About This Dictionary. NTC's American Idioms Dictionary is designed for easy use by lifelong speakers of English, as well as the new-to-English speaker or. The aim of the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms is to provide clear definitions of understanding of how an idiom is used: a typical context, a certain tone, or a. are soon parted This idiom means that people who aren't careful with their New Microsoft Word Document Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 2e ().
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English idioms dictionary in PDF to download for free. Great for students learning English. Idioms are expressions which have a meaning that is not obvious from the individual words. . You will find all these things in a good dictionary of idioms. A phrase or sentence of this type is said to be idiomatic. This dictionary is a collection of the idiomatic phrases and sentences that occur frequently in American.
His life is in the balance. He eats well and exercises. I think I have the f lu. I was late for an appointment. Especially with keep. Please keep it in the family. Smith is in the family way. In the f lesh? As if knowledge or information shed light on something. Limelight is an obsolete form of spotlight, and the word occurs only in this phrase.
All the f lowers are in the pink of condition. Can you lend me twenty pounds? I broke Mrs. He attracts trouble. The in can be replaced with into. See the explana- tion at in a jam and the examples below. Expect these changes to happen soon. In this phrase, the word in is always stressed. He never does the in thing. The father looks gentle and loving, but he is a tyrant. The president pretends to be liberal, but his people have little freedom.
It is suggested that the future never comes. Jekyll and Hyde someone with both an evil and a good personal- ity. From The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. She sees him only when he is being kind and generous, but he can be very mean and miserly.
She told me how many other people were looking for jobs when I lost mine. He told Mary that there were lots of other unattached girls in the district when her engagement was broken off. Why should some johnny-come-lately tell us what to do?
To do something can be replaced with of doing something. Usually with nearly, almost, etc. You really scared me. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Originally used in sports contests which are started by firing a gun. Figurative on sense 1. Just what the doctor ordered. Keep a civil tongue in your head. Keep a stiff upper lip. Keep a weather eye open.
Learn to keep a weather eye open. Things will get better. The distance can be figurative or literal. They keep them- selves to themselves. Johnson has retired from the library, but she still wants to keep her hand in. She works part-time. Work just keeps piling up. Also with have and get, as in the examples.
She tends to keep her own counsel. He must keep his side of the bargain. See the examples. Please keep me posted. If the secret stays under your hat, it stays in your mind. Row rhymes with cow. From the biblical story recounting the return of the prodi- gal son. Get to work! He must not have agreed with what he was reading.
Also without all. He knows the tricks of the trade. You have to follow all the rules. She knows the ropes. She was writing about the life of a friend, and the book was a labour of love. What a labour of love! From the fact that people some- times nod when they are falling asleep.
This is a pun, because the land of Nod is also the name of a place referred to in the Bible. I only hope I land on my feet. Often said in introductions. She screeches. We all knew exactly what to do. He really got it when his mother laid down the law. She laid it on the line, and we had no doubt about what she meant. You really led me on a merry chase. As if one might find something under a rock. I left myself wide open for it. Note passive use in the examples. I thought we had cancelled our meeting.
I need to move it across the room. Do you mind if I let down my hair? I have other plans. It was an accident. We knew then that he was expecting some- one to arrive. Try not to spill the beans. Do it now! From the habit of people licking their lips when they are about to enjoy eating something. She was lying down on the job. I never do! Be sure to invite him. Refers to a bolt of lightning coming out of a clear blue sky.
Almost always in a negative sense. Live and let live, I always say. Mine prefer to live and let live. Things were very difficult. Live can be replaced by certain other expressions mean- ing to dwell or spend time, as in the examples.
I knew he must have been a success. You look like the cat that swallowed the canary. She looks like the cat that swallowed the cream. Smith seems to lord it over his wife. Keep trying. What was I talking about? I was lost in thought.
She was too upset to see it. It was love at first sight. If I work hard, I can do what I want. From the name of a fairground side- show in which children choose a parcel at random from a tub of bran. Now tell us what happened. She sent Mary out of the room. They are just rude. The economy is very weak. It hurts my feelings. Something is often it.
