American Idioms and Expressions

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This database is a comprehensive collection of all the American idioms and slang available. American Idioms are many and varied. We hope you enjoy our collection. We are adding more all the time. .

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Back handed compliment
What does "Back handed compliment" mean?
A compliment that also insults or puts down at the same time.They gave me a backhanded compliment when they said I was smart for a girl.

Back-handed is synonymous with left-handed. For example in tennis, a backhand stroke is a strike by a right-handed player from the left side of the body.
The left side of the body has always been deemed sinister. The Latin word for left is sinister. Hence, back-handed means round-about, indirect, or devious.
Bleed like a stuck pig
What does "Bleed like a stuck pig" mean?
To bleed heavily.Handle that straight razor carefully. If you cut yourself, you will bleed like a stuck pig.

The throat of a pig set for slaughter is cut or opened with a sharp spike or knife. Because the cut severs the jugular vein, the pig bleeds rapidly.

Blow off some steam
What does "Blow off some steam" mean?
To enjoy oneself by relaxing normal formalities.He is a true workaholic who has misguided priorities, when he wants to blow off some steam he comes to work on Saturday wearing blue jeans.

Boilers are commonly used in steam heating systems and steam engines such as those used in a steam locomotive. The boilers contain water that is heated by burning some fuel such as oil. The heated water turns to steam, which is then sent through a system of radiators (in the case of heating systems) or harnessed by a steam engine.
The steam creates considerable pressure in the boiler. If the pressure becomes too great, there is a danger of the boiler exploding. Hence boilers are equipped with safety valves called blow off valves that open if the pressure becomes to great.
"Blowing off steam" prevents explosions by relieving the pressure in a boiler by venting excess steam and pressure.
Blowing smoke
What does "Blowing smoke" mean?
To be boasting without being able to back it up, talking about action without intent to follow through.Do you really want to buy this car or are you just blowing smoke?

Magicians often use smoke in their performance to obscure your view and conceal a bit of trickery.
A person who is "blowing smoke" is tricking you and attempting to cover it up.
Bouched up
What does "Bouched up" mean?
Substandard; messed up; make a shamble ofMan, you really bouched up that project. Now the company will have to start all over costing double and missing all of our deadlines.

Sir Thomas Bouch designed a bridge that was built at the Tay estuary at Dundee in Scotland. It was supposed to be the greatest structure built in Victorian England. The building of the Tay rail bridge culminated in him being knighted. The Tay bridge was nearly two miles long, consisting of 85 spans and at the time (1879) was the longest bridge in the world.
One stormy night, only 19 months after the bridge was declared safe by the Board of Trade and opened to traffic in the summer of 1878, the wind caused some of its spans to collapse. A train and 6 carriages and 75 souls were lost that night ranking it as the worst accident caused by structural failure in the history of England. Sir Thomas Bouch died only 10 months after the failure.
Brand Spanking New
What does "Brand Spanking New" mean?
New and unused.What you really need is a brand spanking new Porsche turbo.

Doctors have traditionally spanked babies immediately after delivery to start them crying, and breathing.
Break a leg
What does "Break a leg" mean?
A wish of good luck, do well.Break a leg in your game today.

"Break a leg" is sourced in superstition. It is a wish of good luck, but the words wish just the opposite.
It was once common for people to believe in Sprites. Sprites are actually spirits or ghosts that were believed to enjoy wreaking havoc and causing trouble.
If the Sprites heard you ask for something, they were reputed to try to make the opposite happen. Telling someone to "break a leg" is an attempt to outsmart the Sprites and in fact make something good happen. Sort of a medieval reverse psychology.
Bust your balls
What does "Bust your balls" mean?
To harass with the intent to break one's spirit.When I ask you if you settled that dispute with the IRS, I am not just trying to bust your balls. I am trying to help.

There is a way to castrate a calf, instead of cutting off the Testicles you break them. To "bust your balls" is to turn them from a bull into a steer. Properly directed harassment can have a similar effect on humans.
Busting your chops
What does "Busting your chops" mean?
To say things intended to harass.Don't get mad, I am just busting your chops.

