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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White Elephant
What does "White Elephant" mean?
Something that is costly to obtain or maintain and provides little benefit or value.The London Bridge became a white elephant. The bridge was relocated to Havasu City Arizona, where it now remains as a tourist attraction.

From the Burmese belief that albino elephants are sacred. They can't be used for work and they must be lavished with the ultimate amount of care.
Giving a gift of a white elephant would be done to someone considered an enemy. The idea being that you would eventually wipe out your enemy's wealth with the care of the sacred elephant.
With a grain of salt
What does "With a grain of salt" mean?
With a healthy dose of skepticism, suspicion, and caution.Dave has been known to stretch the truth a bit. Take what he says with a grain of salt.

Salt is now an inexpensive and readily available commodity. But it was once very valuable due to its high demand as a food preservative and relative scarcity.
Salt was thought to have healing properties and to be an antidote to poisons. To take (eat or drink) something "with a grain of salt" was to practice preventive medicine. One would do this if they were suspicious that the food might be poisonous or may cause illness.
Worth its salt
What does "Worth its salt" mean?
To be competent, reasonably skilled.Not to worry about your new suit, any detergent worth its salt can remove blood stains.

Today salt is inexpensive and universally available, but that wasn't always the case. Salt has been a valuable commodity in many cultures throughout history.
Salt is sodium chloride. It can be obtained from mines or the oceans. Today salt is commonly mined from large deposits left by dried salt lakes. Modern mining and transportation methods have made salt an inexpensive commodity.
Salt is an effective food preservative and before refrigeration was widely available, the demand for salt as a preservative was much greater. The human body requires salt for the regulation of fluid balance. Salt used as a seasoning adds to the taste of many foods.
Because of salt's high value, it was used as a method of exchange. Roman soldiers received a salt allowance as part of their pay. In fact the word "salary" is derived from the Latin "salarium" meaning "of salt".
To say that someone is "worth his salt" is to say they have earned their pay.
Was my face red!
What does "Was my face red!" mean?
I was very embarrassed. "When I got to the meeting I noticed that I was wearing one black sock and one brown one. Was my face red!"

wear out one's welcome
What does "wear out one's welcome" mean?
make someone uncomfortable by visiting too long. A: "Can't you stay two or three more days?" B: "No. I don't want to wear out my welcome."

wet behind the ears
What does "wet behind the ears" mean?
inexperienced and naive. "Don't include Fred as part of the bargaining team.He's just started working here and is still too wet behind the ears."

What for?
What does "What for?" mean?
Why? A: "Come here for a minute. I need you." B: "What for?"

What's up?
What does "What's up?" mean?
What's new? What's happening? "Hi, John. What's up?"

wishy-washy
What does "wishy-washy" mean?
uncommitted; without an opinion of one's own. "Don't be so wishy-washy. Tell us how you really feel."

with bells on
What does "with bells on" mean?
very eagerly; with the feeling that one will have a very good time. A: "Are you going to Sandra's party?" B: "I'll be there with bells on!"

would ('d) just as soon
What does "would ('d) just as soon" mean?
would ('d) rather; prefer. "I know we have a lot of work to do, but I'm tired. I'd just as soon leave and finish tomorrow. Is that OK with you?"

wade into
What does "wade into" mean?
attack, join inThe football player waded into the fight to help his teammate.

wait-and-see attitude
What does "wait-and-see attitude" mean?
an uncertain attitude where you wait and see what will happenWe decided to take a wait-and-see attitude regarding what our new boss was going to do.

wait on (someone) hand and foot
What does "wait on (someone) hand and foot" mean?
serve someone in every possible way, do everything for someoneHe always waits on his wife hand and foot.

wait tables
What does "wait tables" mean?
serve food (in a restaurant etc.)He spent the summer waiting tables at the resort.

wait up (for someone)
What does "wait up (for someone)" mean?
not go to bed until someone arrives or something happensThe woman always waits up for her daughter to come home.

wait with bated breath
What does "wait with bated breath" mean?
feel excited or anxious while waitingI waited with bated breath for the results of my exams.

waiting in the wings
What does "waiting in the wings" mean?
ready to do something such as take over someone's jobThe vice-president was waiting in the wings to help the president.

wake the dead
What does "wake the dead" mean?
be very loud and able to wake even those who have diedOur neighbors told us that our stereo was so loud that it would wake the dead.

walk a tightrope
What does "walk a tightrope" mean?
be in a situation where you must be very cautiousThe Prime Minister is walking a tightrope regarding the international trade deal.

