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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Show your true colors
What does "Show your true colors" mean?
To reveal your true intentions, personality, or behaviors.Everyone is on best behavior on the first date, but soon enough you will show your true colors.

Color(s) has numerous meanings. An early use of the word is flag, pennant, or badge. Early warships often carried flags from many nations on board in order to elude or deceive the enemy. The rules of civilized warfare called for all ships to hoist their true national ensigns before firing a shot.
Someone who finally "shows his true colors" is acting like a warship which hails another ship flying one flag, but then hoisted their own when they got in firing range.
Sleep tight
What does "Sleep tight" mean?
Sleep well.Good night, sleep tight.

Before box springs were in use, old bed frames used rope pulled tightly between the frame rails to support a mattress. If the rope became loose, the mattress would sag making for uncomfortable sleeping. Tightening the ropes would help one get a good night sleep.
Square meal
What does "Square meal" mean?
A nutritious meal.I am overweight because my wife's cooking is delicious but full of fat and sugar. The only way to get a good square meal is to eat out.

British war ships in the 1700s including the HMS Victory did not have the best of living conditions. A sailors breakfast and lunch were sparse meals consisting of little more than bread and a beverage. But the third meal of the day included meat and was served on a square tray. Eating a substantial meal onboard a ship required a tray to carry it all. Hence a "square meal" was the most substantial meal served.
Straight and narrow
What does "Straight and narrow" mean?
To stay out of trouble.Ever since getting out of jail on bond I have been on the straight and narrow.

This phrase comes from the Bible and describes the path to heaven.
Matthew 7:14 to be exact: "Broad is the way that is the path of destruction but narrow is the gate and straight is the way which leadeth to the house of God."
Strike while the iron is hot
What does "Strike while the iron is hot" mean?
Act quickly while the opportunity is still available.If you want the job, you need to strike while the iron is hot.

Blacksmiths working iron by hand heat the iron in a fire to red-hot making it malleable. The Smith removes the iron from the fire and shapes it with blows from a hammer. They need to work quickly before the iron cools. Once the iron is cool, it becomes brittle and the opportunity to hammer it into shape has passed.
schmooze
What does "schmooze" mean?
make relaxed, casual conversation. "No, we weren't talking about anything important.We were just schmoozing."

shoot the breeze
What does "shoot the breeze" mean?
make relaxed, casual conversation. "No, we weren't talking about anything important.We were just shooting the breeze."

sleep on it
What does "sleep on it" mean?
take at least a day to think about something before making a decision. "The job that you're offering me sounds really good,but I'd like to sleep on it before giving you my final decision."

Someone's made his/her own bed; now let him/her lie in it.
What does "Someone's made his/her own bed; now let him/her lie in it." mean?
Someone has caused
his/her own problems; he/she will have to solve them himself/herself.
A: Jim upset everyone when he got angry at themeeting. Can we do anything to make the situation better?

sooner or later
What does "sooner or later" mean?
eventually. "You've been working too hard for too long. If youdon't relax a little, sooner or later you're going to get sick."

sort of
What does "sort of" mean?
rather; somewhat. "I think I'll lie down. I feel sort of dizzy."

so-so
What does "so-so" mean?
fair; not particularly good. A: "How're you doing?"B: "So-so. I've been better, but I've also been worse."

state of the art
What does "state of the art" mean?
using the latest technology. "The company is very proud of the equipment in its computer room. It's state of the art."

Step on it!
What does "Step on it!" mean?
Hurry up!"Step on it! The taxi will be here at any timeand you're not even dressed!"

sack out
What does "sack out" mean?
to go to bed, to go to sleepI sacked out as soon as I arrived home last evening.

sadder but wiser
What does "sadder but wiser" mean?
unhappy but educated (said about someone or something after an unpleasant experience)The man was sadder but wiser after he learned that his wallet had been stolen.

saddle (someone) with (something)
What does "saddle (someone) with (something)" mean?
to give someone something undesirable or difficult to deal withI try not to saddle my friend with the problems that I am having at work.