At the turn of the century, wearing very long sideburns´┐Żcalled mutton chops or lamb chops -- was en vogue. Lamb chop side burns also made a comeback in the late 1960s. A bust in the chops was to get hit in the face. Since Mutton Chops are no longer considered high fashion, the term has come to be figurative rather than literal.
bad-mouth
What does "bad-mouth" mean?
say unkind, unflattering, embarrassing (and probably untrue) things about someone.A: "I don't believe what Bob said. Why is hebad-mouthing me?"B: "He's probably jealous of your success."

be a piece of cake
What does "be a piece of cake" mean?
be very easy.A: "Bob said the test was difficult, but I thought it wasa piece of cake.""



be all ears
What does "be all ears" mean?
be eager to hear what someone has to say.A: "I just got an e-mail message from our old friendSally."B: "Tell me what she said. I'm all ears!"

be broke
What does "be broke" mean?
be without money."No, I can't lend you ten dollars. I'mcompletely broke until payday."

be fed up with (with someone or something)
What does "be fed up with (with someone or something)" mean?
(with someone or something): be out of patience (with someone or something);
be very tired of someone or something.
"Bill, you're too careless with yourwork. I'm fed up with apologizing for your mistakes!"

be in and out
What does "be in and out" mean?
be at and away from a place during a particular time."Could we postpone our meeting until tomorrow? Iexpect tobe in and out of the office most of the day today."

be on the go
What does "be on the go" mean?
be very busy (going from one thing or project to another)."I'm really tired. I've been on the go all weeklong."

be on the road
What does "be on the road" mean?
be traveling."You won't be able to contact me tomorrow because I'llbe on the road."

be over
What does "be over" mean?
be finished; end."I can't see you until around 4 o'clock. My meetingswon't be over until then."

be up and running
What does "be up and running" mean?
(for a technological process) be operational; be ready to use ."John's Coffee Shoppe on the Web has been up andrunning since December 1995."

be used to
What does "be used to" mean?
be accustomed to; not uncomfortable with."It won't be hard to get up at 5:00 AM. I'm used to getting up early."

beat
What does "beat" mean?
exhausted; very tired (adj.)."This has been a long day. I'm beat!"

beat around the bush
What does "beat around the bush" mean?
evade an issue; avoid giving a direct answer."Quit beating around the bush! If you don'twant to go with me, just tell me!"

beat one's brains out
What does "beat one's brains out" mean?
try very hard to understand or do something."Can you help me with this problem? I've beenbeating my brains out with it,but I just can't solve it."

Beats me
What does "Beats me" mean?
: I have no idea.A: "What time's the party?"B: "Beats me!"

before long
What does "before long" mean?
soon.A: "I'm really tired of working."B: "Just be patient. The weekend will be here before long."

bent out of shape
What does "bent out of shape" mean?
needlessly worried about something."I know you're worried about your job interview, butdon't get bent out of shape. You'll do just fine."

bite off more than one can chew
What does "bite off more than one can chew" mean?
take responsibility for more than one can manage."I'm really behind with my project. Can you help me?I'm afraid Ibit off more than I could chew!"

blabbermouth
What does "blabbermouth" mean?
a very talkative person--especially one who says things that should be kept secret."Don't say anything to Bob unless you want the wholeoffice to know.Bob's quite a blabbermouth."

blow one's top
What does "blow one's top" mean?
become extremely angry.A: "Was your father upset when you came home at 3AM?"B: "He was more than upset. He blew his top!"

boom box
What does "boom box" mean?
portable cassette/CD player."Don't forget to bring your boom box to thepicnic!"

Break a leg!
What does "Break a leg!" mean?
: Good luck!"I understand you have a job interview tomorrow.Break a leg!"

break someone's heart
What does "break someone's heart" mean?
make someone feel very disappointed/discouraged/sad."Joe broke his mother's heart when he droppedout of school."

broke
What does "broke" mean?
without money.A: "Can you lend me 10 dollars?"B: "I'm afraid not. I'm broke."

buck(s)
What does "buck(s)" mean?
dollar(s)."The cheapest tickets for the concert cost 25bucks. Do you still want to go?"

bug
What does "bug" mean?
annoy; bother."I'm trying to concentrate! Don't bug me!"

