A phrase is a group of words that make a unit of syntax with a single grammatical function.

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34
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8answers
80k views

Distinction: “What can I do you for?” vs. “What can I do for you?”

Usually, when being served the phrase "What can I do for you?" is used but sometimes I also hear "What can I do you for?" in quite the same context. So is there a difference or is it just a slip of ...
19
votes
3answers
227k views

What is the origin of the phrase “Top of the morning to you”?

Each morning, a colleague of mine greets me with the phrase: Top of the morning to you! I've tried to figure out what the meaning of this really is and how to properly respond, however there ...
8
votes
4answers
120k views

Meaning of “on the same page”

Where on the scale from We are talking about the same thing to We are in agreement / We see it the same way is the phrase We are on the same page?
51
votes
12answers
6k views

A way of describing the lesbian parent that is not pregnant?

A friend of mine is in a long term relationship with her female partner. After deciding they wanted a family, my friend's girlfriend got pregnant. Normally when talking about a couple expecting a ...
49
votes
4answers
92k views

Origin and exact meaning of the phrase “I have to go see a man about a dog”

I hear my older coworkers use this idiom/phrase occasionally. It seems possibly to be a humorous way to get out of a conversation. Even as a native English speaker, I've never figured out the exact ...
26
votes
4answers
2k views

Is there a name for this type of insult: “I am friends with many manly men. And Gary.”?

Is there a term or word appropriate to describe the trick of using a general term and then explicitly adding a specific term to strongly imply that the specific is not part of the general? The trick I ...
20
votes
11answers
3k views

Phrase to mean one is described by his name [duplicate]

I found in some other languages such as Chinese an interesting idiom which describes some people; for example, when you see a person is named "Smart" and he/she is really smart, one would say: "a name ...
16
votes
7answers
42k views

Origin of the expression “Dead to rights”?

I was watching a TV show and this term was used. I am familiar with the definition, but I was wondering the origin of the phrase. It does not make sense to me if taken literally. Reference
13
votes
4answers
20k views

Why does “do you read me” mean “do you hear me”?

Why does "Do you read me?" mean "Do you hear me?" This phrase is used (in movies) during radio communication, for example.
11
votes
1answer
1k views

Through a Glass, Clearly / A Scanner Darkly / In a Mirror, Darkly / etc

I've seen a pattern in a couple of titles. Asimov has a book called "Through a Glass, Clearly". Philip Dick wrote "A Scanner Darkly". Star Trek has the episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" Agatha Christy ...
9
votes
4answers
21k views

“In regard to” or “in regards to”

Is it incorrect to say either of the following? In regards to your previous email In regards to your previous emails I was asked this by a non-native speaker, and after thinking about it I ...
8
votes
1answer
39k views

“personal issue”, “private issue”, “personal affair”, or “personal business”?

I need to send my boss mail explaining that because of a personal issue I need to handle, I can’t attend the conference. Which of these phrases would best express that I have my own business to deal ...
33
votes
5answers
54k views

“jury-rigged”, or “jerry-rigged”

As far back as I can remember, the usage went something like "Their jury was rigged, and that's how he got away." Or, "They Jerry-rigged the controller at the last moment and it worked!" I used to ...
28
votes
14answers
3k views

Phrase for observing a rule in a malicious way

I know this phrase, but for some reason it is blocked in my mind. What is the term for observing a rule, but doing so in a way that subverts it? I'm almost certain that malicious is one of the words ...
25
votes
3answers
28k views

Origin of “ballpark estimate” to mean a very rough estimate?

I'm wondering where the term "ballpark estimate" comes from? Sometimes "ballpark" is said stand-alone to mean a rough estimate, as in "these numbers are a ballpark". I understand it must come from ...
21
votes
2answers
1k views

Free as in 'free beer' and in 'free speech' [closed]

This phrase is all over the internet. They will say that something is free as in 'free beer' and free as in 'free speech'. I have never really understood this. Are these the examples of two different ...
18
votes
7answers
4k views

What's the opposite of eye candy?

What's the opposite of eye candy? I heard someone say, "Eye broccoli," but that's not very accurate to those of us who love broccoli. Any other ideas?
16
votes
3answers
88k views

What is the meaning of the phrase ‘in timely fashion’?

It was very disturbing to learn that Google will not open source Android 3.0 in timely fashion. What is the meaning of in timely fashion?
15
votes
9answers
56k views

Origin of “More X than you can shake a stick at”

What is the origin of the phrase "more X than you can shake a stick at"? Every website I've seen on this basically says the same thing (e.g., http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sha2.htm): Recorded ...
14
votes
13answers
4k views

What word or phrase means “a loss of what was on your mind”?

Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, a "loss of mind" can affect the speaker. What is the word for that situation and that person ? Are there more specific terms or phrases than: the loss ...
14
votes
10answers
23k views

I’m looking for a word or phrase that describes the feeling that something very bad or catastrophic is about to happen

It may be something that will happen to the person who is having the feeling but it may also be to several persons, as might occur with a highly destructive earthquake, for instance. The word or ...
13
votes
10answers
2k 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 ...
12
votes
8answers
904 views

Is there a name/term for phrasing something such that to disagree implicates yourself?

For example: Now available in all good stores. . . where to not agree to stock an item suggests that your store is not good, or: All rational people agree that. . . where to refuse to ...
10
votes
3answers
4k views

Who will say “Age before beauty” more often? Man or woman, young or old?

We Japanese don't have the humourous and witty phrase like "Age before beauty," as you have. We only have simple and dry expressions, "Please" or "Please go first." However, I recently noticed ...
8
votes
3answers
9k views

Why do we say “right-hand side”?