During your visit, just make yourself at home. Usually said about clothing. They hate each other. Now he plays it all the time. Usually an exaggeration; sometimes humorous. She just avoids him. I always thought that Jane was aggres- sive, but she has finally met her match. Refers to Napoleon at Waterloo. It seems that Bill has met his Waterloo. She had finally met her Waterloo. I had an argument with my daughter this morning.
She hates people to be late. I prefer someone with more middle-of-the- road views. Mind your own business. Let me explain it again.
Some of it is valuable and the rest is worthless. Turn over your exam papers and begin. Money is no object. Money talks. More fool you! You are extremely foolish! This is the title of a play by Shakespeare. The two journeys are much of a muchness. Your secret is safe with me. I knew the boss would sack him. You must sell, sell, sell if you want to make a living.
Joan—who just had a serious car crash—was in the first row of the audience. It must have been made out of spare parts. The someone is often me. He always seems to have plenty of money. I thought that they were doing very well. She never goes to bed before 2 a. Now people never mention it. I like the freedom I have as my own employer. She knows Jack would try to cheat her. No can be replaced with any. From wrestling.
It was a complete waste of time. When I got it back, it was none the worse for wear. Not a bit of it. Not at all. Not a bit. Not a bit, in fact. Not by a long shot. Nothing of the kind! Said of ideas or arguments.
He is not nearly as talented. Usually seen on a sign. Not usually spoken. He refuses to expand the firm and look for new markets. A polite way of being insistent. Please do it over again. She never goes out without wearing a hat and gloves. Usually a way of saying that one person is much older than the other, especially when the difference in age is considered inappropriate.
The job had already been filled. I knew the shop would be shut by then. Smith, who has applied for a position with your company. A formula used to begin a fairy-tale.
His days are numbered. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach at every meal. I only have eyes for you! He only has eyes for Ann. They are playing the national anthem. There are pickpockets around here. You look so serious. On his head be it if the host is annoyed. It probably is minor, however. There is a bear on the loose from the zoo. Smith on the sly. This is done to gain height or to walk quietly. The defendant was caught with the murder weapon. He left a suicide note. I always know what she is going to do next.
They want to save money. Only their friends are supposed to know, but in fact, the whole town knows. Try it the other way round. It belongs the other way round. I have to call someone to fix it. I do not wish to speak further about this mat- ter. Please be more respectful. See the following entry. Please fix it. I got there too late to get a seat. I needed one, and this was all there was. You must be out of your mind! Please put it in the right place on the shelf.
Please get in the queue after Jane. Please sit next to Tom. One is usually paid back this money. Said of a book or peri- odical. Would a blue one do? It might have been Jane who did it. I really went out of the frying-pan into the fire. Then I really got out of the frying-pan into the fire when I lost my job.
I pulled out of the election. Please bring me up to date. How lovely you look—simply out of this world. Often with go. Over my dead body! From betting in horse-racing. She hugged me. It took her hours to prepare. It must have been incredibly expensive. We packed him off last week.
The play really packed them in. She wanted to paddle her own canoe. This refers to a golf-course. She just repeats what her father says, parrot-fashion. Often with come to a, arrive at a, reach a, etc.
He refused to follow the party line. Brown in town yesterday. I stopped and passed the time of day with him. Simpson had to pay his debt to society. Brown paid his debt to society in prison. I think he was paying me a back- handed compliment. Compare with cost the earth. You can- not pick and choose. She can pick and choose from a whole range of suitors. Look here— a piece of cake. She tries to please both of them. Yes, and pigs might f ly. Pipe down! From the dreams or visions induced by the smoking of an opium pipe.
We need all the help we can get. The boss had a very hot temper. They broke up, so now I can have the car this week-end. I succeeded in playing both ends against the mid- dle. Finally she got tired of it and broke up with him. Leave me alone. I hate playing gooseberry. Why do you play hard to get? I caught him and had him arrested.
Keep your cards close to your chest. The on can be replaced by upon. The possum is an opossum. He was just playing possum. As if it were a game or as if it were gambling. I lost a fortune. He wanted others to find him amusing. I think that my eyes are playing tricks on me. It makes him cry. It really aches. He was naughty all day. Pluck up your courage and do it. Often seen in advertising. If oil is poured on to rough seas during a storm, the water will become more calm. It helped to pour oil on trou- bled waters.
