Idioms

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An idiom is a phrase that over time has come to mean something other than its original meaning. The definition on dictionary.com is "an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements." An idiom may have started out as a metaphor or simile. However, unlike a metaphor or simile the meaning of an idiom can be very difficult to ascertain from its usage alone.

Idioms like "rain check, "a guinea pig" and "what's your poison?" can make little sense if you do not already know their meaning. There are many common idioms in English. They are usually memorized by native speakers but idioms can be troublesome for people learning English as a second language.

Idioms List

Here is a list of some common idioms and their meanings:

A Piece of Cake: This means something or a situation is really easy. "That test was a piece of cake."

Add Insult to Injury: This means to make a bad situation even worse.

Against the Clock: This means you are doing something in a rush, i.e. a race against time. "Brad was working against the clock to finish the project."

All in the same boat: This means everyone is in the same situation together. "Don't worry we are all in the same boat."

All the Rage: Something that is current popular, in fashion or in demand. "This new eyeliner is all the rage."

Bad Apple: A person who is a bad apple is a troublemaker.

Break a Leg: When actors in a play are told this it means good luck.

Break the Ice: This refers to an attempt to get a conversation going. "Music and games are a couple ways to break the ice at a party."

Butter Up: To butter up someone is to flatter them.

Call a Bluff: This is used when a person declares someones threat or boast is false. "I'm calling your bluff. There's no way you already finished the entire assignment."



Call it a Day: It is time to say the day is over or the day's work is over.

Cat Got Your Tongue?: This idiom points out that a person isn't responding and seems lost for words.

Chicken Scratch: Chicken scratch refers to writing that is very difficult to read or illegible.

Couch Potato: This refers to a person who is lazy and just sits around watching television.

Could Hear a Pin Drop: This means the environment is very quiet. "It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop."

Crocodile Tears: These are tears that are not genuine. "I'm not falling for your crocodile tears."

Curiosity Killed the Cat: This is a warning that investigating or looking into something could get you killed or hurt.

Devil's Advocate: This is when a person takes the opposite side of an argument. They take the side they don't agree with to argue a point.

Dirty Laundry: These are secrets people don't want to get out or have gossiped about. "Don't air your dirty laundry in public."

Go Bananas: This means to go crazy or lose control. "If my team loses I will go bananas."

Guinea Pig: A test subject or the first person to try something. "I'm happy to be the guinea pig for your new recipe."

Hit the Sack: This means to go to bed. It usually applies to someone who is very tired. "Bob was worn out and decided to hit the sack early."

Hold Your Horses: This means to slow down, be patient or stop and wait until the situation changes.

Hot Potato: Hot potato refers to situations that are too hot to handle. "The abortion issue had become a political hot potato."

In the Doghouse: A person is in the doghouse when they are in trouble with someone, often a spouse. "Bob was still in the doghouse with Mary because he stayed out all night."

It Takes Two to Tango: This idiom which makes use of the dance is used to indicate two people are to blame for a situation. "Look, it's not all your fault. It takes two to tango."

Night Owl: If you are a night owl you tend to stay up late or like staying up until the wee hours of the morning.

Off the Hook: If you are "off the hook" then you are no longer in trouble or being blamed for something.

On Cloud Nine: Someone who is "on cloud nine" is someone who is very happy and overjoyed.

Over My Dead Body: If someone says this they are determined to keep something from happening. "You will sell my baseball cards over my dead body!"

Pink Slip: If you receive a pink slip it means you have been fired.

Pins and Needles: This means someone is very nervous. "Tim was on pins and needles as he waited for his test results."

Quiet as a Mouse: This refers to a person or group of people behaving very quietly. "They were quiet as a mouse as the snuck into the auditorium."

Rags to Riches: This idiom refers to a person who has gone from poverty to wealth.

Rain Check: You are interested but you want to save it for another day. "I'll have to take a rain check on that."

Raining Cats and Dogs: If it is raining cats and dogs then it is raining very hard. Torrential rainfall.

Red Eye: The red eye is a plane flight that leaves very late at night and arrives very early in the morning.

Red Tape: Red tape is used to describe rules in a bureaucracy that slow down results. "Beth was having trouble cutting through all the red tape in order to get her permit."

Roll Up Your Sleeves: If someone is rolling up their sleeves they are about to get to work or do perform a difficult task.

Rub Salt in Old Wounds: To remind someone of something bad that happened.

Spill the Beans: The idiom means someone has revealed a secret. "Sam spilled the beans to Mary about Tom's past."

Teacher's Pet: A teacher's pet is seen as a teacher's favorite student.

Tempest in a Teapot: This idiom is used to describe a small event or matter than has been blown way out of proportion. "The incident with the boy stealing the trophy has become a tempest in a teapot."

The Writing on the Wall: This refers to something that is inevitable and bound to happen.

Tie the Knot: This expression means to get married.

Tough Cookie: A tough cookie is a tough and determined person.

Under the Weather: You are not feeling well if you declare yourself to be "under the weather."

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve: A person who does makes their emotions obvious to everyone.

What's Your Poison?: This means what would you like to drink. It isn't really about drinking a poisonous substance.

When Pigs Fly: This means an impossible situation or something that will never happen. "That will happen when pigs fly."

A White Lie: A white lie is a lie that is considered relatively harmless. It is usually done to avoid hurting another person's feelings.

Idiom Resources

Finally, here is a video describing 25 different idioms.