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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Dead as a door nail
What does "Dead as a door nail" mean?
To be dead, with no chance for recovery.You might as well junk that car, the engine is dead as a door nail.

Nails were once hand tooled and costly. When an aging cabin or barn was torn down the valuable nails would be salvaged so they could be reused in later construction.
When building a door however, carpenters often drove the nail through then bent it over the other end so it couldn't work its way out during the repeated opening and closing of the door. When it came time to salvage the building, these door nails were considered useless, or "dead" because of the way they were bent.
Don't Count Your Chickens Before They're Hatched
What does "Don't Count Your Chickens Before They're Hatched" mean?
Don't be overconfident and assume success before you know the outcome of a venture.In the midst of this daydream, she did toss her curls, sending the pail of milk spilling. The moral of the fable is: Such are the disappointments of those who count their chickens before they are hatched.

This proverb's use in English began in the second half of the sixteenth century, but its origins are in Aesop's Fables, written in the sixth century B.C. "The Milkmaid and the Pail" is a fable about a young girl on her way home, carrying her pail of milk on top of her head.
She was daydreaming about what she would do with the milk, starting with making cream and butter to sell. Then, she could buy eggs with that money, and the eggs would hatch into chickens. They would lay more eggs, and the process would continue, growing more and more profitable. Later on, she could sell some of the birds and buy herself a dress, drawing attention of the young men in the town. When they took notice, her plan was to ignore their advances wit a toss of her curls.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
What does "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" mean?
Do not be critical of a gift.Okay, so the '72 Gremlin grandma gave you is not your idea of a babe magnet, but it was free - so don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Horses have gum lines that recede with age. Hence older horses have longer teeth than young horses.
To "look a horse in the mouth" is to examine the horse's mouth closely to determine its age (and therefore its usefulness and/or worth). To immediately judge a gift based on its worth or usefulness rather than the "thought" behind it considered rude, and ungrateful (it is a gift after all, and didn't cost the receiver anything).
The phrase is apparently quite old, a Latin version of it appeared in a work by St. Jerome in 420 AD, and it also exists in many languages. An Early english version (1510 AD) appears in John Standbridge's "Vulgari Standbrigi": "A gyuen hors may not (be) loked in the tethe."
Down the hatch
What does "Down the hatch" mean?
Drink or eat.Enough talk, let's put some food down the hatch.

Here's a drinking expression that seems to have its origins in sea freight, where cargoes are lowered into the hatch for transport below deck. The freight appears to be consumed by the ship.
Down to the short strokes
What does "Down to the short strokes" mean?
Approaching the end of a long process.Building a house is a long ordeal. Just when you think you are down to the short strokes something unexpected comes up.

When a golfer begins at the tee, he hits the ball towards the green by driving, or using a long stroke. When the ball is on the green, he must get the ball in the hole by putting - or taking "short" strokes.
Down to the wire
What does "Down to the wire" mean?
Undecided until the end, at the last minuteWe almost missed our flight, it came right down to the wire. The traffic on the way to the airport was horrible and we had to run to our gate.

This phrase refers to races where the winner is determined by whoever crosses the finish line first. Think of horse racing and foot races. A string is stretched across the finish to help the judges see clearly who crosses first in a close race. That string is called the wire or tape, the winner is the one who breaks the wire first.
The "wire" is actually string, tape, or paper and not a metal wire at all. No need to be concerned about those horses tripping and getting themselves caught in the wire.
Dressed to a tea
What does "Dressed to a tea" mean?
Well dressed with attention to detail.Beware any salesman that is dressed to a tea, smiles too much, and talks fast.

A short way of saying "dressed for a tea" or "dressed to go to a tea". In the Victorian era, high tea was a formal affair. All proper people dressed in appropriate attire.
Dressed to the nines
What does "Dressed to the nines" mean?
Dressed flamboyantly, dressed well.New years eve is the one day of the year when people like to go out dressed to the nines.

