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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On the ball
What does "On the ball" mean?
To be paying attention, to respond promptly, to be doing one's job.If you were a bit more on the ball, we might have averted the reactor melt down.

From the early days of baseball, a pitcher who "had nothing on the ball" was one who was having a bad outing. The term implies that the pitcher has no control or speed on the ball.
Once in a blue moon
What does "Once in a blue moon" mean?
To happen only on rare occasions.The Post Office regularly fails to deliver checks sent in payment to me, but bills sent to me fail to be delivered only once in a blue moon.

Two full moons in the same month are extremely rare, though they do happen. A second full moon has come to be called a blue moon. This is apparently because the Maine Farmers Almanac used to list the date of first moon in red text, and the second moon in blue.
One Red Cent
What does "One Red Cent" mean?
A single symbolic penny.I refuse to pay even one red cent for the work until you complete the whole job.

The "Red" refers to both the color of a penny (one cent) and the image that used to be on the penny, an American Indian head. Redskin is a slang term used for American Indians.
Before today's Lincoln penny was the Indian Head penny.
The Indian Head penny was first issued in 1859 and looks just like that as issued in 1908 (before the Lincoln Cent). The only difference was that those from 1859-1864 were of a different copper-nickel alloy while 1864 started the common bronze, which was used until 1982. (You didn't know it changed then, did you?)
The copper-nickel alloy has a reddish tint, which turns redder with time and skin oil.
Before the Indian Head penny was the "Buzzard Cent", as the One Cent coins in 1856-1858 were called. The flying eagle on the coin was damned as an ugly bird and it wasn't popular.
However, it was the first "small cent" using about the same size as our penny today. In the half century before this, One Cent coins were about the size of today's Half Dollar!
OK
What does "OK" mean?
(1) yes (to show agreement--often reluctant agreement). A: "Come on, Al. We really need your help!"B: "Oh, OK; I may be crazy, but I'll help you."

OK
What does "OK" mean?
(2) neither good nor bad; so-so.A: "How was the movie?"B: "OK, I guess, but I've seen better ones."

OK
What does "OK" mean?
(3) in satisfactory condition; well.A: "You look awfully pale. Are you OK?"B: "Actually, I'm not. I have a terrible headache. "

OK
What does "OK" mean?
(4) approve (verb).A: "Did your boss OK your vacation plans?"B: "No, but he said that taking them two weeks later would be allright.

on the dot
What does "on the dot" mean?
exactly at a given time."We're leaving at 9:00 on the dot. If you'relate, we'll go without you."

on time
What does "on time" mean?
at the scheduled time."It's getting late. You'd better hurry if you want toget to work on time."

once in a while
What does "once in a while" mean?
occasionally; from time to time.A: "Would you like coffee or tea?"B: "Coffee, please. I drink tea once in a while, but Igenerally drink coffee."

over one's head
What does "over one's head" mean?
too difficult or complicated for someone to understand."This explanation of cgi scripting is over myhead.Can you explain it in a less technical way?"

one's feet are on the ground
What does "one's feet are on the ground" mean?
one has sensible ideasMy father is a good man and always has his feet on the ground.

one's flesh and blood
What does "one's flesh and blood" mean?
a close relativeShe is my flesh and blood so I felt terrible when she got into trouble.

one's frame of mind
What does "one's frame of mind" mean?
one`s mental state - either good or badI made sure that my boss was in a good frame of mind before I asked him for a holiday.

one's lucky stars
What does "one's lucky stars" mean?
a certain star or planet which is thought to bring a person good luck and success in lifeYou can count your lucky stars that you don`t have to work on a rainy day like today.

one's name is mud
What does "one's name is mud" mean?
a person`s reputation is badHis name is mud now that he has been charged by the police with stealing money from his company.

occur to (someone)
What does "occur to (someone)" mean?
to come into someone's mind (an idea or thought)It occurred to me that I will not be able to meet my friend on Saturday because I have to go to the airport to meet someone else.

ocean(s) of (something)
What does "ocean(s) of (something)" mean?
a very large amount of somethingThere was oceans of food at the party.

odd man out
What does "odd man out" mean?
an unusual person or thingI always feel that I am the odd man out when I go with my coworkers to a restaurant.

