Meaning of Phrases,
English Idioms and Expressions

"C" through "E"

Below on this page you see a partial listing of English idioms and expressions and American phrases beginning with letters "C" through "E".


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"C" through "E" begins here:
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Call me!

Telephone me.

Also: Give me a call (or a ring, or a buzz, or a jingle).

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Calling for something

Asking for something, as in:
Q. What do these people want?
A. Nothing unusual. They’re calling for justice!

Requiring something, as in:
Q. What kind of an agreement do you have?
A. Well, for one thing, it calls for the strike to end on Monday.

Being appropriate for something, as in:
A. I got my raise.
B. Great, this calls for a celebration!

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Calling it a day

Stopping to work, usually for the day.

That’s enough work for today. It’s time for me to call it a day and go home, or to the movies, whichever is closer!

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Calling it like it is
Saying it like it is

Telling the truth.
Making an honest comment.

Q. When you appraise a property, do you usually say it’s worth more than it really is, or less?
A. I call it like it is, no more, no less.

Also:
Shooting from the hip.
Calling it like you see it.

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Calling it quits

Stopping or ending something.

By now, we know that we’re not going to succeed. We might as well call it quits, before we lose all of our savings.

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Calling on

Making a request.

I’m calling on you to punish her.
I’m calling on all of you to participate in our fight against elderly abuse.

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Calling out

Challenging.

I would like to have called him out on his claim, but I wasn’t so sure myself.

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Calling someone on something

Pointing out a mistake, an exaggeration, a deception, or a lie.

Q. Why did you interrupt the principal in the middle of his report?
A. Well, he was obviously exaggerating. I had to call him on those numbers!

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Calling the shots

Making the decisions.
Telling people what to do.

Q. Who’s calling the shots around here?
A. I am.
Q. Well, then, can I borrow your step ladder for a few minutes?
A. I don’t know. Let me ask my wife!

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Calling to mind

Reminding.
Remembering.

When someone says: Julio’s comments call to mind my younger days, they mean something like: They remind me of when I was young.

Also: Bringing back memories.

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Calming the waters

Quieting things down.

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Can do without.

Something that’s not really needed.

A luxury car is a nice thing to have, but it’s something that I can do without.

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Can it!

Get rid of it!

Also: Shut up! Be quiet! Stop talking.

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Can keep a large number of balls in the air and still smile.

Good at multi-tasking.
Can juggle several things at one time.
Can handle many difficult things and still keep cool.

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Can’t afford to do something.

Not being able, or willing, to do something for some reason.

I can’t afford to miss this class. If I miss it, I won’t graduate.
You can’t afford to stay home from the party, because you’ll miss all the fun.
She couldn’t afford to argue with me. I’m her boss, and I might fire her!
I cannot afford to go to the movies. Ticket prices are way too high now!

“Can afford” can also be used in the positive as shown below:
I can afford to stay a bit longer. It’s only five o’clock.
Why don’t you have some more ice cream and cake? Come on, you can afford it. You’re so thin!

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Can’t bat in someone’s league.
Origin: Sports

Not good enough to be in someone’s team or group, or to be friends with someone.

I can’t bat in Dawn’s league, or She’s out of my league, means something like: I can’t have her, or: Compared to me she’s more educated, more wealthy, more glamorous, more powerful, more sophisticated, more prestigious, etc.

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Can’t hear oneself think.

This is about one’s surrounding area being very noisy.

Q. Can we talk now?
A. Well, let’s talk at the office. This place is so noisy, you can’t hear yourself think!

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Can’t let this get to you.

You can’t let this affect you.
You shouldn’t let this ruin your plans, or our life, etc.

A. Now that I’ve lost my job, I don’t know what we can do!
B. Oh, we can’t let this get to us. We’ll think of something.

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Can’t wait (to do something).

Being so anxious and eager (to do something) that it’s difficult to wait until the time comes.

I can’t wait to see you.
He can’t wait to go home.
She couldn’t wait to finish college.

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Capitalizing on something

Using an idea to make money.
Using an opportunity to one’s advantage.

Compare to:
Cashing in on something.

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Captive audience

People who are there specifically to hear you and no one else.
People who are completely engrossed in what is being said. Very interested in the message, captivated by it.
People who have no choice but to listen to or watch an entire presentation, as in a class, or traffic school, etc.

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Care for

Care, as in: Liking someone or something.

When someone says: I don’t care for politics or politicians, they mean: I don’t like them.
When someone says: Do you care for some coffee, they mean: Would you like to have some coffee?

Caring, as in: Taking care of someone or something.

When someone says: I’m caring for my mother, they mean: I’m taking care of my mother.

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Carrot and stick
Carrot or stick

This is about rewarding someone for doing something good, or threatening to punish them if they don’t. The carrot represents the reward, and the stick represents the threat.

She used the old carrot or stick trick with her son to get him to eat the spinach; Some ice cream tonight, or no ice cream for a week!

Compare to:
Carrot on a stick.

Background:
Some believe this has to do with mules: There are two ways to get a mule move forward. Dangle a carrot in front of it, or hit it in the back with a stick.

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Carrot on a stick

This is about tempting, prodding, motivating, or luring someone into doing something. It is also referred to as: Dangling a carrot in front of someone.

She used the old carrot on a stick trick and promised her son some ice cream before she could get him to eat the spinach.

Compare to:
Carrot and stick.

Background:
Some believe this has to do with mules: A carrot would be tied to a stick and held in front of a mule that was pulling a cart. Since mules like to eat carrots, this helped to make the mule move forward and pull the cart along.

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Carrying on

Talking continuously without stopping, as in:
Quit carrying on about your car, and give me a ride.

Continuing, as in:
I’m carrying on my family’s tradition of being musical.

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Carrying someone

Helping someone along in life in a big way.

I’ve always carried him, financially or otherwise. He can never do anything on his own.

