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Examples :: Idioms :: Examples of Idioms - H to Q

Examples of Idioms

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Habit Forming (joke, conversational quip):

Refers to addiction to something.

Yeah, having fun is habit forming, I find.

Half A Loaf Is Better Than None:

Traditional expression, related to at least having something.

Well, it's half a loaf, but we did get something out of the deal.

Half Ass:

Denigrates idiomatically a half formed idea, action or concept.

Of all the half ass ideas anyone's ever had, this would have to be one of the greatest.

Half Witted:

Traditional denigration of someone's thinking.

It was pretty half witted, drawing a plan without even doing a survey.

Handy (person, thing, situation):

Useful, good to have available.

We got lucky, with some very handy people available to us in a very handy situation, and made a lot of money.

Hangdog (look, facial expression):

Pitiful look, pathos.

Oh, that hangdog look of yours. Stick around, I'll go get Rembrandt, in case history misses seeing you.

Hardline, Hardliner:

A person or ideology which takes an inflexible, uncompromising position on a subject or issue.

He's an absolute hardliner, always takes the tough line on these issues.

Hard Lines:

Old English expression, meaning tough luck.

Lost your watch, have you? Hard lines, mate.

Hard Yards:

American and general football expression, the hard work required to make progress to a goal.

We're now doing the hard yards, getting our marketing ready.

Hatchet Man:

Person hired to do the dirty work. Always a derogatory expression.

The guy's a hatchet man, he's here to do the bosses' work for them.

Haste Makes Waste:

Doing things too quickly causes mistakes, and means the effort is wasted.

Haste does make waste. You did all of that in record time, and got it all wrong.

Hat Trick:

Do something three times consecutively. Derived from scoring three times in a sport.

He's done it, three in a row, a hat trick

Heaven Sent:

An unexpected but welcome event.

The new secretary is heaven sent. We can actually find our clients on the database, now.

Heavy (person, situation, music):

Derived from criminal slang, when referring to a person or case refers to a dangerous person or set of circumstances. Also refers to people in industry with a lot of influence. In music refers to non commercial, extreme music.

This is a very heavy person we're dealing with here, don't get too casual.

Head On:

Confrontational, direct opposition, crashing directly into a situation.

His problem is that he does everything head on, and never maneuvers around situations.

Head Over Heels:

Disoriented, wrong way up, either positive or negative.

They were so obviously head over heels in love the other people in the room left them in peace.

Heating up (situation):

Escalation of events where increased action is occurring. Suggests friction, additional energy in the situation.

Things are now heating up, in terms of the publicity and the reaction to it.

Heedless (person):

A person who won't take advice or act on it, and continues on an unwise course of action or thought.

Yeah, I'd say heedless is a good description of someone who simply will not listen to facts.

Hell in a Handbasket:

American expression referring to something in a state of rapid transition to a very bad state.

The print media is going to hell in a handbasket, and they're still doing the same old things.

Herd Mentality (human):

Derogatory reference to the tendency of people to do what everyone else does, however ridiculous or stupid.

The shoppers showed a real herd mentality with that stampede when the doors opened for the annual sale.

Hidden Agenda (character):

The idiom is one of suspicion, where a hidden agenda is a character reference to a person acting in a way which isn't understood.

We're not getting any answers from the contractors, so I think we should at least consider some sort of hidden agenda, and take precautions.

High Five:

Basketball gesture, slapping hands together over the head in congratulation for an achievement. Now a common expression.

High fives all round, they're happy about that result.

High on the Hog:

The idiom refers to living in a state of excess, but living well.

They're living high on the hog now, don't know if they can keep it up, though.

Hit The Books:

Start studying, do the reading required.

Time to hit the books and get the notes prepared, I'll see you later.

Hit The Hay:

To go to bed. Old expression dating back to when people slept on straw beds.

I really have to hit the hay, I'm going to be busy tomorrow.

Hit The Nail on the Head:

Describe or define something exactly, accurate assessment.

That really hit the nail on the head, exactly right.

Hit The Sack:

Go to sleep. The sack refers to a hammock or portable military or camping bedding.

Time to hit the sack, kids, we're up early tomorrow.

Hocus Pocus:

Idiom refers to bogus trickery, staged magic acts.

Yeah, sure. Hocus pocus, and you get a new bank account?

Hold Your Horses:

Don't do something, don't take an action.

Just hold your horses, you don't know the rest of the story, yet.


Vaudeville expression referring to a dancer.

She was a really famous 40s hoofer, tap dancer, best in the business.

Hope Springs Eternal:

Traditional expression, meaning there's always some hope.

I think all this stuff about aliens with mother ships just proves hope springs eternal, however you do it.

Hot (person):

Reference to a sexually attractive person.

She was really looking hot, I didn't even recognize her at first.

Hot Air:

Meaningless and/or false talk. Suggests an inflated balloon, lacking substance.

So after ten years of hot air, the basic result is we still don't have a new airport.


Rash, ill considered, done without thought, or in a state of emotional excitement. Refers to a person as a character reference.

That guy is naturally hotheaded, and acts before he thinks.

Hot Tempered:

Person likely to react aggressively due to a bad temper.

He's a very hot tempered person, I'd approach him differently, if I were you.


