Origins of Phrases,
English Idioms and Expressions

"J" through "M"



Origins of phrases and idioms are not always known. We have included those that we know. If you know of more, please let us know.

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

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



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THE LIST BEGINS HERE

"J" THROUGH "M"


Jack slapping

Slapping hard and unexpectedly.
Slapping hard after some rough play.

Compare to: Bitch slapping.

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Jacked-up

Messed up.
Screwed up.
Not in good shape.
Under the influence of drugs.

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Jaw-dropping

Stunning.
Very surprising.
Really amazing.

Q. Was he surprised to see you?
A. Oh, yes. His jaw dropped when he saw me.
Q. Are you serious?
A. Yes! It almost hit the floor!

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Jerking someone around

Wasting their time.
Not being straight forward with them.

Hey, stop jerking me around. If you’re not going to give me the loan, just say so.

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Joe Six-Pack

An average, ordinary person.
A lower class or lower middle class person.
A blue-collar worker who does not pay much attention to politics and is often undecided until the last few weeks before an election.

Also:
Average Joe. Average Jane.
Ordinary Joe. Ordinary Jane.

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Jogging someone’s memory

Trying to make someone remember something.

Q. I can’t find the bankruptcy files you wanted. Where do you think they are?
A. Try jogging my secretary’s memory. She might remember something.

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John Hancock

Signature.

Please put your John Hancock here!

Note:
In Canada, John Henry is used (in place of John Hancock) for the same purpose.

Background:
This is so, apparently, because of John Hancock’s unique signature which is famous because he signed his name very largely and prominently on the Declaration of Independence. He said that this was to allow the British to read his name without their glasses. (Signing the Declaration was an act of treason, punishable by death, and Hancock’s emphatic signature was a statement of courage, telling everyone that the colonists were ready to stand up for their independence.)

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Joined at the hip
Origin: Medical

Not so different.
Never leaving each other’s side.
Exactly the same or very similar.
Doing everything or going everywhere together.

The two politicians are practically joined at the hip. They are seen together morning, noon, and night.

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Judgment call
Origin: Legal

A decision based on one’s experience or based on what the facts appear to be in that moment. It is usually a decision that needs to be made immediately.

Q. Why didn’t you wait for the test results before you operated on her?
A. It was a judgment call. I didn’t think there was enough time.

Also see: Using one’s judgment.

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Jumping bail
Legal

Running away after being bailed out of jail and before the trial.

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Jumping off a sinking ship

Saving oneself.
Knowing something bad is coming and trying to avoid the situation before it gets worse.

Q. Why did he leave the company to work somewhere else?
A. Well, I can’t blame him for jumping off a sinking ship. He has a family to support.

Compare to: Jumping ship.

Side note:
Rats desert a sinking ship, implies that deserting a sinking ship (or a troubled company) is not an honorable thing to do. You should try to stay and help the situation.

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Jumping on something

Doing something right away.
Getting started on something quickly before an opportunity is missed.

Q. Do you want to think about the trip some more?
A. No! Jump on it before they sell all the tickets or raise the prices!

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Jumping on the bandwagon

Being opportunistic.
Joining a popular movement without necessarily believing in it.

He’s not really interested in saving energy. He has simply jumped on the “green” bandwagon (because that’s the cool thing to do these days).

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Jumping out (at)

If something jumps out at you, you’d notice it right away.

When someone says: Is anything jumping out at you, they mean something like:
Can you think of a reason?
Do you know what’s going on?
Do you notice anything unusual?
Can you see anything wrong or different?

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Jumping ship

Abandoning.
Leaving one’s post, ship, job, etc.

Q. Where’s your old buddy, James?
A. I don’t really know. I guess he’s jumped ship, and he shouldn’t have!

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Jumping the gun
Origin: Military

Acting too quickly or without thinking.
Starting something before you’re supposed to.

Q. Detective, the man you’re holding has only one ear. Is it true that he’s the One-Eared Burglar?
A. Sorry, we won’t jump the gun on his identity before conducting a full investigation.

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Jury is still out.
Origin: Legal

We don’t know yet.
It hasn’t been decided yet.
A decision hasn’t been made yet.

When someone says: The jury’s still out on the trip, they mean something like: We still haven’t decided if we’ll go on the trip.

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Just like that
(Usually said while snapping the fingers:)

Quickly.
Very fast.

My wife is very strong. She could break your neck just like that!

Q. Did it take them long to change your tire?
A. No, they did it just like that!

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Just the same

See: All the same.

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Keep in mind!
Bear in mind!

Remember.

Also:
Keep it in the back of your mind!

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Keep it up!

Be good.
Continue.
Keep the spirit up.
You’re doing a good job.

Related:
Keep up the good work.

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Keep your shirt on!

Wait.
Don’t rush.
Wait for a while.
Don’t get too excited just yet.

Also:
Hold it.
Hold on.
Hold your horses.
Keep your pants on.

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Keeping a low profile

Not attracting attention.
Trying not to be noticed.

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Keeping an eye on

Watching someone or something carefully.
I’m not sure about this guy. Keep an eye on him for a while, until we know more.