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Carrying weight

Having influence, importance, or significance.

A. I’m still looking for a job, but I haven’t found one.
B. Ask your father to help you. He carries a lot of weight around here.

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Case closed
Origin: Legal

Done.
Finished.
Mystery solved.
No more discussion.

When someone says: I’m not buying a new car, case closed, they mean something like:
My decision on buying a new car is final.
I’m not buying a new car, and I don’t want to talk about this subject any more; etc.

Compare to: I rest my case.

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Cashing in

Profiting from something.
Making money on something.

Also see:
Capitalizing on something.

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Cashing out

Getting all of one’s money out of an account.

I’m not happy with this bank! I’d like to cash out and close my account.

In real estate:
A cash-out refinance is a type of refinance that will result in a new (larger) loan, but will let the borrower have some cash to use as he or she pleases.

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Caught flatfooted

Caught unprepared.
Caught or taken by surprise.

Bank executives were caught flatfooted by the public anger over their large year end bonuses.

Also:
Blindsided.
Caught off guard.

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Caught red-handed

Caught doing something wrong.
Caught while committing a crime.

Q. Why are they holding him? How do they know he’s guilty?
A. They caught him red handed. He couldn’t deny it!

Also:
Caught in the act.
Caught with his pants down.
Caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

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Cautious to a fault

Too cautious or careful.

If he wasn’t cautious to a fault, he could have opened his own business by now.

Similar combinations with other adjectives can be used also, as in:
Nice to a fault.
Beautiful to a fault.
Considerate to a fault; etc.

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Center stage

Important.
Center of attention.
Position of importance.

The oil prices have taken center stage again.

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Chain of command

Hierarchy.
The order of importance, or authority, for people in an organization.

If you want to succeed in this company, you must follow the chain of command. For example, in order to file a complaint, you must first go to your immediate supervisor; you don’t go to the president of the company, you fool!

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Chalking it up to something

Thinking of it as something.
Considering it to be something.

Q. You lost a lot of money in that deal, didn’t you?
A. Well, I did, but I’ll chalk it up to experience.

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Changing for the better

Things getting better.
Conditions improving.

The economy has been bad, but I can see things changing for the better.

Also:
Turning for the better.

Opposite:
Changing for the worse.

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Changing hands

Exchanging.
Changing ownership.
Ownership of something going from one person to another.

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Charity begins at home.

Take care of those who are close to you (your family, friends, community, hometown, etc.,) before you attend to others.

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Chasing rainbows

Going after something that’s not achievable.

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Chasing windmills

Going after imaginary enemies.
Going after something that’s not achievable.

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Cheap shot

A lowly attack.
An unfair attack.
A non-chivalrous attack.

A. It wasn’t nice what he said about your mother.
B. What else did you expect? He always takes cheap shots!

Compare to: Below the belt.

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Checks and balances

A control system.
A quality control system.

We have an elaborate system of checks and balances in place to make sure that we have a reliable quality-and-cost control in our company.

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Chew out
Chew someone’s ass out

This isn’t a nice thing to say, but it means:
Shouting angrily at someone.
Yelling at someone for doing something.

Maisha is going to chew her boss’s ass out if she ever finds out what he’s done!
Maisha’s boss chewed her out for falsely accusing him of talking behind her back.

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Chew someone up and spit them out

Destroy someone verbally.
Verbally tear someone to shreds.

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Chicken little

A pessimist.
A person who always warns people about bad things happening when they’re not.

A. I hear gas prices will be going up and then there will be rationing!
B. You should stop listening to these chicken littles.

Background:
From the story Chicken Little, about a small chicken who, when an acorn fell off a tree and hit him on the head, claimed The sky is falling! The sky is falling! This sent the town into a panic.

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Chickens come home to roost.

Someday you’ll have to explain your actions.
What you do today will have consequences that you’ll have to face.
Bad or silly things said or done in the past are now beginning to cause problems

A. I’ve lost so much money in real estate. I was either too greedy or too optimistic!
B. You didn’t use good judgment, and now the chickens have come home to roost.

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Child prodigy

A person who, at an early age, shows signs of great talents or skills that are normally expected of talented adults.

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Chinaman’s chance (in hell)

Not a good chance. (Is used with a negative verb. This could be considered racist and highly offensive. Don’t use it.)

Q. Do you think he has a chance to get admitted to the university at all?
A. He hasn’t got a Chinaman’s chance!

Also:
Chance in hell.
Ghost of a chance.
Snowball’s chance in hell.

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Chopped liver

Ignored.
Unimportant.

Everybody got a gift except me! What am I, chopped liver?

Q. You’ve seen your boss’s wife. Do you think she’s in charge at home?
A. Of course! He’s like chopped liver when she’s around.

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City of Angels

This is a nickname for the City of Los Angeles.

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City of Brotherly Love

This is a nickname for the City of Philadelphia.

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Claim to fame

An accomplishment (or lack of it) that someone is famous for.

Her claim to fame is that she’s been nominated for an award eleven times without ever winning one!

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Claiming lives

Taking lives.

The accident claimed two lives, means: Two people were killed in the accident.

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Classified information
Origin: Political, Military

Information that is available only to certain people with the appropriate permission or clearance.

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Clay pigeon

An object used for target practice.
A person in a defenseless position.

Compare to:
Sitting duck.

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Close call

An escape out of a bad situation by a very small margin.

Q. How bad was your accident?
A. It was such a close call. I almost died!

Also:
Narrow escape.

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Close to the vest

Guarded.
Closely held secret, often of a financial nature.

Q. Can I trust you with a secret?
A. Sure, I’ll keep it close to the vest.

Also:
Playing cards close to the vest.

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Closing in

Trapping someone.
Almost trapping someone.

He killed himself as authorities were closing in on him.

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Closing ranks
Origin: Political

Uniting.
Joining forces to show solidarity.

After the earthquake, politicians closed ranks with the president and called for immediate help for the victims.