Derived from hyperbole, meaning exaggeration. Usually refers to advertising, overstatement of the virtues of a product.

There's more hype than actual product here, and the thing's not even on the market, yet.


A person said to be hyper is in a state of extreme excitement, energized, acting at great speed with enthusiasm.

Susan is naturally a hyper sort of person, lots of enthusiasm and energy, but she just doesn't stop.


Ice in the blood (blood turned to ice, blood runs cold):

Situation causes fear and apprehension.

My blood ran cold when I realized what the Wall Street crash meant to so many people.

Icing On The Cake:

An addition to a good thing, some added benefit.

As icing on the cake, they paid me my back royalties, as well as the new contract.

Ides Of March:

Refers to the assassination of Julius Caesar, who was warned about the time of the Ides Of March by a soothsayer. Now applies to a dangerous time.

You want to start a business, fine, but beware of the Ides Of March!

Idiot Savant:

A person with a talent which benefits others, a savant, who doesn't necessarily understand his skills.

I think our new mechanic is an idiot savant, because he took out that engine, and we found that the battery was leaking, which we hadn't noticed until he did that.

Idle Hands Do The Devil's Work:

People with nothing to do get into trouble because of that inactivity.

So you were just loafing around, and you somehow managed to blow up the restaurant? Talk about idle hands doing the devil's work!

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another:

Fatalistic but complaining expression, expecting trouble from any source.

Now we've got rats, after getting rid of the mice? If it's not one thing, it's another!

If - Then:

This is a type of logic, where the premise of If creates the logic.

It's an If - Then situation: if the premise holds true, the logic is right.

Ignorance Is Bliss:

Traditional saying meaning there are some things people are happier not to know.

Ignorance was bliss, all right; I had no idea we were paying for that until now.

Ill Wind:

The old saying was It's an ill wind which blows no good, meaning there's always some benefit to someone in any situation. Now more usually a contraction to the Ill wind form.

This ill wind just blew us in a contract from the customers of our recently defunct competitors.


Supposed elite group of people and vested interests with privileged knowledge not available to anyone outside the Illuminati. Often used as a satiric expression.

He's one of the Illuminati who approved that budget that sent the city broke last year.

Impish (person):

Old expression meaning mischievous, tricky, playful. Can be positive or negative, depending on circumstances and the age of the reference.

Old meaning: He was a troublesome, impish, fellow.
Current meaning: Impish behavior maybe, but not appreciated.

Ingénue (person):

French word meaning naïve, innocent, child of nature. After Voltaire's book of the same name, The meaning is more associated with a person who is removed from the norms of the human world, as well as the other meanings, which has given the word its status as an idiom.

I don't know how many ingénues are professional embezzlers.

In Like Flynn:

The expression is believed to refer to actor Errol Flynn, but the rhyming slang effect is also obvious. It means to go straight into the middle of the action in a situation, either romantically, opportunistically or adventurously.

When he saw that chance to make some money, he was in like Flynn.

Inner Child:

Spiritual and philosophical concept of the inner innocence and child like needs of people. Can be used in multiple contexts and senses.

My inner child tells me that the whole deal stinks.

Innocent until proven guilty:

Principle of justice, used idiomatically as a reference to any suggestion of doing something wrong.

What happened to 'Innocent until proven guilty?' I wasn't even in the state when that happened!

In The Bag:

Certain of success.

It's all been done, and the deal is in the bag, at this point.

In The Buff:

From previous English expression buff naked.

Are you saying that seeing you in the buff hasn't been attracting tourists?

In The Heat Of The Moment:

This is a conditional idiom. Refers to the emotions and the situations created in a previously stated scenario.

They argued until late in the night, when in the heat of the moment, he smashed a glass against the kitchen sink and walked out.

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall:

Traditional saying, meaning that in every life is some sadness.

So you didn't win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Kitchen Hand. Into each life some rain must fall.

In vino, Veritas:

Ancient Latin saying meaning literally In wine, Truth. Often used to describe conversation and thinking while drinking.

You and your Shiraz agree with me about this song, finally? In vino, Veritas!

In Your Face:

American expression, meaning confrontational either a person or a situation.

George was very in your face about the job, wasn't he?

Ipso facto:

Latin and legal expression, meaning proven by the facts.

I wasn't here, so ipso facto, I didn't spill the coffee.

Iron clad guarantee:

Originally an advertising expression, referring to an actual guarantee of a refund, it's now an idiomatic expression referring to certainty.

I can give you an iron clad guarantee I'll take you to court, if that helps.

Iron enters the soul:

Refers to a situation where you're spiritually toughened by the circumstances.

The iron entered his soul when he realized he had no support for his statement.

Itchy fingers:

Urge to act, usually means unwisely, in context.

Don't get itchy fingers, wait until you're told to start moving.

It Takes Two To Tango:

A tango is a dance by two people. Idiom refers to the need for a partner or another party in a situation.

You need each other. It does take two to tango.

It's A Small World:

Idiom is used when encountering someone or something again, usually after a long time or distance of separation.

Small world, all right; haven't seen her for ages, and she shows up at my party!

Its Anyone's Guess:

Unpredictable situation. The idiom implies lack of information or basis for assessment.

In this situation, it's anyone's guess when it will happen, and there are too many variables for my taste.

