THE MOST COMMONLY USED IDIOMS IN UNITED STATES PART 1
1. above board – legitimate, legal. She knows it shouldn’t be kept a
secret. She wants to keep everything above board.
2. across the board – including everyone or everything. The
company had a successful year. All salaries were increased by 10%
across the board.
3. air one’s dirty laundry in public – discuss personal problems
openly. He is a very private person. If he has a problem in his family he
doesn’t want to air his dirty laundry in public.
4. all along – all the time. She was accepted into the university, but
she knew all along that she’d get in.
5. all ears – eager to listen. I was excited to hear about her vacation.
When she told me about it, I was all ears.
6. all thumbs – clumsy, unable to fix things. Don’t ask me to put that
clock back together. I’m all thumbs.
7. an arm and a leg – a large amount of money. It cost an arm and a
leg to fix the stove.
8. ants in one’s pants – nervous, anxious. He wasn’t sure if he would
be chosen to win the award. He had ants in his pants.
9. apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, the – being similar to
a parent or family member. He acts just like his father. You know, the
apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
10. apple of one’s eye – someone special, usually a son or daughter.
Although he loves his son, his daughter is the apple of his eye.
11. at fault – responsible for making errors. He is at fault for all the
errors on the computer.
12. at odds – in disagreement. He is at odds with his boss.
13. at one’s beck and call – always ready to do what is ordered.
Whenever she calls him, he’s always helping her. He is at her beck and call.
14. at one’s wit’s end – anxious, frantic. I need to speak with him to
finish the report by tomorrow but he’s not available. I’m at my wit’s end!
15. at the end of one’s rope – desperate, with nowhere to turn. I’ve
tried every which way to figure out this problem but I can’t. I’m at the
end of my rope!
16. back on one’s feet – financially or physically healthy again. Since
sales improved, he is doing better and he’s getting back on his feet.
17. back out of – withdraw, end an obligation or promise. I made a
deal with my friend to help him at work. When I became too busy, I
had to back out of it.
18. back to the drawing board – rethink an idea, need to start
over. When my supervisor told me that our idea would not work, we
had to go back to the drawing board to come up with something else.
19. backbone – courage. He has no backbone because he was afraid to
20. backseat driver – passenger who tells you how to drive. I’ll never
drive Joe to the airport again. He kept on wanting me to take another
road which I knew was wrong. He is such a backseat driver.
21. bail one out – help. Thanks for picking me up when my car broke
down. You really bailed me out of a bad situation.
22. ballpark figure – approximate amount. When I asked the
contractor how much it would be to remodel the kitchen, he gave me a
23. bang for the buck – value for the money spent. Newspaper
advertising works well for us because we get the best bang for the buck.
24. bank on it – be sure of, count on. I’ll be there to help you.
You can bank on it.
25. banker’s hours – short work hours. He loves his job because on
Friday, he gets to work banker’s hours.
26. bark up the wrong tree – make a wrong choice or a false
assumption. If he thinks that I’m going to help him paint his house,
well he’s barking up the wrong tree.
27. bat a thousand – have a perfect record. He is so happy that
everyone he invited to the party is coming. He’s batting a thousand.
28. bat an eyelash – show emotion. He was filled with emotion during
his speech, but she didn’t bat an eyelash.
29. bawl out – reprimand. The team was bawled out after they lost the
30. be beside one’s self – be very upset. I was so mad when I heard
that she was making up stories about me that I was beside myself.
31. beat around the bush – avoid giving a clear answer. I didn’t want
to hurt his feelings and tell him that he wasn’t selected for the team.
So when he asked me if I had any information, I basically beat around
32. beat someone to the punch – do something before someone else
can. She was going to buy the last red dress that the store had, but I
beat her to the punch and bought it first.
33. beat the rap – escape punishment. There was not enough evidence
to convict him, so he beat the rap and was set free.
34. behind the 8-ball – in trouble. My department is late on its
deadline. We are behind the 8-ball.
35. bend over backwards – try very hard. He’ll bend over backwards
to help any of his friends.
36. bide one’s time – wait patiently for the right opportunity. I’m just
going to bide my time. I know that eventually a position will open.
37. big shot – important person. Since he was given a promotion, he’s
been acting like a big shot.
38. big stink – an angry and loud complaint. She made a big stink when
her meal was served cold.
39. birds and bees – facts about sex and birth. The girl’s mother told
her daughter about the birds and the bees during the summer holidays.
40. bit off more than one can chew – trying to do more than one
can physically and mentally handle. I told her I would help her in her
job, but it seems that’s all I’ve been doing lately. I think I bit off more
than I could chew.
41. bite one’s tongue – keep oneself from speaking. I had to bite my
tongue in order not to tell him that he won the raffle.
42. bite the dust – die, disappear. Our old TV didn’t work yesterday. I
guess it finally bit the dust.
43. blab – talk too much. She is always blabbing about her supervisor’s
personal life to her friends.
44. blabbermouth – person who talks too much and tells secrets. He
is such a blabbermouth that there is no way Bob will be surprised for
45. black sheep – a family member with a bad reputation. John’s way of
life is so different from all of ours. He is known as the black sheep
of the family.