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Closing the door before the horse gets out of the barn

Doing something before it’s too late.

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Cold call

An unexpected or unsolicited call (by phone or in person) by someone usually trying to sell an item or a service.

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Cold case
Legal

An unsolved (criminal) case from some time ago that has been set aside for lack of evidence or suspect.

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Cold turkey

Quitting a habit abruptly instead of doing it gradually.

Q. How long did it take you to quit smoking?
A. No time at all. I quit cold turkey!

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Collective sense

All having the same kind of emotion, reaction, position, etc.

When someone says: There was a collective sense of anger, they mean something like: They all felt angry.

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Comb over
Comb-over

Combing long pieces of hair over one’s bald spots on the top of their head.

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Come hell or high water

No matter what.
It doesn’t matter what happens.

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Comes out in the wash.

Things will be okay.
Things will even out.Truth will come out when tested.

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Comfort food

Food that gives a sense of wellbeing.
The kind of food easily prepared for informal gatherings and good times.

Compare to:
Soul food.

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Coming a long way

Doing very well.
Accomplishing a lot.
Achieving a lot compared to where someone has started from.

When someone says: You’ve come a long way, they mean something like: You’ve been very successful.

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Coming across as

Appearing to have a certain characteristic or personality.

When someone says: Sumaya is coming across as being truthful, they mean something like: She seems to be a person who tells the truth.

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Coming apart at the seams

Failing.
Falling apart.
Breaking down.

Q. What’s happening with your company? It doesn’t look good.
A. Thanks to our incompetent management, it’s coming apart at the seams.

Compare to:
Bursting at the seams.

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Coming clean

Telling the truth.

When someone says: Bill came clean on Monica, they mean something like: He told the truth about the Monica incident.

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Coming from behind

Unexpected.
Coming forward from a weak position.

Q. Were you surprised that our team won?
A. Of course, nobody thought they would win. It was a true come-from-behind victory!

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Coming into one’s own

Getting to the point of having one’s own style, identity, ideas, wealth, status, position, etc.

When someone says: She’s considered a gifted performer and is finally coming into her own, they mean something like: She has her own style and is not imitating anybody.

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Coming of age

Growing up, reaching adulthood, as in:
My son is coming of age.

Getting relatively or fully developed, as in:
The coming of age of the solar energy technology isn’t too far off.

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Coming on strong

Being confident.
Using strong words.
Being sure of oneself.

Note:
Coming on strong can have a negative effect.

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Coming out (of the closet)

Telling the truth about oneself voluntarily.
Disclosing something about oneself that’s been a secret, usually about being gay.

Q. Are you finally coming out of the closet?
A. Yeah, I think it’s better that way. I think I should have come out a long time ago!

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Coming out of one’s ears

Having a lot of something.
An overabundance of something.

When someone says: He has cash coming out of his ears, they mean something like: He’s very rich.

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Coming out of the woodwork
Crawling out of the woodwork

Appearing unexpectedly.
Coming from everywhere.

You’ve got people coming out of the woodwork, screaming for more bus service. Everybody’s asking for more service.

Background:
This expression has to do with the fact that insects come out of an infested wooden structure in large numbers, especially if it’s suddenly disturbed.

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Coming to
Medical

Gaining consciousness.
Waking up after passing out.
Waking up after being drugged.

Q. Is he still unconscious?
A. Yes, but be quiet. He’s coming to!

Compare to:
Bringing to.

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Coming to a head

Ending in a crisis.
Climaxing, building up to something, and then having it end.

The health care issue is coming to a head. We really have to come to an agreement soon.

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Coming to blows

Fighting.
Beginning to heatedly disagree.
Starting to hotly argue over something.

We were about to come to blows when he suddenly apologized.

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Coming to fruition

Seeing the final results of an action.

Q. When are you going to retire?
A. Soon I hope, but I’d like to see the library project come to fruition before I leave.

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Coming to pass

Something happening.

We were supposed to have a reunion last month, but it didn’t come to pass.

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Coming to terms

Accepting.
Facing, understanding, and accepting an unpleasant or difficult situation.

It’s not easy, but I’ve been trying to come to terms with my father’s death.

Also:
Coming to grips.

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Coming to the conclusion

Making a decision.
Reaching a conclusion.

Q. Why are you smiling?
A. I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re both idiots!

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Common ground
Origin: Political

Something all parties can agree to.
Something the different parties have in common.

We have found some common ground. We’re both single parents, in our thirties, enjoy going to the movies, and we both think I’m cute!

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Common sense

Something that makes sense to, and is easy to understand by, an average person.

When someone says: It’s common sense, they mean something like:
You should know that;
Everybody knows that;
You should have expected it; etc.

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Common thread

A common factor.

The police are looking for a common thread to tie the recent robberies together.

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Comparing apples and oranges

Comparing different things.
Things of a completely different nature.

A. Comparing Republicans and Democrats is like comparing apples and oranges.
B. Definitely not. If you ask me, Republicans and Democrats are very similar!

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Comparing notes

Exchanging notes.
Learning from each other.

Sharing information for a more complete picture or assessment of something.

Okay class, you’ve all been to the lecture. Now I want you to compare notes, and get ready for our discussion tomorrow.

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Con artist

A cheat.
A charlatan.
An untrustworthy person who can easily convince other people to trust him and believe his lies.

Similar:
A snake oil salesman.

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Conduct unbecoming
Origin: Military

Unacceptable behavior.

You’re a professor! You’re not supposed to be dancing on tables! Your conduct is unbecoming for a professor.

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Connecting the dots

Putting the facts together in order to understand something.

Q. There were many indications that he was planning to run away. How did you miss them?
A. Sorry. We screwed up. Nobody connected the dots.

Also:
Drawing conclusions.
Seeing the big picture.

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Consumed by something

Only thinking about one thing, as in:

My mother-in-law is consumed by greed.

