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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141
votes
9answers
22k 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 ...
22
votes
22answers
32k 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 ...
70
votes
28answers
9k 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 ...
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 ...
47
votes
25answers
13k 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 ...
26
votes
14answers
20k 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?
25
votes
26answers
29k 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 ...
16
votes
3answers
858 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
5answers
4k 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
1k 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 ...
1
vote
2answers
663 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 ...
69
votes
28answers
12k 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 ...
79
votes
20answers
7k 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 ...
26
votes
17answers
14k 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 ...
14
votes
5answers
7k 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 ...
12
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", ...
13
votes
12answers
5k 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. ...
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 ...
6
votes
9answers
14k 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 ...
51
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
21answers
6k 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 ...
18
votes
10answers
3k views

Is there a word or phrase meaning to plant my idea in someone else’s mind?

Is there a word or phrase that means to plant my idea in someone else’s mind so they think it is their own idea? Just like what happened in the movie Inception.
36
votes
10answers
5k 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 ...
15
votes
5answers
2k 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 ...
44
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.
19
votes
6answers
7k 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 ...
15
votes
12answers
25k 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
1k 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 ...
17
votes
9answers
1k 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)?
10
votes
11answers
7k views

Is there an expression that means something bad as a precursor to something good?

If someone is the bearer of bad news you might say, Don't shoot the messenger. If you have something that seems unfortunate at first but ends out wonderful you might say it's a blessing in disguise. ...
3
votes
2answers
1k 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?
3
votes
1answer
407 views

Word for phrases that are examples of what they describe

Is there a word (or phrase) for phrases that are examples of what they describe? For example, "You the verb" to tell someone they forgot a verb in an online posting, or "spacesmakethingseasiertoread". ...
3
votes
2answers
451 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 ...
0
votes
6answers
6k 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 ...
10
votes
5answers
3k 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 ...
10
votes
15answers
547 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
23k 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 ...
7
votes
6answers
4k 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 ...
5
votes
4answers
506 views

Word or phrase for “one needing to see it to believe it”

What's a word or phrase that could be used to describe a person who needs to see the evidence for a claim in-person before believing it?
5
votes
7answers
4k 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?
5
votes
7answers
4k views

Words to describe something that does not reach your expectations for it

Which word(s) would you use in a situation such as the one below, to make the sentence sound logical, natural and complete? You told me we were going to a nice park. We've spent almost two hours ...
4
votes
2answers
302 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
8answers
54k views

Other ways to say “I'm rooting for you?”

What are other ways one can say that have the same meaning as, "I'm rooting for you?"
3
votes
5answers
788 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?
2
votes
1answer
99 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 ...
-1
votes
1answer
92 views

Word for 'Lacking a subject'

The poet Medbh McGuckian often lacks subjects in her sentences, for example: "From behind the moon boys' graves \ bleed endlessly" ~ From Love Affair with Firearms She doesn't ever define the ...
-1
votes
3answers
9k views

A word or phrase for “someone who learns from their mistakes” [closed]

What would be a word or short phrase for "someone who learns from their mistakes"? I thought of insightful, but am not satisfied with it.
197
votes
37answers
78k 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 ...