Examples for business, study, careers, love, and more...
Examples :: Idioms :: Examples of Idioms

Examples of Idioms

A to G

Idioms are, literally ideas as expressions. They develop from older usage, where the words mean something other than their literal meaning. In some cases the meaning of the original expression has been lost, or is an archaism.

Idiomatic expression is the extension of the idea of an idiom, using it as the basis of the statement. In many cases this is a more effective use of the language, because it maintains the same subject, and extrapolates its meaning.

There are strong elements of metaphor, and in some cases literary references which shorten language usage because the meaning of the phrase is well known.

Examples of idioms and idiomatic usage

Idiom: He really went to town on that issue.
Idiomatic usage: He not only went, he apparently hasn't come back yet.

Idiom: That was a curly question.
Idiomatic usage: Yes, so curly it was a learning curve of itself.

Idiom: He's true blue.
Idiomatic usage: Yeah, red and white, too.

Idiom: Now is the winter of our discontent
Idiomatic usage: When are you expecting glorious summer?

A     B     C     D     E     F     G     H     I     J     K     L     M     N     O     P     Q     R     S     T     U     V     W     X     Y     Z


A blessing in disguise

Something which seems like a problem, which has an unexpected beneficial effect or becomes an asset to you.

That sprained foot turns out to be a blessing in disguise; you weren"t in the bus crash because of that.

A chip on your shoulder

This is a grudge for a previous experience. It can apply to people, or subjects.

He"s got a real chip on his shoulder about the industry retirement schemes.

Actions speak louder than words

Not passive, active expression of deeds based on opinion or situation. Often relates to a response to debate or indecision.

Actions do speak louder than words. He just went and did that.

A dime a dozen

Common, cheap, substandard. The value is the idiom, which is usually derogatory, reducing the perceived value of something or someone.

People like that are a dime a dozen, always trying to sell you something.

A doubting Thomas

Derived from the New Testament, refers to the Apostle Thomas, famous for asking questions and needing explanations to be convinced.

A true doubting Thomas, he insisted on seeing some proof of the whole idea.

A drop in the ocean

A very small part of something. The statement is used to put things into a perspective, generally as a proportionate statement.

Their revenue is a drop in the ocean, compared to the debts.

A fair-weather friend

A person who"s a friend during the good times, but not the hard times.

Talk about fair-weather friend, I mentioned my problems with my phone bill and he disappeared for six months.

A fool and his money are soon parted

This idiom is basically a truism. It means stupidity costs money. Like many idioms, the subject of the idiom is sometimes contracted. If you use the phrase A fool and his money, the rest of it is redundant, or can be used in context.

A fool and his money… that was a dumb investment, and it did part him from his money.

A friend in need is a friend indeed

A friend who"s around when you need them is a real friend. In some cases idioms are reshaped into the sentence structure:

That was a friend indeed, and was around when he was needed.

A good man is hard to find

This idiom operates as a context, usually related to the overall situation being described.

Nobody wanted to do anything… Talk about a good man being hard to find, I literally had to use a phone book.

A hair of the dog

Doing something which made you feel terrible as a cure for it. Usually used in relation to too much alcohol, but also used as a general expression for a repeat experience of something you did.

You shouldn't have drunk so much; have a hair of the dog, see if you can face natural light and oxygen before you go anywhere.

A herd of elephants

Noisy, unsubtle, obvious. Something which is impossible to overlook.

I have a two year old and a four year old, and they"d put a herd of elephants out of work.

A house divided

From the statement A house divided against itself cannot stand. It means division brings weakness, and unity is required for strength.

They were living in a house divided, nobody could get anything done to deal with the situation.

A legend in his own mind

Delusive person with inflated opinion of himself.

That guy"s a legend in his own mind; if he can do that job I"ll be astonished.

A penny saved is a penny earned

The value of keeping your money or property. The implication is you don"t have to earn that money or property again.

So she just didn't buy the car; a penny saved, for sure.

A picture paints a thousand words

Used to show the value of the obvious, something where a single image or statement describes something fully without need for elaboration.

One look at him, talk about a picture painting a thousand words!

A piece of cake

Easy, simple to do, no difficulties.

It was a piece of cake to install the new kitchen.

A slap on the wrist

A minor penalty. The implication is that the punishment was insufficient.

They trashed a whole car park, and got a slap on the wrist for doing that.

A taste of your/his/her/their own medicine

Describes someone receiving the same treatment or experience they have inflicted on others.

They got a real taste of their own medicine in that game, the other side"s forwards ran straight through them.

A toss up

Based on literally tossing a coin to make a decision. An equal chance of one of two things happening

It was really a toss up whether Alan or Bernard would get that job.

A world of their own

Insular, not connected to the reality of others. Can be derogatory or a comment on ideals and the perspectives of the subjects of the statement.

They live in a world of their own, don"t know what"s going on around them.
They live in a world of their own, but they do seem happy.

An acquired taste

Expression which refers to an unusual or distasteful experience, almost always sarcastically.

Understanding mobile phone plans and bills is an acquired taste.

An albatross around your neck

Derived from Samuel Taylor Coleridge"s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it means a lifetime curse.