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Contract killing
Legal

A planned killing, by a hired killer, paid for by someone.
Q. Was there a contract out on the victim?
A. Yes, we’ve arrested the hired killer.

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Conventional wisdom

The traditional or existing way of thinking.
What is accepted by people as being correct.

Conventional wisdom tells us not to drive if we’ve been drinking.

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Cornering the market

Having a monopoly on something.
Having a controlling share of the market on something.
Having so much of something that you can manipulate the prices.

Q. I’ve done some stupid things, but do YOU think I’m stupid?
A. You, my dear, have cornered the market on stupidity! You are a complete moron!

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Coughing something up

Surrendering something, usually money, unwillingly.

It’s the first of the month, and time to pay your dues. Come on, cough it up. It’s for your own protection!

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Counting on something

Believing something, or depending on it, as in:

Q. Do you think she hates me?
A. Yes! Count on it!

Relying on someone or something, as in:
Listen guys. I’m going to start campaigning for better wages, but I can’t do it alone. Can I count on your help?

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Courtesy of someone or something

From someone, as a way of saying thanks, as in:
Q. What are the boxes of chocolate doing here?
A. They are Christmas gifts, courtesy of the boss.

Because of someone or something, as in:
I’m sorry to announce that, courtesy of the new tax laws, we’ll be paying higher taxes this year!

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Covering all the bases
Origin: Sports

Considering everything.

When someone says: We covered all the bases, they mean something like: We talked about every possibility.

Also:
We covered everything.
We addressed all issues.
We didn’t leave any stones unturned.

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Covering someone or something
Origin: Military, Political

In the military:
When someone says: Cover me while I’m crossing the bridge, they mean something like: Keep them busy so I can cross the bridge safely, without getting shot at.

In journalism:
When someone says: Cover these candidates, they mean something like: Follow them around and report on their activities.

At the restaurant:
When someone says: I’ll cover the bill, they mean: I’ll pay it.

At the workplace, with “for”:
When someone says: Please cover for me while I’m at the hospital, they mean: Perform my duties in my absence. Answer my calls, meet with my clients, etc., until I come back.

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Crack of dawn

Very early morning.
The very beginning of a new day.

I’ve been working since the crack of dawn.

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Cracker barrel
Cracker-barrel

Typical of country life.
Suggestive of casual discussions, about any subject, by persons (typically gathered around a barrel containing crackers!) at a general store.

Related:
Cracker barrel philosophy.
Cracker barrel discussions.

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Cracking down
Origin: Legal, Political

Regulating.
Investigating.
Enforcing the existing regulations.

The police should really crack down on violence, and arrest some of these drug dealers before things get even worse.

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

Crashing a party

Showing up at a party uninvited.
Going somewhere without an invitation.

Q. We’re going to crash the party at Bobby’s house. Do you want to come with us?
A. No, and you shouldn’t go either! He was really upset the last time we did it.

Related:
Gatecrasher.
Party crasher.

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Crazy like a fox

Very smart.

Q. I think your friend is crazy; otherwise, why is he doing all of these stupid things?
A. Yeah, he’s crazy like a fox! He knows exactly what he’s doing.

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Cream of the crop

Best of the best.

Background:
This has to do with the cream (or sweet cream), the part of milk that rises to the top, generally considered to be the best part by a lot of people.

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Creating a buzz

Getting people to talk about you or your product.
Making yourself or your product interesting so that everyone’s talking about you or it.

Related:
Buzzword.
Buzz-phrase.
Catch phrase.

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Creating a monster

You cause or help someone to flourish in some respect. Later, however, they get out of control (or carried away or conceited) and turn around and hurt you.

When I encouraged my ex-wife to become a lawyer, I didn’t know I was creating a monster. Now she’s using her legal mind to drive me out of business!

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

Crediting someone

Giving credit to someone.

In her books, she credits her family members and thanks them.

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

Crocodile tears

Fake tears.
False sadness or sympathy.

The killer cried in court, but those were just crocodile tears. He wasn’t really sorry.

Note:
Alligator tears is used, but it is incorrect.

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

Cross my heart.

Creating trust.
Assuring the listener that the statement is true.

Q. Can I be sure you’ll be there?
A. I’ll be there. I promise. Cross my heart!

Background:
The complete idiom is: Cross my heart and hope to die. It makes a reference to the sign of the cross. It was, and still is, believed that by crossing your heart you will keep the devil away.

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Crossing the line
Origin: Sports

Disrespecting.
Doing or saying the wrong thing.

Going too far in what was said or done, as in:
I don’t care who he is. He crossed the line and needs to apologize.

Joining the other side, as in:
If this infighting goes on, some of the voters will cross party lines and vote for the other party’s candidate.

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Crying one’s eyes out

Deep, heavy sobbing.
Crying a lot or for a long time.

Q. What’s the matter? Was it a very sad movie?
A. Yeah, I think I’ll go home and cry my eyes out.

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Crying uncle

Giving up.

They’re trying to make her cry uncle, but I know her better. She’ll never give up.

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

Crying wolf

Delivering a false alarm.
Lying or exaggerating about being in danger.

Background:
From "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the story of a young shepherd who used to cry and make villagers believe that a wolf was attacking his sheep so that they would all come running to help him. After he did this a few times, the villagers stopped believing him. When one day the wolf actually attacked his herd, and he cried out for help, no one came to help him.

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

Curiosity killed the cat!

If you don’t mind your own business, or if you ask too many questions, you’ll get in trouble!

Also:
Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.

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

Curve ball
Sports

A tricky situation.
A deceptive action.
Something that takes you completely by surprise.

Q. How can you blame her? She was thrown a curve ball!
A. I know but, in her position as the chairwoman, she should have been more prepared.

Background:
The term comes from baseball. A curve ball is thrown in such a way that it follows a curved path in the air. This, combined with the high speed at which the ball is going, makes it difficult or tricky for the opponent player to handle. Curve balls are also thrown when the batter is not expecting it, to throw them off.

