Common Idioms and their meanings
Common Idioms and their meanings

Common Idioms and their meanings

Acid test Proves the effectiveness of something.
Actions speak louder than words People’s intentions can be judged better by what they do than what they say.
Add insult to injury To further a loss with mockery or indignity; to worsen an unfavourable situation.
After the watershed A time when after which programmes for older audiences may be aired on TV.
Against the clock Being rushed and having little time to complete something.
Ahead of time Something that happens early or before it is supposed to.
All ears Awaiting an explanation.
An arm and a leg Very expensive or costly. A large amount of money.
Around the clock At any time of the day or night
Around the corner Will happen soon.
As time goes by The passing of one moment to the next.
At the drop of a hat Without any hesitation; instantly.
Back to basics An approach that uses traditional ideas that have previously worked.
Back to the drawing board When an attempt fails and it’s time to start all over.
Bad apple Troublemaker or undesirable person in a group.
Ball is in your court It is up to you to make the next decision or take the next step.
Barking up the wrong tree Looking in the wrong place. Accusing the wrong person.
Be glad to see the back of Be happy when a person leaves.
Beat around the bush Avoiding the main topic. Not speaking directly about the issue.
Beat the clock Do something quickly before it’s too late.
Bee in one’s bonnet Carrying and idea that’s constantly in your thoughts.
Behind the times Being old-fashioned.
Bells and whistles Lots of desirable features.
Best of both worlds Enjoying the advantage of two things simultaneously.
Best thing since sliced bread A good invention or innovation. A good idea or plan.
Better late than never It is better to do something late than not at all.
Bide one’s time Waiting for further developments before taking action or making decisions.
Big cheese Influential person
Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush Better to be satisfied with what you have than risk losing it by trying to get something better.
Bite off more than you can chew To take on a task that is way too big.
Black and blue Badly bruised.
Black and white Take everything into consideration and over simply. Judge everything good or bad.
Black as night Very dark and hard to see.
Black eye Bruise around the eye.
Black market Where goods are illegally bought and sold for profit.
Black out Darken by turning off or dimming the lights. Lose consciousness.
Black sheep Undesirable member of a group.
Blackball Exclude or ostracise someone socially. Reject someone.
Blacklist Exclude someone.
Blackmail Extort or take money from someone by threatening to use their secrets against them.
Blessing in disguise Something good that isn’t recognised as such at first.
Blind date Pre-arranged social interaction between people who have never met.
Blood red Description of something with a deep red colour.
Blood, sweat & tears Something that requires a lot of effort and hard work.
Blow a fuse Suddenly get very angry, perhaps over something unexpected.
Blow up in the face A plan or project that suddenly fails.
Blue blood From noble, aristocratic or wealthy family.
Blue collar Working in a manual labour job.
Blue in the face Try hard to win an agreement but usually unsuccessful.
Blue ribbon Superior quality or distinction. The best of a group.
Bolt from the blue Unexpected bad news.
Bookworm Someone who reads a lot.
Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth Born into a rich and affluent family.
Bottom falls out A plan or project that fails.
Brainstorm Develop or think of new ideas.
Bread-winner Person that is the primary source of income for a family.
Bring home the bacon Earn a living.
Broken watch is right twice a day When something is lucky or successful but undeserving.
Buckle down Working hard with determination and full attention.
Bun in the oven Pregnant.
Burn the midnight oil To work late into the night, alluding to the time before electric lighting.
Butter up Flatter someone, usually because you want something from them.
By degrees Something happens of develops gradually or little by little.
By the skin of your teeth Only just succeed.
Call it a day (or night) Stop doing something for a while or until the next day (or night).
Calling time Deciding to end something.
Carry the torch for Having string feelings for someone who cannot be yours.
Cash cow Dependable source of income.
Cat burglar Thief who climbs into buildings.
Catch someone at a bad time When it is inconvenient.
Catch someone red-handed Catch someone in the act of committing a crime or doing something they shouldn’t.
Chance one’s arm Deciding to do something even though the chances of success are slim or unknown.
Chase rainbows Try to achieve something that is very difficult, impossible or very desirable.
Chase your tail Spend a lot of time and energy but achieve nothing.