Ivy League:

American idiom for the colleges Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale.

They're not an Ivy League College, but UCLA is a great place.



American expression for method of illegally crossing the street.

This is ideological jaywalking, changing position without anyone's consent.

Job's Comforters:

From the Biblical tale of Job's sufferings, where his comforters brought him nothing but despair and more grief.

These accountants are starting to sound like Job's comforters.

Joshing Me:

Joshing was the old word for joking.

How much a night? You're joshing me, surely.

Jug, Jugged:

American expression for jail, being jailed.

He got jugged for a second offense.

Jugular (to go for, context):

The jugular is a common metaphor for a fatal blow. To go for the throat, strike at the jugular, means to go for the kill.

He went straight for the jugular with that remark, and they backed off.

Jump (contexts)

The word jump sets up multiple idioms. It commonly means to move and take the initiative abruptly, creating another situation, with the following words as qualifiers of the idiom. To get the jump on someone means to have the initial move, therefore the advantage. It often means to escape. To jump bail means to run away from the conditions of bail.

You look like you're ready to jump ship.
I know you, you'll jump when you're good and ready.

Jump The Gun:

Preemptive move, to do something before the proper time.

Don't jump the gun, we're going to be ready next week.

Jupiter, Jovian, Jupiter Pluvius:

Old usage, but common in literature. Jupiter was the senior Roman god, and the idiom came from the Latin as an alternative word for God in European usage among educated people. Jupiter Pluvius was a metaphor for rain, which was the province of Jupiter in Roman mythology.

By Jupiter, this is a filthy old scow of a ship!
Jupiter Pluvius appears to be unusually prevalent in these seasons.


Karma (karmic law):

Hindu law of accumulated cosmic justice, good causing good, bad causing bad. In Western idioms used as a reference to a collection of circumstances causing a fate.

Sell that car to anyone, and your Karma will go through the floor.

Keep An Eye On:

Warning idiom, meaning to monitor the subject.

We'll have to keep an eye on these sales figures so we know we're getting our money's worth.

Keep body and soul together:

Old expression, pre 20th century, referring to the need to meet material needs. The reference to soul infers the person will die.

To keep body and soul together, they had to work even harder.

Keep your chin up:

Old saying, referring to not looking depressed with the face down in sorrow , usually referring to a situation causing worry or sadness.

Keep your chin up, we'll get out of this mess.

Key (contexts):

The word Key, in most languages, refers to something important or essential. It may or may not use the literal meaning of the word as the way of opening a locked door, which is the original metaphor. The word is used as either a noun or a verb in metaphors:

Original meaning: The key to the problem. This means as in unlocking the door to solving the problem.
Verb form: They were all keyed up to go. Prepared to commence something.
Description: Key personnel were called to the meeting. Key means essential people, required to deal with the situation.
Noun: Keystone: Originally a stone used as the base of the rest of the structure, now a metaphor for a basic, essential element.

Kick The Bucket:

American expression, meaning to die.

Killer (contexts):

Killer is a modern expression used to emphasize a natural characteristic of the subject. The contexts are dictated by the subjects, but in metaphoric use the word means lethal to others.

It was a killer program, lots of practical work.
Killer T Shirt, that one.
This new shopping mall is a category killer, it'll take business away from all the existing shops in the high street.

King (contexts):

The use of the word King in idioms and metaphors is truly ancient. It refers to the ruler, the chieftain, and the authority of a king as a status. This creates multiple contexts for idioms, depending on usage:

ABCD The Discount Kings.
King of all he surveys.
King tide.
King Shepherd.

Knee Jerk Reaction:

An unthinking reaction to a situation, a natural reflex.

This is a knee jerk reaction to the housing shortage.

Know It All (person):

A usually disparaging reference to a person claiming or acting as if they have superior knowledge on one or many subjects.

The average Know It All knows very little.

Knock On Wood (also touch wood):

Derived from old European superstition which uses the expression to mean asking the fates for luck by touching wood when mentioning a potentially dangerous situation.

Touch wood, it'll be OK, if we keep doing what we're doing.

Know The Ropes:

Expression from the days of sail, when sailors learned how to use complex rigging on ships, and a person who knew the ropes was fully experienced.

We need someone who does know the ropes, to get this job done properly.

Know Your Place (also know your station in life):

Derived from the days of aristocracy, this is a social idiom, referring to the social hierarchy. The expression evolved afterward to refer to one's place among others with higher status. In many cases it also means showing due respect to senior members of a group.

You really should know your place! You can't talk to the boss like that!


Laconic (method of expressing idioms):

Laconic refers to the Spartan (Lacaedemonian) form of expression, in which they were famous for making brief statements which summed up an entire situation, often with an implied comment in the statement. In its inverted idiom, it means someone who talks too much.

(After six hours of talk) Meaning 'No', apparently?
I don't think a six hour monologue qualifies as a laconic exercise.

Land Of Our Fathers:

Traditional expression in many cultures, the idiom refers to heritage and entitlements of generations.

This is the Land Of Our Fathers, we'll never surrender it.

Land Lubber:

Originally meaning a person inexperienced at sea, another meaning is someone who's not at home on a subject.

Fred's a good accountant, but he's a land lubber on the seas of finance.