bull-headed
What does "bull-headed" mean?
: stubborn; inflexible."Don't be so bull-headed. Why can't you admitthat others' opinions are just as good as yours?"

burn the midnight oil
What does "burn the midnight oil" mean?
study/work all night or until very, very late at night."I'm not ready for the test tomorrow. I guess I'llhave to burn the the midnight oil."

bushed
What does "bushed" mean?
: very tired; exhausted."I'm going to lie down for a while. I'm reallybushed."

by oneself
What does "by oneself" mean?
: alone and without help."I can't do this by myself. Can you help me?"

by the skin of one's teeth
What does "by the skin of one's teeth" mean?
: barely succeed in doing something."I'll have to start earlier the next time. This time Ionly finished by the skin of my teeth."

back and forth
What does "back and forth" mean?
backwards and forwards, first one way and then the other wayThe argument went back and forth before the judge made a decision.

back down (from someone or something)
What does "back down (from someone or something)" mean?
to fail to carry through on a threat to do somethingThe government backed down from their plan to sell the national airline.

back in circulation
What does "back in circulation" mean?
to be available to the public again (a library book)The books were back in circulation after we returned them to the library.

back in circulation
What does "back in circulation" mean?
to be socially active again (after the breakup of a relationship between two people)My friend stopped seeing his girlfriend and he is now back in circulation.

back of beyond
What does "back of beyond" mean?
somewhere very remoteEvery summer we go to the back of beyond for a camping trip.

back on one`s feet
What does "back on one`s feet" mean?
to return to good financial or physical healthMy friend is back on his feet after his company went out of business.

back out (of something)
What does "back out (of something)" mean?
to withdraw from an agreement or promiseThe company backed out of the agreement with the foreign firm.

back the wrong horse
What does "back the wrong horse" mean?
to support someone or something that cannot win or succeedWe backed the wrong horse in the election and our candidate lost badly.

back-to-back
What does "back-to-back" mean?
something follows immediately after something else, two people touching backsThere were two back-to-back games today because of the rain last week.

back to square one
What does "back to square one" mean?
to go back to the beginning of somethingThe city was back to square one in their effort to build a new bridge.

back to the drawing board
What does "back to the drawing board" mean?
to go back and start a project or idea from the beginningThe boss does not like our idea so we must go back to the drawing board.

back to the salt mines
What does "back to the salt mines" mean?
to return to work or return to something else that you do not want to doWe finished our lunch and went back to the salt mines.

back up (someone or something)
What does "back up (someone or something)" mean?
to support someone or somethingThe doctor made a mistake and the hospital refused to back him up.

bad blood (between people)
What does "bad blood (between people)" mean?
unpleasant feelings between peopleThere was much bad blood between the three brothers.

bad-mouth (someone or something)
What does "bad-mouth (someone or something)" mean?
to say bad things about someone or somethingThe supervisor has the habit of bad-mouthing her boss.

bag of tricks
What does "bag of tricks" mean?
a collection of special techniques or methodsThe teacher has a bag of tricks to keep her students occupied.

bail out (of something)
What does "bail out (of something)" mean?
to abandon a situation, to jump out of an airplaneThe plan to buy a summer home with our friends was becoming too expensive so we decided to bail out.

bail (someone) out
What does "bail (someone) out" mean?
to pay a sum of money that allows someone to get out of jail while waiting for a trialThe singer had to pay much money to bail himself out of prison.

bail (someone or something) out
What does "bail (someone or something) out" mean?
to help or rescue someone or somethingThe government decided to bail out the troubled bank.

balance the books
What does "balance the books" mean?
to check that all the money in a business is accounted forThe accountant spent several days trying to balance the books of his company.

ball of fire
What does "ball of fire" mean?
an active and energetic personThe woman is a ball of fire and is always busy doing something.

bang/beat one's head against the wall
What does "bang/beat one's head against the wall" mean?
to try to do something that is hopelessI am banging my head against the wall when I try to ask my boss for something.

bank on (someone or something)
What does "bank on (someone or something)" mean?
to be sure of someone or something, to count on someone or somethingYou can bank on my sister to help you.

baptism of fire
What does "baptism of fire" mean?
a first experience of something (often difficult or unpleasant)We went through a baptism of fire when we had to learn how to operate the small business.