Cheesy Tacky, silly, inauthentic or cheap.
Clock-in/clock-out Record the time of arrival and the time of departure.
Close to home A comment that is true and makes you uncomfortable.
Cold shoulder Pay no attention to.
Coming of age When something develops completely and reached maturity. When a child becomes an adult.
Cook someone’s goose Spoil the person’s chance of success.
Copycat Someone who copies the work of another.
Costs an arm and a leg When something is very expensive.
Couch potato Lazy person who watches too much TV.
Cover a lot of ground Complete a lot of work or a wide range of things.
Crack of dawn Very early in the morning. The first moments of sunrise.
Cross that bridge when you come to it Deal with a problem if and when it becomes necessary, not before.
Crunch time When an important decision needs to be made by.
Cry over spilt milk Complain about a loss from the past.
Curiosity killed the cat Being Inquisitive can lead you into an unpleasant or dangerous situation.
Cut corners When something is done quickly, and typically badly, to save money.
Cut one’s own throat Doing something that will cause your own failure or downfall.
Cut the mustard To succeed; to come up to expectations; adequate enough to compete or participate.
Cut to the chase Getting to the point.
Day to day Part of a usual routine.
Days are numbered Expected to be in a role or to die soon.
Dead duck Plan or event that has failed or is certain to fail and therefore not worth discussing.
Dead in the water Plan or project that has ceased to function and is not expected to re-activate.
Dead wood People or things that are no longer useful or necessary.
Deep down Describing what a person really feels deep inside them
Deliver the goods Do what is expected or required.
Devil’s Advocate To present a counter argument.
Do time (serve time) Spend time in prison.
Donkey’s years A very long period of time.
Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched Don’t make plans for something that might not happen.
Don’t give up the day job You are not very good at something. You could definitely not do it professionally.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket Don’t make everything dependent on only one thing.
Double date Social interaction that involves two couples.
Drastic times call for drastic measures When you are extremely desperate you need to take drastic actions.
Drawing a blank Get no response from someone when you ask them a question or to have no answer yourself.
Dropout Stop attending school before it is time.
Dwell on the past Thinking too much about something that happened in the past.
Eager beaver Enthusiastic and hard worker.
Easy as ABC Very simple or easy.
Eat, sleep & breathe something Being so enthusiastic and passionate about something that you think about it all the time.
Egg head Studious and academic person.
Elbow room Enough space to move or work in.
Eleventh hour At the very last minute or just in time.
Elvis has left the building The show has come to an end. It’s all over.
Every cloud has a silver lining Be optimistic, even difficult times will lead to better days. Good can come from a bad situation.
Explore all avenues Investigating or examining every option.
Eye-catching Tending to attract attention.
Fallen in love Start feeling love towards someone.
Far cry from Very different from.
Feeling blue Feeling depressed or disconnected.
Feeling under the weather Feeling unwell.
Fever pitch When a feeling is very intense and exciting.
Fill in the blanks Supply missing words or information.
First in, best dressed The opportunity is afforded to the first to arrive or present themselves.
First out of the gate Being the first one to make a start at something
Fish out of water Feeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings
Foot in the door Small but good start with the possibility of a bright future.
For the time being An action or state will continue into the future but is temporary.
From now on From this time forward.
From time to time Occasionally or not very often.
Full of beans Excited or very energetic and lively.
Full of the joys of spring Very happy and full of energy.
Getting sacked (or axed, or fired) To lose your job.
Getting the show on the road Putting a plan or idea into action.
Give the benefit of the doubt Believe someone’s statement, without proof.
Give the green light Provide permission to proceed.
Go belly up Fail completely.
Going places Demonstrating talent and ability that will lead to success.
Golden boy Young man idolised for a great skill, typically in sport.
Golden handshake Large sum of money given to someone when they retire from a company.
Golden opportunity A very good opportunity that may never present itself again.
Grass is always greener on the other side The alternative solution may seem better even if that isn’t always the case.
Grease someone’s palm Give someone money in order to persuade them to do something dishonest.
Green thumb Ability to make plants grow or be good at gardening.
Green with envy Extremely jealous or full of envy.