Land Of The Living:

This expression means the real world of others, in its literal sense. It's often used as an idiom to refer to someone's state of mind or circumstances. This expression often lets in a lot of metaphors into conversations.

Come back to the Land Of The Living, before it's too late! You've been studying for days in that crypt of a room, no wonder you're looking like a zombie!

Last but not least:

Theatrical expression, referring to a final performance of a group, with obvious linguistic consonance. The statement is usually rhetorical, because in most cases the best and most popular performers come on stage after the others.

Last but not least, Elvis!

Lateral Thinker, Thinking:

From Edward de Bono's term for his methods of logic. This expression is a classic instance of the recent development of idioms. Modern language has changed drastically from the earlier forms, and new expressions are often much more economic and functional. Lateral thinking covers an entire methodology and range of degrees as an idiom. Usually it relates to a way of logically approaching a situation, but can be used for specifics and to create objectives. Various meanings and usages for idioms are created:

Fortunately he's a lateral thinker, and stays focused on the end result, so he doesn't get lost on the job.

Whodunits are constructed using lateral thinking, using the end situation as the criteria for the story.

Lead By The Nose:

To lead someone against their will to a point or conclusion.

We had to lead them by the nose to admission there had been fraud.

Lend Me Your Ear:

From Shakespeare, Brutus' speech on the death of Caesar, 'Friends Romans countrymen, lend me your ears!' The expression is now an ornate, somewhat overstated way of asking someone to listen to you.

Lend an ear, here, I need to talk to you.

Let Bygones Be Bygones:

To allow former grievances and problems to remain in the past and not to continue unresolved.

Finally, they agreed to let bygones be bygones.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie:

Very old expression. The dogs in the idiom are possible dangers or problems.

We either let sleeping dogs lie, or we get a wolf pack of problems.

Let The Cat Out Of The Bag:

Traditional expression meaning to give information which causes problems.

They let the cat out of the bag, told the others they were leaving, and we haven't heard the end of it since.

Level playing field:

Modern expression, meaning a fair state of play, usually in competitive situations.

We need a level playing field in terms of trade for our exports.

Like a chicken with its head cut off:

Refers to the headless chicken running around after decapitation, meaning someone who's frantically running around, but not thinking.

I've never really thought the headless chicken approach achieved much.

Literal minded:

One of the true idiomatic insults. The expression refers to someone who is virtually illiterate, unable to read the meaning of a statement or turn of phrase.

Being a bit literal minded to assume rolling your car will prevent it gathering moss, isn't it?

Living a lie:

Living in a situation where one is misrepresented, doing something unreal because of a false condition of life.

He was living a lie, trying to be someone he wasn't, and it caught up with him.

Living on a prayer:

Literally, living on hope alone.

They were living on a prayer, when they got their lucky break.

Living on your wits:

Living on what you can think up for yourself.

Living on your wits can be great, if you've got the wits to make it work.

Living proof:

The real, live, personification of proof of a statement or idea.

He's living proof you can beat the industry at its own game.

Lone Wolf:

Person who fights their own battles, independent.

That guy's a real lone wolf, doesn't ask for favors, from anyone.

Long in the Tooth:

Derived from growing teeth as one ages. Also refers to experience.

He's a bit long in the tooth to get fooled by that.

Lost In The Woods:

Originally related to fairy tale The Babes In The Wood, refers to people not knowing how to find their way out of a situation.

Let's get some information, and not stay lost in the woods about this situation.

Loose Cannon:

From naval slang, when a cannon on a sailing ship came loose, and could roll around the deck crushing people. Now refers to an erratic, unpredictable gun being fired with random results.

I like the guy, but he really is a loose cannon on this subject.


Mad As A Hatter:

From Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, referring to The Mad Hatter and his logic as a character reference to a person.

Nice person, but mad as a hatter.

Mad As A Snake:

Australian expression, referring to an irrational, aggressive person.

Told him what happened, and he was mad as a snake.

Mad Dog: (person)

Derived from criminal slang, a mad dog is a dangerous one that is usually shot.

That guy's an absolute mad dog.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party:

Also refers to The Mad Hatter, but in context as a gathering like the tea party in Alice in Wonderland.

That wasn't a business conference, it was a Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Main Man:

American expression meaning the most important friend or associate.

This is my main man, Leroy.

Main Squeeze:

American expression, main boyfriend or girlfriend.

She's my main squeeze.

Make Hay While The Sun Shines:

Traditional expression, originally meaning to do work when conditions are suitable, now meaning take to advantage of the opportunity.

We've got buyers crashing the phone lines, let's make hay while the sun shines!

Make No Bones About:

Make a statement which is unmistakable in its meaning, and/or uncompromising.

He made no bones about how he felt.

Many A True Word Spoken In Jest:

Traditional expression, meaning a joke often finds the truth of the matter.

Many a true word spoken in jest, I suggested that as a joke, and they really were intending to do that!

Masterful Inactivity:

Ironic English expression meaning to achieve more by doing nothing, sometimes means allowing a situation to resolve itself without getting involved oneself.

Classic case of masterful inactivity; they went broke trying to sue him, and he did absolutely nothing.

Method To Madness:

Having a purpose to apparently meaningless or bizarre actions.