bargain for (something)
What does "bargain for (something)" mean?
to anticipate something, to take something into accountThe difficulty of the job was more than I had bargained for.

bargain on (something)
What does "bargain on (something)" mean?
to plan or expect somethingWe did not bargain on having heavy rain during our summer birthday party.

barge in on (someone or something)
What does "barge in on (someone or something)" mean?
to interrupt someone or something, to intrude on someone or somethingMy sister often barges in on me when I am with my friends.

bark is worse than one`s bite
What does "bark is worse than one`s bite" mean?
someone is not as bad as they sound"Don`t worry if the boss gets angry - his bark is worse than his bite."

bark up the wrong tree
What does "bark up the wrong tree" mean?
to make a wrong assumption about somethingThe police are barking up the wrong tree in their investigation of the criminal.

base one's opinion on (something)
What does "base one's opinion on (something)" mean?
to form an opinion from somethingI based my opinion on the man's previous work and decided not to give him a job.

batten down the hatches
What does "batten down the hatches" mean?
to prepare for difficult times, to close the hatches in a boat before a stormA big storm was coming so we decided to batten down the hatches and stay home.

bawl out (someone)
What does "bawl out (someone)" mean?
to scold someone loudlyThe woman bawled out her child in the supermarket.

be a new one on (someone)
What does "be a new one on (someone)" mean?
to be something one has not heard before and something that is difficult to believeIt was a new one on me when my friend said that he was studying Russian.

be all ears
What does "be all ears" mean?
to listen eagerly and carefullyThe boy was all ears when the teacher described the circus.

be all things to all people
What does "be all things to all people" mean?
to be everything that is wanted by all peopleThe politician tries to be all things to all people and it is difficult to know what she really believes.

be curtains for (someone or something)
What does "be curtains for (someone or something)" mean?
to be the end or death for someone or somethingIt was curtains for my old car when it finally broke down last week.

be game
What does "be game" mean?
to be ready for action or agreeable to participate in somethingAll of the students were game to go to the science exhibition.

be into (something)
What does "be into (something)" mean?
to be interested or involved in somethingMy friend is very much into music and writing songs.

be of the persuasion that (something) is so
What does "be of the persuasion that (something) is so" mean?
to believe that something is true or existsMy grandfather is of the persuasion that it is more important to work than to go to school.

be off
What does "be off" mean?
to leave or departI plan to be off very early tomorrow morning to go to the airport.

be off to a bad start
What does "be off to a bad start" mean?
to start something under bad circumstancesThe production of the play was off to a bad start when the lights did not work.

be off on the wrong foot
What does "be off on the wrong foot" mean?
to start something under bad circumstancesI tried to talk to my new neighbor but it seems that we are off on the wrong foot already.

be that as it may
What does "be that as it may" mean?
even if what you say is true"Be that as it may, we are not going to permit the school dance to take place."

be the case
What does "be the case" mean?
to be true, to be an actual situation"I do not care if it was the case last year, this year we will do things differently."

be the death of (someone)
What does "be the death of (someone)" mean?
to be the ruin/downfall/death of someone (often used for some kind of problem)The woman said that her young son's bad behavior would be the death of her.

be to blame
What does "be to blame" mean?
to be responsible for something bad or unfortunateHe is not to blame for breaking the computer.

bear/hold a grudge (against someone)
What does "bear/hold a grudge (against someone)" mean?
to continue to be angry at someone, to resent someoneThe woman continued to bear a grudge against her friend for many years.

bear fruit
What does "bear fruit" mean?
to yield or give resultsThe girl's hard work began to bear fruit when she won the dance contest.

bear in mind
What does "bear in mind" mean?
to consider that something is soWe have to bear in mind that the child is only three years old when he does something bad.

bear one's cross
What does "bear one's cross" mean?
to carry or bear a burdenRaising three children on her own was the way that the woman had to bear her cross.

bear (someone or something) in mind
What does "bear (someone or something) in mind" mean?
to remember and think about someone or somethingWe had to bear in mind that the child was only three years old.

bear (something) out
What does "bear (something) out" mean?
to prove that something is rightThe man's constant lateness bore out the fact that he could never continue with one job for a long time.