Grey area Unclear or undefined.
Hanging on by fingernails Continuing to do something in a very difficult situation.
Hard as nails Without sentiment or sympathy for anyone.
Hard time Something that is difficult or to suffer hardship.
Having one’s heart set on something Possessing a determination to achieve something.
Head in the clouds Having unrealistic or impractical ideas.
Head over heels in love Very much in love with someone.
Hear it on the grapevine Hear something through informal or unofficial means, like gossip.
Heart is in the right place Having good intentions, even if the results may not be impressive.
Here today, gone tomorrow When desirable things, such as money or happiness, are temporary.
High time When something should have been done already and is overdue.
Hit the big time To become successful.
Hit the books Begin studying hard.
Hit the nail on the head Do or say something exactly right.
Hit the panic button Act quickly and without thinking in reaction to an unexpected event.
Hit the road Begin travelling or leave.
Hit the sack (or sheets, or hay) Go to bed.
Hold the fort Have responsibility for something or care about someone while others are away or out.
Honest as the day is long Someone that is trustworthy and honest.
Hot potato Speak of a current issue which many people are talking about and which is usually disputed.
Hour of need When someone really needs something – their last chance.
In due course Everything will happen when it is supposed to or at the appropriate time.
In one’s own time Taking as long as you want to complete something or completing something at your own pace.
In someone’s black book Be in disgrace or disfavour with someone.
In the bag Something that is assured or a guaranteed success.
In the black In profit.
In the blink of an eye (or an instant) Something that happens very quickly.
In the heat of the moment Overwhelmed by what is happening in the moment.
In the interim Between two events or something that is temporary.
In the long run Over a period of time.
In the nick of time. Just before it is too late.
In the red In debt with your bank. To have a negative bank balance or to owe money to the bank.
In the right place at the right time When something happens fortuitously or when given an unexpected opportunity.
In the wrong place at the wrong time When something unlucky happens that would not normally have happened.
In tune with someone (on the same wavelength) Have the same ideas and be in agreement with someone else.
It takes two to tango Actions or communications need more than one person.
Itchy feet Strong impulse to travel or go somewhere.
Judge a book by its cover Judge something primarily on appearance.
Jump on the bandwagon Join a popular trend or activity.
Keep something at bay Keep something away or prevent something from happening.
Keeping up appearances Maintaining an outward show of prosperity or well-being while hiding your difficulties.
Keeping your finger on the pulse Being constantly aware of current developments.
Kept in the dark Not knowing the secrets or truth.
Kill time Do something whilst waiting.
Kill two birds with one stone Accomplish two different things at the same time.
Landslide victory Overwhelming victory.
Last straw The final problem in a series of problems that leads to a bad thing happening.
Laugh a minute Someone or something that is very funny.
Learn by rote Learn something by memorising it without thought to what is being learnt.
Learn something off by heart Memorise so well, that it can be written or recited without thinking.
Learn the ropes Learn how to do a job or task properly.
Lemon New vehicle that has many faults.
Let me see the colour of your money Prove that you can afford something.
Let sleeping dogs lie Leave a situation undisturbed, since it would otherwise result in trouble or complications.
Let slip through fingers Failing to obtain or retain a good opportunity.
Let the cat out of the bag Share information that was previously concealed.
Lick one’s wounds Trying to regain confidence after a defeat.
Lightning fast Very fast.
Lights are on but nobody is home Someone is stupid or lacking intelligence.
Like clockwork Happens at very regular times or intervals without fail.
Like there’s no tomorrow Do something fast or energetic, as if it were the last opportunity to do so.
Lining up all the ducks in a row Being well organised in preparation for something.
Living beyond your means Spending more than you can afford.
Living in an ivory tower Living a lifestyle that saves or obscures you from real world issues.
Living on the breadline Having very little income.
Long arm of the law Far-reaching power of the authorities.
Long time no see Not seen since long ago.
Look on the bright side View an unpleasant situation in a positive light.
Love at first sight Start feeling love towards someone the first time you see them.
Lovey-dovey Making an excessive display of affection.
Lump in your throat Tight feeling in the through because of an emotion like sadness, pride or gratitude.