There was a method to the madness all right, he bought up all the rights to all those B movies, and just added a zero to what he paid for them.

Minority Of One:

On your own in a vote or decision related to your opinion.

Looks like you're a minority of one, Dave.

Miss, Mrs., Mister (contexts)

American expression derived from the titles of the winners of beauty pageants and contests, with the title defining the subject of the idiom. Can be extremely sarcastic.

Yes, it's Mister I Don't Need Insurance now entering the lobby!

Moral High Ground:

Theoretical point of moral virtue, above others. Frequently satiric as an idiom.

So what's the moral high ground on other people's poverty?

More Luck Than Judgment:

To do something more by accident than by intent. Can be deprecatory, or self deprecatory.

I'd love to take credit for that, but it was more luck than judgment.

More The Merrier:

The idiom means literally more of something makes for a better situation, but in its inversion it means not wanting any more in an ironic sense.

The more the merrier, send us another shipment, we can't get enough. Oh, yeah, the more the merrier, another mouth to feed!

Moldy Oldies:

1960s pop culture expression, referring to chart hits of the past. Now refers to a range of past products or people.

More moldy oldies than any other radio station!

Mumbo Jumbo:

Originally referred to native superstitions during colonial times. Now refers broadly to any form of unbelievable mysticism.

More management science mumbo jumbo, don't know how they can keep up with the demand.

Mum's the word:

Originally an English expression, meaning don't tell Mum. Now means don't tell anyone.

Mum's the word about this new ad campaign, we don't want the competition to know about our prize giveaway.

Murderous Silence:

An awkward, embarrassing, silence, where saying nothing is doing someone serious damage.

There was a murderous silence from the boss as they tried to explain their sales figures, you could see their jobs were on the line.


Nest Egg:

Life's savings, money tucked away.

They got scared of the risks and decided to protect their nest egg.

Never (or Don't) Bite The Hand That Feeds You:

Refers to feeding animals in the context of not damaging your source of food.

You out of your mind, suing your customers? Don't bite the hand that feeds!

New kid on the block:

New person in a social group.

He's the new kid on the block in the industry, but doing pretty well.

New York Minute:

Refers to time passing at a much higher rate in some environments.

He aged a year in a New York minute.

No Dice:

Not gambling on the subject, won't do or agree to something.

They wanted to stall, but I said no dice.

No man is an island:

Literary expression, from John Donne's Meditations XVII 'No man is an island entire of itself'. The statement has been mistranslated in common usage, mainly because modern English grammar and old usage are quite different. The idiom, however, is the same. The idiom refers to the fact that nobody lives in isolation from the world.

No man is an island, not even Fred, who's been known to speak occasionally.

No Room to Swing a Cat:

Small space, no room to maneuver.

You couldn't swing a cat in the place, literally. I had to duck to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling, and make sure I didn't fall out the window.

Not Playing With a Full Deck:

Lacks normal intelligence, sometimes lacks facts.

You're not playing with a full deck here, because you obviously don't know they actually didn't want to sue you in the first place.


Odds And Sods:

English expression, miscellaneous bits and pieces.

… And here we have the odds and sods collection, don't know what we're going to do with this lot.

Off On The Wrong Foot:

Starting with the wrong step or move.

Got off on the wrong foot there, try it again.

Off The Hook:

No longer at risk.

Yep, we're off the hook, they know we didn't do it.

Off the Record:

This is a current journalistic expression, originally meaning off the public record, or a statement which isn't made for publication.

Strictly off the record, we're not too impressed with the arguments to date about the new high rise development, and we've had to ask for a redraft.

O.K. (Original meaning and current):

OK was originally an expression meaning All Correct on shipping bills of lading and the lists of goods were marked OK, meaning the contents had been checked and were correct. The current version now means a general affirmative.

If it's OK, it's OK, but if not, it isn't.

Old And In The Way:

An early generation gap expression, referring to old culture, old people, old ideas, now generalized.

The fossil fuel concept is just old and in the way.

Omen, Ominous (situation):

An omen was originally a sign from the gods of a fate. The word ominous means omen-like.

It's an omen, a dinner plate nailed to the restaurant door with the meal still attached!

Yeah, looks ominous, doesn't it?

On Pins And Needles:

Nervous, expectant.

They waited on pins and needles for the results of the job interview.

On The Fence:

Not taking a position on either side of an argument or debate, or not taking a position of preference.

He was even sitting on the fence about sitting on the fence, wouldn't even admit he wasn't taking a position.

On The Same Page:

People on the same page are working together in the same situation.

They're usually opponents, but they're on the same page this time.

Out Of The Blue:

Literally, out of the sky, unexpected.

The new job came out of the blue, no warning.

Out On A Limb:

In a difficult situation, unsupported.

They're out on a limb, really, with that statement.

Out On The Town:

Have a good time, going out for a good time.

They were out on the town for the first time in years, having a ball.

Over My Dead Body:

Implies the speaker will fight to the death to prevent the subject of discussion from happening.

'They can pass this legislation to make poverty compulsory over my dead body,' said the welfare worker.

Over the Top:

Bizarre, completely beyond the norm.

Their comedy is really over the top.


Parallel Universes:

Modern expression referring to living in different continuums of events.

They seem to live in some parallel universe, where nobody cares.