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Cut and dry
Cut-and-dry

Clear.
Obvious.
Ordinary.
Prepared.
Easy to follow.
Already decided.
Nothing special about it.

Q. You think you can do this?
A. Oh yes, it’s pretty cut-and-dry.

Also:
Cut and dried.

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

Cut out for

Made for.

When someone says: This job was cut out for you, they mean something like: It was made for you. It is perfect for you.

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

Cut to the chase!

Let’s get started.
What’s on your mind?
Stop wasting my time.
What is the real problem?
What are you trying to say?
What is really bothering you?
Let’s talk about the things you really want to talk about.

Also:
Get to the point.Compare to:
Beating around the bush.

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

Cute as a button

Very cute.
(Often used for young children or infants.)

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

Cutting both ways

Maybe, maybe not.
Having advantages, but also disadvantages.

Q. What do you think of the loan?
A. It cuts both ways. It adds to your monthly payments, but it also helps your business.

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

Cutting corners

Doing things cheaply.
Not following all of the rules.
Lowering the quality to save money.

A. I know for a fact that some of the contractors are cutting corners to save money.
B. If that’s true, it may be unsafe, and may even be illegal. I think we should fire them.

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

Cutting one’s losses

Stopping one’s losses.
Getting out of a losing situation.

When someone says: Let’s sell this business and cut our losses, they mean something like: We’ve lost a lot so far. It’s time to stop losing.

Also:
Stop the bleeding.

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

Cutting the legs
Legal

Striking a decisive blow that will cripple an idea, a person, a competing business, a case, etc.

The new evidence has really cut the legs out of the defense. Actually, they don’t even have a defense any more.

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

Dancing around the issue
Dancing around something

Avoiding the issue.
Not addressing the issue.

I asked you a question, and I would appreciate it if you would stop dancing around it! Do you want to get married or not?

Also see:
Cut to the chase.
Beating around the bush.

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

Dancing in the end-zone
Sports

Celebrating a victory, especially in a sporting event

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

Dark horse
Political

Underdog.
A promising, but previously unknown, political candidate.
Someone you don’t expect to win, but who ends up winning.

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

Date back
Dating back

A date in the past.
Determining a date in the past.

When someone says: These pictures date back many years, they mean something like: The pictures were taken many years ago.

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Day in and day out
Day-in and day-out

Constantly, all of the time.
Every day for a long time. (Usually denoting a boring activity.)

I really need a vacation. I’ve been stuffing envelopes day-in and day-out for five months. It’s killing me!

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

Day of reckoning

Judgment day.
Day of judgment.
The day when you have to answer for your actions.

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

Dead in the water

A situation where nothing can be done.

When someone says: We’re dead in the water, they mean something like: There’s nothing we can do.

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

Dead man walking

A man on death row walking to his execution.
A person who will most certainly be in trouble soon.
Someone who will definitely be losing their job.
An announcement that a man on death row is walking to his execution.
A person given the death penalty, waiting for the execution to take place.
A person who has a mob hit on them; someone hires someone to kill someone else, and they’re considered to be a dead man walking.

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

Dead meat

In serious trouble.

Q. Are you going to tell your wife what happened?
A. No! If she finds out I’ll be dead meat.

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

Dead or alive
Wanted dead or alive

This is used when:
Someone is wanted, no matter what.
The police want to capture a suspect no matter what!
The goal is to put someone out of commission, regardless of guilt or innocence.

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Dead presidents

Cash.
Monetary bills.
Dollar bills, paper money, in general, because they mostly have portraits of the late U.S. presidents on them.

A “Hot one” is a $1 bill.
An “Abe” is a $5 bill.
A “Jackson” is a $20 bill.
A “Grant” is a $50 bill.
A “Benjamin” or a “C-note” is a $100 bill.

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

Dead ringer
Origin: Sports

Exact duplicate.
Exact look alike.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. She’s a dead ringer for your mother!

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

Deal breaker

Something that makes going through with a deal impossible.

Q. By the way, I smoke. Is that okay?
A. Well, smoking is not allowed. You know I would like to rent a room to you, but this is a deal breaker!

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

Deal with it!

Handle it!
Accept it!

Look. I don’t like it any more than you do, but we have to get rid of our cat. Deal with it!

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

Deal!
It’s a deal!

Okay.
I agree.
Let’s do it.

A. I’ll do my homework regularly if you buy me a drum set.
B. It’s a deal!

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

Dealing from the bottom of the deck
Origin: Gambling

Cheating people.
Cheating when playing cards.
Dealing with people in an unfair way.

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

Deck the halls.

Decorating (mainly) for Christmas, but also for other special occasions.

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

Dedicated someone or something

An item or person assigned for a specific purpose.

We have a dedicated computer for the kids, means something like: Grown-ups should use another computer.

We have hired a dedicated weight and balance engineer, means something like:He only does weight and balance calculations. For design purposes we go to our design engineer.

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Deep pockets

Rich people, or large companies, with lots of financial backing.

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

Deep sixing
Deep-sixing

Destroying.
Getting rid of or throwing away.
Rejecting beyond resurrecting.

I’m not deep-sixing my chances, am I?
I made a proposal to the Board of Directors, but they deep-sixed it.

Background:
Probably comes from burial procedures, referring to bodies being buried six feet under the ground. It could also be a nautical term relating to ships and submarines sinking so deep that they could not be resurrected.

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Departure from the norm

Not normal.
Not the usual.

What you’re proposing sounds okay to me. For him, however, it’s a departure from the norm and doesn’t make sense.

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Devil is in the details.

Details are important.
Overlooking the little things can get you into trouble.
Details can ruin something by making it too confusing.

Q. This looked so simple! How did we get in trouble?
A. The devil’s in the details! We simply should have been more careful.

