This tag is for questions seeking a phrase that fits a meaning. If you're specifically seeking only a single word, see the "single word requests" tag too.

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28
votes
24answers
74k 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 ...
187
votes
9answers
41k views

Is there a word or phrase for the feeling you get after looking at a word for too long?

Sometimes after looking at a word for a while, I become convinced that it can't possibly be spelled correctly. Even after looking it up, sounding it out, and realizing that there's simply no other ...
16
votes
2answers
1k views

“pros and cons”, “black and white”, “ups and downs”. Always in a fixed sequence, is there a word or phrase for these?

Is there a word or phrase for two nouns or adjectives joined by a conjunction (usually "and") in a fixed sequence? alive and well fast and furious hat and gloves pen and pencil ...
77
votes
28answers
14k 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 ...
5
votes
5answers
2k views

Opposite of “straight talk”

What is the opposite for the straight talk idiom? How do I best call the activity when someone makes a very long preamble before he says what he wants?
15
votes
12answers
11k views

What's an idiom for doing something in an unnecessarily complicated way?

For an example, I'll quote C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: One day the cat got into the dairy and twenty of them were at work moving all the milk out; no one thought of moving the cat. ...
7
votes
4answers
2k views

Phrase or idiom for funnelling efforts in wrong direction

What one phrase or idiom describes situations (see examples below), in which people funnel their efforts in the wrong direction? A boy wants to have a cup of coffee, so he buys a notebook in a ...
2
votes
2answers
2k views

Is there a term for a word inside another word?

Is there a term for a word that occurs unbroken within another word? For example, the word "fun" in "funeral", or "drag" in "hydragog". The closest thing I could find from my search was the term "...
14
votes
16answers
18k views

What is a word that means “someone who pretends to be your friend but is actually your enemy?”

What do you call someone who pretends to be your friend but is actually your enemy? A friend suggested spy for me, but that does not nearly describe the word I need for an English project. The ...
14
votes
10answers
34k views

Idiom/phrase which means “to pretend not to understand or know”

Sometimes (well, often) people pretend not to understand what's going on (or pretend not to understand what the other person means, etc.) when in fact they do perfectly well. For example, Person A ...
30
votes
26answers
80k views

Common phrases for something that appears good but is actually bad

What are common phrases that describe something that appears good but is actually bad? Edit: Because people say bad is vague I will try to sum up the phrase meaning a little better. something that ...
8
votes
9answers
35k views

What is an idiom/slang for “someone who pretends to be good when they're not”?

This is not from real life, but from a movie on my local TV. A character in the movie is really bad, but when she talks with others, she pretends to be an innocent/ good woman. I want to know how to ...
88
votes
19answers
9k views

How to say that food is hot (temperature) without the listener thinking that I mean “spicy”?

There is an excellent discussion of spicy vs. hot here: Difference between "spicy" and "hot" However, having read the previous question, I did not see any answer that tells how to ...
28
votes
14answers
46k views

What is a word/idiom for 'unable to decide'?

Let's say I have an important decision to make and I can't decide between two competing things (like break up with a girl or not break up with her). What would be a word/idiom to express that?
20
votes
4answers
2k views

Can I use “US-American” to disambiguate “American”? If not, what can I use?

Based on this question, I wonder: as an alternative to USAian (which is very nonstandard) is it OK to use US-American to more clearly indicate "inhabitant of the USA"? According to Google Ngram, this ...
26
votes
9answers
2k 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 ...
49
votes
8answers
8k views

“To science the sh*t out of something”

In The Martian movie, Matt Damon (Watney), when left stranded on Mars with very limited resources to survive, says: Mark Watney: In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option, I'...
74
votes
28answers
32k views

Idiom or word for a very crowded place

There is a popular idiom in Russian for describing a really crowded place: "(there's) no room for an apple to fall" ("яблоку негде упасть"). I struggle to think of anything similar in English, and ...
50
votes
25answers
24k views

Is there a secular, non vulgar alternative to “for heaven's sake”?

I know for heaven's sake, for Pete's sake, for God's sake and for Christ's sake. All of those, however are religious references. The only non-religious equivalent phrases I know are for fuck's sake ...
22
votes
10answers
43k views

A word for the heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can't have

There is a phrase in French that exactly means this: "la douleur exquise" It literally means "the exquisite pain" and expresses the pain of wanting the affection of someone unattainable. I think it ...
37
votes
10answers
10k 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 ...
13
votes
10answers
4k views

What is the name of the tactic that politicians use to bury people with torrent of words?

Some people write bloated books and long essays with skilful use of hooks, e.g. Jared Diamond; some others speak in long-drawn sentences with torrents of words, e.g. Noam Chomsky. It reminds me of a ...
24
votes
12answers
3k views

Expression that means something like “killing the sheep to keep them from being kidnapped”

I'm looking for an expression that conveys an excessive risk management approach that ends up having a worse effect than what it is trying to protect against.
12
votes
9answers
8k views

How to describe a guy who is popular with girls?

Perhaps I should make it clear: - He naturally attracts girls. - He doesn't chase girls and have no intention for any relationship. - You just see him often together with girls.
1
vote
6answers
33k views

What is a polite substitute for badass (used as a noun)? [closed]

Badass and BAMF are both modern words with approximately the same meaning: "Someone who is awesome to an extreme level, thereby leveraging unquestionable authority." Is there another noun or title ...
12
votes
5answers
8k views

Other expressions for “to be the devil's advocate”?