Pass The Buck:

Give the responsibility to others, avoiding blame.

Those auditors always pass the buck to their staff, when things go wrong.

Patience Is A Virtue:

Traditional statement, meaning being patient brings rewards over time.

Patience really was a virtue, he stuck around, did his job, and got the promotion, after all.

Peaches And Cream:

A state of unrequited bliss, with no problems. Frequently sarcastic.

So everything's peaches and cream, now, is it?

Pearl Of Wisdom:

A gem of a thought. This is an ornamented idiom, and is often used to mean the opposite in its sarcastic sense.

Any further pearls of wisdom, in case bankruptcy wasn't enchanting enough?

Pearly White:

Color metaphor, often refers to teeth.

Show us your pearly whites, smile, folks!

Pecking order:

Social order, derived from the pecking order in chickens.

I think we can say Fred is more pecked than pecking, in the group hierarchy.

Pedal to the metal:

Full acceleration, top speed.

Get the pedals to the metal people, we're behind schedule.

Peeping Tom:

Voyeur, intruding on people's privacy, usually on women in the original context.

Not the Peeping Tom you'd want, is he?

Peer Pressure:

Psychological idiom, referring to peer group mechanics, where the group pressures individuals to conform or take actions acceptable to it.

I don't think this guy has ever heard of peer pressure, and if he has, he's not paying a lot of attention to it.

Pencil In:

The pencil metaphor means to provisionally write something, which can be corrected later if required.

I'll pencil it in, and check it out later, see if we can do it.

Prick up your ears:

Command, telling people to listen.

Prick up your ears, I'm not going to say this again.

Pigeon (person):

American slang, meaning naïve person.

How could you be such a total pigeon for new cars?

Pig Headed:

Stubborn person, describing a response or characteristic.

He's not just pig headed when he makes up his mind, he could give lessons to the pigs.

Pig In A Poke:

An unknown quantity. The reference is always negative.

We're talking about a pig in a poke, something we've never even seen, and you want to buy it?

Pig Out :

Over eat, derived from the old expression to make a pig of oneself. Can be used to describe a situation of over indulgence.

The workshop party was a total pig out.

Pint Sized:

Diminutive, referring to something or someone small.

How are you, pint size, you growing up?

Pipe Down:

Command, telling someone to be silent.

Pipe down, you guys, I need to hear this!

Practice Makes Perfect:

Learning from experience, training.

Practice makes perfect, so in a few thousand years, you'll be a chef.

Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition:

Puritan saying, referring to general worldly circumstances.

Yeah, great to know, now praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, we're busy.

Prick Up Your Ears:

Pay attention and listen.

Prick up your ears, you have to understand what I'm about to tell you.

Pride Comes Before A Fall:

Pride makes people self obsessed and vulnerable.

Pride definitely came before his fall, because he didn't listen about that makeup when he did it himself.

Pull the plug:

Derived from life support systems. Put an end to, or stop supplying the means to do something.

If you keep wasting your money, I'm pulling the plug on your allowance.

Pulling Your Leg:

Kidding, playing a joke while pretending it's real. The inverted form means suggesting something is a joke when real, as a joke.

Really, I was only pulling your leg, so come out of the fallout shelter.
Nah, that's not a shark. Well, either it's pulling your leg or I am…

Pure As The Driven Snow:

Pristine, incorruptible. Often a very sarcastic idiom.

Oh, of course, all politicians are pure as the driven snow.

Put a sock in it:

Telling someone to stop making a racket.

Put a sock in it, I'm trying to sleep!


Queer the pitch:

To distort a situation in a way that creates problems.

That new law really queered the pitch for the people who bought the things before they became illegal, and couldn't even sell them.

Quick On The Trigger:

Acting too quickly, with possibly regrettable consequences. Can be a character assessment.

He's too quick on the trigger, for my tastes.


Very negative reference to someone who gives up and/or doesn't make a real or honest effort.

The guy's a quitter, won't even think about ringing her!


Rain check:

Derived from baseball expression, where rain stops play. Usually a negative reference, 'no rain checks', meaning the deal is for this time only, no delays.

Raining Cats and Dogs:

Extremely heavy rain.

It's absolutely raining cats and dogs out there, you can't even see the road.

Rat (race, character, action):

The rat is the traditional European symbol of vermin since the Plague era, and the word is always negative, referring to a disgusting, unsanitary animal and its habits. In Asia the Rat is one of the 12 animals of Buddhist custom and the Chinese lunar calendar, and the idiom is imported.

The word is widely used in idioms, hence multiple contexts:

I just want to get out of the rat race. Wants to get out of the social rut. The guy's a rat, plain and simple. This person is untrustworthy, disgusting. They ratted on their friends. They betrayed their friends.


Anglo Australian expression, meaning a lunatic, someone who doesn't know what he's talking about.

Nice guy in his way, but a ratbag about his diet.

Red Faced:

Embarrassed, literally or metaphorically.

The council was left red faced with a bill for gold lamé uniforms.

Red Letter Day:

Great day, great event.

It was a real red letter day when they won the lottery.

Redneck (person, cultural):

American expression originally meaning hick, now meaning a boorish, uncultured, ignorant person or idea.

It was an idea which could only appeal to a redneck.

