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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Reading the riot act
What does "Reading the riot act" mean?
To complain or lecture loudly and with angry emotion. Upset about his neighbors load music at 3:00 am, Davis knocked on the door and proceeded to read the riot act.

"Reading the riot act" used to be a literal event. Bobbies in Britain used to read a prescribed proclamation, known as the Riot Act, before they could break up or arrest a crowd. The Riot Act is used in a fashion similar to the Miranda Rights in the US.
The Bobbies would approach the crowd, read the Riot Act aloud, and then disperse or arrest them.
Rings a Bell
What does "Rings a Bell" mean?
To sound familiar, to spark a memory.I don't remember meeting him, but the name John Smith rings a bell.

Bells such as the type used in churches are large and loud. Their sound can be heard from a great distance. Bells sound a single, clear note so their sound is distinctive and not easily confused.
Before electric sirens and amplification systems, bells were a valuable means of signaling people and alerting of important events.
Further, accurate timepieces were not always as available as they are today. Bells were used to signal people of the start of events such as a church session, the start of school, or a celebration. The bells acted as a reminder of the start of the event for people who had an out of synch timepiece or no timepiece.
Someone would literally ring a bell as a reminder.
As an aside bells were later used on clocks to mark the hour. A large clock usually in the town square could be heard throughout the town. This clock acted as a master time reference for the town. The hourly bell ringing gave people an opportunity to synchronize their respective timepieces, and early watches required frequent adjustment.
Roll with the punches
What does "Roll with the punches" mean?
Weather through tough times, try to minimize the trouble.Sometimes in life you just have to roll with the punches, even when the punches feel like they are coming from Mike Tyson.

Rolling with the punches is a technique used in boxing. The objective is to avoid receiving a direct hit with solid contact.
The technique is to move away from the punch in an attempt to avoid the blow or at least create a glancing blow. A glancing blow being preferable to a direct hit.
Room to swing a cat
What does "Room to swing a cat" mean?
A confined space.This bedroom doesn't even have enough room to swing a cat.

This colorful phrase evokes strange images of feline cruelty. In fact it has nothing to do with cats, but the real story is at least as cruel.
The "cat" is a cat-of-nine-tails, a type of whip used to discipline sailors on old sailing ships. The cat-of-nine-tails has one handle to which is attached nine thin strips of leather, each perhaps three feet long. The cat-of-nine-tails would be used to administer lashings that would sting and leave welts on the recipient.
The whippings would take place on the deck, because below deck there was not enough ceiling height to swing a cat-of-nine-tails.
Rule of thumb
What does "Rule of thumb" mean?
A basic rule that is usually but not always correct.As a rule of thumb, plant tomato seeds three inches deep.

Based on the use of ones thumb as a rough measurement tool. Generally correct for course measures.
Most old English measures of distance were based on the body measurements of the king -- the length of the foot, inch (thumb tip to first knuckle), cubit (elbow-to-fingertip), and yard (nose-to-fingertip).
R and R
What does "R and R" mean?
rest and relaxation (a vacation)."I think you're working too hard, John. You need someR and R."

rain or shine
What does "rain or shine" mean?
(describing something scheduled) no matter what the weather is."We're leaving tomorrow, rain or shine."

rain cats and dogs
What does "rain cats and dogs" mean?
rain very hard."You can't leave just now! It's raining cats anddogsand you don't have an umbrella or raincoat!"

read someone's mind
What does "read someone's mind" mean?
know what someone is thinking.A: "I'll be you're thinking of what you're going tohave for dinner."

rub someone the wrong way
What does "rub someone the wrong way" mean?
irritate someone; bother or annoy someone."All my little brother says is 'Why?' Usually I'mpatient with him,but sometimes all his questions rub me the wrong way."

run-down
What does "run-down" mean?
(1) not well; weak; fatigued."Are you eating regularly and getting enough sleep?You look run-down."

run-down
What does "run-down" mean?
(2) in poor condition; needing repair."This must be a poor neighborhood. All the buildingslook really run-down."

rack one`s brains
What does "rack one`s brains" mean?
to try hard to think or remember somethingI have been racking my brains all day trying to remember the man's name.

