Questions tagged [phrase-meaning]

This tag is for questions related to the meanings of phrases, particularly their definitions and nuances.

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Something "is to" become something

"An atom 'is to' become a positive ion when it has more protons than electrons." Is it proper for "is to" to be in that sentence? If it is, would someone please tell me what does "is to" mean in that ...
0 votes
0 answers
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Does 'Service with exception' look native to English speakers? [migrated]

I saw this error message on my university's website, which seems weird to me. After googling, I found no other people using this error message in their apps or websites. But some of my schoolmate ...
4 votes
2 answers
61k views

Does "You flatter me" have negative connotations?

I always thought that "You flatter me" is just a way of remaining modest when responding to a compliment, as if to say "I'm pleased you think that, although I think you're being too kind". But I've ...
8 votes
1 answer
1k views

Origins/meaning of “is dis/this a system?”

Does anyone know the origins of the phrase “Is dis/this a system?”? After seeing it in 1920s and 30s era American comic strips, and later scattered in multiple pop-cultural contexts, I was wondering ...
7 votes
5 answers
9k views

What does "in the heat of the night" mean?

"In the heat of the night" doesn't simply mean hot weather at night, does it?
4 votes
1 answer
198 views

Put oneself together vs. pull oneself together

I'm reading a book about makeup, aesthetics, the concept of beauty, etc. One of the author's interviewees said, That notion of beauty as a strength and putting yourself together well as a self- ...
4 votes
3 answers
10k views

"Politics stops at water’s edge" -- meaning

I read the following phrase in the topic of foreign policies of a country, "It stops at water's edge." What does "politics stops at water’s edge" mean?
2 votes
1 answer
76 views

Does "breathe in the light" have any colloquial meaning?

I have noticed that the phrase "breathe in the light" is used in several seemingly unrelated pieces of music, for instance, it is the name of a "Stellardrone" track, and in the ...
6 votes
6 answers
9k views

"Jump" - "How High?" - mental image and meaning [closed]

Non-native speaker here. I have come across this metaphor quite often: Person X complains / admires that if A told B to jump, B would just ask 'how high?'. What is the mental image behind that? As far ...
0 votes
1 answer
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What's the difference between "I believe in God" and "I believe in a God"?

I've recently heard these two examples where I don't understand what "a" is supposed to emphasize: Somebody asks: "Do you believe in God?" Then gets this reply: "I believe in ...
1 vote
0 answers
56 views

What does "in a quiet pool" mean?

While I was watching a a True Crime documentary, the narrator said: The young pastor, his wife, and their three daughters looked happy and had everything they needed to live a comfortable life ...
0 votes
2 answers
6k views

Can "Contract concluded" mean that it's been agreed upon?

I am a bit baffled by the phrase "Contract concluded between party A and party B" used in certain official papers originally forged in foreign language. To me it sound like the contract has ...
-4 votes
3 answers
11k views

What does the phrase "have no idea" mean?

Have no idea is a phrase appears many times in the book We have no idea: A guide to the unknown universe, for example in the title, or in this sentence: It's the biggest chunk of reality, and we ...
1 vote
2 answers
134 views

Meaning of . . . “you just meet me on the ballast, and we'll make it a barquentine.”

(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XI, published 1892) Passage 177 “I don't see it,” returned the captain drily. “One captain's enough for any ship that ever I ...
4 votes
1 answer
146 views

What is the meaning of "As bare as a bird’s tail?"

