List of Idioms,
English Idioms and Expressions

"A" through "B"



Down below you see a partial listing of English idioms and expressions and American phrases. For more, see the following pages:

C through E ; F through G ; H through I ; J through M ; N through O ; P through R ; S through T ; U through Z .



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Please read our section on Clues To Use.




THE LIST Of IDIOMS BEGINS HERE

"A" THROUGH "B"



A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Don’t risk it.
Don’t risk losing what you have.
Don’t be greedy. Be content with what you have.
You know what you’ve got, but you don’t know what you’ll get.

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A camel is a horse designed by a committee.

Decision making by a committee is not an efficient process.

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A comeback

A smart aleck kind of response.
A good verbal rebuttal to an insult.
A smart (and somewhat arrogant) kind of response.

Also:
Comeback line.

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A day late, and a dollar short!

Too little, too late!
It’s not enough. Besides, it’s too late!

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A dollar a pop

A dollar each.

Similarly, $65 a pop, five cents a pop, etc.

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A drop in the bucket

Insignificant.
A very small amount.

Q. Did you get a raise?
A. Yeah, but it’s a drop in the bucket. I want more!

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A five-hundred-member-strong club

A club with 500 members.
(This is an example. Any organization and any number could be used.)

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A handful

Difficult to handle.
Not very easy to control or take care of.

Q. Would you please take care of my dog while I’m gone?
A. No thanks! She’s a handful.

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A hole in the head

Something that’s definitely not needed.

When someone says: I need it like I need a hole in the head, they mean to say (with a lot of emphasis), I don’t need it!

Q. Do you want to buy my limousine? It’s very cheap.
A. Right now, I need a limousine like I need a hole in the head!

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A leg to stand on

A support.
Supporting material.
Available influence or power.

When someone says: He doesn’t have a leg to stand on, they mean something like:
He doesn’t have enough data to support his theory.
He doesn’t have an alibi to help him in his defense.

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A little time in the desert

Time spent away from others.

When someone says: She needs a little time in the desert, they mean something like:
We’ve seen too much of her. She should go away (disappear) for a while!

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A place of one’s choosing

One decides where.
A place that one chooses.

Similarly, a time of one’s choosing, an activity of one’s choosing, etc.

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A pretty penny

A lot of money.
Very expensive.

Buying a house in Tokyo costs a pretty penny.

Also:
A bundle.
A fortune.
A lot of dough.
An arm and a leg.

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A question of something

About something.

A question of economics means:
About economics;
A matter of economics;
It has to do with economics; etc.

Similar:
A question of taste, ethics, freedom, etc.

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A reach

A difficult thing.

When someone says: This is a reach for me, they mean something like:
It’s difficult for me to do something like this. I don’t know if I can.

Also:
A stretch.

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A shot in the arm

A boost.
A helpful deed.
Something that gives new energy to a person who is weary emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, etc.

Q. Did you get a year-end bonus?
A. Yes, and what a shot in the arm it was! I was just about to file for bankruptcy, but now I don’t have to.

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A shot in the dark

This is about doing something with the hope that it will work. There is no way to predict whether or not it will be successful.

We’re not having any success, so let’s talk to your dad. Maybe he can help us, maybe not. Anyway, it’s a shot in the dark.

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A thing of the past

Obsolete. Dead and gone.
Something that has no use any longer.

Thanks to Craig Newmark and his Craigslist, paying a lot of money for a small ad in a local or global publication is now a thing of the past.

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A ways off
A long way off

In the distance.
In the distant future.

When someone says: A new entertainment system is a long way off, they mean something like: We won’t see a new entertainment system for a long time.

Q. Is your brother ready to start all over again?
A. Considering the fact that he’s lost everything, he knows that having a normal life again is a long way off.

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Above board

With honesty.
Without tricks.

Q. Do we really need to do exactly as the contract says?
A. Yes, I want everything to be above board!

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Above the fray

Being above commotion, confusion, etc.
Having nothing to do with the usual things, especially bad things, corruption, etc.

Used with verbs such as stay, remain, rise, etc.

A. The senator’s campaign manager is arguing with the reporters all of the time!
B. Yes. She lets the manager do the fighting, but she stays above the fray herself!

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Ace in the hole
Origin: Gambling

Big secret help.
A winning factor kept hidden.

She is our ace in the hole. With her at our side, I’m sure we’re going to win this thing. But keep it to yourself for now.

The prosecutor had an ace in the hole: an eyewitness!

Background:
This may have its origin in the game of poker where you have an ace with the face down, until it’s time to show it.

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According to someone

As someone says.
Per someone’s statement.

When someone says: According to my brother, you’re not innocent, they mean something like: He says you’re not innocent.

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Achilles heel

A seemingly small, but actually crucial, weakness.
A very significant weakness in an otherwise very strong person or idea, etc., that can result in complete failure.

Her biggest Achilles heel is the number of people who don’t think she is qualified to be their representative.

Background:
According to Greek mythology, Achilles was invulnerable all over his body except in the area of his heel. He died from an arrow that had been shot into his heel.

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Across the board

All levels, all categories, all employees, etc.

Everybody’s happy as they raised salaries across the board.