Is there another way or expression to say: He is the devil's advocate I don't quite like this expression, and I don't know if it is a good idea to use it in a religious context.
10
votes
7answers
2k 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 ...
10
votes
6answers
6k views

An idiom to describe someone who thinks he/she is wiser than others

Is there an idiom in English to describe someone who thinks he/she is smarter/wiser than everyone else? In Polish, we have an idiom, which literally translated, would sound like: He/she has eaten ...
2
votes
3answers
621 views

Is there a term denoting the writing of words using numbers instead of letters?

Sometimes, more in some languages than in others, a word is spelled using one or more numbers instead of letters. Is there a term for this? The only example I can think of in English is se7en (seven)....
1
vote
4answers
364 views

Synonym for “Fellow Sufferers”?

They agreed to stay connected for hours in their provisional support group, looking for answers in their counterparts. I want to change the bold part to say that they all shared the same problem. ...
51
votes
12answers
46k views

What is the term for when you become more aware of something?

For example, when you buy a car, you start becoming more aware of cars with a similar make and model. The number of that type of car hasn't increased, but your awareness of it has. Similarly, when ...
58
votes
10answers
7k views

What do you call a minor flaw in a work that makes you realize how perfect/flawless it is otherwise?

For example, I was listening to an audio book the other day and the author mispronounced a word which got the audience laughing. Until that point, I didn't even know that there was an audience and ...
26
votes
21answers
11k views

What's a common phrase that means “To put it simply though not 100% correctly”?

Like when you want to say that you'll tell a short version of something which would alter the accuracy of the original version. I was thinking of "In a nutshell" and "To make a long story short", but ...
41
votes
18answers
5k views

English equivalent for the Persian proverb “The mountain just gave birth to a mouse”

I'm looking for an idiom or expression to describe a well-known person/ organization/ politician/ government whose achievements in a given situation are smaller than what they had claimed or promised ...
27
votes
17answers
30k views

Word/phrase to mean something that just happens once

What is the word/phrase to mean something that just happens once? For example, I have often been told/expected to do this and not to do that. I become aimless and gradually lose the idea of who ...
20
votes
6answers
12k views

What do you call those divisions of a book bigger than a paragraph but smaller than a chapter?

In printed books, or at least in novels, there are often major breaks within a chapter more important than paragraphs. Often they are separated by a greater amount of whitespace than paragraphs and ...
14
votes
5answers
11k views

Term for something that appears complex but is actually very simple

The Japanese have a term for something that appears simple but is actually very complex in detail: Shibui. It should be said that this is only one aspect of Shibui, as with many Japanese words/...
10
votes
13answers
2k views

Word or phrase for 'a much hyped discovery which later turns out to be insignificant or of no value'

In the company where I worked before, the team of specialists which handled customer dissatisfaction issues often came up with seemingly brilliant solutions which would initially appear to be key ...
15
votes
7answers
2k views

Gender-neutral equivalent for “Take it like a man”

I'd like to find some gender-neutral equivalents of the phrase Take it like a man I'm not looking only for existing phrases -- any interesting ideas for expressing the sentiment "be tough", ...
8
votes
7answers
836 views

What are “good men that do nothing” called?

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -Edmund Burke Is there an idiom, phrase or preferably a single word that we can call people that could have helped ...
7
votes
6answers
10k views

Short, Politically Correct word for Native Americans [closed]

No more than four syllables, more PC than Indians. EDIT: I arbitrarily chose four syllables because any more seemed like a mouthful. I like to be PC and not have to stumble over 6+ syllables.
7
votes
4answers
536 views

What's the term when you ask a question which implies a lie?

I remember there was a thread here on English.SE this month where someone explained this, but I can't remember how it was called. An example: Where have you stolen this product? This question ...
5
votes
3answers
792 views

English equivalent of the expression “a longer arm than résumé”

I've heard a non-native English speaker use the expression "in this place, having a long arm to scratch someone else's back is more important than having a long résumé", conveying the idea of ...
5
votes
4answers
1k views

Repeating the consonant in many words in a sentence or phrase

In the movie 'V for Vendetta' you have for example (bold part): Evey: Who are you? V. : Who? Who is but the form following the function of what and what I am is a man in a mask. Evey: ...
5
votes
5answers
2k views

What would be an English equivalent for the Mexican Spanish word tocayo? [duplicate]

In Mexican Spanish (not sure if other Spanish speaking countries use the word too) we call "tocayo" to those people that share the same name as us (but not necessarily the same last name i.e., Juan ...
3
votes
3answers
7k views

Someone who doesn't learn from the mistakes he made

Is there a word or phrase that neans someone who doesn't learn from his mistakes or makes the same mistakes again?
10
votes
18answers
65k views

Idiom, word, or expression meaning an easy-to-do task

I am looking for a term, expression, word, or idiom to describe a task as an easy one to do or to go through. What I’d normally say is: Actually it’s not difficult, it’s as easy as drinking a ...
8
votes
6answers
2k views

Is there an aphorism for doing a self-defeating act?

Is there a witty turn of phrase that indicates one's performing an act that, in its doing, undermines, contravenes, or obviates itself? This question relates to a similar idea, but I have it in my ...
7
votes
7answers
10k views

Something simple and yet complex…

Is there a phrase or word for a problem that appears simple but is in fact full of complexities? A few situations come to mind: Painting a room Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend Eating a ...
6
votes
8answers
2k views

What would you call a person who is not a student, but takes interest in exploring academic topics?

A person who is not formally enrolled as a student, researcher or faculty in some university or college but who takes interest in exploring academic topics/stuff. For e.g. Such a person could be ...