Questions tagged [idioms]

Idioms are a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. Use [idiom-requests] if you are searching for an idiom with a particular meaning.

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87
votes
8answers
133k views

Which day does “next Tuesday” refer to?

At what point does next Tuesday mean the next Tuesday that will come to pass and no longer the Tuesday after the Tuesday that will come to pass? And, when does the meaning switch back?
32
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4answers
44k views

Why do we say “was supposed to” for “should have”?

I was supposed to do my homework, but I went out clubbing instead. On a literal interpretation, supposed to suggests that other people (or indeed, myself) might have supposed (thought, imagined, ...
20
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15answers
32k views

Phrase for focusing on unimportant details

I'm looking for an idiom or saying that I could use when people are focusing too much on small details and not seeing the big picture. A couple that come to mind are "being penny-wise and pound ...
50
votes
10answers
6k views

Idiom: People caring about minor stuff while something terrible is happening

Imagine a situation in which the whole place is on fire, a bomb is about to explode, everyone is running for their lives and someone is checking his looks on the mirror... pretty inappropriate for the ...
32
votes
27answers
153k 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 English ...
7
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5answers
45k views

An idiom for deriving pleasure from another's suffering

I believe it is what the Germans call "Schadenfreude". English itself has no such equivalent word. (Although it has been adopted as a loanword.) Does an idiom exist that describes it?
5
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6answers
5k 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?
83
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29answers
20k 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 ...
33
votes
5answers
4k views

Terms for collections of animals

As I watched the murder of crows sitting on the line above my house this evening, I got wondering where all of the collective nouns for animals (pod of whales, gaggle of geese, pride of lions) came ...
18
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13answers
23k 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. ...
72
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5answers
6k views

Why “the powers that be”?

In the phrase "the powers that be," as in the sentence: It would never have occurred to the powers that be to run and supervise the National Lottery from anywhere but London. (Oxford ...
14
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1answer
13k views

Difference between phrase and idiom

What is the difference between a phrase and an idiom?
11
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7answers
4k 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 ...
5
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6answers
25k views

“Have got” — verb form and tense

In the following sentence, what is the main verb and in what tense does it occur? I have got a car. There are two possible explanations that I can think of: get as the main verb in the present ...
40
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2answers
30k views

What does the phrase “Begging the question” mean?

What does the phrase "begging the question" really mean? And does it even matter if I use it correctly? Almost everyone just uses it as a synonym for "posing the question" these days.
25
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6answers
45k views

Why do we say “last night” and not “yesterday night”?

As from object, is there a rational reason for saying "last night" rather than "yesterday night", though you would say "yesterday morning" and "yesterday afternoon"?
22
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17answers
23k views

Word or idiom for someone holding (seemingly) contradictory views

I think some good words would be conflicted, or confused. As an example of context, think of someone who believes in freedom of speech, but, at the same time, they would support banning comedians who ...
41
votes
10answers
20k 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 ...
17
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8answers
20k views

Is the phrase “for free” correct?

A friend claims that the phrase for free is incorrect. Should we only say at no cost instead?
18
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9answers
7k views

Is there a word or phrase for something that one might wish exists, but most certainly doesn't?

An example might be a car that is fast, luxurious, reliable, gets great gas mileage, and is very cheap. Clearly we'd all love to own such a car, but it doesn't exist, and probably never will. There's ...
17
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2answers
16k views

Value (in cents) of big words

I found the answer to this question interesting in that he referred to a "75 cent word". I would have called it a 50-cent word, not because I undervalued his answer but because that is how I have ...
10
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9answers
69k 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 ...
9
votes
9answers
17k views

“To kill a fly with a…”?

I seem to recall that there is an expression for when you are throwing something too big at a particular challenge: "To kill a fly with a..."? Or am I way off here? Edit: maybe it's not a fly after ...
96
votes
21answers
16k 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 ...
32
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4answers
48k views

How does the phrase “used to” work, grammatically?

It is common to hear people say "used to" to indicate that they did something in the past but no longer do; for example, "I used to play basketball." How would "used to," used in that context, fit ...
24
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6answers
93k views

Etymology of 'teaching grandma to suck eggs'?

This is such a strange idiom, all I could find with a Google search was the meaning of it, but not where it came from. When you're telling somebody something they already know well, it's sometimes ...
12
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4answers
4k views

Why don't we pluralize “foot” in measurements?