Also: It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine!

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Devil’s advocate

One who argues against a policy, cause, plan, position, etc., not because they’re against it, but because they want to find its weaknesses or to refine it.

Listen. I like what you’re trying to do, but let me play the devil’s advocate for a minute. How are you going to pay for it?

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Different strokes for different folks

People are different and have different tastes.

Also see:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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Digging in one’s heels

Getting ready.
Getting established in a place or position.
Taking a position and sticking to it, even if there is a lot of opposition.

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Digging oneself into a hole

Getting oneself into trouble.
Getting into a position that may be challenging to get out of.

We dug ourselves into this hole, and we have to get out of it ourselves.

When you’re in a hole, stop digging further and find a way out!

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Digging up bones

Looking into the past and uncovering old secrets.

Don’t you have anything better to do than to dig up bones? Come on, don’t waste your time. Get on with your life!

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Dime a dozen
Dime-a-dozen

Very cheap or inexpensive, as in:
I can find cheap polyester shirts everywhere. They’re a dime-a-dozen these days!

Also see:
Dirt cheap.

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Dirt cheap

Very cheap or inexpensive, as in:
You can build your own computer at home. The parts are dirt cheap.

Also see:
Dime-a-dozen.

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Dirty old man

An older man who thinks a lot about having sex with younger women, or actually does or says things about it.Also a humorous way of saying that an older man is thinking too much about sex and sexual themes.

Don’t worry about him. He’s just a dirty old man!

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Dissin’ someone
Dissing someone

Disrespecting someone.
Ignoring or avoiding them.

Hey man, stop dissin’ me!
Joe and Moe haven’t talked to each other ever since Joe dissed Moe’s wife.

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Dittohead
Ditto head

Someone who agrees with another person mindlessly.
Someone who always agrees with a person who is in a powerful position.

Also:
A sheep.
A suck-up.
A brown-noser.
A kiss ass. (Same thing, but not very polite!)

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Do it, and die!

Don’t do it.
If you do it, I’ll kill you.
If you do it, you’ll be sorry.

Similar:
Don’t you dare do it!

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Do over
Do-over

A second chance.

I wish there was a do-over for life.

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

Dodging the bullet

Avoiding trouble.

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

Dog and pony show
Dog-and-pony show

A publicity event, not a true representation of facts, often to impress and gain the approval of a (potential) client.

Q. What are all the decorations for? Is the chairman coming for a visit again?
A. Yes, along with several potential clients, so we’re having another dog-and-pony show.

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

Dog eat dog
Dog-eat-dog

Dangerous.
Characterized by mean behavior; people fighting like dogs to get what they want.
A world where people only look after themselves and won’t hesitate to hurt you.

When someone says: It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, they mean something like: Be careful, it’s very dangerous!

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

Doggone it!

This phrase is a nicer way of saying:
Darn it!
Dang it!
Dammit!
Goddammit!

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

Doing a double-take

Looking again.
Looking at something, or thinking about it, again.
Having to look more than once because you don’t believe what you just saw.

When I saw Susie, I had to do a double-take because her appearance had changed so radically!

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

Doing a number on someone or something

Hurting someone or damaging something.
Causing a person to hurt or suffer emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, etc

Q. Why are you still upset with your brother? Is it for borrowing your car without telling you?
A. He did a number on me AND my car. I missed my class, and my car is damaged!

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

Doing justice

Telling or showing the true extent of someone’s character or accomplishments, etc.

When someone says: This picture doesn’t do her justice, they mean something like: It doesn’t show the full extent of her beauty.

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

Doing someone in
Legal

Murdering someone.

The street gang members were afraid one of their younger members would betray them, so they did him in.

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

Doing someone’s bidding

Doing someone’s work.
Doing something that someone else tells you to do.

She can easily trick him into doing her bidding by pretending to be helpless.

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

Doing something ‘til the sun shines

Doing something for a long time.
Doing something until the sun comes up.

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

Doing something like there’s no tomorrow

Doing a lot of something.
Doing too much of something.
Doing something as if there will be no consequence for it tomorrow.

He was drinking like there was no tomorrow.
She’s spending money like there’s no tomorrow.

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

Don’t be a stranger!

Keep in touch.
Call, or come and see us, from time to time.

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

Don’t be long.

Do it quickly.
Come back soon.
Don’t take too much time.

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

Don’t bet on it!
Gambling

Don’t be so sure.

A. I think this time they will come to an agreement about the global warming issue.
B. Don’t bet on it!

Also:
Don’t hold your breath!

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

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Don’t insult (hurt, criticize, attack, etc.) those who are helping you.

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

Don’t get mad, get even!

Get revenge.
Don’t react out of anger.
Use your head before you retaliate.
Instead of wasting time being angry when someone has upset you, do something to upset them!

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

Don’t get me wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me.
Oh no, that’s not what I meant!

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

Don’t go there.
Don’t even go there.

Don’t talk about it.
Don’t you dare talk about it!
Don’t bring it up, I’m serious!

Q. Do you want me to tell your wife?
A. Oh, don’t even go there, or you’ll be sorry.

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

Don’t know from Adam.

When someone says: She doesn’t know him from Adam, they mean: She doesn’t know him at all. She doesn’t know what he looks like.

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

Don’t leave me hanging.

Tell me now.
Don’t keep me waiting and wondering.

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

Don’t spit where you eat.

Be nice to people who are nice to you.
Be good to the people you depend on or they may not help you anymore.

Compare to:
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

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

Don’t you dare!

This expression by itself is a serious warning and means:
I’m warning you, don’t.
I’m warning you, don’t do it.

It is also used with other verbs to make more specific warnings:
Don’t you dare talk to her. (I’m warning you, don’t talk to her.)
Don’t you dare smoke in here. (I’m warning you, don’t smoke in here.)

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

Done for

Ruined.
Destroyed with no chance for recovery.