racked with pain
What does "racked with pain" mean?
to be suffering from severe painThe man was racked with pain after he fell from the ladder.

rail at (someone) about (something)
What does "rail at (someone) about (something)" mean?
to complain loudly to someone about somethingThe customer was railing at the clerk about the bad service.

rain cats and dogs
What does "rain cats and dogs" mean?
to rain very hardIt has been raining cats and dogs all morning.

rain on (someone's) parade
What does "rain on (someone's) parade" mean?
to spoil someone's plansI tried not to let my friend's bad mood rain on my parade during the concert.

rain or shine
What does "rain or shine" mean?
no matter whether it rains or the sun shinesWe plan to go to the beach tomorrow rain or shine.

rain (something) out
What does "rain (something) out" mean?
to spoil something by rainingThe music festival was rained out yesterday evening.

raise a fuss
What does "raise a fuss" mean?
to make trouble, to cause a disturbanceThe woman at the restaurant raised a fuss when her meal arrived late.

raise a hand against (someone or something)
What does "raise a hand against (someone or something)" mean?
to hit or threaten to hit someone or somethingIf the man raises a hand against his supervisor the police will be called.

raise a stink about (something)
What does "raise a stink about (something)" mean?
to make a major issue out of somethingThe small business owners began to raise a stink about the new parking tax.

raise an objection to (someone or something)
What does "raise an objection to (someone or something)" mean?
to object to someone or somethingMy friend raised an objection about including my parents in our travel plans.

raise Cain
What does "raise Cain" mean?
to create a disturbance, to cause troubleThe boys began to raise Cain at the dance and were asked to leave.

raise eyebrows
What does "raise eyebrows" mean?
to cause surprise or disapprovalIt raised eyebrows when the actress appeared at the party with no invitation.

raise havoc with (someone or something)
What does "raise havoc with (someone or something)" mean?
to create confusion or disruption for or against someone or somethingThe bad weather raised havoc with our plans to clean up the area around our house.

raise hell with (someone or something)
What does "raise hell with (someone or something)" mean?
to make trouble, to behave wildlyThe woman began to raise hell with her supervisor after she heard about the new policy.

raise one's sights
What does "raise one's sights" mean?
to set higher goals for oneselfOur team is doing very well this year and we are now raising our sights on the city championship.

raise one's voice to (someone)
What does "raise one's voice to (someone)" mean?
to speak loudly or shout at someone in angerThe teacher asked the child not to raise his voice.

rake in the money
What does "rake in the money" mean?
to make a lot of moneyMy cousin's new pizza franchise has been raking in the money since it opened.

rake (someone) over the coals
What does "rake (someone) over the coals" mean?
to scold/reprimand someoneMy boss raked me over the coals when he heard about the lost sales report.

rake (something) off
What does "rake (something) off" mean?
to take money from something illegallyThe sales clerk was accused of raking money off of the daily cash sales.

rally around (someone or something)
What does "rally around (someone or something)" mean?
to come together to support someone or somethingEverybody in the small town began to rally around the mayor when he was accused of wrongdoing.

ram (something) down (someone`s) throat
What does "ram (something) down (someone`s) throat" mean?
to force someone to do or agree to something that is not wantedOur teacher always tries to ram her ideas down our throats which makes us angry.

ramble on about (someone or something)
What does "ramble on about (someone or something)" mean?
to talk aimlessly and endlessly about someone or somethingMy friend spent the entire evening rambling on about his problems at work.

rank and file
What does "rank and file" mean?
the members of a group and not the leaders, regular soldiers and not the officersThe rank and file of the large union were happy with their new contract.

rant and rave about (someone or something)
What does "rant and rave about (someone or something)" mean?
to shout angrily and wildly about someone or somethingThe man was ranting and raving about the bad service at the restaurant.

rant (at someone) about (someone or something)
What does "rant (at someone) about (someone or something)" mean?
to talk in a loud and violent way about someone or somethingThe customer was ranting at her friend while they were shopping for shoes.

rap (someone's) knuckles
What does "rap (someone's) knuckles" mean?
to punish someone slightlyThe company rapped the man's knuckles for taking a long coffee break.

