.* It figures It appears logically plausible.* Into orbit To a greater level of magnitude.* It isn’t over until the fat lady sings A Into the bargain Something ‘into the warning that a situation might still bargain’ is something extra. The term change (i.e. don’t presume too soon). The generally implies that it is an unwelcome phrase refers to the observation that and/or unexpected addition to some- several famous operas reach their climax thing unpleasant.* with an aria from the lead female charac- ter. Since in popular imagination (but not Into the dumper Into an even worse situa- all that frequently in reality) female opera tion.* singers are rather buxom and overweight, Into the groove In a state of happiness the phrase expresses the belief that until and/or enjoyment.* the fat lady sings, the opera isn’t finished.* Into thin air The state into which some- thing goes if it disappears (e.g. ‘it It never rains but it pours A phrase vanished into thin air’).* expressing the belief that some things never occur in small quantities.* Invent themselves Permanently alter per- sonality and/or behaviour to convey a It takes two to tango A phrase expressing particular impression.* the belief that in a dispute the fault is never all on one side.* Iron entering the soul (1) Becoming sterner about something, having previ- It’ll come out in the wash In other words, ously been more prepared to attend to over time something that feels unpleasant emotional considerations. (2) Becoming now will stop feeling quite as bad. Alter- less emotionally accommodating due to natively, over time something will sort ill-treatment.* itself out without needing to take much action now.* Iron fist in a velvet glove Describes a regime that is outwardly pleasant and It’ll end in tears A prediction that some- polite, but is in reality run by fear and thing will not end happily.* repression.* It’ll mean changing the light bulb A Iron out the wrinkles Deal with minor phrase that means ‘it will be considerable irritations or problems. The phrase is work for little effect’. The phrase comes generally used to describe the resolution from the British television series Red of minor problems before a large-scale Dwarf, a science fiction comedy series. In project or piece of work is finished.* one episode, one of the characters demands that the space ship goes from Iron rations Basic provisions.* yellow to red alert, prompting the reply Irons in the fire The range of options or from another crew member that this will ongoing activities a person has.* mean changing the light bulb.* Is the Pope Catholic? Means the same as It’ll play in Peoria Meaning that it will be can a duck swim?.* acceptable to people with unsophisti- cated tastes. The phrase is American the- It doesn’t grow on trees It is not plentiful. atrical slang (and a rather unfair judge- The phrase is often used as a gentle ment on the citizens of Peoria). The name rebuke if someone is naively supposing of another place is sometimes used.* that a particular item or commodity can It’s a free country An argument that something is permissible. The phrase is * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • JESUS WEPT / 131 used in several ways, among the com- It’s their show It is their responsibility.* monest of which are the following. (1) As Itching palm A strong desire for money. a reply to an attempt to prevent an The phrase usually indicates that there intended action (e.g. ‘it’s a free country, I are few scruples about how the money is can do what I like’). The argument being obtained.* made is that certain human freedoms are protected by law, including the right to Itching to Having a strong urge to.* behave in a wide variety of ways. Thus, ‘it’s a free country’ in this instance is Itchy feet A restless desire for change.* claiming that something is perfectly Ivory tower A person said to be living or legal. (2) As a humorous granting of per- working in an ivory tower is one who is mission (e.g. ‘do you mind if I smoke?’ sheltered from the unpleasantness of might get the reply ‘it’s a free country’). everyday life. The phrase is often used by In this context, the phrase sometimes non-academics of university lecturers indicates that the person saying ‘it’s a free under the (erroneous) assumption that country’ is not very keen to give permis- doing research and teaching are easy sion but feels they must because there are activities.* no sound grounds for objecting other than personal preference. (3) As a protest against an attempted infringement of personal freedoms (e.g. ‘it’s a free country, they can’t do that’).* JIt’s an ill wind A proverb that finishes Jack of all trades Someone who is adept at with ‘that blows no good’. In other a wide range of tasks. The phrase is some- words, it is very unusual for a situation to times completed with ‘and master of be so bad that nobody benefits from it.* none’, indicating that although a personIt’s beyond me It is something that cannot is adept at many things, he or she is ulti- be understood.* mately not an expert in anything.*It’s not rocket science See rocket science. Jam tomorrow The promise of something pleasant or rewarding that never in factIt’s not the end of the world Words of arrives. A fuller version of the phrase is consolation indicating that although ‘jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but something seems bad, it is not as bad as it never jam today’. Thus, the phrase might be (in other words, it’s not the end describes a promise that is never going to of the world, which is about the most cat- be fulfilled.* astrophic thing people might imagine).* Jeeze Louise An expression given inIt’s only rock ’n’ roll In other words, it’s response to something unreasonable or not meant to be taken too seriously.* unfair.**It’s their funeral The phrase can be Jekyll and Hyde A person who alternates paraphrased as ‘they are about to do between two radically different personal- something foolish and it will result in ities (typically, one is pleasant, the other something unpleasant, but it is their own not). The phrase derives from the book decision to do this, and only they will by Robert Louis Stevenson which experience anything unpleasant as a described a ‘mad scientist’ who radically result of their actions, so let them get on changed personalities after taking a with it’.* potion.*It’s their lookout Means the same as it’s Jesus wept The phrase is in fact the shortest their funeral. verse in the the Bible, but has become
  • 132 / JEWEL IN THE CROWN used (and generally is interpreted) as an Johnny Foreigner British term for anyone expletive.*** not British, though generally specifically used to describe anyone who does not Jewel in the crown The most attractive have English as their native language. feature and/or biggest accomplishment.* The term is often used these days Jewish mother A person who is unneces- jokingly to imitate the terminology of a sarily fussy and neurotic both about now bygone age, but care should be used themselves and those they care for. The with the phrase in case it gives offence.** phrase is a racial stereotype and should Join the choirs invisible Die. The phrase be avoided.*** is nearly always used jokingly. If a person Jiffy See in a jiffy. pronounces ‘invisible’ as ‘invisibyool’ they are imitating the pronunciation of Job for the Marines A difficult task. The the phrase by a character in the Monty phrase is often used sarcastically.* Python ‘dead parrot sketch’.* Job’s comforter A person who tries to Join the club If person A describes some- comfort someone else but actually makes thing that happened to them, and person things worse, either deliberately or acci- B replies ‘join the club’, then person B is dentally.* indicating that the same thing has Job’s worth A person who would rather happened to them.* obey the letter rather than the spirit of Join the dots Make sense of something by the regulations governing their employ- combining the available pieces of ment. It thus describes every miserable evidence.* curmudgeon of a shop assistant or security guard who will do nothing to Join the great majority Die.* help customers because it’s not in their Joke is on them If the joke is on a person, job description. The phrase is derived then they have been made to look foolish from the phrase ‘it’s more than my job’s or have failed in their plans. The phrase is worth to do that’, frequently uttered by often used to denote someone who such individuals.* planned to make someone else look Jobs for the boys Sinecures from foolish, but has ended up being the nepotism. In other words, lucrative (and victim themselves.* comparatively undemanding) jobs which Joker in the pack (1) An unpredictable are provided for friends of influential member of a group. (2) A term of mild people such as politicians and senior civil disapproval for the member of a group servants and which the general public most likely to do or say something never gain the opportunity to apply for.* foolish.* Joe [or Jo] Public Means the same as person Judas kiss Betrayal.* in the street.* Juggle balls in the air Means the same as Joe Six-Pack Means the same as person in keep balls in the air. the street, or sometimes more specifically a person of limited aesthetic sensibilities Jump down their throat Respond with and a rather crass attitude to intellectual unnecessary aggression. The phrase is accomplishments.* often used to describe someone who responds with irrational bad temper to an John Hancock Signature. Named after the innocuous statement.* extravagantly large signature of John Hancock on the American Declaration of Jump in (1) Interrupt. (2) Get in.* Independence.* Jump in line Means the same as jump the queue. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • KEEP A DOG AND BARK YOURSELF / 133Jump in with both feet Show a whole- Jump to it (1) Show some liveliness. (2) hearted commitment.* Respond promptly to a request or order.*Jump on the bandwagon Join a popular Jumping up and down Very angry.* cause or activity. The phrase usually Jury is out The issue is undecided.* implies that someone joins because it is popular and other people are doing it, Jury rig (1) Bribe or threaten members of a rather than because they have a genuine jury to return a particular verdict. (2) interest.* Adjust or alter components to perform a task for which they were not specificallyJump out of their skin Be very frightened designed.* and/or surprised.* Just about Approximately.*Jump ship (1) Describes a sailor deserting a ship (when in port). (2) Resign from a Just deserts A punishment that matches the job.* severity of the misdeed.*Jump the gun Begin to do something Just kill me Means the same as just shoot me. before the correct time. The phrase is derived from athletics races – a runner Just shoot me A joking expression of who ‘jumps the gun’ sets off before the apology after making a mistake.* starting pistol has been fired.* Just shout A request to ask for help in theJump the queue (1) Join a queue other future (e.g. ‘if you need help in the future, than at the end of the queue (i.e. act just shout’). There is no literal implica- unfairly). (2) Get the opportunity to do tion that the request has to be shouted.* something before others who were seem- Just what the doctor ordered Something ingly more entitled. The phrase often that gives the optimal benefit. The phrase implies that this is done through unfair is usually used jokingly to describe some- means.* thing the speaker finds pleasurable, suchJump the rails Fail to follow the expected as an alcoholic drink.* plan.*Jump the shark Move from being enter- taining to being of indifferent or poor quality. The phrase is often used of long-running television shows at the K point where they begin to lose audience Kangaroo court Self-appointed group of interest. The phrase comes from the people who decide if a person is guilty of 1970s situation comedy Happy Days – in something. The phrase is usually used as one episode (considered by many critics a condemnatory phrase of groups of to mark the start of the decline) one of the workers who decide they are the fit characters water skis over a shark.* judges of other workers and what is an appropriate reward or punishment forJump the track Means the same as jump the other people’s actions.* rails. Kangaroos loose in the top paddockJump their bones Have sexual intercourse Insane, eccentric or intellectually un- with.** gifted.*Jump through hoops Be required to do Keen as mustard Eager.* unnecessarily irksome tasks in order to attain a desired outcome.* Keep a dog and bark yourself See you don’t keep a dog and bark yourself.Jump to conclusions Means the same as leap to conclusions.
  • 134 / KEEP A LID ON Keep a lid on (1) Keep under control. (2) that is either undemanding or only of Keep secret.* average difficulty.* Keep a straight face Maintain a facial Keep on an even keel Keep things rela- expression and demeanour of calmness tively safe and secure.* although having a strong need to laugh Keep open house Be hospitable.* or smile.* Keep options open Means the same as Keep an ear out for Listen for a specified leave options open. event to happen (e.g. ‘keep an ear out for the doorbell ringing’).* Keep out of their hair (1) Avoid. (2) Not annoy.* Keep an eye on Watch and/or attend to.* Keep passing the open windows Don’t Keep an eye out for Watch for a specified do anything foolish. The phrase origi- event to happen (e.g. ‘keep an eye out for nated as advice to dissuade people con- their car arriving’).* templating suicide by jumping from a Keep at arm’s length See arm’s length. high window.* Keep at bay Prevent someone or some- Keep regular hours Be predictable in their thing having an effect by preventing behaviour.* them from doing something. The origin Keep tabs on Follow or keep informed of the phrase is probably similar to that about.* for bring to bay.* Keep taking the tablets Joking comment Keep balls in the air To run several tasks at implying that someone is behaving in an the same time.* eccentric or illogical manner (i.e. that Keep cave Keep lookout.* they are acting as if insane and should be on medication).* Keep half an eye on Watch and/or attend to whilst concurrently doing something Keep the ball rolling Keep an activity else. The phrase is often used to indicate going; the phrase is often used to that something is not being done with describe keeping a conversation going by sufficient attention.* introducing new things to talk about when people are tired of the topic being Keep in shape Maintain physical fitness.* discussed.* Keep in shoe leather Have a subsistence Keep the flag flying Maintain support for, wage.* or representation of, something or Keep in the dark Withhold information someone in spite of difficulties.* from.* Keep the pot boiling Maintain interest in Keep in touch Maintain regular communi- something.* cation.* Keep the wolf from the door Have Keep it at bay Prevent something from enough money and possessions to avoid attacking or otherwise having an effect being homeless, suffer effects of poverty, or influence.* hunger, etc. The phrase is often used face- tiously.* Keep mum To remain silent, or to keep a secret. See mum’s the word.* Keep their cool Remain calm.* Keep nose to the grindstone Keep Keep their end up Manage to do an working hard. The phrase may imply allotted task under difficult circum- working hard at a difficult or boring job, stances.* or may be used jokingly to describe work * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • KICK AROUND / 135Keep their eye in Maintain an ability.* Keep their pecker up (1) In UK English, the phrase means ‘remain resolvedKeep their eye on the ball (1) Keep and/or optimistic’. (2) In US English, the watching the movement of a ball in a phrase means ‘maintain a penile erec- sports match. (2) Monitor events care- tion’. Caution in use is thus advised.* (1) fully. If people take their eye off the ball, or *** (2) then they fail to watch the movement of the ball or fail to monitor events with suf- Keep their powder dry Be prepared.* ficient care.* Keep their shirt on Do not lose theirKeep their eyes open Means the same as temper. The phrase is nearly always used keep their eyes peeled. as a command or a response to someone who looks as if they are about to loseKeep their eyes peeled Remain obser- their temper.* vant.* Keep them dangling Keep someoneKeep their eyes skinned Means the same feeling uncertain.* as keep their eyes peeled. Keep them posted Keep them informed.*Keep their feet (1) Physically retain their balance. (2) Fail to be deterred.* Keep them sweet Keep them contented.Keep their feet on the ground Have both Keep themselves to themselves Be secre- feet on the ground.* tive or avoid providing much personal information.*Keep their hair Have not gone bald.* Keep under their hat Keep secret.*Keep their hair on Remain calm. The phrase is often used in the form ‘keep Keep up with the Joneses Strive for social your hair on!’ which is given in reply to respectability by copying the behaviour someone expressing anxiety or agita- of typical members of the desired social tion.* class. The phrase is often used to describe rather pathetic individuals who strive toKeep their hand in Practise a skill.* have the same lifestyles as richer neigh-Keep their head Remain calm and bours.* logical.* Keep your chin up Advice to maintain aKeep their head above water Survive. cheerful, positive attitude, even though The phrase is often used to denote the situation may be a difficult one to remaining solvent in times of financial deal with.* problems.* Kettle of fish See different kettle of fish andKeep their head down Remain inconspic- pretty kettle of fish. uous.* Key moment A turning point or, more gen-Keep their nose clean Avoid punish- erally, a time in development where ment.* something of great importance happens (e.g. a key moment in a married person’sKeep their nose out (1) When describing life might be the first time they met their another person (e.g. ‘they kept their nose future spouse).* out’) it means refraining from being nosey. (2) When issued as a command Kibosh on… To put the kibosh on some- (e.g. ‘keep your nose out of my busi- thing is to either spoil it or to stop it.* ness!’) it is more aggressive and is a Kick around (1) Discuss. (2) Abuse. The command for someone to stop interfer- context should indicate which meaning ing and/or being nosey.* (1) or ** (2) is intended.*
  • 136 / KICK ASS Kick ass (1) Be commanding and authori- they are already in a weakened and/or tative and get things done. (2) Powerful vulnerable position.* and appealing (e.g. ‘the track has a kick Kick up a fuss Means the same as kick up a ass rhythm’).* (2) or ** (1) stink. Kick at the cat An opportunity.* Kick up a stink Make a strong complaint.* Kick butt Means the same as kick ass Kick up dust Make a fuss.* (though generally restricted to definition 1). Kick up the arse Means the same as kick in the pants, but less polite.** Kick down the ladder (1) A person who ‘kicks down the ladder’ prevents others Kick up the backside Means the same as from using the same methods to attain kick in the pants, but less polite.** success that he or she used. (2) Dis- owning former friends and/or col- Kick up their heels Enjoy. Compare with leagues.* kick their heels.* Kick in the pants A stimulant to induce Kick upstairs Remove someone from a greater effort.* position in which they are incompetent and/or causing harm by apparently Kick in the teeth Severe disappointment. giving them a promotion. The promotion The phrase usually implies that this is the is almost invariably to a job that carries result of betrayal or a failure to honour a little real influence.* promise.* Kid gloves Gentle treatment.* Kick into touch Reject or declare unim- portant.* Kid’s stuff Means the same as child’s play. Kick off Begin.* Kill me See just kill me. Kick out of bed See wouldn’t kick out of bed. Kill or cure A method that will either com- pletely succeed or completely fail.* Kick over the traces Reject or refuse to acknowledge rules and regulations.* Kill the fatted calf Have a lavish celebra- tion to celebrate meeting someone not Kick the bucket Die.* seen in a long time. The phrase is from the New Testament and refers to the parable Kick the habit Stop doing something that of the prodigal son. These days it is often until now has been done regularly. The used sarcastically to indicate that word ‘habit’ does not in this case neces- someone seen frequently will be given a sarily indicate an addiction.* modest form of refreshment.* Kick their ass Dominate or punish Kill the golden goose Means the same as someone.** kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Kick their butt Means the same as kick their Kill the goose that lays the golden egg ass. Destroy a successful and/or lucrative Kick their heels Wait to be told what to scheme.* do. The implication is that people Kill the messenger Means the same as ‘kicking their heels’ could and should be shoot the messenger. gainfully employed but instead are wasting their time. Compare with kick up Kill them A joking remark made when their heels.* there are a group of people and someone has just said something ridiculous or Kick them when they’re down Do impractical.* something unpleasant to a person when * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • KNOCK INTO SHAPE / 137Kill themselves laughing Be greatly killed (in turn derived from Judas betray- amused.* ing Jesus by kissing him). The phrase usually means that a particular individualKill two birds with one stone Fulfil two act is the final and sure sign that some- aims with a single act (e.g. ‘by taking his thing will fail. It is thus nearly synony- daughter to the movies, Charles gave his mous with some meanings of the straw wife a few hours’ rest and also pleased his that broke the camel’s back.* daughter, thereby killing two birds with one stone’).* Kiss the rod Accept punishment.*Kill with kindness Harm or destroy by Kissed the Blarney stone A person who being over-indulgent (e.g. giving an has ‘kissed the Blarney stone’ is very talk- obese person a present of a large box of ative and persuasive. The phrase comes chocolates).* from the legend that kissing a particular stone on the ramparts of Blarney CastleKill you See I’ll kill you. (near Cork in Eire) gives a person theKilling See make a killing. powers of verbal persuasion.*King is dead, long live the king The Knee high to a grasshopper Very small. phrase is used upon announcing the The phrase is nearly always used to death of a British monarch and the imme- describe someone very young.* diate succession of the next monarch Knee-jerk reaction A rapid response that (there are of course variants, e.g. ‘the is made automatically without any appre- King is dead, long live the Queen’, etc., ciable contemplation of its appropriate- depending upon the genders of the ness.* people involved). The phrase is used more generally to indicate that although Knickers in a twist A state of agitation.** a person in a particular position of power Knight in shining armour A person who may go, another will immediately take solves a problem, gets others out of diffi- their place.* culty, or commits a similar praiseworthyKing’s ransom A large amount of money.* action. The phrase is derived from fairy stories and similar tales where a brave andKingdom come Eternally.* handsome knight rescues the damsel inKiss and make up Make amends after a distress, kills the terrifying monster, etc.* disagreement. There is not necessarily a Knight of the road A person who travels requirement to kiss.* on roads a great deal as part of theirKiss and tell Provide details of a sexual or employment.* amorous encounter. The phrase is often Knock for a loop Astonish.* used to describe stories sold to tabloid newspapers in which a sexual encounter Knock for six (1) Utterly defeat. (2) with a famous person is recounted (and in Strongly affect.* which kissing seems usually to be the Knock heads together Means the same as least of it).* bang heads together.Kiss ass Engage in ass licking.*** Knock into a cocked hat Be far betterKiss it goodbye Admit that something is than (e.g. ‘the new model knocks the old irretrievably lost.* one into a cocked hat’).*Kiss of death The modern use of the Knock into shape Improve performance. phrase is derived from the Mafia’s The phrase often implies that this will be supposed habit of kissing an intended done using harsh methods.* victim, indicating that they are to be