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Acting in a certain capacity

Having certain responsibilities.
Working in a certain capacity.

He’s acting in a professional capacity. He can’t just take off and go on a ski trip with you!

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Acting somebody
Acting something

Temporary somebody or something as in:
Acting vice president;
Acting director of public relations; etc.

I’m the acting chairman, not the chairman. I’m acting as the chairman. I’ll be temporarily performing the duties of the chairman until we have a permanent one!

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Adding insult to injury

Making things even worse.

I got a ticket for parking in the wrong place. Then, to add insult to injury, they towed my car while I was talking to the policeman!

Also:
Rubbing salt in the wound.

Compare to:
Kick in the teeth.

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Addressing something

Not ignoring it.
Talking about it.
Taking care of it.
Paying attention to it.

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Admission on one’s part

A person admitting to something.

This is an admission on my part, means:
I’m admitting it;
I’m saying I did it; etc.

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After the fact

After something has happened.

You’ve already signed the contract. You can’t change it after the fact!

Your honor, the evidence was planted at the scene after the fact!

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Age before beauty

Older person first, prettier person next.

This is used (mostly by older men) when younger or prettier women let older men do something first, or hold the door for them, etc. It is used as a humorous compliment.

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Ahead of the curve

Ahead of the others.

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Ain’t

Isn’t.
Is not.
Aren’t.
Am not.
Are not.

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Ain’t that the truth!

I really agree.
That is the truth.
That is exactly the truth.

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Airhead
Air head

Stupid.
Ditzy, empty-headed, no brain.

She’s an airhead. She can’t even spell her own name!

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Airing one’s dirty laundry

Exposing one’s private matters.

Also:
Airing one’s dirty laundry in public.

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AKA
a/k/a

This is an abbreviation for:
Also Known As.

Let me introduce you to Bill, a/k/a the Love Machine!

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Albatross around one’s neck

A punishment. (In the old days.)
A burden that is difficult to get rid of.
A burden to remind the guilty person of his crime.

Also see:
White elephant.

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Alive and kicking

Alive.
Healthy.
Alive and healthy.

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All bets are off.

Rules don’t apply any more.
All agreements are canceled.

A. And one more thing, I also want a 20 percent raise every year.
B. In that case all bets are off! We’ve never talked about an automatic raise before.

Compare to:
No holds barred.

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All but

Almost, nearly all, as in:
The chairman’s visit was all but certain. I’m surprised he canceled it!

Everyone (or everything) except, as in:
All but the morons stayed home during the heavy snow.

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All hands on deck

Everyone needs to help.
Everybody be ready (to get started).

We have so much to do. Come on everyone! All hands on deck!

Background:
This was originally a seaman’s term. When turbulent seas caused a boat or ship to be in danger, the captain would call All hands on deck! It is now a general term.

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All out
All-out

Full force.
With all available resources.

All-out war, all-out effort, etc.

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All talk and no action

This is said about people who:
Give lip service.
Make promises but never keep them.
Talk a lot, but don’t really do anything.

Q. What do you think of the new manager? Sounds like he’ll do a lot for us!
A. Don’t be so sure. I know him from before, and I know he’s all talk and no action!

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All the same

Still.
However.
In spite of.
Regardless.
Nevertheless.

It was a long trip, but a nice one all the same.
She may have acted stupidly as they say, but she’s a gifted performer all the same.

Making no difference, as in:
Democrat, Republican, they’re all the same.
If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stay home.

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All too easy

Too easy.
Very easy.

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All walks of life

When you say People from all walks of life were in attendance, it means:
All kinds of people were there.
All professions and classes were represented.

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All’s well that ends well.

If it ends well, it’s okay.
The important thing is that it ends well, no matter what else happens.

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Along party lines
Political

In line (in agreement) with one’s own party, even if it means going against the will of the people who elected them.

When you say: The senators are voting along party lines, you mean: They are voting for their own party’s agenda; Democrats for Democrats, and Republicans for Republicans.

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Along the lines of

Something like that.

When someone says: Sohaila said something along the lines of quitting school, they mean:
She said she doesn’t want to go to school anymore, or something like that.

Also:
Something to that effect.

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America’s Finest City

This is a nickname for the city of San Diego, although not many people in other cities agree with it!

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Amounting to something

Becoming successful, having a meaningful life:

Q. Dad, do you think I’ll ever amount to anything?
A. Of course, son. You’re smart, you work hard, and you have a good teacher, me!

Being the same as, or similar to, something:

A. I give up. I’m not going to work on this project anymore.
B. If you ask me, don’t stop. In my book, quitting amounts to failure!
A. They say they want to train us, but they are really threatening us.
B. That’s right. This “training” session is really amounting to intimidation!

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And counting

Still going on.
There will be more.

Layoffs total 45,000 and counting.

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And something to match

If someone says: She has beautiful eyes and a smile to match, they mean something like:
Her smile is equally as beautiful as her eyes;
Her smile matches her beautiful eyes; etc.

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And then some

And even more.
Even more than that.

Q. This lady was nice to offer us food. Did you pay her for the food?
A. I’ve been very generous to her. I’ve paid for the food, and then some!

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Animal magnetism

Sex appeal.
Attractiveness in a rough way.