Now he looks happy. Smith appears to run the shop, but his brother is the power behind the throne. Why not practise what you preach? Everyone praised it to the skies. She hates city life. From the noun press-gang, a group of sailors employed to seize men and force them to join the navy. Also plural: Pull yourself together.
Usu- ally in the negative. I told her just what I thought of her. From the stops of a pipe-organ. The more that are pulled out, the louder it gets. What do you want me to do, pull one out of thin air? She slapped him. Often negative. He put all his eggs in one basket. She was just putting it on. She really looked mad. It was a wig. Then life becomes more manageable.
Originally said of a horse which was too old to work. I have lots of good years left. I thought it up myself. Mary put me wise to her. Now put it on paper. I hope I can put it over. I go before the board of directors this afternoon, and I hope I can put it over. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! See how you like that! She never thinks for herself. She always does exactly what her mother says. Typ- ically passive. She was too nice to refuse their requests for help. I can speak for myself.
Put your money where your mouth is! Please queue up. Take all the time you want. Go and borrow the book from the library.
Look at it pour! Do you think the game will be rained off? Usually figurative. Does not necessarily refer to written or printed information. Learn to read between the lines. I can read him like a book. I read you like a book. Under the Riot Act of , an assembly of people could be dis- persed by magistrates reading the act to them.
Used literally or fig- uratively. They received us with open arms. She refuses to go to a redbrick university. A red herring is a type of strong-smelling smoked fish that was once drawn across the trail of scent to mislead hunting dogs and put them off the scent. See also draw a red herring. From the colour of the tape used by government departments to tie up bundles of documents.
Try to continue to do great things! I love it. It was my cousin. We have nothing in common any more. From bell-ringing. From testing the qual- ity of metal or glass by striking it and listening to the noise made. Smith died last night, but he was a ripe old age—ninety-nine.
Often a command. Rise and shine! I refuse to risk my neck just to cross the street to download a paper. He was driving too fast.
You will still be in debt. Said by someone who wants the time or the day to arrive sooner than is possible. Usually a command. I get the day off. We hate the snow. We are good friends. From a method of house-training animals. He lost the actual race this afternoon, however. The others were a lap behind. Run for your life! It runs in the family. From a fox-hunt chasing a fox into its hole. I ran myself ragged. They are also frequently asked in competitive exams.
Though the popularity of the idioms may vary from region to region, still the list is rather popular around the globe. Download this idioms list as PDF file. Idiom of the Day dab hand a dab hand at Meaning and Synonyms: Idioms Definition An idiom is a phrase, saying or a group of words that has a metaphorical not literal meaning, which has become accepted in common usage. Top 10 Common Idioms List of top 10 most common English idioms and phrases, with their meaning and examples for students and teachers.
Making spaghetti Bolognese is a piece of cake. The subject of bullying and fighting in my school is a hot potato. I go to visit my grandfather only once in a blue moon; he lives in a remote farm house.
Taking care of my younger sister is no bed of roses; she is very silly. I wanted to go to play outside, but it was raining cats and dogs yesterday. As ones eyesight is precious, so is the person described as the apple o f one's eye.
The phrase as we use it today is a literal translation of a Hebrew expression that occurs five times in the Old Testament. The earliest reference is in Deuteronomy , before BC.
Through the immense influence of the Author ised Version of the Bible it has become common in the English of recent cen turies. Incidentally, there is some doubt that the original Hebrew word tappuah actually means apple - perhaps we should be referring to the apricot, Chinese citron or quince of ones eye!
The war brought its dividends, however. Iran and Syria, the two key players in the hostage saga, who had been regarded as virtual international pariahs fo r their links with terrorism and had no diplomatic relations with Britain, found themselves back on the side o f the angels.
Pallas, Hera and Aphrodite each claimed the apple and a bitter quar rel ensued.
Paris, who was chosen What is an idiom? Language follows rules. If it did not, then its users would not be able to make sense of the random utterances they read or heard and they would not be able to communicate meaningfully themselves.
Grammar books are in effect an account of the regularities of the language, with notes on the minority of cases where there are exceptions to the regular patterns. Nearly all verbs, for example, add an s in the third person singular, present tense he walks, she throws, it appeals. There are obvious exceptions to this basic rule he can, she may, it ought.