That car is an albatross around your neck.

And men go down to the sea in ships

This statement means that some people do dangerous things as a career.

He had to do that, it"s like men go down to the sea in ships, some risks have to be taken in his work.

An own goal

Doing something which counts against yourself.

His education policy turned out to be a real own goal, teachers and parents flooded the media with complaints.

Any port in a storm

The expression means getting out of danger any way you can, and going somewhere safer, without being choosy.

We saw the hurricane, and hid in the basement of an abandoned house, any port in a storm.

A rolling stone gathers no moss

The idiom is based on the idea that something in motion doesn"t stagnate or collect problems.

Like they say, a rolling stone gathers no moss: He wasn"t going to hang around waiting years for them to do something when the business was in trouble.

Après moi, la deluge!

This is sometimes (hopefully) a sarcastic idiom, meaning after the speaker goes, the world will end. Literally based on the Biblical Flood, it means After me, the deluge.

Like I said, Après moi, la deluge! I knew they were going to bring in an outside auditor for that business.

As it was, and will ever be

This is a fatalistic, often cynical statement of the unchanging nature of something.

As it was, and will ever be… Sausages!

A shot/stab in the dark

An attempt based on the chance of achieving something while unsure of the possibilities of success.

The investment was a shot in the dark, but it paid off very well.

As the story/song goes

A familiar series of events, something the listener will know

So, as the story goes, he eventually proposed.

A stitch in time saves nine

Doing something before hand, meaning in time, saves having to do much more work later.

Yeah, turned out we did a stitch in time, and we"d already done the work before the boss wanted it. So we didn"t have to do that as well, when the big rush job came in the same day.

Idioms alphabetic list A-B

Adding Fuel To The Fire:

Aggravating a situation by making it worse.

He was adding fuel to the fire about complaining about his toast while the kitchen was burning down.

Against The Clock:

Usually refers to working or doing something against a deadline, where the time is counting against you.

We're working against the clock here, we've only got an hour to do 300 orders.

All Bark And No Bite:

A person who talks far more aggressively than they act.

That guy's all bark and no bite, he's been talking about fighting this for years, and never yet done a thing about it.

All Greek to me:

Said when the person doesn't understand the subject.

We were talking about fishing, but they got on to marine biology and it was all Greek to me.

All In The Same Boat:

Everyone in the same situation, with the same problems.

We're all in the same boat, trying to deal with the economic mess.

An Arm And A Leg:

Too expensive, more than it's worth. Often used to warn people against doing something.

Everything with that supplier costs an arm and a leg, so we have to find another source.

An Axe To Grind:

To have an axe to grind means to have a situation to sort out where the person has a grievance.

Look, I've got an axe to grind here, because so far I haven't had a chance to do any of this.

Apple of My Eye:

Favorite, the best of a group of people or set of subjects.

That guitar was the apple of my eye, the best I've ever seen.

As High As A Kite:

This is usually a slang term in modern usage, referring to people who are drunk. In older usage it was also a term for happiness.

Modern usage: No point in talking to him when he's as high as a kite.
Old usage: I got the job, and I was high as a kite with happiness and relief.

At The Drop Of A Hat:

Instantly, immediately.

They expect us to do all this at the drop of a hat.


Back Seat Driver:

Someone who's not actually doing the job but giving advice and instructions.

What we really needed on the legal team was a back seat driver, wasting time.

Back To Square One:

Derived from board games, this refers to returning to the start of something.

So after all that they wound up back to Square One.

Back To The Drawing Board:

Returning to the planning stage, after previous failure.

Having been unsuccessful in persuading the car salesman to accept lima beans, it was back to the drawing board for another scheme.

Baker's Dozen:

From the old baking tradition of baking thirteen loaves in a batch.

We wanted 12, but we got a bakers dozen.

Barking Up The Wrong Tree:

Approaching a subject the wrong way, getting the basics wrong.

If you think you're going to get nicer bills by complaining to the postman, you're barking up the wrong tree.

Bats, Batty

Acting strangely, mad.

If you think I'm going to that party, you're batty!

Beat A Dead Horse:

Trying to do something about an unchangeable fact.

If you think you're going to get a refund on that meal, you're beating a dead horse.

Beating Around The Bush:

Not dealing with the major issues, not talking about the real subject.

Stop beating about the bush! It's a giraffe, not a toaster!

Beatup (in relation to subject)

Overstatement, exaggerating facts, making something unimportant seem important.

That new celebrity is a total beatup, all photos, no person.

Be careful what you wish for

The expression has a slightly superstitious idiom, meaning beware of what you say. The original idea was that the gods would hear you and send you your wish in a way you didn't want.

Be careful what you wish for, that guy could be your new boss.

Bend Over Backwards:

Go to great lengths to do something. Sometimes refers to attempts to assist people.

They bent over backwards to get the flight arrangements right.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

Dates from the Trojan War, referring to the Wooden Horse of Troy. It means, literally, beware of anything which comes from an enemy.

Why would a person who you've always loathed give you a present? Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, I'd say.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place:

A lousy choice between tough situations.

They had a choice between bankruptcy and a liquidator; talk about being between a rock and a hard place.