walk all over (an opponent)
What does "walk all over (an opponent)" mean?
win a game easilyThey walked all over the other team at the soccer tournament.

walk all over (someone)
What does "walk all over (someone)" mean?
treat someone badlyHe tried to walk all over me when I began working but after I became used to the job he stopped.

walk away/off with (something)
What does "walk away/off with (something)" mean?
take and go away with something, stealSomebody walked away with the computer from the library last night.

walk of life
What does "walk of life" mean?
social rank, occupationPeople from every walk of life came to the concert in the park.

walk on air
What does "walk on air" mean?
feel happy and excitedShe has been walking on air since she heard that she passed her exams.

walk out
What does "walk out" mean?
go on strikeMore than half of the workers at the factory decided to walk out on strike this morning.

walk out of (something)
What does "walk out of (something)" mean?
leave suddenlyThree people walked out of the meeting yesterday.

walk the floor
What does "walk the floor" mean?
walk back and forth across the floorHe spent the night walking the hospital floor while waiting for his wife to have a baby.

walk the plank
What does "walk the plank" mean?
be forced to resign from a jobThe vice-president was forced to walk the plank when the new president joined the company.

walk the plank
What does "walk the plank" mean?
be forced by pirates to walk a long plank from the ship out over the water to your deathThe pirates captured the small ship and forced the captain to walk the plank.

walking papers
What does "walking papers" mean?
a statement saying that one is fired from his or her jobHe was given his walking papers from his company last week.

waltz off with (something)
What does "waltz off with (something)" mean?
to take, get or win easilyMy favorite team waltzed off with the championship last night.

want for nothing
What does "want for nothing" mean?
have everything one needs or wishesMy sister and her husband both have good jobs and they want for nothing.

warm one`s blood/heart
What does "warm one`s blood/heart" mean?
make one feel warm or excitedThe sight of the small boy helping the old woman warmed the heart of the people on the street.

warm the bench
What does "warm the bench" mean?
sit on a bench and not play during a gameThe young player spent most of the game warming the bench.

warm the cockles of one's heart
What does "warm the cockles of one's heart" mean?
make someone feel warm and happyHer care and attention when I was sick warmed the cockles of my heart.

warm up
What does "warm up" mean?
get ready for a game or other event with exercise or practiceWe spent two hours warming up for the game on Saturday.

warm up to (someone or something)
What does "warm up to (someone or something)" mean?
become friendly or interested (in someone or something)His wife finally warmed up to the idea of going to Italy for a holiday.

warts and all
What does "warts and all" mean?
including one's bad pointsHe likes to be able to relax, warts and all, with his friends.

wash one's dirty linen in public
What does "wash one's dirty linen in public" mean?
talk about private or embarassing matters in publicThe man began to wash his best friend's dirty linen in public after he became angry.

wash one`s hands of (someone or something)
What does "wash one`s hands of (someone or something)" mean?
abandon, refuse responsibility for (someone or something)He washed his hands of the problem after the others refused to deal with it.

washed up
What does "washed up" mean?
no longer successful or neededThe boxer was all washed up and had to retire last year.

waste one`s breath
What does "waste one`s breath" mean?
speak pointlessly without the desired resultsHe is very stubborn and you are wasting your breath to argue with him.

Watch it!
What does "Watch it!" mean?
be careful (usually used as a command)"Watch it! That truck is going very fast and may hit you."

watch one`s P`s and Q`s
What does "watch one`s P`s and Q`s" mean?
be well-behaved, be carefulThe boy was told to watch his P`s and Q`s by his teacher after he caused many problems at school.

watch one's step
What does "watch one's step" mean?
act cautiously so you don't make a mistake or anger someoneYou should watch your step when you complain to the manager.

watch out for (someone or something)
What does "watch out for (someone or something)" mean?
watch over and care for someone, watch for the arrival or approach of someonePlease watch out for my friend when you go downtown.

watch over (someone or something)
What does "watch over (someone or something)" mean?
monitor or guard (someone or something)I watched over the class while the teacher went to a meeting.

watch (someone or something) like a hawk
What does "watch (someone or something) like a hawk" mean?
watch very carefullyThe mother always watches her daughter like a hawk when they go to the park.

water down
What does "water down" mean?
make weak, diluteThe new policy was a watered down version of the old one.

water under the bridge
What does "water under the bridge" mean?
something that happened in the past and can`t be changedIt was terrible that your house was robbed but it is water under the bridge now and you must move forward.

wax and wane
What does "wax and wane" mean?
increase and decrease (like the moon)The boy's interest in soccer is always waxing and waning.