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Anyone’s guess
Anybody’s guess

No one knows.
No one knows for sure.

When someone says: The answer is anybody’s guess, they mean: No one knows the answer.
When someone says: What she’ll do is anyone’s guess, they mean: We don’t know what she’ll do.

Also:
Your guess is as good as mine!

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Anyway you cut it
Anyway you slice it

Anyway you do it.
Anyway you look at it.

And, for a little humor:
Anyway you look at it you lose. Ask Mrs. Robinson!

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Appealing to people

Attractive to people.
Something that people like.

Related:
If something appeals to you, you like it.

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Are you cool?

Are you okay?
Is everything okay?
Have you chilled out? (After an argument.)

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Are you with me?

Do you understand?

Another meaning:
Do you agree with me?

Related:
You’re either with us, or against us!

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Around-the-clock
Round-the-clock

Continuously.
Twenty four hours a day.

We’ve been working around-the-clock to meet our deadline, I mean ALL of the time!

Also:
24/7.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

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As God is my witness!

I swear to God!
God is my witness.
God knows I’m telling the truth.

As God is my witness, I’ll do my best to defend you!

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As good as dead

Dying.
Not active.
Will be dead.
Heading in the direction of being dead.

If you say: He’s as good as dead, it could mean any of the following:
He’s dying;
He’s not active;
He’ll die very soon;
He will be killed very soon;
If I see him again, he’ll be in trouble, etc.

Note:
Also applies to plans, projects, etc.

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As luck would have it

As it turned out.
The way it happened.
As luck would have it, I had left my wallet at home. So I couldn’t buy the jacket!

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As much as the next guy
As much as the next person

The usual amount.
The same amount.
The normal amount.

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching political debates as much as the next guy. I just don’t like this one.

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As of some time

Depending on how it is used, As of some time means “until,” or “starting.”

As of yesterday, we had not received a notice! (Until yesterday.)
As of yesterday, we’re not friends anymore! (Starting yesterday.)

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As sure as Bob’s your uncle

Sure.
You can be one hundred percent sure.

Q. Are you sure this is going to work?
A. I’ve done it before, and, as sure as Bob’s your uncle, it’ll work for you, too.

Also:
There you have it!

Compare to:
Bob’s your uncle.

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As we speak
Even as we speak

Right now.
At this very moment.

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As well
As well as

Too.
And.
Also.
In addition to.

I’ll buy some food as well as some gas.
I’ll buy some food, and some gas as well.

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ASAP

This is an abbreviation for:
As Soon As Possible.

We need some help ASAP!

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Asleep at the wheel
Asleep at the switch

Missing the problem signals.
Not doing one’s job (properly).
Not being aware of what’s going on.

Q. We’re about to go bankrupt. Why isn’t the management doing anything?
A. They must have fallen asleep at the wheel!

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Asset, liability

Asset is a positive point, an advantage, a good thing to have, as in:
Welcome to our company. Having you on our team is a great asset!

Liability is a negative point, a disadvantage, a bad thing to have, as in:

When someone says: He’ll be a liability for us, they mean:
His presence will hurt us more than it will help.
If we keep him, it won’t be good for our image.

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Assuming you are right

If you’re right.
Let’s say you’re right. Supposing you’re right.

Similarly:
Assuming it will rain; assuming we still have time; etc.

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At a moment’s notice

Quickly.
Very fast.
At any time.

Don’t worry! Just call me and I’ll be there at a moment’s notice.
Firemen need to be ready to respond to an alarm at a moment’s notice.

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At arm’s length
Origin: Legal

At a distance.

When someone says: He’s been allowed to manage the project at arm’s length, they mean: His control over the project is limited.

In law or real estate:
At arm’s length refers to a transaction between parties who are not related to each other.

Also used in terms of relationships:
She’s been hurt so many times, she is keeping him at arm’s length emotionally.

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At best, at worst

The best and the worst possibilities expected in a certain situation.

If someone says: At best they won’t say hello, and at worst they’ll call the police, it means something like: The best thing they might do to me is not say hello, and the worst thing is they’ll call the police to kick me off the field!

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At each other’s throats

Verbally fighting.
Arguing very angrily.

A. I thought they were going to kill each other.
B. I know, they were really going at each other’s throats!

Similar:
Duking it out.
Going at each other. Letting each other have it.

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At large

As a whole, as in:
The city at large.

Not specific to a certain area, as in:
The representative at large.

Free, not in captivity, as in:
The killer is no longer at large. He has been arrested.

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At odds with

In disagreement with.

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At sea
All at sea

Confused.

A. I don’t really think he knows what he’s doing.
B. No, he doesn’t. Let’s face it, he’s at sea again!

Similar:
At a loss.

Also see:
Out to lunch.

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At someone’s expense

When someone says: They’re vacationing at DeWitt’s expense, they mean:
DeWitt is paying for it.

When someone says: They’re laughing at Henry’s expense, or at the expense of his feelings, they mean:
They’re making fun of Henry.

When someone says: We’re publishing books faster at quality’s expense, or at the expense of quality, they mean something like:
We’re publishing more books, but with lower quality.

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At someone’s mercy
At the mercy of someone

Under someone’s control.