Make a long story short Come to the point without superfluous or unnecessary details.
Make my day Something that makes me very happy or satisfies me.
Make or break Circumstances causing total success or total failure.
Make the grade Be satisfactory or at an accepted level.
Make time Find time to do something as a priority.
Makes your flesh crawl Something that makes you feel disgusted or nervous.
Making a go of it Attempting to succeed at something.
Making good time Completing something faster than expected.
Making headway Making progress in what you are trying to do.
Match made in heaven Relationship that is likely to be happy and successful.
Method to my madness Despite one’s approach seeming random, there actually is structure to it.
Mile a minute Happens very quickly.
Miss the boat Miss a chance or opportunity.
Monkey business Mischievous or deceitful behaviour.
Month of Sundays A very long period of time.
Murphy’s law Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Never in a million years Will never happen.
No time like the present The belief it is better to do something right away instead of waiting.
No time to lose Start something right away, otherwise it won’t be finished on time.
Not letting grass grow under your feet Not delaying in getting something done.
Not letting moss grow over Doing something now or without delay.
Not playing with a full deck Lacking intelligence.
Now and then (or again) Occasionally.
Now or never Something that should be done now or it will never be done.
Off colour Unwell.
Off one’s rocker Crazy; demented; out of one’s mind; in a confused or befuddled state of mind; senile.
Off to a flying start Something that is immediately successful or has begun well.
Old hand Person with a lot of experience in something.
Old school Holding ideas that were popular and important in the past but which are no longer so.
On the ball When someone understands the situation well or is doing well.
On the brain Thinking or talking about something constantly.
On the rocks Relationship experiencing problems.
On time Not being late or something happening at the expected time.
Once in a blue moon Happens very rarely or once in a lifetime.
Once upon a time Something that happened a long time ago.
Only time will tell The truth, answer or result, will be revealed at some future point.
Out of the blue Appear suddenly from nowhere and without warning.
Out of the red No longer in debt.
Out of time No time left to do something or a set time has been reached.
Paint the town red Go out and have a really good time at a party.
Pass with flying colours Pass with a high score.
Penny for your thoughts A way of asking what someone is thinking.
Picture paints a thousand words Visual presentations are far more descriptive than words.
Piece of cake A job, task or other activity that is easy or simple.
Pitch black Very dark with zero or almost zero visibility.
Place in the sun A position that provides you all the success and happiness you want.
Pop the question Propose marriage to someone.
Pot calling the kettle black Hypocritically criticise or accuse someone else is as guilty as the person criticising.
Pressed for time Being rushed or not having enough time to complete something.
Proud as a peacock Very proud
Pull the plug Terminate or discontinue something.
Pull wool over other people’s eyes Deceive someone into thinking well of them.
Pulling out all the stops Doing everything you can to make something happen.
Punch above one’s weight Performing beyond your ability.
Puppy love Temporary infatuation between young people.
Put it in black and white Write down for confirmation or evidence.
Put your thinking cap on Engage your mind and think in a serious manner.
Rags to riches Becoming very rich whilst starting very poor.
Raining cats and dogs Raining very heavily.
Raise the white flag Accept defeat and surrender to the other party.
Raring to go Being very eager or enthusiastic about the idea.
Rat race Exhausting and repetitive routine.
Red flag Signal or indication that something is not working properly of correctly.
Red herring Unimportant matter that misleads and draws attention away.
Red hot New and exciting, creating much demand.
Red in the face Embarrassed.
Red tape Set of rules and/or regulations that slow or stop progress.
Red-eye Journey that leaves late in the night and arrives early in the morning.
Road hog Dangerous driver.
Roll out the red carpet Greet a person with great respect and give them a big, warm welcome.
Sail through something Being successful as something without difficulty.
Save time Do something quickly or in a way that allow time for other things.
School of hard knocks Learning through difficult experiences, as opposed to formal, classroom education.
School of thought Particular philosophy or way of thinking about something.
Schoolboy error Very basic or foolish mistake.
Seeing eye to eye Two or more people agree on something.
Seeing red React with uncontrollable rage.
Sell ice to Eskimos Persuade people to go against their best interests or to accept something unnecessary.