Bite Off More Than You Can Chew:

Attempting something which is beyond your abilities.

You're biting off more than you can chew, trying to make politicians do anything just because it's the law.

Bite the bullet

Derived from old surgical process where patients were operated upon without anesthetic. Patients were given a bullet to bite to grit their teeth against the pain. The intention was to make sure the patient didn't hurt themselves by uncontrollable movements of their teeth and biting their tongue off. Modern usage of the expression means to accept an unpleasant situation, so you can do something about it.

Bite the bullet, ring them up and tell them.

Bite Your Tongue:

The expression comes from old usage, where the speaker is told to bite their tongue as a punishment for saying something out of place, or something they should be ashamed of saying.

You bite your tongue! How dare you say that!

Black and blue

Bruised and beaten. Often refers to a person's situation or condition.

They came out of that meeting black and blue from the flak and criticism from the shareholders.

Blind as a bat

Can't see things properly, doesn't know what they're looking at.

They were blind as bats about buying all that expensive rubbish.


Hit from an unexpected direction, or a direction where it wasn't possible to see something coming.

They were completely blindsided by the price rise.

Blood Is Thicker Than Water:

Refers to family ties, and situations where loyalty to family is more important than other considerations.

It was a dumb thing to do, and he shouldn't have done it, but blood is thicker than water, so I had to help him get out of the mess.

Blood oath

An exaggerated expression of extreme commitment to a statement or cause. Derived from old methods of swearing oaths of loyalty. Australian version of expression means something confirming a statement to be absolutely true.

Literal version: They swore a blood oath to get rid of their manager.
Australian version: Blood oath I did the auditing properly.

Bloody minded

Perverse, contrary way of thinking. A bloody minded person is someone trying to cause problems by their way of dealing with an issue or a situation.

It was a bit bloody minded of his ex girlfriend to send them a wreath to their wedding.


Sad, moody. Expression relates to the blues, which was famous for its songs about troubling emotional situations.

You really do look blue today.

Blue Moon:

A rare, almost impossible, occurrence in a long period of time.

It was one of those things you wouldn't expect to see in a blue moon, a duck with freckles.

Bolt from the blue

Refers to a lightning bolt out of a blue sky. Struck out of nowhere. Hit by something very extraordinary, and shocking.

Winning the lottery was like a bolt from the blue for someone who'd been poor for so long.

Break A Leg:

Originally a theatrical expression wishing good luck with a performance, still used in acting and now in other performing arts, and as a metaphor in common usage.

Job interview? Break a leg!

Buy A Lemon:

Originally related to a postwar American car which became famous as The Lemon, hated by motorists and the auto industry. Now relates to a bad product of any kind.

Look, no kidding, that thing is a lemon. Buy a name brand, at least.

Buy the farm:

Die. American expression based on the farmer's chance of owning his farm, which wouldn't be until the farmer died. Can also be used referring to the end of something.

Fred bought the farm last week.


Can't Cut The Mustard:

Negative idiom, refers to being unable to achieve a result or in social contexts to make an impression

All his fancy sales talk just couldn't cut the mustard with those people.

Carrying the weight of the world

Severely burdened person, carrying their troubles and problems.

Jim's been carrying the weight of the world, recently, with all his problems.

Cast a pall

To introduce a negative element into an otherwise happy occasion.

Fred's sudden crisis really cast a pall over his daughter's wedding.

Cast a shadow

This is an idiom which refers to a different degree of situation and usage than Cast a pall, and isn't quite the same idiom.

The war in Europe cast a shadow over the world.

Cast Iron Stomach:

A person with strong digestion, untroubled by eating or drinking things which would affect others.

Jack's got a cast iron stomach, I've seen him eat two meals at once.

Cast pearls before swine

To give something beautiful or valuable to those who don't appreciate it.

Shakespeare for financiers… talk about casting pearls before swine!

Cat among the pigeons

Introduce an element of danger or risk into the environment. The cat, as the symbolic predator among the harmless pigeons, can be a person, information, or a new development in a situation. The idiom creates an expectation of further, dangerous, developments.

Putting a real expert into the hedge fund was really setting the cat among the pigeons.

Catty person

Negative expression referring to an unpredictable person, whose temper and behavior is sometimes vicious.

I don't know if you could call Mary a catty person, but we know she has claws.

Chalk and cheese

Two quite different things.

A duck and a horse are chalk and cheese, if you ask me.

Charley Horse:

American expression referring to a painful tightening of calf tendons.

I've had Charley Horse a few times, and I'm in no hurry to repeat the experience.

Chew the fat

Talk about something, or things generally.

We were just chewing the fat about the business situation.

Chew a person out:

Originally a military expression. Verbal lecture to someone detailing their mistakes.

John really got chewed out by the manager about how he handled that account.

Chow Down:

To go and get food.

OK, people, let's chow down!

Close but no Cigar:

To nearly achieve something or get something right. The cigar was once a prize for contestants in games.

Close but no cigar, Albert, it's E=mc squared.

Cock and Bull Story:

A story which isn't believed by the speaker or person describing it.

It was pure rooster and bull, that story about the hedgehog orchestra, I'm sure of that.