One of the interesting things about idioms is that they are anomalies of language, mavericks of the linguistic world. The very word idiom comes from the Greek idios, ones own, peculiar, strange. Idioms therefore break the normal rules.
They do this in two main areas - semantically, with regard to their meaning, and syntactically, with regard to their gram mar. A consideration, then, of the semantic and syntactic elements of idioms leads to an answer to the question What is an idiom?
Meaning The problem with idioms is that the words in them do not mean what they ought to mean - an idiom cannot be understood literally. A bucket is a pail and to k ic k means to move with the foot. Yet to kick the bucket probably does not mean to move a pail with ones foot, it is likely to be understood as to die. The meaning of the whole, then, is not the sum of the meaning of the parts, but is something apparently quite unconnected to them.
To put this another way, idioms are mostly phrases that can have a literal meaning in one context but a totally different sense in another. If someone said Alfred spilled the beans all over the table, there would be a nasty mess for him to clear up. If it were Alfred spilled the beans all over the town , he would be divulging secrets to all who would listen. An idiom breaks the normal rules, then, in that it does not mean what you would expect it to mean.
In fact the idiom is a new linguistic entity with a sense attached to it that may be quite remote from the senses of the individual words that form it. Although it is in form a phrase, it has many of the characteristics of a single word. Grammar The second major way in which idioms are peculiar is with regard to their grammar. There is no idiom that does not have some syntactic defect, that fails to undergo some grammatical operation that its syntactic structure would suggest is appropriate.
Different types of idioms suffer from different restrictions. With a hot dog , the following are not possible: the dog is hot, the heat o f the dog, today's dog is hotter than yesterday's, its a very hot dog today. Yet with the superficially identical phrase a hot sun there is no problem: the sun is hot, the heat o f the sun, today's sun is hotter than yesterdays, it's a very hot sun today. Idioms that include verbs are similarly inflexible in the manipulations that they will permit. For instance, why is it that you cant take the separate parts of to beat about the bush and substitute for them a near synonym?
Theres no way you can say hit about the bush , or beat about the shrub. Nor can you change the definite article to the indefinite - you cant beat about a bush.
Its not possible to make bush plural. Who ever heard of beating about the bushes'? The bush was beaten about is as strange as the passive in the music was faced. Some idioms go further, exhibiting a completely idiosyncratic grammatical structure, such as intransitive verbs apparently with a direct object: to come a cropper, to go the whole hog, to look daggers at. The best examples of idioms, therefore, are very fixed grammatically and it is impossible to guess their meaning from the sense of the words that constitute them.
Not all phrases meet these stringent criteria. Quite often it is possible to see the link between the literal sense of the words and the idiomatic meaning. It is because a route by which many phrases become idioms involves a metaphorical stage, where the original reference is still discernible.
To skate on thin ice, to court danger, is a very obvious figure of speech. The borderline between metaphor and idiom is a fuzzy one. Other idioms allow a wide range of grammatical transformations: my father read the riot act to me when I arrived can become I was read the riot act by my father when I arrived or the riot act was read to me by my father when I arrived. Much more acceptable than the bush was beaten about!
In short, it is not that a phrase is or is not an idiom; rather, a given expression is more or less idiomaticky, on an cline stretching from the normal, literal use of language via degrees of metaphor and grammatical flexibility to the pure idiom.
To take an analogy, in the colour spectrum there is general agreement on what is green and what is yellow but it is impossible to say precisely where one becomes the other. So it is hard to specify where the flexible metaphor becomes the syntactically frozen idiom, with a new meaning all its own. He did not like Harry, his second son, so well. Susan replied that her aunt wanted to put the house in apple pie order. Adam, the apple o f her eye.
For this phrase there is a veritable smorgasbord of international choice: French, Greek and American origins are the main theories.
Two folk corruptions are suggested from the French. The idea of the Old French cap a pie , meaning clothed in armour from head to foot, is that of an immaculately ordered and fully equipped soldier. Other researchers, Brewer included, suggest the idiom may come from the phrase nappe pliee folded linen , which conveys the idea of neatness and tidiness. In the nineteenth century, a learned discussion in Notes and Queries con cluded that in apple-pie order was a cor ruption of in alpha, beta order , i.
