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. .

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
Passed with flying colors
What does "Passed with flying colors" mean?
To exceed expectations, to do better than expected.The California smog test is tough, but my car passed with flying colors.

Color(s) has numerous meanings. An early use of the word is flag, pennant, or badge.
"Passed with flying colors" comes from sailing ships that, when passing other ships at sea, would fly their colors (flags) if they wanted to be identified.
Pot Calling the Kettle Black
What does "Pot Calling the Kettle Black" mean?
Someone who criticises another but who is just as much at fault themselves.George complaining that I talk too much is kind of like the pot calling the kettle black.

From Cervantes' classic: Don Quixote.
Pot to piss in
What does "Pot to piss in" mean?
To have money or wealth.You want to have children! We can't afford them, we don't have a pot to piss in.

In medieval London, people did not have indoor plumbing. It was common to use a chamber pot as an indoor toilet. The chamber pot could then be dumped out a window into the street gutter below. A person who did not have a "pot to piss in" was poor indeed.
In medieval times the word "piss" was not considered at all vulgar. It was not until Victorian England that words such as piss were deemed vulgar. Even today phrases like "pot to piss in" and "Full of Piss and Vinegar" are somehow considered to be generally acceptable and only moderately crude.
Put English on it
What does "Put English on it" mean?
To impart a spin to something in an effort to make it hard to control, usually a ball in sports like tennis.Your serve is dangerous when you put english on it.

"The English way" or "English" comes from the British game of Snooker. Snooker is a forerunner to the game of Billiards or pool. Similar to pool, Snooker uses cue sticks, balls, and a table however the table has no pockets.
A technique used in Snooker is to impart a spin to the ball to alter its travel.
pay the piper
What does "pay the piper" mean?
face the consequences for something you've done. "I stayed up too late tonight. Tomorrow I'll have topay the piper."

plastic
What does "plastic" mean?
credit card(s). "Oh, no! I forgot to get any cash! I hope thisrestaurant accepts plastic!"

pooped
What does "pooped" mean?
very tired; exhausted."I went to bed really early last night. I waspooped!"

pop quiz
What does "pop quiz" mean?
unannounced short test. "You shouldn't have missed class yesterday. We had apop quiz."

pretty (adv.)
What does "pretty (adv.)" mean?
(adv.): rather; somewhat. "That car's pretty expensive. Are you sure youcan afford it?"

pull an all-nighter
What does "pull an all-nighter" mean?
study or work all night without getting any sleep.A: "You look really tired."B: "I am. I pulled an all-nighter to get ready for the meetingthis morning."

pull someone's leg
What does "pull someone's leg" mean?
tease someone by trying to make her/him believe something
that's exaggerated or untrue.
A: "Wow! Carl has done some really amazingthings!"B: "Don't believe everything he tells you. He was probably pullingyour leg."

pack a punch/wallop
What does "pack a punch/wallop" mean?
to provide a burst of energy/power/excitementThe storm packed a wallop and did much damage to the coast.

pack them in
What does "pack them in" mean?
to attract a lot of peopleThe new restaurant is able to pack them in with its new and exciting menu.

packed in like sardines
What does "packed in like sardines" mean?
to be packed very tightlyThe commuters on the train were packed in like sardines during the morning rush hour.

pad the bill
What does "pad the bill" mean?
to add false expenses to a billThe salesman always pads the bill when he goes on a business trip.

paddle one's own canoe
What does "paddle one's own canoe" mean?
to do something by oneselfI was forced to paddle my own canoe when the rest of the staff went away for a seminar.

paint oneself into a corner
What does "paint oneself into a corner" mean?
to get into a bad situation that is difficult or impossible to get out ofMy friend has painted himself into a corner now that he has begun to fight with his supervisor.

paint the town red
What does "paint the town red" mean?
to go out and party and have a good timeWe decided to go out and paint the town red after we passed our exams.

pal around (with someone)
What does "pal around (with someone)" mean?
to be friends with someoneI have begun to pal around with a friend from my evening language class.