I initially found it in a 17th century English-Dutch Dictionary, page 37 I then found it in https://www.bartleby.com/ As bare as a bird’s tail. 1361 Twelve Mery Gestys of the Widow Edyth, 1525, by ...
1 vote
0 answers
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Origin of the expression “turn the card” meaning to pass on an opportunity

I recently dropped the phrase “turn the card” meaning to pass on an opportunity in an answer of a sister site. While not a common expression, I would have expected most people that I converse with in ...
0 votes
2 answers
88 views

I know it was a liberty—I made it out you were no business man, only a stone-broke painter; that half the time you didn't know anything anyway

(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XVIII, published 1892) Passage 287 “Jim,” I said, “you must speak right out. I've got all that I can carry.” “Well,” he said—“I ...
1 vote
0 answers
23 views

What is the meaning of "as per history's mandate" [closed]

What is the meaning of the phrase "as per history's mandate"?
0 votes
1 answer
306 views

Interpretation of "from...to" vs "until"

I want to understand the difference between these two phrases. Suppose the following example: "John will be in New York from Thursday to Saturday" . "John will be in New York until ...
0 votes
2 answers
133 views

What is the difference between "Chinese-Canadian" and "Canadian-Chinese"?

What is the difference between a "Chinese-Canadian" and a "Canadian-Chinese"? Do I understand correctly that the first part of such phrases will show the origin of a person, and ...
0 votes
1 answer
38 views

with a conscience

(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XVI, published 1892) Passage 252 Then I remembered that I had a friend on board, and stepped to the companion. “Gentlemen,” ...
4 votes
4 answers
6k views

What does the phrase “even a fool gets to be young once” mean?

In the movie American Gangster, Frank Lucas said Even a fool gets to be young once. What does this phrase mean?
0 votes
1 answer
147 views

'. . . there's always a fathom or two of slack hanging out of the other end'

(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XIV, published 1892) Passage 227 “All very well,” said I. “That's your Hoyt, and a fine, tall copy. But what I want to know is, ...
3 votes
1 answer
115 views

Meaning of "be just a little too smart by ninety-nine and three-quarters"

(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XIV, published 1892) Passage 224 “Guess so,” he said. “You needn't fool with it. There's nothing else but a lead-pencil and a ...
2 votes
1 answer
846 views

Meaning of . . . "fill up on a clean break"

(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XIII, published 1892) Passage 210 Thence we turned our attention to the table, which stood spread, as if for a meal, with stout ...
71 votes
7 answers
6k views

"Why does paper cut so well?", ambiguous question? [duplicate]

I have posted a question titled "Why does paper cut so well?" (on the Physics stack exchange). After a while, I noticed that over 40 people understood the question as "Why is it so easy to cut paper (...
6 votes
1 answer
253 views

1920s postcard joke meaning? Cut some ice

Can anyone explain the meaning of this 1920’s postcard? The text reads: “I should worry like the iceman and cut some ice.” Next to this is a cartoon of a little boy with an axe chopping a large block ...
24 votes
1 answer
8k views

What is the meaning of "You've never met a graph you didn't like?"

What is the meaning of the exclamation "You've never met a graph you didn't like?"? I came across the phrase in an article that recommended things to read to help students who are too ...
6 votes
1 answer
472 views

Meaning of "Friday face" in 1592

I was reading a pamphlet from the year 1592, published in London, and came across a rather obsolete and bewitching phrase: "The Foxe on a time came to visit the Gray, partly for kindered cheefly ...
54 votes
11 answers
15k views

Is the word "repeat" really used as a synonym of "vomit"?

I came across an online English language course where the teacher claimed that if one used the expression "Could you please repeat?" instead of "Could you please repeat that?" over the phone it would ...
0 votes
1 answer
99 views

Meaning of "get out" in "He gets out when he can" [closed]

In his famous hit Working Class Man, Jimmy Barnes sings: He believes in God and Elvis He gets out when he can He did his time in Vietnam Still mad at Uncle Sam I can't make sense of the second line. ...
6 votes
4 answers
11k views

What does "good doctor" mean?

There's this quote from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, about brain augmentation, that's been bothering me: I think, and my thoughts cross the barrier into the synapses of the machine – just as the ...
-1 votes
1 answer
149 views

Meaning of 'intellectual vertigo'

I'd never come across the phrase 'intellectual vertigo' until reading an article in The Economist about AI. The sentence goes, By working in the most human of mediums, conversation, ChatGPT is now ...
1 vote
2 answers
171 views

“holding a mirror up to the inequalities across the nation”

The excerpt below is taken from an article in The Guardian, published in October 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still in its peak. The author is Richard Horton, a doctor and editor-in-chief of ...
5 votes
1 answer
2k views

What does "on the trot" mean in tennis?