Come a cropper

Land on your backside, literally or metaphorically.

They tried to find the money for that project, and really came a cropper, their credit rating suffered when they got knocked back by the bank.

Come Hell Or High Water:

Regardless of any kind of obstacle. Idiom refers to Fire and Water, a traditional expression meaning the same thing.

Come hell or high water, we're going to get this done, and get it done today.

Come again?

Come again is usually a conversational idiom, where the speaker, as the listener to a statement, is requesting someone to repeat the statement, and may also mean to make it comprehensible.

Come again? What flood are we talking about?

Come off it

Cease with an action or taking a position on a subject. The idiom is usually from a person who is telling another to cease.

You want us to relay the whole brick wall? Come off it!

Come off your high horse

Stop taking an exaggerated position of authority or superior social position, usually regarding a subject or a statement of position.

Who do you think you are, telling me to learn to be an intellectual? Come off your high horse!

Come on down

American expression derived from game shows in which contestants were told to Come On Down. This is a satiric expression, denoting the person and/or the situation don't deserve to be taken seriously.

Yeah, it's open season for everybody here apparently, so come on down!

Cookie (person)

American slang expression which has gone into general usage as a metaphor for a person. Originally referred to females as cookies. The word always has some descriptor with it.

Alan's actually a very tough cookie, in his business.

Cool (things, people, situations)

The word has multiple uses as an idiom. In its modern context, it was originally a Jazz expression meaning good, acceptable, or a general positive. The word developed into general usage to include another, older European idiom, meaning a person who was cool under pressure. It also means someone who plays a tough situation well, which is a hybrid of both basic meanings.

You'd have to say that was a pretty cool, calm and collected performance, given the situation.

Cool off, cooling off period

This idiom has both a vernacular and a legal meaning which is used as a non-legal idiom. It means, basically, in the same context as Cool, Calm down, referring by implication to the opposite idiom, a hot temper.

It also refers to a legal requirement in contracts and sales for a mandatory period for review and reconsideration before proceeding with the next phase of the process. That version of the expression has also become a common usage.

I think we need a cooling off period before we discuss this problem between our clients any further.

Crack Someone Up:

To make someone laugh excessively. Can literally mean hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. There can be a negative version of the statement, when it means the idea of someone's statement is ridiculous.

You crack me up. You think I'm going to pay two million dollars for a box of matches?

Cross Your Fingers:

Superstitious idiom, refers to crossing your fingers for luck with a problem. The fingers are literally crossed, in sign language.

Cross your fingers, folks, I'm going to try to land this thing.

Cry Over Spilt Milk:

The spilt milk analogy refers to a situation where the damage is done, and irrecoverable, like trying to use milk after it's spilt and contaminated.

This is spilt milk, we have to move on and stop dwelling on the past.

Cry Wolf:

Refers to an old European fairy tale, where the lead character cried wolf, raising false alarms, and was eventually eaten by a real wolf because nobody believed him when he yelled for help. The idiom is a warning in concept.

Don't cry wolf unless you've got a real problem, we can't waste time and resources on that.

Cup Of Joe:

American mid 20th century slang expression, refers to coffee.

Have a cup of Joe and relax a bit.

Curiosity Killed The Cat:

This idiom means that inquiring into things can be dangerous. It's usually used in context with trying to find out the facts of a situation.

Could be a case of curiosity killing the cat, because they didn't have that problem until they started checking out the company's finances.

Cute, cutesy (person, thing)

Cute in these contexts is a sarcastic expression, meaning pretending to be something nice, when it isn't.

The government took a cutesy approach to the unemployment figures, and the public wasn't impressed.

Cut the Ice

Make the first move in a new situation.

He cut the ice by sending them some flowers and chocolates.

Cut to the Chase:

Get to the facts, stop avoiding issues, or get back on track.

Let's cut to the chase, and leave out all these sidetracks and digressions.


Dark Horse:

Derived from racing slang. The dark horse is the one that isn't expected to win, but is a possible threat.

Pegasus was the dark horse in the race, but he won strongly.

Dead as a doornail:

Literally, as dead as something with no life in it by definition.

The whole subject was dead as a doornail by the time he'd finished speaking.

Dead Ringer:

Exactly the same in every way, in terms of appearance. Can also be used to describe abstract situations.

This case is a dead ringer for the Smith Jones fraud case, same methods, same spiel to the clients.

Devil's Advocate:

A person putting the negative position, whether they agree with it or not. This is usually done to ensure the negative aspects of a position are examined.

I guess I'll have to be the devil's advocate here; what happens if this doesn't work, and we don't get that result?

Dog Days of Summer:

The hot days of summer, referring to an old expression regarding dogs in hot weather, panting and breathless.

The dog days are here, I'd say.

Done like a dinner

Usually refers to sports, or someone who was decisively defeated in some way.

The local baseball team played an away match last week, and they got done like a dinner.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch:

The idiom means don't plan or take actions on the basis of things that haven't yet happened.

Let's not count our chickens here, before we get confirmation.

Don't Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth:

This is an advisory idiom, derived from the old horse trading tradition of checking a horse's teeth to check the horse's age and health before buying the horse. The saying advises not getting too picky or critical about a gift of something either real or metaphorical, because it costs nothing.