46. blind date – a date arranged for two people who don’t know each
other. Many married couples have met on a blind date.
47. blow it – lose a chance, make a mistake. I knew I blew it when I
forgot my lines in the play.
48. blow over – end, pass. She knew her coworkers will eventually
forget how she messed up the filing system in the office. She couldn’t
wait for the incident to blow over.
49. blow the whistle – expose, betray. I just found out that he’s
been stealing from our company for the past year. I don’t want it to
continue and I’ve decided to blow the whistle.
50. boil down – make shorter, condense. This whole complicated
situation just boils down to something simple…it’s either a yes or a no.
51. bomb – fail, be unsuccessful. The whole cast was very sad that the
show bombed on Broadway.
52. bone to pick with someone – complaint, argument. I heard that
you have rejected my proposal. I’m upset and have a bone to pick with you.
53. boob tube – television set. What is on the boob tube tonight?
54. bookworm – person who reads a lot. The library is the perfect place
for her to work because she is such a bookworm.
55. booze – liquor – They kept bottles of booze behind the bar.
56. botch up – make a mistake, ruin. I asked for her help with my
watercolor painting. But when she decided to add some purple paint, I
knew that she completely botched it up.
57. bottom line – end result, ultimate cause. He never practiced the
piano, so the bottom line is, he can’t play very well.
58. bounce – not acceptable because of insufficient funds in the bank. If
your check bounces, I will need to charge you extra money.
59. brain – intelligent person. She is such a brain, she will figure out
how to solve the problem.
60. brainstorm – very smart idea. I have got a brainstorm! Let’s start
giving out free samples of our products.
61. bread and butter – basic needs of life (food, shelter, clothing ).
The voters are worried about bread and butter issues like jobs and taxes.
62. break one’s neck – try very hard. She broke her neck last night
trying to finalize the proposal.
63. break the ice – overcome formality or shyness with others. He
started the meeting by telling a joke. He was hoping the joke would
break the ice.
64. break the news – tell a surprising fact. She broke the news and told
him that she was going to move to another city.
65. break up – separate. They needed to break up their engagement
because she fell in love with someone else.
66. break even – have expenses equal to profits. The company did not
make a profit this year. We just broke even.
67. breathe a word – tell. Please don’t breathe a word of this
68. breeze – easy. Last night’s homework was a breeze.
69. bring home the bacon – earn the family’s income. He stays home
and raises the children and she brings home the bacon.
70. broke – having no money. I can’t go to the restaurant tonight
because I’m broke.
71. brown bag – bring one’s lunch from home. For the meeting on
Friday, we’ve all decided to brown bag it.
72. buck – dollar. I’m low this week on cash. Can I borrow a few bucks
to get me through the week?
73. buckle down – study or work very hard. Last semester his grades
were very low, so this year he decided to buckle down.
74. buddy-buddy – very friendly. She’s gotten to be very buddy-buddy
with her boss.
75. bug – annoy, bother. It bugs me every time he asks to borrow a pencil.
76. bulldoze – intimidate, coerce. I did not want to work on the
fundraising committee, but I feel I was bulldozed into it
77. bum – worthless person. As long as I have known him, he never worked and always borrowed from other people. He is such a bum!
78. burn a hole in one’s pocket – money to be spent quickly. The
bonus he received must have burned a hole in his pocket. He ended up
buying a car the next day.
79. bury the hatchet – make peace. Although we had gotten into
a big fight last month, we decided to bury the hatchet and become
80. butt in – interfere. Please don’t butt in to our conversation, it’s
81. butter up – flatter for selfish reasons. I buttered up my boss before I
asked him off for the upcoming holiday.
82. by hook or by crook – by any means necessary. Even though we
have to fly to get to your wedding , we will be there by hook or by crook.
83. by the skin of one’s teeth – by a very small margin. Our team
won by the skin of our teeth.
84. call it quits – stop, finish. I have worked all day and am exhausted.
I‘ve decided to call it quits.
85. call off – cancel. The game was called off because of rain.
86. call on the carpet – reprimand. He was called on the carpet for
losing all the financial statements.
87. call someone’s bluff – have someone prove what he says. I don’t
think Bob knows as much as he says. I think we should call his bluff.
88. call the shots – be in charge, give orders. We knew who the
supervisor was because she called all the shots.
89. can – fire, dismiss. I was canned and no longer am working for the
90. can of worms – complex problem or complicated situation. It
opened up a large can of worms when the company decided to talk
about the union contract.
91. carried away – adversely influenced by strong emotion. He was
carried away by his effective sales approach and bought the remainder
of his products.
92. catch on – understand, figure out. I am beginning to catch on to
93. catch someone red-handed – find one in the act of doing
something wrong. The police came and the bank robber was caught
94. caught short – I didn’t have enough money to pay the bill. I was
95. chalk up – record, score. Chalk up another one for the team. They
won the championship.
96. change of heart – a change in the way one feels about something.
I wasn’t planning to spend the holidays with my family, but after
speaking with my mother, I had a change of heart.