safe and sound
What does "safe and sound" mean?
to be safe/whole/healthyWe arrived at our destination safe and sound after a long journey.

safety in numbers
What does "safety in numbers" mean?
to feel safe by being surrounded by a large number of peopleThere was safety in numbers when the students went to complain to the principal about their new teacher.

sage advice
What does "sage advice" mean?
very good and wise adviceI waited for my friend to ask me for my sage advice regarding his problems.

sail into (someone)
What does "sail into (someone)" mean?
to scold or criticize someone very hard, to attack someoneWhen I entered the office my supervisor sailed into me for being late.

sail right through (something)
What does "sail right through (something)" mean?
to finish something quickly and easilyI was able to sail right through the material for my final exam.

sail under false colors
What does "sail under false colors" mean?
to pretend to be something that one is notThe politician was sailing under false colors when he appealed to the citizens for votes.

salt away money
What does "salt away money" mean?
to save moneyMy friend has salted away much money from her new job.

salt of the earth
What does "salt of the earth" mean?
basic and fundamentally good peopleThe members of our club are all the salt of the earth and are fun to spend time with.

same as (someone or something)
What does "same as (someone or something)" mean?
to be identical to someone or somethingMy sister is exactly the same as the girl who lives down the block.

Same here!
What does "Same here!" mean?
Me too! I agree!"Same here," I replied when someone said that they were having problems with their Internet provider.

same old story
What does "same old story" mean?
something that occurs or has occurred in the same way beforeIt is always the same old story with my friend. He borrows money but he never wants to pay it back.

same to you
What does "same to you" mean?
the same comment applies to you"The same to you," the boy said when his friend said that he was stupid.

sands of time
What does "sands of time" mean?
the accumulated tiny amounts of time (like the sand in an hourglass)The sands of time have done much to change the woman's attitude toward her sister.

save face
What does "save face" mean?
to preserve one`s good reputation or dignity when something has happened to hurt itOur boss was very embarrassed when our company lost a lot of money. However, he was able to save face when he showed that the problems were outside of his control.

save one`s breath
What does "save one`s breath" mean?
to remain silent because talking will do no goodYou may as well save your breath and not talk to her as she will not believe you anyway.

save one`s neck/skin
What does "save one`s neck/skin" mean?
to save oneself from danger or troubleThe man left the scene of the fire as soon as possible in order to save his neck.

save (something) for a rainy day
What does "save (something) for a rainy day" mean?
to reserve something/money for the futureI always try to save some money for a rainy day when I get paid.

save the day
What does "save the day" mean?
to bring about victory or success (when defeat is likely)The player saved the day for his team when he played his best game of the season.

save up for (something)
What does "save up for (something)" mean?
to save money in order to buy somethingMy friend's brother is saving up for a new digital camera.

saved by the bell
What does "saved by the bell" mean?
to be rescued from a difficult situation just in time by something that brings the situation to a sudden endI was saved by the bell and do not have to give my presentation until tomorrow.

saving grace
What does "saving grace" mean?
something that saves someone or something that would otherwise be a total disasterThe man's saving grace was his mathematical ability. His other personality traits were very strange.

say a mouthful
What does "say a mouthful" mean?
to say something of great importance/meaning/length"You certainly said a mouthful," I said when my friend began to tell me about his complaint.

say grace
What does "say grace" mean?
to say a prayer of thanks before or after a mealThe bride's father was asked to say grace before the wedding banquet.

say one`s piece
What does "say one`s piece" mean?
to say openly what one thinksI said my piece at the meeting and then left quietly by the back door.

say (something) in a roundabout way
What does "say (something) in a roundabout way" mean?
to say something indirectlyI had to say what I wanted to say in a roundabout way in order to make my point.

say (something) to (someone's) face
What does "say (something) to (someone's) face" mean?
to say something (often unpleasant) directly to someoneMy supervisor always complains about me but she is afraid to say anything to my face.

say (something) under one's breath
What does "say (something) under one's breath" mean?
to say something so softly that almost nobody can hear itThe woman said something under her breath but I could not understand it.