I don't think we should look this particular gift horse in the mouth too closely, because we don't have to take any risks ourselves.

Don't Put All Your Eggs In One Basket:

Traditional idiom. To over commit oneself to one thing or course of action, and have no other options. The risk is that if that's a mistake, the person loses everything.

Putting all our eggs in one basket is a really bad idea, because we don't know what can go wrong.


American slang term, usually negative, meaning exceptional, remarkable or unusually difficult.

That car was a real doozy. Didn't even get out of the car yard before it broke down.

Down To The Wire:

Till the last moment, or the final action. When used as an expression regarding something in progress, it means the matter is undecided, and the outcome is unpredictable.

This football game is going to be down to the wire, scores are locked and it's anybody's game at this stage.

Drastic Times Call For Drastic Measures:

The nature of a critical situation demands a response in keeping with the seriousness of the situation.

These really were drastic circumstances for Sue and Betty, so they had to take drastic measures to make sure they had enough money.

Drink like a fish:

Exaggerated statement to emphasize overdrinking.

He drinks like a fish, all right, to the point he looks like a fish.

Drive someone up the wall:

Process of infuriating, irritating, or driving someone else mad. The idiom refers to the way someone behaves, or a situation which is affecting them like that.

This particular client is driving me up the wall with all that extra paperwork.

Dropping Like Flies:

Expression from humorous to exaggerated descriptor. Refers to fatalities, literally, but can be deliberate overstatement.

They tried the salad dressing, and they're dropping like flies out there.

Dry Run:

Test, rehearsal, practice attempt.

We did a dry run on the new sales technique, and it didn't really work.

Idioms alphabetic list E-H


Early To Bed, Early To Rise Makes A Man Healthy, Wealthy, And Wise:

Traditional moral saying meaning good practices benefit your life.

Well, early to bed, early to rise; I'm off to get some sleep, I've got a busy day tomorrow.

Earn While You Learn:

Modern expression used to describe entry level paid training.

Earn while you learn! Become an apprentice, get paid while you're learning the trade, get a life and a career!

Easy Peasy:

Rhyming English children's expression, meaning very easy.

Just throw the ball for the dog. It's easy peasy.

Ebb and Flow:

Metaphor for a cycle of events, using the tides ebb and flow as the analogy.

The seasonal ebb and flow of the business was an obvious factor in their stock orders.

Ecce Homo:

Latin, ecclesiastical and academic philosophical expression literally meaning Such Is Man, used in context with human conditions or individual character.

Of course, he didn't pay any attention to the professionals. Ecce Homo.

Edge, Edgy:

The expressions are part of a descriptor of a person, situation, or a descriptor, referring to either a state of risk, the edge of danger, or an edgy character, who is always sensitive or touchy.

He not only lives on the edge, he's a naturally edgy person.

Edifice (personal):

A façade maintained by a person as a public image.

So when he started swearing like a trooper, the whole edifice of the sophisticated person came crashing down.

Edit (descriptor):

A selective use of materials or information. The implication is that not all facts are being revealed.

This is an obvious edit of the situation, because there are a lot of relevant facts missing in this report.

Eighty Six:

To Eighty Six something is to get rid of it, lose it deliberately.

We can't take it with us, so eighty six the thing.

Eighty Eight:

Jazz slang for a full size piano.

Liberace on the eighty eight is an expression used to describe a showy but good pianist putting on a big show.

Eke Out:

Old usage, meaning to use your resources sparingly under difficult conditions.

We'll just have to eke out the money we have until the big money comes in.

Elephant's Memory (person):

Person whose memory of events is exceptional, or in some cases exceptionally annoying.

Talk about an elephant's memory, he remembers things I said twenty years ago, and still takes them personally.

Elevator stare:

To look someone up and down. The looking up and down is considered sexist in some contexts.

The elevator stare he gave her wasn't much appreciated, I'd say.

Elvis has left the building:

Refers to the fans staying behind in a building to get Elvis Presley's autograph. When used in another context, it means the show's over, the performers have gone, go home.

Right, folks, Elvis has left the building, that's it, we're closing.

Emissary (sarcastic):

Sarcastic title given to a person bringing information from another source.

We received an emissary from the green grocer, explaining why all our fruit was rotten.


Modern music form, meaning emotionally charged music.

It's very emo material, lots of teenage angst.

Enough Is Enough:

Statement is made in context, denoting an end to an issue is required.

Exactly how long are we going to just sit here asking for an answer and not getting one? Enough is enough!

Enemy Of The State:

Derived from totalitarian propaganda usage, refers (usually humorously) to a person who is being described as a risk to the nation.

Yeah, well, the chef is more or less considered to be an enemy of the state.

Episode, Episodic (personal related events):

This is an idiom which sets a scene as a chapter in someone's life.

I had a series of romantic episodes, all different, but all special.


American slang term, originally meaning gun. Now means a weapon, or some method of getting on equal terms with a stronger opponent.

This audit report should do as an equalizer, they can't bully the figures.

Errant ways:

Literally, this expression means habitually mistaken ways of doing things, but can also be used as a sarcastic statement.

