Choosing the best phrase for a particular context or meaning.

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44
votes
12answers
4k views

What's the English equivalent of the Japanese saying, “A fart ruins 100 days of sermons by the priest (bishop)”?

I was amused by the expression "Paid a penny and only farted" (related by @FumbleFingers), which suggested a similar Japanese saying: 大山鳴動鼠一匹 - "Find only a small mouse coming out after hearing ...
22
votes
6answers
2k views

Are “Fish in a barrel” and “Sitting ducks” similar?

Do the phrases "Fish in a barrel" and "Sitting ducks" convey the same thing? In my opinion, they have the same tone and express something to be an easy target. Eg: Out there, they are just fish in ...
15
votes
18answers
1k views

Term for “will consume time and almost certainly yield nothing”

Can anyone point to an eloquent word or term that means "will consume time and almost certainly yield nothing"? Could be used in response to: I'm going to have one of the developers contact ...
15
votes
14answers
810 views

An expression for trying to futilely apply old methods that once worked

We are looking for an expression that captures this idea: When someone tries to adapt an old way of doing something, holding on to the original core of their process, in a futile way, instead of ...
15
votes
7answers
3k views

Expression for someone who doesn't like to eat

Is there an expression for a person who eats very little, doesn't like eating, avoids it? I don't mean the medical condition of anorexia, I mean a common preference, like kids who need a lot of ...
13
votes
8answers
14k views

When do you use “Cheers” instead of “Thank you” in spoken English?

A lot of time, people say "cheers" instead of "thank you". As I am not a native speaker, I wonder in which case you can use what. It is used a lot for polite gestures, such as holding a door or ...
12
votes
10answers
2k views

Is there a term I can use for a boss's favorite employee?

Over dinner tonight, one of the guests was describing herself as her boss's favorite employee, and asked for a term to describe this. As the only guest who spoke English as a first language, the ...
12
votes
10answers
2k views

Alternative expression for “bang for your buck”

I have been hearing the expression "bang for you buck" many times a day and I find myself distracted when I or others use it. In an effort to be an attentive listener, what is a good alternative ...
11
votes
9answers
137k views

Any other good way of saying “Happy Birthday”?

Quite a few of my friends are having their birthdays in the coming weeks. I feel a little awkward posting plain words like "Happy Birthday" on their Facebook pages. I've decided I should come up with ...
11
votes
4answers
641 views

“Who is that for?”

Showing a baby bottle to my son I ask him "Who's that for?", obviously waiting for a "That's for me!" answer (which turns out to be just "Me!") But I am not a native speaker and I kind of translate ...
11
votes
5answers
28k views

“Please advise” — why is this a common turn of phrase for foreign speakers of English?

I was just browsing through StackOverflow just now, and randomly hit on this question, where the question-asker signed off his request with a "please advise." Certain I'd heard this turn of phrase ...
11
votes
7answers
448 views

What is the verb for developing a chip on one's shoulder? [closed]

I want to say that an individual has a chip on their shoulder, but a month ago, they did not. Did they "raise a chip on their shoulder", as might be inferred from the first cited history of the ...
9
votes
4answers
1k views

What does the most common usage of 'Korea' mean in modern-day English-speaking world?

On Meta.Travel.SE, we have a debate whether our 'Korea' tag should be mapped to 'South Korea'. One of the answers - from the moderator who made the synonym mapping - is that common usage of the word ...
8
votes
10answers
3k views

“You get what you deserve nothing more nothing less”

In this world we reside, what we acquire depends on what we can acquire. In other words, if we have the money to, we can buy a house; if we have the necessary educational qualifications to, we can get ...
7
votes
7answers
30k views

Should I say “have a good night” at 5:00 PM?

We're off work at 5:00PM. I've never tried to say "have a good night" at this time of day. In fact, I wouldn't even say it at all unless I'd like to say it to someone who is heading to bed. When I'm ...
5
votes
3answers
418 views

What is the behavior where one closes their nose with their lips to elude foul odour called?