bear the brunt of (something)
What does "bear the brunt of (something)" mean?
to withstand the worst part or the strongest part of somethingThe small island bore the brunt of the tropical storm.

bear with (someone or something)
What does "bear with (someone or something)" mean?
to be patient with someone or something, to endure someone or somethingWe had to bear with our teacher as she explained the material to the new students.

beat a hasty retreat
What does "beat a hasty retreat" mean?
to retreat or withdraw very quicklyThe soldiers beat a hasty retreat when the guerrillas attacked them.

beat a path to (someone's) door
What does "beat a path to (someone's) door" mean?
to come to someone in great numbersThe customers beat a path to the door of the computer game store.

beat around the bush
What does "beat around the bush" mean?
to speak indirectly or evasively"Stop beating around the bush and give us your final decision."

beat one's brains out
What does "beat one's brains out" mean?
to work very hard (to do something)We beat our brains out in order to think of a name for the new magazine.

beat one's head against the wall
What does "beat one's head against the wall" mean?
to waste one's time trying to do something that is hopelessI was beating my head against the wall to try and convince my friend to come to the restaurant.

beat (someone) to the punch/draw
What does "beat (someone) to the punch/draw" mean?
to do something before othersMy friend beat me to the punch and arrived at the interview first.

beat (something) into (someone's) head
What does "beat (something) into (someone's) head" mean?
to force someone to learn somethingThe teacher thinks that she must beat the material into the heads of the students.

beat the clock
What does "beat the clock" mean?
to finish something before the time is upThe basketball team worked hard to beat the clock and win the game.

beat the living daylights out of (someone)
What does "beat the living daylights out of (someone)" mean?
to beat someone severelyThe two men beat the living daylights out of the man at the gas station.

beat the rap
What does "beat the rap" mean?
to escape conviction and punishment (for a crime)The man beat the rap and did not have to go to jail.

beat the tar out of (someone)
What does "beat the tar out of (someone)" mean?
to beat someone severelyThe older boy beat the tar out of the young boy in the schoolyard.

beat up (someone)
What does "beat up (someone)" mean?
to harm someone by hitting or beating themThe young boys beat up one of the older students.

becoming on/to (someone)
What does "becoming on/to (someone)" mean?
to make someone look goodThe red dress looked very becoming on my girlfriend.

beef up (something)
What does "beef up (something)" mean?
to make something strongerThe police beefed up the security around the convention site.

before long
What does "before long" mean?
soonI had to wait a few minutes but before long my friend arrived to meet me.

beg the question
What does "beg the question" mean?
to invite the question that followsThe purchase of the expensive car begged the question of where the man got the money.

beg to differ with (someone)
What does "beg to differ with (someone)" mean?
to politely disagree with someone"I'm sorry but I beg to differ with you about what happened."

begin to see the light
What does "begin to see the light" mean?
to begin to understand (something)My sister began to see the light and decided to leave her boyfriend.

behind closed doors
What does "behind closed doors" mean?
in secretThe meeting to settle the dispute took place behind closed doors.

behind in/on (something)
What does "behind in/on (something)" mean?
to be late with somethingI was behind in my studies and stayed home all weekend to study.

behind schedule
What does "behind schedule" mean?
to fail to do something by the time on the scheduleThe trains were behind schedule because of the accident early in the morning.

behind (someone`s) back
What does "behind (someone`s) back" mean?
without someone`s knowledge, secretlyThe man is very angry because his friend borrowed his car behind his back.

behind the scenes
What does "behind the scenes" mean?
privately, out of public viewThe diplomats worked behind the scenes to try and solve the crisis.

behind the times
What does "behind the times" mean?
to be old-fashionedMy aunt is behind the times.

belabor the point
What does "belabor the point" mean?
to spend too much time on a point of discussionI tried not to belabor the point but I needed to explain things in detail for everyone to understand.

below average
What does "below average" mean?
to be lower or worse than averageThe amount of rain was below average during the winter.

belt (something) out
What does "belt (something) out" mean?
to sing/play a song with lots of energyThe man stood up and belted out several old songs.

