Questions tagged [phrase-meaning]

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

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114 votes
6 answers
335k views

"Here's looking at you, kid" meaning?

I'm sure many will know Rick's famous line from the film Casablanca: Here's looking at you, kid. While I can guess at it, I was never fully confident about the meaning of this phrase. I am not a ...
Ilsa's user avatar
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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 (...
untreated_paramediensis_karnik's user avatar
68 votes
12 answers
140k views

What is it called when someone says something like: "I'm not a racist, but..."

Other examples are: I'm not sexist but (sexist comment) Not to be a dick, but (dick comment) No offense, but (offensive comment) And so on... where they are trying to excuse themselves ...
ian's user avatar
  • 631
56 votes
4 answers
9k views

"What would you with the king?" -From the book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"

In the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, in order to show how punctuation changes meaning and can be used for jokes, it says: Instead of “What would you with the king?” you can have someone say in ...
MaxS's user avatar
  • 943
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 ...
Pete S's user avatar
  • 723
41 votes
2 answers
6k views

What was the crime described as "letting out of ponds" during Elizabethan England?

During Elizabethan England, "letting out of ponds" was a crime: In like sort in the word felony are many grievous crimes contained, as [...], stealing of whatsoever cattle, robbing by the high ...
HeyJude's user avatar
  • 857
39 votes
3 answers
5k views

The phrase "do the lions"

I was recently reading an account of Zola's exile in England after the Dreyfus affair and I came across a phrase I couldn't quite parse: That gentleman, as I had surmised, was a trifle astonished at ...
ConfusedInParis's user avatar
35 votes
3 answers
11k views

What does "Dis sho' am good" mean in this old advertisement?

I was looking through this list of old, racist advertisements. Here's one of them: What is "Dis sho' am good" supposed to mean? I'm assuming it's some sort of attempt at stereotypical vernacular ...
Fiksdal's user avatar
  • 3,305
33 votes
2 answers
5k views

Meaning of "I have often seen Essex cheese quick enough"

John Heywood (c. 1497–1580) once wrote: I never saw Banbury cheese thick enough But I have often seen Essex cheese quick enough. 1 2 The first line alludes to how a Banbury cheese was very ...
Quuxplusone's user avatar
  • 2,662
29 votes
2 answers
4k views

What is the meaning of "his downfall was a mistletoe"?

While listening to the song Death of the God of Light, I noticed the following sentence. His downfall was a mistletoe Now I only know a mistletoe as the plant/Christmas decoration, which does not ...
MX D's user avatar
  • 409
28 votes
8 answers
8k views

Mine’s a gin and tonic

I encountered a sentence that's full of British culture: I have found a pair of my father’s old tan driving gloves, the sort that say ‘Mine’s a gin and tonic’ and that my mother would have ...
Olivia Lo's user avatar
  • 541
28 votes
9 answers
24k views

Why does "big cheese" mean someone important?

This is one of those common phrases that I have never really questioned until now. According to the free dictionary, "Big cheese" means an "important person". But what on earth does "cheese" have ...
Urbycoz's user avatar
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28 votes
1 answer
21k views

Meaning of "with a hose-pipe on him"

I'm listening to the song What shall we do with the drunken sailor and now can't understand what they advise to do with the drunken sailor: Put him in the scuppers with a hose-pipe on him. ...
Andorian's user avatar
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27 votes
3 answers
5k views

What does it mean: think “table” and not “kill"?

The following is from Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers: Ultimately, learning launches need to result in decisions. If you have tested key assumptions, you should also be ...
Morteza Khezri Pour's user avatar
26 votes
6 answers
62k views

What does "better angel" mean in Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address?

I'm reading the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It mentioned that Lincoln replaced the phase "guardian angel" to "better angel". I don't understand what the phrase means. ...
James Gan's user avatar
  • 415
25 votes
8 answers
7k views

What does the phrase, a person (who) is “a pair of khaki pants inside a Manila envelope” mean?

I came across the phrase, someone who wears “a pair of khaki pants inside a manila envelope” in Vanity Fair’s December 1st issue, which came under the headline,”Look at what we love. It’s on fire: ...
Yoichi Oishi's user avatar
  • 70.2k
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 ...
Andres's user avatar
  • 351
24 votes
5 answers
16k views

What does "you're no rainbow-pooping unicorn" mean?

The following is a quote from the CNN news of October 10. Whether you're strapping lawn chairs between the seats to keep the kids from maiming each other or secretly fantasizing about that bottle ...
user49638's user avatar
  • 993
23 votes
2 answers
52k views

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" -- meaning?