way the wind blows
What does "way the wind blows" mean?
direction something may go, what may happenWe will have to see which way the wind blows with our plans to go to London or not.

ways and means
What does "ways and means" mean?
the raising of money to pay for somethingThe woman doesn't have the ways and means to give her children a good education.

wear and tear
What does "wear and tear" mean?
damage as a result of ordinary useThey put a lot of wear and tear on their car during their long holiday.

wear down
What does "wear down" mean?
make something become less useful or smaller or weaker by wearing or agingLittle by little the water wore down the beach at the edge of the river.

wear down
What does "wear down" mean?
exhaust or tire someone outHe was worn down from the many questions in the meeting.

wear more than one hat
What does "wear more than one hat" mean?
have more than one set of responsibilitiesOur teacher wears more than one hat and is the head of the school board as well as the coach of the swim team.

wear off/away
What does "wear off/away" mean?
remove or disappear little by little by use, time or weatherThe name on the front of my passport wore off from using it too much.

wear on (someone)
What does "wear on (someone)" mean?
anger or annoy (someone)His constant complaining is beginning to wear on me.

wear one`s heart on one`s sleeve
What does "wear one`s heart on one`s sleeve" mean?
show one`s feelings openlyHe was wearing his heart on his sleeve after the meeting with his boss.

wear out
What does "wear out" mean?
use or wear something until it becomes uselessMy shoes wore out during my trip to Paris.

wear out one`s welcome
What does "wear out one`s welcome" mean?
visit someone too long or come back too often so that one is not welcome anymoreMy friend has worn out his welcome at our house because he always visits without calling first.

wear the pants in a family
What does "wear the pants in a family" mean?
be the boss in a familyShe is very strong and is the one who wears the pants in her family.

wear thin
What does "wear thin" mean?
become thin from use or the passing of timeThe silver dollar began to wear thin after it was in use for many years.

wear thin
What does "wear thin" mean?
grow less interesting or believableHis excuses began to wear thin after he kept using them again and again.

weasel out of (something)
What does "weasel out of (something)" mean?
decide not to do something in a sneaky wayMy friend weaseled out of helping us clean up the yard.

weather permitting
What does "weather permitting" mean?
if the weather allowsWeather permitting, we will go to the lake on Saturday.

weave in and out (of something)
What does "weave in and out (of something)" mean?
move, drive, or walk in and out of something such as trafficThe man was driving very fast and was weaving in and out of the traffic.

weed out (someone or something)
What does "weed out (someone or something)" mean?
remove what is unwanted, get rid ofI spent the morning weeding out the clothes that I don't wear anymore.

week in, week out
What does "week in, week out" mean?
week after weekWeek in, week out the man takes his children to the lake to swim.

weigh down on (someone)
What does "weigh down on (someone)" mean?
something worries or depresses someoneThe man's problems at work seem to be weighing down on him.

weigh on/upon (someone)
What does "weigh on/upon (someone)" mean?
be a weight or pressure on someone or something, worry or upset someoneThe pressure of her exams has begun to weigh upon my sister.

weigh one`s words
What does "weigh one`s words" mean?
be careful of what one saysYou should weigh your words carefully before you tell your boss what you want.

welcome to do something
What does "welcome to do something" mean?
be free to do somethingThe apartment manager said we were welcome to park our car anywhere.

well and good
What does "well and good" mean?
good, satisfactoryIt is well and good that he will go and talk to his supervisor about the problem.

well-heeled
What does "well-heeled" mean?
richHe seems rather well-heeled and is always wearing expensive clothes and driving a nice car.

well-off
What does "well-off" mean?
wealthyHer parents are quite well-off and don`t need to worry about money during their retirement.

well-to-do
What does "well-to-do" mean?
have lots of moneyHe comes from a rather well-to-do family.

well up in years
What does "well up in years" mean?
oldMy father is well up in years but he is very healthy.

wet behind the ears
What does "wet behind the ears" mean?
inexperienced, immatureHe is a little wet behind the ears and doesn`t know much about his job yet.

wet blanket
What does "wet blanket" mean?
person who discourages others from having funHe is a wet blanket so we never invite him to our parties.

wet one`s whistle
What does "wet one`s whistle" mean?
have a drink (especially alcohol)They decided to stop at a bar on their way home from work to wet their whistle.

what about
What does "what about" mean?
about or concerning somethingI know that he wants to borrow my tent but what about my sleeping bag.

What are you driving at?
What does "What are you driving at?" mean?
What do you mean?I really didn't understand what my friend was driving at.

What can I say?
What does "What can I say?" mean?
I am at a loss for words"What can I say? I made a mistake and I'm sorry."