say the word
What does "say the word" mean?
to give a sign, to show a wish"Just say the word and I will come and meet you at the airport."

say uncle
What does "say uncle" mean?
to surrender, to give inThe little boy was forced to say uncle and agree to do what the older boy wanted.

scale (something) down
What does "scale (something) down" mean?
to make something smaller by a certain amount or proportionThe government decided to scale down their plans for the sports stadium.

scare (someone) out of his or her wits
What does "scare (someone) out of his or her wits" mean?
to frighten someone very muchThe dog scared the little boy out of his wits.

scare (someone) silly
What does "scare (someone) silly" mean?
to frighten someone very muchThe mouse scared the girl silly.

scare (someone) stiff
What does "scare (someone) stiff" mean?
to scare someone severelyThe little boy was able to scare his little brother stiff when he decided to hide in the closet and scare him.

scare the (living) daylights out of (someone)
What does "scare the (living) daylights out of (someone)" mean?
to frighten someone very muchFalling off the bicycle scared the daylights out of the little girl.

scare up (someone or something)
What does "scare up (someone or something)" mean?
to find someone or something, to gather something with some effortWe were able to scare up a couple of sleeping bags so that we could go camping.

scared silly/stiff
What does "scared silly/stiff" mean?
to be frightened very muchI was scared stiff during the horror movie.

scatter (something) around
What does "scatter (something) around" mean?
to carelessly put something in different placesMy papers are always scattered around my house and I am never able to find them.

school of hard knocks
What does "school of hard knocks" mean?
the ordinary experiences of lifeThe man learned about life in the school of hard knocks.

school of thought
What does "school of thought" mean?
a particular philosophyThere are many schools of thought about how the government should proceed with its new transportation plan.

scout around for (someone or something)
What does "scout around for (someone or something)" mean?
to search here and there and all over for someone or somethingThe company is scouting around for a new warehouse for their products.

scrape the bottom of the barrel
What does "scrape the bottom of the barrel" mean?
to take whatever is left after the best has been takenThe company is scraping the bottom of the barrel if they must give that woman a job.

scrape (something) together
What does "scrape (something) together" mean?
to gather small amounts of money or something (usually with some difficulty) for some purposeWe managed to scrape together enough money to go on a holiday even though business is very bad at the moment.

scrape (something) up
What does "scrape (something) up" mean?
to find or gather something with some effortMy friend scraped up some money and came to visit me during the summer.

scratch around for (something)
What does "scratch around for (something)" mean?
look here and there for somethingThe woman was scratching around for some money to buy some food.

scratch (someone`s) back
What does "scratch (someone`s) back" mean?
to do something nice for someone in the hope that they will do something for you"You scratch my back and I`ll scratch yours," the customer said when we talked about the new sales contract.

scratch the surface
What does "scratch the surface" mean?
to only begin to do or learn somethingMy friend is interested in classical music but she has only begun to scratch the surface of what is available.

scream bloody murder
What does "scream bloody murder" mean?
to complain bitterly about somethingThe woman screamed bloody murder when someone took her parking place at work.

screw around
What does "screw around" mean?
to loaf about, to pass time without doing anythingI screwed around all morning and did not get anything done.

screw up
What does "screw up" mean?
to make a mess of something, to cause trouble for someone or somethingMy travel agent screwed up my travel schedule and I had to stay at the airport overnight.

screw up one's courage
What does "screw up one's courage" mean?
to build up one's courage for somethingI screwed up my courage and went in to ask my supervisor to transfer me to a different department.

scrimp and save
What does "scrimp and save" mean?
to be very thrifty, to save up for somethingI have been scrimping and saving in order to buy a new laptop computer.

scrounge around for (something)
What does "scrounge around for (something)" mean?
to look/search in many places for somethingWe did not have enough wood for the fence so we had to scrounge around the neighborhood to find some more.

seamy side of life
What does "seamy side of life" mean?
the most unpleasant or roughest aspect of lifeThe policeman learned much about the seamy side of life during his many years on the job.