odds and ends
What does "odds and ends" mean?
a variety of small items (sometimes remnants of something)We made games for the children from odds and ends that we found around the house.

of age
What does "of age" mean?
to be old enough to be allowed to do something (vote,drink etc.)When my cousin came of age we had a big party for him to celebrate.

of age
What does "of age" mean?
to be fully developed, to be matureRapid transportation came of age when the first jets were built.

of all the nerve
What does "of all the nerve" mean?
How shocking!Of all the nerve for my friend to ask me for more money when she never repaid me what she had already borrowed.

of all things
What does "of all things" mean?
Imagine that!"Of all things," the woman said when the post office worker told her that her package was too large for delivery.

of benefit to (someone)
What does "of benefit to (someone)" mean?
to be good for someone, to be a benefit to someoneAnother meeting to solve the problem would be of no benefit to myself so I decided not to attend.

of course
What does "of course" mean?
certainly, definitely, naturally"Of course you can use my car if you want."

of interest (to someone)
What does "of interest (to someone)" mean?
to be interesting to someoneThe man who works at the gas station is of interest to the police in their investigation of the murder.

of late
What does "of late" mean?
latelyOf late there has been almost no rain in our city.

of one's own accord/free will
What does "of one's own accord/free will" mean?
by one's own choiceThe supervisor decided to leave her job of her own free will and was not fired.

of the old school
What does "of the old school" mean?
to have attitudes from the past which are no longer popularOur teacher's attitudes are of the old school and are not often found these days.

off and on
What does "off and on" mean?
occasionallyMy friend has been seeing a woman off and on but I do not think that their relationship is very serious.

off and running
What does "off and running" mean?
to be started up and already goingThe candidates are off and running in the race to become mayor of the city.

off balance
What does "off balance" mean?
to be not prepared for something, to be unable to meet the unexpectedI was off balance when my boss asked me to deliver the speech instead of him.

off base
What does "off base" mean?
to be inaccurate/wrongHe was off base with his estimate of next year`s budget.

off campus
What does "off campus" mean?
to be not on the grounds of a college or universityThe used bookstore was off campus but it was very popular with the university students.

off-center
What does "off-center" mean?
to be not exactly in the center or middle of somethingThe picture was off-center and did not look good on the wall.

off-color
What does "off-color" mean?
to be in bad taste, to be not polite, to be not the exact colorHe likes to tell off-color jokes which most people do not like.

off duty
What does "off duty" mean?
to be not workingThe police officer was off duty when he saw the bank robbery.

off guard
What does "off guard" mean?
to be not alert to the unexpectedIt caught me off guard when my friend suddenly asked me to lend her some money.

off like a shot
What does "off like a shot" mean?
to go away quicklyThe children were off like a shot when the school bell rang.

off limits
What does "off limits" mean?
to be forbiddenThe factory was off limits to everybody except the workers who worked there.

off one`s back
What does "off one`s back" mean?
to be not bothering someone I wish my father would get off my back and stop asking me when I am going to look for a job.

off one`s chest
What does "off one`s chest" mean?
to talk about a problem to someone so that it does not bother you anymoreI talked to my friend and I was able to get some of my problems off my chest.

off one`s hands
What does "off one`s hands" mean?
to no longer be in one`s care or possessionI sold my old computer and got it off my hands.

off one`s high horse
What does "off one`s high horse" mean?
to be not acting proud and scornful, to be not acting like you are better than othersWe got our boss off his high horse when he admitted that he had made many mistakes with the new product launch.

off one`s rocker
What does "off one`s rocker" mean?
to be crazyHe must be off his rocker if he thinks that he can spend much money and not have financial problems.

off season
What does "off season" mean?
to be not in the busy time of the year, to be restricted (the hunting of an animal)It was off season so we got a very cheap rate for the hotel room.

off (someone or something) goes
What does "off (someone or something) goes" mean?
someone or something is leaving"Off we go," I said as we opened the door and left the house.

off the air
What does "off the air" mean?
to be not broadcastingThe small radio station was not popular and is now off the air.

off the beam
What does "off the beam" mean?
to be wrong/mistakenWhat he said about the new policy was off the beam and should be ignored by everybody.

off the beaten track
What does "off the beaten track" mean?
to be not well known or often used, to be unusualLast night we went to a small restaurant that was off the beaten track.