rap with (someone)
What does "rap with (someone)" mean?
to talk/chat with someoneI passed the morning rapping with my friend at the park.

rarin' to go
What does "rarin' to go" mean?
to be extremely eager to do somethingEverybody was rarin' to go after the speech by our company president.

rat on (someone)
What does "rat on (someone)" mean?
to betray someone by telling someone else about illegal or wrong activitiesThe young boy ratted on his friend who broke the store window.

rat out on (someone)
What does "rat out on (someone)" mean?
to desert or betray someone, to leave someone at a critical timeThe boy's friend ratted out on him and refused to support him in his fight with the neighborhood bully.

rat race
What does "rat race" mean?
an endless hurried existence, a fierce struggle for successThe man sometimes finds it too much of a rat race to live and work in a big city.

rate with (someone)
What does "rate with (someone)" mean?
to be in someone's favorI do not think that I rate with some of the students at my school.

rattle (something) off
What does "rattle (something) off" mean?
to recite something quickly and accuratelyThe little boy was able to rattle off most of the countries in the world.

ravished with delight
What does "ravished with delight" mean?
to be overcome with happiness or delightI was ravished with delight when I heard that my friend had decided to get married.

reach a compromise
What does "reach a compromise" mean?
to achieve a compromise with someoneThe company tried very hard to reach a compromise with the workers.

reach an agreement
What does "reach an agreement" mean?
to make an agreementThe city was not able to reach an agreement on where to build the new subway line.

reach an impasse
What does "reach an impasse" mean?
to get to a point where progress is impossibleThe negotiations on where to build the new bridge have reached an impasse.

reach first base with (someone or something)
What does "reach first base with (someone or something)" mean?
to make a major advance with someone or somethingThe salesperson was unable to reach first base with the large buyer.

reach for the sky
What does "reach for the sky" mean?
to set one's goals highThe young woman was reaching for the sky when she began to look for her first job.

reach one's stride
What does "reach one's stride" mean?
to do something at one's best level of abilityThe woman has finally reached her stride as a very good sales representative.

read between the lines
What does "read between the lines" mean?
to find a hidden meaning in somethingI can read between the lines and I know what my friend was trying to say.

read (someone) his or her rights
What does "read (someone) his or her rights" mean?
to make the required statement of legal rights to a person who has been arrestedThe police officer read the bank robber his rights when he was arrested.

read (someone) like an open book
What does "read (someone) like an open book" mean?
to understand someone very wellThe girl can read her boyfriend like an open book.

read (someone's) mind
What does "read (someone's) mind" mean?
to guess what someone is thinkingIt is very difficult to read the mind of my boss and know what she wants me to do.

read (something) into (something)
What does "read (something) into (something)" mean?
to attach a new or different meaning to somethingWe were told not to read anything into the recent actions of our company.

read (something) over
What does "read (something) over" mean?
to read somethingI read my presentation over before I had to deliver it to the class.

read (something) through
What does "read (something) through" mean?
to read all of somethingI read the report through before I returned it to my supervisor.

read the handwriting on the wall
What does "read the handwriting on the wall" mean?
to anticipate what is going to happen by observing small hints and cluesEverybody in our department could read the handwriting on the wall and knew that the company would soon close our department.

read the riot act (to someone)
What does "read the riot act (to someone)" mean?
to give someone a strong warning or scoldingThe teacher read the riot act to her students when they began to misbehave in class.

read up on (someone or something)
What does "read up on (someone or something)" mean?
to research and read about someone or somethingI have been reading up on Egyptian history before our trip to Egypt this summer.

ready, willing, and able
What does "ready, willing, and able" mean?
to be eager or willing to do somethingEverybody in the small village is ready, willing, and able to help the family who lost their house in the fire.

real McCoy
What does "real McCoy" mean?
the genuine thingMy new camera is the real McCoy and it will let me take any kind of picture that I want.

reality of a situation
What does "reality of a situation" mean?
the way that a situation really isThe reality of the situation is that it is very difficult to enter some of the best universities in the country.

rear its ugly head
What does "rear its ugly head" mean?
something unpleasant appears or becomes obvious after being hiddenThe problem of mold has reared its ugly head in our house again.