When someone says: We’re at April’s mercy, they mean something like:
It’s April’s decision;
She’ll call if she wants to;
We’ll have to do what she says;
What we do, or what will be done to us, is all up to her; etc.

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At the end of the day

In the end.
When it’s all over.
All things considered.
Considering everything.

At the end of the day YOU have to decide what you want to do with your life, not me!

Also:
When it’s all said and done.

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At the risk of

Taking the risk of.
Running the risk of.

If you say: At the risk of offending you, here’s what I think, you probably mean:
I hope you don’t mind, but I think you’re wrong;
I may be offending you, but I think you’re a moron;
I hope I’m not upsetting you, but I think you’re crazy; etc.

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At the top of one’s voice
At the top of one’s lungs

Very loud.
The loudest voice with which one can talk or sing.

Q. How’s your neighbor doing? Are you glad you’re living next door to an opera singer?
A. No, I’m going crazy. She’s always singing at the top of her lungs!

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AWOL
Military

This is an abbreviation for:
Absent WithOut Leave.

When someone says: He’s AWOL, it could mean any of the following:
No one knows where he is.
He has left without permission.
He’s absent without approval to leave.

Note:
This is a military term, but it is being used outside the military as well.

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Back in the day

A long time ago.
Years, maybe decades or generations, ago.

Q. Isn’t it funny that your mom still sends handwritten letters to her friends?
A. Yeah. Actually, back in the day, that was the only way to communicate!

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Back of the barn

This has a sexual connotation.

When you say: They’ve been to the back of the barn, you mean something like:
They’re more than friends;
They know each other very well;
They have (had) a sexual relationship; etc.

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Back on one’s feet

Back to one’s normal condition with respect to health, finances, etc.

I’ve been down with the flu, but I hope to get back on my feet soon.
He lost everything due to the economy, but he hopes to find a job and get back on his feet again.

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Back story
Back-story

Not the main story.
The story in the background.

I’d like to know more about Batman’s back story. I already know what he does. I want to know what made him who he is.

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Back to square one

Starting over again.
Re-doing everything from the beginning.

A. Hideko, the test results don’t look good!
B. Well, I guess it’s back to square one, right?

Also:
Starting from scratch.

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Backhanded compliment

An insult.
An insult that sounds like a compliment at first.

Your wife is so charming that I don’t want to believe what people say about her!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Backhanding
Origin: Sports

Hitting with the back of the hand.
Returning a shot with the back of the hand.

After he made a joke at her expense, she playfully backhanded him on the arm.

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Backing down

Yielding after being aggressive at first.
Changing one’s position or decision under pressure.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Backseat driver

Someone who complains about how badly other people do things, but won’t do anything about it himself, or herself, similar to a person in a car who’s not driving but corrects the driver and/or tells the driver what to do.

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Backstabber
Back stabber
Back-stabber

A person who:
Attacks you unfairly behind your back.
Hurts you when you’re not expecting it.
Befriends you but betrays you to others behind your back.
Assures you of his or her support, but does not support you when you need it.

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Bad blood

Friction.
Hostility.
Bad history.

Q. Why can’t those two get married?
A. There’s bad blood between their families. They won’t let them.

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Bad news

When you say: Stay away from her, she’s bad news, you might mean one of the following:
She does drugs;
She’s a bad influence;
She writes bad checks;
She regularly misses school;
She might get you in trouble; etc.

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Bad seed
Bad to the bone

Really bad.
Completely bad, pure evil.
Not just bad on the surface but all the way through to the bone.

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Bailing (out)

Quitting.

After only one week on the job, he bailed (out).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bailing (out) on someone

Leaving them.
Abandoning them.

My wife has bailed out on me!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bailing someone out
Origin: Legal

Helping, as in:
I’m tired of bailing you out of your problems. Next time, call someone else!

Related:
Helping someone out of jail by paying the bail money.

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Bait and switch

Telling a lie at first, and changing one’s word later, in order to cheat someone.

They’re using a bait-and-switch strategy. They get you interested in their plan with a low interest rate, but tell you about the hidden fees later, at which time they encourage you to accept their plan with a higher interest rate!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Balancing act

Multi-tasking.
Doing, or trying to do, more than one thing at a time.

A. The government needs to do a lot about health care, jobs, the war, recession, etc.
B. They will need to do a real balancing act if they don’t want to fail.

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Ball is in your court.
Origin: Sports

It’s up to you.
It’s your turn.
It’s your decision.

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Bang for one’s buck

Value for one’s money.

When someone says: You get the most bang for your buck here, they mean something like:
Our prices are the lowest;
Here you get more for what you pay;
Your dollar goes a long way in this store; etc.

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Bar none

No exceptions.

When someone says: This restaurant has the best steak in town, bar none, they mean something like: It has the best steak in town without any exceptions.

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Bare knuckle fight
Bare knuckle race
Sports

A fight with no rules.
A fight where anything is allowed.

Also see:
All bets are off.
No holds barred.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bargaining table

Negotiation.
A place for negotiations.