search high and low for (someone or something)
What does "search high and low for (someone or something)" mean?
to look carefully everywhere for someone or somethingI have been searching high and low for my address book.

search me
What does "search me" mean?
I don`t know, How should I know"Search me," my friend said when I asked him what had happened to the front of his car.

search one`s soul
What does "search one`s soul" mean?
to study and think about one`s reasons and actions to see if one has been fair and honestI have been searching my soul to see if I could have prevented my friend's death in the car crash.

second-guess (someone)
What does "second-guess (someone)" mean?
to try to guess what someone else intends to do or would have done in a situationYou should never try to second-guess the actions of the firefighters in a dangerous situation.

second hand
What does "second hand" mean?
not new, used by someone elseWe went to a second-hand bookstore to look for the books.

second nature to (someone)
What does "second nature to (someone)" mean?
to be easy and natural for someonePlaying a musical instrument is second nature to my friend.

second-rate
What does "second-rate" mean?
to be not of the best qualityThe performance of the school choir was second-rate and they need more practice to improve.

second to none
What does "second to none" mean?
to be better than everythingThe performance by the opera singer was second to none.

second wind
What does "second wind" mean?
energy that is regained after being tiredAfter we got our second wind we continued on our hike up the mountain.

security against (something)
What does "security against (something)" mean?
something that keeps something safe, protection against somethingThe money in the bank is my security against losing my job in the future.

security blanket
What does "security blanket" mean?
something that one holds onto for reassurance or comfort (like a child and a blanket)The boy uses his computer as a security blanket so that he does not have to go out and meet new people.

see a man about a dog
What does "see a man about a dog" mean?
to leave for some unmentioned purpose (often to go to the restroom)I drank several cups of coffee and I soon had to stop my car to see a man about a dog.

see about (something)
What does "see about (something)" mean?
to check into somethingI am going to see about getting the book before next week.

see double
What does "see double" mean?
to see two of everything instead of oneI began to see double after I hit my head on the edge of the fence.

see eye to eye (with someone)
What does "see eye to eye (with someone)" mean?
to agree with someoneWe do not always see eye to eye on things but generally I have a good relationship with my friend.

see fit to (do something)
What does "see fit to (do something)" mean?
to decide to do somethingI hope that my company sees fit to spend more time training its employees.

see no objection to (something)
What does "see no objection to (something)" mean?
to not have any objection to somethingI see no objection to my friend coming to the meeting with me.

see one`s way clear to (do something)
What does "see one`s way clear to (do something)" mean?
to feel able to do something"When you see your way clear to begin the job could you please come and tell me."

see red
What does "see red" mean?
to become very angryMy friend saw red last night when I told him about the broken dishes.

see (someone or something) as (something)
What does "see (someone or something) as (something)" mean?
to consider someone as somethingMy friend sees me as an expert in financial matters although I am not.

see (someone) home
What does "see (someone) home" mean?
to accompany someone homeI saw my cousin home after her visit last evening.

see (someone) off
What does "see (someone) off" mean?
to go with someone to their point of departureI went to the airport to see my mother off.

see (someone) out
What does "see (someone) out" mean?
to go with someone out of a room/houseI went to the front door to see our guests out to their cars.

see (someone) to (somewhere)
What does "see (someone) to (somewhere)" mean?
to escort someone to a place safelyI saw my friend to the door when he decided to go home.

see (something) out
What does "see (something) out" mean?
to finish something, to not quit doing somethingI decided to stay with my company in order to see out the restructuring process.

see (something) through
What does "see (something) through" mean?
to do something until it is completedI want to see the building project through until it is finished.

see stars
What does "see stars" mean?
to think that one is seeing stars as a result of being hit on the headWhen I was hit by the opposing player I fell to the ground and began to see stars.

see the color of (someone's) money
What does "see the color of (someone's) money" mean?
to verify that someone has (enough) moneyI did not give anybody a ticket for the dinner until I saw the color of their money.