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Keeping in line
Origin: Military

Staying in one’s place.
Keeping someone (or something) under control.

When someone says: I want you to keep the kids in line, they mean: I want you to keep the kids under control, and make them behave.

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Keeping it on the down-low

Keeping something a secret.

Q. When are you getting your promotion?
A. It’s not a sure thing yet. Let’s keep it on the down-low for now.

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Keeping one on one’s toes

Staying alert.
Keeping one busy.
Being ready to respond.

I don’t have time to go anywhere. The kids are constantly keeping me on my toes.

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Keeping one’s eyes open

Being careful, watchful, observant, etc.

There’s some broken glass on the floor. Keep your eyes open while I’m vacuuming the floor.

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Keeping one’s feet on the ground
Keeping both feet on the ground

Having a solid foundation.
Being sensible and reasonable.
Not forgetting one’s humble beginnings.
Not losing one’s balance while reaching for higher goals.

Q. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars. Who said that?
A. Who else? Casey Kasem!

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Keeping one’s head above water

Surviving.
Trying to stay in business.
Trying not to fail in difficult times.
Saving, or trying to save, oneself.
Saving, or trying to save, one’s business.

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Keeping one’s head down

Not attracting attention.
Trying not to be noticed.

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Keeping one’s head in the game
Origin: Sports

Staying focused.
Paying attention to what one is doing, or needs to be doing.

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Keeping one’s head up

Being or feeling proud.
Continue to stand tall, even if you’ve just experienced a disappointment.

Keep your head up, son. We’re all proud of you!

Also:
Keep your chin up!

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Keeping one’s nose to the grindstone

Working extremely hard.
Not taking any breaks from work.

A. We’re going to the movies. Do you want to come with us?
B. Here I am, busy, with my nose to the grindstone, and you’re going to the movies?!

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Keeping pace
Origin: Military

Not being too far behind.
Staying close, as in a race.

When someone says: The world’s oil supply is not keeping pace with demand, they mean something like: Not enough oil is being produced to meet the demand.

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Keeping someone company

Staying with them.

Please keep him (his) company. He’s been very lonely since his dog left him for his neighbor!

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Keeping tabs on
Keeping an eye on

Watching someone or something carefully.

Q. Do you really trust our new security guard?
A. No. As a matter of fact, I’ve started keeping tabs on him!

Related:
Keeping close tabs.

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Kept man
Kept woman
Kept person

A person whose expenses are paid by someone else in return for companionship and often in return for sexual favors. This is not looked upon favorably and is considered a form of prostitution, if sex is involved.

Compare to:
Sugar daddy.
Sugar mommy.

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Kick in the pants

Inspiration.
Encouragement.

The coach knows his team needs a kick in the pants, he just doesn’t know how to inspire them.

Tommy is an undisciplined, rebellious brat. He needs a good, swift kick in the pants to help him to straighten out.

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Kick in the teeth

Bad news.
A humiliating thing.
Humiliating bad news.
Something bad happening, especially if it’s on top of another bad thing.

I knew my wife wanted to leave me, but taking the kids, too? Boy, that was a kick in the teeth!

Compare to:
Adding insult to injury.

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Kick the bucket

To die.

Before I kick the bucket, I like to see the world.

Compare to:
Bucket list.

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Kick the habit

To quit an addiction.
To stop doing something that’s difficult to stop doing.

Isn’t it time you kicked the habit and stopped smoking, you moron?

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Kicked up one side and down the other

Attacked, hit, bothered, called upon, etc., from all sides.

Also:
Bashed up one side and down the other.

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Kicking the tires

Testing.
Making sure.

Q. What’s taking you so long to read it? It’s a simple contract.
A. I’m kicking the tires. I want to make sure that everything is okay before I sign it.

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Kicking to the curb

Firing (from a job).
Ending (a relationship).

First my boss threw a party for me, then he kicked me to the curb.

I had a messy fight with my girlfriend. I’ll be kicking her to the curb one of these days soon.

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Kicking up one’s heels

Enjoying oneself.
Having a good time.

No more work for me tomorrow. I’m going to kick up my heels and watch football all day!

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Killing time

Wasting time.
Waiting around.

This killing time is killing me!

Also see:
Whiling away the time.

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Killing two birds with one stone

Doing two things at the same time.
Solving two problems using the same solution.

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Kissing something good-bye

Accepting the loss of something, as in:
When someone says: If you left your wallet at the casino you can kiss it good-bye, they mean something like: Forget about it because you won’t see it anymore!

Not doing something anymore, as in:
When someone says: I’ve kissed college good-bye, they mean something like: I won’t be going to college anymore.

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Kitchen table issues

Everyday family issues.
Issues families talk about at home.

A. We need to address the tensions in the Middle East.
B. Maybe so, but we have kitchen table issues that we need to worry about, too!

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Knocking someone’s socks off

It will knock your socks off, means:
It’s great.
You’ll love It.
It’s unbelievable.
You’ll be so surprised.

Also see:
Blowing someone’s mind.

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Knocking the wind out of someone’s sails
Origin: Sports

Dashing their hopes.
Abruptly stopping them.
Destroying their hope or their chances.
Bringing them down when they are excited.