Shelf life The expected duration of lifespan of something (typically food, drink or medicine).
Show of hands Raising hands to vote about something.
Shown the red card Dismissed or told to leave.
Silver screen Film industry
Single file Line of people with one person standing behind another.
Sink or swim Fail or succeed.
Sinking teeth into something Doing something with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Sit on the fence Unable or unwilling choose or make a decision.
Skip class Not go to school when you should.
Sleeping (or silent) partner Person who has put money into a business or venture but who is not involved in running it.
Slice of the pie Share of something, such as money, profits, etc.
Smash hit A big success.
Snowed under Having too much to do.
Sooner or later Something is certain to happen but it isn’t known when exactly.
Sour grapes Pretending to dislike something you cannot have.
Spanner in the works Suddenly disrupt something by introducing something unexpected or unwanted.
Speak of the devil When the person you have just been talking about arrives.
Speaks volumes Express a reaction without words.
Spill the beans Reveal a secret.
Standing ground Maintaining your position
Standing the test of time Something that lasts or continues to work well for a long time.
Steal someone’s thunder Take the credit for something someone else did.
Stiff upper lip Not showing emotions.
Storm in a teacup Exaggerate a problem.
Straight from the horse’s mouth From the authoritative source.
Stuck in a time warp Not changed for a very long time, when everything else around has.
Swallow one’s pride Accepting something humiliating or embarrassing.
Sweet tooth Liking for sweet-tasting foods.
Take each day as it comes Deal with things as and when they happen.
Take with a grain (or pinch) of salt Not to take what someone says too seriously. Be sceptical about something.
Taste of your own medicine Something happens to you, or is done to you, that you have done to someone else.
Teacher’s pet Teacher’s favourite student.
The big time The top level of a profession
The moment of truth When an important decision is made or the truth about something is revealed.
The ship has sailed A particular opportunity has passed and is no longer available.
The time is ripe The right or most opportune moment to do something.
Thinking on your feet Adjusting quickly to change and making fast decisions.
This day and age These or modern times.
Tickled pink Very pleased, thrilled or delighted about something.
Tie the knot Get married.
Time after time (time and time again) Do something repeatedly
Time flies When time passes quickly.
Time for a change Stop what you are doing and start doing something else.
Time heals all wounds (or time is a great healer) Feelings of hurt (usually emotional) will go away after some time has passed.
Time is money Time is a valuable commodity. Payment is needed before doing something.
Time is of the essence When meeting a deadline is very important or critical.
Time of one’s life A time when someone is enjoying themselves.
Time on one’s hands (or side) When you can afford to wait before doing or achieving something.
Tongue-tied Difficulty in expressing yourself because of nervousness or embarrassment.
Too many chiefs and not enough Indians Too many people telling others what to do.
Too much (free) time on one’s hand When someone doesn’t have enough to do.
Top banana Most important person in a group.
Top dog Most important person.
Tough cookie Very determined person.
Tricks of the trade Clever or expert way of doing something.
True colours Someone’s actual character.
Turn back the hands of time Reverse something or go back to a time in the past.
University of life Daily life and work where you learn more than you would through formal education.
Until hell freezes over Something will never happen, no matter how hard or long you try for it to.
Up in smoke Something that ends before getting a result.
Waiting in the wings Waiting for an opportunity to take action.
Walk out on someone Leave a partner and end the relationship.
Wasting time Doing something with no purpose.
Well-oiled machine Unit of people or a group of things working well together.
Whale of a time Enjoying something thoroughly.
White as a sheet (or ghost) In a state of great fear or anxiety.
White collar Officer worker.
White elephant Expensive item that’s costly to maintain and not particularly useful.
White lie Little or harmless lie told to be polite and avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
Whitewash Cover up or gloss over faults.
Whole nine yards Everything. All of it.
With bells on When you are delighted and eager to go somewhere.
Wooden spoon Imaginary prize for the last person in a race.
Works like a charm Works very well or as expected.
Wouldn’t be caught dead Would never like to do something.
Year in, year out Happens every year for many years in a row.
Yellow-bellied Coward
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks People used to doing things a certain way are often unable to change their ways.
Your guess is as good as mine Not knowing the answer.

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