see the handwriting on the wall
What does "see the handwriting on the wall" mean?
to know that something is certain to happenWe saw the handwriting on the wall and we knew that our company was going to go bankrupt.

see the last of (someone or something)
What does "see the last of (someone or something)" mean?
to see someone or something for the last timeI was very happy to see the last of my friend who was visiting me.

see the light
What does "see the light" mean?
to realize your mistake, to suddenly see how to proceed with somethingI finally saw the light and began to work at the same pace as everyone else.

see the light at the end of the tunnel
What does "see the light at the end of the tunnel" mean?
to foresee an end to something such as a problem or a taskI could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and I knew that I would finish the work soon.

see the light of day
What does "see the light of day" mean?
to be born, to beginI do not believe that his plans to build a new house will ever see the light of day.

see the sights
What does "see the sights" mean?
to see the important things in a placeWe stopped downtown during our holiday so that we could see the sights.

see the world/things through rose-colored glasses
What does "see the world/things through rose-colored glasses" mean?
to see only the good things about something, to be too optimisticShe is unrealistic and tends to see the world through rose-colored glasses.

see things
What does "see things" mean?
to imagine sights that are not real, to think that one sees something that is not thereHe is always daydreaming and imagining that he is seeing things.

see through (someone or something)
What does "see through (someone or something)" mean?
to understand someone`s true character or motivation, to understand the real reason for somethingI could easily see through the supervisor's attempt to fire the woman from her job.

see to it (that something is done)
What does "see to it (that something is done)" mean?
to take the responsibility to do something, to make sure that something is done"Will you please see to it that the garbage is taken out in the morning."

see to (someone or something)
What does "see to (someone or something)" mean?
to take care of someone or somethingI will see to the rental car and my friend will see to the airplane tickets.

see which way the wind is blowing
What does "see which way the wind is blowing" mean?
to determine what is the most suitable thing to doI want to see which way the wind is blowing before I decide what to do about my job.

seeing is believing
What does "seeing is believing" mean?
one must believe something that one seesSeeing is believing and I did not believe the price of the car until I actually saw it.

seize an opportunity
What does "seize an opportunity" mean?
to take advantage of an opportunityI seized the opportunity to take the extra class as soon as I heard about it.

seize upon (something)
What does "seize upon (something)" mean?
to take hold of something and make an issue of itThe opposition politician seized upon the mistake of the other politician.

sell like hotcakes
What does "sell like hotcakes" mean?
to sell quickly, to sell rapidlyThe tickets for the concert were selling like hotcakes when I called this morning.

sell out (someone or something)
What does "sell out (someone or something)" mean?
to be disloyal, to betray someone or somethingThe man does not want to sell out his moral values when he begins work for the new company.

sell (someone) a bill of goods
What does "sell (someone) a bill of goods" mean?
to deceive someone, to get someone to believe something that is not trueI believe that the salesman sold me a bill of goods and the product does not have much value.

sell (someone) on a plan or idea
What does "sell (someone) on a plan or idea" mean?
to convince someone of somethingI could not sell my friend on my suggestion that we buy a new computer together.

sell (someone) short
What does "sell (someone) short" mean?
to underestimate oneself or someone elseMy friend is selling himself short when he thinks that he will not be good at any other job.

sell (something) out
What does "sell (something) out" mean?
to sell all of somethingThey sold the concert out in every city that it went to.

sell (something) for a song
What does "sell (something) for a song" mean?
to sell something very cheaplyThey sold the furniture for a song.

sell (something) off
What does "sell (something) off" mean?
to sell much or all of somethingThe computer company decided to sell off some of their real estate business.

sell (something) on credit
What does "sell (something) on credit" mean?
to sell something now and let the purchaser pay for it laterWe decided to sell the stereo system on credit.

send away for (something)
What does "send away for (something)" mean?
to write a letter asking for somethingI sent away for some information but it has not arrived yet.

send (someone) about his or her business
What does "send (someone) about his or her business" mean?
to send someone away (in an unfriendly manner)I sent the man about his business when he interrupted my work last evening.