receive/welcome (someone) with open arms
What does "receive/welcome (someone) with open arms" mean?
to greet someone eagerlyThe citizens received the Olympic athletes with open arms.

reckon with (someone or something)
What does "reckon with (someone or something)" mean?
to confront and deal with someone or somethingI do not know how I will reckon with any more problems with our apartment manager.

recognize (someone or something) for what it/he/she is
What does "recognize (someone or something) for what it/he/she is" mean?
to see and understand exactly what someone or something is or representsEveryone was able to recognize our new principal for what he is. He is a very difficult person to work with.

reconcile oneself to (something)
What does "reconcile oneself to (something)" mean?
to begin to feel comfortable with a bad or challenging situationWe have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that our school will close next year.

red herring
What does "red herring" mean?
something that draws attention away from the matter that is under considerationThe issue of salary is a red herring and is not related to the main issues of the negotiations.

red in the face
What does "red in the face" mean?
to be embarrassedThe woman was red in the face after she dropped her keys down the elevator shaft.

red-letter day
What does "red-letter day" mean?
a day that is memorable because of some important eventSaturday was a red-letter day when we finally won the school championship.

red tape
What does "red tape" mean?
excessive formalities in official transactionsThere was much red tape when we went to the city to get a business license.

reduced to (something)
What does "reduced to (something)" mean?
to be brought into a humble condition or stateThe building was reduced to ashes after the terrible fire.

reel off (something)
What does "reel off (something)" mean?
to recite something quickly and accuratelyI tried hard to reel off all of the events of the past week.

refill a prescription
What does "refill a prescription" mean?
to sell a second set of medicine on a doctor's ordersI went to the pharmacy to refill a prescription for my mother.

regain one's composure
What does "regain one's composure" mean?
to become calm and composedThe woman took several hours to regain her composure after the fight with her husband.

regain one's feet
What does "regain one's feet" mean?
to stand up again after falling or stumblingMy father quickly regained his feet after falling on the sidewalk.

regardless of (something)
What does "regardless of (something)" mean?
without considering something, at any rateRegardless of the weather we are going to go fishing tomorrow morning.

regular as clockwork
What does "regular as clockwork" mean?
to be very dependable and regularThe bus comes by our house as regular as clockwork every morning.

relative to (someone or something)
What does "relative to (someone or something)" mean?
in proportion to someone or somethingThe house was not very large relative to the amount of money that it cost.

reliance on (someone or something)
What does "reliance on (someone or something)" mean?
trust and dependence on someone or somethingI think that my father has too much reliance on his business partner and it is causing him problems.

religious about (doing something)
What does "religious about (doing something)" mean?
to be strict about doing somethingMy father is religious about brushing his teeth before he goes to bed every night.

reluctant to (do something)
What does "reluctant to (do something)" mean?
to not want to do somethingThe surgeon was reluctant to operate on the young boy before he was sure that it was necessary.

reputed to be/do something
What does "reputed to be/do something" mean?
to be thought to do/be/have somethingThe new police chief is reputed to be one of the best police chiefs in the country.

resign oneself to something
What does "resign oneself to something" mean?
to accept something reluctantlyI have to resign myself to the fact that I will probably not get the job that I want.

resonate with (someone)
What does "resonate with (someone)" mean?
to appeal to someone or cause someone to like somethingThe idea of a film festival resonated with most members of the community.

rest assured
What does "rest assured" mean?
to be assured, to be certain"You can rest assured that I will be at work early every morning this week."

rest in peace
What does "rest in peace" mean?
to lie dead peacefully for eternityWe prayed that my aunt would rest in peace after she recently passed away.

rest on one`s laurels
What does "rest on one`s laurels" mean?
to be satisfied with the success that one has already achievedMy boss is always willing to work hard and is not the type of person to rest on his laurels.

result in (something)
What does "result in (something)" mean?
to cause something to happenThe bad road conditions resulted in many small accidents this morning.

return the compliment
What does "return the compliment" mean?
to pay a compliment to someone who has paid you a complimentI returned the compliment to my colleague who began to praise my work.

return the favor
What does "return the favor" mean?
to do a good deed for someone who has done a good deed for youI returned the favor to my friend who had recently helped me to move from my apartment.