This question is in reference to the use of the word "hand" in "right-hand side" (and applies equally to the left). My question is what does "right-hand side" say/imply that "right side" doesn't?
6
votes
4answers
27k views

“my friend” vs “a friend of mine”

I always found it weird to hear people say things like "My friend asked me to come" (with no prior mention of said friend), as opposed to "A friend of mine asked me to come". To me it seems as though ...
20
votes
5answers
6k views

The origin of the term “Baker's Dozen”?

There's a "hot question" at the moment about the use of the apostrophe in the phrase Baker's Dozen, and it got me to wondering: where did this phrase originate? Did bakers really offer 13 in a dozen? ...
18
votes
18answers
16k views

Appropriate word for a young person who behaves like a cynical old person?

What is an appropriate term for a young person (child, or teenager) whose words and actions mimic that of a much older person from a previous generation? Such a youngster would demonstrate strong ...
16
votes
9answers
2k views

“Assign a variable to a value” or the other way round?

I was wondering which of these phrases is/are correct: assign a variable to a value assign a value to a variable I'd say the second is correct, but I'm not a native speaker. A quick Google search ...
16
votes
3answers
89k views

Does the casual use of “a la ___” in English preserve the French meaning?

In English, we use a la carte and a la mode, but it is also common for people to add their own word to the basic construction. For example, one might comment on someone's dancing: He showed us ...
16
votes
3answers
2k views

A term describing the replacement of a specific word in a saying with one that ryhmes

I understand this is quite a complicated title, however I have failed to discover a word (or a few words) to adequately describe the creative language used when changing a saying (or well-known phrase)...
15
votes
5answers
10k views

When describing a person without siblings, should I say “the -” or “an only child”?

I understand the phrase "only child" means the only person born from or adopted by a set of parents in a family, or a person with no siblings. I often hear the term used as "an only child," which ...
15
votes
5answers
2k views

A word like “hundreds” but for multiples of 10 [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: How to use “tens of” and “hundreds of”? Take this example: Hundreds of pieces were used to create it. What if the amount were something like ...
13
votes
18answers
3k views

Uncommon Term for an Excellent Orator?

I'm looking for an uncommon term for an excellent orator that doesn’t include adjectives such as “good” or “excellent,” or the noun “orator.” I've googled this request but haven't encountered anything ...
13
votes
7answers
40k views

Alternative to “Merry Christmas” [closed]

The common greeting for the new year is I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Since Christmas has religious roots, it may not be suitable for people who are not religious. ...
11
votes
2answers
17k views

How to use “I love you”?

In Italy, you have two options to say "I love you", I'll try to translate them the best I can: I love you (Ti amo.) I want you to be ok (Ti voglio bene.) The fact is that in English, both ti amo ...
9
votes
2answers
116k views

Origin of “do not argue with idiots” [closed]

What is the origin of the phrase “do not argue with idiots”? Please cite some credible references. From googling around, I found these three variations. One came from the Bible but I couldn’t find ...
9
votes
3answers
12k views

What is the origin of the phrase “stand on your head and spit wooden nickels?”

Where does this phrase come from? Was there a time in which it was in popular use? Is it an American English phrase?
7
votes
5answers
16k views

Phrase for asking the obvious

In my language when a question is asking something really obvious we are using a phrase that if translated means: What is making a "meow meow" sound on the roof/rooftop? Is there an equivalent ...
7
votes
5answers
6k views

Is ‘Set one’s hair on fire’ a popular English idiom?

Yesterday’s (September8) New York Times carried an article titled ‘Setting Their Hair on Fire’ which was written by economist, Paul Krugman. It is followed by the following sentence: “First things ...
5
votes
2answers
3k views

“Spit and baling wire”

I just heard the phrase: "spit and baling wire". I cannot find it anywhere—can you help give me a reference, the origin...and the meaning?
4
votes
4answers
2k views

Is there any online phrase dictionary available?

I use WordWeb which is available online for vocabulary. But, is there any equivalent for getting the meaning and origin of phrases ?
4
votes
2answers
11k views

What's the meaning of the expression “Grab a hold”?

What does it mean to "grab a hold"? There is a song by Cyndi Lauper that says If you wanna grab a hold, let it go...
4
votes
3answers
4k views

“Feel it in my bones”

Does "Feel it in my bones" sound natural? I have never seen or heard any native speakers use something like that, except in a subtitle of a movie I watched long ago. What are other phrases, or common ...
3
votes
3answers
37k views

The difference between a clause and a phrase?

This question What is the difference between a phrase and a clause? has an answer, with no embedded examples. The link it provides is not longer active, giving a 404 page not found error. Please don't ...
3
votes
2answers
59k views

Origin of burning ears

Ive often heard people say: "Your ears are burning." Specifically after someone hearing people talking about him or her. I'm curious what the origin of this is. There's got to be an interesting ...
3
votes
2answers
22k views

“The question then arises . . . ”

I'd like to say something like "Then, we have the question: why did this happen?" What is a proper way to say this using the phrase "The question then arises..."? Is it "The question then arises as to ...
2
votes
3answers
2k views

The meaning of “Even if I should”

Consider the following: Even if I... Even should I... These all mean the same thing, right? What about Even if I should... Does that have the same meaning? "If you should ever," is ...
2
votes
1answer
20k views

Correct usage of “of which”

I have two books, of which one is borrowed. Is this correct? Is there such a phrase?
2
votes
2answers
433 views

“List of tasks” or “tasks' list”

Which of these forms is better: list of tasks or tasks' list? Another question is whether I should use an apostrophe or not (tasks's list vs tasks list). Other phrases which are similar to this, but ...