Rise and Shine:

Get out of bed in the morning, or get moving, referring to people acting as if asleep.

Rise and shine you guys, we've got another ten loads to get on board.

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day:

Great work takes time. Also refers to unrealistic expectations of time frames.

Rome wasn't built in a day either, because they found they wanted the buildings to be able to stand up.

Root For:

To barrack for a team or a person.

We're rooting for you, Mary.

Roots (origin, culture):

This expression started in the 1970s as part of African American culture, referring to ancestry and heritage, and has developed as a general idiom for cultural origins of all kinds.

They've gone back to their roots with these songs.

Rub out, wipe (action):

Originally a 1920s gangster expression, it meant to kill someone. The wider meaning is to erase an error, or wipe something, as in to end the concept of it.

Well, we'll just wipe the whole idea, then, if you don't want to do it.

Rub Salt In The Wounds:

To make an injury more painful.

After he fell off the stage, she laughed herself sick, and that really rubbed salt in the wounds, when he saw it on TV.

Rule Of Thumb:

From the painter's use of a thumb to measure proportions in a sketch. Tends to work as a benchmark concept.

The rule of thumb here would be that we're sure they will usually order 100 units at a time.

Run out of steam:

Run out of motive power or energy. Can be a conceptual expression referring to motivation or impetus.

They ran out of steam when Bill started to have doubts about the project, and called in the accountant to check their expenditure.


Sacred (context):

A thing described as sacred is one which is supposedly above criticism or reproach. The idioms containing the word also contain the context, positive or negative.

The conceptual sacred pig of managerial descent from deity.
That was an idea which they held sacred.

Savage Grace:

The grace and beauty of wild things, the Noble Savage, natural events.

The jungle is a place of savage grace.

Saved By The Bell:

Boxing expression, referring to the bell at the end of a round.

They were on their last legs, saved by the bell when the event was called off.

Scot free:

To escape without due penalty.

They got off Scot free, because nobody was able to prove they were in the wrong.

See The Wood For The Trees:

The expression Can't See The Wood For The Trees means unable to see the obvious. The contraction and other uses of the expression mean the same thing, sometimes with added contexts.

If you have a look at the trees, you might see the wood.

Shock Horror:

Usually a derisive reference to an overreaction.

So after the news came out they were all going into Shock Horror mode, like they hadn't known about it before.

Sick As A Dog:

Traditional expression meaning very sick, sicker than a person should be.

He shouldn't have come to work today, he looks sick as a dog.

Sick Of the Sight Of…:

The sight of something or someone is repulsive, sickening.

The sight of so much waste makes me sick when I think how poor some people in the world are.

Significant Other:

Modern expression referring to an unspecified relationship, simply noting that a person is important.

She's my significant other, as a matter of fact.

Sign Of The Times:

Indicative of the contemporary, a current phenomenon, actual or conceptual.

The anti poverty protests are a sign of the changing times.

Sixth Sense:

A sense beyond the five senses of touch, feel, smell, sight and hearing. The idiom literally quantifies an extrasensory capability.

She has a sixth sense about stock prices, seems to always know what they're going to do.

Skid Row:

Early 20th century expression referring to being broke, poor, living in a bad situation.

Those poor people have been on Skid Row for years.

Sleaze, sleazy:

Modern expression referring to an unsavory place, person or subject, suggesting crime, untrustworthy elements, or disgusting behavior.

He's a sleaze, and that's really about the only way you can describe him.

Smell (contexts):

Any reference to smell will be either good or bad, in any idiom. The qualification is of its nature, which expands the context of the idiom, some times using another idiom to create the new meaning.

The unholy smell of that person's ethics!
The rosy sights and smells appeared to require some sugar.
Not many people come up smelling of daisies in a situation like that.
I smell something very fishy, this doesn't look trustworthy.
I smelt a rat, and sure enough it was him.

Snug As A Bug In A Rug:

Mainly a rhyming phrase, but used to refer to a nice warm cozy place or situation.

This is your new home, you'll be snug as a bug in this house.

Sobering Thought:

In this case the word sobering is a metaphor for changing your previous mindset. A sobering thought is one which makes you think clearly.

It was a sobering thought that we had to go back to work the following day, and we were in no condition to even think about it.

Social Standing:

Position in a social structure.

The scandal did nothing for his social standing, he went from saint to leper.

Son Of A Gun:

Reckless person, son of a gunman or outlaw. It's actually a slightly euphemistic idiom for far more coarse expressions.

He's a real son of a gun, always living it up whether anyone likes it or not.

Son Of Your Father:

A direct reference to characteristics of the father, positive or negative.

You're your father's son, all right, only you and he could achieve that.

Sophistry (mode of idiomatic argument):

A sophistry is a false argument, with a suggestion of bogus intellectualism.

Sophistries are a pretentious waste of time and thought.

Sore As A Gumboil:

A gumboil is a painful lump on the gums, which can affect the temper of those suffering from the condition. The idiom reflects the irritable nature of sufferers.

He was sore as a gumboil when you brought up that topic.

Soulful Expression:

Often a sarcastic idiom, referring to someone looking sincere and noble.

That soulful expression of yours really does get on my nerves, you know.

Sound And Fury Signifying Nothing:

Quote from Shakespeare, referring to a great deal of noise and bluster with no real result.