rev (something) up
What does "rev (something) up" mean?
to make an engine run very fastThe young man began to rev the motor of his car up while he was waiting for his friend.

rhyme or reason
What does "rhyme or reason" mean?
a good plan or reason, a reasonable purpose or explanation (usually used in negative/interrogative/conditional sentences)There was no rhyme or reason as to why my friend suddenly decided to quit his job.

rich in (something)
What does "rich in (something)" mean?
to have valuable resources/characteristics/traditions/historyMany vegetables are rich in important vitamins.

ride herd on (someone)
What does "ride herd on (someone)" mean?
to watch closely and control someoneThe new supervisor likes to ride herd on the people who work for him.

ride off in all directions
What does "ride off in all directions" mean?
to try to do everything at once, to behave in a totally confused mannerAfter the meeting everyone seemed to ride off in all directions and we did not know where anyone was going.

ride on (someone's) coattails
What does "ride on (someone's) coattails" mean?
to have one's fortune or success depend on another personThe sales manager was riding on the coattails of his boss and hoped to achieve success in the company.

ride roughshod over (someone or something)
What does "ride roughshod over (someone or something)" mean?
to treat someone or something with disdain or scornThe new teacher is riding roughshod over the wants and needs of the students.

ride (something) out
What does "ride (something) out" mean?
to endure something unpleasant, to survive something safelyWe were able to ride out the bad storm by staying in a small restaurant.

ride the gravy train
What does "ride the gravy train" mean?
to exploit something for easy profit or advantage, to experience excessive success or profit without deserving itWe have been able to ride the gravy train and make a lot of money at our job recently.

riding for a fall
What does "riding for a fall" mean?
to be risking failure or an accident due to overconfidenceMy friend is riding for a fall if he continues his present attitude at his job.

riding high
What does "riding high" mean?
to be attracting attention, to be enjoying great popularityThe new government has been riding high in the opinion polls for several months now.

right and left
What does "right and left" mean?
on both sides, on all sides, everywhereThe child looked right and left before he crossed the road.

right as rain
What does "right as rain" mean?
to be correct, to be genuineThe figures that I gave to my supervisor are as right as rain.

right at (a specific time/place)
What does "right at (a specific time/place)" mean?
to be exactly at a specific time/placeThe concert started right at 9:00 PM.

right away
What does "right away" mean?
immediately"I forgot to bring my book but I will go home and get it right away."

right down/up (someone's) alley
What does "right down/up (someone's) alley" mean?
to be ideally suited to someone's interests or abilitiesThe homepage development project was right down my alley and I was very happy to do it.

right off the bat
What does "right off the bat" mean?
immediately, from the beginningI told my boss right off the bat that we did not need a new computer for the office.

right on
What does "right on" mean?
that`s right, yes (indicates approval for something) The man yelled "right on" every time the politician promised a new program to lower taxes.

right on time
What does "right on time" mean?
to be exactly at the correct timeThe train arrived at the station right on time.

right out
What does "right out" mean?
to say or tell something plainly or in a way that hides nothingI told the new supervisor right out that I did not like him.

right side up
What does "right side up" mean?
with the correct side upwardsThe bus drove off the highway and rolled over but it landed right side up when it stopped.

right under one`s nose
What does "right under one`s nose" mean?
to be in an obvious or nearby placeI found the calculator right under my nose after searching for it for an hour.

ring a bell
What does "ring a bell" mean?
to remind someone of somethingThe name does not ring a bell and I am sure that I have never heard of the man.

ring down the curtain on (something)
What does "ring down the curtain on (something)" mean?
to bring something to an endThe famous singer rang down the curtain on an evening of wonderful music.

ring in the New Year
What does "ring in the New Year" mean?
to celebrate the beginning of the new yearWe decided to ring in the New Year at a party at my parent's house.

ring true
What does "ring true" mean?
to sound or seem true or likelyThe predictions by the scientists are beginning to ring true.

ring up (someone)
What does "ring up (someone)" mean?
to telephone someoneYou should ring up the police if you see a strange person around your house.

ring up (something)
What does "ring up (something)" mean?
to add and record a sale on a cash registerI went to the cash register so the clerk could ring up the items that I had bought.

rip into (someone or something)
What does "rip into (someone or something)" mean?
to attack someone or something physically or verballyMy mother ripped into me when I came home late from the party.

rip off (someone or something)
What does "rip off (someone or something)" mean?
to cheat/rob someone or somethingI was ripped off by the mechanic at the gas station.

ripe old age
What does "ripe old age" mean?
a very old ageMy uncle was able to live to a ripe old age.