  • 138 / KNOCK INTO THE MIDDLE OF NEXT WEEK Knock into the middle of next week Hit Knock up (1) To awaken by knocking on a very hard.* person’s door. (2) To make pregnant. The first meaning is almost exclusively Knock it off A demand to stop doing British. British readers are accordingly something.* advised to use the phrase with caution Knock me down with a feather An (e.g. ‘I called round early and knocked expression of total amazement (e.g. ‘I was her up’ may create an unfortunate impres- so surprised you could have knocked me sion in an American listener).* down with a feather’).* Know how many beans make five See Knock off (1) Sell. (2) Kill.* how many beans make five? Knock off their perch (1) Supplant. (2) Know in the biblical sense Having sexual Surprise.* relations with. The phrase derives from the Bible’s use of ‘know’ to mean ‘having Knock on the door Apply to join.* sex with’.* Knock on the head Find the definitive Know it backwards To know something answer.* very well.* Knock out (1) Render unconscious. (2) Know Jack Have no or an inadequate Produce (e.g. ‘this is a small piece of work knowledge about something.** that I knocked out in a couple of hours’).* Know shit Have no or an inadequate Knock spots off Be considerably better knowledge about something.*** than.* Know the ropes Be familiar with, and Knock the crap out Ruder version of competent in, what is required.* knock the stuffing out.*** Know the score Have a competent knowl- Knock the shit out Ruder version of knock edge of the situation.* the stuffing out.*** Know the way the wind blows Be fully Knock the stuffing out Weaken.* aware of the situation and be able to Knock their block off A slang expression predict what will happen next.* meaning ‘knock their head off ’. A threat Know their onions Be knowledgeable.* to do physical harm to someone (e.g. ‘I’ll knock your block off !’). The phrase is not Know what to charge Describes a retailer a literal threat of decapitation.** or other commercial enterprise that charges high prices.* Knock their socks off Means the same as knock them dead. Know what’s what Possess an adequate level of information.* Knock them dead Greatly impress with a high quality performance.* Know where the bodies are buried Know some important information that Knock them in the aisles Means the same other people are anxious should be kept as knock them dead. secret.* Knock them sideways Shock or surprise Know which side the bread is buttered someone.* Be loyal to those who pay the most or Knock themselves out Work very hard. offer other kinds of reward.* See knock yourself out.* Know who’s who Know the identity and Knock yourself out Means the same as go importance of people involved in a par- mad, definition 5. ticular situation.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • LAUGH IS ON THEM / 139Knuckle down Begin to behave sensibly Large as life Undeniably there. The phrase after a period of lax behaviour and/or is often used to emphasize that a person laziness. * really was present at an event.*Knuckle under Means the same as knuckle Larger than life Describes a person or down. thing that is very conspicuous and thus attracts a disproportionate amount of attention.* Last chance saloon See drinking in the lastL chance saloon. Last chicken in the shop The male geni-Labour of Hercules A demanding task.* talia.**Labour of love Something done for the Last ditch effort A final attempt to do simple pleasure of doing the task or to something. Usually the implication is please someone else.* that more orthodox methods have failedLadies who lunch Women with sufficient and the final attempt is something done income who can afford not to work, and in desperation.* spend their time socialising, shopping Last resort An option to be used only if all and having lengthy lunches at expensive else has failed.* restaurants (i.e. whilst others have to work). The term is often used disparag- Last shower of rain See didn’t come down in ingly.* the last shower of rain.Lady killer A man who is especially suc- Last straw Means the same as final straw. cessful at seducing women.* Last thing (1) Literally, the last thing that isLady of leisure A woman with no employ- done in a sequence. (2) Late at night.* ment. The phrase is often used for Last word (1) The final judgement or pro- someone who is retired or is so rich that nouncement on something. (2) The most they do not need to work.* fashionable.*Lair it up Be vulgar or ostentatious.* Late in the day Towards the end of anLamb to the slaughter A person almost activity. The phrase often indicates that certain to fail or have unpleasant experi- something is of no value because it has ences. The phrase is often used of people appeared too late (e.g. ‘it’s a bit late in the who are too unskilled or inexperienced day to be proposing changes, isn’t it?’).* for a situation in which they will face far Late in the game Means the same as late in more skilful and dangerous opponents.* the day.Lame duck A person handicapped in some Lathered up (1) Excited. (2) Over- manner. More generally, a person who is excited.* not particularly good at something.* Laugh a minute Very funny. The phrase isLand of Nod Sleep.* nearly always used sarcastically to des-Land of the living Wakefulness.* cribe something that is very depressing.*Land on their feet Means the same as fall Laugh all the way to the bank Become on their feet. rich easily.*Land this baby Successfully complete a Laugh in their face Mock or show scorn.* task.* Laugh is on them The side that hadLandslide victory Overwhelming victory.* appeared victorious is now defeated.*
  • 140 / LAUGH LIKE A DRAIN Laugh like a drain Laugh loudly.* unemployed (e.g. ‘because of the worsen- ing economic situation, Amalgamated Laugh out of court Reject as ridiculous. Widgets had to lay off half its workforce The phrase is often used to describe an today’).* (2) or ** (1) illogical argument.* Lay on the table (1) In UK English, the Laugh the other side of their face Expe- phrase means to present a piece of rience the emotional feelings of being honest, straightforward information. (2) punished after experiencing pleasure In US English, the phrase means to from committing a misdeed.* postpone something. See table a motion.* Laugh themselves sick Laugh for a long Lay on their oars Means the same as rest on time.* their oars. Laugh themselves silly Means the same as Lay to rest Resolve something.* laugh themselves sick. Lead a merry dance Create trouble.* Laugh up their sleeve Hide their amuse- ment.* Lead by the nose Have complete control over someone.* Law of the jungle The belief that those who are strongest and most aggressive are Lead down the garden path Means the predestined (and indeed deserve) to win.* same as lead up the garden path. Law unto themselves Capable of doing Lead in their pencil Energy and/or what they please with little regard for enthusiasm. The phrase often refers to other opinions, conventions or even the sexual drive.* law of the land.* Lead up the garden path Deceive. There Lay a finger on… See don’t lay a finger on… have been several theories of the origin of the phrase, including: (a) the argument Lay a ghost to rest Settle a troublesome or that it refers to leading an animal to worrying issue.* slaughter and, (b) in notable contrast, the Lay an egg Fail spectacularly.* argument that it refers to taking someone into the garden with the aim of seduc- Lay at their door Identify the person or tion.* group responsible.* Lead with the chin Be aggressive. The Lay down the law Issue commands about phrase refers to a stance in boxing.* how things should be done.* Leap down their throat Means the same Lay it on the line Give straightforward, as jump down their throat. unambiguous information.* Leap in the dark A speculative or risky Lay it on thick Exaggerate and/or be very action.* voluble.* Leap to conclusions Make a decision Lay it on with a trowel Exaggerate.* before all the evidence has been heard, Lay it straight Means the same as lay on the usually based on emotions and prejudice table (definition 1). rather than logical reasoning.* Lay low (1) Reduce to a state of misfortune. Leap to the eye Be very noticeable.* (2) Hide.* Learn the ropes Acquire the skills neces- Lay off (1) An expression indicating that a sary to fulfil the requirements of a partic- person has been pestered too much about ular job or task.* something (e.g. ‘lay off ! – I want a change of subject’). (2) To make a person * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE / 141Leave no stone unturned Do something ronment with less detail is more aestheti- thoroughly. The phrase usually refers to a cally satisfying. The term is now used search or an investigation.* more generally to mean that if something is used sparingly, it may have a moreLeave options open Not commit to a par- pleasing effect than if its presence is over- ticular course of action that would whelming (e.g. garlic in cookery).* exclude other courses of action being taken.* Less than no time Rapidly.*Leave the door open Provide an opportu- Let bygones be bygones Forget past nity. The phrase is often used to describe grievances and attempt to be more a plan that allows for amendments.* friendly.*Leave the motor running Anticipate Let down Disappoint.* being only a short time at a task before Let down gently Inform someone of bad doing something else.* or upsetting news in a sensitive manner.*Leave the nest Means the same as fly the Let down their guard Be less defensive.* nest. Let it all hang out Means the same as letLeave their mark Have a long-lasting their hair down.* effect.* Let it drop (1) Reveal a piece of informa-Leave them cold Leave people feeling tion in a casual manner. The phrase is unimpressed.* nearly always used for a piece of informa-Leave them standing Be far better than.* tion that is scandalous or of great impor- tance that might not normally beLeave under a cloud Depart in disgrace or expected to be announced simply in a with a suspicion of wrongdoing.* passing remark. (2) Cease discussingLeft at the post Failed to compete or something.* provided very poor competition.* Let it lie Avoid drawing attention to some-Left field Unexpected.* thing (typically, something that is likely to cause arguments if attention is drawnLeft footer Roman Catholic.* to it).*Left holding the baby To be given a diffi- Let it ride Do not act upon something, at cult situation to deal with, usually with least for the moment. Note that there is little prospect of help. In other words, like no implication that the matter will not be a woman left to look after a baby after the returned to later.* father of the child has deserted them.* Let it rip Proceed without restraint.*Left holding the bag Means the same as left holding the baby. Let off steam Release pent-up anger, energy or frustration.*Leg over Sexual intercourse.* Let rip Proceed without restraint. TheLeg up Assistance in starting something.* phrase often refers to verbally attackingLend a hand Assist.* someone.*Lend an ear Listen.* Let sleeping dogs lie Leave something alone, because to do anything may causeLend colour to Make a tale more plausible a disproportionate amount of trouble.* by adding details to it.* Let slip Reveal something in conversa-Less is more Originally the phrase was tion.* used in architecture, to mean that an envi-
  • 142 / LET SLIP Let the cat out of the bag To reveal a Lick and a promise Hastily and poorly secret. There are several theories about done job.* the origin of this phrase.* Lick into shape Improve performance.* Let the dog see the rabbit Permit the Lick their boots Means the same as ass person delegated to do a task to get on licking (only politer).* with it.* Lick their lips Hopefully expect.* Let the earth swallow me up An expres- sion of embarrassment – the person is Lick their shoes Means the same as lick feeling emotionally uncomfortable and is their boots. expressing a strong need to escape the situation they find themselves in.* Lick their wounds Brood upon, and repair damage resulting from, defeat.* Let the genie out of the bottle Initiate something that is hard to control. Thus, Licking ass Means the same as ass licking. put the genie back in the bottle refers to Lie back and think of England Means managing to control something that is the same as close your eyes and think of difficult to control.* England.** Let the side down A person who ‘lets the Lie doggo Remain very still.* side down’ disappoints the group to which he or she belongs through his or Lie low Hide.* her actions. The implication is usually Lie of the land What something is like. that, as a result, other members of the The phrase is generally used to describe group will have more problems than the current state of a problem or project.* before.* Lie through their teeth Lie with no justi- Let their hair down Relax and/or act in fiable moral reason for doing so.* an unrestrained manner.* Lie to their face Tell a lie with no discern- Let themselves go Become unconcerned ible sign of guilt.* about appearance, health or normal stan- dards of decorum.* Life after… The phrase is followed by a word or another phrase indicating the Let up Relief or cessation (e.g. ‘they ques- event in question (e.g. ‘retirement’, ‘being tioned us for two hours without let up’).* made redundant’, ‘colostomy’, etc.). The Let’s be having you (1) A demand to work phrase refers to the lifestyle of a person or move faster. (2) A request to start rather than simply the issue of whether something (e.g. ‘I’d like to see the first they are living or dead.* group – let’s be having you’).* Life and soul of the party A person who Let’s get down to brass tacks See brass is especially lively and agreeable at tacks. parties and thus helps others enjoy parties. The phrase is sometimes used Level best The highest standards that can as a euphemism for someone who got be attained when making a genuine embarrassingly drunk or sarcastically to effort.* describe a person who is miserable and Level playing field Showing no favourit- makes parties less enjoyable.* ism.* Life in the fast lane The lifestyle of rich, Level with them Be truthful with them.* famous and fashionable people.* Licence to print money A lucrative Life in the old dog yet Phrase expressing process.* surprise or approval that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, an older * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • LIKE A DREAM / 143 adult is capable of performing well at the Light the touchpaper Means the same as activity under discussion.* light the fuse.Life of Riley To have an easy, stress-free Lighten up Become more relaxed about life with either no work or an easy job to something.* do.* Lightning never strikes twice The (sta-Life under… The typical living and/or tistically dubious) belief that having working conditions when a particular experienced one rare event, there is no person or group was in power. The possibility of another rare event occur- phrase can be used to describe an histori- ring.* cal epoch (e.g. ‘life under the Romans’) or Lights are on Start of a longer phrase, that a contemporary setting (e.g. ‘life under usually ends ‘but there’s nobody home’ the current President’).* (or similar). A description of a personLife with a capital L The realities of a who appears alert but in reality is slow to normal lifestyle, rather than a sheltered respond and/or lacking in intellectual lifestyle where one may be protected giftedness.* from learning too many unpleasant Lights their candle See whatever lights their things.* candle.Lift a finger Do the bare minimum of Like The word can be used to mean the activity. The phrase is often used in the same as ‘as if ’ (e.g. ‘like you’ll really do negative form (e.g. ‘you won’t lift a finger that’). Used in this sense, the word gener- to help’) indicating that someone is lazy ally expresses doubts that what is or unwilling to help others.* described will occur (e.g. ‘like that’sLift the elbow Drink alcohol.* really going to happen’) or that what has just been said is true (e.g. ‘like you care’).*Light a fire under Make more active and/or motivated.* Like a cat that ate the canary Means the same as like a cat that got the cream.Light bulb See it’ll mean changing the light bulb. Like a cat that got the cream A phrase used to describe someone who is lookingLight of their life The person most loved.* very pleased or smug.*Light on… Followed by a word or phrase Like a child in a candy store Means the indicating what a person is ‘light on’. The same as like a child in a sweet shop. phrase means ‘lacking’ (e.g. ‘light on experience’ means ‘lacking experience’). Like a child in a sweet shop Being free to An exception to this is light on their feet.* do something personally enjoyable without restraint.*Light on their feet See heavy on their feet. Like a dog with two dicks Ruder versionLight the blue touch-paper To annoy of like a dog with two tails.*** someone. The phrase is generally used for specific occasions when someone says a Like a dog with two tails Describing a single phrase that is sufficient to start a very happy person.* fierce argument. The phrase comes from Like a dose of salts Rapidly.* the instructions on a firework to ‘light the blue touchpaper and stand back’.* Like a dream Successfully.*Light the fuse Initiate a problem or situa- Like a duck to water A person who learns tion.* a new skill ‘like a duck to water’ learns very quickly, as if they are naturally suited to the task.*
  • 144 / LIKE A DUCK TO WATER Like a headless chicken A person Like nobody’s business Means ‘very well’ behaving ‘like a headless chicken’ is or ‘very expertly’ (e.g. ‘he’s going behaving illogically. There is usually the through this work like nobody’s busi- implication that they are panicking about ness’).* something that could be easily solved if Like nothing on Earth Unusual. The they dealt with the problem in a logical phrase does not literally mean ‘extrater- way.* restrial’, however.* Like a scalded cat Something that is Like sardines Packed closely together.* moving ‘like a scalded cat’ is moving very quickly.* Like shit off a shovel Very quickly.*** Like a Trojan (1) Hard-working. (2) Hon- Like shooting fish in a barrel Means the ourable.* same as like taking candy from a baby. Like banging their head against a brick Like someone possessed With a high wall The phrase sometimes continues level of agitation and activity.* with ‘ – it’s nice when it stops’. The phrase describes the frustration of Like stink With great vigour.* engaging in an effortful task that seems Like taking candy from a baby Some- destined to fail.* thing done with ease.* Like billy-o The phrase means ‘at an Like talking to a brick wall Describes the extreme’ (e.g. a person running quickly frustration of talking or writing to might be described as ‘running like someone who is unresponsive. The billy-o’).* phrase is often used to describe attempt- Like blazes Means the same as like billy-o. ing to give a person instructions that they then ignore.* Like death warmed up Describing the state of feeling ill. It is usually meant to Like the back of their hand If someone sound humorous.* says that they know something ‘like the back of their hand’, it means they know it Like father like son The principle that very well.* someone is likely to resemble their parent in behaviour.* Like the clappers Very quickly.* Like fury Vigorously.* Like water off a duck’s back (1) Having no effect. (2) Failing to adhere.* Like getting blood out of a stone If something is ‘like getting blood out of a Likely story A sarcastic phrase expressing stone’, then it is very difficult or even disbelief in something.* impossible.* Limb of Beelzebub The phrase was origi- Like getting blood out of a turnip nally a very serious accusation that Means the same as like getting blood out of a someone was acting in an evil or sinful stone. manner. These days the phrase is more likely to be used rather less seriously to Like giving a donkey strawberries A indicate that someone or something is never-ending task.* displeasing (e.g. ‘this photocopier is always going wrong – I swear it’s a limb Like grim death With determination.* of Beelzebub’).* Like lightning Rapidly.* Limelight See in the limelight and steal the Like mother like daughter Means the limelight. same as like father like son. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • LIVE ON BORROWED TIME / 145Line in the sand A firm limit to what Little escapes them They are very obser- a person is prepared to do and/or vant and/or well-informed.* approve.* Little ray of sunshine A person who canLine of country Area of specialist knowl- make others cheerful. Nearly always used edge.* sarcastically.*Line of least resistance The method Little red book A collection of phrases by likely to prove least difficult.* Chairman Mao in Communist China, which was used as a propaganda tool.Line their pockets (1) Bribe. (2) Gain The term is sometimes used to denote any money dishonestly. The phrase is often publication which is felt to contain pro- used to describe a person who abuses paganda rather than facts or reasoned their job to gain money by unfair means argument.* (e.g. by accepting bribes).* Little tin god Someone undeserving ofLion’s share The largest proportion.* veneration. The phrase is often used ofLips are sealed A promise to keep a secret people who have too high an opinion of (e.g. ‘my lips are sealed – I won’t tell themselves.* anyone else what you told me’).* Live a lie A person ‘living a lie’ is consis-Liquid lunch Alcoholic drink consumed at tently behaving in a manner that requires lunchtime in lieu of food.* them to repress their true nature (e.g. a married man who is homosexual).*Listen with half an ear Listen for some- thing whilst concurrently doing another Live a little Do something frivolous or task. The phrase is often used to indicate daring.* not listening for something with suffi- Live and breathe… Followed by the name cient attention.* of an activity. Someone who ‘lives andLit up (1) A facial expression of great breathes’ something has an almost fanati- pleasure or hope. (2) Drunk. (3) Lit a cig- cal interest in it.* arette, cigar or pipe.* Live high on the hog Enjoy a luxuriousLittle bird told them A joking explana- lifestyle.* tion of how someone learnt about some- Live in the past Be excessively preoccu- thing. The intention is to avoid revealing pied with reviving old memories or of the name of the person who provided the using outmoded methods and values.* information.* Live it up Have a hedonistic lifestyle.*Little black book A list (often in a small address book) kept by a sexually active Live life to the full See to the full. person with a list of addresses of sexual Live off the fat of the land Have the best partners.* or most desirable things.*Little black dress A dress of simple design Live off the land Exist on what can be and black in colour suitable for most found.* social occasions (for women, obviously; it is difficult to think of any conventional Live on borrowed time Literally, a person social occasion where a man wearing a who is living on borrowed time is alive little black dress would be considered after a date when they were expected to suitably attired). The term is sometimes die. By extension, the phrase is used to used to indicate an item that is suitable for describe anyone or anything that contin- a wide range of occasions.* ues to function after a point when it was expected they would be made to stop.*