Q. You look terrible! What happened?
A. She left me! It has just knocked the wind out of my sails. I don’t know what to do.

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Knowing how it is

Not being naive.

When someone says: I know how it is, they mean something like:
You can’t fool me.
I know what’s going on.
I wasn’t born yesterday.

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Knowing the ropes

Knowing all of the details.
Knowing the tricks and rules about something.

Q. When are you going to publish your book?
A. I don’t know. I’m looking for someone who knows the ropes to help me with it.

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Knowing the score

Knowing the tricks.
Being experienced.

I know the score, means something like:
I’m not naive.
You can’t fool me.
I know what’s going on.

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Knowing where the bodies are buried

Knowing all of the secrets.

When someone says: He knows where the bodies are buried, they mean something like:
He knows how they operate;
He knows everything about them; etc.

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Knowing which way the wind blows

Anticipating and using opportunities.
Being smart about using opportunities.
Knowing what lies ahead, and using it to one’s advantage.

Keep an eye on Monica because she’s going places. Somehow she always seems to know which way the wind will be blowing.

Background:
The origin most likely has to do with sailing and the corresponding benefits of knowing the direction of the wind.

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Kumbaya

This word means "come by here" and is used to refer to human and spiritual unity.

Well, it looks like the kumbaya days are over!

Background:
Kumbaya is an old spiritual song that has its roots in African American culture. It became popular in the 1960s and is often sung in gatherings of spiritual and nature loving groups.

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Lack thereof

Lack of.

When someone says: It’s all about money or the lack thereof, they mean something like:
It’s all about money or the lack of money.
It’s all about having money, or not having money.

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Lacking teeth

Being ineffective.
Not being forceful.

The new government lacks teeth mainly because it isn’t even considered to be legitimate.

Compare to:
Having teeth.

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Landing a job

Getting a job.

Q. Have you found a job yet?
A. Yeah, I landed one last week.

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Landing on one’s feet

The ability to survive a difficult situation satisfactorily.

A. Alicia is in trouble again. I wonder what she’ll do!
B. Oh, don’t worry about her. Somehow she always manages to land on her feet.

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Last but not least

The last one, but not the least important one.
The last reason, but not the least important reason.

And last, but not least, I want to thank my parents, without whose support I wouldn’t be standing here today.

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Last chicken in the shop
Last chicken in the window
Last chicken on the shelf

A very unattractive person.
The most unattractive person in a group.

Q. Why are you going out with him? He’s the last chicken in the shop!
A. I know, but it’s the best I can do!

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Last straw
Final straw

The final, very small problem that causes a failure, or an angry outburst, or a chaotic situation, after a series of other smaller problems have happened.

Q. Did Michelle leave her husband just because he got drunk?
A. She had wanted to leave him for some time. His getting drunk was the last straw!

Background:
This is the shortened version of: The straw that broke the camel’s back. It refers to an old proverb about a camel that was overloaded with straw. When the load was just at the last level that the camel could handle, the addition of a single straw broke its back. It shows how, when you’re at the breaking point, the slightest problem would have a catastrophic effect.

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Last word

The end of something.
Saying the last words in an argument.

When someone says: We haven’t heard the last word on immigration, they mean something like:
It’s not finished yet.
We haven’t seen the end of it.
There will be more discussions.

Compare to:
Having the last word.

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Late!
Later!

Bye!
See you later!

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Late someone

A polite way of referring to a person who is not living.

“Sitting on the dock of the bay” was performed by the late, great Otis Redding.

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Latter, former

When someone says: Jenny and Diana are both beautiful, but I prefer the latter to the former, they mean:
Diana is more beautiful than Jenny!

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Laughed out of a location

When someone says: You’ll be laughed out of the county, they mean something like:
They’ll laugh at you.
That’s a bad idea you have.
You won’t be taken seriously.

Can be used with other subjects (I, she, he, etc.,) and other places (city, company, etc.)

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Laughing all the way to the bank

If someone’s laughing all the way to the bank, it could mean one of the following:
They’re getting paid too much.
They got a very good deal, maybe even unexpectedly.

Examples:
You didn’t want to do a “boring” job, so now HE is laughing all the way to the bank instead!

We didn’t think our idea would work, but now we’re laughing all the way to the bank on a daily basis because of its success!

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Lawyering up
Legal

Seeking legal counsel.
Hiring lawyers, probably excessively and unnecessarily.

The suspect is probably guilty because she’s lawyering up on us.

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Lay of the land

The way things are.
The way things are set up or arranged.

Also:
Lie of the land.

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Laying eyes on something

Seeing something.

Ever since I laid eyes on that old Mercedes, I’ve wanted it.

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Laying hands on something

Obtaining.
I’m willing to pay a lot of money to lay my hands on an old Beatles album.

Also:
Get hold of something.
Get one’s hands on something.

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Leap of faith

Trust.
Lots of trust.

I’ve seen your babysitter, and I don’t think I can trust her! Leaving my child with her would require a huge leap of faith, which I don’t have!

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Leave well enough alone.