pale around the gills
What does "pale around the gills" mean?
to look sickMy colleague was looking a little pale around the gills when he came to work today.

palm (something) off on (someone)
What does "palm (something) off on (someone)" mean?
to deceive someone by a trick or a lie, to sell or give something by trickingThe man palmed off his old television set as one that was new and reliable.

pan out
What does "pan out" mean?
to end or finish favorably, to work out well"I hope that your plans to go back to school pan out."

paper over the cracks (in/of something)
What does "paper over the cracks (in/of something)" mean?
to try to hide faults or difficultiesOur boss is trying to paper over the cracks in the office and will not deal with the problems of the staff.

par for the course
What does "par for the course" mean?
to be just what was expected, to be nothing unusualThat was par for the course. He always comes late when there is a lot of work to do.

paradise (on earth)
What does "paradise (on earth)" mean?
a place on earth that is as lovely as paradiseThe resort in the mountains was paradise on earth.

part and parcel of (something)
What does "part and parcel of (something)" mean?
a necessary or important part of somethingThe house that we bought is part and parcel of a much larger piece of property.

part company (with someone)
What does "part company (with someone)" mean?
to leave someone, to depart from someoneThe two business partners decided to part company and begin their own businesses.

partake of (something)
What does "partake of (something)" mean?
to eat or drink somethingI decided not to partake of the large dinner before the golf tournament.

partial to (someone or something)
What does "partial to (someone or something)" mean?
favoring or preferring someone or somethingOur boss is partial to the new person who recently began to work in our company.

parting of the ways
What does "parting of the ways" mean?
a point at which people separate and go their own waysI had a parting of the ways with my closest friend from high school.

party line
What does "party line" mean?
the official ideas of a group (usually political) that must be followed by all membersThe members of the political party were forced to follow the party line on most issues.

pass away
What does "pass away" mean?
to dieHis father passed away when he was 96 years old.

pass for/as (someone or something)
What does "pass for/as (someone or something)" mean?
to succeed in being accepted as someone or somethingThe young woman was trying to pass for a reporter when she went to the concert.

pass muster
What does "pass muster" mean?
to pass a test or checkup, to measure up to a certain standardThe player was not able to pass muster and was not included on the team.

pass off (something) as (something else)
What does "pass off (something) as (something else)" mean?
to sell or give something by false claims, to offer something as genuine when it is notThe man passed off the watch as a diamond watch and received more money than it was worth.

pass on
What does "pass on" mean?
to dieMy grandmother passed on when she was 92 years old.

pass on (something)
What does "pass on (something)" mean?
to give away something that you don`t use anymoreThe girl always passes on her old clothes to her younger sister.

pass oneself off as (someone or something) else
What does "pass oneself off as (someone or something) else" mean?
to claim to be someone one is not, to pretend to be someone elseMy friend passed himself off as a reporter and was able to get into the concert free.

pass out
What does "pass out" mean?
to faintThree teenage girls passed out at the rock concert.

pass the buck
What does "pass the buck" mean?
to shift responsibility to someone elseOur supervisor always tries to pass the buck if someone tries to criticize his work.

pass the hat
What does "pass the hat" mean?
to attempt to collect money for some projectWe passed the hat in order to raise money for the movie projector.

pass the time
What does "pass the time" mean?
to fill up time by doing somethingMy grandfather usually passes the time reading and working in his garden.

pass through (someone's) mind
What does "pass through (someone's) mind" mean?
to think about something briefly, to remember something brieflyIt passed through my mind that I would need to go to the bank and get more money before my holiday.

past (someone or something's) prime
What does "past (someone or something's) prime" mean?
to be beyond the most useful or productive period of someone or somethingThe young skater is past her prime as a figure skater.

patch up (something)
What does "patch up (something)" mean?
to fix somethingI have been trying to patch up my differences with my friend for many months.