bend (someone's) ear
What does "bend (someone's) ear" mean?
to talk to someone (maybe annoyingly)I did not want to go into my supervisor's office and have him bend my ear for a long time.

bend over backwards (to do something)
What does "bend over backwards (to do something)" mean?
to try very hard to do something"I will bend over backwards to help you get a job in this company."

bent on doing (something)
What does "bent on doing (something)" mean?
to be determined to do somethingThe young boys were bent on buying the old car to fix it up.

beside oneself (with something)
What does "beside oneself (with something)" mean?
to be very upset or excited about somethinghe boy was beside himself with joy after winning the contest.

beside the point
What does "beside the point" mean?
to be not relevant to the subject that you are considering or discussing"What you are saying is beside the point. We are not talking about salary now."

best/better part of (something)
What does "best/better part of (something)" mean?
to be almost all of somethingWe spent the best part of a day trying to fix the vacuum cleaner.

bet on the wrong horse
What does "bet on the wrong horse" mean?
to misjudge a coming event, to misread the futureI think that he bet on the wrong horse by investing all of his money into the new stock.

bet one's bottom dollar
What does "bet one's bottom dollar" mean?
to be very certain about somethingI would bet my bottom dollar that my friend will be late for the movie.

better off
What does "better off" mean?
to be in a better situation than beforeHe would be better off if he sold his old car and bought a new one.

between a rock and a hard place
What does "between a rock and a hard place" mean?
to be in a very difficult positionWe were between a rock and a hard place in our effort to solve the problem.

between the devil and the deep blue sea
What does "between the devil and the deep blue sea" mean?
to be in a very difficult positionThe mayor was between the devil and the deep blue sea when he tried to keep the two groups happy.

betwixt and between
What does "betwixt and between" mean?
to be undecided, to be between two decisionsWe were betwixt and between in our effort to try and decide which school to send our child to.

beyond a shadow of a doubt
What does "beyond a shadow of a doubt" mean?
to be completely without doubtEveryone believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man had stolen the money.

beyond measure
What does "beyond measure" mean?
to be more than can be measuredThe man's love for his city was beyond measure.

beyond one's depth
What does "beyond one's depth" mean?
to be beyond one's ability, to be in deep waterThe apartment manager was beyond her depth in her effort to manage the apartment.

beyond one's means
What does "beyond one's means" mean?
to be more than one can affordThe expensive boat was very much beyond our means.

beyond the pale
What does "beyond the pale" mean?
to be outside the bounds of acceptable behaviorWhat they are doing is totally unacceptable and beyond the pale.

beyond words
What does "beyond words" mean?
to be more than one can sayOur love for our new baby is beyond words.

bid adieu to (someone or something)
What does "bid adieu to (someone or something)" mean?
to say good-bye to someone or somethingEverybody gathered to bid adieu to the popular supervisor.

bide one`s time
What does "bide one`s time" mean?
to patiently wait for an opportunity to occur. The man is biding his time as he waits to become president of the company.

big frog/fish in a small pond
What does "big frog/fish in a small pond" mean?
an important person in a less important placeThe woman was a big fish in a small pond when she moved to the small town.

big of (someone)
What does "big of (someone)" mean?
to be generous of someoneIt was very big of the man to share his house with the other people.

big shot
What does "big shot" mean?
an important and powerful personThe man is a big shot in the oil and gas industry.

bird in hand is worth two in the bush
What does "bird in hand is worth two in the bush" mean?
something that you already have is better than something that you might getA bird in hand is worth two in the bush so we decided to sell the car to our neighbor rather than wait to get a higher price.

birds and the bees
What does "birds and the bees" mean?
human sex and reproductionThe father tried to tell his son about the birds and the bees.

birds-eye view
What does "birds-eye view" mean?
a view from high above, a brief look at somethingWe had a birds-eye view of the playing field from our seats high up in the stadium.

birthday suit
What does "birthday suit" mean?
a completely naked bodyThe little boy was running down the street in his birthday suit.

bite off more than one can chew
What does "bite off more than one can chew" mean?
to try to do more than one is able to doI bit off more than I can chew by agreeing to do another assignment.

bite one's nails
What does "bite one's nails" mean?
to be nervous or anxious about somethingThe children were biting their nails as they waited for the results of the test.

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