According to this brochure, I should change my errant ways and buy anything they think I should buy, because they apparently know more about what I like than I do.


Person with extra sensory perception.

She's just plain exception, a real esper, someone who can sense things without you even telling her there's a problem.

Ethereal Person:

Person who appears unreal in some way, or unrealistic.

I know artists are supposed to be a bit strange, but they're really ethereal people, like they come from some other reality.

Ethnic Cleansing:

Genocide committed against a specific group of people. Usage has extended to create other contexts describing actions in terms of getting rid of people.

So what's this, ethnic cleansing of everyone who disagrees with you?

Even Stevens:

Rhyming children's expression, meaning level in a game or personal affair.

OK, you give me that marble, and we're Even Stevens.

Ever (descriptor):

Common in many languages, the use of the word Ever creates an idiom automatically, when used in context with another descriptor.

The ever-omniscient local council has sent us a letter saying the garbage will be picked up on Wednesday instead of Thursday, when they've been doing it on Thursday for years.

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining:

All bad things have an element of good in them.

Every cloud does have a silver lining, I'll have to do without seeing that guy's face ever again.

Every Dog Has His Day:

Even the lowliest of people will have a moment of glory.

So George finally got that promotion! Every dog has his day.

Every Picture Tells A Story:

Relates to the content of images, providing subjective information and creating a scene for extrapolating a story.

The kitten and the puppy picture told a story worth telling.

Everything But The Kitchen Sink:

All possible efforts have been made, every resource used.

We've thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this problem.

Exception Proves The Rule:

A situation where a common phenomenon doesn't happen, so the fact it's an exception to the norm proves the norm is the usual event, because the example is obviously unusual. Often said as a joke.

OK, so this duck flies north for the winter, and all the others fly south. The exception proves the rule.

Excuse language:

Being polite before or after using a swear word or obscenity or something which could be interpreted as obscene. in conversation. Some use of the expression is facetious, or has another interpretation.

I was reading about the Wall Street (excuse language) problems yesterday.

Excuse me:

The original meaning of Excuse Me was to indicate your intention to be polite when addressing someone. That meaning has now been inverted in American usage to mean the exact opposite, indicating annoyance sarcastically.

Excuse me, do you have the time?
So I shouldn't ask you the time? Well excuse me!


Fair go:

Australian expression meaning natural justice.

Give the new starter a fair go, this isn't that easy to learn.

Fandango (descriptor):

The expression means an overdone, ornate, performance or action.

Oh, yeah, it was quite a fandango, directors making press statements, the whole production number.

Fantastic Plastic:

1960s expression, meaning artificial fantasy, usually in a negative or sarcastic sense.

It's just fantastic plastic, a trash can wearing a silly hat.

Fathom (verb):

A fathom is a nautical measure of depth. To Fathom something means to attempt to find the depth of a statement or person.

I don't know quite how to fathom the way she reacted to my question.

Fault Finding (person, mission):

An exercise in finding mistakes and flaws. As an idiom, it's used as a descriptor in a negative sense, indicating the fault finding is ignoring the positives.

He's a fault finding sort of person on a fault finding mission, and he won't pay any attention to anything that's going right.

Faux Pas:

French expression meaning social blunder.

Wearing live rabbits instead of clothes to the Academy Awards was considered rather a faux pas.

Fear And Loathing:

Media expression meaning negative public interest or professional sentiment.

Fear and loathing is driving the markets following the latest revelations of insider trading.

Feast Your Eyes:

To have a good look at something.

Feast your eyes on this camel.

Feeding Frenzy:

Derived from sharks feeding behavior, now extended to describing human eating habits, or stock market actions.

The minute the hors d'oeuvres were served, there was a feeding frenzy.

Fey (person):

Scottish expression, either positive or negative in context, meaning mystic person.

So tell me, O fey person, is this a phone bill, or a message from beyond the grave?

Field Day:

A day out in the open, unrestricted. Often means people acting as they please in relation to a topic or an issue.

The press had a field day with the scandal.

File Under Miscellaneous:

Extra or uncategorized information, don't quite know what to do with it.

We're an electrical wholesaler, and you're telling us where we can get free ducks. I think we'll file that under miscellaneous.

Filler Material:

Extra, unnecessary material in music, prose, or products, used to make up volume.

The novel was just about all filler material, with girl meets boy as the story, such as it was.

Finding Your Feet:

To gain confidence in what you're doing.

You're obviously finding your feet, that's a good job you're doing there.

Fine Feathered Friend:

Sarcastic expression referring derisively to a person as wearing the plumage of a bird, like an old society dress ornament.

Our fine feathered friend here apparently thinks we're made of money.

Finesse (character, method):

French expression, used to describe smooth handling of a situation, and/or the character of a person's actions.

It showed a lot of finesse on Barry's part to talk them into that wholesale deal.

Finger lickin' good:

American expression made famous by Kentucky Fried Chicken, now in common usage meaning tasty, sometimes sarcastic.

Grilled cardboard, talk about finger lickin' good…

Fingers In (the pie, the till, etc.):

To have one's fingers in something means to be improperly involved in obtaining money or serving one's own interests.