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

Done in

Tired.
Finished.
Exhausted.

A. What a busy day!
B. I agree. I can’t go on any more, at least not today. I’m really done in.

Similar:
Used up.
Worn out.
Washed-out.
Ready to drop.
On my last leg.

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

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

Make sure every detail is attended to.
Take care of all of the details before you submit your work.

Background:
A paper or an essay is not complete if the letters are not written correctly. Hence the reference to crossing every letter “t” at the top, and making sure that every letter “i” has a dot.

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

Doting on one’s kids

Spoiling one’s kids.
Being very attentive to one’s kids.

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

Double backing
Double-backing

Changing tactics.
Doing something the other side isn’t expecting.

We double backed on the board of directors and caught everyone by surprise.

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

Double entendre

A word or phrase having a double meaning, especially when the second meaning is a little on the “dirty” side!

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

Double talk
Double-talk
Double-speak

Talk that is different from action.
Saying something but intending something else, in a misleading way.

Q. Why are you so upset with me?
A. Well, I don’t like your double-talk. You always say one thing but do something else.

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

Double whammy
Double-whammy

Twice as bad.
When two bad things happen at once or almost at once.

Also:
Triple-whammy.

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

Double-edged sword

A dangerous situation.
When no matter what you do, you can’t win.
An action intended to hurt someone else, which could actually backfire and hurt you.

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

Down and out
Down-and-out

Miserable, mostly in the financial sense.

Also:
Down on (one’s) luck.

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

Down the hatch

Has to do with drinking or having a drink.

If you give someone a drink, and say: Down the hatch, it means:
Drink it! Gulp it down!

However:
If you raise your drink and say: Down the hatch, it means you’re going to gulp it down yourself, similar to saying: Cheers!

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

Down the rabbit hole

Following someone into the unknown.
Getting into a difficult or confusing situation.

Also:
Into the matrix.

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

Down the toilet
Down the drain

Ruined.
Wasted.

When someone says: It’s money down the drain, they mean: It’s a waste of money.
When someone says: This scandal is going to send my future down the toilet, they mean: It will ruin my life.

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

Down to earth
Down-to-earth

Realistic.
A practical person.
An easy person to get along with.

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

Down to the wire
Going down to the wire
Coming down to the wire
Origin: Sports

Getting very close.
Until the last moment.

We’re coming down to the wire on turning our report in.

Background:
The origin of this expression has to do with horseracing, where a wire used to be stretched across the track at the finish line.

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

Downplaying something

Saying or implying that a bad situation isn’t as serious as it seems.

He’s down-playing the effect of the economy on his business.

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

Dragging on

Taking too long.

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

Dragging one’s feet

Doing things too slowly.
Taking too much time to do something because the person doesn’t really want to do it.

He’s dragging his feet. I don’t think he wants to give me a refund.

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

Dragging through the mud

Bad-mouthing someone.
Destroying someone’s reputation.

I won’t run for public office again. The last time I did it, the media dragged me and my family through the mud like never before.

Similar:
Dragging someone’s name through the mud.

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

Drawing a line in the sand

Setting limits.
Establishing a limit or a boundary to show which things (or actions) are considered acceptable, and which ones are not.

My dear sir, when are you going to draw a line in the sand, and say, Enough is enough?

Also:
Drawing a line.
Drawing the line.

When someone says: Fernando wants to have fun, but he draws the line at going to wild parties, they mean something like: He won’t go to wild parties.

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

Drawing someone a picture

Making things more clear.

Q. Do you understand what I’m saying?
A. Yes, you don’t have to draw me a picture, but it would help!

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

Drawing to a close

Ending.
Coming to an end.

His political life has now drawn to a close. He won’t be active as a politician anymore.

Also:
Drawing to an end.

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

Drawn-out

Lengthy.

When someone says: It was a drawn-out process, they mean: It took a long time.

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

Drifting apart

Gradually becoming separated, emotionally or otherwise.

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Drinking oneself to death

Drinking so much that one dies, or could die.

If you say: She drank herself to death, you mean something like:
She drank so much she died;
She drank so much it ruined her life;
She was an alcoholic for a long time and her drinking habits killed her; etc.

Can also be used with other verbs, such as:
Working oneself to death.

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Driving a point home

Making a point understood.

I want to drive my point home about abortion and make them understand it.

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Dropping a dime

Snitching on someone (maybe to one’s own advantage).
Calling the police (to turn someone in, or to betray them).

Q. I wonder who let the cops know about the drug deal!?
A. I did! I dropped the dime on them. I don’t want any drugs in my neighborhood!

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Dropping it like a bad habit

Not doing it.
Stopping it quickly.
Stopping to do it right away.

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Dropping names

Mentioning important people during conversation to impress others.

Q. Have you talked to this new guy at work? He knows a lot of famous movie stars!
A. No, he doesn’t. He’s just dropping names to make everybody think he’s special.

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Dropping the ball
Origin: Sports

Failing.
Screwing up.
Missing an opportunity.
Making a mistake, especially a simple or stupid mistake.

You really dropped the ball when you wrecked my car and didn’t even tell me about it.

Background:
This expression comes from sports, especially football, but it’s used very often and for all kinds of mistakes.

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Drug of choice

When someone says: My drug of choice is music, they mean something like:
Music is what I like;
Music is the drug for me;
Music is what puts me in a good mood; etc.

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Due diligence
Legal

Necessary work and effort used in research. (Mainly used in legal or investment context.)

A. Here’s the contract to sign, sir.
B. Have you done your due diligence? Do we know what we’re getting into?

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Dummy up!

Keep quiet.
Pretend you don’t know anything!

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Dumping on someone

Criticizing someone.

Also:
Unloading one’s problems on someone else.

I’m not trying to dump on you guys, really!

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Dust in the wind

Dead.
Gone.
Helpless.
Meaningless.
We are here on earth but for a moment.
We’ve come from dust, and we’ll return to dust.