path of least resistance
What does "path of least resistance" mean?
the easiest wayI took the path of least resistance and decided to quit the class rather than try to pass the course.

pave the way for (someone or something)
What does "pave the way for (someone or something)" mean?
to prepare someone or something for somethingThe new company policy is designed to pave the way for more effective communication in the company.

pay a call on (someone)
What does "pay a call on (someone)" mean?
to visit someoneI went to the head office to pay a call on the accounting manager.

pay a king's ransom for (something)
What does "pay a king's ransom for (something)" mean?
to pay a great deal of money for somethingMy friend paid a king's ransom for his new stereo system.

pay an arm and a leg (for something)
What does "pay an arm and a leg (for something)" mean?
to pay too much money for somethingI paid an arm and a leg for the new frames for my glasses.

pay as you go
What does "pay as you go" mean?
to pay costs as they occur or as you buy some goodsThe small business was forced to pay as they go when the bank began to look at their loan.

pay attention to (someone or something)
What does "pay attention to (someone or something)" mean?
to look at something with full attention, to listen to someone with full attentionThe man never pays attention to what his supervisor tells him.

pay dirt
What does "pay dirt" mean?
dirt in which much gold is found, a profitable or useful discovery or ventureThe company hit pay dirt when they published the new computer software.

pay for (something)
What does "pay for (something)" mean?
to pay money for somethingI paid for dinner for my friends.

pay homage to (someone)
What does "pay homage to (someone)" mean?
to praise/respect/honor someoneThe entire country paid homage to their dead leader.

pay in advance
What does "pay in advance" mean?
to pay for something before it is received or deliveredI paid in advance to get the frames for my pictures.

pay lip service to (something)
What does "pay lip service to (something)" mean?
to express loyality or support for something insincerelyThe city council paid lip service to the concerns of the taxpayers.

pay off
What does "pay off" mean?
to yield good resultsMy risks in starting the new business finally paid off.

pay off (something)
What does "pay off (something)" mean?
to pay something in full and be free from a debtShe finally paid off her car loan so she now has some extra money to spend.

pay one's debt to society
What does "pay one's debt to society" mean?
to serve a sentence for a crime (usually in prison)The young man spent several years in prison in order to pay his debt to society.

pay one's dues
What does "pay one's dues" mean?
to earn one's right to something through hard work or sufferingThe young athlete worked hard to pay his dues in order to get on the best team in the city.

pay one's last respects
What does "pay one's last respects" mean?
to attend the funeral of someoneOur family gathered to pay their last respects to our grandmother.

pay one's own way
What does "pay one's own way" mean?
to pay the costs for something by oneselfThe young man was forced to pay his own way during college.

pay (someone) a back-handed compliment
What does "pay (someone) a back-handed compliment" mean?
to give someone a false compliment that is really an insultThe woman paid her colleague a back-handed compliment when she told her what a good job she was doing.

pay (someone) a compliment
What does "pay (someone) a compliment" mean?
to compliment someoneMy supervisor paid me a compliment for the work that I was doing.

pay (someone or something) a visit
What does "pay (someone or something) a visit" mean?
to visit someone or somethingI paid the tax office a visit to try and resolve my tax problem.

pay (someone) off
What does "pay (someone) off" mean?
to pay someone a bribeThe man tried to pay off the customs agent to quickly get his products into the country.

pay (someone) respect
What does "pay (someone) respect" mean?
to have and show respect to someoneThe children refuse to pay their teacher respect.

pay the piper
What does "pay the piper" mean?
to face the results of one's actionsThe city government was forced to pay the piper after many years of bad management.

pay through the nose (for something)
What does "pay through the nose (for something)" mean?
to pay a lot of money for somethingMy uncle always pays through the nose when he buys a new car.

pay to (do something)
What does "pay to (do something)" mean?
to be beneficial to do somethingI decided that it would pay to buy a new car rather than fix my old car.

pay up
What does "pay up" mean?
to pay someone immediatelyMy friend told me to pay up because he needed the money.