  • 146 / LIVE ON THEIR HUMP Live on their hump (1) Be self-sufficient. Loaded for bear To be prepared for any (2) Survive on reserve supplies, usual sort of challenge. The phrase comes from supplies having been severed or hunting: the ammunition for hunting a exhausted.* small animal such as a rabbit will not be very effective against a bear, but the Live on their nerves Be in a neurotic ammunition for hunting a bear will also state.* be effective against a rabbit (rather too Live one A person acting in an eccentric effective, perhaps). Therefore, a hunter manner (e.g. ‘we’ve got a live one here’).* going ‘loaded for bear’ is using bear-shooting ammunition that will also Live out of a suitcase Lack a permanent suffice for killing other animals he or she home and live at a succession of tempo- might encounter.* rary addresses.* Loan shark A person who loans money at Live their own life Have a lifestyle that an extortionate rate of interest (typically matches their own wishes rather than to people who cannot obtain loans from attempting to please others.* more respectable sources such as banks Live to fight another day Survive an because they are illegal immigrants, are unpleasant experience (the term is often too poor, etc.). There is usually the impli- used in an exaggerated fashion, and does cation that a loan shark will use illegal not necessarily mean that there was a and violent means to retrieve money from threat of death).* bad debtors.* Live under (1) Live somewhere governed Lock and load Prepare for a conflict or by a particular person or regime (e.g. ‘she argument.* lived under the rule of Mussolini’). (2) Lock horns Enter into an argument or Possess a particular attitude or belief (e.g. other form of confrontation.* ‘she lived under the impression that everyone was basically good’). (3) Lock, stock and barrel The entire thing. Possess a particular identity (e.g. ‘He The term is derived from gunmaking lived under the name of Mr Saunders’).* (lock, stock and barrel are the principal components of a gun).* Living daylights See beat the living daylights out and scare the living daylights. London to a brick Australian phrase meaning ‘absolutely certain’ (e.g. ‘it’s Living in a fool’s paradise Having unre- London to a brick he’ll be here’).* alistically optimistic opinions.* Lone voice A single person or group Living large Living well and enjoyably.* expressing an opinion that is different Living memory If something occurred from that of the majority.* within ‘living memory’ then some people Long and the short of it All that ulti- who are alive today were alive when the mately matters.* event happened.* Long arm of coincidence The phrase Living off the backs of people Earning refers to the fact that sometimes coinci- money by taking money off others and dence can link very different and seem- not giving anything in return.* ingly unrelated things, events or people.* Living rough Being in a state of extreme Long arm of the law The phrase is an poverty and homeless.* observation that the power of the police Load of balls See balls. to detect criminal activity and arrest people can be strong.* Load the dice against Make something harder than it would normally be.* Long chalk See not by a long chalk. * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • LORD LUCAN / 147Long face A miserable facial expression.* Look like a million dollars Appear to be in excellent and/or praiseworthy condi-Long game The long-term perspective.* tion.*Long in the tooth To be old (can refer to Look like a tornado hit it Have a very humans, machines or indeed any sort of untidy appearance.* process or activity). The term probably derives from the phenomenon that some Look like it Appear to be so.* mammals have receding gums as they get Look like shit Look ill and/or un- older, which makes their teeth look kempt.*** longer. The term is not very polite if referring to a human.* or ** Look like something the cat dragged in Look very untidy.*Long run See in the long run. Look lively Means the same as look sharp.Long story The phrase is used in several ways in a description of a series of events. Look over their shoulder In a state of However, in all instances the intention is anxiety or apprehension.* to indicate that there is a logical justifica- tion for something, but in order to save Look sharp Be alert and/or quick.* time the full reasons will not be given Look smart Means the same as look sharp. (e.g. ‘long story, but may I have extra time to complete this task?’ or ‘long story, but Look the other way Means the same as the archbishop and I were stuck in the lift turn a blind eye to. with an amorous gorilla’).* Look to their laurels Be aware of the needLong-winded Using too many words to to keep working to preserve their describe something. Usually an implica- pre-eminence at something.* tion of pomposity as well.* Look up (1) Find some information from aLook a fright Have an unattractive appear- book, the Internet or similar. (2) Visit ance.* someone.*Look a gift horse in the mouth Show Look up to Admire.* ingratitude or an illogical level of suspi- Look what the cat dragged in Depend- cion of a gift or offer of help. The phrase ing upon the context and tone of voice, is often heard in the negative form of don’t this can be an insult or a sarcastic but look a gift horse in the mouth, which advises friendly greeting.*(greeting) or ** (insult) that gifts or offers of help should be accepted gracefully without quibbling.* Loose cannon A person whose behaviour is unpredictable and uncontrollable, andLook after number one Be selfish and put is likely to be as much a danger to the personal interests before those of others.* group to which he or she belongs as anLook as if seen a ghost Have a frightened asset.* expression.* Lord Lucan A UK lord who fled theLook down on Be snobbish about and/or country in the 1970s following the regard as inferior.* murder of the family nanny, and who in spite of extensive efforts, has never beenLook down their noses at Means the found. A phrase implying that Lord same as look down on. Lucan has been found is often used toLook high and low Search thoroughly.* denote something utterly improbable or unbelievable (e.g. ‘Jane passing her driving test is as likely as Lord Lucan being found’).*
  • 148 / LOSE CASTE Lose caste Move from a higher to a lower Lost on them If something is lost on a social status.* person, then they fail to appreciate and/or understand it.* Lose face Lose some authority or social standing as a result of being discovered to Lost soul A person who appears rather have made a mistake or to have behaved pathetic and incapable of looking after badly.* themselves. * Lose it (1) Become incapable of continuing Loud clothing Clothing with a very pro- something. (2) Become angry. (3) As a nounced pattern and/or colour. The command, ‘lose it’ means to take some- phrase usually means that the clothing is thing off or to hide it.* inappropriately garish.* Lose sleep Worry excessively.* Loud colour A colour that is very strong and conspicuous.* Lose the plot (1) Become incapable of con- tinuing something. (2) No longer able to Lounge lizard A person who seems to comprehend something.* serve no purpose other than permanently attending parties and socialising.** Lose the thread No longer able to compre- hend something.* Love a duck A general expression indicat- ing surprise or sympathy.* Lose the will to live Sometimes used jovially to indicate feeling extreme Love me, love my dog This may refer to boredom.* the speaker’s canine companion, but more usually simply means ‘tolerate my Lose their bottle Lose their courage or ways and lifestyle or don’t try to be resolve to do something.* friends with me’.* Lose their cherry Do something for the Low maintenance When referring to a first time. The phrase originally referred person, the phrase refers to someone who to loss of virginity and is still mainly used is undemanding and easy to live with.* in this way.*** Lower their guard Be less defensive.* Lose their cool Means the same as lose their rag, but slightly politer.* Lower their sights Become less ambi- tious.* Lose their head Lose a sense of calm and become illogical.* Lowest of the low The most immoral or unworthy.* Lose their marbles Become insane.* Luck of the draw The result of chance, Lose their rag Lose their temper.* rather than deliberate planning.* Lose their shirt Lose a large amount of Lull before the storm A period of unnatu- money. The phrase usually implies that ral calm before the onset of something the loss reduces a person to extreme unpleasant, such as an argument.* poverty.* Lump in the throat A feeling of extreme Losing battle A task doomed to failure.* emotion. The phrase nearly always refers Lost cause Doomed to fail.* to a feeling of great sorrow.* Lost for words Utterly amazed to the Luxury! In my day… The phrase is used point of being incapable of producing a as an ironic response to a description of coherent statement.* deprivation and/or hardship. The phrase comes from a comedy sketch called ‘the Four Yorkshiremen’ performed by the Monty Python cast during a stage show * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • MAKE A MINT / 149 and subsequently released as an audio Make a bolt for Attempt to escape by recording. It involves four Yorkshiremen running towards something (e.g. ‘she telling increasingly improbable tales made a bolt for the door’).* about hardships during childhood. Make a boob Make a mistake.* Several of these tales are met with a con- temptuous response of ‘luxury! In my Make a book Accept wagers or bets on day…’ before commencing upon an even something.* more improbable and surreal story of hardship.* Make a break Attempt to escape.* Make a clean breast of it Make a full con- fession to a wrongdoing.* Make a clean sweep (1) Win everything.M (2) Remove unnecessary or unproductive people, items and/or practices in anMad The term can mean ‘insane’, but in attempt to revitalize something.* certain contexts it can mean ‘very angry’. Make a day of it Spend a whole day doing Common examples of the latter include something. The phrase is typically used ‘mad as hell’, ‘mad as anything’, ‘mad to describe choosing to spend time doing beyond belief ’ and ‘mad at you’. See mad something enjoyable rather than doing it about (or on) something.* in a rushed manner.*Mad about (or on) something (1) Very Make a drama out of… Exaggerate a keen or interested about something. (2) minor problem so that it appears practi- Very annoyed about something (see cally insurmountable.* mad).* Make a fast buck Earn money quickly.Mad as a hatter Insane or eccentric.* The job done is by implication temporaryMade of marble Able to resist temptation rather than permanent employment.* and/or emotional considerations.* Make a go of Succeed.*Made of money Rich. Often heard in the Make a good fist of… Do it well.* reverse form – not made of money, meaning ‘not rich’.* Make a hash of Fail badly at doing some- thing.*Made their bed See they’ve made their bed they’d better lie in it. Make a killing Make a large profit.*Magic carpet Joking term for any method Make a long story short See cut a long of fast travel.* story short.Magic circle The term can refer to the Make a mark Do something noteworthy.* (entirely respectable) Magic Circle, an organisation for stage conjurors. The Make a meal of (1) Exaggerate. (2) Be too term is also sometimes used to describe fussy about, and/or expend too much sarcastically a (real or imagined) secretive energy on, something. (3) Eat.* group believed to be the ‘real power’ in Make a mint Earn a large amount of an organisation.* money.*Make a bad fist of… Do it badly.* Make a mockery of Reduce to a farcicalMake a beeline Strictly speaking, to travel and/or weakened state. This can be done in a straight line. In practice, the phrase deliberately or through ineptitude.* means ‘to travel by the shortest possible Make a monkey of Make appear foolish.* route’.*
  • 150 / MAKE A MOCKERY OF Make a mountain out of a molehill marrying a pregnant woman (at a time Exaggerate. The phrase is typically used when a baby born out of wedlock was to describe exaggerating a tiny problem regarded far less favourably). However, it into a catastrophe.* is now generally used without this con- notation.* Make a move Begin to do something.* Make both ends meet Means the same as Make a move on Indicate sexual interest make ends meet. in someone.* Make bricks without straw Try to do a Make a name for themselves Become job without all the necessary equip- famous and/or respected in their field of ment.* work.* Make do Cope with inadequate resources.* Make a night of it Spend a whole evening or night doing something.* Make ends meet Earn enough money to provide enough for at least the basic Make a noise Do something in a manner necessities of living.* likely to attract attention.* Make eyes at Look at someone with Make a packet Become wealthy.* obvious sexual intent.* Make a pass at Express a sexual or Make faces Make ridiculous or grotesque romantic interest in.* facial expressions.* Make a pig of themselves Behave in a Make flesh creep Create a feeling of gluttonous manner.* disgust.* Make a pig’s ear Make a mess of some- Make free of Treat without an appropriate thing.* level of respect.* Make a pile Means the same as make a Make good (1) Succeed. (2) Restore. (3) packet. Make financial reparations.* Make a pitch for Attempt to gain.* Make good their escape Escape.* Make a play for Attempt to gain, persuade Make great play Elaborate upon, or draw or impress.* attention to.* Make a quid Have paid employment.* Make hair curl Create a feeling of fright. Make a rod for their own back Create Usually the phrase is used jokingly.* difficulties for themselves.* Make hair stand on end Create a feeling Make a thing of (1) Be unreasonably fussy of fright.* about. (2) Regard as vital.* Make hay Do something whilst an advan- Make advances towards Begin to declare tageous situation lasts.* an interest in. The phrase usually Make head or tail of it Understand. The describes a sexual and/or romantic phrase is often used in the form can’t make interest.* head nor tail of it, meaning a failure to Make an effort Try.* understand.* Make an honest man of him Marry him. Make heavy weather of it Behave as if The phrase is derived from make an honest something is far more difficult and/or woman of her.* laborious than it actually is.* Make an honest woman of her Marry Make it big Be successful. The phrase is her. The phrase originally referred to often used in a derogatory fashion to * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • MAKING OF THEM / 151 denote someone who has become finan- Make their blood curdle Create a feeling cially successful but has little cultural of terror or extreme fright.* sophistication.* Make their blood freeze Means the sameMake it hot for them Make something as make their blood run cold. difficult and/or unpleasant for them.* Make their blood run cold Shock orMake it snappy Do it quickly.* frighten.*Make light of (1) Do easily. (2) Dismiss as Make their bow Make their first appear- trivial.* ance in a new job.*Make like Imitate.* Make their day Please someone. The phrase usually implies that this pleasureMake mincemeat of Decisively defeat.* will be the best emotion felt on that day.*Make money hand over fist Earn money Make their mark Have a long-lasting at a fast rate.* effect.*Make mountains out of molehills Make their mind up To make a decision. Unreasonably exaggerate. The phrase is The phrase often implies that making the often used of someone who perceives a decision has not been easy.* problem as being far worse than it actually is.* Make their mouth water Induce feelings of hunger or interest.*Make music together Be romantically compatible.* Make their own luck Succeed through effort and taking advantage of the situa-Make nice Be sociable.* tion rather than assistance from others.*Make no bones about it (1) To say some- Make their toes curl (1) Create a feeling thing directly without attempting to hide of embarrassment. (2) Create a strong anything. (2) In a derivation of the first reaction.* meaning, the phrase may be used to tell someone that the speaker is very serious Make tracks Leave.* about something (e.g. ‘make no bones Make up for lost time (1) Over-indulge in about it, you’ll be in trouble if you follow an activity because of not having the this plan’).* opportunity to do it earlier. (2) After aMake or break Something that is ‘make or period of being behind schedule, work break’ will either completely succeed or harder or move faster so that now things completely fail.* are on schedule.*Make the best of Make the optimal use of Make up leeway Recover from a poor what is provided.* position (e.g. from being behind schedule).*Make the cut Reach an acceptable standard. The phrase is often used in Make waves (1) Complain and/or make sporting events to describe the best difficulties. (2) Create excitement or players who are the only ones allowed to interest.* compete in the latter stages of a competi- Making of them If something is ‘the tion.* making of someone’ then it is the factorMake the grade Reach the required which is crucial in producing a personal- standard.* ity or skill seen as advantageous.*Make their blood boil Make very angry.* Man about town A now rather dated phrase describing a man who has an