More sound and fury, I see. Doesn't that guy ever actually do anything?


Boxing expression meaning a left handed boxer or style of fighting.

He's got a real southpaw style in his approach, makes him hard to argue with when he comes up with those unexpected arguments.

Spare the rod, spoil the child:

Traditional saying meaning that lack of discipline will make a spoilt brat out of a child, to the child's detriment.

Well, you spared the rod for so long, now you've got the spoiled child.

Spitting chips

Furious, fiery state of mind.

Fred was spitting chips when we told him we had a whole new set of figures.

Spitting Image:

Refers to an image or likeness so like the original it seems as if it could spit.

Spitting image of someone who always looked like they were spitting chips.

Stacked Deck:

Card playing expression, meaning the order of cards has been arranged unfairly so selected cards are dealt to selected players.

Yeah, we know we're playing against a stacked deck here.

Stage Fright:

Theatrical expression meaning pre performance nerves. Idiom is now used widely, referring to any situation where an performance in front of an audience, real or hypothetical, is involved.

I was writing my blog and got stage fright.

Stage Managed:

A situation which appears to have been conducted as a performance for the benefit of those seeing it.

I think this whole fight between them is being stage managed for our benefit, to get sympathy.

Staggered, staggering: (mental condition):

The word stagger means to walk uncertainly, and the idiom refers to a mental state where one is uncertain of one's position and feelings.

I was so staggered by the news that I really had no idea what to do about it.

Stain on character:

Old expression, originally Stain on the escutcheon, which meant a stain on the reputation.

The conviction was a real stain on his character, but he tried to clean it up.

Stand Over:

Criminal slang, meaning intimidation.

The guy was a real standover man, very scary.


Dazzled by fame or reputation.

Ah, they were so starstruck they stuck around taking pictures of themselves in the lead actor's hotel room after he left.

Station In Life:

One's role or position in life or as a member of the society.

Jeff, as the office boy, it's maybe not your station in life to tell senior lawyers how to run their murder trials, do you think?

Status Quo:

Latin expression, the state of what is.

The status quo at the moment is that we're waiting for them to wake up and do their jobs properly.

Status Symbol:

Possession or property indicating a superior social status.

I just don't think a rubber duck really is a status symbol, is all I'm saying.

Start From Scratch:

The word scratch means literally from nothing.

So we start from scratch, get our own materials, and build the thing.

Starving artist:

The starving artist motif is a common theme in books and tales of artist's lives. It's so common it's now a cliché, but as an idiom it relates to a topic as a conditional, often ironic, context.

Typical starving artist, took him twelve hours and three meals to find his way out of his limousine.

Stern Lesson:

A tough lesson, where the conditions were difficult but something was learned.

The budget cuts were a stern lesson in managing our costs.

Stone (contexts):

Stone is an old metaphor in many idioms, meaning something hard and unyielding. There are so many idiomatic senses that each has to be considered relative to the total statement in which the word is contained. In the traditional sense, stone was referred to as a building metaphor.

One stone on top of another.

Stone Cold:

Absolutely sober, clear headed.

I swear, I was stone cold sober, hadn't had a drink all day.


Heartless, without proper feeling for others.

The guy has a heart of stone, I've never heard him express sympathy for anyone or anything.


To be very obstructive, immovable.

They're stonewalling, I think they're playing for time.

Stony Broke:

Very broke, in the sense of real hard times.

If you're thinking of becoming stony broke, I suggest you don't try it.

Stony Faced:

A hostile expression, unfriendly, or impassive with a sense of being unsympathetic to others.

If that's not a stony face, I don't know what is.

Stony Silence:

Similar to a stony faced expression, but in terms of responses to a prior situation or statement.

That wasn't just a stony silence, that was solid granite.

Storm In A Teacup:

A lot of fuss about nothing important.

Well, yeah, I'd say waking me up at four in the morning about your acne was a bit of a storm in a teacup, now that you mention it.

Stormy Petrel:

A person who seems to be forever predicting disasters.

Usually, I'd say he was a stormy petrel, but in this case, he's right.

Stuck In A Rut:

A rut was created by old wagon wheels cutting into roads, forcing other wagons to use the same ruts. The modern meaning of the expression means to be stuck doing the same things all the time.

It's a real rut, and I don't want to be stuck doing these repetitive things all the time.

Stunned Mullet:

Fishing expression, referring to the fish being stunned with a blow after being caught. The modern version means to be struck senseless by a situation.

So he's looking like a stunned mullet, trying to speak, and she's just standing there looking gorgeous.


Mid 20th century expression meaning a stunningly beautiful woman, or occasionally an event which was stunning.

This woman was such a stunner the whole restaurant went quiet, at least 500 people just staring.

Sucker (person):

19th century African American expression meaning baby. Now means a person who's a fool.

Trouble is he's not only a sucker, he looks like a sucker.

Swear Like A Trooper:

Military expression, to be able to swear like a soldier.

We had this famous socialite on the phone, swearing like a trooper.

Sweat Of Your Brow:

By your own efforts and hard work.

You appreciate things you've earned by the sweat of your brow.


Territorial (person, issue)

A person who defends their professional position.

We have some very territorial salesmen in this company, so be careful.

Test of courage:<