Leave it alone.
If something is working, leave it alone.
Don’t change something that’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

Q. Aren’t you sorry you screwed up the hotel reservation system?
A. I know, I should have left it well enough alone.

Also:
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

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Leave your personal opinion at home.

Be objective.
Give me your professional opinion.
I don’t want to hear your personal opinion.

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Left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing!

This expression refers to two different things:

On the one hand, secrecy:
This could be about keeping separate matters independent of each other (as in conducting a secret mission) to the extent that one department doesn’t know what another department is doing.

On the other hand, confusion:
It could represent a state of confusion or lack of communication (for example, within an organization), where no one knows what’s going on, leading to inefficient management.

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Left to one’s own devices

Left alone.
Left alone to take care of oneself.

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Lending oneself to something

Being available, appropriate, supportive, etc., for something.

When someone says: Our ballroom lends itself to holding lectures, they mean something like:
You can give lectures in our ballroom, or
Our ballroom is suitable for use as a lecture hall.

When someone says: He lends himself to our cause, they mean something like:
He supports our cause.

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Less than something

Less than honest, means: Not honest, very dishonest.

Similar usage:
Less than happy.
Less than agreeable.
Less than memorable.

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Let alone

When someone says: He can’t swim, let alone dive, they mean something like:
If he can’t swim, then obviously he can’t dive.
He can’t swim. How do you expect him to dive?

Also see:
Much less.

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Let bygones be bygones.

Move on.
Forget about it.
Forgive and forget.
Forget about the bad things that happened between you guys.

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Let it all hang out.

Talk about it.
Be totally honest, and don’t hold anything back.
Say all that is on your mind, and don’t miss anything.

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Let it ride.

Wait, don’t do anything.
Let the situation continue.
Let’s let it ride for a while, and see what happens.

Also:
Let’s ride it out.
Let it ride for now.
Let it blow over, or wait until it blows over.

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Let me have it!

See: Hit it.

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Let me put it this way!

Let me explain.
This is what I mean.
Let me say it this way.

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Let’s hear it.

Start talking.
I am listening.
Tell me about it.
Let us know about it.

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Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

Let’s not worry about it now.
We’ll worry about it when it’s necessary.

Q. What if we don’t get the money by tomorrow?
A. Well, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

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Letting go

Forgiving.
Forgiving and forgetting.

Q. Are you still mad at your boss?
A. No, I’ve forgiven him. You have to learn to let go, otherwise you’ll just hurt yourself.

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Letting go of

Releasing, as in:
Let go of my arm. I have to leave.

Moving on, forgetting about it, as in:
Let go of the past. You have to move on with your life.

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Letting it slide

Letting it go.
Not doing anything about it.
Being flexible, or letting it go for now.

Q. I’m really sorry, but I didn’t have time to do my homework. Will you let it slide this time?
A. I know you’re sincere, so I’m going to let it go, but don’t do it again.

A. You’re two pounds over the limit. I can’t let you through.
B. Two pounds over 400 pounds? That’s nothing. Come on, please let it slide!

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Letting one’s guard down
Origin: Sports

Not being ready.
Being unprepared.
Being overly relaxed.

Never let your guard down, means:
Be careful.
Always be prepared.
Don’t trust everybody.
Always expect the unexpected.

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Letting someone down

Disappointing someone.
Not supporting someone.

Related:
Letting someone down easy, means: Being kind to them when you’re letting them down.

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Letting someone have it

Hitting or attacking someone, verbally or physically.

Q. Why did you fight with your uncle?
A. I didn’t really want to but, when he started bad mouthing my dad, I let him have it!

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Letting someone in on something

Revealing some inside information to an outsider.

When someone says: Let me in on it, they mean something like:
Tell me about it.
Let me know about your little secret.

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Letting the chips fall where they may

Letting things happen without worrying about their consequences.

I know I may be taking a big risk, but I’m going to buy that car and let the chips fall where they may.

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Liar, liar, pants on fire!

You’re lying.
(Used mainly by children when they think someone’s lying to them.)

Also:
When someone says: On the dance floor, he moved like his pants were on fire, they mean: He’s a really good dancer.

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Licking one’s wounds

Comforting oneself.
Taking a break after a defeat.

A. I know you’re embarrassed, but you should really come back to our meetings.
B. I will. I’m just taking a couple of weeks off to lick my wounds.

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Light at the end of the tunnel

Sign of hope.

When someone says: I see the light at the end of the tunnel, they mean something like: I am optimistic, or I have a feeling that things will be getting better soon.

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Lighten up!

Smile!
Take it easy.
Don’t be so serious.
Don’t take things so seriously.

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

Light-year

A very long time.

When someone says: The electric car technology is light-years away, they mean: That technology won’t be available for a very long time.

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Like a fish out of water

Being in unfamiliar or uncomfortable surroundings.

When someone says: He’s like a fish out of water, they mean something like:
He can’t function.
He doesn’t know what to do.
He feels really uncomfortable in the situation.

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Like trying to sweep sand off the beach

It’s no use.
It’s a waste of time and effort.

Also:
Like bringing a cup of water to a forest fire.