  • 152 / MAN ABOUT TOWN active social life, is well-liked, has good March to a different beat Do things dif- fashion sense, and knows the fashionable ferently. The phrase often denotes places to go.* someone who consciously does things in a manner opposed to, or radically differ- Man for all seasons A person who can ent from, the prevailing system of beliefs adapt to any situation.* and practices.* Man in the street See person in the street. March to a different tune Means the Man of leisure A man with no employ- same as march to a different beat. ment. The phrase is often used for Mare’s nest Something that appears of someone who is retired or is so rich that great interest but is illusory.* they do not need to work.* Mark my words Attend carefully to what I Man of letters An educated man.* say. The phrase is often used before a Man of straw Means the same as straw man. person makes a prediction that they feel is important.* Man on the Clapham omnibus Term first used in the 1900s that means the Mark of Cain A sign of disgrace. The same as person in the street. The sort of phrase originally meant the sign of person who would regularly travel on the having committed murder, after the bus service to and from Clapham (a Biblical character Cain.* district of London) was believed to be Mark their card Provide information.* representative of an average British inhabitant. Since then, people have Mark time Engage in a boring or unexcit- begun to realize that (a) using ‘man’ in ing activity whilst waiting for the oppor- phrases excludes half the human race and tunity to do something more interesting (b) districts of London are not particu- and/or rewarding.* larly representative of the rest of the UK. Marriage of convenience A marriage or Accordingly, the phrase should be alliance in which the people or groups avoided.* involved have no real affection for each Man’s best friend A dog.* other, but who benefit in other ways from the arrangement.* Manner born See to the manner born. Marry money Marry someone wealthy.* Manners they were born with See not got the manners they were born with. Massaging the figures Means the same as creative accounting.* Many a good tune played on an old fiddle Proverb expressing the view that Matter of form (1) Correct etiquette. (2) an older person may be just as accom- Commonplace or routine.* plished and skilful as a younger person.* Matter of life and death A very important Many a slip The start of a proverb that matter.* finishes ‘between the cup and the lip’ Matter of record Something that is unde- (there are variants). The phrase expresses niably true and for which documentary the view that a lot of things can go unex- or other proof can be produced.* pectedly wrong in any undertaking, and accordingly, vigilance is required.* Matter of report Means the same as matter of record. Many moons ago A long time ago.* Matter of time If something is a ‘matter of Map See entry below and: put on the map. time’, then it is believed that it will cer- Map on to (1) Concur or match with. (2) tainly happen at some point in the Integrate with.* future.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • MILE OFF / 153Mean business Be serious about some- Mess around Engage in frivolous, unpro- thing.* ductive activity.*Meanwhile back at the ranch The phrase Mess them around Annoy them by is sometimes used to indicate a change in creating confusion or failing to fulfil a who or what is being talked about in a promise.* lengthy story. The term is meant as a joke. Mess with their head Annoy or confuse.* The phrase was originally used as a caption in early silent movies when the Meter is running A fast response is action moved back to a scene at the needed, because time and/or energy ranch.* and/or resources are being wasted.*Meat and two veg (1) Wholesome but Methinks the lady doth protest too unimaginative cooking. (2) The male much A misquotation of a line from genitalia.* (1) or ** (2) Shakespeare’s Hamlet, used to indicate that a person seems suspiciously keen onMedal See do you want a medal? denying something (which suggests thatMedia tart A person with a strong drive to they in fact are guilty of what they are appear in the popular news media.* denying).*Meet half way Be conciliatory and agree- Method in their madness Behaviour that able to a compromise.* appears insane or eccentric, but in fact has a cunning purpose.*Meet the case Be of the required standard.* Mickey Finn A covertly drugged drink.*Meet the costs Pay what is owed.* Mickey Mouse When used as an adjective and without obvious reference to theMeet their maker Die.* Disney organisation (e.g. ‘a MickeyMeet their match Strictly speaking, Mouse operation’) it describes something meeting someone of equal ability. The done in a shambolic, unskilled manner phrase is usually used inaccurately, to (presumably after the rather chaotic mean meeting someone of superior behaviour of Mickey Mouse in some of ability.* his cartoons).*Men from the boys See sort out the men from Midas touch The ability to be financially the boys. successful.*Men in suits Business managers. The Middle course A procedure that is less phrase is often used disparagingly to refer extreme than some other options.* to people who put profitability before Middle of nowhere Remote.* morals or who fail to think of the effects their policies have on workers’ welfare.* Middle way Means the same as middle course.Men in white coats Medical personnel. The phrase is often used more specifically Mile a minute Rapidly.* to refer to psychiatrists.* Mile off See see it a mile off.Mend fences Reconcile after an argu- Mileage may vary See your mileage may ment.* vary.Mentioned in dispatches Praised.* Miles away Daydreaming or absent-Merry Christmas See and a merry Christmas minded.* to you too. Milk and honey Comfort and riches.*
  • 154 / MILEAGE MAY VARY Milk and water Feeble.* Miss a beat Hesitate.* Milk in the coconut Something that is Miss the boat Fail to do something. The difficult to explain.* phrase generally refers to a failure to take advantage of an opportunity.* Milk of human kindness Kindness to others.* Miss the bus Means the same as miss the boat. Milking the system Taking unfair and/or unethical advantage of a set of regula- Miss the cut Fail to reach an acceptable tions.* standard. See make the cut.* Million and one reasons Lots of Miss the point Fail to understand.* reasons.* Missing link (1) A person or thing that is Million to one shot A remote possibility.* required for a procedure to work. (2) In evolutionary theory, the species that links Millstone round their neck A severe humans to apes. Thus, someone who annoyance that hampers progress.* appears uncouth and ill-mannered may Mince matters (1) Means the same as mince be referred to as ‘the missing link’.* words. (2) Make something unnecessarily Mixed bag Something that is a ‘mixed bag’ confusing.* is varied. This can refer to, for example, Mince words Use language that fails to different physical features (e.g. ‘are they state something clearly.* all the same colour?’ – ‘no, they’re a mixed bag’) or quality (e.g. ‘is the CD any Mind over matter A mental process tri- good?’ – ‘it’s a mixed bag: some tracks are umphing over an opposing physical one. excellent, others are quite poor’).* The phrase is used in a wide variety of permutations (e.g. a clever but physically Mixed blessing Something that is partly weak person defeating a stronger but less beneficial but also has disadvantages.* intelligent opponent; a person commit- Mixed press A set of opinions that vary ting a physically demanding feat through from very favourable to very unfavour- strong willpower when by physical able.* measures alone they should have failed).* Mohammed must go to the mountain Mind the shop Means the same as hold the See if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed. shop. Moment of truth The time when the Mind their p’s and q’s See p’s and q’s. success or failure of a plan is revealed, or, Mind your back A warning that some- more broadly, an important turning point.* thing capable of inflicting injury is Monday morning quarterback A person approaching from behind.* full of opinions about how something Mind’s eye The internal mental state. The should have been done better after the phrase is often used as a synonym of event has taken place.* imagination.* Money burning a hole in their pocket Minor key Unless specifically referring to Having an irresistible urge to spend music, the phrase means ‘subdued’.* money.* Mint condition Unspoilt; the phrase is Money doesn’t grow on trees A (usually usually used to describe an old item that gentle) rebuke if someone is asking for appears brand new.* something too expensive. The phrase basically means that money is not easily Mirror image An exact copy.* obtained and that, accordingly, some * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • MORTON’S FORK / 155 things cannot be afforded. See it doesn’t More haste, less speed Advice to slow grow on trees.* down the rate at which a task is being performed, because going too quickly isMoney for jam Means the same as money likely to result in errors. The proverb for old rope. makes far more sense if one remembersMoney for old rope Something lucrative that ‘speed’ can also mean ‘success’ (e.g. if and easy to do.* the proverb is rewritten as ‘more haste, less success’ it is rather easier to under-Money no object See no object. stand).*Money to burn Sufficient finances to be More meat on a butcher’s pencil A able to afford lavish spending.* joking way of saying that someone isMonkey business See business. thin.*Monkey on a stick A restless and/or More power to their elbow More agitated person.* strength and/or health. The phrase is often used as a term of praise, expressingMonkey on their back An annoyance.* the hope that someone will enjoy betterMonkey suit Evening dress for a man (i.e. strength and/or health.* black dinner jacket and trousers, black More than one way to skin a cat There is bow tie, etc.).* more than one way to do something. TheMonth of Sundays A long time. Often phrase is often used when a conventional heard in the phrase ‘never in a month of method is being rejected (e.g. ‘the usual Sundays’, indicating that something is method of doing this seems unwise in highly improbable.* this case, but don’t worry, because there’s more than one way to skin a cat’).*Moonlight flit (1) Escape creditors by leaving secretly at night. (2) Escape the More than one way to skin a rabbit family house at night to run away with a Means the same as more than one way to skin lover.* a cat.Mop up Complete a task. The phrase often More the merrier The opinion that the denotes sorting out minor difficulties more people are involved, the better it is.* that remain after the accomplishment of More’s the pity An expression of regret.* the major goals in a larger task. Thus, the phrase can be used to describe e.g. Morning after the night before A dealing with minor problems at the end hangover or other feeling of malaise after of a business deal or the defeating of the an evening of enjoyment lacking in remnants of a defeated army after the prudence.* main battle is over.* Morning, noon and night Constantly.*More bang for the buck Better value.* Morton’s fork A situation in which anyMore fish in the sea Words of consolation choice that is made will lead to unattrac- offered when a person has lost a boy- tive consequences.* friend or girlfriend (e.g. ‘never mind – Mote in their eye A trivial fault. The there are plenty more fish in the sea’). The implication is usually that a person phrase means that there are plenty more finding faults in others usually has much potential partners in the world.* bigger faults of their own.*More fool… A rebuke meaning that Moth-eaten Looking rather tatty through greater thought or care should have been age or overuse.* taken, and then a problem would not have been created.*
  • 156 / MOTE IN THEIR EYE Moth to a flame A person who is like a Move their arse Means the same as move ‘moth to a flame’ has a strong urge to do their backside.*** something. There is sometimes the impli- Move their ass Means the same as move cation that this urge will harm them.* their backside.** Mother of all… The most extreme form Move their backside (1) Show some of….* effort. (2) The phrase is often used as an Motor mouth A very talkative person who impolite way to mean ‘move’ (e.g. ‘I wish has little concept of when it would be they would move their backside’).** appropriate to keep quiet.** Move with the times Have a modern, Mould-breaking Innovative.* rather than old-fashioned, set of atti- tudes.* Mountain to climb See have a mountain to climb. Mover and shaker A person who is instru- mental in getting things done.* Mountains out of molehills See make mountains out of molehills. Much of a muchness Describes two or more things that are of approximately Mousetrap See build a better mousetrap. equal quality.* Movable feast Something that does not Muck in Give assistance.* have to be done on a particular date or time. The phrase is derived from Easter Muck raking Searching for scandalous and other Christian festivals which are information. The phrase often implies held on different dates each year accord- that this is done for vindictive reasons or ing to a complex formula (in contrast to, to gain profit (e.g. by selling the informa- say, Christmas Day, which is always fixed tion to a newspaper) rather than from a on 25 December).* public-spirited desire to uncover the truth.* Move Heaven and Earth Work extremely hard.* Mud in your eye A traditional informal toast upon having a drink.* Move in for the kill Prepare to conclude something.* Mud slinging Spreading rumours or making scandalous accusations. See name Move it A strong command to do some- is mud.* thing (the implication is that someone is currently too inactive).** Muddy the waters Make more compli- cated.* Move mountains Make considerable effort.* Mug’s game An activity that is dangerous and/or foolish.* Move the goalposts To change the rules or desired outcomes after a piece of work Mum’s the word To keep a secret about has begun. The phrase is an analogy – if something. The word ‘mum’ means ‘no during a soccer game someone moved the speech’ rather than ‘mother’.* goalposts every time someone kicked a Murphy’s law The fatalistic argument that ball at the goal area, the game would be in any activity something is bound to go very frustrating. Similarly, telling people wrong.* to work to attain a particular set of outcomes, and then changing the set of Music to their ears Received with outcomes, creates frustration and annoy- pleasure.* ance. The term is often used of (UK) gov- ernment education policy.* Mutton dressed as lamb Something (or someone) made to appear younger than it * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • NECESSARY EVIL / 157 actually is. The phrase is often used in a appealing than a complex set of lies and derogatory fashion of an older woman half-truths that are commonly believed dressed in clothes felt more suitable for a to be accurate.* younger age group.* Name dropping Deliberately and boast-My ball If a person says ‘my ball’ he or she fully making mention of famous or influ- is indicating that they will deal with what ential people who are personal acquain- is being discussed (e.g. if a question is tances.* asked to a panel of people, the person Name is mud If someone’s name is mud, saying ‘my ball’ is declaring that they will then they are in disgrace.* answer it). The phrase comes from tennis doubles, where if a ball looks as if it will Name of the game The features of the sit- be within reach of both players on one uation that are the most important, and in side, a player might call out ‘my ball’ to particular the desired outcome of the sit- make sure that he or she will have clear uation.* access to it and that the partner player will get out of the way.* Name to conjure with (1) The name of an important person. (2) A name that isMy eye An expression of disbelief (e.g. ‘my unusual or unintentionally humorous.* eye! – I’ve never heard such nonsense’).* Name written all over it See got their nameMy foot Means the same as my eye. written all over it.My pigeon Means the same as my ball. Nasty piece of goods An unpleasant person.* Nasty piece of work Means the same as nasty piece of goods.N Native tongue The language most commonly spoken in a country or sectionNaff off An impolite way of saying ‘go of a country.* away’.** Nature of the beast The basic characteris-Nail a lie Uncover a lie.* tics of a problem or situation.*Nail-biting Describes something that Near the knuckle Means the same as close creates a feeling of nervousness or appre- to the knuckle. hension.* Near the mark Almost correct.*Nail in the coffin Something that adds to the decline of someone or something.* Necessary evil Something that in itself is unpleasant but unavoidable if somethingNail the colours to the mast Make a firm that is desired is to be gained (e.g. declaration of opinions or belief. There is unpleasant in-laws).* often the implication that such a declara- tion will not be totally popular and may Neck and neck In a competition or race, a attract criticism. The phrase is derived situation in which competitors are very from naval battles in sailing ships. Since a similar in performance.* sign of surrender was to lower the identi- Neck of the woods A small geographical fying flags (or colours), nailing the region. The phrase is often heard in the colours to the mast meant they couldn’t form from the same neck of the woods, be lowered, and hence declared the intent meaning that things or people originate to win or die in the attempt.* from homes that are very close to eachNaked truth The truth. The phrase implies other.* that the truth may be simpler and less
  • 158 / NECK AND NECK Need a hand? If a person asks ‘need a Never-never A credit scheme. Thus, some- hand?’ they are asking if assistance is thing bought on ‘the never-never’ has required.* been bought on credit.* Need to get out more A (usually mild) Never-never land An imaginary place. insult implying that someone lacks The phrase is often used in describing an common sense or knowledge that would impractical or impossible proposition.* be known by anyone who did not lead a Never put a foot wrong Never make a too-insular social life.* mistake.* Needle in a haystack Something Never rains but it pours A proverb extremely difficult to find.* expressing the view that problems never Needs must A justification for doing some- occur in isolation but in groups.* thing normally considered unpleasant or Never see daylight again Never again be undesirable because the pragmatic nature released or revealed.* of the situation demanded it.* Never the twain shall meet Two groups Neither flesh nor fish nor fowl Some- of people who are so radically different in thing that cannot be categorized.* personalities or opinions that there is no Neither flesh nor fish nor good red possibility that they would ever happily herring Means the same as neither flesh or peacefully co-exist with each other.* nor fish nor fowl. New ball game Something completely dif- Neither hair nor hide No sign or indica- ferent.* tion at all.* New black If something is ‘the new black’, Neither here nor there An expression then it is a new fashion that is likely to indicating that something is not very become ubiquitous. The phrase is derived important or is uninteresting (e.g. ‘it’s from the fashion industry, where black is neither here nor there whether we watch often regarded as the ‘standard’ colour the rest of this play, since neither of us are for dresses (see little black dress). See new enjoying it’).* rock and roll. * Neither hide nor hair Means the same as New blood New people introduced into neither hair nor hide. an organisation with the intention of introducing some new approaches and Nerves of steel Impervious to shock or ideas.* anxiety.* New broom A newly appointed person Nest of vipers (1) An unpleasant situation. expected to make radical changes to (2) A group of people who are noted for working practices.* being unpleasant by being scheming and ‘bitchy’.* New kid on the block A new arrival. The phrase comes from the US term ‘block’, Never give a sucker an even break meaning a set of buildings between the Never give someone who is poor or oth- intersections created by two streets erwise unfortunate the opportunity to joining the street on which the buildings improve their position. The phrase is are situated. Hence, the term means ‘new often meant ironically.* kid in the neighbourhood’.* Never hear the end of it Means the same New money See old money. as never hear the last of it. New one on them Something previously Never hear the last of it Be nagged or unknown to them.* constantly reminded about something.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • NO FOR AN ANSWER / 159New rock and roll A new form of enter- a poor sense of sexual propriety or tainment that is currently very popular or morality. The phrase is nearly always is predicted will become very popular. applied to a woman.* The phrase is derived from the immense No big deal See big deal. popularity rock and roll music enjoyed in the 1950s. See new black.* No-brainer A very obvious decision.*Nice little earner Used to describe a No can do It cannot be done.* business venture that produces acceptable profits, usually with the implication that No cigar See close but no cigar. it is easy to run.* No comment A phrase indicating that theNice touch A pleasing detail.* speaker will not discuss something. It is habitually used by people when asked toNigger in the woodpile Something unex- speak about something where they are pected and unpleasant. The phrase is now accused of an illegal or at least morally considered offensive and should not be dubious activity. The phrase can also be used.*** used jokingly as an admission of respon- sibility for a minor misdemeanour (e.g.Night of the long knives A revenge ‘did you eat the last cup cake?’ – ‘no attack (often by devious means) on a col- comment’). See plead the fifth.* lection of people. The phrase originally referred to assassinations, but now often No contest (1) A competition in which the refers to relatively milder (though still opponents are unevenly matched to the unpleasant) actions such as widespread extent that the result is a foregone con- dismissals from jobs.* clusion. (2) In US law, a plea by the defence to accept punishment withoutNIMBY See not in my back yard. formally admitting guilt.*Nine days’ wonder A short-lived phe- No dice Means the same as no way. nomenon or fashion. It does not neces- sarily have to last precisely nine days.* No end of… A large quantity of.*Nine to five Dull routine. The phrase is No flies on… Indicates that someone derived from the typical working hours cannot be easily deceived, and is intelli- for most workers.* gent.*Nineteen to the dozen Continuously and No for an answer The phrase has two rapidly.* principal forms. (1) Won’t take no for an answer describes a person who refuses toNip in the bud Stop something before it accept that someone is refusing their sug- can develop (typically, the phrase refers gestion or offer. This can be used to to preventing something mildly un- describe another person (e.g. ‘she is pleasant from developing into something stubborn – she won’t take no for an extremely unpleasant). The phrase is answer’) or to describe oneself (e.g. ‘I derived from gardening – by controlling insist on paying for this, and I won’t take the buds that develop on a plant, a no for an answer). (2) Don’t take no for an gardener can control the plant’s develop- answer is advice to someone to be resolute ment.* and get what they are sent for (e.g. ‘youNit pick Find fault by finding trivial errors must get an interview with Mr Smith – in details that have no real importance.* don’t let anybody put you off and don’t take no for an answer’).*Nitty gritty See get down to the nitty gritty. No-go area Means the same as no-go zone.No better than they should be A person who is ‘no better than they should be’ has