Watching the pre-game broadcast for the Djokovic/Medvedev 2023 US Open men's singles championship match, I heard analyst Brad Gilbert say that Coco Gauff had won 12 in a row "on the trot" ...
0 votes
2 answers
7k views

What is Oscar Wilde's "Blue China"? [closed]

"I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china." What did Oscar Wilde mean by Blue China?? Did he use it to refer to his friends who betrayed him??if yes,why "blue china"?
15 votes
2 answers
2k views

Meaning of "retiring" in "free admission with retiring donations"

We recently attended a concert in a protestant church in England that was advertised as "free admission with retiring donations". The concert was indeed free with a voluntary (optional) ...
1 vote
0 answers
58 views

What does "what is at" mean? [closed]

One of my friend asked me if İ know what "what is at" could mean. l would like to know what this phrase means.
7 votes
4 answers
3k views

Does "morning sickness" only relate to pregnancy? Did it always?

As far as I'm aware, "morning sickness" as a phrase relates specifically to pregnancy. So, even if you have a medical condition causing regular nausea/vomiting when you wake up and you typically wake ...
1 vote
1 answer
2k views

What is the etymology of the phrase "see what one had for breakfast"?

This phrase is usually referred to women who (accidentally?) reveals more than intended because of such as wearing a short skirt or falling over and having their clothes flip over and thus reveal ...
2 votes
4 answers
1k views

What does it mean to "feel Humpty"?

I was reading a book written in the UK and a character stated that speaking to her sister made her "feel Humpty". I am not sure what she was feeling, as the rest of the dialogue gave no clue. Can ...
3 votes
7 answers
7k views

What does "How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb" mean?

The sub-title of Dr. Strangelove is "or, How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb" and it's used as a very common snowclone in other contexts. But what does the sub-title actually mean? What ...
0 votes
3 answers
3k views

What meaning of "gay" is intended in "He was very gay and had already washed and was now on his feet"?

Yet when he opened the door of the guest room in the morning there was the young man. He was very gay and had already washed and was now on his feet. He had asked for a razor yesterday and had shaved ...
1 vote
2 answers
93 views

What does "chamber sculpture" mean?

What does the term "chamber sculpture" mean? I haven't found it in Oxford or Cambridge dictionaries, but Google provides plenty of hits (~45k) for this expression. I am not sure whether it ...
4 votes
2 answers
133 views

What is the real-time elimination of improbable meanings called in the linguistic literature?

He brought some food to eat on the road. He found some beer to drink in the fridge. Is it only reality and sanity that keep us from taking the beer example to mean he would be squashed in the fridge ...
-1 votes
3 answers
186 views

Is objectual a word?

Is objectual a word? I could not find it in Merriam Webster. I am trying to use it in a sentence like this: A phrase signifies the objectual nature of thing in question. Would I be stretching the ...
3 votes
2 answers
95 views

What does this mean: "Summer unofficially begins once the calendar is on point"

The phrase on point has several well-documented meanings (some of which have already been discussed on EL&U, here). But none of them seem to fit the usage in a headline of a recent article in the '...
0 votes
2 answers
337 views

What's the difference between "think it helpful" and "think it's helpful"? [duplicate]

Is the following a valid sentence? I think it helpful to mention the caveats in the document. If so, how is the meaning different from this: I think it's helpful to mention the caveats in the ...
1 vote
2 answers
1k views

What does "work away" mean? [closed]

What does "work away" in the fourth paragraph mean? At first I thought it meant "be away from home for work", but it also seems to mean "to put forth a persistent, diligent, ...
1 vote
0 answers
33 views

What's the meaning of "tidy limbs" as a descriptor? [closed]

I am currently reading The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. Near the start of chapter six it describes an individual as tidy limbed, what is the meaning of this phase? ...

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