What have you been up to?
What does "What have you been up to?" mean?
What have you been doing?"What have you been up to?", I asked my sister when I saw her.

what makes (someone) tick
What does "what makes (someone) tick" mean?
what motivates or makes someone behave in a certain wayI really don't know what makes that woman tick. She is very strange.

What one doesn't know won't hurt one.
What does "What one doesn't know won't hurt one." mean?
something that you don't know won't worry or harm youWhat she doesn't know won't hurt her and we don't need to tell her about the broken dishes.

what with
What does "what with" mean?
because, as a result ofWe wanted to go away for a holiday but what with moving to a new house we are too busy to go anywhere.

What`s cooking?
What does "What`s cooking?" mean?
What is happening?, What is wrong?"What`s cooking ", he asked his friend.

What's done is done.
What does "What's done is done." mean?
something is final and in the pastWhat's done is done and now that he has quit his job he must find a new one.

What's keeping you?
What does "What's keeping you?" mean?
What is taking you so long?"What's keeping you?", the man asked his wife as he waited to go out.

What's new?
What does "What's new?" mean?
What have you been doing?"What's new?", I asked my friend after I hadn't seen him for three months.

What`s the big idea?
What does "What`s the big idea?" mean?
Why did you do that?, What are you doing?"What`s the big idea? Why are you using my bicycle?"

What`s up?
What does "What`s up?" mean?
What is happening?, What is wrong?"What`s up ", he said as he entered the room.

what`s (up) with (someone)
What does "what`s (up) with (someone)" mean?
what is happening/wrong, how is everything"What`s up with the new supervisor? He seems very angry this morning."

what`s what
What does "what`s what" mean?
distinguish one thing from anotherIt is hard to tell what`s what at an auction of old furniture.

Whatever will be, will be.
What does "Whatever will be, will be." mean?
things will just happen and there is little that we can do about itWhatever will be will be and it is not possible to predict what will happen in the future.

wheel and deal
What does "wheel and deal" mean?
take part in political or business dealingThere was a lot of wheeling and dealing going on before they built the new convention center.

when hell freezes over
What does "when hell freezes over" mean?
neverThe man said that he would come to the office party when hell freezes over.

when it comes right down to it
What does "when it comes right down to it" mean?
when one really thinks about somethingWhen it comes right down to it, I don't think that you should quit your job.

when it comes to (something)
What does "when it comes to (something)" mean?
speaking about somethingWhen it comes to sports, my friend is a very knowledgeable person.

when least expected
What does "when least expected" mean?
when one does not expect somethingWhen least expected the secretary always asks for time off from work.

when one is good and ready
What does "when one is good and ready" mean?
when one is completely readyI decided not to go and see the supervisor until I was good and ready.

when push comes to shove
What does "when push comes to shove" mean?
when a situation becomes more difficultWhen push comes to shove my friend's daughter is always able to find a job.

when the chips are down
What does "when the chips are down" mean?
at the final and critical moment, when things really get difficultWhen the chips are down he will always come and help his friends.

when the going gets tough (the tough get going)
What does "when the going gets tough (the tough get going)" mean?
when things become difficult, strong people begin to work harderWhen the going gets tough our teacher is always there to support and help us.

when the time is ripe
What does "when the time is ripe" mean?
at exactly the right timeWhen the time was ripe we decided to sell our house.

where one is coming from
What does "where one is coming from" mean?
one's point of viewI don't understand where the man was coming from when he began to complain about the noise.

whet someone's appetite
What does "whet someone's appetite" mean?
interest someone in something and make them want to have or know more about itThe presentation by the mountain climber began to whet my appetite for more outdoors activities.

while away the time
What does "while away the time" mean?
spend or waste time pleasantlyWe spent the afternoon whiling away the time by the river.

whip up
What does "whip up" mean?
make active, stir to actionThe union leader whipped up the crowd with his speech.

whip up (something)
What does "whip up (something)" mean?
make or do something quickly or easilyIt was very late when we got home so we whipped up something to eat very quickly.

whistle a different tune
What does "whistle a different tune" mean?
change one`s attitude, contradict previous ideasHe is whistling a different tune now that he has been promoted and has more responsibility at his job.

whistle in the dark
What does "whistle in the dark" mean?
try to stay brave and forget one`s fearAlthough he felt very frightened he began to whistle in the dark which helped to calm him down.

white elephant
What does "white elephant" mean?
a useless possession that is a nuisance or expensive to keepThey are having a white elephant sale at the school next week.