pecking order
What does "pecking order" mean?
the way people are ranked in relation to each otherThe pecking order in my company is very difficult for others to understand.

peg away (at something)
What does "peg away (at something)" mean?
to keep working at something, keep trying somethingMy friend has been pegging away at his job for many years now.

penny-wise and pound-foolish
What does "penny-wise and pound-foolish" mean?
wise or careful in small things/purchases but not wise or careful about bigger things/purchasesHe is penny-wise and pound-foolish and is always wasting his money on things that he does not need.

people who live in glass houses should not throw stones
What does "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones" mean?
do not complain about other people if you yourself are not perfect"You should not criticize other people. Remember, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

pep (someone or something) up
What does "pep (someone or something) up" mean?
to make someone or something more active and energeticI drank a cup of coffee in order to pep myself up for my afternoon class.

persist in (doing something)
What does "persist in (doing something)" mean?
to continue to do something with determinationThe young child persisted in making noise that disturbed his father.

persist with (something)
What does "persist with (something)" mean?
to continue with somethingI am going to persist with my demand that my boss transfer me to another department.

perspective on (something)
What does "perspective on (something)" mean?
a way of looking at a situation and determining what is importantMy friend has a very different perspective on what recently happened in his company.

pick a fight/quarrel
What does "pick a fight/quarrel" mean?
to start a fight/quarrel with someone on purposeI do not like that woman because she is always trying to pick a quarrel with others.

pick a lock
What does "pick a lock" mean?
to open a lock without a keyThe robbers picked the lock and entered the store.

pick and choose
What does "pick and choose" mean?
to choose very carefully from a number of possibilitiesThe company made an effort to pick and choose the best people for the new project.

pick at (someone)
What does "pick at (someone)" mean?
to be very critical of someoneThe woman is always picking at her husband for very small things.

pick at (something)
What does "pick at (something)" mean?
to eat only little bits of somethingThe boy was sick and would only pick at his food.

pick holes in (something)
What does "pick holes in (something)" mean?
to find all the flaws and falsehoods in an argument, criticize something severelyMy supervisor picked holes in my argument to buy a new computer for the office.

pick off (someone or something)
What does "pick off (someone or something)" mean?
to kill with a carefully aimed shot from a gun or other weaponThe police were easily able to pick off the man who was shooting the rifle.

pick on (someone)
What does "pick on (someone)" mean?
to do or say bad things to someoneThe boy always picked on his sister when they were children.

pick on someone your own size
What does "pick on someone your own size" mean?
to abuse/bully someone who is big enough to fight backThe older boy told the other boy to pick on someone his own size when he was fighting with the smaller boy.

pick one's way through (something)
What does "pick one's way through (something)" mean?
to work slowly through written materialI picked my way through the material that I had to study for the exam.

pick out (something)
What does "pick out (something)" mean?
to choose or select somethingI tried to pick out a nice necktie for my father.

pick (someone`s) brains
What does "pick (someone`s) brains" mean?
to extract ideas or information from someone for one`s own useThey are always picking my brains to get new ideas for their business.

pick (something) over
What does "pick (something) over" mean?
to sort through somethingThe customers picked the best clothes over at the department store sale.

pick up a radio wave etc.
What does "pick up a radio wave etc." mean?
to catch or receive the sound of a radio etc.We could not pick up any radio stations when we were travelling through the mountains.

pick up a trail/scent
What does "pick up a trail/scent" mean?
to recognize the trail of a hunted person or animalThe tracking dogs were easily able to pick up the trail of the criminal.

pick up (someone)
What does "pick up (someone)" mean?
to take someone to the police station, to arrest someoneThe police picked up the man for drinking and driving.

pick up (someone)
What does "pick up (someone)" mean?
to take on passengers in a bus/car/train etc.The bus picked up my mother at six o`clock in the morning.

pick up (something)
What does "pick up (something)" mean?
to get/receive somethingI picked up my dry cleaning after I finished work yesterday.