When someone says: They’re still at the bargaining table, they mean something like:
There’s still hope;
They’re still talking;
They haven’t stopped negotiating;
They haven’t come to a decision yet; etc.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bases in baseball
Sports

First, second, and third base refer to various stages in the game of baseball. Home run, or home base, is the ultimate stage.

All of these terms also refer to various levels of success in any activity, where first base refers to minor success, and home run refers to achieving a goal in a big way.

All of these terms also refer to various stages in a romantic or sexual relationship, where first base refers to kissing, and home run refers to full sexual intercourse.

When someone says: He didn’t get anywhere, not even to first base, they mean something like:
He wasn’t very successful in his business, or, He didn’t even get to kiss her!

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Be as it may
Be that as it may

However.
Although that may be true.

A. I think John means well.
B. Be that as it may, he’s an idiot!

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Be put under
Medical

Be sedated or drugged into unconsciousness.

Q. Why didn’t you tell them they were operating on the wrong knee?
A. I was put under! I didn’t know what was going on.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bean counter

An accountant.
A financial officer.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Beating a dead horse

Repeatedly talking about something.
Talking about something that has already been decided.
Wasting one’s time talking about something that won’t change.

Q. Can we talk about my trip now?
A. Come on, stop beating a dead horse! We have already decided that you’re not going.

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Beating a rap
Origin: Legal

Getting out of a bad situation without being punished.

Q. Didn’t they arrest him for stealing from his mother?
A. Yeah, but somehow he beat the rap and avoided going to jail.

Also see:
Getting away with something.

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Beating around the bush

Speaking indirectly.
Not saying what’s on one’s mind.

Of course I’ve asked her about her plans, but she always beats around the bush. She never gives me a straight answer.

Also:
Dance around the issue.
Dance around something.

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Beating someone to it

Doing something before someone else gets a chance to do it.

Q. Did you pick up the free tickets?
A. I was going to, but my so called friend beat me to it.

Also:
Beating someone to the punch.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Beating the heck out of someone

An exaggerated, but polite, way of saying:
Beating someone up seriously.
Really beating someone at a game.

The following mean the same thing but are not polite:
Beating the hell (or the ho-ho’s, or the bejesus, or the sh-t, or the crap) out of someone.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Beating the odds
Origin: Sports, Gambling

Winning despite low probabilities.
Succeeding despite low expectations.

It’s difficult but I know that she can do it. She’ll beat the odds and surprise everyone.

Related:
The odds are against it, means: It’s very risky.
The odds are in its favor, means: It isn’t very risky.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

People have different opinions.
Beauty means different things to different people.

A. I don’t know what he sees in her. She’s as ugly as a bulldog.
B. He thinks she’s the most beautiful creature alive. Truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Also see:
Different strokes for different folks.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Been around the block

Experienced. (Could be positive or negative.)

I think you should listen to your older brother. He’s been around the block. (Positive.)

I don’t want my son hanging around with that girl sitting over there. She’s obviously been around the block. (Negative. It refers to sexual promiscuity.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Been there, done that!

I’ve tried it already.
It has been done before.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Before one could say ...

Quickly.
Very fast.

He is the fastest locksmith I’ve ever seen. He unlocked the door before I could say: This is the door!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Begs the question

Makes you wonder.
Raises the question.

Q. The teacher’s decision yesterday begs the question: Did she consider all of the facts?
A. I’ve asked myself the same question. I don’t think she considered everything!

Also:
Beg the question.
Begging the question.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Behind closed doors

In private.
Private matters.

Toshiro wanted all family matters to stay behind closed doors. His wife didn’t; she decided otherwise!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Behind the eight ball
Sports

In a tough spot.
In a difficult situation.

Background:
From the game of pool, where, if you’re behind the eight ball, you will be in trouble.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being a burning candle for someone

Showing the way.
Benefiting people.
Helping someone.
Saying a prayer for someone.

If I can’t be a burning candle for those who count on me, then what’s the use?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being above doing something

If someone says: Susan feels she is above being a secretary, they mean something like:
Susan thinks being a secretary is beneath her, or is not good enough for her, etc.

Compare to:
Not being above doing something.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being carded
Getting carded

Being checked for identification.

If someone says: She was carded at the door, they mean:
Someone checked her identification card when she arrived.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being critical of ...

Criticizing someone or something.
Not approving someone or something.

The opposition is being critical of the government’s latest economic plans.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being decent.

Being properly dressed.
Having one’s clothes on.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being even with someone

Not owing them anything.

A. Thanks for the ride. I’ll make it up to you.
B. No, we’re even. You bought me lunch the other day.
A. Are you sure?
B. Yes, I don’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe me anything!

Compare to:
Don’t get mad, get even!
Getting even with someone.

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Being framed
Legal

If someone says: Boris was framed, they mean something like:
He didn’t do what they say he did.
Someone arranged things to make him look guilty.
Someone gave false testimony (lied) to make him look guilty.
Someone planted (put) evidence somewhere to make him look guilty.

Similar:
Being set up.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being let go

Getting fired.
Being dismissed from a job.

Q. What happened to Jenny?
A. They found her sleeping on the job. She was let go this morning.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Being up to something

Planning to do something sneaky, as in:
I don’t usually see you at the office on weekends, but you’re here today! What are you up to?
Ricky is up to something. I can tell by the way he stops talking whenever I come around. He’s hiding something. He’s up to no good!