I know this quote was supposed to be uttered by Sigmund Freud (may not be definitely). What I'm concerned here is not 'who said it?' but the idea behind this quote/phrase and it's actual meaning. I ...
Harini's user avatar
  • 361
22 votes
13 answers
6k views

Word for a body of water that is sufficiently populated with fish and worthy of fishing in

My game is exploration-and-interaction base. Now that the player has struggled and found a fishing rod, I would like my character to convey the message that "this pond appears to be sufficiently ...
ashes999's user avatar
  • 1,068
22 votes
3 answers
4k views

What is the meaning of "candy striper" in the following paragraph?

What is the meaning of "candy striper" in the following paragraph? Samuel Beckett gets all the credit for being the darkest playwright — fail, fail again, etc. — but compared to Edward Albee, ...
BeatsMe's user avatar
  • 1,478
22 votes
6 answers
5k views

What is the meaning and origin of the saying "top brick off the chimney"?

My parents use the term “top brick off the chimney” for my children sometimes, implying they get the best of what is on offer. For example, the best cut of meat. None of us quite know what it exactly ...
L Dan's user avatar
  • 223
21 votes
11 answers
9k views

A term for a woman complaining about things/begging in a cute/childish way

I'm trying to find a fitting translation for a Chinese term, which means that a woman is trying to be cute in front of her man in order to get what she wants. While she does this, her voice will ...
Rob F's user avatar
  • 411
21 votes
4 answers
5k views

What does Mr. Trump’s “inner rabbit” mean?

There was an article written by Gail Collins, op-ed columnist in the New York Times (February 19) under the title, “Trump Shows His Inner Rabbit.” The article starts with the passage; I am sorry to ...
Yoichi Oishi's user avatar
  • 70.2k
20 votes
4 answers
10k views

When is the phrase, “Are you sitting down?” used, and what does it exactly mean?

There was the following paragraph in the article titled “How Russia wants to undermine the U.S. election” in Time magazine (October 10): One day in June she (Arizona Secretary of state, Michele ...
Yoichi Oishi's user avatar
  • 70.2k
19 votes
8 answers
11k views

Do you say "please yourself" in a non-sexual context?

In an English grammar textbook, I found this example sentence: Dinner's at 8 o'clock, but there's nothing planned for the afternoon, so you can all please yourself until then. I googled please ...
Hiro's user avatar
  • 653
19 votes
7 answers
4k views

What's a positive phrase to say that I quoted something not word by word

Sometimes I quote in my writing sombody else, but I do not know the exact words the other person had used. What is a concise and positive(*) phrase to describe this? I found different options on the ...
halloleo's user avatar
  • 498
19 votes
3 answers
4k views

What is the meaning of "you has the wind of me"?

I ran into this excerpt from the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: I can see, can't I? I've tried my fling, I have, and I've lost, and it's you has the wind of me. Source: Google ...
Dmytro's user avatar
  • 299
19 votes
5 answers
65k views

Why do we "chalk it up" to something (or someone)?

What is the etymology and meaning of the phrase "chalk it up"? For instance: "I will chalk it up to a colloquialism" (source). "Just chalk it up as an odd case and move on" (source). "I would chalk ...
Dan's user avatar
  • 403
19 votes
1 answer
2k views

"Have to split" in the film "The Running Man"

In the film The Running Man (1987), Arnold Schwarzenegger cut a man into two halves. His name was Buzz Saw. Then another man said: "Where did Buzz Saw go?" And Arnold Schwarzenegger said: "He had to ...
The Beefer Fan's user avatar
18 votes
4 answers
6k views

alternative meaning of "pickle"

I've been reading a book by Sue Grafton titled "W is for Wasted" and have encountered a phrase "to pickle the average adult" I have looked up the meaning of the verb and that's what the Oxford ...
Alex Herman's user avatar
18 votes
5 answers
19k views

What is a "hot meal"?

The obvious answer is "a meal which is hot", but when I see this phrase it often seems as if there is a deeper meaning present, as if there is some major distinction between hot meals and ...
JustAskin's user avatar
  • 496
18 votes
4 answers
26k views

Do 'learn by heart' & 'learn by rote' mean the same?

Here in India, both the phrases learning by heart and learning by rote are taken to have the same meaning, i.e., blind memorisation without true understanding. However, some sources say that to ...
coderboy's user avatar
  • 283
17 votes
2 answers
4k views

Shoes with no laces?