pick up (something)
What does "pick up (something)" mean?
to learn something without formal studyI picked up a lot of French when I lived in France for a year.

pick up (something)
What does "pick up (something)" mean?
to pick up something that has fallen on the floor"Could you please pick up my pen from the floor."

pick up (something)
What does "pick up (something)" mean?
to start again after an interruptionIt was getting late so we decided to stop work and pick up where we left off the next day.

pick up speed
What does "pick up speed" mean?
to increase the speed of somethingThe car picked up speed as it began to go down the hill.

pick up the tab
What does "pick up the tab" mean?
to pay the bill for someone elseI picked up the tab for the dinner at the restaurant.

picked over
What does "picked over" mean?
rejected, wornAll of the best shoes were picked over in the shoe sale.

pie in the sky
What does "pie in the sky" mean?
a goal/plan that is too optimistic, a future reward after deathThe boy's plans for his summer were pie in the sky. He would never complete them.

piggyback
What does "piggyback" mean?
sitting or being carried on the back and shouldersThe man was carrying his child around the room piggyback style.

pile into (something)
What does "pile into (something)" mean?
to climb into something roughlyThe teenagers piled into the old car after school.

pile out of (something)
What does "pile out of (something)" mean?
to get out of something roughlyThe passengers quickly piled out of the bus when it arrived at the station.

pile up
What does "pile up" mean?
to accumulate, to put things on top of each otherI piled up the magazines on top of the small table.

pin one's hopes/faith on (someone or something)
What does "pin one's hopes/faith on (someone or something)" mean?
to put one's hope/trust/faith in someone or somethingI am not going to pin my hopes on getting a promotion next month.

pin (someone) down
What does "pin (someone) down" mean?
to keep someone from moving, to make someone stay in a place or positionThe wrestler won the match after he pinned his opponent down for almost a minute.

pin (someone) down
What does "pin (someone) down" mean?
to make someone tell the truth or make a commitmentI could not pin my friend down as to exactly when he would pay back the money that he owed me.

pin (something) on (someone)
What does "pin (something) on (someone)" mean?
to place the blame for something on someoneMy friend tried to pin the blame for breaking the computer on me.

pinch-hit for (someone)
What does "pinch-hit for (someone)" mean?
to substitute for someoneThe best batter on the team was asked to pinch-hit for the injured player.

pinch pennies
What does "pinch pennies" mean?
to be careful with money, to be thrifty He has been pinching pennies for many months in order to save money for his vacation.

pins and needles
What does "pins and needles" mean?
a tingling feeling in one's arms and legs, feeling excitementI was on pins and needles all day as I waited to hear the results of the exam.

pipe down
What does "pipe down" mean?
to be quiet, to get quietThe teacher asked the children to pipe down in the classroom.

pipe up
What does "pipe up" mean?
to speak louderWe asked the speaker to pipe up so that we could hear him.

pipe up with (something)
What does "pipe up with (something)" mean?
to speak up and say somethingThe student piped up with a comment from the back of the class.

piping hot
What does "piping hot" mean?
extremely hotThe food from the kitchen was piping hot when the waiter brought it to the table.

pique (someone's) interest/curiosity
What does "pique (someone's) interest/curiosity" mean?
arouse interest/curiosityThe conversation with the filmmaker piqued my interest and I begin to watch more movies.

piss (someone) off
What does "piss (someone) off" mean?
to bother or annoy someone, to make someone angryMy supervisor pissed me off when he asked me to work late again last night.

pit (someone or something) against (someone or something)
What does "pit (someone or something) against (someone or something)" mean?
to set one group/person against anotherThe fight over the new shopping center pit the property owners against the local businesses.

pitch a tent
What does "pitch a tent" mean?
to put up a tentWe pitched the tent in a field beside a stream.

pitch-black
What does "pitch-black" mean?
to be very blackIt was pitch-black when we left the restaurant to return home.