Being able or willing to do something, as in:
Q. Are you up to going to the movies? A. No, not today. Let’s do it tomorrow.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Believe you me!
Believe me you!

Believe me!

Also:
You better believe it!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Below the belt
Origin: Sports

Not fair.
Not by the rules.
Excessively mean.

Q. Did you hear what your opponent said about your background yesterday?
A. Yes. It was below the belt, not worthy of him, and definitely not appreciated.

Compare to:
Cheap shot.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bending someone’s ear

Talking to someone for a long time.

Also:
Talking someone’s ear off.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bending the rules
Breaking the rules
Origin: Legal, Political

Doing things that are against the rules.
Changing the rules a little to suit your needs or the needs of someone you want to help.

If you want the work to be done fast, we need to bend some rules!

We don’t usually take orders without a small deposit. I’m going to bend the rules in your case, however, because you’ve been our client for a long time.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Beside oneself

Excited, emotional, upset, etc.
Stunned to the point of coming out of your body and being beside your own self.

She was so excited to see her baby again, she didn’t know what to do. She was beside herself with joy!

Not to be mistaken with besides which means in addition to.
Q. Why aren’t you coming with us?
A. I’m too tired. Besides, it’s too late.

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Beside the point

Not the issue.
Something else.
Not what we’re talking about.

Q. Did you also want to talk about my trip?
A. Yes, but that’s beside the point. That is not really why I called you.

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Better half

One’s spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc.

Q. Where is your better half?
A. Oh she couldn’t come, but she sent her regards.

Also:
Significant other.

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Better off

Doing better.

Q. Do you feel better now that she’s gone?
A. Yes, I’m much better off without her.

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Better part of

Most of.

I spend the better part of the year in California;
We were sleeping for the better part of the lecture; etc.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Betting a cup of coffee

This is about being (or not being) sure about something.

When someone says: I wouldn’t bet a cup of coffee on that rumor, they obviously don’t trust that rumor.

Note:
Anything of little value could be used in place of coffee.

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Betting one’s bottom dollar

Being very sure about something.

You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be at that race next week. Count on it!

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Between a rock and a hard place
Between the devil and the deep blue sea

Being in a position where one doesn’t have any good choices available to choose from.

When someone says: I’m between a rock and a hard place, they mean something like:
I can’t do anything; I don’t know what else to do; etc.

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Between the two of us

The two of us together.

Between the two of us, we make a lot of money!

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Beyond a shadow of a doubt
Legal

Without any doubt.

Q. Did they really find her innocent?
A. Yes and, what’s more, they found her innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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BFF

This is an abbreviation for: Best Friends Forever.

It is used by the younger, Internet and texting generation.

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Big Apple

This is a nickname for New York City.

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Big brother

The government.

Be careful, big brother is watching us! They are listening to our phone conversations, too!

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Big mouth
Blabber mouth

A person who can’t keep a secret, or talks more than he should, or exaggerates a lot, etc.

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Big shoes to fill

Hard to replace.

I’ve known your former director, and I know these are big shoes to fill but, as your new director, I’ll try to do my best.

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Big shot
Big wheel

An important person.

Q. How’s your uncle doing?
A. He’s doing alright. He’s a big shot now, which is how I got this job!

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Big timing

Being too busy for others.
Ignoring or avoiding others, especially if you’re in a more important position than you were before.

He’s been big timing me since he’s become the president!

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Bill of goods
Origin: Legal

A plan or list of promises, especially one that’s not honest.

A. The new mayor was promising a lot of things before, but nothing is happening now!
B. Can’t you see? He sold us a bill of goods just to get himself elected.

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Bitch slapping

Slapping with the open hand.
Slapping not meant to hurt, but meant to humiliate and to show authority and to put the slapped person in his or her place.

Compare to:
Jack slapping.

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Biting off more than one can chew

Trying to do more than one is able to do.

This is probably too big of a mortgage for me to handle. I may be biting off more than I can chew, but I’m going to do it. Besides, I’ll be getting a raise soon!

Also see:
Over one’s head.

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Biting the dust

Dying.
Failing, breaking apart.
Falling down when wounded or dead.

A. We are really getting old.
B. Oh, I know. Every now and then another one of our friends bites the dust!
Q. Do you know what time it is?
A. Sorry! My watch battery just bit the dust.

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Bless you!
God bless you!

An expression used when someone sneezes.
An expression of gratitude used to show well- wishing.

Similar:
Bless your soul!
May God bless you!
God bless your soul!

Note:
In response to sneezing, the German word Gesundheit is also used.

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Blessed with something

Fortunate or lucky to have a special skill, or gift, or position, or home, etc.

Q. Do you think she has a great voice?
A. Oh, yes! She’s blessed with one of the greatest voices ever.

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Blessing in disguise

A good thing that you don’t recognize at first.
Something that initially appears to be unfavorable but turns out to be beneficial.

My having the flu was a blessing in disguise. That’s how the doctor found out about my heart problem!

A. I’m sorry I couldn’t come to meet you today. I think I have the flu.
B. Well, if you do, it’s a blessing in disguise because there was a shooting at work.