Our Transatlantic cousins have also tried to lay claim to the phrase by tracing its origins to New England, where it is said that housewives made pies of unbe lievable neatness, taking much time and trouble to cut the apples into even slices before arranging them just so, layer upon perfect layer, in the crust. The New England story may be true, and Colonial women may indeed have In the hall, drawing-room and dining room everything was always gleaming and solidly in apple-pie order in its right place.
The phrase may be a folk corruption from the French nappe pliee folded cloth. Alternatively, the expression may well refer to an apple turnover, which is a folded piece of pastry just as the sheet is folded over in the bed , with an apple filling in the middle. No boy in any school could have more liberty, even where all the noblemens sons are allowed to make apple pie beds fo r their masters. Sunday's Olivier Awards, under the aus pices o f the Society o f West End Theatre, round o ff the thespian prize-giving season; Matt W olf argues that the ground-rules need to be clarified.
In ancient Rome it was customary to consult an augur or soothsayer before making weighty decisions. Affairs of state and military campaigns were thus decided. The augur would interpret natural phenomena known in the trade as aus pices such as bird flight and bird song, and examine the entrails of victims offered for sacrifice, to make his predic tions. In war, only the commander in chief would have access to this military intelligence from his advisers, so any vic tory won by an officer of lower rank was gained under the good auspices of his commander.
The expressions augur well and augur ill have the same origin. The French dispute therefore boils down to a straight decision between our right to teach and be taught in English, and the French right to set their own teaching stan dard. To side-step this dilemma, a small The mere knowledge that the Americans, under the auspices o f the UN, were serious would, in any case, probably be sufficient to stop the majority o f the fighting.
During the First World War it was used to describe a soldier who was not present for rollcall but was not yet classified as a deserter. At this time, the four letters were pronounced individually but, sometime before the Second World War, the pronunciation aywol became current. For them one recourse is to seek sanctuary, a place o f refuge from 10 the authorities while considering their options. The troops went A W OL to express their complaints about foo d, work, and leave time.
This is a progressively less common practice. The acronym itself is nearly always written in capitals, not in lower case characters. It can now be applied to a range of situations, such as absent husbands, missing office workers, etc.
However, it was published some twenty years after his death and was in fact written by Charles Miner. The story itself clearly draws on Franklins tale. It is about Poor Robert, who is talked into turning the grindstone for a man wanting to sharpen his axe. The story continues: Tickled with the flattery, like a little fool, I went to work, and bitterly did I rue the day.
It was a new ax, and I toiled and tugged, till I was almost tired to death. The school bell rung, and I could not get away; my hands were blistered and it was not half ground.
A t length, however, the ax was sharpened, and the man turned to me with, Now, you little rascal, you've played the truant - scud to school, or you'll rue it.
It sunk deep in my mind, and often have I thought o f it since. Poor Robert concludes with a moral about over-politeness and excessive per suasion: When I see a merchant overpolite to his customers, begging them to taste a little brandy and throwing half his goods on the counter thinks I, that man has an ax to grind.
The true originator of the phrase is undoubtedly Charles Miner, not Ben jamin Franklin. The first essential is to examine the source o f the testimony. Did the person reporting the fact observe it himself? I f so, was he in a position to observe accurately? Had he any motive fo r reporting falsely, or for embellishing what he saw? Was he a axe: to have an axe to grind to have a selfish, usually secret, motive for doing something; to insist upon ones own fixed belief or course of action All the authorities are agreed that the phrase originates in a moral tale of a boy who is flattered by a stranger into sharp ening his axe for him.
The problem comes in deciding which story and which author. The OED and most other etymologists ascribe the phrase to American diplomat Benjamin Franklin, in an article entitled Too Much for your Whistle - his early career was that of a journalist. The story concerns a young man who wants his whole axe as shiny as the cutting edge. The smith agrees to do it - provided that the man turns the grindstone himself. Of course, he soon tires and gives up, realis ing he has bitten off more than he can chew.
