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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Proper use of “out to lunch”, “out for lunch” and “out at lunch”

Recently a co-worker and I debated the proper use of "out to lunch". The argument stemmed from conversation over the appropriate preposition to use, and became particularly heated when we tried to ...
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3answers
1k views

What does “step up” mean?

Japan steps up cooling operation. This is from BBC.
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6answers
5k views

Alternatives to “skating on thin ice”

The idiom skating on thin ice to express that a person is performing an action that has a great risk is commonplace. What are some good alternatives, both common and uncommon or possibly regional?
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6answers
1k views

In which countries is that “long time no see” greeting common?

I used to hear this greeting several times a day when in Singapore. In other English-speaking countries, is this idiomatic expression known, do people consider it funny, or just a terrible ...
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1answer
10k views

Difference between phrase and idiom

What is the difference between a phrase and an idiom?
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4answers
5k views

Is “Thank god”, as opposed to “Thank God”, acceptable?

People are quite stingy lately about anything with religious connotations, so I'm worried that the phrase "thank God" might tick some people off. Is "thank god" acceptable? Would that offend people ...
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5answers
17k views

Where did the saying “Bite the dust” come from?

Hypothetical example usage: "Another one bites the dust." He said as he watched another building burn to the ground. It just means that something is destroyed. What does biting dust have to do ...
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3answers
22k views

“What's not to love?”

What do people really mean when they say "what's not to love"? Is there any context in particular to use this?
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7answers
17k views

Is “below par” good or bad?

I realize a lot of English expressions derive from sports: "his presentation was a slam-dunk," "she really fumbled through that," or "that's pretty much par for the course." I don't play golf, but I ...
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3answers
33k views

What does “if nothing else” mean?

I understand the meaning of "if nothing else" in sentence A, but couldn't understand the meaning in sentence B. A. "I will go to library this afternoon if nothing else to do." B. "Google argues that ...
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2k views

Pink elephants when drunk

It's a common proverb that you would see pink elephants if you drink to much. In particular there is a quite memorable scene from Disney's 1941 "Dumbo" where Dumbo and his mouse companion receive a ...
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6answers
23k views

Why do we say “last night” and not “yesterday night”?

As from object, is there a rational reason for saying "last night" rather than "yesterday night", though you would say "yesterday morning" and "yesterday afternoon"?
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3answers
9k views

Meaning of 'confer upon'

The only objects which can constitute [the space-time framework essential to interpersonal communication] are those which confer upon it their own fundamental characteristics.
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2k views

Can “deprived of” be used in this way?

I looked up the synonym dictionary, and it told me that "deprived of" can be the alternative of "without". So I'm wondering if this usage is right: Deprived of his partner, he couldn't win by ...
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1answer
270 views

meaning of 'frame by'

This paper has been framed by two seemingly recurring topics in IS research
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35k views

More idioms like “needle in a haystack” relevant to hidden/hard to find items? [closed]

Are there more idioms, sayings or phrases similar to "needle in a haystack" that are relevant to hidden objects, or difficult to find items? Also interested in similar nouns relevant to the somewhat ...
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9answers
56k views

Is it 'Close to the chest' or 'Close to the vest'?

Apologies if this is a duplicate, I am just curious. Are they both valid? Which originated first?
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4answers
14k views

What does “punch line” mean?

I read this sentence and I don't understand what "punch line" means here: Most people recognize this Amazon: Jeff Bezos's hyperproficient Borders-killer; one of the few dot-com initial ...
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1answer
2k views

Meaning of 'sphere of'

who attempted to make sense of every sphere of social life
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144 views

Is it correct to use “giving rating”?

For example, is "they gave the same rating to the movie" a proper usage?
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1answer
1k views

Origin of phrase “open-and-shut” as in “it's not an open-and-shut case”

I used the phrase "open-and-shut" today, as in, "It's not an open-and-shut case", meaning that the item under discussion has not been decided and the outcome is not obvious. I don't think I've ever ...
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4answers
2k views

Meaning of the expression “2.1 kids”

What does it mean to say, "Everyone in this city has 2.1 kids"? Is this an idiom?
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2k views

Are “zugzwang”, “catch-22” and “catch-33” synonyms?

Are these words synonyms? zugzwang — a situation where one player is put at a disadvantage because he has to make a move when he would prefer to pass and make no move catch-22 — a ...
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5answers
3k views

What is the origin of “33” in “catch-33”?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch_Thirtythree explains: Lyrically, the album is a concept album, revolving around different kinds of paradoxes, hence the title Catch Thirtythree (see Catch-22). ...
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1answer
227 views

What is “the spirit of aloha”?

I’ve read this expression in a news article related to a Hawaiian politician: “He is well-regarded in both Washington and in the islands for his gracious manner and spirit of aloha.” I understand ...
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4answers
517 views

Can I say “due call”?

If there is a phone call I forget to make, can I say this call is a "due call"? Or is there a better word which can describe it?
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7answers
8k views

“To kill a fly with a…”?

I seem to recall that there is an expression for when you are throwing something too big at a particular challenge: "To kill a fly with a..."? Or am I way off here? Edit: maybe it's not a fly after ...
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1answer
4k views

Where does the “busman's holiday” expression come from?

I understand the expression to mean doing something on a holiday that you would normally do at your job. So, am I to understand that the expression simply refers to a bus driver going for a ride on ...
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8answers
9k views

Could you name some numbers that have a special meaning in English, like 666? [closed]

The question "What does the term “86'd” relate to?" made me wonder what similar cases we have in English. I'd like to know some other numbers that have a commonly understood meaning beyond their use ...
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3answers
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“Bless you” & sneezing

Why do you say Bless you when people sneeze? Is there good reason or history? When someone sneeze, if I don't say Bless you, am I rude?
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4answers
5k views

Origin of “he's 6 feet tall if he's an inch”

I have heard this pattern used before in American English: She's 6 feet tall if she's an inch. It was a gallon of blood if it was a drop. The baby was 10 pounds if it was an ounce. I ...
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4answers
8k views

Origin of “rub someone the wrong way”

What is the origin of the idiomatic expression rub someone the wrong way? Is it correct to use the idiom in reverse, i.e. rub someone the right way, possibly meaning to calm or to please?
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3answers
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. ...
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4answers
22k 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 ...
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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 ...
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3answers
9k 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 ...
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4answers
787 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 ...
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6answers
59k views

“Good night” or “good evening”?

If it's 7:30pm, which of these phrases is correct, Good night or Good evening?
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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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3answers
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
680 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
933 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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3answers
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 ...
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2answers
16k 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 ...