Also see:
Silver lining.

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Blowing hot air

Exaggerating.
Talking about nothing.

A. Your friend says he’s becoming a company executive.
B. He’s blowing hot air. Don’t take him seriously.

Also:
Full of hot air.
Pompous windbag.

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Blowing in the wind

This has different meanings for different people.

Being present or clear.
Being in a state of motion.
Being in a place that nobody knows.
The answer’s blowing in the wind. It’s there for everyone to see.

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Blowing one’s own horn
Tooting one’s own horn

Bragging about oneself.
Praising one’s own accomplishments.

I’m not trying to blow my own horn, but admit it, I was really good!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Blowing out of proportion

Making something seem more serious (or important, or spectacular, etc.,) than it actually is.

A. I’m sure this was a minor accident but, the way your son explained it, I was really worried.
B. I know, he has a habit of blowing things out of proportion.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Blowing out of the water

Really surprising someone.
Completely destroying someone or something.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Blowing someone’s mind

Being amazing.

It will blow your mind, means:
It’s great;
You’ll love it;
It’s unbelievable;
You’ll be so surprised; etc.

Also see:
Knocking someone’s socks off.

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Blown to smithereens

Blown to very small pieces.

Also:
Blown to bits.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Blue in the face

Angry, excited, exhausted, etc.
Exerting yourself to the point of depriving yourself of oxygen and turning blue.

She’ll argue until she’s blue in the face, means:
She’ll argue for a very long time.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bob’s your uncle!

It’s done.
You’re done.
Your job is done.

Q. How do I know I’m doing it right?
A. Just follow the instructions carefully, and Bob’s your uncle!

Compare to:
As sure as Bob’s your uncle.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Body language

The way people act physically.

Q. How can you tell she’s happy? I certainly can’t!
A. Well, I’ve known her for a long time. I know her body language.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Boiling down to ...

Coming down to ...
Basically meaning ...
Removing all of the extra things and giving the main idea or point or the heart of the matter.

When someone says: It all boils down to them not liking us, they mean something like:
Considering everything, they don’t like us;
The conclusion is, they don’t like us; etc.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bone headed

Stupid.
Simple.

Also:
Knucklehead.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bone of contention

Reason for conflict.
The subject of a disagreement.

She had previously worked for another company, which was a bone of contention between her and her new boss, until he explained the history for the tension between them.

Background:
This apparently comes from the fact that when a bone is thrown to dogs it causes a fight among them.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Booya!
Booyah!
Boo-yah!
Boo-yeah!

This is an expression showing extreme joy and excitement due to a success of some sort, and can mean any of the following:
Yes!
Yeah!
All right!
Hell, yes!
Awesome!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bottom line

In the end.
The end result.
The main point.

When someone says: The bottom line is that you have to pay, they mean something like:
You have to pay, no matter what.
All things considered, you have to pay.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bottoming out
Bottom falling out

Failing badly.
A thing you’ve been working on completely getting destroyed.
Also the uncertainty due to worries about such great failure.

A. I hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that the bottom is falling out of the economy.
B. You bet. The bottom is falling out of everything!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bottoms up!

This phrase is used when people drink and it means:
Cheers!
Let’s drink to that!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brain drain

Mentally exhausting, as in:
Reading a physics book is a brain drain, especially for my brother!

Migration of top minds, as in:
Our top scientists and engineers are leaving us to work at larger companies for higher pay. A sad case of brain drain.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bread and butter

One’s main source of food.
One’s basic source of income.

Q. You’re not quitting your job, are you?
A. Of course not. It’s my bread and butter. I don’t have a rich uncle, you know!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Breaking bread

Eating.
Sharing food.
Eating together.
Sharing your belongings with others.
Spending quality time with them, close enough to eat with.
Making others comfortable by sharing things with them.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Breaking in

Training someone, as in:
It’ll take a few days to break in our new secretary.

The initial period of usage, as in:
I’m not supposed to drive my new car too fast during the recommended break-in period.

Entering a place without permission or authorization, as in:
There was a break-in at our company headquarters earlier today.

Also see:
Breaking into a place.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Breaking into a place
Legal

Any illegal entrance by force.
Going into a place forcefully and without a key, by breaking a door or window, etc.

Also:
Breaking and entering.

Compare to:
Breaking in.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Breaking the mold

Doing something in a new way, as in:
I broke the mold when I showed up at work in my slippers. Later, of course, I was fired!

Eliminating duplication, as in:
They broke the mold when they made her. She is so unique!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Breath of fresh air

A refreshing change.
A change that is welcome.

A. This new girl at the office is like a breath of fresh air. She has such a nice personality!
B. Are you sure it’s her personality, and not her miniskirt that has attracted you?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bridging the gap

Finding a solution.
Making a compromise.
Making a connection where a big difference exists.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bring it on!

I’m ready when you are!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bringing down the house

Causing enthusiastic applause.
Being very good at what you do.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bringing in a clean broom

Starting over with intention to do good.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bringing to
Medical

Bringing someone into consciousness.
Waking someone up after they were passed out or drugged.