off the cuff
What does "off the cuff" mean?
to not prepare in advance what one will sayMy father made a few remarks off the cuff when he was accepting the award from his company.

off the hook
What does "off the hook" mean?
to be out of trouble or free from an embarrassing situationI think that I am off the hook now and will not have to worry about the problem anymore.

off the mark
What does "off the mark" mean?
to be not quite exactly rightThe cost estimate for the new train station was off the mark.

off the record
What does "off the record" mean?
to be private, to be unofficialHe told the reporters off the record about the problem with the budget estimate.

off the subject
What does "off the subject" mean?
to be not concerned with the subject under discussionOur teacher is often off the subject during our class lectures.

off the top of one`s head
What does "off the top of one`s head" mean?
to be from memory, to be spontaneousHe knew all of the team members off the top of his head.

off the track
What does "off the track" mean?
to be not concerned with the topic under discussionMy friend was off the track when he suggested that the problem was caused by the other department.

off the wagon
What does "off the wagon" mean?
to begin to drink alcohol again after stopping for awhileHe is off the wagon again. I saw him yesterday and I am sure that he had been drinking.

off the wall
What does "off the wall" mean?
to be odd/silly/unusualThe recent remarks by our boss were very much off the wall.

off to a running start
What does "off to a running start" mean?
to have a good and fast beginningWe were off to a running start with our preparations for the autumn festival.

off to one side
What does "off to one side" mean?
to be beside something, to be moved a little away from somethingWe put the old chair off to one side while we tried to decide what to do with it.

offbeat
What does "offbeat" mean?
to be unconventional, to be different from the usualThe movie was very offbeat which is just the kind of movie that I like.

old hat
What does "old hat" mean?
to be old-fashioned, to be not new or differentMy job has become old hat and I am becoming tired of it.

on a diet
What does "on a diet" mean?
to be eating less food so that you can lose weightI was on a diet for several months last year.

on a dime
What does "on a dime" mean?
to do something in a very small space, to do something quicklyHis new car has very powerful brakes and is able to stop on a dime.

on a first-name basis (with someone)
What does "on a first-name basis (with someone)" mean?
to be good friends with someoneI am not on a first-name basis with my neighbor.

on a fool's errand
What does "on a fool's errand" mean?
to be involved in a useless journey or taskI was on a fool's errand as I looked for a store that sold international road maps.

on a shoestring
What does "on a shoestring" mean?
to do something with very little moneyHe started the new company on a shoestring.

on a splurge
What does "on a splurge" mean?
to spend much money extravagantlyWe went on a splurge last weekend and spent a lot of money.

on a waiting list
What does "on a waiting list" mean?
to be on a list of people waiting for somethingMy father is on a waiting list to get an operation on his knee.

on account
What does "on account" mean?
money paid or owed on a debtWe buy many things on account at the local department store.

on active duty
What does "on active duty" mean?
to be in battle or ready to go into battleThe soldiers were on active duty when the hurricane reached the shore.

on again, off again
What does "on again, off again" mean?
to be unsettled/changeable/uncertainThe plans for the fireworks display were on again, off again because of the rainy and windy weather.

on all fours
What does "on all fours" mean?
to be on one's hands and kneesI was down on all fours as I looked for my grandmother's hearing aide.

on an even keel
What does "on an even keel" mean?
to be in a well-ordered situation/conditionWe got the new department running on an even keel before we took some time off.

on and off
What does "on and off" mean?
intermittently, now and thenIt has been raining on and off since early this morning.

on and on
What does "on and on" mean?
continually, at tedious lengthThe speech continued on and on until we finally left the meeting.

on any account
What does "on any account" mean?
for any purpose, for any reasonI am not going to talk to that woman on any account.

on approval
What does "on approval" mean?
to buy something with the right to return itWe carefuly looked at the chair which we had bought on approval.

on behalf of (someone)
What does "on behalf of (someone)" mean?
representing someoneThe lawyer went to the meeting on behalf of his client.

on bended knee
What does "on bended knee" mean?
with great humilityThe young man was on bended knee when he asked his girlfriend to marry him.

on board
What does "on board" mean?
to be on a ship/plane or similar form of transportationWe got on board the airplane just before they closed the doors.

