Idioms are a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.

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6k views

How did the phrase “much of a muchness” come to be?

This is a great way of saying that two things are so similar that there is no significant difference between them. I'm sure there are many more and thought this might make a great community wiki. ...
13
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4answers
20k views

What is the reasoning for the idiom “in and of itself” having the meaning it has?

"In and of itself" is a phrase I find myself using all the time. But in and of itself, the phrase "in and of itself" has no meaning. That is, the individual words don't seem to contribute to the whole ...
12
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5answers
4k views

What does “What price [noun]?” mean?

I've come across phrases like "What price freedom?" a lot. I speak British English and it doesn't read nicely to me. It seems some words are missing. Does it mean "What is the price of X?"? Where did ...
6
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3answers
8k views

Does “Perfect Storm” have a positive meaning?

English is not my mother tongue. I've read an article with these sentences. I have no idea if the phrase "perfect storm" is supposed to be positive or negative. “Social gaming is sitting on ...
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7answers
13k views

Who were the 'pros from Dover'?

I was reading Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy this morning, and he compares his characters to the 'pros from Dover'. This was a phrase that I also remember hearing in the movie M*A*S*H - so it seems to be ...
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1answer
2k views

Where does “to keep fingers crossed” come from?

When someone says they keep their fingers crossed, it means they wish or hope for a good outcome for someone or something. Where does this idiom originate from? Why do people fold their one finger on ...
1
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4answers
783 views

Expression for “medium difficult”?

In my game, I have three levels of difficulty, each represented by an icon. Of course, each level is also indicated by a word; the icons are there just to spice things up, and as a visual pun. Easy ...
11
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6answers
56k views

“Good night” or “good evening”?

If it's 7:30pm, which of these phrases is correct, Good night or Good evening?
3
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3answers
16k views

What does “dead as a door nail” mean?

What does dead as a door nail mean? Is it used in set phrases, or is it normally used in any context?
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2answers
5k views

“In God We Trust” vs. “We Trust in God”

A colleague of mine asked me what is the importance of word order in phrase "In God We Trust" And I could not answer. Is it a shame? Update: Would it be correct English to write: In God - we ...
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6answers
12k views

What does “change one's stripes” exactly mean?

I found a phrase in the headline of today’s Washington Post article (Feb. 14) that reads "Mubarak loyalists change stripes to fit into the new Egypt." Though I interpreted the meaning of change one’s ...
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3answers
673 views

What does “trigger-happy on broken windows” mean?

What does this expression mean: to be "trigger-happy on broken windows"
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1answer
927 views

I'll say at farewell or at last?

Which of the following would be more comprehensible to say in English: At last I'll tell? At farewell I'll say? The Last word? as the title in song А напоследок я скажу (words by Bella ...
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4answers
7k views

Is the expression “done right” proper grammar?

Suppose I have the sentence: "This is a website done right." It sounds wrong, but I cannot find any grammatical rules that confirm my suspicions. Am I just crazy or is that improper grammar?
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4answers
9k views

What is the origin of the phrase “hard and fast rule?”

I just used this phrase in answering another question, only to realize that I didn't know its origin and it is usually used in the negative, as in "..it's not a hard and fast rule, but..." I'd ...
5
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2answers
15k views

Explain the choice of the verb “dip” in “dip your lights”

Does the phrase "dip your lights" mean to turn them off or something else? Why is the word dip used? Quote: If you drive with your headlights on full beam in fog, the light will just reflect back ...
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2answers
2k views

Which is the correct idiom: “Force of habit” or “course of habit”?

Which is correct, "course of habit" or "force of habit"? (This question is inspired by this post on the woot forums.)
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2answers
10k views

Where does “Look yourself in the mirror” come from?

Where does "unable to look myself in the mirror" come from? related example: ...I asked her what she does if after six months or so it becomes obvious that a salesperson is not bringing in ...
3
votes
2answers
1k views

“Hot Diggity …”

Ok, perhaps the last one was too easy :) Here's one that a friend of mine uses, and I'd love to know if it's something he coined, or is it a more common expression than I think: Hot diggity-dag-...
5
votes
4answers
8k views

Are people being literal when they say “I like to think that …”?

Sometimes people start a sentence with I like to think that. I like to think that my business plan will attract investors. Are they being literal? In other words, are they stating that they ...
6
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3answers
2k views

What is the origin of the “Dear John” letter?

You might receive one of these when you are getting dumped by your erstwhile partner. I don't think it is a coincidence that the a recent movie called Dear John includes a Dear John letter as one of ...
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5answers
5k views

What is the meaning of “I've gotten over __ recently”?

I came across the phrase "I've gotten over [tool] recently" in an article written by someone who had tested the tool. From the article's context, it seemed that the author was not particularly fond of ...
6
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4answers
2k views

Idiom for “very little, compared to real value”?

Norwegian has an idiom that means roughly "small change compared to the real cost or value", which would translate literally as "buttons and scraps". Is there a similar idiom in English? Some usage ...
7
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2answers
4k views

Where / how did the term “sell them down the river” originate?

In a meeting today a colleague used the phrase, "We don't want to sell them down the river." It is my understanding that to sell one down the river is to trick or deceive a person in order to gain ...
3
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2answers
10k views

“Take your ball and go home” - meaning of this odd phrase?