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Lion’s share

Major share.
Largest part of something.

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

Lip service

Just words.

Q. The city people keep saying that they’ll fix the roads. Why isn’t it happening?
A. They’re not going to do anything. They’re just giving us lip service.

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Lip-lock
Locking lips

Kiss.
Kissing.

The last time I saw them, they were lip locked.

Julie and Ben were locking lips behind the water cooler. They don’t know that I saw them!

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Lipstick on a pig

Superficial or cosmetic improvement.

When someone says: It’s like putting lipstick on a pig, they mean something like:
If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig;
Changing the appearance won’t change the facts, or what’s on the inside.

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Litmus test

A test to show the validity of an idea or a person.

The debate today will be the litmus test we’ve been waiting for. We’ll finally know something about our new candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

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

Little black book

A listing of one’s (sexual) conquests.
A listing of one’s private phone numbers, addresses, etc.

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Little did they know!

They didn’t know.

Little did they know that they were about to lose their house!

Similar:
Little did we know; Little did she know; etc.

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Living for the moment

Concentrating on what’s happening now.

I may be wrong, but I’m not going to worry about the future any more. Instead, I’ll be living for the moment from now on.

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

Living high on the hog Living high off the hog

Living comfortably, or extravagantly, with lots of eating or drinking.

A. He’s making a lot of money. He must be living high on the hog.
B. No, not him. He’s always been careful with his money!

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

Living off someone

Being supported by someone.

Q. Is he still living off his mother?
A. Yeah, she’s still supporting him. She’s paying for all of his expenses.

Also:
Being a mooch.
Living off something.
Mooching off someone.
Sponging off someone or something.

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

Living on borrowed time

Living beyond the time when one is supposed to have died.

When someone survives a deadly accident, you can say: They’re living on borrowed time!

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

Living paycheck-to-paycheck

Having no savings.
Spending all of one’s earnings.
Totally depending on one’s job.

Q. Are you financially okay these days?
A. Not really. I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck.

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

Living up to someone’s expectation

Not disappointing someone.

Accomplishing what they expected of you.
I’ve always tried to live up to my parents’ expectations. So far, they’ve been proud of me!

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

Lo and behold!

Look!
Look here! (With an element of surprise.)

When someone says: Lo and behold, she’s here, they mean: Oh, look, she’s here!

When someone says: I walked in, and lo and behold, she was there, they mean: I walked in, and to my surprise, she was there!

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Loaded question

A question that:
Could lead to other questions.
Doesn’t have a yes-or-no answer.
Can get you in trouble when you answer it.

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Lock, stock, and barrel

All.
All of it.
The whole package (needed for the job).

A. I bought the pizzeria on the corner.
B. The equipment, too? What about the delivery cars?
A. I bought the whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel.

Also:
The whole shebang.

Compare to:
Whole nine yards.

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LOL

This is an abbreviation for:
Laughing Out Loud.

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

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

Long and short of something

A summary.
The main parts.

Well, here’s the long and short of it. What you do with It, is up to you.

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

Long face

Sad looks.
Unhappy face.
Serious looking.

Q. Why the long face?
A. I lost a lot of money in the stock market today.

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

Long running
Long-running

Being around for a long time.

Q. What are your favorite long-running TV shows?
A. “Cheers!” and “Seinfeld!” They had long runs on television.

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

Long term, Short term
Long-term, Short-term

Long term:
These are plans, policies, expenses, etc., for the distant future, such as building more schools to provide education for more children.

Short term:
These are plans for the near future, such as purchasing more school buses.

Also see:
In the long run. In the short run.

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

Long time coming

Expected for a long time.

Well, we’re finally going to have some new health care policies, changes that were a long-time coming.

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

Long time in the making

In progress for a long time.

The conflict in the region has been a long time in the making. It didn’t just happen, you know!

Also:
Many years in the making.

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

Long-windedness

Talking too much.
Using more words than really necessary.

Q. Are you coming to the lecture?
A. No! I know the professor, and I know he’s long-winded. You go, and tell me about it!

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

Looking inward

Examining one’s thoughts and beliefs.

I’ve been looking inward, wanting to know what I really want to do, or who I really am.

Also:
Soul-searching.

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

Looking over one’s shoulder

Not feeling safe or secure.
Having worries about being followed, identified, attacked, etc.

A. She knows her ex-husband is in prison, but she’s still worried.
B. I know. She’s constantly looking over her shoulder!

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

Looking the other way

When you say: He’s looking the other way, you could mean any of the following:
He can’t see us.
He doesn’t want to talk to us.
He doesn’t want to get involved.
He’s helping us by pretending that he doesn’t see us. That way we can do whatever we want to do, and he won’t get in trouble for helping us.

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Looking up to someone

Admiring someone.
Being proud of someone.

I look up to my father. I’m so proud of him.

Opposite:
Looking down on someone.

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Loose cannon

Out of control.
An irresponsible and reckless (therefore potentially dangerous) person.

I like him and I really wish I could nominate him for the job but, let’s face it, he’s a loose cannon!