on call
What does "on call" mean?
to be available to be called to go to workHis job is to repair computers and he is always on call.

on campus
What does "on campus" mean?
to be on the grounds of a college or universityWe often go to a small coffee shop on campus after our classes.

on cloud nine
What does "on cloud nine" mean?
to be very happyShe has been on cloud nine since she decided to get married last month.

on consignment
What does "on consignment" mean?
being sold in a store by someone who still owns the goodsWe went to the store to buy some baby furniture that was on consignment.

on credit
What does "on credit" mean?
to be purchased by using creditI purchased the stereo on credit.

on deck
What does "on deck" mean?
to be on the deck of a boat or a shipWhen we were on the ship we spent most of the time on deck.

on duty
What does "on duty" mean?
to be at work, to be currently doing one's workThere was nobody on duty when we arrived at the swimming pool.

on edge
What does "on edge" mean?
to be nervous or irritableHe has been on edge lately because of his exams.

on end
What does "on end" mean?
seemingly endlessMy uncle works for hours on end at his hobbies.

on faith
What does "on faith" mean?
without question or proofI took it on faith that my friend would help me when I had extra work to do.

on fire
What does "on fire" mean?
to be burning, being burned with flamesThe small house was on fire when the fire truck arrived.

on foot
What does "on foot" mean?
by walkingWe decided to go downtown on foot.

on good terms with (someone)
What does "on good terms with (someone)" mean?
to be friendly with someoneWe have always been on good terms with our neighbors.

on guard
What does "on guard" mean?
to be careful/waryHe has been on guard since he was robbed last month.

on hand
What does "on hand" mean?
to be availableI am sorry but I do not have any aspirin on hand at the moment.

on hand
What does "on hand" mean?
to be nearby, to be within reach"Please keep your dictionary on hand in case you need to use it."

on hand
What does "on hand" mean?
to be presentThe speaker will be on hand after the lecture if you have any questions that you want to ask her.

on hold
What does "on hold" mean?
to be waiting, to be temporarily haltedThe construction of the building is on hold while the city engineers finish their inspection.

on hold
What does "on hold" mean?
to be left waiting on a telephone lineI phoned the bank but I was quickly put on hold.

on horseback
What does "on horseback" mean?
to be on the back of a horseWe went up to the campground on horseback.

on ice
What does "on ice" mean?
to be away for safekeeping or later use, to be postponedThe city have put the plans for the new stadium on ice while they try to raise more money.

on impulse
What does "on impulse" mean?
something that is done without planningI bought the DVD player on impulse.

on land
What does "on land" mean?
on the land, on the soil, not at seaThe old sailor was never very comfortable when he was on land.

on line
What does "on line" mean?
connected to a remote computerThe editor is able to do most of his work on line.

on location
What does "on location" mean?
a movie being filmed in a location away from the movie studioThe movie was filmed on location in the mountains.

on medication
What does "on medication" mean?
taking medicine for a current medical problemThe woman has been on medication for many years.

on no account
What does "on no account" mean?
for no reason, absolutely notOn no account am I going to let my friend borrow my laptop computer.

on occasion
What does "on occasion" mean?
occasionallyWe go to my favorite restaurant on occasion.

on one's best behavior
What does "on one's best behavior" mean?
being as polite as possibleThe little boy was on his best behavior when he went to the meeting with his teacher.

on one's chest
What does "on one's chest" mean?
worrisome thoughts or feelings that one might need to share with someone elseI had a long talk with my friend last night because I had many problems on my chest.

on one's coat-tails
What does "on one's coat-tails" mean?
as a result of someone else doing somethingThe mayor was elected on the coat-tails of his brother who is a famous actor.

on one's feet
What does "on one's feet" mean?
recovering from sickness or troubleI was sick for a couple of weeks but now I am on my feet again.

on one's feet
What does "on one's feet" mean?
standing upEverybody in the audience was on their feet when the singer walked onto the stage.

on one's guard
What does "on one's guard" mean?
to be cautious/watchfulI was on my guard when I went into the meeting with my boss.

on/upon one`s head
What does "on/upon one`s head" mean?
to be one`s own responsibilityHe himself brought the anger on his head and should not try and blame someone else.