In a recent tweet, a former Democratic ethics adviser had some less than flattering comments for the current president (as is the norm in Washington.) When discussing the investigation, he said, ...
corsiKa's user avatar
  • 1,755
17 votes
2 answers
8k views

Why never enter a man’s room in months ending in ‘R’?

In the movie, An Affair to Remember, Deborah Kerr says: My mother told me never to enter a man’s room in months ending in ‘R’. What does it mean? Why must not she enter a man’s room in months ending ...
MaplePatty's user avatar
16 votes
5 answers
2k views

Nobel prize in literature 2018 - what is "encyclopedic passion"?

The question is inspired by the today's announcement of the Nobel prize awards in Literature for 2018 and 2019. The short description for Olga Tokarczuk has been worded as follows: The Nobel Prize ...
tum_'s user avatar
  • 741
16 votes
4 answers
15k views

What is the origin of the idiom "To Stand Someone Up"?

I was curious as to if anyone knew of the origins of the idiom "to stand someone up" in the sense of: My date stood me up. Do you think he'll stand us up again? She stood me up last night. ...
user20586's user avatar
  • 651
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) ...
Kyle's user avatar
  • 161
14 votes
3 answers
1k views

What does Dickens' phrase "told forth" mean?

Charles Dickens Little Dorrit Chapter 25 When he had thus disposed of his cards, all being done very quietly and in a suppressed tone, Mr Pancks puffed his way into his own breast-pocket and tugged ...
anjan 's user avatar
  • 715
14 votes
6 answers
98k views

Never fail to disappoint

When you say "he doesn't fail to disappoint", to me it has a negative meaning as in he always disappoints. But I've heard some people using it as a compliment and in a positive way. So, am I wrong ...
Benyamin Hamidekhoo's user avatar
14 votes
2 answers
3k views

What does “Clearasil-scented grammatical sloth” in casual American speech mean?

John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University comments on the growing sophistication (or devolution) of English language among Americans in the ...
Yoichi Oishi's user avatar
  • 70.2k
14 votes
1 answer
2k views

Meaning of "take down" in "I met her at some dinner and took her down."

I've encountered this particular use in Greville Fane (1893) on two different occasions and am quite perplexed by the actual meaning as none of the meanings for that idiom given by the dictionary seem ...
undercat's user avatar
  • 554
14 votes
5 answers
3k views

What does the word, “truth-up” mean?

There was the following paragraph in the article titled “Welcome to the post-truth presidency” in Washington Post (December 2). “As Politico’s Susan Glasser wrote in a sobering assessment of ...
Yoichi Oishi's user avatar
  • 70.2k
13 votes
3 answers
5k views

"this is a story of boy meets girl"

So I happened to watch 500 Days of Summer which was started by the narrator saying this is a story of boy meets girl. For a non-native speaker, I would rather say this is a story of boy meeting a girl ...
ariady's user avatar
  • 147
13 votes
5 answers
15k views

What does the slang "in my arrogant opinion" convey?

I have seen it on the Internet as follows (abbreviated as IMAO): Only the Muggles will find it offensive IMAO. I know it's contrasted with the common phrase "in my humble opinion," but I still don'...
user155624's user avatar
13 votes
5 answers
8k views

What's the meaning of "let it fly" in this context?

I'm an English learner and I'm reading this article from the NYT: College is the Goal. The Problem? Getting There. But I'm confused by one of its paragraphs: A dove hurtles out of the cedar trees, ...
Yin's user avatar
  • 181
13 votes
3 answers
181k views

Is there a difference between the phrases "I am fine with it" and "it is fine with me"?

In my experience there has been a diachronic split between these phrases: It is fine with me. I am fine with it. The latter has overtaken the former in usage although they continue to ...
WAF's user avatar
  • 2,631
13 votes
2 answers
668 views

Had rather; grammar explanation

In the Iliad (translated by Samuel Butler) I have lit upon the phrase had rather here: But the son of Peleus again began railing at the son of Atreus, for he was still in a rage. "Wine-bibber,&...
Jack's user avatar
  • 486
12 votes
2 answers
3k views

Origin of "Armchair X"

Where does the term Armchair Psychologist come from? I understand it means someone who has no formal training who 'sits in their comfortable armchair' and gives (usually) unsolicited advice to others, ...
user1383058's user avatar
  • 1,096
11 votes
5 answers
5k views

What does "as intuitive as mud" mean?

What does it mean when someone says, for example, That problem was "as intuitive as mud".
Ghartal's user avatar
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