97. chickenfeed – a small amount of money. Taking the whole family
on that cruise is certainly not going to be chickenfeed.
98. chip in – contribute. We are all going to chip in and give the teacher a gift.
99. chip off the old block – child who looks or acts just like his or
her parent. He reminds me so much of his father. He’s a chip off
the old block.
100. chip on one’s shoulder – quarrelsome attitude, quick to anger. I
was afraid to ask her for a favor. It looked like she had a chip
on her shoulder.
101. cinch – easy. Adding and subtracting was always a cinch.
102. clamp down – become stricter. Because he came home from the
party so late, his father said he will start to clamp down on his curfew.
103. clean up – make a big profit. Since he started his new business, he’s
really cleaning up.
104. clear – go through. When will this check clear my bank?
105. clear the air – calm anger and remove misunderstanding. We
were tired of fighting , so we decided to start talking and clear the air.
106. close shave – narrow escape. It was a close shave getting out of the
107. coast is clear – no enemy is in sight. Take the present out of the
closet when the coast is clear.
108. come a long way – make great progress. He came a long way in his
recovery from surgery.
109. come across – find or meet by chance. If you come across any
pictures of my friends from high school, let me know.
110. come apart at the seams – be upset and lose control. I almost
came apart at the seams when I saw the taxicab hit my car.
111. come clean – tell the truth. I came clean when I knew I was
caught in a lie.
112. come hell or high water – no matter what happens. Come hell
or high water, I’ll for sure be at that meeting.
113. come off it – stop kidding , boasting or making believe. Herbert
said he was the only one who could do the job. I told him to come off it.
114. come on strong – overwhelm with excessively strong language or
personality. The car salesman came on too strong and angered my wife.
115. come through with flying colors – succeed, win, exceed.
When he graduated with honors, it was evident that he came through
with flying color.
116. comeback – to be successful again. The actress made an outstanding
comeback on the stage, after her bout with pneumonia.
117. con – lie, swindle, trick. His boss conned him into working on the
weekend for no pay.
118. cook someone’s goose – create big problems for someone. He
knew that when he was caught in a lie his goose was cooked.
119. cough up – give money unwillingly, give up a secret. You said that
you would help pay for their wedding. Well, it’s been three months –
cough it up.
120. count on – rely on, trust. I could always count on my best friend.
121. cover for someone – protect someone. Please cover me, if I end
up not knowing what to say at the meeting.
122. crack down – The police are beginning to crack down on teenagers
who are out too late at night.
123. cream of the crop – the best of a group, top-choice. This
university only accepts the cream of the crop.
124. creeps, the – fear, uneasiness. It gives me the creeps every time I
pass the strange looking house.
125. crocodile tears – show of sorrow that is not really felt. He cried
crocodile tears when he discovered that he couldn’t go to the meeting.
126. crop up – happen quickly without warning. I had to stay at work late
yesterday. Some new work cropped up.
127. cross one’s mind – think of, occur quickly to someone. It did not
cross my mind to thank her for my birthday card.
128. cut corners – limit one’s buying. She was way over budget for the
wedding , so she needed to cut corners.
129. cut down on – use less, reduce. My doctor wants me to cut
down on sugar.
130. cut the mustard – succeed, do well enough what needs to be done.
He wasn’t able to cut the mustard so he had to leave the army after only
131. cut out – have talent for, be suited for. She is not cut out for the
swim team. She’s too slow.
132. cut someone down to size – prove someone is not as good as he
or she thinks. John thought he was the smartest student in the class.
We needed to cut him down to size.
133. dawn on – become clear, begin to understand. It finally dawned on
me that I missed our anniversary.
134. dead-end job – position with no future. He decided to go back to
college because he realized he had a dead- end job.
135. dig up – find, recall, discover. Have you dug up any information on
the new employee?
136. dime a dozen – common, easily obtained. Those shiny stones are
not worth anything. They are a dime a dozen.
137. dish out – criticize, abuse, scold – Sometimes he’s nasty and
insulting. He can really dish out.
138. dive – disreputable, low class bar or nightclub. I did not like where he
brought me last night. It was a real dive.
139. do the trick – be successful, achieve a good result. The recipe
needs a little help. I think salt may do the trick.
140. do without – live without something. When the television broke, I
knew that I could do without it for a week or two.
141. doctor it up – fix temporarily. The hem on the dress ripped. I
doctored it up with some tape.
142. double check – reinvestigate thoroughly, look again for errors.
This column does not add up. I will double check it for a mistake.
143. double-cross – betray. I cannot double-cross my best friend.
144. dough – money. He makes a lot of dough.
145. down and out – having no money, no success. Although he was
successful a few years ago, today I hear he’s down and out.
146. down in the dumps – unhappy. She’s been down in the dumps ever
since she lost her job.
147. down the drain – wasted, lost. I don’t like to throw my money
down the drain.
148. down to earth – having good sense, practical. My fiancée is
friendly and sensible. She’s very down to earth.
149. draw the line – set the limit. He sets an early curfew for his
children. He draws the line at 10:00 PM.
150. dress up – wear one’s best clothing. We need to dress up for this