On a business website regarding the takeover of a radio station, I noticed this unusual phrase: Can't really see Orion Media changing Gold much, unless Global take their ball home and say that if ...
2
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2answers
2k views

'As I heard' vs. 'When I heard'

Which of the following sentences is correct English, and why? As I heard that Greenday got a new CD, I went to the store to buy it. As soon as I heard that Greenday got a new CD, I went to ...
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2answers
2k views

Touch the blue paper

I have recently heard that phrase (touch the blue paper) from a native English speaker¹. Is it an erroneous alteration of the expression light the blue touchpaper or is it a correct² phrase in its own ...
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5answers
38k views

What does the British idiom “taking the piss” mean?

I most recently heard this in the context of a business deal: Sorry gents, looks like we'll be taking the piss on that one. I understood that the business had suffered a financial loss, although ...
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3answers
2k views

Why is “ass” considered obscene?

Spam filters replace obscene "Ass" for "butt" Meanwhile, in literature, newspaper articles, forum posts, sayings, proverbs, etc. I am encountering many more expressions with ass but not with butt. ...
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2answers
223 views

And lead raptivity captive

What do raptivity and "And lead raptivity captive" mean?
7
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3answers
454 views

How to determine if a “[something] fighter” fights for or against [something]?

In freedom fighter the fighter supports freedom. In fire fighter the fighter fights fire. How do you determine when it is the first or the second case? What is the meaning of spam fighter? @...
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3answers
697 views

“indulger of” vs. “indulger in”

A person can indulge in something. Is he therefore an indulger of something or an indulger in something? Are both okay? If both are okay, is there any difference between these two phrases or are ...
6
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3answers
1k views

What does “strike home” mean?

What does "strike home" mean in this sentence?: "This example ought to strike home for you"
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3answers
89k views

Does the casual use of “a la ___” in English preserve the French meaning?

In English, we use a la carte and a la mode, but it is also common for people to add their own word to the basic construction. For example, one might comment on someone's dancing: He showed us ...
9
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3answers
10k views

Why is it “I better not (+verb)” instead of “I better don’t (+verb)”?

This question will seem weird to a native speaker because “I better don’t” sounds inherently wrong and unusual. But if you think about it, it’s an irregularity; normally when a verb is negated and ...
3
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2answers
302 views

Is “you've coming from” a colloquialism?

In the Take That song, Never Forget, the lyrics run "Never forget where you've coming from". Was that a mistake, or is it a colloquialism (or something else) to say "you've" instead of "you're" in ...
4
votes
1answer
421 views

Can the word 'BFF' be applied to decent adults like Senate members?

The beginning lines of today’s New York Times article titled “As State of the Union Nears, Congress Plays Musical Chairs” provided me with a set of interesting acronym, word, and idiom new to me, such ...
12
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5answers
15k views

What is the origin of the phrase “'til the cows come home”?

What is the origin of the term 'til the cows come home? While discussing this with friends tonight, the group had two possible explanations: Cows return to their barn for milking at a given time ...
2
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2answers
888 views

What's the deep meaning in the lyrics of “Heavy Traffic” by Elton John? [closed]

In the lyrics, some pieces I couldn't understand very well: Shakey wake up thirsty from a night in the bar And snake hips Joe is Mr. Cool What's snake hips? And, does the name Joe have a ...
11
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2answers
2k views

How should I pluralise “as is”?

Let’s say I write: “Just send me these documents as is”. Is that correct? Should it be pluralised into “as are”, which sounds so wrong to me? Or are they both incorrect, in which case I may write “as ...
4
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3answers
488 views

What is a “Mexican Ultimatum”?

This is a term I read recently, but I didn't understand what it meant. I can't remember the exact context except that it had nothing whatever to do with Mexico. Edit: ElendilTheTall suggests this ...
9
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3answers
513 views

Why one place on stack exchange is called “area51”?

Why this place on stack exchange is called "area51"? Is it a special idiom in English for some places where things are being developed? Does 51 have some special meaning besides being just a number?
41
votes
4answers
256k views

“Worse comes to worst” or “worst comes to worst”

Which is correct: worse comes to worst or worst comes to worst? The former seems more logical but the latter is what appears in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
5
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4answers
8k views

Is it “If money were not an object” or “If money were not an option”?

The phrase "If money were not an option" is often used to mean "Don't worry about how much it would cost". However, I just noticed that the last word, option, makes it sound like saying "If spending ...
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vote
3answers
708 views

What is “the hottest seat/seed in town”?

What is "the hottest seat/seed in town"? I am not sure if it's a seed or seat or something else. I heard it a few times on "CNN" when a new upcoming "Larry King Live" program was being advertised. ...
30
votes
6answers
52k views

Why is it “on *the* one hand”?

According to all dictionaries I can see and everyday use by native speakers, this is the correct way: On the one hand, it's larger; on the other hand, it's more expensive. What makes no sense to ...
10
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4answers
34k views

“Time is of the essence”… of what?

I'm having a hard time understanding the purpose or meaning of the definite article, the in the common phrase, Time is of the essence. My first thought is that it refers to the task that is time-...
4
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4answers
4k views

What does the expression 'Do the fish' mean?

I just recently heard this expression and couldn't quite figure out its meaning from the context, unless it means something like "take the bait." Is this a common expression? Is it perhaps an ...
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2answers
5k views

What is “what are you on about?” on about?

I live in Florida, and somehow picked up this phrase recently. I use it to mean, "About what are you making such a fuss?," either because I can't understand what is the big deal or because I genuinely ...
3
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1answer
2k views

Sun shining up a dog’s arse?

There used to be (probably still is) a saying that had the sun shining up a dog’s arse ocasionally. Can you remind be how it went?