I have seen this question, and it is not exactly what I'm asking. Sometimes people (most especially in developing countries) raise the tip of their lips to cover their nose when a foul odour is sensed ...
5
votes
5answers
859 views

Is there another way of saying “less is more”?

Is there another way of saying “less is more" in the following context? They changed their packaging and left only the essential branding on it. It epitomizes "less is more".
5
votes
5answers
127 views

a phrase for “to lure and chop a turtle's head”

There must be a similar phrase in English, meaning to lure the target from protection (like turtle's shell) or hiding, in order to capture or kill it. My English dictionary gives "draw a snake out of ...
5
votes
5answers
4k views

Difference between “meant to” and “supposed to”

Those two expressions have close meaning: He is not meant to do this He is not supposed to do this What is the difference between them, and when I should use one or the other?
5
votes
2answers
52 views

How suffixes like -ness and -ship are chosen when forming abstract nouns?

In some programming situations I came across making up abstract nouns to give name to an information that indicates some quality. Eg. if the quality is orange one may be tempted to form the word ...
4
votes
3answers
575 views

Is “many fewer combinations” correct?

Is the expression "many fewer combinations" correct? It only gets about 600 hits on Google, against 1,200 for "a lot fewer combinations". What would be a correct way of expressing the idea contained ...
4
votes
2answers
557 views

Is the expression 'more alike' awkward or does it work in an interface?

I want to create a button on an interface that will show me more items (cars) of the same kind (or similar in characteristics). I was thinking of 'more like this' but this is a bit too long and the ...
4
votes
5answers
333 views

Synonym or equal phrase to “merely philosophical”

When something is bound to be of little substance, or the discussion of it surely only giving rise to opinion or sophistry, sometimes the phrase "merely philosophical" is used. In this article I'm ...
4
votes
3answers
106 views

Term for when someone gets overly pepped up and thinks he/she can do anything

What is it called when someone gets encouraged by people around him/her or gets pepped up by the atmosphere around to the extent that he or she gets a wrong impression about his/her powers and ...
4
votes
4answers
448 views

What's the logical fallacy where people dismiss what you say as irrelevant to the real-world?

Quite often I see derision about ideas by people who label them as 'too academic'. Often this appears to result from laziness or an unwillingness to stretch their thinking. What's the logical ...
4
votes
4answers
2k views

“Both which” or “both of which”

"This can be done using the technique of Peters, and using the technique of Matthews, both which involve mathematics" Having searched both which and both of which in Google, it appears both of which ...
4
votes
1answer
102 views

Who coined the term 'affluent society'?

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, in 1957 used the term 'affluent society' to describe the rising prosperity in Britain in those years. Does anyone know of any earlier reference to the term?
3
votes
5answers
271 views

Short expression for “If you are not 100% convinced yet, this last thing will seal the deal”

I'm writing a LinkedIn recommendation for a colleague of mine. I praised his abilities far and wide; now I would like to throw in one last (ironic and informal) punch line to top it all off. Here is ...
3
votes
2answers
2k views

Shut your mouth

I’m confused regarding these expressions: Shut up Shut your mouth Shut your mouth up Shut up your mouth After some research, I’ve come to believe they are all correct except “Shut ...
3
votes
3answers
281 views

How to describe “choose to do something by one's own willing”

For example, there is a course (say French course), for students in a college. The students can take it, but they don't have to. Someone, who is not a student in that college, thinks that this course ...
3
votes
4answers
914 views

How can I rephrase “enough rope to shoot yourself in the foot”?

Some time ago I have a read a very famous book of Allen I. Holub "Enough rope to shoot yourself in the foot" (this book on openlibrary.org). I have read it in Russian and the book was titled with ...
3
votes
2answers
753 views

How to check phrasing and word choices?

I'm a native french speaker, and even though i think i have a rather good level in english, i always try to keep an open mind (i learned english by absorbing from a lot of sources: tv, movies, video ...
3
votes
2answers
751 views

“take the initiative” vs “make the initiative”

What is the difference between "taking the initiative" and "making the initiative"? Context : I recently sent an email asking advice on whether I should "take the initiative to contact professor X". ...
3
votes
6answers
1k views

How can I say “not any time soon, but it won't take a long time either”?