A similar story, W holl turn the grind stone? Had he an axe to grind, or was he a propa gandist? You may fear that I am about to use my column inches as a whetstone on which to grind a very private axe, but I can assure you that, so far as I can remember, I have no personal reason to dislike this ludicrous figure.
First evidence that the backroom boys had been active came when he heard from Mr Beltrami that the police were claiming to have fo un d pieces o f paper there. When used with a negative as is often the case , the meaning is impartial, neutral: He made the perfect chairman as he had no axe to grind. The original American spelling of ax is always anglicised.
One o f the back room boys , rather than the simple a back room boy , is the more natural singular form. Backroom is normally one word, unhyphenated. For centuries, catching a greased pig was a popular sport at country fairs. The winner kept the pig, as the prize, and brought home the bacon. Funk quotes the edition of Baileys dic tionary, in which bacon is defined in the narrower context of thieves slang as the Prize, of whatever kind which Robbers make in their Enterprizes. This implies that at the least bring home the bacon would have been understood at that period.
Alternatively, there could be a connec tion with the Dunmow Flitch. In A D I a noblewoman, Juga, wishing to promote marital felicity, proclaimed that a flitch, or side of bacon, should be awarded to any person from any part of England who could humbly kneel on two stones by the church door in Great Dunmow, Essex and swear that for twelve months and a day he has never had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried.
Between backroom boys researchers, scientists, etc. I will tell you. It is the boys in the back room. They do not sit in the limelight but they are the men who do the work. The other detective said, Weve got evi dence you dont know about yet. Y oud be surprised at what the backroom boys can 12 bacon and only eight flitches were bestowed, for as Matthew Prior remarked, Few married folk peck Dunmow-bacon Turtle and Sparrow , Sadly, with the recent closure of the local bacon factory, the custom, revived at the end of the nineteenth cen tury, has ceased.
None of this historical evidence is con clusive, but it is convincing enough to dis count, in all probability, the attribution to Tiny Johnson. Her son, boxer Jack Johnson, defeated James J. Jeffries on July 4, She said after the fight in Reno, Nevada, He said hed bring home the bacon, and the honey boy has gone and done it.
Her use of the idiom may well have popularised it, rather than orig inated it. Many a time I ve given him a tip that has resulted in his bringing home the bacon with a startling story.
There is another connection between back and bacon: it is the pigs back which is usually cured for bacon, while the legs become hams. This said, Brewer suggests the phrase might allude to guarding the bacon stored for the winter months from the household dogs. As the entry to bring home the bacon explains, in the colloquial language of the early s bacon meant prize.
Bailey comments on to save one's bacon : He has him self escaped with the Prize, whence it is commonly used fo r any narrow Escape. Grose in also defined bacon as thieves cant for escape. This third option appears to be the best, and earli est, source for the expression. It was a sad and sober Oswald who that evening beheld the fairy world o f Russian Ballet.
True , he had the check in his pocket. True, he had saved his bacon for the time being, but at what a cost! Some how the glory had faded from the Ballet. Soft Answers, Yes, American women wanted men in whom kindness and aloofness would be so subtly blended that a relationship with them could never become a routine; but they wanted these men in a daydream situation - not as any actual substitute fo r the reliable bringer home o f the bacon.
These pigs could save our bacon. A Euro pean research project into the genes o f pigs to improve breeding, could help to fight human ills. Bakers and other tradesmen such as printers , when not selling direct bandwagon 13 to the public, gave a thirteenth loaf or book to the middleman.
This constituted his profit. The most popular suggestion, however, is that in thirteenth-century England, bakers had a bad reputation for selling underweight loaves. Strict regulations were therefore introduced in to fix standard weights for the various types of bread, and a spell in the pillory could be expected if short weight was given. So bakers would include an extra loaf, called the vantage loaf, with each order of twelve to make sure the law was satisfied.
Such was the medieval bakers unpopu larity that he became the subject of a tra ditional puppet play in which he was shown being hurried into the flames of hell by the devil for keeping the price of bread high and giving short weight.
Mrs Joe has been out a dozen times, look ing fo r you , Pip. A nd shes out now, making it a baker's dozen.
Needless to say, only some of those who jumped on the bandwagon were loyal supporters; others were looking for reward if the candidate were elected.