  • 160 / NO-GO AREA No-go zone A place or an activity that it No oil painting Ugly.* would be unwise to enter into because it No picnic Difficult and/or dangerous.* is dangerous.* No pockets in a shroud Means the same No great shakes Of no especial worth.* as you can’t take it with you. No holding them If there is ‘no holding’ a No pot to piss in Be very poor.*** person, then they are very keen to do something.* No problem Not difficult. The phrase can be used as a descriptive phrase (e.g. ‘there No holds barred No restriction on the is no problem with this’) or as a reply to a methods that may be used. The phrase question indicating that something will generally refers to particularly vicious be done, or has been done, without diffi- fighting or arguing.* culty.* No kidding (1) A statement that what is No room to swing a cat Describing a being said is true, implausible as it may room or other place that is very small. sound (e.g. ‘no kidding, that’s what really The phrase is probably derived from the happened’). (2) Used as a response, it cat o’nine tails (a type of whip) rather means ‘I believe you, even though it than a live cat.* sounds implausible’ (e.g. ‘have you heard that Eric is dating Jane?’ – ‘no kidding’).* No saying It is impossible to judge.* No law against it An argument that what is No shit (1) A phrase emphasizing the truth being done is not illegal. However, there of something (e.g. ‘no shit, that’s really is usually an implication that although what happened’). (2) A response to a strictly speaking what is being done is statement indicating surprise at what was not illegal, it is also not very pleasant or said but also indicating acceptance of the polite.* truth of the statement (e.g. ‘Jack told me that he and Mary are getting divorced’ – No love lost between them There is a ‘No shit’).*** feeling of animosity between them.* No shit, Sherlock A sarcastic comment No man’s land An area of uncertainty.* meaning that what has just been said is No mean… Followed by a word (usually very obvious.*** ‘feat’ but others are possible). The phrase No side Lack of pretensions or snobbish- means ‘good’ or ‘praiseworthy’.* ness.* No more Mr Nice Guy An indication that No skin off their nose It has no apprecia- the speaker has had enough of trying to ble effect on them.* be pleasant and reasonable and will now have to be more unpleasant with people No smoke without fire The belief that in order to get the results he or she ambiguous evidence or rumours amount needs.* to tangible proof of something.* No names, no pack drill A phrase derived No stone unturned Nothing has been from army life, meaning that if the names ignored, everything has been explored. of the perpetrators of a breach of regula- The phrase is often used of a piece of tions aren’t known, then individuals research or an investigation.* cannot be punished.* No strings attached See strings attached. No object Does not matter. The phrase is most often used in the longer phrase No such animal It does not exist. The money no object, meaning that financial phrase can be applied to a non-human considerations will be of no relevance.* animal, a human or to a concept.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • NOT A DRY EYE IN THE HOUSE / 161No such luck Regrettably not (e.g. ‘did Nodding acquaintance Someone who is your team win today?’ might get a reply known slightly, but not well.* of ‘no such luck’ from a disappointed Nodding terms In a state of knowing fan).* slightly, but not well.*No such thing as a free lunch Meaning Noes have it See ayes have it. that, for everything, something is always expected in return; or alternatively, that Non-linear Angry.* everything that is received has to be worked for.* Non-U Not within the code of etiquette adopted by the upper classes. The phraseNo sweat Easy.* is sometimes used snobbishly to refer to working-class taste or customs.*No time like the present If something is to be done, it is best done at once.* Nose in the air Having a snobbish attitude.*No two ways about it It is unambiguous.* Nose to derrière Means the same as noseNo use crying over spilt milk See crying to tail. over spilt milk. Nose to tail Closely packed together.*No use to man or beast In other words, completely useless.* Not a chance in hell No chance at all.*No way A strong expression of denial (e.g. Not a Chinaman’s chance No hope ‘no way will I do that’).* whatsoever of a happy outcome. The phrase derives from late nineteenth/No way, Jose (‘Jose’ is pronounced early twentieth century USA, when ‘Ho-say’) Means the same as no way. The Chinese immigrant workers were word ‘Jose’ makes a rhyming sound – the frequent victims of violence and murder, phrase can be directed at anyone of either with seemingly no protection from the gender (i.e. not just people called Jose).* (supposed) law enforcement agencies.*No-win situation A situation in which Not a clue (1) An admission of ignorance whatever a person does they cannot win, (e.g. a person not knowing the answer to and most probably will end up worse off a question might say ‘not a clue’). (2) than when they started.* Lack of knowledge (e.g. ‘you’ve not a clueNo worries Australian phrase meaning how to do this, have you?’).* approximately the same as ‘that’s alright’ Not a dicky bird Nothing.* or ‘it’s okay’.* Not a dog’s chance No chance.*Nobby Clark Men with the surname ‘Clark’ (or the alternative spellings) often Not a dry eye in the house Describes a are nicknamed ‘Nobby’ (it is unlikely that movie or stage performance that has a this is their real first name). The strong emotional effect on the audience. nickname derives from the nineteenth The phrase can be used seriously or century, when clerks were seen as being humorously.* more ‘genteel’ than manual workers, and nicknamed ‘nobby’ (loosely, meaning Not a full… A phrase usually followed by ‘upper class’).* either ‘quid’ or ‘shilling’. The phrase indicates insanity or lack of intelligence.*Nobody’s fool Intelligent.* Not a ghost of a chance See ghost of aNod’s as good as a wink No more expla- chance. nation is necessary and the implication of what was said is understood.* Not a hope in hell No hope at all.*
  • 162 / NOT A FULL… Not a patch on Of poorer quality than.* Not feeling oneself Feeling ill. Thus, feeling oneself is feeling well. However, Not a penny No money at all. The phrase given the possible double entendre in the can be used to indicate lack of payment term (‘feeling oneself ’ could, in the sort that someone thinks is rightfully theirs of mind alert to double meanings, be con- (see not one red cent). It can also be used to strued as meaning ‘masturbation’) a little indicate extreme poverty (e.g. ‘I’ve not a caution should be taken over its use.* penny in the world’).* Not flavour of the month See flavour of Not a sausage Absolutely nothing.* the month. Not all beer and skittles A phrase used to Not for all the tea in China An emphatic express the fact that things are not always refusal.* pleasant or easy.* Not give a… See entries beginning couldn’t Not all it’s cracked up to be Cracked up to give a…. be means ‘what it is claimed to be’. Thus, ‘not all it’s cracked up to be’ indicates that Not give a hoot Have no interest or something is not what it is claimed. The concern.* phrase is usually used to indicate that Not give two hoots Means the same as not something is disappointing.* give a hoot. Not all there See all there. Not got the manners they were born Not as black as they are painted In other with Very rude and/or uncouth.* words, not as unpleasant or nasty as they Not half (1) Of much lower magnitude (e.g. are usually supposed to be. The term is ‘Sue is not half as good as Jane at sprint- considered offensive by some people ing’). (2) Absolutely (usually heard as an (who think the phrase is linking skin exclamation – e.g. ‘was Hitler a bad colour with offensiveness). Accordingly, person?’ might get the response ‘not caution should be used.** half !’).* Not bat an eyelid Show no emotion or Not have a bean Be very poor.* surprise.* Not have a clue Have no knowledge of Not by a long chalk The expression in something.* effect means ‘not very accurate’ or ‘not by any means’. The term is generally used Not have a leg to stand on Have no rea- when a speaker wants to indicate that the sonable justification.* gap between a desired and an actual state of something is very big. For example, Not have a pot to piss in Be very poor.*** ‘did you finish first in the race?’ might get Not have a prayer Means the same as not the reply ‘not by a long chalk’ if the have an Earthly. person finished in a very poor position.* Not have an Earthly Not have even the Not by halves If something is done ‘not by remotest chance.* halves’ then it is done thoroughly.* Not have any of it Refuse to cooperate.* Not care a hoot Have no interest or concern.* Not have the faintest Have no under- standing or memory of something.* Not care two hoots Means the same as not care a hoot. Not have the foggiest Means the same as not have the faintest. Not cricket Unfair. Derives from the belief of some English people that cricket is the Not have two pennies to rub together epitome of sportsmanship.* Be poor.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • NOT SEE FOR DUST / 163Not in my back yard An attitude of oppo- pause after receiving an unexpected sition to anything bad happening in the reply, but continues to speak fluently and local neighbourhood. There is usually an maintains his or her argument.* additional attitude that although some- Not miss a trick Make optimum use of thing cannot be allowed to happen in the everything.* local neighbourhood, it is perfectly acceptable if it happens elsewhere. The Not much cop Of poor quality.* phrase is often used to describe middle- class protestors objecting to, for example, Not my bag In other words, ‘not some- a new road being built near their (expen- thing I feel competent to do or discuss’.* sive) houses, but who will happily drive Not my pigeon Means the same as not my on new roads built near other people’s bag. houses. The phrase thus more generally means ‘selfishness disguised as righteous Not on Unacceptable.* indignation’. The phrase is sometimes Not on my watch An emphatic rejection, shortened to NIMBY, and people with a meaning ‘not whilst I am in charge’.* ‘not in my back yard’ attitude are often described as ‘NIMBYs’.* Not on their watch A statement of resolve that something will not happen whilstNot just a pretty face Not only physically they are in charge.* attractive, but clever as well. The phrase is often used jokingly.* Not on your life An emphatic rejection of a suggestion.*Not know if coming or going In a state of confusion.* Not on your Nellie An emphatic rejection of a suggestion (e.g. ‘will you come to theNot know the meaning of the word dance with me?’ – ‘not on your Appear to have no understanding of the Nellie’).** concept being described.* Not one red cent No money at all. TheNot know what hit them Be utterly sur- phrase is usually used to describe lack of prised.* payment when a person feels theyNot know what to do with themselves deserve to have been paid.* Be bored because of lack of potential Not playing with a full deck Stupid.* activities or amusements.* Not put it past them Believe that they areNot know where to put themselves Feel capable of doing it.* embarrassed.* Not see for dust Leave with speed andNot let the grass grow under their feet determination.* (1) Be active. (2) Respond quickly.* Not the be-all and end-all See be-all andNot long for this world Limited life end-all. expectancy. The phrase is sometimes used seriously, and sometimes jokingly. The Not the full quid Not particularly intellec- tone of voice and/or context should tually gifted.* indicate which meaning is intended.* Not the full shilling Means the same as notNot made of money See made of money. the full quid.Not miss a beat A person who does not Not the only fish in the sea Expresses the miss a beat is someone who does not same sentiment as more fish in the sea.* allow anything to interfere with what Not the only pebble on the beach Can they are doing. The phrase is most often mean the same as not the only fish in the sea, used to describe a person who does not
  • 164 / NOT THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL or more generally expresses the opinion something is not being thought of and is that someone is not irreplaceable.* not a motivation behind a questionable action (e.g. the accusation that ‘you only Not their cup of tea Not something they want to go because Justine will be there’ find appealing and/or entertaining.* may be met with the reply ‘nothing could Not their day A day which seems to bring be further from my mind’). The phrase nothing but misfortune.* may be used in a humorous or sarcastic manner, usually revealed either by Not their scene Means the same as not their context or the tone of voice.* cup of tea. Nothing new under the sun The opinion Not to be sneezed at Not to be dis- that nothing ‘new’ is truly new, since it is counted.* made of elements that pre-existed. The Not to put too fine a point on it To phrase is generally used in a more cynical speak candidly.* or jaded form to indicate that a fashion that its practitioners think is original is Not turn a hair Show no emotion or simply an amended version of something surprise.* that has been done before.* Not waving but drowning Appearing to Nothing on them (1) Be of lesser quality be alright, but in fact in difficulty.* than them. (2) Have no incriminatory Not within coo-ee Australian version of evidence against them.* not within striking distance. Nothing to write home about Of little Not within striking distance To be a interest or worth.* long distance away. The phrase often Now, now A mild admonishment.* refers to not being close to achieving something rather than physical distance Nowt as queer as folk There is nothing (e.g. ‘they were not within striking that offers as many surprises and variety distance of winning’).* as human behaviour. The word ‘queer’ denotes ‘unusual’ and the phrase predates Not worth a candle Of little or no value.* the use of the word as slang for ‘homo- Not worth a hill of beans In other words, sexual’.* worthless.* Nuclear See go nuclear. Not worth the candle Not worth the Nudge nudge, wink wink Said after a expense and/or effort involved.* statement with a sexual double-meaning, Not worthy See I am not worthy. meant to signal that a double entendre should be looked for in the statement, Nothing by halves A person who does rather than accepting it literally.* ‘nothing by halves’ does a thorough piece of work.* Number is up Something is inevitably going to happen. The phrase often Nothing daunted Unafraid.* implies that this will be either death or Nothing doing (1) An expression of something very unpleasant.* refusal (e.g. a request to do something Nuts Insane.* unpleasant might be met with a response of ‘nothing doing’). (2) Nothing happen- Nuts about [or on] something Very keen ing.* or interested about something.* Nothing further from their mind Not Nuts and bolts The basic and/or most being considered. The phrase is often important details.* used as a protestation of innocence that * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • OFF THE RAIL / 165Nutty as a fruitcake (1) Insane. (2) Eccen- Off the beaten track Remote; usually tric.* used to describe a pleasant place or area that is not visited by many tourists.* Off the blocks Means the same as out of the blocks.O Off the boat Originally described a recent immigrant to a country, and was oftenOar See poke their oar in and rest on their oars. used offensively. The phrase is sometimesOccam’s razor The principle that if there used to describe someone who has is more than one explanation for some- recently joined a group.** thing, always choose the simplest one.* Off the boil Less successful or interestingOdour of sanctity Unattractive level of than previously.* piety.* Off the case No longer working on a par-Of the blood Genetically related.* ticular project or activity.*Of the essence Essential.* Off the cuff Describes something done without any prior preparation.*Of their dreams E.g. man of their dreams, house of their dreams, etc. Something Off the cuff remark A remark made in that conforms to a person’s ideal.* passing, and which the speaker did not intend to be taken seriously.*Of two minds Undecided.* Off the hook (1) Escape punishment. (2) AOff and on (1) Alternate between two telephone handset not properly replaced states (e.g. a relationship in which a on its base unit (so that calls cannot be couple vary between being friendly and received) is ‘off the hook’.* argumentative can be said to be ‘off and on’). (2) Occasionally.* Off the mark Inaccurate.*Off base Means ‘incorrect’ (e.g. ‘your Off the pace (1) Behind the leading group. judgement is hopelessly off base on this (2) Of a lower standard than the best issue’).* examples.*Off beam Means the same as off base. Off the peg Ready prepared and ready to use. The phrase is particularly applied toOff colour To feel unwell or to perform clothing.* below the expected standard. The phrase probably comes from the fact that (white) Off the rack Means the same as off the peg. people’s skin colour may change notice- Off the rail Means the same as off the peg. ably if they are ill with some medical con- ditions, such as jaundice.* Off the rails Insane.*Off form Doing less well than would be Off the record A person who says that normally expected.* they want to say something ‘off the record’ means that they cannot beOff pat Perfectly.* formally attributed as having said it.*Off target Unsuccessful.* Off the shelf Ready prepared and ready toOff the air See on the air. use. The phrase implies that it was not custom-designed for the job, and there-Off the back of a lorry Something ‘off fore if it proves satisfactory it may be for- the back of a lorry’ is stolen, and thus tuitous. Note that off the peg (or one of its buying it is in itself a crime.*
  • 166 / OFF THE RAILS synonyms) is usually used when the item social and educational background, and in question is clothing.* who will tend to favour each other rather than use unbiased judgement. The phrase Off the top of their head A guess or is most often used as an explanation of initial thoughts.* why someone with low abilities gets a Off the wall Eccentric or unusual.* good job when there were much better alternative candidates (because the Off their chump Insane or severely employer comes from the same social lacking in sensible judgement.* group), but it can be applied to other Off their face Drunk.* examples of unfair preferment. Generally, an ‘old boy network’ is understood to Off their feed Not interested in food in a refer to rich white males, but the term can manner that suggests illness as the cause.* be applied to other social groups where Off their game Doing badly.* there is similar unfair preferment.* Off their hands Something that is no Old chestnut A story or piece of informa- longer their responsibility.* tion that has been heard repeated so often that it is uninteresting or even boring. Off their head (1) Insane. (2) Intoxicated.* There is sometimes the implication that Off their oats Feeling unwell or devoid of the story or piece of information is false energy or appetite.* or at least inaccurate, but by being regu- larly repeated it has been accepted as Off their own bat Do something by them- fact.* selves without being prompted or told.* Old days The past. The temporal distance Off their rocker Insane.* this indicates varies enormously. Most Off their trolley Insane.** commonly, it refers to a time before an old person was born. However, much Offer they can’t refuse The phrase can lit- longer or shorter temporal distances may erally mean an offer that is so good that a be meant, and these can only be gained person would be foolish to refuse it. It from context.* also may mean a threat that a person cannot refuse for fear of (often violent) Old flame A previous girlfriend or boy- punishment. The latter form was popu- friend.* larized by the movie The Godfather.* Old girl network Female version of the Office telegraph Information received old boy network. from gossip amongst members of an Old hat Already known and thus no longer office or company rather than from capable of raising interest or excitement.* official sources.* Old money Wealth accumulated through Oil and water Describes two people or several generations of inheritance. In viewpoints that cannot be easily recon- some class systems, there is a snobbish ciled.* implication that people with such wealth Oil the wheels Make something operate are ‘superior’ to people from new money more efficiently.* backgrounds, where the wealth has been accumulated by them personally or Old Adam ‘Primitive’ behaviour without within one or two generations. There is moral sense.* often the added implication that people Old as the hills Very old.* from old money backgrounds have greater command of social etiquette than Old boy network A group of men united people from new money backgrounds.* in identity by coming from a similar * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • ON DIFFERENT WAVELENGTHS / 167Old school The traditional method; there On a roll Enjoying a period of especially may be an implication of this being good luck or good performance.* rather old-fashioned but nonetheless On a short fuse Easily annoyed.* respected.* On a silver platter Means the same as on aOld school tie A symbol of belonging to plate. the old boy network.* On a sixpence Something that can beOld soldier See come the old soldier. done ‘on a sixpence’ can be done easily inOld trout An old person (particularly an a confined space. The phrase is often used old woman) of unattractive appearance of the turning circle of cars.* and hostile attitudes. The phrase should On a string If someone is ‘on a string’ then be avoided.*** they are controlled or influenced byOld wives’ tale A fanciful or inaccurate someone else.* story or piece of information that is On about If someone is ‘on about’ some- widely (but erroneously) believed to be thing, then they are talking about it.* true.* On all fours On hands and knees.*Oldest profession Prostitution.* On at them Pestering.*Oldest trick in the book A well-known method. The phrase usually means a On bended knee The phrase describes a method of deception that should be well kneeling position. The phrase is often known. Thus, if someone ‘falls for the used to describe a very emotional plea for oldest trick in the book’, then they have help (e.g. ‘on bended knee I beg you to been surprisingly lacking in judgement.* help me’). A person does not literally have to adopt a kneeling position.*Olive branch An offer of peace or recon- ciliation.* On board A person who is ‘on board’ is a member of a team and/or is willing toOn a dime Means the same as on a sixpence. support a particular cause or argument.*On a hiding to nothing Engaged in an On cue At the right time and place.* activity almost certain to fail.* On deck Already prepared for the task toOn a high In a very good mood.* be done.*On a knife edge Describes a situation in On different wavelengths See on the same which the outcome is highly uncertain wavelength. and accordingly has generated a feeling of tension.* On edge In a nervous or easily agitated state.*On a mission Have something to do and be resolutely determined to do it.* On fire Excited or aroused.*On a plate Something given ‘on a plate’ is On firm ground Describes a piece of rea- something easily obtained. See on their soning that cannot be faulted.* plate.* On form Doing well.*On a promise Very confident of receiving something. The phrase is nearly always On paper Two rather contrasting mean- used to describe the secure expectation of ings: (1) Potentially feasible (e.g. ‘on sexual intercourse.* paper, it should work, but it’s yet to be tried out’). (2) Available in a tangibleOn a razor’s edge Means the same as on a written or printed form, and thus provid- knife edge.