Background:
The term refers to the days when cannons on battle ships could break loose on rough seas, and would then roll about and cause serious damage.

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

Loose ends
Origin: Legal

Unfinished business.
Unanswered questions.
Potentially harmful evidence left behind.
Something that, if not taken care of now, may harm you in the future.

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

Loosey-goosey

Very relaxed.
Having no plans, just having fun.
A person with few, or no, inhibitions.

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

Lose-lose (situation)

A situation where everybody loses.

Compare to:
Win-win and win-lose.

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

Losing one’s footing

Losing one’s balance.
I’m sorry I touched your wife’s arm, sir. I lost my footing and had to grab something!

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

Losing one’s shirt

Losing everything, especially money.

I lost my shirt (or the shirt off my back) when my landscaping business failed. It was bad!

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

Loud and clear

Getting the idea.
Understanding clearly.

When someone says: I can hear you, loud and clear, they mean something like:
I understand.
I know exactly what you mean.
You don’t have to explain anything.

When you say: She told me, loud and clear, not to bother her, you mean something like: I understood clearly that she didn’t want me around.

Also:
I read you, loud and clear!

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

Lovey-dovey

An overly done show of affection between people.
Very romantic public displays of affection without regard for others noticing.

I don’t really care for movies that have a lot of lovey-dovey scenes.

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

Low-balling

Underestimating the value of something on purpose, usually in order to purchase it at a lower price than it is worth.

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

Low-down

Wrong, bad, as in:
The way he treated her, he was a low-down, rotten person.

Details, as in:
I want to know all the details. Give me the low-down on the situation.

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Main Street

The general public.
Ordinary, everyday people and their businesses.

The effects of higher gas prices are felt on Main Street, means something like:
Higher gas prices are hurting ordinary people.

Compare to:
Wall Street.

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Make believe
Make-believe

Something that isn’t true or real.
Pretending, in a playful way, as kids do.

Are you feeling sorry for the characters in the movie? Don’t. It’s only make-believe!

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Make it so.

Do it.

Also:
Make it happen.
Make it a reality.

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Make my day!

Make me happy!
Make my day a good one!
Make today worthwhile for me!

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

Make yourself at home.

Feel welcome.
Make yourself comfortable.

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

Making a case
Legal

Proving a point.
Proving that the case is valid.

When you say: Tanya made her case through dozens of old letters, you mean something like: She used the letters to prove her point.

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

Making a case for something
Legal

Providing a convincing proof or argument for something.

For many people, I’m sorry to say, the case for global warming has not been made yet.

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

Making a difference

Having an effect.
Doing something (usually good) for others.

When someone says: It makes a big difference, they mean something like: It is very important.

A. Name two people who have made a difference.
B. Mahatma Gandhi and Louis Pasteur.

Also:
Leaving a mark.

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Making a habit of

Doing something regularly or on a regular basis.

If you say: Tomiko has made a habit of coming to work late everyday, you mean: Tomiko’s coming to work late on a regular basis.

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Making a monkey out of someone

Making someone look bad, clumsy, stupid, etc.

I’m relying on your serious input for writing this letter. I hope that you won’t joke around and try to make a monkey out of me!

Also:
Making a fool out of someone.

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Making a point

Stressing a point.
Emphasizing something.

Q. Why does my father keep talking about my grades?
A. He’s trying to make a point.

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

Making a point of doing something

Putting priority on doing something.
Giving importance to doing something.

A. I saw Le Beau’s daughter taking drugs.
B. I think you should make a point of talking to her father. If you don’t, I will.

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Making a splash

Making a noticeable appearance.

She made a big splash at the party. Everybody noticed her there.

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Making do

Managing things when there’s little money.
Working with what you have or what you’ve been given.
Managing to make things happen in financially difficult situations.

Times are tough, and I’m trying to make do with what’s available.

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Making ends meet

Earning just enough money to live and pay the bills.

Q. How’s life treating you?
A. Well, not very good. I’m trying to make ends meet.

Also:
Making a living.

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Making headlines

Being on the news.
Being mentioned by the media (radio, TV, magazines, etc.,) in a big way.

When someone says: We’ll be making headlines, they mean: We’ll be on the news, and everybody will be talking about us.

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Making it

Succeeding.
Reaching one’s goal, maybe even with some difficulty.

Q. How are you feeling?
A. I’ve made it, what else can I ask for? I’m telling you, I feel good!

Q. You left home late. Did you make it to the party?
A. Yes, we did. We almost missed it, but we did get there.

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Making landfall

Reaching the coastline.
Reaching land by sea or air.

The hurricane (now in the ocean) will make landfall tonight.

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

Making light of the situation

Making the situation seem unimportant.
Treating something as if it was not serious.

She made an effort to make light of the altercation, but everyone there knew that it was serious.

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

Making no bones about something

Accepting it.
Not objecting to, or making a big deal about, it.

Q. What did he say when you told him that we knew about his trip?
A. He didn’t make any bones about it. He admitted it.

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Making off

Leaving in a hurry.
Stealing. (Used with “with.”)

Mr. Madoff made off with billions of dollars!

