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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123
votes
9answers
15k views

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

(Perhaps this only happens to me, but I doubt it.) 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 ...
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 ...
7
votes
4answers
1k 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 ...
24
votes
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 ...
15
votes
3answers
527 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 ...
12
votes
4answers
3k 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.
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 ...
22
votes
26answers
17k 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 ...
14
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
10
votes
7answers
1k 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", ...
6
votes
8answers
1k 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 ...
1
vote
1answer
380 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 ...
43
votes
25answers
10k 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 ...
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 ...
26
votes
14answers
12k 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?
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 ...
42
votes
10answers
3k views

Is there a term which covers ATM cards, credit cards, and debit cards?

I work in accommodation for international travelers, and people can pay with various kinds of cards: In some countries such as USA, credit cards are very common, but debit cards are not so common. ...
23
votes
12answers
2k 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.
14
votes
12answers
15k views

Is there a term to describe speech that has a hidden meaning but is not sarcastic?

I want to describe how someone is saying something but hidden behind their words they are blaming the person they are talking to. It's kind of like sarcasm but not quite as strong. With sarcasm the ...
9
votes
13answers
913 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 ...
16
votes
9answers
964 views

Is there any idiomatic expression with the meaning “show all the hidden stuff”?

Which idiomatic phrase can be used to express 'showing all the hidden stuff' (it's supposed that nobody should find that out, some scandal things)?
3
votes
2answers
335 views

Words that define a type of word and also obey that definition [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What is a catchy word that means (non-)self-descriptive There are plenty of names for word sets: synonyms: words that have the same meaning palindromes: words that ...
11
votes
11answers
4k 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. ...
10
votes
15answers
517 views

Is there a pejorative alternative to “improvise”?

I'm looking for a word or phrase that implies improvisation in a negative context. "Jury rigging" comes to mind, but I'm in need of a term that can't be mistaken as anything but pejorative. The ...
8
votes
18answers
11k 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 ...
6
votes
6answers
2k views

word that means: causing a paradigm shift, new era, revolution

I can't think of the word and it's driving me nuts. I'm looking for a word that can be used when some technology is discovered, way of thinking, or even event happening that causes a big change in ...
4
votes
2answers
241 views

What is the name of combination, in error, of similar or related words? (E.g.: segueway)

Is there a technical term for combination, in error, of similar or related words? This question is prompted by the following malapropism or solecism, from an article by Elizabeth Montalbano in ...
4
votes
6answers
2k views

What would you call a person who doesn't like questions being asked of them?

My sister says I ask too many questions, such as "What have you been up to lately?" She is the only person who says that. What do you call a person who doesn't like questions being asked?
2
votes
1answer
86 views

Is there a better name for this than “emphatic and”?

In semi-poetic writing, I have had occasion to deviate from the standard prose list practice (interpose commas or semicolons between items, with an "and" preceding the final item), by utilizing a ...
178
votes
32answers
72k views

Is there a non-sexual phrase for sleeping with someone?

The phrase "sleeping with someone" often means "having sex." What is the origin of this sexual connotation? Is there a non-sexual equivalent of this phrase to express sleeping with someone without ...
28
votes
5answers
54k views

Polite alternatives to “as soon as possible”

I’ve found myself writing the phrase “as soon as possible” just too often. Sometimes I wonder if it sounds a little rude. How can I convey the same meaning in a more polite way but without losing ...
17
votes
2answers
103k views

Equivalents to “I'm looking forward to hearing from you.” [closed]

What sentences do you suggest to end a formal letter that you expect a reply from the recipient? One of the most popular ones is "Looking forward to hearing from you."
73
votes
19answers
6k 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 ...
21
votes
8answers
910 views

What is a better way to name “The Wrong Question”?

On StackOverflow.com I often find that people ask questions about problems that arise due to poor design choices (typically due to a lack of knowledge about the particular programming language). For ...
19
votes
6answers
6k 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
1k views

Is there an English idiom for Bengali idiom “সবজান্তা গামছাওয়ালা”(wise towelsman)?

In the Bengali language there is an idiom, "sobjanta gamchawala" (wise towelsman), meaning a man whose occupation is merely to sell towels, but claims to know everything and gives valuable advice on ...
14
votes
6answers
3k views

Is there a term for simultaneous snow and rain?

I'm from Australia where we don't have so many kinds of precipitation. I'm familiar with these: rain hail snow sleet As I understand it, sleet refers to frozen rain but I'm not totally familiar ...
10
votes
8answers
1k views

Is there an idiom that corresponds to the Hungarian expression “fall off the other side of the horse”?

There's a Hungarian phrase that can be literally translated as something like "fall off the other side of the horse". (The literal implication is either that instead of falling off this side of the ...
10
votes
8answers
525 views

English term for pre-thinker?

I was searching for an English translation for the German Vordenker. Basically a person, often a scientist, who began or further significantly developed a new concept or theory by contributing ...
6
votes
3answers
372 views

What is the name of the moment when the detective solves the mystery or realizes who the murderer is?

In many Whodunit mystery stories, there's a scene when the detective (e.g., Hercule Poirot) discovers (or overhears) the final clue (or a phrase another characters says) that makes this detective ...
3
votes
1answer
237 views

An event that occurs only once

What do you call an event that occurs only once in its environment? For instance, birth and death are two events that occur only once in the lifetime of a living thing. I am looking for a word or ...
25
votes
17answers
9k 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 ...
12
votes
10answers
17k views

What is the English word closest to Japanese “Ganbatte,” the word for encouraging people who are in disaster, or challenging a severe ordeal?

In Japan, after experiencing the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, “Ganbatte” which contains all sense of “Cheer up, Bear up, Keep your chin up, Be courageous, Do your best” became the password of ...
11
votes
5answers
2k views

What do you call a slip of the tongue in writing?

Is there any phrase or word that can be used to describe a slip of the tongue that happens in writing? Calling it a slip of tongue directly feels awkward, especially when the written text is never ...
9
votes
5answers
600 views

Words describing the pat acceptance of a thought or practice simply because “that's how it's done.”

I believe that several words or phrases exist to describe the practice of thinking in a certain way or performing a certain action simply because "that's how it's always been done." Another way of ...
6
votes
4answers
355 views

Analogue of “most recent” for events in the future

In the context of a listing of events that are time-based, it is common to use "Most Recent" to describe a listing of events ordered by date, in descending order, with the upper limit being today's ...
6
votes
4answers
384 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 ...
4
votes
4answers
3k views

Phrase for a problem that seems impossible, but actually has a simple and obvious solution?

Daniel M. Russell poses what he claims is a deceptively simple brain teaser in his blog: What short 4-word idiomatic phrase (in English) captures [the] idea of a problem that seems impossible, ...
4
votes
3answers
11k views

What is a more formal way to say “Don't get me wrong”?

I think the phrase "Don't get me wrong" in conversation means, "I'm about to say something that you might misunderstand, so don't." I'm looking for a similar phrase that sounds better when speaking ...