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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40
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6answers
21k views

Which day does “next Tuesday” refer to?

At what point does next Tuesday mean the next Tuesday that will come to pass and no longer the Tuesday after the Tuesday that will come to pass`? And, when does the meaning switch ...
21
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4answers
9k views

Why do we say “was supposed to” for “should have”?

I was supposed to do my homework, but I went out clubbing instead. On a literal interpretation, supposed to suggests that other people (or indeed, myself) might have supposed (thought, imagined, ...
13
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14answers
4k views

Phrase for focusing on unimportant details

I'm looking for an idiom or saying that I could use when people are focusing too much on small details and not seeing the big picture. A couple that come to mind are "being penny-wise and pound ...
44
votes
11answers
3k views

Idiom: People caring about minor stuff while something terrible is happening

Imagine a situation in which the whole place is on fire, a bomb is about to explode, everyone is running for their lives and someone is checking his looks on the mirror... pretty inappropriate for the ...
21
votes
22answers
18k views

An idiom meaning someone's doing something useless and has no result at the end

In my native language, we use an idiom to warn someone that they're doing something which has no result at the end: Trying to convince him is like squashing water ... Is there any idiom in ...
66
votes
28answers
7k views

Is there an American English equivalent of the British idiom “carrying coals to Newcastle”?

I'm an American living in the Netherlands who is learning Dutch. There's an idiom in Dutch that describes performing a needless/futile activity, "water naar de zee dragen," which literally translates ...
30
votes
3answers
1k views

Terms for collections of animals

As I watched the murder of crows sitting on the line above my house this evening, I got wondering where all of the collective nouns for animals (pod of whales, gaggle of geese, pride of lions) came ...
13
votes
1answer
2k views

Difference between phrase and idiom

What is the difference between a phrase and an idiom?
24
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9answers
1k views

“Saving on the parrot's chocolate is futile”

In Catalan there is an expression "ser la xocolata del lloro" that can be translated as "saving by not giving chocolate to the parrot is futile", conveying the meaning that when a household wants to ...
8
votes
1answer
72k views

How should “please find enclosed” be used?

In business writing and especially email, the phrase is often used as: Please find enclosed our price list. Please find attached the updated contract. Please find herewith my expense ...
9
votes
5answers
705 views

Do idioms pose an exception to normal definite and indefinite article usage?

I found this phrase in my biology textbook (emphasis added): ...in relation to Earth's history, 100,000 years or even a million years is the blink of an eye. The part of the phrase in question ...
17
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2answers
2k views

How did kool-aid come to be the drink of fanboys?

Why does Kool-Aid relate to being something's fanboy/fangirl?
13
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6answers
16k views

Etymology of 'teaching grandma to suck eggs'?

This is such a strange idiom, all I could find with a Google search was the meaning of it, but not where it came from. When you're telling somebody something they already know well, it's sometimes ...
7
votes
2answers
2k views

What is the origin of the phrase “you've got another thing/think coming”?

What is the origin of the phrase "you've got another thing coming"? And — perhaps more importantly — is it more correct than the alternative "you've got another think coming"?
11
votes
7answers
18k views

What does “if you will” mean?

A TV program says, they started this accounting gimmick, if you will, and they... What does "if you will" mean? Is it a short form of "if you will [a certain verb]"?
11
votes
2answers
2k views

Value (in cents) of big words

I found the answer to this question interesting in that he referred to a "75 cent word". I would have called it a 50-cent word, not because I undervalued his answer but because that is how I have ...
10
votes
3answers
1k views

Use of “them” as an article, not a pronoun

I've seen a lot of times the pronoun them used like an article. For example, in the title of the Delta Rhythm Boys Them bones, or in the first sentence of "Money for nothing": Now look at them ...
9
votes
7answers
879 views

What's a good phrase for “refining a process which is hopelessly broken”?

I'm looking for a turn of phrase to describe a situation where the powers that be wish to continue making small improvements to a process which, due to deep-rooted flaws, will never be close to ...
2
votes
4answers
4k views

“Have got” — verb form and tense

In the following sentence, what is the main verb and in what tense does it occur? I have got a car. There are two possible explanations that I can think of: get as the main verb in the present ...
34
votes
4answers
5k views

What is the meaning of the phrase 'Here be dragons'?

What does here be dragons mean in the example below? WARNING Here be dragons. Relative source binding can not only encourage bad application practices, such as binding to things defined in ...
26
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4answers
12k views

How does the phrase “used to” work, grammatically?

It is common to hear people say "used to" to indicate that they did something in the past but no longer do; for example, "I used to play basketball." How would "used to," used in that context, fit ...
5
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4answers
3k views

Best source for origins of expressions and idioms? [closed]

I'm often interested in the origins of English phrases, and I know that I can find answers by googling, and I can find good answers by asking here. How can I find good answers myself? Are there any ...
8
votes
4answers
7k views

Origin of the idiom “go south”

What's the origin of the idiom go south? Why is it go south only? Why not go southwest or go east? Are the direction-related idioms go south, go north, go east, and go west correlated? Example, go ...
5
votes
1answer
4k views

Is it all right to use “in hopes of” to mean “with the aim of”?

Recently I browsed through the definition of hope in New Oxford American Dictionary (provided by Apple in the dictionary app) to double confirm with its usage as I answered a word-choice question and ...
4
votes
6answers
835 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 ...
16
votes
6answers
14k views

Is “my bad” a correct English phrase?

