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

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Where does “beat around the bush” come from?

Where does the expression "beat around the bush" come from?
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7answers
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What does the phrase “ungodly hour” really mean?

When I hear people speak of "this ungodly hour" they are usually complaining about being awake (or especially working) earlier than they are accustomed. But why is this called ungodly? It would seem ...
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6answers
960 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 ...
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7answers
700 views

What do you call a circular paved protuberance added to a paved street?

I used to own a house located in a modern suburban street with a circular protuberance, a circular paved (tarred) surface appended to the paved street it was part of. Four houses with their gardens ...
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1answer
215 views

Is it okay to say “that which”?

I know that there are certain times to use "that" (for restricting the noun) and certain times to use "which" (for adding information). How about "that which"?: Truth is that which conforms to ...
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Is ‘on (in) a tear’ a popular idiom?

I was drawn to the phrase, ‘on a tear’ that I heard in audio in this week’s Barron’s magazine (June 6) reporting the good sales and profit performance of U.S. sneaker chain, Foot Locker: It says: ...
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1answer
374 views

“The proverbial wedding ring”?

In old books, I keep coming accross the saying, ...is so transparent it could pass through the proverbial wedding ring. What does this mean?
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2answers
6k views

The meaning and origin of “hedge your bets”

What exactly does it mean? And what is the origin of the phrase "hedge your bets"?
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19k views

Difference between “On your mark, get set, go” and “Ready, steady, go”

Watching Kipper with my son tonight, I was struck by the phrase "Ready, steady, go!" I don't often hear this sequence. In my upbringing, it has been mostly "On your mark, get set, go!" I had ...
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7answers
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Where does “Going out on a limb” come from?

I know that the phrase, "I'm going out on a limb here" means either to take a risk or hazard a guess, but where does it come from? As in, what did it originally refer to before it became an idiom?
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6answers
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What does “to take someone at face value” mean?

What does this mean? I hear it often, but not sure what its meaning is. I think it means to believe what they are saying without proof.
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2answers
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Where does “pull it off” come from?

"to pull it off" was at one time used meaning "to win." And in sentences such as, I don't think you can pull it off. , it often implies the idea of "success." But how did this expression ...
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5answers
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What does “hit me like a two-by-four” mean?

What does this sentence mean? This observation hit me like a two-by-four Source.
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3answers
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“Cheese and rice”?

A new girl started at the office, and she's quite a peculiar character. She moved here from Alabama and is definitely the excitable type. Every office has one I guess. One thing she says every now ...
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3answers
352 views

Doubt about the subject in this phrase: I, me, or myself?

At the end of the evening, the bar was almost empty, with only [I/?] and a very cheerful and pleasant lady I met in the last minutes of the meeting. What is the correct form in this case? My ...
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11answers
5k views

Idiom for the phrase “someone who gets what he deserved”

Is there an idiom for someone who gets what he deserved? Like someone receiving punishment for his evil deeds or someone getting awarded for his good deeds?
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4answers
642 views

What is the grammar behind “Thanks be to God”?

What is the grammatical interpretation of the phrase? I don't understand what verb tense or voice is used.
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3answers
3k views

On the brink/verge/edge of

With on the brink/verge/edge of, is there a distinct difference between these, or do they have more or less the same meaning? Which one is the most informal? Is it all about context?
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4answers
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What's the correct term for potato chips?

In school I learned to say crisps but I don't want to mix it with french fries. So what's the correct term to use, and what synonyms are there?
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2answers
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Why is “stuck in a rut” different from “stuck in a groove” in meaning even though “rut” and “groove” are akin as a line of track?

I found the expression “the economy remains stuck in a rut,” in the article titled ”What would Maynard Keynes tell us to do now – and should we listen?” which appeared in October 10 issue of New ...
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3answers
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Meaning of “one order of magnitude improvement”

There is no single development, in either technology or management technique, which by itself promises even one order of magnitude improvement in productivity, in reliability, in ...
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3answers
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Why do we use the phrase 'Across the pond'?

Why do we use the phrase Across the pond to refer to the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean? Considering the size of the Atlantic Ocean is vast, is it suggesting the ocean is only a small hindrance? ...
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6answers
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Origin of the phrases “third time’s the charm” and “third time lucky”?

What would the origin of the saying “Third time’s the charm”? I’ve also heard “third time lucky” used as well. Are these two expressions related to each other?
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Does the phrase “pull the chain” have some sort of significance in jails and prisons?

My question comes apropos a comment on an old question's of RegDwight's, "jail" vs. "prison". After many answers established that there was indeed a difference in usage between the two terms, JohnFx ...
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4answers
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What exactly does “President Obama will ‘fold faster than a lawn chair’” mean?

In today’s Washington Post’s “Today’s Quote,” picked up from the comment of Former Reagan Budget director David Stockman in an interview with The Daily Beast (hat tip to Political Wire), I came across ...
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3answers
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Are there synonyms for “love marriage”?

I was fascinated by an answer to a comment question I asked under Is the term “would-be” just an Indian usage or universal? about a term for a non-arranged marriage in India. Love marriage was the ...
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5answers
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Is it “just as soon” or “just assume”?