white elephant
What does "white elephant" mean?
a waste of moneyThe new airport was a white elephant which nobody liked to use.

white lie
What does "white lie" mean?
a harmless lie often told to be politeI told the woman a white lie when I said that I would be too busy to meet her.

white sale
What does "white sale" mean?
selling towels, linens, etc. at reduced pricesWe went to the white sale at the department store last Saturday.

whole ball of wax/shooting match
What does "whole ball of wax/shooting match" mean?
the whole thing or matterI want to finish the redecorating project and be finished with the whole ball of wax.

whole new ball game
What does "whole new ball game" mean?
a new set of circumstancesThe situation became a whole new ball game when the owners decided to sell the team.

whole show
What does "whole show" mean?
everythingOur new boss always tries to run the whole show.

whoop it up
What does "whoop it up" mean?
enjoy oneself in a lively and noisy mannerThe fans were whooping it up after they won the basketball game.

wide of the mark
What does "wide of the mark" mean?
far from the target, incorrectHis ideas for the company are wide of the mark from what everybody expected.

wild about (someone or something)
What does "wild about (someone or something)" mean?
enthusiastic about someone or somethingThe boys were wild about the new movie.

wild goose chase
What does "wild goose chase" mean?
absurd or hopeless searchThe man led the police on a wild goose chase when he ran away from them downtown.

wildcat strike
What does "wildcat strike" mean?
a strike not ordered by a labor union but done without planning by a group of workersThere was a wildcat strike at the factory last night.

will not hear of (something)
What does "will not hear of (something)" mean?
will not allow or consider somethingMy aunt said that she will not hear of us staying at a hotel when we come to visit her.

will power
What does "will power" mean?
strength of mindHe has very strong will power and was able to quit smoking easily.

win by a nose
What does "win by a nose" mean?
win by a small amountThe candidate won by a nose so they had to count the votes again.

win out (over someone or something)
What does "win out (over someone or something)" mean?
be victorious or successful after hard work or difficultyWe finally won out over our boss and he agreed to listen to our complaints.

win (someone) over
What does "win (someone) over" mean?
gain the support and sympathy of someoneWe finally won the apartment manager over and she will let us have a pet in our apartment.

wind down
What does "wind down" mean?
decrease or diminishAt the end of the summer all of the shops at the beach resort began to wind down their business.

wind up
What does "wind up" mean?
end, finish, settleLet`s wind things up now and then we can all go home.

wind up
What does "wind up" mean?
tighten the spring of a machine to make it workEvery night before he goes to bed my grandfather winds up his alarm clock.

wind up
What does "wind up" mean?
make very excited, nervous or upsetI was really wound up yesterday after work and I couldn`t get to sleep easily.

wing it
What does "wing it" mean?
act without preparationHe wasn`t prepared for the examination so he had to wing it.

wink at (something)
What does "wink at (something)" mean?
allow and pretend not to know about something (a law or rule being broken)The school librarian sometimes winks at the rule about borrowing a maximum of three books.

winning streak
What does "winning streak" mean?
a series of several wins one after the otherOur baseball team has been on a winning streak for several weeks now.

wipe off
What does "wipe off" mean?
remove something by wiping or rubbingWe always wipe off the table before we have dinner.

wipe out
What does "wipe out" mean?
remove, kill or destroy completelyThe city spends a lot of money every year trying to wipe out the rats near the river.

wipe-out
What does "wipe-out" mean?
a disaster, a calamityMy exams were a total wipe-out. I think that I failed all of them.

wipe (someone's) slate clean
What does "wipe (someone's) slate clean" mean?
erase someone's (bad) recordThe man had a bad performance record at work but he was able to wipe his slate clean and start over.

wipe the floor with (someone)
What does "wipe the floor with (someone)" mean?
physically beat someoneThe ex-boxer wiped the floor with the man who insulted him.

wise guy
What does "wise guy" mean?
a person who acts as if he were smarter than other peopleHe always acts like a wise guy when he is in a big group.

wise up to
What does "wise up to" mean?
begin to understand the truth about someone or somethingHe finally wised up to the fact that he was never going to get a promotion in his company.

wisecrack
What does "wisecrack" mean?
sarcastic or witty remarkShe made a funny wisecrack during the speech which caused the audience to start laughing.

wishful thinking
What does "wishful thinking" mean?
believe that something is true because you wish it to be trueThe manager planned to evict the family with the young child and it was wishful thinking to think that he wouldn't.

wishy-washy
What does "wishy-washy" mean?
unable to decide, have no definite opinionHe is very wishy-washy and can never make up his mind about what he wants to do.

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