on one`s high horse
What does "on one`s high horse" mean?
to be acting as if one is better than others, to be very proud and scornfulHe is always on his high horse and never thinks about other people.

on one's honor
What does "on one's honor" mean?
with honesty and sincerityI am on my honor when I look after the money of our club.

on one's mind
What does "on one's mind" mean?
currently being thought aboutThe incident at school was on my mind all week.

on one's own
What does "on one's own" mean?
by oneselfThe young girl has been on her own since she finished high school.

on one's own time
What does "on one's own time" mean?
not while one is at workThe company told the employees that they must make their personal phone calls on their own time.

on one's person
What does "on one's person" mean?
carried with oneThe criminal had a knife on his person when he was arrested.

on one`s shoulders
What does "on one`s shoulders" mean?
one`s responsibility"Please don`t try to put the failure of your business on my shoulders."

on one`s toes
What does "on one`s toes" mean?
to be alertThe teacher asks the students many questions to keep them on their toes.

on order
What does "on order" mean?
ordered with the delivery expected at some future dateThe store has several computer printers on order.

on par with (someone or something)
What does "on par with (someone or something)" mean?
to be equal to someone or somethingThe new French restaurant is on par with the best restaurants in Paris.

on pins and needles
What does "on pins and needles" mean?
to be excited/nervousHer daughter has been on pins and needles all day waiting for the contest to begin.

on probation
What does "on probation" mean?
to be serving a period of probation, to be serving a trial periodThe new employee was on probation for several months before he became a regular member of the staff.

on purpose
What does "on purpose" mean?
intentionallyI think that the woman spilled her drink on purpose.

on sale
What does "on sale" mean?
to be offered for sale at a special low priceThe small television set was on sale so we decided to buy it.

on schedule
What does "on schedule" mean?
to be at the expected or desired timeThe train arrived on schedule and we found our friend easily.

on second thought
What does "on second thought" mean?
after having reconsidered somethingOn second thought I do not think that I will go to a movie tomorrow.

on shaky ground
What does "on shaky ground" mean?
to be unstable, to be not secureHis position at the company has been on shaky ground for a long time.

on (someone's) account
What does "on (someone's) account" mean?
because of someoneWe went to the children's festival on our daughter's account.

on (someone`s) back/case
What does "on (someone`s) back/case" mean?
making demands or criticizing someone, being an annoyance or bother to someoneMy boss has been on my back all week trying to get me to finish my monthly report.

on (someone's) behalf
What does "on (someone's) behalf" mean?
acting as someone's agent, acting for the benefit of someoneI was able to sign for the registered letter on my wife's behalf.

on (someone's) doorstep
What does "on (someone's) doorstep" mean?
in someone's care, as someone's responsibilityThe responsibility for feeding the extra staff suddenly arrived on my doorstep.

on (someone's) head
What does "on (someone's) head" mean?
on someone's own self (often used with blame)The responsibility for fixing the computer was again on my head.

on (someone or something's) last legs
What does "on (someone or something's) last legs" mean?
to be almost worn out or finishedMy computer is on its last legs and soon I will have to buy another one.

on (someone's) say-so
What does "on (someone's) say-so" mean?
with someone's permission or authorityI was able to ask for a new stove on the apartment manager's say-so.

on (someone's) shoulders
What does "on (someone's) shoulders" mean?
on someone's own self (used often with responsibility)The responsibility for organizing the office is always on my shoulders.

on speaking terms with (someone)
What does "on speaking terms with (someone)" mean?
on friendly terms with someoneMy mother is not on speaking terms with her older sister.

on standby
What does "on standby" mean?
to be waiting for a seat/ticket to become available on a train/plane/busWe decided to fly to visit my parents on standby.

on target
What does "on target" mean?
to be on schedule, to be exactly as predictedOur company is on target to have its best year of sales ever.

on the air
What does "on the air" mean?
being broadcast on radio or TVThat television program has been on the air for three years now.

on the alert (for someone or something)
What does "on the alert (for someone or something)" mean?
to be watchful and attentive for someone or somethingThe police are on the alert for the man who robbed the small store.

on the average
What does "on the average" mean?
generally, usuallyOn the average I get about eight hours of sleep every night.

on the ball
What does "on the ball" mean?
to be intelligent, to be able to do things wellHe is on the ball and can usually get his work done quickly.

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