The obvious suggestion from these figures is that someone has their fingers in the till.

Fixed In Your Ways:

A person with set habits, unchanging.

You're too fixed in your ways, people just don't work like that any more.


Flagging has two quite unrelated, different meanings:

  1. Flagging spirits or situation, meaning a deteriorating process.
  2. Flagging something, drawing attention to it.
  1. Need I say their enthusiasm was flagging after 20 miles solid hiking
  2. I'd like to flag something for your consideration.

Flash In The Pan:

Brief conspicuous event, impermanent, temporary fame.

They were one hit wonders, just a flash in the pan.


Negative idiom, meaning too conspicuous, attention getting.

Gerry wears very flashy clothing, I think it's actually pretty tasteless.

Flea Market:

A market where you can buy goods of any kind.

The local flea market will have those things, and cheaper, for sure.

Flesh and Blood:

Refers to several separate idioms:

  1. Living things
  2. One's own family
  3. Comparison in relation to circumstances
  1. Flesh and blood will only tolerate so much.
  2. After all, a cousin is our own flesh and blood.
  3. It was flesh and blood against a natural disaster.

Flight Of Fancy:

Imaginative exercise in logic or thinking.

This may be just a flight of fancy, but I think we can put water in glasses, too.

Flushed With Success:

In a mental state where previous success has led to the subsequent action.

Flushed with success, they went to the pub to celebrate.

Flogging (sales):

Old English slang, meaning selling something, can be a negative descriptor, if the context refers to inferior products

still flogging that rubbish?

Flogging (a subject, metaphor):

Overdoing your subject, or overusing a metaphor.

I think three hours flogging a metaphor about goldfish is enough, really.

Foam at the Mouth:

Angry expression, refers to ferocious dogs foaming at the mouth. Also used as descriptor for state of mind.

On the phone, he was furious! I could hear him foam at the mouth!

Fodder (negative context):

The term refers to information as stock feed, denigrating its content, and implying the information is for animals.

Reality is just fodder for uneducated people.

Fold (like in poker, like an accordion, etc.):

To fold means to give up a position, cave in on an issue.

Wow, did they fold on that issue fast, never even bothered to argue.

Food For Thought:

Common literary and vernacular idiom referring to information which will require some further consideration.

The idea of food for thought comes with a few dietary considerations.

Follower (derogatory):

As a generic term, a follower is distinguished in a denigrating sense from a leader.

He's just a follower, he's never had an idea of his own.

Fools' Gold:

Iron sulphate, refers to a mineral which resembles gold. Used to describe false value given to a subject.

If you think genuine recycled nasal hair is a commercial proposition, I'd say it was fool's gold.

Fools Rush In Where Angels Fear To Tread:

Fools take risks where wiser people know better.

Yep, there are the fools rushing in, believing everything they hear, not checking their facts.

Foot In Mouth:

To make a self defeating statement.

If he ever managed to hold a conversation without putting his foot in his mouth, nobody noticed.

Free For All:

No holds barred, no rules.

It was a real free for all at the post Christmas sales.

Free Country:

The idiom refers to personal liberty, and a person's right to do what they wish.

It's a free country, and I can wear this tie!

Free Rein:

Without restrictions, unfettered.

He was given free rein to deal with the mess.

French Kiss:

Tongue kissing.

They were there for an hour, must have been a French kiss and their tongues got tangled up.

From Rags To Riches:

A move from poverty to wealth, often as a description of someone's life story.

This is a real rags to riches story, from dirt poor to global stardom.

Frozen Out:

To be deliberately excluded from a group or society.

They got so tired of the constant backstabbing that Bruce was frozen out of the group, permanently.

Fruitcake (person):

American slang. Madman, nutcase.

Sorry to say this, but your new friend would be my definition of a fruitcake.


Old, out of date, obsolescent, with implications of geriatric senility.

Oh, come on don't be such a fuddy-duddy, they haven't done things like that in accountancy since they built the Pyramids, at least.

Full Monty:

British expression, derived from movie of the same name. Literally translates as fully naked, but now means making a full effort to go through the entire process.

Well, if you really want to go the Full Monty on this, just wait until I emigrate.

Funny Farm:

Slang expression for psychiatric institution for people with mental health problems.

Should we ring the funny farm now, or would you like to continue your anecdote about your date with Harry here?


Gasp (sarcastic):

When used as part of a sentence, it indicates total lack of surprise.

Then, (gasp), he said I should pay for the whole dinner!

Gassing On:

Talking too much.

You guys keep gassing on, there'll be dinosaurs complaining about the noise.


Look ignorantly at something.

Do you always gawk like that at well dressed women, or is it just a hobby?


Trivial, insignificant person.

Frankly, that's someone I'd have to describe as a geek, no real presence.

Gene pool (personal):

Referring to ancestry, heritage. Usually a comment.

I'm glad to know we have things like you swimming around in our gene pool.

Genetic (subject, descriptor of character):

Part of a person's character and emotional makeup.

Look, my shopping is genetic, I'm descended from a grocer.

Genuine Article:

The real thing, or person. Used as a compliment or confirmation of value.

I'm convinced she's the genuine article, a real actress, not a store dummy.