Rise and shine!
What does "Rise and shine!" mean?
Get out of bed and begin the day!"Rise and shine!" my father called to me in the morning.

rise to the bait
What does "rise to the bait" mean?
to be lured by some kind of bait/enticementMy friend rose to the bait when I offered to help him if he would help me to do something much more difficult.

rise to the occasion
What does "rise to the occasion" mean?
to meet the challenge of somethingOur teacher rose to the occasion and was able to give a very good speech at the banquet.

risk one's neck to (do something)
What does "risk one's neck to (do something)" mean?
to risk physical harm in order to do somethingI risked my neck in order to rescue the cat that was on the roof.

rivet (someone's) attention
What does "rivet (someone's) attention" mean?
to keep someone's attention fixed on somethingThe man on the side of the tall building riveted our attention as he continued to climb up.

rob Peter to pay Paul
What does "rob Peter to pay Paul" mean?
to take from one person or thing to pay anotherWhen the government began to take money from the education system to pay for the medical system it was like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

rob the cradle
What does "rob the cradle" mean?
to marry a person much younger than oneselfPeople said that my boss was robbing the cradle when he married the young woman at our company.

rock the boat
What does "rock the boat" mean?
to upset the way things areThe woman is a very quiet worker and never likes to rock the boat at work.

roll around
What does "roll around" mean?
to return at a regular or usual time, to come backEvery time that his birthday rolls around he has a big party.

roll back (a price)
What does "roll back (a price)" mean?
to reduce a price to a previous amountThe prices at the computer store were rolled back during the big sale.

roll in
What does "roll in" mean?
to arrive in great numbers or quantityThe money has been rolling in since we started the new franchise.

roll out the red carpet
What does "roll out the red carpet" mean?
to welcome an important guest by putting a red carpet down for him or her to walk onThey rolled out the red carpet when the Queen came for a visit.

roll out the red carpet
What does "roll out the red carpet" mean?
to make a big effort to greet and entertain someoneWhenever I visit my aunt she rolls out the red carpet for me.

roll up one`s sleeves
What does "roll up one`s sleeves" mean?
to prepare to work hard or seriously at somethingEverybody in our club rolled up their sleeves to help prepare for the party.

room and board
What does "room and board" mean?
food to eat and a place to liveThe young man received room and board as part of his salary at the restaurant.

root for (someone or something)
What does "root for (someone or something)" mean?
to cheer and encourage someone or somethingI have been rooting for our hometown team since I was a child.

root (something) out
What does "root (something) out" mean?
to get rid of something completelyThe new city government is trying to root out the wasteful practices of the previous government.

rooted in (something)
What does "rooted in (something)" mean?
to be based on somethingThe popularity of the politician is rooted in his strong moral values and honesty.

rooted to the spot
What does "rooted to the spot" mean?
to be unable to move because of fear or surpriseThe boy was rooted to the spot as he watched the dog attack the rabbit.

rope (someone) into (doing something)
What does "rope (someone) into (doing something)" mean?
to persuade or pressure someone to do somethingI did not want to help with the dinner but I was roped into helping by my best friend.

rotten to the core
What does "rotten to the core" mean?
to be completely no good and worthlessThe local government was rotten to the core and everyone was happy when they were voted out of office.

rough-and-ready
What does "rough-and-ready" mean?
to be rough or crude but to be ready for somethingThe boat was rough-and-ready so we decided to take it for a ride.

rough-and-tumble
What does "rough-and-tumble" mean?
to be rough, a hard fighting or arguing style that does not follow any rules or lawsIt was a rough-and-tumble meeting at the city planning office last night.

rough it
What does "rough it" mean?
to live in uncomfortable conditions without the usual comforts (such as on a camping trip)We were forced to rough it for a few days when the storm knocked out the electricity supply.

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