Common lore has it that a tailor making a high quality suit uses more fabric. The best suits are made from nine yards of fabric. This may seem like a lot but a proper suit does indeed take nine yards of fabric. This is because a good suit has all the fabric cut in the same direction with the warp, or long strands of thread, parallel with the vertical line of the suit. This causes a great amount of waste in suit making, but if you want to go "dressed to the nines", you must pay for such waste.
Drop a dime
What does "Drop a dime" mean?
Make a phone call.Don't be such a stranger. Drop a dime some time.

This is a good phrase to discuss with anyone born after 1970. Pay phones cost 35, 50, or even 75 cents today, but they really did cost 10 cents at one time. The dime was dropped into the slot of the pay phone.
Don't count your chickens until (before) they hatch (they'vehatched).
What does "Don't count your chickens until (before) they hatch (they'vehatched)." mean?
Don't assume
that something will happen until it has happened.
A: I'm sure that I'm going to win a lot of money inLas Vegas."B: "Don't count your chickens until they hatch!"

dicey
What does "dicey" mean?
uncertain; taking too much of a chance.A: A friend of mine says I can make a lot of moneyif Ibuy stockin the XYZ company. Should I do it?

ditch class
What does "ditch class" mean?
skip class/play hookey."You shouldn't have ditched classyesterday. We had an unannounced test."

do a bang-up job
What does "do a bang-up job" mean?
do a very good job; do very well at something."Have you seen Frank's home page? He did a bang-upjob with it."

down in the dumps
What does "down in the dumps" mean?
depressed; "blue."A: "Is something wrong?"B: "Not really, but I feel kind of down in the dumps."

drop someone a line
What does "drop someone a line" mean?
: write to someone."I haven't written to my parents for a long time. I'dbetter drop them a linetoday or tomorrow."

drag one's feet
What does "drag one's feet" mean?
: delay; take longer than necessary to do something."Joe should have finished his project a week ago. Whyis he dragging his feet?"

daily grind
What does "daily grind" mean?
the everyday work routineMy father is tired of the daily grind of working and will retire soon.

dance to a different tune
What does "dance to a different tune" mean?
to change one's behavior or attitudeOur boss began dancing to a different tune when his head salesman decided to quit.

dance with death
What does "dance with death" mean?
to do something that is very riskyThe teenagers were dancing with death when they began to race their cars.

dare (someone) to do (something)
What does "dare (someone) to do (something)" mean?
to challenge someone to do somethingThe little boy dared his friend to throw a rock at the window.

dark horse
What does "dark horse" mean?
a political candidate who is little known to the general publicThe woman candidate was a dark horse but she won the election easily.

darken (someone's) door
What does "darken (someone's) door" mean?
to visit someone or somewhereThe man has never darkened the door of the library in his town.

dash off
What does "dash off" mean?
to leave quicklyWe dashed off as soon as the concert ended.

dash off (something)
What does "dash off (something)" mean?
to do or finish something quicklyI plan to dash off a letter before I go to work.

date back to (a previous time)
What does "date back to (a previous time)" mean?
to go back to a previous timeThe old building dates back to 1850.

Davy Jone's locker
What does "Davy Jone's locker" mean?
the bottom of the sea (as a grave)When the boat sank all of the crew members went to Davy Jone's locker.

dawn on (someone)
What does "dawn on (someone)" mean?
to become clear or occur to someoneIt finally dawned on me why my friend was angry.

day after day
What does "day after day" mean?
everydayDay after day the woman goes to the school to meet her child.

day and night
What does "day and night" mean?
all of the timeWe worked day and night to finish the project before the end of the month.

day in and day out
What does "day in and day out" mean?
regularly, all of the timeMy father goes to that restaurant for lunch day in and day out and he never gets tired of it.

day-to-day
What does "day-to-day" mean?
daily, everydayThe president was not involved in the day-to-day running of the university.

daylight robbery
What does "daylight robbery" mean?
the extreme overcharging of money for somethingThe amount of money which they charged for the gasoline was daylight robbery.

days running
What does "days running" mean?
several days in a rowThere were concerts at the auditorium for six days running.