Q. Have you heard from Martin lately?
A. My ex husband? Oh, he’s dust in the wind. Forget about him!

Background:
This is a line from a very famous song written by Kerry Livgren when he was with the band Kansas. It has philosophical and religious significance, but has also been used to convey less philosophical meanings such as suggested in the example above.

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Early bird gets the worm.

If you start early, you’re more likely to succeed.
The sooner you prepare yourself, or get started, the better your chances.

Also:
Early bird catches the worm.

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Eastern seaboard

The area along the eastern coastline (mostly of the U.S.)

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Easy to look at

Beautiful.
Attractive.
Pleasant looking.

Also:
Easy on the eyes.

Q. So, what do you think of her?
A. Well, I must admit, she’s really easy on the eyes!

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Eat your heart out!

When someone says: I’m going on a trip, eat your heart out, they mean something like: I’m going on a trip but you’re not. I hope that makes you jealous!

When someone says: I just got a promotion, eat your heart out, they mean something like: I got a promotion but you didn’t, and I know that’s killing you!

Note:
Depending on who says it and how it is said, this could be a mean or a humorous statement.

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Eating out

Eating at a restaurant, or somewhere else, instead of at home.

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Edge of possibility

Almost impossible.

Akira’s claim is at the edge of possibility. What he says is possible, but highly unlikely.

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Editor at large
Editor-at-large

A writer who has more leeway than a hands-on, day-to-day worker but less control than an executive editor.
Someone who contributes what they want on a freelance basis but are not involved in the nuts-and-bolts operations of a magazine.

Similar:
Buyer at large.
Reporter at large.

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Egg on one’s face

This is about:
Looking foolish.
Being embarrassed.

I was trying to bring peace to the community, but things went wrong and I ended up with egg on my face. Now nobody wants to work with me.

Background:
One explanation for the origin of this expression makes reference to the fact that people in the audience used to throw eggs at actors with whose performance they weren’t happy, or at politicians with whom they didn’t agree.

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Eighty-sixing

Saying no.
Eliminating.
Turning down.
Denying service.
Taking off the list.
Getting rid of something or someone.
Banning someone from an establishment.

Also see:
Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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Element of surprise

If you use the element of surprise in doing something, it means you’ll be surprising people.

I was going to surprise him with the new evidence and get him to confess, but that was before you told him about it. Now I’ve lost the element of surprise.

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Eleventh hour

Last minute.

When someone says: We came up with a decision at the eleventh hour, they mean: A decision was made at the last minute.

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Emotional roller coaster

This has to do with being moody.

Q. Why did you break up with your girlfriend?
A. She was on a constant emotional roller coaster! I couldn’t take it any more.

Also:
Having mood swings.

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Emotionally raw

Feeling extremely vulnerable.
Having been through a lot emotionally.

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Empty nest

A household where the kids have all grown up and left.

Side note:
The sadness felt by the parents after the kids have grown up and left is called the: Empty Nest Syndrome.

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End justifies the means.

This means:
It’s okay to do anything necessary to achieve your goal.
It doesn’t matter what you do, or how you do it, as long as you achieve your goal.

Q. Do you believe that the end justifies the means?
A. No.
Q. Then why did you beat the hell out of the suspect to get information?
A. Because a little girl’s life was in danger.
Q. Then you do believe it?
A. Well, I guess I do, sometimes!

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Ending up

Becoming someone (or something) at the end, sometimes with a touch of disappointment.

We were planning to go to the game, but the game was canceled and we ended up going to the movies!

She was everyone’s hero. Because of a mistake, however, she’s going to end up in court for committing fraud.

Also see:
Turning out to be.

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Enough already!

Stop.
Stop it, I mean it.
That’s enough, I’m serious.

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Equal footing

Equal treatment.
Equal opportunity.

When someone says: I welcome a three way meeting if we’re on equal footing, they mean something like: I’ll meet with them if we’re all treated equally and with mutual respect.

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Error in judgment

A mistake.
A wrong or mistaken decision.

Q. You say you’re against corruption, but you admit that you accepted a bribe. Why?
A. That was a one-time error in judgment, not my policy!

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Et al

And others.
And all others.

When someone says: Send a memo to Roger, et al, they mean something like:
Send a memo to Roger, and all of the others (related to him, or related to his case, or in his department).

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ETA

This is an abbreviation for:
Estimated Time of Arrival.

What is the ETA on your flight?

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Even keel
On an even keel

Steady.
In a balanced way.
A condition of equal opportunity.
No particular advantage in any direction.

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Evening the score

Retaliating.
Taking revenge.
Getting even, in a bad way.

Q. Do you know that Mike took over my project while I was on vacation?
A. Well, no, but how are you going to even the score?

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Ever the ...

Always a ...

Ever the lady, means: Always a lady.
Ever the gentleman, means: Always a gentleman.
Ever the good listener, means: Always a good listener.

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Every other

Alternating.
Every second one.
Every second item in a series.
Every other day, means: One day, skip a day, then the next day, etc.
Every other Monday, means: One Monday, skip a Monday, then the next Monday, etc.

Q. You want me to read every book on the list?
A. No, just every other book, okay?

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Every rose has a thorn.

Nobody is perfect.
Everybody has problems.
Even something that’s beautiful and looks perfect has something wrong with it.

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Exploding onto the scene

Appearing suddenly in a big way.

She exploded onto the scene, means:
Suddenly everybody was talking about her.

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Extending an olive branch
Giving an olive branch
Waving an olive branch

Symbol of peace.
A sign of wanting to have peace.

A. I think you should compromise with your partners. You should at least try.
B. I extended an olive branch by agreeing to meet with them! Isn’t that enough?

Compare to:
Waving the white flag.

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Eyeing something

Looking at something you may want.
Wanting something, or thinking about it.

I have my eye on the supervisor’s job. I’m eyeing the job.

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