For example, to answer the question, "How tall are you?" valid answers include: Five feet. Five foot three. Five feet, three inches. Why the discrepancy between feet and foot, seemingly only in the ...
6
votes
15answers
35k views

Is there an idiom for people who boast too much?

I am looking for idioms or informal/slang/colloquial expression for some people that make you think that they are able of building a skyscraper, constructing a spaceship, playing the piano better than ...
12
votes
6answers
13k 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 ...
31
votes
10answers
166k views

“The point is moot”

I was recently called out for using the phrase "the point is moot" incorrectly. My intent was to indicate that I felt that the point wasn't really worth debating or discussing. I was then shown that ...
60
votes
11answers
3k 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 ...
52
votes
6answers
124k 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 ...
23
votes
8answers
76k views

Are there any expressions that describe going from a bad to a worse situation?

Are there idioms or expressions in English that describe going from one bad situation to one that's even worse? I heard "between a rock and hard place" but this describes a dilemma not really a ...
2
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4answers
26k views

Is “forth and back” more proper than “back and forth”?

I think the term "back and forth" gets thrown around a lot without much thought. From Dictionary.com: forth    [fawrth, fohrth] adverb 1. onward or outward in place or space; forward: to ...
14
votes
10answers
14k views

Derogatory word or idiom for city dwellers or people who aren't adapted to country/rural life

I'm looking for something people from rural area would use, especially when they refer to that person's inability to adapt to the country life.
12
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5answers
2k views

Do idioms pose an exception to normal definite and indefinite article usage?

I found this phrase in my biology textbook (emphasis added): ...in relation to Earth's history, 100,000 years or even a million years is the blink of an eye. The part of the phrase in question is ...
27
votes
9answers
3k 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 ...
20
votes
4answers
10k views

Origin of “he's 6 feet tall if he's an inch”

I have heard this pattern used before in American English: She's 6 feet tall if she's an inch. It was a gallon of blood if it was a drop. The baby was 10 pounds if it was an ounce. I ...
14
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2answers
1k views

Is there a word for using half an idiom or saying?

Sometimes, when engaged in conversation, English-speakers will say the first half of a well-known saying or idiom, trailing off at the end or punctuating it with a shrug. For instance, they might say ...
11
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4answers
3k views

Use of “them” as an article, not a pronoun

I've seen a lot of times the pronoun them used like an article. For example, in the title of the Delta Rhythm Boys Them bones, or in the first sentence of "Money for nothing": Now look at them yo-...
3
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2answers
5k views

Why do we say kith & kin and not kin & kith? [duplicate]

Why do we often say "kith and kin" and not "kin and kith"? I was taught to believe that family comes first and the other later, and I do still believe in what I was taught.
18
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6answers
7k views

Etymology of “nick” in, in the nick of time?

We have the nick meaning prison, as in "he served time in the nick", then we have the verb to nick, meaning to steal; but if the police catch you red-handed, then "you've been nicked". And if you led ...
2
votes
2answers
10k views

Idiom to describe something that has little to no effect?

I'm looking for an idiom to describe something that has a negligible effect. The only similar question I found here was: An idiom meaning someone's doing something useless and has no result at ...
1
vote
5answers
25k views

What's the evolution of the phrase “milk it for all its worth”?

The phrase "milking it" seems to have originated in the context of finance. According to the OED, "milking" can refer to The manipulation of funds for (esp. unscrupulous or illicit) financial gain; ...
20
votes
7answers
92k views

What does “if you will” mean?

A TV program says, they started this accounting gimmick, if you will, and they... What does "if you will" mean? Is it a short form of "if you will [a certain verb]"?
14
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7answers
470k views

“Take a rest” or “have some rest”?

Which one of the these is the correct, or can I use both? take a rest have some rest Or is there any better way to say that?
29
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6answers
179k views

Is “my bad” a correct English phrase?

I have seen many people use the phrase "my bad" in Internet forums. What does it exactly imply and is it a proper English phrase?
23
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4answers
61k views

Origin of the idiom “go south”

What's the origin of the idiom go south? Why is it go south only? Why not go southwest or go east? Are the direction-related idioms go south, go north, go east, and go west correlated? Example, go ...
19
votes
3answers
42k views

Grammar parsing for “if need be”

I have the following question. There is an idiom 'if need be'. The meaning is clear, but I can't comprehend it from a grammatical point of view. How should I parse it? 'if [smth] needs to be'? Why not ...
17
votes
3answers
196k views

Meaning and usage of “I'm game” [closed]

What does "I'm game" mean and what is its correct usage?