dead ahead
What does "dead ahead" mean?
to be directly aheadThere was a truck dead ahead so we put on the car brakes suddenly.

dead as a doornail
What does "dead as a doornail" mean?
to be very deadThe man was as dead as a doornail after the car accident.

dead center
What does "dead center" mean?
the exact middleI easily hit the target dead center.

dead duck
What does "dead duck" mean?
a person or a thing in a hopeless situationThe man is a dead duck and he has no hope of recovering his former position.

dead end
What does "dead end" mean?
the end of a road, an impasseThe negotiations between the players and the owners have come to a dead end.

dead in one's/its tracks
What does "dead in one's/its tracks" mean?
to be stopped exactly where someone or something is at the momentThe police stopped the robber dead in his tracks.

dead letter
What does "dead letter" mean?
a piece of mail that cannot be delivered or returned to the senderThe letter with no return address went back to the post office as a dead letter.

dead loss
What does "dead loss" mean?
a total lossThe money that I gave to my friend is a dead loss and none of it will be returned.

dead on one's feet
What does "dead on one's feet" mean?
to be exhaustedI was dead on my feet after working all day in my garden.

dead set against (something)
What does "dead set against (something)" mean?
to be determined not to do somethingThe parents are dead set against their son going to Europe for a year.

dead tired
What does "dead tired" mean?
to be very tired, to be exhaustedI was dead tired so I went to bed when I got home.

dead to the world
What does "dead to the world" mean?
to be sleeping soundlyThe little boy was dead to the world when his father took him out of the car.

dead wrong
What does "dead wrong" mean?
to be totally wrongI was dead wrong in my calculations to build the table.

deadbeat
What does "deadbeat" mean?
a person who never pays his debtsThere is a new government policy to penalize deadbeat fathers.

deadpan
What does "deadpan" mean?
an expressionless or emotionless faceMy friend had a deadpan expression when he told us the story.

deaf and dumb
What does "deaf and dumb" mean?
to be unable to hear or speakThe man was deaf and dumb and could not communicate with the woman on the train.

deal in (something)
What does "deal in (something)" mean?
to buy and sell somethingThe man has been dealing in antiques for many years.

deal with (someone)
What does "deal with (someone)" mean?
to act in a specific way toward someone, to do business with someoneThe company is planning to deal with the late employee soon.

deal with (something)
What does "deal with (something)" mean?
to be concerned with something, to take action about something We will deal with the boxes tomorrow.

decide in favor of (someone or something)
What does "decide in favor of (someone or something)" mean?
to determine the winner of something, to decide who is rightThe city decided in favor of building a new bridge over the river.

decked out
What does "decked out" mean?
to be dressed in fancy clothesMy sister was decked out in her best clothes for the party.

deem it to be necessary
What does "deem it to be necessary" mean?
to believe that something is necessaryThe judge deemed it to be necessary to postpone the trial for a week.

deep-six (something)
What does "deep-six (something)" mean?
to throw away something, to dispose of somethingI decided to deep-six the videos as I did not want them any longer.

deep water
What does "deep water" mean?
serious trouble or difficultyThe boy will be in deep water if he does not tell us where he spent the money.

deliver the goods
What does "deliver the goods" mean?
to do a good or successful job of somethingHe is the best manager that we have had. He knows how to deliver the goods.

desert a sinking ship
What does "desert a sinking ship" mean?
to leave a situation or place when things become difficult or unpleasantMany employees decided to desert a sinking ship when their company began to have problems.

devil of a job
What does "devil of a job" mean?
a very difficult jobEverybody thought that unloading the truck was a devil of a job.

devil-may-care attitude
What does "devil-may-care attitude" mean?
an unworried attitude, an attitude where one does not care what happensThe man has a devil-may-care attitude to his job and nothing bothers him.

diamond in the rough
What does "diamond in the rough" mean?
a good person or thing that is hidden by a rough exteriorThe man is a diamond in the rough and a very gentle person under his harsh exterior.