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

Making one’s bones

To earn a reputation.
To become established in one’s profession.
To kill in order to become a gang member, especially if it’s the first time.

You have to make your bones in this profession before anyone respects you!

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Making one’s mind jump

Making one think.
Making one think quickly about different things.

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

Making the grade

Succeeding.
Passing the test.

At the rate you’re going, you will probably not make the grade.

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

Making up one’s mind

Making a decision.

Q. Have you decided what you want to do tonight?
A. No, I haven’t. I can’t make up my mind.

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

Managing to do something

Being able to do something, despite low expectations.

She managed to remember the speech.
Do you think you can manage to do it alone?
I think I can manage to get there ahead of time.

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

Manna from heaven

Heaven sent.
An unexpected gift or help.

Did you see this raise I got today? It’s manna from heaven!

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Many a
Many an

This term, followed by a singular noun, simply means “many.”
Many a boy. (Many boys.)
Many a night. (Many nights.)
Many an apple. (Many apples.)

When someone says: Many a smart and self-reliant girl has entered the law profession, they mean something like: A lot of smart and self-reliant girls have entered the law profession.

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Marching to the beat of a different drummer
Origin: Military

Doing things differently.
Believing in a different set of rules.
Doing things in one’s own way, regardless of what others may think.

Also:
March to a different beat.
March to a different tune.
March to a different drum.
March to a different drummer.

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

Mark my words

Listen to what I am saying.
Remember what I’m saying.
It will happen the way I’ve said it will happen.

I know that you don’t take me seriously but, mark my words, one of these days I’m going to become famous.

Similar:
Read my lips.

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Marriage of convenience

A marriage where the partners don’t love each other.
A merging of two entities for political, social, or financial reasons.

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

Matching something

When someone says: You can match that, they mean something like:
You can do as well.
You can achieve the same results.
You can find something compatible with that.

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

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Help!
Emergency!

Also see:
SOS.

Background:
This is an internationally known cry for help, repeated three times, and is used in emergencies, particularly by ships or airplanes that are in distress.

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

Meal ticket

A person who is used for his or her money.

Q. Hey, Lulu, did you break up with Sheik Ahmad?
A. Hell, no. He’s my meal ticket!

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

Meaning well

Having good intentions.

He means well. He just doesn’t know how to say things in a nice and diplomatic way.

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

Meat on the bone

Enhancement.
More value or meaning for the argument.

Introduce yourself, talk about your accomplishments, put some meat on the bone, and let people know more about you.

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

Meeting halfway

Compromising.
Reaching a compromise.

You say $100; I say $80. Let’s meet halfway at $90, okay?

Also:
Splitting the difference.

Also see:
Give and take.

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

Meeting one’s Waterloo
Origin: Military

Failing in a big way.
Something being brought to an unsuccessful end.

A. This is where I met my Waterloo.
B. What happened?
A. I met my ex-wife!

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

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus

Men and women are very different.

A related children’s song:
What are little boys made of? Frogs and snails, and puppy dog tails!
What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice, and everything nice!

Background:
This is the title of a book by Author John Gray, about understanding the differences between men and women. The book has become so popular that the title is now an expression.

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

MIA
Military

This is an abbreviation for:
Missing In Action.

This is a military term but is used outside the military as well. It refers to someone who’s missing or cannot be located.

A. Let’s go. The show’s going to start.
B. Okay, but we’ll have to leave without David. He’s still MIA.

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

Middle of nowhere

Not a known location.
Far from populated areas.

He lives in the middle of nowhere. The nearest store is 25 miles away.

When someone says: We’re in the middle of nowhere, they mean something like: We’re lost. We don’t know where we are.

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

Middle-aged

Someone who is between the approximate ages of 40 and 60 years old.

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

Might as well

When someone says: We might as well go home, they mean something like:
Let’s go home!
There’s nothing else to do here. Let’s go home!

Q. It’s almost noon. Do you want to have lunch?
A. Yeah, we might as well!

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

Milking the situation

Taking advantage of a situation by trying to extend the process.
Trying to get as much from a situation as you possibly can.
He always milks these lucrative government contracts for as much as he can.

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

Mincing words

Holding back.
Not saying things clearly.

Opposite:
Not mincing words is: Not holding back, saying exactly what you think or feel about something.

They didn’t mince words in describing their true feelings.

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

Mind your Ps and Qs.

Don’t be nosy.
Don’t be sarcastic.
Mind your manners.
Don’t be a smart ass.
Mind your own business.
Be careful about what you’re saying or doing.

Background:
This may have its roots in the early days of printing. As it was easy to mistake the letters “p” and “q” on a typeset, printers were routinely warned to be mindful of these two letters. It may also have to do with bartenders warning the customers in the old days to be mindful of how many pints or quarts they were drinking!

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

Missing a beat
Medical

Stopping briefly.

In recent months, when I suddenly hear a loud noise, my heart misses a beat!
Despite all of the noise in the background, he continued the lecture after missing a beat.

Also:
Skipping a beat.

Compare to:
Without missing a beat.

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

Missing link

Something that needs explaining.

There’s a missing link here. Something that we cannot see or cannot explain.