pitch camp
What does "pitch camp" mean?
to set up or arrange a campsiteWe stopped for the night next to a small river and pitched camp.

pitch-dark
What does "pitch-dark" mean?
very darkIt was pitch-dark when I took the garbage out to the garbage can.

pitch in
What does "pitch in" mean?
to give help or money for somethingMy friends pitched in and helped me finish the job quickly.

pitch (someone) a curve (ball)
What does "pitch (someone) a curve (ball)" mean?
to surprise someone with an unexpected act or eventThe lawyer pitched the woman a curve when he began to ask questions unrelated to the court case.

place an order
What does "place an order" mean?
to submit an orderI recently placed an order for a new and smaller refridgerator.

place (someone)
What does "place (someone)" mean?
to recall someone's nameI could not place the woman at the meeting but I knew that I had met her before.

place the blame on (someone or something)
What does "place the blame on (someone or something)" mean?
to blame someone or somethingThe teacher placed the blame on the boys for breaking the flower vase.

plain and simple
What does "plain and simple" mean?
absolutely, without further complication or elaborationIt was plain and simple. I decided to buy the car and I did not want to talk about it further.

play a joke/trick on (someone)
What does "play a joke/trick on (someone)" mean?
to do a joke/trick that affects someoneThe boy played a trick on his teacher.

play along with (someone or something)
What does "play along with (someone or something)" mean?
to agree to cooperate with someone's planI decided to play along with my friend and his crazy plan to buy a horse.

play around/about with (someone or something)
What does "play around/about with (someone or something)" mean?
to engage in some play with someone or somethingThe little boy was playing around with the dog when his mother entered the room.

play ball with (someone)
What does "play ball with (someone)" mean?
to cooperate with someone, to join in an effort with others"If you play ball with the new manager things should go well for you."

play both ends (against the middle/center)
What does "play both ends (against the middle/center)" mean?
to scheme in a way that pits two sides against each otherThe man was trying to play both ends against the middle when he tried to negotiate with the two departments in his company.

play by ear
What does "play by ear" mean?
to play a musical instrument by remembering the tune and not by reading the musicAlthough the woman can't read music she can play by ear and is a very good musician.

play cat and mouse with (someone)
What does "play cat and mouse with (someone)" mean?
to tease or fool someone/something by pretending to let them go free and then catching him/her/it againThe boxer was playing cat and mouse with his opponent although he could have won the match easily.

play down (someone or something)
What does "play down (someone or something)" mean?
to give less emphasis to someone or something, to make someone or something seem less importantThe politician played down the survey that showed that he was becoming less popular.

play dumb/ignorant
What does "play dumb/ignorant" mean?
to pretend to be ignorantI played dumb when my boss asked me if I knew about the problems with the telephone.

play fair
What does "play fair" mean?
to do something by the rulesThe politician was not playing fair during the election campaign.

play fast and loose with (someone or something)
What does "play fast and loose with (someone or something)" mean?
to act carelessly/thoughtlessly/irresponsiblyThe witness began to play fast and loose with the facts of his case and was severely criticized by the judge.

play footsie with (someone)
What does "play footsie with (someone)" mean?
to touch the feet of someone under the table while flirtingThe couple in the restaurant were playing footsie during their dinner.

play footsie with (someone)
What does "play footsie with (someone)" mean?
to engage in some kind of collaboration in a political situationThe opposition party was playing footsie with the government in order to try and influence their policy.

play for keeps
What does "play for keeps" mean?
to do something that is permanent and a serious moveMy friend was playing for keeps when he refused to give his boss the information that he had requested.

play hard to get
What does "play hard to get" mean?
to be coy and shyThe young woman was playing hard to get but actually she wanted to go on a date with the young man.

play hooky
What does "play hooky" mean?
to stay away from school or work without permissionWhen he was a student he often played hooky and did not go to school.

play innocent
What does "play innocent" mean?
to pretend to be innocent and not concerned about somethingThe little boy played innocent when the teacher asked him about the broken window.

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