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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177
votes
9answers
36k 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 ...
25
votes
24answers
63k 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 ...
77
votes
28answers
13k 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 ...
15
votes
12answers
9k 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. ...
5
votes
5answers
1k 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?
26
votes
26answers
66k 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 ...
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 ...
14
votes
16answers
15k 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 ...
8
votes
9answers
30k 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 ...
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 ...
14
votes
10answers
28k 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 ...
12
votes
9answers
7k 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
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 ...
50
votes
25answers
21k 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 ...
73
votes
28answers
25k 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 ...
22
votes
10answers
36k 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 ...
86
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 ...
27
votes
14answers
38k 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?
19
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 ...
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.
1
vote
6answers
26k 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
6k 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
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 ...
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 ...
1
vote
2answers
354 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 ...
0
votes
3answers
22k 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.
232
votes
37answers
89k 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 ...
26
votes
21answers
10k 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 ...
13
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 ...
27
votes
17answers
26k 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 ...
19
votes
6answers
11k 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 ...
14
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", ...
7
votes
4answers
507 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
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 ...
10
votes
18answers
54k 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
8k 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
5answers
2k views

Less-technical synonym for “timestamp”

I've already looked at Is there a word for "a point in time"?, but there doesn't seem to be any answers other than "timestamp". While I agree that it is the most technically accurate ...
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 ...
5
votes
4answers
3k views

Word/phrase for a feature that could be both good and bad for something

Take this scenario: a tool has a specific feature that could be regarded as an invaluable benefit for. However, this feature, if used in opposite direction may be counterproductive. In other ...
3
votes
3answers
149 views

Describe a fallacious opinion regarding one's own ability

What's a phrase that describes a unfounded tendency of a person to think that he or she is smarter or possesses more skill than average in a competitive environment such as the stock market or say, ...
2
votes
9answers
3k views

Someone who just thinks they know what they're talking about

What is a word or phrase that means a speaker (or writer) is talking about something they know very little about, but they think they know more than they do? An example: If you read diet message ...
1
vote
4answers
275 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. ...
112
votes
17answers
27k views

Is there an English idiom for trying to do two things at the same time and failing at both of them due to splitting your effort?

I'm basically searching for the opposite of putting all your eggs in one basket, where the risk is total failure because you did not hedge your efforts. I'm searching for a phrase that encompasses ...
35
votes
6answers
179k 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 ...
60
votes
12answers
10k views

What's a less offensive substitute for “rep-whores”?

This is a frequently thrown-around term on Internet forums in general and Stack Exchange specifically. Although it conveys a lot of meaning, I'd much prefer a phrase with a less offensive origin. ...
56
votes
11answers
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 ...
33
votes
15answers
7k views

What's it called when you lose contact with reality when watching a movie?

Sometimes, when I watch a (real good) movie, I feel like the movie "sucks me into the screen". I feel that I am really inside the movie, really watching real persons acting in real situations. I do ...
33
votes
14answers
10k views

What is it called when something appears so obvious, no one expects it?

I honestly can not think of any examples that cannot be countered. Perhaps something like if a person brought a weapon out in the open to an airport - no one actually thinks it would be a weapon ...