I have seen many people use the phrase "my bad" in Internet forums. What does it exactly imply and is it a proper English phrase?
16
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5answers
13k views

Which is correct: “standing on line” or “standing in line”?

I'm curious to hear from folks in the the Northeast United States (or anyone, really) an explanation of why "standing on line" seems preferable to "standing in line" in the US northeast. I imagine ...
14
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7answers
2k views

Is the phrase “for free” correct?

A friend claims that the phrase for free is incorrect. Should we only say at no cost instead?
9
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3answers
3k views

Difference between “due to” and “thanks to”

When should "due to" be preferred over "thanks to", and vice versa? When can they be used interchangeably?
6
votes
3answers
496 views

Asking for an idiom according to literal translation

I translated a sentence into English: When the details are ignored, the whole problem will be ignored unintentionally Seems like a logical sentence that says when you don't consider all details ...
4
votes
4answers
5k views

An idiom for deriving pleasure from another's suffering

I believe it is what the Germans call "Schadenfreude". English itself has no such equivalent word. (Although it has been adopted as a loanword.) Does an idiom exist that describes it?
3
votes
3answers
912 views

“Put it at the backseat” or “Put it onto the backseat”?

What preposition should I use in the expression "put ___ the backseat"? The sentence goes like this: I have a few items on my plans, item A is the least important one, so I will put it ___ the ...
8
votes
5answers
3k views

What does “new normal” mean?

From one of the survey result (IT related), I came across the following line: Agile Development and Service-Oriented-Architectures (SOA) represent the “new normal.” What does "new normal" ...
6
votes
2answers
551 views

Name for a type of idiom with two things joined (like “raining cats and dogs”, “bread and butter”)

I had heard, a number of years ago, that there is a name for an type of idiomatic expression in which two things are joined to refer to one thing. An example of this would be “raining cats and dogs”. ...
6
votes
3answers
469 views

Why don't we pluralize “foot” in measurements?

For example, to answer the question, "How tall are you?" valid answers include: Five feet. Five foot three. Five feet, three inches. Why the discrepancy between feet and foot, seemingly only in ...
6
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8answers
22k 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?
4
votes
3answers
4k views

“My goodness!” Mine? Goodness?

Why do we say my goodness? It doesn't sound appropriate for the contexts in which it is used. Both the my and the goodness don’t seem to bear on a surprising or startling situation. When was it ...
4
votes
3answers
16k views

What does “if and when” mean, and is it the same as “when and if”?

Rather than trying to describe my beef with this idiom, I will give a bunch of successively objectionable examples. None of these are taken from real life. As I see it, if (and when) both "if" and ...
4
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5answers
6k views

“Good night” or “good evening”?

If it's 7:30pm, which of these phrases is correct, Good night or Good evening?
15
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20answers
6k views

Are there other idioms like “a stone's throw away” that both describe an activity and act as a measurement?

If something is quite close by, it could be described as being a stone's throw away; even closer might be a hop, skip and a jump. I'm interested in these "units" of measurement based on human action. ...
48
votes
10answers
2k views

Is there an English phrase for an inability to actually *leave* already?

There is a Hungarian expression, küszöbgörcs, which literally means "threshold-cramp", and is used to describe that long conversation you have in the entryway, with all the guests awkwardly holding ...
22
votes
3answers
4k views

Where did the expression “my two cents” come from?

I've seen "$.02", "2¢", "just my two cents", etc, similar in meaning to IMHO, except usually appended to the main text. As the Ngram shows, it is only "two cents" that is popular in this usage: ...
35
votes
10answers
4k views

“To shoot out of cannon into sparrows”

In Russian we have idiom/saying "To shoot out of cannon into sparrows" (literal translation) which is used to convey an idea of applying too drastic measures to small problems. I believe there should ...
33
votes
4answers
36k views

Which is correct, “buck naked” or “butt naked”?

"Butt naked" or "buck naked" both refer to completely naked, or do they? Where the phrase comes from I have no idea but that would be of interest. This is a phrase I am too afraid to google and ...
31
votes
2answers
9k views

What does the phrase “Begging the question” mean?

What does the phrase "begging the question" really mean? And does it even matter if I use it correctly? Almost everyone just uses it as a synonym for "posing the question" these days.
16
votes
5answers
7k views

“Bob's your uncle” … no he's not!

What is the origin of the phrase "Bob's your uncle"? Is it used internationally or is this just a term used in the UK? I have often heard an extension of this phrase: "Bob's your uncle and Fanny's ...
4
votes
3answers
3k views

“Bachelor of ” vs. “Bachelor in”

We had this argument today at work regarding which one of those two is more correct. Neither of us is a native English speaker. A simple Google research would reveal that most Wikipedia articles use ...
20
votes
5answers
9k 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"?
19
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8answers
2k views

Is the phrase “I just sucked it out of my thumb” used in American English?

I was born and raised in South Africa. We frequently used the term "to suck out of one's thumb", implying that an answer was just a wild guess or the notion had no evidence but was rather just ...
13
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5answers
629 views

Can one “marry one's wife”?

I was vacantly reading the paper the other day when I came across a strange formation in the obituary: "he married his wife in 19XX". I was rather taken aback by this; surely he can't marry his own ...