send (someone) off
What does "send (someone) off" mean?
to participate in saying good-bye to someone who is leavingWe went to the airport in order to send off the company president.

send (someone) packing
What does "send (someone) packing" mean?
to tell someone to leave, to dismiss someoneThe company sent the man packing because of his bad attitude to his job.

send (someone) to the showers
What does "send (someone) to the showers" mean?
to send a player out of the game and off the field/court etc.The coach decided to send the player to the showers after his poor performance during the game.

send (someone) up
What does "send (someone) up" mean?
to sentence someone to prisonThe judge sent the man up for seven years for robbing a bank.

send (something) C.O.D.
What does "send (something) C.O.D." mean?
to send merchandise to someone who will pay for it when it is deliveredThe company sent the computer printer C.O.D.

send up a trial balloon
What does "send up a trial balloon" mean?
to suggest something and see how people respond to itThe company sent up a trial balloon to see how people would react to their new product.

separate but equal
What does "separate but equal" mean?
to be segregated but of equal value or qualityThe teaching staff and adminstration were separate but equal regarding decisions that were made at the school.

separate the men from the boys
What does "separate the men from the boys" mean?
to separate competent people from less competent peopleSome people say that joining the military is a good way to separate the men from the boys.

serve as a guinea pig
What does "serve as a guinea pig" mean?
to allow some kind of test to be performed on someoneThe students served as a guinea pig for the school board's plan to change the school curriculum.

serve notice on (someone)
What does "serve notice on (someone)" mean?
to announce something to someoneWe served notice on the apartment manager that we would leave the apartment at the end of the month.

serve (someone`s) purpose
What does "serve (someone`s) purpose" mean?
to be useful to someone for a certain needThe small screwdriver should serve my purpose until I find the correct size.

serve (someone) right
What does "serve (someone) right" mean?
to get the punishment or results that one deservesMy friend never studies at all so it serves him right to fail his exam.

serve time
What does "serve time" mean?
to spend time in jailThe man served time when he was young but now he is a good citizen.

set a precedent
What does "set a precedent" mean?
to establish a pattern, to set a policy that must be followed in future casesThe legal case set a precedent that will be followed for many years in the future.

set a trap
What does "set a trap" mean?
to prepare a trap to catch an animal or a person who is doing something wrong/illegalThe conservation officers set a trap to try and catch the bear.

set about to (do something or go somewhere)
What does "set about to (do something or go somewhere)" mean?
to begin/start something, to prepare to go somewhereWe set about to prepare the office for the move to a bigger building.

set back (someone or something)
What does "set back (someone or something)" mean?
to cause someone or something to get behind schedule, to slow down someone or somethingThe flood set back the efforts of the farmers to plant their crops.

set eyes on (someone or something)
What does "set eyes on (someone or something)" mean?
to see someone or something for the first timeI do not know if my friend is here or not. I have not set eyes on her since yesterday.

set fire to (something)
What does "set fire to (something)" mean?
to put something to flamesThe workers set fire to the building by accident.

set foot (somewhere)
What does "set foot (somewhere)" mean?
to step or go somewhereI have never set foot in that restaurant and I never will in the future.

set forth (something)
What does "set forth (something)" mean?
to explain something exactly or clearlyThe manager carefully set forth the terms of the rental contract.

set forth (somewhere)
What does "set forth (somewhere)" mean?
to start to go somewhere, to begin a tripWe set forth on our holiday at 7:00 this morning.

set great store on (someone or something)
What does "set great store on (someone or something)" mean?
to like or value someone or somethingOur company sets great store on their ability to attract good people.

set in
What does "set in" mean?
to begin and probably continue (used for a weather or mental condition)The rain has set in and it looks like it will not stop for awhile.

set in one's ways
What does "set in one's ways" mean?
to lead a fixed lifestyleMy grandfather is set in his ways and he does not like to change his habits at all.

set one`s heart on (something)
What does "set one`s heart on (something)" mean?
to want something very muchI set my heart on a nice holiday this winter but I will not be able to go because I have no money.

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