die down
What does "die down" mean?
to come slowly to an end, to grow weakerWhen the sound of the music died down we were able to go to sleep.

die in one's boots
What does "die in one's boots" mean?
to die fightingThe soldiers died in their boots after fighting very hard.

die laughing
What does "die laughing" mean?
to laugh very loud and hardWe almost died laughing when we saw the comedy at the theater.

die off
What does "die off" mean?
to die one after another until the number is smallThe house plants began to die off as soon as we moved to a new apartment.

die out
What does "die out" mean?
to die or disappear slowly until goneThe campfire slowly died out and we went to bed.

dig in
What does "dig in" mean?
to begin eating"Let`s dig in and eat before the food gets cold!"

dig one's heels in
What does "dig one's heels in" mean?
to refuse to change one's course of action or opinionsOur boss dug his heels in and refused to give us time off.

dig one's own grave
What does "dig one's own grave" mean?
to be responsible for one's own problemsMy sister dug her own grave when she fought with her boss. Now she is having many problems at work.

dig some dirt up on (someone)
What does "dig some dirt up on (someone)" mean?
to find out something bad about someoneThe newspaper worked hard to dig some dirt up on the politician.

dig (someone or something) up
What does "dig (someone or something) up" mean?
to make an effort to find someone or somethingI tried to dig up some blankets for my friend when he stayed at our house.

dig (something) out
What does "dig (something) out" mean?
to locate somethingI dug out last year's income tax forms to look at.

dip into (something)
What does "dip into (something)" mean?
to borrow from a supply of somethingWe had to dip into our savings to get enough money for a holiday.

dirt cheap
What does "dirt cheap" mean?
to be extremely cheapThe denim jackets were dirt cheap so I decided to buy two of them.

dirty work
What does "dirty work" mean?
unpleasant or uninteresting workI refused to do the dirty work which my friend wanted me to do.

dish out (food)
What does "dish out (food)" mean?
to serve food from a large bowl or plateI began to dish out the food when the guests arrived.

dish out (criticism)
What does "dish out (criticism)" mean?
to criticize someone roughly, to treat someone roughlyOur supervisor likes to dish out criticism to others but he does not like to hear criticism about himself.

divide and conquer
What does "divide and conquer" mean?
to split an opposing side into two groups so that you can win against themThe government was trying to divide and conquer the opposition parties.

divide (something) fifty-fifty
What does "divide (something) fifty-fifty" mean?
to divide something into two equal partsWe divided the money that we won fifty-fifty.

do a double take
What does "do a double take" mean?
to look again in surprise at someone or somethingThe girl did a double take when she saw her old boyfriend with another woman.

do a job on (someone or something)
What does "do a job on (someone or something)" mean?
to harm or damage someone or somethingWe really did a job on the bookcase that we were trying to move.

do a land-office business
What does "do a land-office business" mean?
to do much business in a short timeThe children are doing a land-office business by selling the cold drinks next to the stadium.

do a number on (someone or something)
What does "do a number on (someone or something)" mean?
to hurt or damage someone or somethingThe students did a number on the spectator stands during the soccer game.

do a snow job on (someone)
What does "do a snow job on (someone)" mean?
to deceive or confuse someoneThe salesman tried to do a snow job on me but I did not believe him.

do an about-face
What does "do an about-face" mean?
to suddenly reverse one's opinionWe had to do an about-face on our decision to permit drinking coffee in the library.

do away with (something)
What does "do away with (something)" mean?
to stop something, to get rid of somethingThe company decided to do away with their policy of working one weekend a month.

do credit to (someone)
What does "do credit to (someone)" mean?
to add to someone's reputationThe woman's graduation thesis did credit to her hard work and patience.

do in (someone)
What does "do in (someone)" mean?
to make someone tired, to exhaust someoneI was done in by the time that I finished the marathon.

do in (something)
What does "do in (something)" mean?
to ruin/destroy somethingThe boy quickly did in the new shoes that he had received for his birthday.