  • 168 / ON EDGE ing more definite proof than a spoken On the block If something is ‘on the report.* block’ then it is being sold at auction.* On reflection After a period of contempla- On the blower On the phone.* tion.* On the boil See come to a boil. On side (1) Concurring. (2) Legitimate On the books (1) Describes a person who and/or cannot be discounted.* is formally registered as a member of a On stream Currently available or opera- workforce, club, etc. (2) Describes a job tional.* that is scheduled to be done.* On tap Readily available.* On the bottle Drinking alcohol to excess.* On target Successful.* On the brain A person who has something ‘on the brain’ is obsessed with it. The On tenterhooks In a state of anxiety or exception to this is ‘water on the brain’, anticipation.* which usually indicates a disease (specifi- On the air Describes a programme that is cally, an inflammation of the brain).* currently being broadcast on television On the breadline To be very poor. The or radio, or is in the schedules (i.e. is regu- phrase is derived from ‘the breadlines’, larly broadcast). A programme that is not i.e. queues for bread and basic foodstuffs currently being broadcast or that is not in offered by various government and chari- the schedules is off the air.* table organisations in areas of extreme On the back of a fag packet Means the economic deprivation.* same as on the back of an envelope. On the broo Claiming social welfare On the back of a postage stamp Usually benefits.* part of a longer phrase such as ‘you could On the bubble To be in a difficult and/or write all they know on the subject on the dangerous situation.* back of a postage stamp’. Since postage stamps are quite small, what is meant is On the button Means ‘exactly correct’.* that the person knows very little about On the cards Very likely to happen.* the subject in question.* On the carpet In serious trouble. Hence, to On the back of an envelope Refers to receive a carpeting is to receive a severe something roughly planned or estimated, telling-off.* that needs refinement before it will be reliable. The phrase comes from the On the case To be working on a particular image of a person making a preliminary problem or piece of work. Contrast with plan by writing on anything available, on their case.* such as the back of an envelope.* On the coat tails of them Gain success or On the ball Alert and aware of what is wealth through being associated with going on, and able to respond promptly another, more important person, rather and sensibly to things.* than through any personal skills.* On the barrel To pay for it at the point of On the crest of a wave (1) Very successful. purchase (i.e. not to use credit).* (2) More generally, in good spirits.* On the barrelhead Means the same as on On the cusp About to happen.* the barrel. On the doorstep Within a short distance.* On the blink Describes a piece of machin- ery that is faulty.* On the dot Utterly punctual.* On the downgraded Worsening.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • ON THE REBOUND / 169On the drawing board At a preparatory On the lookout (1) Alert to signs of stage. See back to the drawing board.* danger. (2) Constantly searching for something.*On the edge of their seat Excited. The phrase is often used to describe an On the make Looking for opportunities audience excited by a movie or stage per- for advancement and/or profit. The formance, particularly one where the phrase usually implies that a person who ending is uncertain.* is ‘on the make’ is also unscrupulous.*On the fiddle Engaged in a fraudulent On the mat Severely reprimanded.* activity.* On the mend Recovering.*On the fly Something done ‘on the fly’ is On the money Correct.* performed whilst doing another activity simultaneously.* On the nail (1) Means the same as on the barrel. (2) Accurate.On the fritz Means the same as on the blink. On the nod Agreed without debate.*On the game Being a prostitute.* On the nose Accurate.*On the go Energetic.* On the off chance In the unlikely event.*On the grapevine Rumour.* On the pull Seeking a sexual partner. TheOn the ground Reality, as opposed to phrase may imply rather shameless and fanciful ideas.* blatant behaviour.*On the hoof (1) Without lengthy prior On the Q.T. Means the same as on the quiet. planning. The phrase is often used to ‘Q.T.’ is meant to represent the pronunci- describe how well a person can deal with ation of ‘quiet’. problems and/or questions which they have not anticipated. (2) Still alive.* On the quiet Something done ‘on the quiet’ is done secretly.*On the hook Having responsibility.* On the rag Having a period.***On the hop Surprised or unprepared.* On the razzle Having an enjoyable time.*On the horizon Describes something that is strongly anticipated will happen in the On the rebound In a period after ceasing a future.* relationship with a sexual or romantic partner. The phrase is often used toOn the horns of a dilemma In a difficult describe meeting a new partner during situation in which all options appear this phase (e.g. ‘I met Emma on the unattractive.* rebound from Charlotte’).*On the house Free.* On the receiving end Being the recipientOn the job (1) Currently engaged in a task. of something unpleasant.* (2) Having sexual intercourse.* (1) or On the record (1) True, since there is ** (2) undeniable proof that the matter inOn the knocker Selling products or can- question occurred. (2) Something that vassing for political parties from door to can be attributed to the person saying it door (i.e. making unsolicited calls to (as opposed to off the record).* houses).* On the rocks (1) In difficulties. (2) A drinkOn the lam Attempting to avoid being with ice.* captured (typically by the police).* On the ropes In a difficult situation, facingOn the level Honest.* almost certain misfortune.*
  • 170 / ON THE RECEIVING END On the safe side Being cautious rather the back’ of another person is being a than daring.* nuisance.* On the same page (1) On the same side. On their case Be very annoying to (2) Having similar ideas/knowledge.* someone. Contrast with on the case.* On the same wavelength If people are ‘on On their game Doing well.* the same wavelength’, then they under- On their hands Something that must be stand each other. If people do not under- dealt with.* stand each other, then they are on different wavelengths.* On their head Their responsibility.* On the scent Have a realistic prospect of On their hind legs Standing. The phrase finding something or someone.* nearly always also means ‘speaking’.* On the shelf (1) No longer wanted. (2) On their last legs Near death or obsoles- Without a partner.* cence.* On the side of the angels To do what is On their mind If something is ‘on a morally correct. Although of religious person’s mind’ then it is preoccupying origin, the phrase is not restricted to reli- them.* gious matters.* On their nerves Annoying or irritating On the sidelines A person observing ‘on them.* the sidelines’ cannot take part in what they are observing.* On their own ground (1) Physically in their own neighbourhood. (2) In their On the skids In a pronounced state of own area of expertise.* decline.* On their plate Their workload. See on a On the slate On credit.* plate.* On the sly Surreptitiously.* On their tod On their own.* On the spot (1) In a difficult situation. (2) On their toes Alert.* Present at the event (e.g. ‘the reporter on the spot where the event is taking place’). On their uppers Have little or no money (3) At the location where something or resources.* happened.* On their wavelength Means the same as On the take Obtaining money illegally. on the same wavelength. The phrase usually describes taking On tick On credit.* bribes or committing petty thefts from an employer.* On to something Have a high probability of discovering something of impor- On the town Socialising, particularly tance.* visiting attractions in a city, such as res- taurants, nightclubs and similar.* On toast In a vulnerable position.* On the up and up Improving in status.* On top do In a state of great excitement.* On the wagon To be teetotal.* On top of the world In a very good mood.* On the warpath In a bad mood, looking for a confrontation with someone.* On your bike (1) Slang expression meaning ‘go away’. (2) Slang expression On their back (1) A person who is ‘on meaning ‘do something’.** their back’ is ill. (2) A person who is ‘on * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • ONE OF THE LADS / 171On your marks An instruction to race words, if person A does something for competitors that the race is about to person B, then person B should feel begin. Accordingly, in a wider sense, a obliged to do something for person A.* warning that something important is One in the eye An annoyance, or some- about to happen.* thing that at least temporarily thwarts aOnce bitten The start of a saying – ‘once plan.* bitten, twice shy’. This means that if One jump ahead Further ahead than doing something results in being emo- someone else in the planning or execu- tionally or physically hurt or otherwise tion of something and thus holding an ends in failure, a person will be less advantage.* willing to try to do the same thing again.* One man [or woman] band An organisa- tion or business that is either literally justOnce every… If the phrase is followed by one person, or that would fail but for the the name of an obscure event (e.g. ‘once work of a particular person.* every Preston guild’) then it means the same as once in a blue moon.* One man [or woman] show Means the same as one man [or woman] band.Once in a blue moon Indicating a very rare event (under very exceptional cir- One night stand (1) A person with whom cumstances, the moon can appear blue).* one has sexual relations on only one occasion. (2) A concert or theatrical per-One and the same The identical thing or formance given in a particular place only person. The phrase is nearly always used once. The implication is that the per- to confirm an identity (e.g. ‘is it really former is either of poor quality or rela- you?’ might get the reply ‘the one and the tively unknown, and thus only gets to same’).* work sporadically.*One big… Emphasizes the magnitude of One of the boys Means the same as one of whatever is described in the following the lads. phrase (e.g. ‘it’s been one big waste of time’).* One of the lads Belonging and accepted by a group of men who have a commonOne born every minute See there’s one born interest in stereotypical masculine every minute. pursuits such as drinking, sport and neverOne door closes The start of a proverb talking about anything requiring emo- that finishes ‘another opens’. In other tional considerations. This is either the words, if something has come to an end, acme of success or a damning indictment, there are other new things that can be depending upon one’s point of view.* done instead.* One of those days A day when everythingOne fell swoop A single action that com- seems to be going wrong.* pletely accomplishes its aim.* One of those nights A night when every-One fine day At some time in the future.* thing seems to be going wrong. Gen- erally specifically describes an eveningOne foot in the grave Have a life-threat- out that goes wrong.* ening illness. The phrase is often used jokingly to describe later life.* One over the eight To be drunk.*One for the road A final drink before One step forward, two steps back A parting.* derogatory description of any policy or way of working in which nothing seemsOne good turn The start of a proverb that to be accomplished in spite of a lot of finishes with ‘deserves another’. In other activity. Alternatively, a description of an
  • 172 / ONE OF THOSE DAYS action that makes things worse than Open door policy (1) Be always available before.* to receive visitors or listen to complaints or enquiries. (2) Have allocated times One swallow doesn’t make a summer A when a person is available to see visitors minor symptom of something does not (i.e. no other events are scheduled to guarantee that something exists. For overlap with this time).* example, seeing one swallow flying around does not mean that hot summer Open sesame A means of gaining access to weather is guaranteed.* something normally difficult to enter.* One that got away Something that could Open the door to Permit something to be not be attained and which has grown done.* more desirable in memory and/or telling Open their eyes Make a person aware of to others.* something they previously did not know One too many Excess alcoholic drink to or adequately appreciate.* the point where inebriation has been Open their mind Typically means the induced. The phrase is often used as a same as open their eyes, but can also mean euphemism for very, rather than just more generally making someone more mildly, excessive drinking.* receptive to new ideas. One way ticket A situation with only one Open with them Honest with them.* possible outcome.* Opportunity knocks A chance for Only game in town The most important success.* thing.* Opposite sides of the same coin Means Only obeying orders The phrase is used the same as two sides of the same coin. in a derogatory sense to mean that someone did what they were told to do Order of the boot (1) Dismissal from without questioning whether their employment. (2) Cease using because it is actions were moral. The implication is considered inadequate for the task.* that if they had followed their conscience rather than orders, then they would never Orders See only obeying orders and orders is have done what they did. The phrase orders. came to have its current implication after Orders is orders Meaning ‘if an order has the statement ‘I was only obeying orders’ been given, it must be obeyed, no matter was used by many senior Nazis as a how strange or ridiculous you may per- defence argument in the Nuremberg war sonally feel it is’.* crimes trials.* Other half Means the same as better half. Open a can of worms Discover or create a serious and complex problem.* Other side of the coin An argument pre- senting an opposite point of view.* Open and shut case Something in which the conclusion is so obvious right from Other things being equal Means the the start that the end result is no same as all things being equal. surprise.* Out and about Having an unexceptional Open arms See with open arms. normal lifestyle.* Open book Someone (or something) Out at the elbows Ragged or worn out.* about whom everything is known, with Out cold Unconscious.* no attempt to hide any secrets.* Out for blood Describes people who are Open door See push at an open door.* determined to make someone suffer.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • OUT OF THE BOX / 173Out for the count (1) Unconscious. (2) Out of sight, out of mind A proverb Utterly defeated. The phrase comes from expressing the opinion that something or boxing – a boxer who is ‘out for the someone not encountered regularly is count’ is one who, having been knocked likely to be forgotten or appreciated less.* down, fails to stand up by the time the Out of sorts Feel unwell or to be in a bad referee has counted to ten, and thus loses mood.* the contest.* Out of the ark Joking term meaning thatOut in the cold A person left ‘out in the something is very old and accordingly is cold’ is being excluded from a group or unlikely to function as well as something activity.* more recent (e.g. ‘he drove an old car thatOut in the open No longer secret.* was like something out of the ark’).**Out like a light Quickly asleep or uncon- Out of the blocks Describes how quickly scious.* someone starts to do something (e.g. ‘first out of the blocks’ means they were theOut of a corner See in a corner. fastest to start, ‘last out of the blocks’Out of a tight corner See in a corner. means they were slowest, etc.). The phrase is derived from athletics sprintOut of bounds Something that must not races, where runners use starting blocks.* be visited and/or discussed.* Out of the blue Unexpectedly (e.g. ‘theOut of harm’s way Safe.* news of the promotion was completelyOut of it To be insensible. The phrase is unexpected and came like a bolt out of often used of someone who is too tired or the blue’).* inebriated to think logically. It can also Out of the box (1) Something that can be be used jokingly of someone who seems used ‘out of the box’ is ready to use intellectually incapable of understanding without further assembly being required. an argument.* (2) In a phrase including an indication ofOut of joint Disorientated or not correctly order (e.g. ‘first out of the box’, ‘third out integrated.* of the box’ etc.) the phrase simply means the same as the stated order (e.g. ‘first outOut of keeping Uncharacteristic.* of the box’ simply means ‘first’). (3) TheOut of kilter Out of balance or lacking phrase describes how a person will harmony.* behave on first meeting them (e.g. ‘he will come out of the box bad-tempered’). (4)Out of line A state of disobedience.* In Australian slang, the phrase can meanOut of order (1) Against regulations or ‘good’. Do not confuse with out of their expected standards. (2) Broken.* box.*Out of pocket Made a financial loss. Out of the closet A person coming out of the closet is admitting to something thatOut of pocket expenses Expenses they have previously hidden. The phrase incurred that were paid with a person’s was originally used to describe gay men own money and which can be subse- and women declaring publicly that they quently claimed back from a fund, were homosexual. However, the phrase is because they were a necessary expense now used more generally for any type of during a business trip or similar.* admission of a previously kept secret.*Out of sight (1) Hidden from scrutiny. (2) Out of the frame (1) Not suspected of In 1960s hippy slang, a term of high having done something. (2) Not attended praise (e.g. ‘Hendrix’s guitar playing was to.* out of sight’).*
  • 174 / OUT OF THE CLOSET Out of the frying pan Often followed by Out on a limb Isolated and/or without the rest of the phrase – ‘and into the fire’. aid.* To escape from one unattractive situation Out to get them Wanting to inflict punish- only to immediately be placed in another ment.* unattractive situation.* Out to lunch Insane.* Out of the loop See in the loop. Out with it Means the same as spit it out. Out of the picture No longer relevant.* Outside the box Innovative, unconven- Out of the road A demand to stop causing tional or eccentric.* an obstruction.** Over a barrel A person who is ‘over a Out of the running See in the running. barrel’ cannot win or escape punishment Out of the window Rejected.* no matter what they do.* Out of the woods No longer in danger.* Over-egg the pudding Spoil the effect of something by including too much.* Out of their box Drunk or affected by drugs. Do not confuse with out of the box.* Over my dead body An expression of opposition to something (e.g. ‘you’ll do Out of their depth In a situation which that over my dead body’).* they lack the ability to deal with.* Over the counter (1) Legitimately pur- Out of their gourd Behaving in an irratio- chased without subterfuge. In contrast, nal manner. The phrase often implies that under the counter refers to something pur- this is due to intoxication.* chased illegally. (2) Describes a medicine Out of their hair No longer being that can be bought without a doctor’s annoying.* prescription.* Out of their head To be intoxicated or Over the fence (1) Australian term insane.* meaning ‘unacceptable’. (2) From the neighbours.* Out of their league In a situation beyond their level of skill.* Over the hill To have reached a stage where a person is considered to be Out of their mind (1) Insane. (2) Severely incompetent at a particular task. More mistaken.* generally, to be considered ‘too old’.** Out of their skull Means the same as out of Over the hump Finished with the most their head. unpleasant and/or difficult parts of Out of their tree Means the same as out of something.* their head. Over the limit Drunk.* Out of thin air Used to describe some- Over the moon A state of great happi- thing or someone that appears unexpect- ness.* edly (e.g. ‘he suddenly appeared out of thin air’).* Over the odds Too expensive or otherwise beyond expectations of what is reason- Out of this world Extremely good. The able.* phrase does not literally mean ‘extrater- restrial’, however.* Over the road The phrase can mean ‘across the other side of the road’ but can Out of touch (1) No longer in communica- also mean ‘over there’ (e.g. which could tion. (2) No longer conversant with be across a room, the other side of the current trends.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • PACK THEIR BAGS / 175 corridor). The context should indicate term is often used to indicate that which meaning is intended.* someone has an obligation at least to listen to a request (even if they will notOver the top An exaggeration to the point necessarily grant it). See give them the time of being ridiculous. Used to describe of day.* anything that is too extreme to be plausi- ble, such as melodramatic plays and films, Own goal In soccer, an own goal is scored or reactions to events that are too extreme when a person accidentally strikes a ball (e.g. having a temper tantrum over a lost into their own goal (i.e. they score a goal paper clip).* for their opponents). More generally, the phrase describes a mistake that createsOver the top of their head Means the extra problems for the person who made same as over their head. it.*Over their head (1) Too difficult to be Own up Confess.* understood. (2) Something done without consulting a person who should have Own worst enemy See their own worst been consulted (and by implication, enemy. would probably have objected).*Over yonder Over there.* POverplay their hand Try to achieve too much with the resources available.*Overshoot the mark Means the same as Pack a punch Have a strong effect.* overstep the mark, though sometimes with an implication that what has been done Pack it in Stop doing something. Used as a has been accidental.* description (e.g. ‘they packed it in’) it is fairly mild, but used as a command (e.g.Overstep the mark Do something that is ‘pack it in’) it is more forceful and less beyond the limits of what is considered polite.* or ** (if used as a command) permissible and/or acceptable. There is often the implication that this was done Pack their bags Prepare to leave. If used as knowingly. See overshoot the mark.* a command, it is rather more emotionally forceful (and is similar to sling their hook).Overturn the applecart Means the same For example, ‘have you packed your bags as upset the applecart. yet?’ is a polite question. However, ‘pack your bags!’ is a command to go and indi-Owe them a living A person who feels cates that the speaker is not pleased.* or that someone or something ‘owes them a ** (if used as a command) living’ feels that they are automatically entitled to a job or financial and/or Packing heat Carrying a gun.* material support. The phrase is often used in the negative form ‘the world doesn’t owe Paddle their own canoe Work without them a living’, expressing the belief that any assistance.* people are not automatically entitled to Page Three girl A female model who anything and should work for what they appears topless. The phrase derives from receive.* the UK tabloid newspaper The Sun, whichOwe them one Feel obliged to repay a introduced a picture of such a model on a debt or favour.* daily basis, always on page three. The models are generally stereotyped asOwe them the time of day Be obliged large-chested with few intellectual through friendship, genetic relatedness accomplishments.* or feelings of commitment to spend at least some time listening to a person. The