Also:
Referring to the origins of man, as it relates to a stupid person, calling someone dumb, like a caveman!

Also:
Something missing without which something else will be incomplete.

We have a missing link here without which these theories do not make any sense.

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

Missing the boat

Being too late.
Missing an opportunity.

Are you coming to the movies with us? Make a decision fast, or you’re going to miss the boat.

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

Monday morning quarterback
Sports

A person who finds fault, and blames others, AFTER everything has already been done.

A. I would have done the whole thing differently and avoided the present mess.
B. Yeah, it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback!

Background:
Most (American) football games are held on Sundays. This leads to a lot of Monday-morning conversations among football enthusiasts at their work place, during which everybody comments on how the games should have been played. Hence the term Monday morning quarterback. (In American football, the captain of the team is called the quarterback.)

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

Money burning a hole in one’s pocket

The urge to spend one’s money.

If you say: This money is burning a hole in my pocket, you mean I’ve got to spend this money!

Also:
I’ve got a hole in my pocket, means: I’m broke!

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

Money is no object.

This is used when the price of something is not an issue.

Please arrange to have a piano in there for Farimah to practice on. And, remember, money is no object!

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

Money talks!

Money buys influence.
Money helps to solve everything.
If you have money, you can do anything.
If you have money, people will listen to you.

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

Monkey on one’s back

An addiction.
A constant burden.
A problem that won’t go away.

My house is a monkey on my back now. I can’t afford to keep it, and I can’t sell it either!

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

More holes than Swiss cheese

Something with a lot of problems.

When someone says: Your proposal has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, they mean something like: It’s a bad idea. There are a lot of things wrong with it.

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

More pronounced

More obvious.
More noticeable.

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

More than you can shake a stick at

A lot.

When someone says: There are more problems here than you can shake a stick at, they mean something like:
This is a serious situation.
We can’t ignore these problems.
We have a lot of problems on our hands.
We have to take these problems seriously.

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

Mother lode

Treasure.
A huge package.
A large supply of something.

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

Motor City

This is a nickname for the City of Detroit.

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

Move it, or lose it!

This expression-like sentence (which is not a nice thing to say) could mean any of the following:
Move.
Move it.
You’re in the way.
Get out of my way.
Get out of the way, or you’ll get hurt.

Similar expressions (also not nice things to say) are as follows:
Move your ass.
Move your butt.
Move your booty.
Move your fanny.
Get your ass in gear.

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

Movers, shakers

Those with influence in their fields.
Those who get things done (movers) and those who benefit from them (shakers).

If you want to have any success in Hollywood, you need to know a few movers and shakers in the movie industry.

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

Moving in single digits

Moving very slowly.

The traffic is moving in the single digits.

Also:
You see a lot of brake lights.
The traffic is bumper to bumper.

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

Moving mountains

Doing difficult things.

If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything. You can move mountains!

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

Moving on

Not dwelling in the past.
Continuing with one’s life.

When you say: The earthquake survivors are moving on with their lives, you could mean:
They’re rebuilding their homes.
They’re not just talking or thinking about it anymore.
They’ve put the incident behind them and are looking forward.

Also see:
Picking up the pieces.

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

Moving target
Origin: Military

A difficult target to hit.
A difficult situation to figure out.
A changing situation, where finding a solution is difficult.

Compare to:
Sitting duck.

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Much ado about nothing

A lot of talk about nothing.
It’s not as bad as it sounds.

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Much less

When someone says: He can’t swim, much less dive, they mean:
If he can’t swim, then obviously he can’t dive.
He can’t swim. How do you expect him to dive?

Also see:
Let alone.

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Much to one’s chagrin

When someone says: Much to Pierre’s chagrin, Sophia didn’t remember him, they mean something like:
Pierre was upset, saddened, irritated, or humiliated to find out that Sophia didn’t remember him.

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Muddying the waters
Origin: Sports

Making a confusing situation even more so.
Trying to take advantage of a confusing situation.
Making things confusing so that the real problem cannot be identified or addressed.

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Mum’s the word.

Keep quiet; Keep it a secret; as in:
A. I’m going to tell you something, but mum’s the word!
B. I understand, I’ll keep it to myself.

I’ll keep it a secret, as in:
A. I’m going to tell you something, but please keep it to yourself!
B. Okay. Mum’s the word!

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Musical chairs

Depending on how it is used, musical chairs can convey various messages:

Political instability;
Avoiding the issues;
Dancing around the issues; Etc.

I’m tired of playing musical chairs with our school issues. Can’t somebody give us a straight answer?

Background:
This is a game usually played by children. As the music plays, the players walk around a number of chairs. (There is always one more player than there are chairs.) When the music stops, players rush to sit on the chairs and one player is left without a chair. This player is eliminated, another chair is removed, and the sequence is repeated until there’s only one player left, who wins the game.

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My bad

My fault.
My mistake.

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My lips are sealed.

I won’t say a word.

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My treat

It’s free.
I’ll pay for it.

I just got a raise today and I want to take all of you to lunch. My treat.

Also:
It’s on me.

Compare to:
On the house.

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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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English Idioms


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English Idioms


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