If someone says a phrase that sounds like "I'd just as soon you don't get in an accident, so I'll call you later", are they actually saying "just as soon" or "just assume" or something else?
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6answers
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What does “change one's stripes” exactly mean?

I found a phrase in the headline of today’s Washington Post article (Feb. 14) that reads "Mubarak loyalists change stripes to fit into the new Egypt." Though I interpreted the meaning of change one’s ...
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3answers
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If ______ gets outlawed, only outlaws will ______

What is the common origin of these and similar phrases, and how are they used? I've seen them in both silly and serious contexts. If guns get outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. If ...
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3answers
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What is the origin of the phrase “blue moon”? Any alternate phrase for it?

Was just wondering how this phrase came into being? Was it inspired from some natural or astronomical observation? or is it the result of poetic imagination?
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6answers
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end-to-end alternatives

I just received an email that included the phrase soup-to-nuts meaning "end-to-end." Are there any other alternatives to this? eg cradle-to-grave? I want to include some in the reply email.
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2answers
307 views

19th century American English “slang”?

As I was doing a bit of research online I stumbled on this Children's Corner page 311 from the American Farmers' Magazine 1858. And, frankly, there are a lot of words that look totally foreign to me. ...
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423 views

“Battled-hardened,” Is this one of New Yorker's renowned idiosyncrasies?

There was a really entertaining short story describing customary exchanges of fierce words between a restaurant patron and waitress in New Yorker magazine (June 14.) under the title, “Lunch at ...
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Can you buy things “for cheap”?

The first line of this news story says: Call it space grave robbery for a cause: imagine scavenging defunct communication satellites for their valuable parts and recycling them to build brand new ...
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What is the origin or earliest known use of the phrase “everything but the kitchen sink”?

What is the origin or earliest known use of the idiomatic phrase "everything but the kitchen sink"? I have searched the internet, but I cannot find an origin or etymology. The earliest known use I ...
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5answers
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Phrase which describes falsely improving something

Is there an aphorism or proverb in English which describes attempting to improve something fundamentally flawed by dressing it with a lot of ornament?
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1answer
480 views

OED Appeals: Antedatings of “blue-arsed fly”

The OED has made a public appeal for help in tracing the history of some English words, including: blue-arsed fly noun earlier than 1970 The first evidence for the metaphorical ...
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3answers
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What does “put a floor under the crash” mean?

There were the following lines in former President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention held on September 5th; “In Tampa the Republican argument against the President’s ...
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Why do people use “bone” in the phrase “bone stock” to emphasize that a car is unmodified?

"Bone stock" or "stock" means that a car is unmodified. Where did "bone" come from? Why does it emphasize the condition of being stock?
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What does ‘play a blinder’ mean? Is it a popular phrase?

I came across the phrase ‘played a blinder’ in the following paragraph of the New York Times’ December 12 article, titled “British Euro Farce,” dealing with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s veto ...
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3answers
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Can I say “What you are saying is ‘pants on fire,’” when I don’t trust what my elderly friend says?

There was the following sentence in the article titled, “Romney says inaccurate attack ad is fair” on IowaPolitics.com (November 23), which was studded with several expressions I’ve not gotten used ...
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“Sour cream” versus “soured cream”

Does anyone besides my husband insist on adding an -ed to sour cream? Etymonline dates "sour cream" to 1855, but has no mention of "soured", so I don't think this is analogous to "iced tea" or "ice ...
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2answers
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Where does the phrase “to get on like a house on fire” come from?

Where does the phrase "to get on like a house on fire" come from? (Meaning "to immediately get on very well with someone", particularly a new acquaintance.) It's quite common here in the UK, but even ...
5
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2answers
354 views

What does “We don’t do anything that’s not completely up and up” mean?

I found an amusing story titled “Lobster salad, but a key ingredient was missing” in today’s (August 11)New York Times NY/Region section. The article reports that Zabar’s, the famous grocery in Upper ...
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2answers
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Meaning of “hail to the king”

I can't translate that sentence, “hail to the king”. I've found something like “greetings to the king” but is this correct?
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4answers
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Which is correct: “So far as I know” or “As far as I know”?

Which is more appropriate: "So" or "As"?
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2answers
3k views

What does the phrase “it is up to us to flesh it out” mean?

What does the phrase "it is up to us to flesh it out" mean? Can you suggest any synonyms?
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3answers
1k views

Up or down a notch?

(I apologize for the silly question ahead) I've lost some weight recently, and I was able, for the first time today, to close my belt buckle using a notch higher than usual... For the life of me I ...
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2answers
818 views

that feeling where you feel like you need to do something but can't remember what it is

You know when you feel like you need to do something but you can't remember what it is? You almost feel a little anxious because you can't remember what you were going to do / what you need to do. ...
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5answers
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What does “thanks for sharing” mean?

Many people say "thanks for sharing" and seem to mean something positive and meaningful by it. However, it seems to also have a cold and even sarcastic connotation to it, e.g.: "I got married ...