  • 176 / PACKING HEAT Pain in the arse Ruder version of pain in the Paper bag See couldn’t…their way out of a neck.*** paper bag. Pain in the ass Means the same as pain in Paper over the cracks Attempt to deal the arse.*** with a problem by disguising its effects, rather than deal with the causes of the Pain in the backside Means the same as problem.* pain in the neck, but ruder.** Paper tiger An apparently threatening Pain in the elbow Means the same as pain person or thing who in fact is harmless.* in the neck. Par See entry below and: above par, below Pain in the neck An annoyance; there is par, under par and up to par. often the implication that this is a long- standing rather than short-lived annoy- Par for the course What would normally ance.* be expected.* Pain in the nether regions Means the Parachute in Bring in to solve a serious same as pain in the neck, but slightly problem. The term is often used to ruder.** describe a person recruited to help resolve problems in a company experi- Pain in the proverbial Means the same as encing difficulties.* pain in the neck. Pardon my French Please excuse my Pain in the rear end Means the same as swearing.* pain in the neck, but slightly ruder.** Pare to the bone Means the same as cut to Paint into a corner Means the same as box the bone. into a corner. The image comes from a person foolish enough to paint a floor in Park it Postpone completion of a task.* such a way that they end in the corner of Part and parcel An integral component.* the room, incapable of getting out of the room without walking on wet paint, and Part of the furniture A person who has thus doomed to stay in the corner of the become accepted into a group of people room until the paint dries.* so that his or her presence is not remarked upon.* Paint the Forth bridge A never-ending task. The Forth road and rail bridges in Parting of the ways A separation. The Scotland are large structures and demand phrase can be used in several ways: e.g. (a) continuous repairs (including repaint- a disagreement after a period of agree- ing).* ment; (b) people following different careers after shared time together (e.g. Paint the town red To have a good night after working on a common project).* out, usually with the implication of drinking too much and generally not Party’s over The phrase can be used to being on best behaviour.* indicate that a period of enjoyment has come to an end and that now some Pale See beyond the pale. serious work must be done, but it is also Pandora’s box Something that is harmless used more generally simply to indicate if left alone, but once disturbed creates that something has finished.* havoc and/or considerable problems.* Pass by on the other side Avoid.* Panic button See push the panic button. Pass current Be accepted as true.* Pants down See catch with their pants down. Pass muster Be of an acceptable standard.* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • PAY THROUGH THE NOSE / 177Pass the baton Give someone else the Pay for itself If an item ‘pays for itself ’, responsibility for a particular task.* then the amount of money it earns or saves is equal to or greater than itsPass the buck See passing the buck. purchase and maintenance costs.*Pass the hat round Request voluntary Pay its way Be useful and worth the cost of payments for something.* buying and maintaining.*Pass the sick bucket A joking or facetious Pay lip service Do something without any remark indicating displeasure in some- sincerity or particular effort.* thing just witnessed. The phrase is often used as a comment on something that is Pay the Earth Pay a lot of money.* over-sentimental or insincere.* Pay the piper Pay the bill for something.*Pass their eye over Examine not very Pay the price Suffer as a consequence of thoroughly.* attempting to do something. The phrasePassing acquaintance Means the same as implies that the suffering is a highly nodding acquaintance. probable consequence of the activity being done. There is usually (though notPassing the buck (1) Giving the responsi- inevitably) an added implication that bility for something unpleasant to what is being done has a desirable someone else. (2) More generally, outcome, so the suffering can be seen as refusing to accept responsibility. The something that should be endured.* phrase is said to originate from card games in the American ‘wild west’ where Pay their dues Do what is expected and the ‘buck’ (originally a type of knife, sub- appropriate.* sequently a silver dollar or counter) was Pay their respects Visit someone.* placed in front of the person whose responsibility was to deal the cards. Since Pay their way Be useful and worth the cost the dealer was nearly always the person of employing.* blamed if anything went wrong, this was not the most pleasant of tasks. Hence, Pay through the nose To pay an excessive passing the buck (i.e. getting someone amount for something. Probably derived else to deal the cards) was giving from a Viking form of extortion, in which someone else the responsibility for a dis- people were threatened with mutilation agreeable task. If someone declares that of their nose unless they paid money.* the buck stops here, he or she is saying that Pays to… It is worthwhile to… * they will take responsibility.* Peach of a… A very good and/or desir-Past it A derogatory term for someone able example of a… * assumed to be too old to be capable of doing anything useful or important.** Peaches and cream A pale, unblemished skin with pale, pink cheeks.*Past its sell-by date Outmoded.* Pear-shaped See go pear-shaped.Pat on the back Expression of approval.* Pearls before swine Something of highPaths have crossed Have met before.* quality presented to people incapable ofPatter of tiny feet The presence of a child appreciating it.* or children.* Peas in a pod Very similar.*Pave the way Make something possible by Pedal to the metal Accelerating hard in a doing the initial work necessary for it to car.* occur. *
  • 178 / PAYS TO… Peed off Has the same meanings as pissed prospect. The phrase can be used in off. Is very slightly less rude, but use is several ways, such as an expression of dis- still cautioned against.*** approval of an idea (e.g. ‘do you think Brian might be made Chairman?’ might Peel me a grape The phrase is used sarcas- be met with ‘perish the thought!’ if Brian tically to denote somebody who is so is an unpopular or implausible candidate) wealthy, lazy and/or decadent that it or as a qualifying statement before could be imagined that they would, given raising an unwelcome prognosis (e.g. the chance, have a servant peel grapes for ‘perish the thought, but what would we them rather than eat the skin of the do if Brian became Chairman?’).* grapes like anyone else. By extension, the phrase is used sarcastically as a retort Person in the street A recent (and non- when somebody asks for something that sexist) form of man in the street. The term they are apparently too lazy to do for refers to the average person and is gener- themselves.* ally used when discussing public opinion (e.g. ‘what does the person in the street Peel out Leave or quit.* think about the new government Peg See bring down a peg or two. policy?’).* Penis on wheels An expensive fast car Person of the cloth A Christian minister.* owned by a (typically middle-aged or Person of the moment A person who is older) man. The phrase derives from the currently considered important or who is argument that such a car is being used temporarily famous.* (consciously or subconsciously) as an expression of virility, and may be com- Phone in Do in a lacklustre way. The pensating for a lack of, or decline in, phrase is often used of mediocre perfor- virility in the owner.*** mances by usually good actors (e.g. ‘he phoned in his performance’).* Pennies from Heaven Unexpected advan- tages or pleasures.* Pick holes Criticize.* Penny drops Realisation is attained.* Pick nits Means the same as nit pick. Penny for them Means the same as penny Pick of the crop The best.* for your thoughts. Pick on Choose from a range of alterna- Penny for your thoughts A joking tives. The phrase is often used to describe remark to a person who appears to be someone chosen unfairly for punishment daydreaming.* or to be treated unfairly.* Penny wise, pound foolish Being obses- Pick out of a hat Choose randomly.* sive about minor savings of money, Pick their brains Ask for advice or infor- thereby incurring bigger expenses as a mation (e.g. ‘I’d like to pick your brains result. For example, refusing to spend about this problem because I know you money on repairing a broken garden have some expertise in these matters’).* gate, then getting sued when a visitor gashes their hand on it.* Pick to pieces Heavily criticize.* People in glass houses The start of a Pick up (1) Understand. (2) Adopt (as in proverb, the rest of which is ‘shouldn’t pick up the ball and run with it). (3) Offer a throw stones’. In other words, people lift in a car or taxi, or someone who is who themselves can be criticized should given a lift in a car or taxi. (4) A person not vociferously criticize others.* encountered on a social occasion with whom one has sexual relations with no Perish the thought An expression of emotional commitment, usually only on rejection of support for an idea or * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • PILE ON THE AGONY / 179 one occasion (often described as a casual Pierce their heart Cause a feeling of pick up).* strong emotion.*Pick up on Learn about. The phrase often Pig in a poke Something bought or refers to learning something by chance.* acquired whose identity and/or value is unknown until after purchase or acquisi-Pick up some slack Means the same as tion.* take up the slack. Pig in the middle A person who findsPick up the ball and run with it Means themselves involved in a disagreement the same as take the ball and run with it. where they belong to neither side butPick up the baton Accept the responsibil- find themselves affected adversely by the ity for something previously the respon- situation.* sibility of someone else.* Pig sick Annoyed about a topic because itPick up the bill Pay a debt.* has been mentioned too many times and has gone beyond being merely boring toPick up the pieces Attempt to return a sit- being irritating.* uation to a state of relative normality after an argument or disturbance.* Piggy in the middle Means the same as pig in the middle.Pick up the tab Means the same as pick up the bill. Pigs might fly An expression of disbelief. Usually used in reply to an improbablePick up the thread Come to a state of statement (e.g. ‘I might win the lottery’ comprehension.* might get a reply of ‘yes, and pigs mightPick you up A medicine or other substance fly’).* designed to make a sick or depressed Pile it on Over-elaborate.* person feel less sick or depressed.* Pile on the agony Make things increas-Pie eyed Inebriated.* ingly unpleasant.*Pie in the sky Something unrealistically Pillar of society A person highly optimistic.* respected in their community.*Piece of ass A sexually desirable person. Pillar of strength A person who can be The phrase can be used of either gender, relied upon to offer assistance and but tends to be used of women. It is support.* offensive to many people and use of the term should be avoided.*** Pillar to post The whole length.*Piece of cake Something very easy.* Pin back their ears Listen attentively.*Piece of piss Less polite form of piece of Pin it on Attribute responsibility to.* cake.*** Pin money A small amount of money.*Piece of the action A person wanting a Pinch See at a pinch and that’s the pinch. ‘piece of the action’ wishes to share in an activity that he or she thinks is going to Pins and needles (1) The tingling sensa- be rewarding by being financially tion as a numb part of the body regains rewarding and/or exciting. The term was feeling. (2) A person on ‘pins and needles’ used by American gangsters to describe is very anxious or in a state of expectation their share in profits from illegal activi- that something is going to happen.* ties.* Pip to the post (1) Win by a narrowPiece of the pie Means the same as piece of margin. (2) Win at the last moment.* the action.
  • 180 / PILLAR OF SOCIETY Piping hot Extremely hot.* Pissed as a newt To be very drunk. The origins of the phrase are unknown; cer- Pipped at the post Defeated at the last tainly, newts are not noted inebriates. See moment.* pissed.*** Piss artist (1) Someone who is constantly Pissed off See pissed. drunk. The term does not necessarily indicate an alcoholic. (2) Someone who is Piss-up in a brewery See couldn’t organize a generally considered useless at what they piss-up in a brewery. do.*** Pit of the stomach If an emotion is felt ‘in Piss in the same pot If two or more people the pit of the stomach’ then it is felt are said to ‘piss in the same pot’ it means strongly.* they have interests in common and/or Pity fuck Means the same as charity fuck. work together.*** Place at the table Status as an accepted Piss in the wind Engage in something member of a group. The phrase generally futile.*** refers to a powerful and/or influential Piss it down Rain heavily.*** group.* Piss on their parade Ruder version of rain Place in the sun An advantageous on their parade.*** position.* Piss or get off the pot A strong demand to Plain as a pikestaff (1) Obvious. (2) Unat- either do something or leave – the impli- tractive.* cation being that something should have Plain Jane (1) An unattractive woman. (2) already been done.*** A woman who is habitually soberly Pissed The term has several meanings dressed, avoids make-up, etc.* depending upon context and culture. In Plain sailing Easy.* all meanings, however, the term is slang and considered offensive. (1) The term Plan B An alternative plan. The phrase is literally refers to urination. Thus, ‘I have usually applied to a plan that is used had a piss’ means ‘I have urinated’. (2) In when the first plan fails.* UK slang, the term usually refers to being drunk (e.g. ‘he went to the pub and got Plant dragon’s teeth Means the same as pissed’). (3) In US slang, the phrase sow dragon’s teeth. means ‘angry’(e.g. ‘damaging his video Plates of meat Feet. The phrase comes made him really pissed at you’). (4) In UK from Cockney rhyming slang.* slang, the term can also mean ‘angry’ if in the phrase pissed off (e.g. ‘damaging his Play a blinder Do something extremely video made him really pissed off at you’). well.* However, note that the phrase ‘pissed Play a hunch Guess.* off ’ can also mean ‘ran away’ (e.g. ‘as soon as he saw there was trouble he Play ball To ‘play ball’ is to cooperate.* pissed off out of here’). (5) The phrase Play both ends against the middle ‘piss off ’ commonly either means ‘go Support all the opposing sides in an away’ or is a strong refutation of an accu- argument.* sation (e.g. ‘did you steal it?’ – ‘piss off ’). (6) Take the piss is a less polite version of Play by ear (1) Do something unrehearsed. take the mickey. See couldn’t organize a piss-up (2) Adjust behaviour and actions in in a brewery, no pot to piss in, piece of piss, piss response to the situation (rather than in the wind, pissed as a newt and piss or get off rigidly following a pre- arranged plan).* the pot.*** * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • PLAY IT SAFE / 181Play by the rules Behave in a legal and cation that this is done through an morally correct manner.* improper use of power. (3) As a medical practitioner, decide who should be givenPlay cat and mouse Instead of immedi- a life-saving treatment and who should ately defeating an opponent, repeatedly not, and thus who should live and who trick and then disillusion them that they should die.* have a chance to win or escape. The phrase is derived from the way in which a Play hard to get Feign lack of interest in cat will play with a captured mouse the approach of a potential suitor or new before finally killing it.* employer to encourage them to make a more attractive offer.*Play catch-up Attempt to draw level with someone currently in a better position.* Play hardball Be very firm and decisive, and generally be uncompromising.*Play Devil with Damage.* Play hell Complain.*Play Devil’s advocate Present the argu- ment for the opposite case without neces- Play hell with (1) Disrupt. (2) Complain.* sarily believing it. The term is derived Play hookey Be absent without permis- from the title of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ given sion. The phrase especially applies to to a cardinal in the Vatican who, in the pupils avoiding school.* process of deciding if a person is suitable for canonisation, is assigned the task of Play into their hands Unwittingly do finding evidence against a person being something that is advantageous to an made into a saint.* opponent.*Play dirty Act in an unfair manner.* Play it cool Be nonchalant.*Play doctors and nurses Engage in sexual Play it safe Be cautious.* activity.* Play it straight Behave honestly.*Play ducks and drakes with Fail to behave seriously.* Play kissy-kissy Be overly friendly in the hope of gaining favour.*Play fast and loose (1) Be irresponsible. (2) Be sexually promiscuous.* Play merry hell Complain.*Play footsie (1) Engage in flirtatious Play politics Do something to attain an behaviour by gently rubbing a foot advantage, rather than out of genuine against a partner’s foot in a formal setting, belief.* such as when seated at a restaurant table. Play possum (1) When under attack, pre- (2) Be engaged in a covert business deal.* tending to be unconscious or dead. (2)Play for keeps Have long-term plans.* Pretending to know nothing about the matter being discussed.*Play for time Deliberately delay proceed- ings in the hope that this will be advanta- Play second fiddle Have a less important geous.* role or status. The phrase is often used in the form ‘play second fiddle to…’,Play games (1) Behave in an inappropri- followed by the name of a person who is ately frivolous manner. (2) Do something of higher status.* that shows lack of respect or even malice.* Play silly buggers Means the same as play silly devils, but less polite.**Play God (1) Behave in an arrogant manner. (2) Make decisions about the Play silly devils Behave in a stupid, irritat- fates of people. There is usually an impli- ing manner.*
  • 182 / PLAY IT STRAIGHT Play the ace To do something that demon- Play their game Do what someone else strates great skill. There is often the expects or hopes will be done.* implication that what was done was Play them at their own game Use the unexpected.* same tactics and methods as an op- Play the can Means the same as play the ponent.* fool. Play them false Deceive and/or betray.* Play the field Engage in casual relation- Play themselves in Become used to the ships without making a serious attempt prevailing conditions.* to commit to a longer-lasting relation- ship. The phrase often implies that a Play things by the book Means the same person enjoys sex with their partners but as go by the book. is too selfish or immature to offer a deeper emotional bond.* Play to the gallery Seek popular acclaim without regard for other considerations. Play the fool To behave stupidly and/or The phrase derives from actors who playfully.* would (depending on the play) either try for quick laughs or produce an over- Play the game Obey the rules and behave emotional performance which appealed in a courteous manner.* to the (supposedly) less sophisticated Play the goat Means the same as act the fool. members of the audience seated in the gallery part of the theatre (i.e. in the Play the market Engage in financial spec- cheaper seats), but which left the con- ulation.* noisseurs in the more expensive seats Play the old soldier Means the same as feeling that they were seeing a poor per- come the old soldier. formance.* Play the percentages Use a cautious Play up To be awkward and/or refuse to approach in a plan that involves probable cooperate.* rather than certain outcomes, carefully Play with a straight bat Do something calculating the odds of something hap- fairly and honestly without attempting to pening, contingencies if something trick or intimidate.* unwelcome happens, etc.* Play with fire Engage in a dangerous Play the person, not the ball Attempt to activity.* defeat an opponent by finding weak- nesses in their personality and exploiting Plead the fifth The ‘fifth’ is the Fifth them.* Amendment to the Constitution of the USA. The phrase means that someone Play the white man A demand that reserves the right to remain silent to par- someone behaves fairly. The phrase can ticular questions, because answering be interpreted as racist (i.e. that white them might be incriminating (e.g. ‘Did people are seen as fair and, by extrapola- you rob the store?’ – ‘I plead the fifth’). tion, that people of other skin colours are The comment can be used jokingly to unfair) and thus should be avoided.*** avoid answering an embarrassing or Play their cards right Perform skilfully awkward question. It thus can have a role (can be at anything, not just cards). The similar to that of no comment.* phrase is often used in the form ‘if you Pleased as Punch In other words, very play your cards right, then…’, indicating pleased. The phrase probably derives that an attractive reward is available to a from the Punch puppet, which has a per- person if they perform well (e.g. ‘if you manent smile on its face.* play your cards right and work hard, then one day you will be promoted’).* * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • POISONED CHALICE / 183Plot thickens The situation has become what someone thinks and feels about a more complicated.* particular issue. Thus, if a person has a ‘different point of view’ then they thinkPlough a lonely furrow Work at a task and feel differently about something.* without assistance.* Point out To indicate or show.*Ploughing away Working hard at some- thing.* Point scoring Attempting to prove superi- ority by winning arguments over trivialPlum in their mouth Having an upper- matters.* class British accent.* Point the finger Accuse.*Plumb the depths (1) Reach a low level of quality. (2) Be especially depressed. (3) Point up Make note of (usually refers to Enquire deeply.* the identification of a problem).*Poach on their territory Do something Points scoring Debating in a petty way that is more properly another person’s where minor arguments are won whilst right and privilege to do.* ignoring the more substantial issues.*Poacher turned gamekeeper A person Poisoned chalice Something that appears who changes from being against some- attractive but in reality is far less appeal- thing to representing its interests.* ing or even is dangerous. The phrase probably comes from the various folkPoetic justice Punishment for misdeeds tales where a person is tricked into that is particularly appropriate (e.g. a drinking a poison or evil magical potion poisoner who dies from food poison- from an attractive-looking chalice (a type ing).* of drinking vessel).*Poetic licence Describing something inac- Poke borak at Make fun of.* curately because it is artistically prefera- ble.* Poke fun at Make fun of or insult.*Point a gun at their head Force a person Poke in the ribs Means the same as dig in to do something they would not have the ribs. voluntarily done.* Poke their bib in Interfere.*Point blank Directly, with no attempt to Poke their nose in Interfere or be over- disguise.* inquisitive.*Point of no return (1) The moment when Poke their oar in Interfere.* any further action makes an irrevocable commitment to something. (2) The stage Poker faced Expressionless.* in a journey or activity where it becomes less wasteful of time and energy to Pole position The top-ranking position.* continue to the end rather than turn Poles apart Very different from each back.* other.*Point of the story The message that a Polish off Complete a task. The phrase story is intended to convey. For example, usually refers just to the final phase of a the point of the story of the three little task (i.e. the person who ‘polishes off ’ a pigs can be argued to be to make task may not have done the earlier stages adequate preparations against possible of the task).* threats. See get to the point.* Polished performance A skilful perfor-Point of view Can mean the view that mance with no evidence of awkwardness someone sees, but more usually refers to or mistakes.*