Q. Were you out?
A. Yes, I think I was out for several minutes before they brought me to.

Compare to:
Coming to.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bro

Brother.
Male friend.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Broken man

A real loser.
A man who really, really feels he’s a failure.

Also a man who has suffered a huge loss or is in deep grief.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brotha, sista
Brothah, sistah

One way of referring to an African American man or woman by another African American.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bruised ego

Hurt feelings.
Someone’s pride being hurt.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Brushing something off

Being dismissive.
Not taking it seriously.

My cousin doesn’t accept criticism. He simply brushes it off.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bucket list

A list of things someone wants to do before he or she dies.

Also see:
Kick the bucket.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bull’s eye
Origin: Sports

The small circle in the center of a target.

When someone says: He has a bull’s eye on his back, they mean something like:
He is an easy target.

Also:
When you want to tell someone that you think he’s right about something, you say: Bull’s eye, which is another way of saying: Yes, you’re right on target on the issue.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bum’s rush

A rush.

There was a bum’s rush to get the job done yesterday.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Burden of proof
Legal

The task of proving something.

The burden of proof for my brother’s innocence is on me. I’ll do my best. He’s my kid brother, you know.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Burning a copy

Making a copy. (Mostly applies to CDs and DVDs)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Burning bridges

Cutting off connections.
Terminating relationships.

If you burn your bridges behind you, you cannot go back!

When someone says: Stop burning bridges with your friends, they mean something like:
Don’t cut off your relationships with them because, if you need them again, they won’t be there.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Burning rubber

Driving very fast.
Taking off quickly.
Accelerating so fast that you leave (burned) tire marks on the road.

Faster, faster! I want to see you burn rubber!

Also see:
Putting the pedal to the metal.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Burning the candle at both ends

Working too hard.
Overextending oneself.
Doing too many things at once.

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Burning the midnight oil
Burning the late night oil

Studying or working very late.

Q. Are you ready for the final exams?
A. No, I guess I’ve got to start burning the midnight oil again!

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Bursting at the seams

Too fat.
Falling apart.
Someone who really wants to (or needs to) say something, but they can’t.

Compare to:
Coming apart at the seams.

Slang, but incorrect:
Busting at the seams.

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Burying one’s head in the sand
Hiding one’s head in the sand

Ignoring the surroundings.
Being embarrassed for doing a stupid thing.
Not wanting to be aware, or pretending not to be aware, of what’s going on.

Q. Mindy’s daughter is on drugs. Why doesn’t she do something about this?
A. She’d rather bury her head in the sand. She can’t face the truth.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Butterflies in stomach

A sign of being nervous.

It was time for me to give my first lecture, but I had butterflies in my stomach and just couldn’t move.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Buttering the bread

Making things more interesting.

We’re buttering the bread for our employees and giving them more benefits and vacation time.

Also:
Sweetening the lemonade.
Sweetening the deal (or the pot.)

Okay, I’ll sweeten the deal by giving you a free sixth night if you stay at our hotel for five nights in a row. How about that?!

Also see:
Up the ante.

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Buttoning up

Keeping quiet.
Not saying a word.

I want you to button up about this meeting. No one is supposed to know about it, got it?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Buying in bulk

Buying as a wholesaler.
Buying in large amounts.

Q. How much for the pencils?
A. Do you want a few, or are you buying in bulk? If you buy in bulk it’ll be cheaper.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Buying something

Believing or accepting something.

When someone says: No one’s buying your story, they mean: Nobody believes you.

Also:
Buying it.
Buying into something.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By a hair
By a nose
By a whisker
By this much
By that much

By a very small amount.

He almost made it, but missed it by a hair. He came in third among two thousand contestants!

Remember:
Maxwell Smart missed it by that much!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By a long shot
Origin: Gambling, Sports

By a large margin.
By a large amount.

When you say: Our team won the game by a long shot, you mean something like:
When we won, our team was ahead by many points.

When you say: We’re not out of trouble by a long shot, you mean something like:
We’re not out of trouble at all. We have a long way to go.

Also: It’s a long shot, means: It’s unlikely.

Q. Do you think they can win?
A. No, it’s a long shot.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By all means

For sure.
Of course.

Q. Will you cooperate with us?
A. Yes, by all means. You can be sure.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By any means
By any means necessary
By any means possible

Any way possible, as in: (Positive.)
Q. Are you sure we can get a ticket to the game?
A. Yes, I’m going to get it by any means possible.

Not at all, as in: (Negative.)
That is not the whole story by any means!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By proxy
Legal

Through a representative.

When the political prisoner married her husband, she did it by proxy because they wouldn’t let him in the prison!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By the book
Legal

Correctly.
According to the law, or according to the rules.

I want you to do everything by the book to make sure that we won’t make a mistake again!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By the wayside

Wayside means the side of the road, but it is also used as follow:

Falling by the wayside, means: Giving up.
Leaving something by the wayside, means: Leaving it behind.
Going by the wayside, means: Being left alone, obsolete, etc.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

English Idioms

By the way, I encourage you to read my book, English Idioms And Expressions.

Selected as one of the finalists in the "2011 National Indie Excellence Book Awards", you'll learn English idioms, expressions, and phrases, and their meanings.

Click here to learn how this resource can be of benefit to you.


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