do justice to (something)
What does "do justice to (something)" mean?
to do something well, to represent something accuratelyThe painting of my grandfather does not do justice to his extremely good looks.

do one`s best
What does "do one`s best" mean?
to try to do something as well as one canI tried to do my best on the exam.

do one`s bit/part
What does "do one`s bit/part" mean?
to share in a group project by contributing one`s time and effortOur teacher did his bit to help plan for the party.

do one's duty
What does "do one's duty" mean?
to do one's job or what is expected of oneThe guard was only doing his duty when he began to ask the customer questions.

do one`s thing
What does "do one`s thing" mean?
to do what one wants to do and enjoys doingMy friend enjoys doing his thing when and where he chooses.

do or die
What does "do or die" mean?
to make a great effortIt was do or die for the man when he started his new job.

do (someone) good
What does "do (someone) good" mean?
to be good or beneficial for someoneIt will do me good to go on a holiday.

do (someone) out of (something)
What does "do (someone) out of (something)" mean?
to cheat someone out of somethingThe man was worried that the company would do him out of the large bonus that he was expecting.

do (someone's) bidding
What does "do (someone's) bidding" mean?
to do what someone else wantsThe principal was able to get the head teacher to do his bidding with the other teachers.

do something rash
What does "do something rash" mean?
to take drastic action (usually without thinking)My friend is extremely angry and she may do something rash.

do the dishes
What does "do the dishes" mean?
to wash and dry dishesWe did the dishes soon after eating dinner.

do the honors
What does "do the honors" mean?
to perform the duty of a host (when serving a drink etc.)"Would you like to do the honors and pour everybody a drink?"

do the trick
What does "do the trick" mean?
to work well, to achieve a good or desired resultI think that the new piece of equipment should do the trick and solve our problem.

do time
What does "do time" mean?
to spend time in prisonThe man was doing time when we first heard about him.

do with (someone or something)
What does "do with (someone or something)" mean?
to be acquainted/involved/associated with someone or somethingI did not have anything to do with the meeting this year.

do with (something)
What does "do with (something)" mean?
to benefit from (something)I have been working hard all day so now I could do with a cold drink.

do without (something)
What does "do without (something)" mean?
to manage without somethingWe will have to do without sugar if there is none.

do wonders
What does "do wonders" mean?
to produce excellent resultsIf you begin to do some exercise it will do wonders for your health.

dog and pony show
What does "dog and pony show" mean?
a display or demonstration of somethingThe politicians put on a dog and pony show to make everyone forget about the scandal.

dog-eat-dog
What does "dog-eat-dog" mean?
to be ready or willing to fight and hurt others to get what you wantIt is a dog-eat-dog world in the advertising and public relations business.

dog in the manger
What does "dog in the manger" mean?
someone who prevents others from doing what he does not want them to do (from Aesops Fables)The girl was a dog in the manger when she cancelled the dinner because she could not attend.

doll (oneself) up
What does "doll (oneself) up" mean?
to dress in fancy clothesShe was all dolled up for the party at the downtown hotel.

dollar for dollar
What does "dollar for dollar" mean?
considering the costDollar for dollar, going to the mountains for a holiday is a good deal.

done for
What does "done for" mean?
to be ruined/defeated/dyingI think that our team is done for this season.

done in
What does "done in" mean?
to be tired, to be exhaustedI was done in so I went to bed early.

done to a T
What does "done to a T" mean?
to be cooked just rightThe steaks were done to a T and everybody was very happy with them.

done with (something)
What does "done with (something)" mean?
to be finished using somethingI was done with the computer so I let my sister use it.

doomed to failure
What does "doomed to failure" mean?
to be certain to failThe policy of the school was doomed to failure because nobody would support it.

double back
What does "double back" mean?
to turn back from where you are going or where you have beenWe decided to double back from the arena and return home for a few minutes.

double-check (something)
What does "double-check (something)" mean?
to check again to be sure that something is correctI double-checked the price of the airplane ticket.