  • 184 / POKE BORAK AT Politically correct Satisfying current Pot luck (1) Chance. (2) A situation where moral standards. The phrase is generally what is offered is all that is available (fre- used in the context of something that is quently used in this meaning of the now considered offensive when in earlier phrase with regard to the range of food times it was not (e.g. ‘that’s not politically available to an unexpected guest).* correct these days’).* Pot to piss in See not have a pot to piss in. Pony up Pay what is owed.* Pots of… A large quantity of….* Poor little rich boy A wealthy man who Pound of flesh Something that can be gets no satisfaction from his wealth and demanded by a strict interpretation of the lifestyle. The phrase is often used con- law or other regulations, but which is, by temptuously, to indicate someone who a more universal moral code, an unrea- has the resources to agonize over how sonable or even abhorrent thing to unhappy they are whilst living in great demand.* luxury.* Pound the pavement Means the same as Poor little rich girl Female version of poor pound the streets. little rich boy.* Pound the streets Walk the streets.* Poor relation An inferior version.* Pour cold water on Be disparaging Pop out (1) To appear suddenly. (2) To go about.* out, generally with the implication of it being a brief journey (e.g. ‘I’ll just pop Pour petrol on the flames Means the out to the store for some milk’).* same as fan the flames. Pop the question Propose marriage.* Powder their nose A euphemism for going to the lavatory. Chiefly used by Pop their cherry Have sexual intercourse women.* with a person who was until that time a virgin. The phrase is sometimes used to Power dressing Wearing clothes designed refer to introducing a person to a new to impress with their elegance and for- non-sexual activity.*** mality, and which are not necessarily par- ticularly comfortable.* Pop their clogs Die.* Powers that be People in charge.* Pork pies Lies. The phrase is Cockney rhyming slang.* Practise what they preach Behave in their own lives as they exhort others to Porridge See do porridge. do in theirs. The phrase is nearly always Port of call A place to visit.* used to indicate a person who does not ‘practise what they preach’ (i.e. is a hypo- Postage stamp See on the back of a postage crite).* stamp. Praise the Lord and pass the ammuni- Pot boiler A work of fiction that is full of tion A pragmatic acceptance that at times excitement and surprises. There is usually unpleasant things must be done for a an implication that it is of low artistic morally just reason.* quality.* Prawn See come the raw prawn. Pot calling the kettle black Someone who makes a criticism that just as much Preach to the choir Means the same as applies to themselves (e.g. like Pol Pot preach to the converted.* calling Hitler a vicious dictator).* Preach to the converted Make an unnec- essary effort by trying to persuade people * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • PRIME THE PUMP / 185 to adopt a cause or set of beliefs that they Previous life Unless the speaker is talking already follow.* about a belief in reincarnation, then ‘pre- vious life’ refers to a previous career orPrecious little Very little.* lifestyle.*Pregnant pause A period of silence that is Price on their head (1) The value of a meaningful, simply because it is silent. reward for the capture of a criminal. (2) The phrase is often used to describe a More generally, someone with a ‘price on silence following a surprising revelation their head’ is sought for punishment. as people ponder its implications.* This latter use can be used jokingly.*Prepare the ground Make subsequent Prick the bubble Destroy an illusion (e.g. work in the same area easier.* be the cause of a situation in which thePresence of mind The ability to behave bubble has burst).* rationally.* Prick up their ears Listen carefully.*Present company excepted With the Pricking of their thumbs A sense of exception of the people present at the something about to happen.* time of speaking.* Pride comes before a fall Meaning that ifPress home Ensure that something is fully someone is proud then eventually they understood through the use of forceful will experience a worsening of their argument.* fortunes. The phrase has the implicationPress home the advantage Make use of that being too proud about personal an advantage to ensure that victory is accomplishments is to tempt fate.* gained.* Pride of place The highest status.*Press the button Start something.* Prime the pump Engage in pump priming.*Press the flesh Shake hands. The phrase is Primrose path A course of action that nearly always used of politicians and appears attractive but will ultimately be famous people greeting other people at a ruinous.* reception or other social or public- ity-raising event.* Proclaim from the rooftops Make known. The phrase is often used toPress the tit Can mean the same as press the describe someone who is keen for as button or, more simply, mean to press a many people as possible to know some- button.* thing.*Pretty kettle of fish A muddle. See differ- Prodigal son A person who squanders ent kettle of fish.* money left or given to them by parents onPretty penny A large amount of money.* a dissolute lifestyle. The phrase is derived from the parable by Jesus about one suchPretty please (1) A joking way of saying individual who, having spent all his ‘please’. (2) A ‘pretty please’ can be a money, was welcomed back by his request for something that will require father.* more work or effort than usual (e.g. ‘this is a pretty please – could you work half an Prolong the agony Make an unpleasant hour later tomorrow night?’). The phrase situation last longer than necessary.* is an imitation of a child asking for an Promise the Earth Make an extravagant especially big favour.* promise that is unrealistic.*Previous incarnation Means the same as Promise the Moon Means the same as previous life. promise the Earth.
  • 186 / PRIMROSE PATH Promises, promises A retort indicating Pull the other one The start of a saying – that although something is promised, it is ‘pull the other one, it’s got bells on’. An unlikely ever to be done.* expression of disbelief in what has just been said.* Proof of the pudding Shortened form of the longer saying ‘the proof of Pull the plug Abandon or stop a project or the pudding is in the eating’. ‘Proof ’ in course of action.* this instance means ‘test’ (from the Pull the rug The phrase nearly always same origin as, for example, ‘proving finishes with ‘from under them’. Do grounds’).* something surprising that places some- Prop up the bar Be a regular drinker in a one else at a disadvantage.* bar.* Pull the strings Influence what others P’s and q’s Refers to etiquette. Hence, mind think and do. See pull strings.* their p’s and q’s is advice to behave well Pull the wool over their eyes Deceive. and, more generally, to be careful. There The phrase refers to the fact that when are many suggestions for the phrase’s wig-wearing was a gentleman’s fashion, origins, none unanimously convincing.* pulling the wig (nicknamed a ‘wool’) Public enemy number one (1) A notori- over someone’s eyes stopped them seeing ous criminal wanted by the police. (2) A anything.* person who is deeply unpopular with the Pull their chestnuts from the fire Solve a general public.* person’s problems for them.* Public eye The popular media (TV, news- Pull their finger out Do something rather papers, etc.).* than debate what should be done Publish or perish A guiding principle of without actually doing anything.* many universities is that unless an Pull their leg Tease someone.* academic consistently publishes in learned journals, then he or she will be Pull their socks up A demand to try fired or (possibly worse) be forced to harder. The phrase comes from the image attend numerous administrative commit- of a schoolchild looking untidy because tees.* their knee-length socks have sagged down and need to be pulled up.* Pull a fast one Deceive.* Pull their weight Work at the level Pull faces Means the same as make faces. expected of them.* Pull in their horns Show more restrained Pull themselves up by their bootstraps behaviour.* Improve through personal efforts rather Pull out all the stops Make a considerable than relying on other people’s help.* effort.* Pull themselves up by their shoelaces Pull rank Use the authority of having a Means the same as pull themselves up by higher rank or status to ensure that some- their bootstraps. thing is done. The phrase is often used to Pull to pieces Means the same as pick to denote an unfair situation where a subor- pieces. dinate’s better ideas are ignored because someone in a higher position of authority Pull up stakes Move somewhere else.* wants things to be done differently.* Pull up stumps Cease doing something.* Pull strings Unfairly affect events by using influence by means other than those offi- Pull yourself together A demand to be cially sanctioned. See pull the strings.* more rational and less emotional. It is * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • PUSH THEIR LUCK / 187 usually used about a person who is Purple prose Language that is too elabo- making a fuss when a bit of calm thought rate and uses over-dramatic phrases.* would solve the problem. People some- Push at an open door Exert far more times imagine that personalities are made effort than should be necessary to get a up of a set of components such as simple task done.* kindness, sense of humour, etc., and that these are joined together in a stable Push off Means the same as shove off. package. If someone becomes too emo- tional or distressed about something, Push-button response A very predictable then it is thought that it is as if part of and rapid response.* their personality has moved away from Push the boat out Spend far more than this package (i.e. they are falling apart), usual on entertaining yourself or others.* and so they need to ‘pull themselves together’.* Push the button (1) Kill. (2) Order to be killed.*Pulling it in To make money hand over fist.* Push the envelope Test the limits of whatPulling power Skill at attracting potential can be done.* sexual partners.* Push the panic button A panickingPulling teeth Describes work that requires response.* a great deal of effort to achieve even the smallest effect.* Push their buttons Stimulate or arouse someone.*Pulling the chain Means the same as yanking the chain. Push their luck Risk punishment or something else unpleasant by morePump iron Do weight training.* extreme behaviour and/or activity thanPump priming Enable something to work usual.* by doing initial preparations that make it Push their oar in Make uninvited possible (e.g. ‘pump priming’ grants to comments.* universities that enable the establishment of infrastructure so that research can then Push under their nose Show someone take place).* something for approval.*Punch the clock Have paid employment. Pushing up daisies Dead.* Generally the phrase refers to employ- Pussy magnet Something that is attractive ment in a job with a set routine.* to women. The phrase is often used byPunt at Attempt.* the sort of male who genuinely believes that all women are irresistibly attracted toPup See buy a pup. ostentatious displays of wealth such as aPure and simple In its most basic form.* sports car. The phrase is potentially offensive and should be avoided.***Pure as… The phrase is generally followed by a word or phrase denoting purity (e.g. Put a bomb under it Utterly destroy ‘the driven snow’) and thus the phrase something in the hope that when rebuilt means ‘pure’. However, sometimes the it will be more efficient. The phrase is phrase is followed by a word or phrase often used to describe wanting to do that is palpably impure (e.g. ‘slush’), in something with an inefficient institution which case it is being used jokingly to or practice (e.g. ‘I’d like to put a bomb indicate something (or someone) under it and start again’).* impure.* Put a cork in it Means the same as put a sock in it.
  • 188 / PUSH THEIR OAR IN Put a crimp in Spoil or lessen the enjoy- Put down roots Become an established ment of something.* part of the local community.* Put a damper on Make less exciting.* Put flesh on Provide details.* Put a finger in the dyke Prevent a serious Put hair on their chest A joking claim problem by acting promptly. The phrase that a strong-tasting food or drink (typi- is derived from a Dutch story of a boy cally an alcoholic drink) will have restor- who put his finger in a hole in a dyke, ative powers. The claim is not meant to be thus preventing the hole getting bigger taken seriously.* and a serious flood starting.* Put heads together Work on a problem Put a finger on it Identify it.* together.* Put a name to Recall the name of some- Put into their head Create an idea in thing or someone.* another person.* Put a rocket under it Can mean the same Put it about (1) Spread a rumour. (2) Be as put a bomb under it. Can also mean to sexually promiscuous.* (1) or ** (2) speed a process up, often with the impli- Put it behind them Forget or discount a cation that this is done by telling workers past unpleasant event.* to be more efficient and less lazy.* Put it like this Present in a particular way. Put a seal on Make something definite.* The phrase is often used before present- Put a seal to Indicate approval or accep- ing a more easily comprehended version tance.* of an argument.* Put a sock in it A forceful request to be Put it to Present an argument or allegation quiet. Probably derived from a method of to someone.* making early gramophone record players Put it to bed Finish a project or piece of quieter by stuffing a piece of cloth (such work.* as a sock) in the horn of the player.** Put money on (1) Place a bet. (2) Make a Put a spoke in a wheel To sabotage or firm prediction.* otherwise spoil a plan. The phrase probably refers to a type of brake used on Put off the evil day Avoid doing some- some types of cart.* thing unpleasant.* Put a stopper in Curtail activity.* Put off the scent Prevent from finding.* Put across (1) Explain something. (2) Be Put off their stroke Worsen the quality of very willing to have sexual intercourse.* someone’s work.* (1) or ** (2) Put on a shorter leash Place greater Put back the clock Means the same as turn restraints on activities and/or behav- the clock back. iour.* Put backbone into them Make someone Put on airs and graces See airs and graces. behave in a more decisive, firm manner.* Put on hold Means the same as put on the Put behind them Form the belief that back burner. something unpleasant that happened in the past will not be allowed to influence Put on ice Means the same as put on the back present or future activities or beliefs.* See burner. put it behind them. Put on notice Warn of something about to happen. This is usually something * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • PUT THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE / 189 unpleasant (e.g. dismissal if a further feeling on the matter, and indicate that infringement of contract).* what has been said should be accepted.*Put on the back burner To temporarily Put the acid on Attempt to persuade stop work on something, typically with someone to lend money.* the intention of returning to it at a later Put the arm on Attempt to force someone date.* to do something through force or thePut on the front burner To restart work threat of force.* on something, or to give something a Put the bite on Attempt to persuade higher priority.* someone to lend money. There is usuallyPut on the map Make famous.* the implication of applying threats (e.g. violence or blackmail).*Put on the Ritz Behave in an ostentatious manner.* Put the blocks on Prevent something happening.*Put on their thinking cap Think with a great deal of effort about something.* Put the boot in (1) Physically attack someone with considerable violence. (2)Put one over on Deceive.* Verbally attack someone with greatPut out (1) Extinguish or stop. (2) Be very ferocity.* willing to have sexual intercourse. The Put the cart before the horse Do things phrase is relatively old-fashioned, and in the wrong sequence. The phrase can was primarily used of women.* (1) or also sometimes mean having a wrong set ** (2) of priorities (i.e. that things that are trivialPut out of its misery End suffering. The are treated as very important and vice phrase is often used of killing a wounded versa).* animal that is beyond curing. See put out Put the cat among the pigeons Create a of their misery.* disturbance or consternation by announ-Put out of their misery End suffering. cing some unexpected information.* The phrase can refer to killing an injured Put the clock back Can mean the same as animal, but may also refer to telling turn the clock back. Can also mean to adjust someone information that they are the clock by putting the hour hand back longing to know (obviously the relevant one hour to allow for seasonal time use will be provided by the context in adjustments.* which the phrase is used). See put out of its misery.* Put the fear of God into Frighten; the phrase often implies that this is done byPut out to grass Retire from employment threats or arguments rather than shocks.* or make redundant.* Put the finger on Inform against.*Put out to pasture Means the same as put out to grass. Put the flags out Celebrate.*Put right Amend an error.* Put the frighteners on Threaten.*Put spin on Distort the facts to strengthen Put the genie back in the bottle See let an argument.* the genie out of the bottle.Put stock in Trust in.* Put the lid on Stop, or bring something under control.*Put that in their pipe and smoke it A phrase added at the end of a reply Put the mockers on Prevent or damage.* intended to express the strength of
  • 190 / PUT THE CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS Put the moves on Means the same as make Put their head on the line Means the a move on. same as put their head on the block. Put the record straight Correct the errors Put their heart into it Worked with great and/or misconceptions in a description enthusiasm and determination.* of an event.* Put their house in order (1) Restore to Put the screws on Force someone to do normality after disorder. (2) Amend an something. The phrase refers to the use of undesirable state of affairs through thumbscrews (torture instruments used reforms.* to extract confessions).* Put their mind to Think about.* Put the skids under Worsen.* Put their money where their mouth is Put the squeeze on Threaten.* Do something, rather than just talk about doing it.* Put their ass in a sling Get someone into trouble.** Put their nose out of joint Annoy or make to appear foolish.* Put their back into it A demand to work harder.* Put their shirt on Bet a large amount of money on. The phrase literally implies Put their feet up Take a rest.* betting all possessions and money on.* Put their foot down (1) Impose authority. Put through the hoops Make someone (2) Make a car accelerate.* endure difficulties. The phrase often Put their foot in it Make an embarrassing describes administering a difficult series mistake.* of tests or a difficult training course.* Put their hand to the plough Begin Put through the wringer Subject to a work.* gruelling and/or emotionally upsetting experience.* Put their hands in their pocket Pay.* Put through their paces Give them a Put their hands together Applaud.* demanding task to assess their abilities.* Put their hands up (1) Surrender. (2) Put to bed (1) Completely finish. (2) Solve Admit to something.* a troublesome problem.* Put their head in a noose Means the same Put to shame (1) Be considerably superior as put their head on the block. to whatever is described in connection Put their head on the block (1) Risk with the phrase (e.g. ‘this performance their reputation by supporting a particu- puts all previous performances to shame’ lar argument. The phrase is often used to means that this performance is better describe experts who risk losing their than previous performances). (2) Be a reputation as experts by making a predic- more extreme than whatever is described tion about the outcome of an event (e.g. in connection with the phrase (e.g. ‘her ‘Professor Smith put her head on the bad behaviour put that of the other block and predicted that the pottery was ill-behaved children to shame’).* late Etruscan’). The phrase comes from Put to sleep Kill an animal that is too badly execution by beheading, where the injured to be nursed back to health.* victim placed their head on a special chopping block. (2) Do something likely Put to the sword Kill.* to attract punishment, annoy someone, or Put two and two together Draw the provoke something else unpleasant.* correct inference from the available evidence. The phrase sometimes ends * unlikely to offend; ** may offend; *** will always offend
  • QUAKE IN THEIR BOOTS / 191 with ‘and make four’. See put two and two at 1.50 dollars per unit, C sells to D at 2 together and make five.* dollars per unit, and so forth). Each level of transaction is to more people (thus, aPut two and two together and make diagram of the transactions can look like five Draw conclusions from the available a pyramid, as the transactions spread out evidence that are speculative rather than from the original source). Done in an based solely on the available evidence. honest manner, this is the ba