Get Down to Brass Tacks:

Start addressing the real issues.

Getting down to brass tacks, what on Earth are we going to do with a warehouse full of bathroom fittings?

Get Over It:

Used to tell someone to move on from an event or situation after it's happened.

You'll make it worse, dwelling on it. Get over it, for your own sake.

Getting An Education:

Learning through experience, often refers to a difficult and lengthy learning process in the course of doing something.

We're really getting an education doing these surveys, they're nothing like our previous information.

Get Fired Up:

Get emotionally motivated, positively or negatively, by a situation or statement.

I know Jack will get fired up by this news.

Get Sarky:

Get sarcastic, become obviously derisive.

Now don't get sarky about it you lot, the guy has webbed feet.

Get Up On The Wrong Side Of The Bed:

Start the day in a bad mood, or have a bad day.

Must have got out of bed on the wrong side, he's been in a nasty mood all day.

Get Your Walking Papers:

Termination of employment.

So give them their walking papers, or we'll be taking a hike ourselves.

Gild The Lily:

To enhance something which is already beautiful unnecessarily. Suggests falsification of appearances, often sarcastic.

Wouldn't you say that claiming your washing machines cure acne is gilding the lily just a bit?

Give The Slip:

Evade someone or something.

Give them the slip, we'll have dinner by ourselves.

Glass Ceiling:

Feminist expression, referring to male dominated management and the inability of females to get promotions to senior positions.

Another case of the Glass Ceiling, where a woman with a doctorate doesn't get a management position, but a glorified office boy does.

Glass Jaw

Literally someone who can't take a punch, but also refers to vulnerabilities of a person on certain issues.

Seems our opposition has a glass jaw on financial reports.

Glazed Look:

Describes someone looking like a museum specimen under glass, or looking as if you've been glazed over, your expression indicating a negative reaction.

I know I've got your attention when I see that glazed look on your faces.

Goat (person):

Short for scapegoat, a person who is taking the blame. Can also mean a person acting foolishly or stubbornly.

You're being a goat in more ways than one you know, taking the blame, but not admitting you were wrong.

Go Bananas

Refers to acting like an ape, meaning to go crazy.

Don't just go bananas on us, get it sorted out!

Go Bush

Australian Aboriginal expression, to get away from society.

Every once in a while, I like to go bush, just to be out of the rat race.

Go Down Like A Lead Balloon:

To do something which gets nowhere with an audience.

That thing about wage cuts went down like a lead balloon with the staff.

Go For Broke:

American gambling expression, to go all out and risk everything.

I say we go for broke, really put everything we have into this job.

Go Gaga:

American expression, to become incomprehensible, and insane.

We tried telling management about the plumbing, and they just went gaga, and talked about synergies.

Go Nuts:

This expression originally meant to go mad, but has developed to mean do whatever you can.

Go nuts, let's see what you can do.

Good Samaritan:

Biblical reference to the Samaritan who assisted his injured enemy when no one else did, and did it for no reward.

Honestly, I wasn't trying to be a Good Samaritan, I really felt I should help.

Goose (person):

Fool, stupid person.

You really are a goose, buying that camel. Where do we put it?

Goose That Laid The Golden Egg:

A person who is perhaps annoying, but also a valuable source of things. Expression is derived from the children's fairy tale of the same name, where killing the goose was the terrible mistake.

This is our version of the Goose That Laid The Golden Egg, and we're not going to kill it.

Go Out On A Limb:

Take a risk, usually knowing the risk.

We have to go out on a limb, because there's no real choice.

Go The Extra Mile/Yard:

Making an extra effort, usually beyond what is strictly required.

I really appreciate your going the extra mile for us, it's been a real help.

Go Through The Hoops:

Go through whatever has to be done. Refers to an old circus act where animals were literally required to jump through hoops.

That's the way these things are done, and we have to go through the hoops.

Go Walkabout:

Australian Aboriginal expression, meaning to wander with no identified destination.

Before you go walkabout, get those things on the database.

Graveyard Shift:

Derived from broadcasting slang. The late night and early morning shift when most people are asleep.

It's a graveyard shift job, but I'm learning a lot about the business.

Grazing (people)

1980s expression referring to people eating together in restaurants.

Thousands of people in malls and coffee shops, grazing.

Great Minds Think Alike:

Usually a sarcastic reference to two or more people having the same idea.

So I took a day off and you took a day off… Great minds think alike… so who's actually at work at the moment?

Green Room:

Room where people are stationed prior to going on air in broadcasting.

Show Mr. Smith to the Green Room and give him a call 5 minutes before he goes on air.

Grind (routine):

The grind refers to the wear and tear of daily work.

Well, back to the grind, I'm even thinking of being awake later this afternoon.

Gross (thing or person):

American slang term with multiple uses as an adjective and a verb. The expression means that something is disgusting.

That is absolutely gross, I mean it really grosses me out!


English expression from Liverpool in the 1960s. Originally meaning grotesque, it evolved to include meaning squalid, dirty, or unacceptable.

That place was so grotty you wouldn't let a dog in there.


Compound word which as an idiom means the person making the guesstimate isn't claiming accuracy, but making a rough quantification.