double-cross (someone)
What does "double-cross (someone)" mean?
to deceive someone, to promise one thing and then do anotherThe man tried to double-cross his partner but was caught and sent to jail.

double-talk
What does "double-talk" mean?
talk or words that appear to mean something but do notThe speaker gave the audience much double-talk and nobody knew what he wanted to say.

double up
What does "double up" mean?
to share a room with someoneThe passengers had to double up in hotel rooms when the plane landed because of the weather.

down and dirty
What does "down and dirty" mean?
unfair/nasty/sneakyThe team decided to get down and dirty in order to try and win the tournament.

down and out
What does "down and out" mean?
to have no moneyMy friend has been down and out before but usually he can find a job.

down at the heels
What does "down at the heels" mean?
to be shabby, to be poorly dressedThe man looked down at the heels after he was fired from his job.

down for the count
What does "down for the count" mean?
to be finished for nowThe boxer was down for the count but everybody expected him to get up and fight again.

down in the dumps
What does "down in the dumps" mean?
to be unhappyThe girl has been down in the dumps since her boyfriend moved away.

down on one's luck
What does "down on one's luck" mean?
to be unlucky, to have no moneyThe man was down on his luck and did not even have a place to live.

down on (someone)
What does "down on (someone)" mean?
to be critical of someone, to be angry at someoneThe girl is down on her friend but I do not know the reason.

down one`s alley
What does "down one`s alley" mean?
to be suited to one`s tastes and abilitiesComputers are down my alley so I am sure that I will be interested in the job.

down the drain
What does "down the drain" mean?
to be wasted or lostMy uncle is throwing money down the drain when he goes to the horse races.

down the hatch
What does "down the hatch" mean?
to swallow a drink or eat somethingThe captain says down the hatch whenever he gives the sailors a drink.

down the line
What does "down the line" mean?
straight ahead, in the futureThere will be many changes in our company down the line.

down the tubes
What does "down the tubes" mean?
to be ruined/wastedAll of our plans went down the tubes after my friend refused to join us.

down to earth
What does "down to earth" mean?
to be sensible and practicalMy mother is very down to earth.

down to the last detail
What does "down to the last detail" mean?
considering all of the detailsWe fixed up everything on the boat, right down to the last detail.

down to the wire
What does "down to the wire" mean?
to be nearing a deadline, to be running out of timeWe went down to the wire but we were able to finish the job on time.

down with (an illness)
What does "down with (an illness)" mean?
to be ill, to be sick at homeMy sister was down with a cold so she could not go out for a few days.

drag in (someone or something)
What does "drag in (someone or something)" mean?
to insist on bringing someone or something into a discussionTh employee always drags in his personal problems when we talk about his job performance.

drag on
What does "drag on" mean?
to pass very slowly, to make something longerThe speech was dragging on so we decided to leave early.

drag one`s feet/heels
What does "drag one`s feet/heels" mean?
to act slowly or reluctantlyThe man has been dragging his feet about whether or not to take the job.

draw a blank
What does "draw a blank" mean?
to get no response to something, to get a negative resultThe manager drew a blank when he went to the head office to get information about the merger.

draw a line betwen two things
What does "draw a line betwen two things" mean?
to separate two thingsWe must draw a line between using the internet for work and using it for personal use.

draw blood
What does "draw blood" mean?
to make a wound that bleeds, to anger someoneThe politician was very careful not to draw blood during the debate.

draw fire
What does "draw fire" mean?
to receive criticism for somethingThe government began to draw fire when they announced changes in the health care system.

draw fire
What does "draw fire" mean?
to be a target, to attract or provoke shootingThe soldiers drew fire when they entered the small village.

draw in one`s horns
What does "draw in one`s horns" mean?
to spend less moneyThe company is not doing well so everybody must draw in their horns.

draw interest
What does "draw interest" mean?
to appear interesting and attract someone's attentionThe singers drew much interest when they performed at the festival.

draw interest
What does "draw interest" mean?
to earn interest when money is deposited in a bankThe money that we put in the bank draws interest every month.

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