I was writing an email to a client about a feature we plan to eventually release, maybe in a couple months, but they want some of the functionality now. I initially wrote: If there's something ...
3
votes
1answer
712 views

Used since sometime in the past until now (and still continuing)

How can I express that something has been used for a while and is still being used? …used a xyz system that has been in daily use for several years. I'm not sure whether this expresses that the ...
3
votes
1answer
100 views

If I go to a Language School, do I go to school?

My friend, aged 21, has just started taking classes at a language school, and will shortly be doing 4 hours each weekday there. It feels very odd to be saying "How's school going?" – we finished ...
3
votes
1answer
517 views

“Trust arrives walking and departs riding.”

That is the translation (provided by Wikiquote) of the Dutch proverb "Vertrouwen komt te voet en vertrekt te paard." I don't like this translation very much for conversational use. It doesn't "feel" ...
3
votes
1answer
119 views

Is absence of the person needed in “On someone's behalf”?

In the middle of a conversation he had with my father, [Mr. X] asked him: “What does your son want to do in future?”. “He wants to do religious studies,” my father replied. He talked on my behalf ...
3
votes
1answer
213 views

Can “Call it a career” be applied only to celebrities and successful people?

I saw the idiom, “Call it a career” in the article of New York times (May 12) announcing Barbara Waters’ planned retirement in 2014: ...
3
votes
2answers
221 views

What's the act of darkening windows to disallow visibility?

What's the word to describe the act of darkening windows to disallow visibility from outside yet visibility from inside to outside is possible? I was thinking of tinting, to tint a window, but ...
3
votes
2answers
121 views

Question mark with your hands [closed]

How do you call a gesture of spreading one's hands and turning them palms up to suggest a question? As in "what did you just do, man? That was so weird that left me speechless, so I had to raise my ...
2
votes
8answers
7k views

What do you call a person who motivates or inspires?

My choices so far: motivational source inspirational source source of motivation source of inspiration Being a non-native speaker, I don't know which one to use. What I want to say is that ...
2
votes
3answers
1k views

On the difference between “noun + infinitive” and “noun + present participle”

Infinitive and present participle can be used to modify the noun: Infinitive: I had no time to read those books. Present participle: There should be a law banning abortion. In (1), ...
2
votes
2answers
233 views

Almost half a dozen [closed]

I understand, dozen may be more comfortable than twelve in speech. I can understand using over a dozen or almost a dozen These imply rough measurement of the count, maybe ten, maybe eleven, or maybe ...
2
votes
3answers
168 views

One word to say to someone who's being in a state they're usually not (or doing something they never did)?

In my native language, there is a singe word to say to someone who apparently are doing something they never did before, or being in state they never were before. Like: Mr. X had always been late. ...
2
votes
5answers
295 views

Expression for “resource paralysis” - can't do anything because you have too much?

Is there any word, expression or proverb for the condition or state where you can't do anything because you have too much? I have heard a professor of English refer to this as "resource paralysis" ...
2
votes
2answers
783 views

Expression that means “as soon as something is finished”

I am looking for an expression that means "right after finishing something, start something". For some reason, the words "fresh off the heels" keep springing up but I googled them and it's not an ...
2
votes
3answers
263 views

Is “iterative cycle” a tautology?

If something is iterative, it means it repeats. A cycle is also something that is repeated. So is "iterative cycle" tautological — a redundant way of saying "iteration"? For example: We ...
2
votes
5answers
316 views

How to describe “working steadily and slowly is treated as stubborn”

It is not uncommon that those who prefer to work or learn in a solid and therefore usually slow way are being called as stubborn, and those in a fast-pacing but non-solid way as smart. I wonder how ...
2
votes
1answer
64 views

What is the verb for “Glossary”?

Some software I am using has got the word "Glossarise" in it, which baffles me immensely. My spell checker hates it but googling for the word returns results for sites like Urban Dictionary but no ...