Idiom/Saying Explanation

A list as long as your arm.

For example:-

When I do a new vocabulary unit my list of things to do is as long as your arm.

A very long list.

A shot in the arm.

For example:-

His son's visits were a real shot in the arm for the old man.

Something which has a sudden and positive effect on something.

Give your right arm.

For example:-

When I'm in Germany I'd give my right arm for some decent bacon.

To want something very much.

The long arm of the law.

For example:-

I told him not to do it. You never escape the long arm of the law.

The police.

To chance your arm.

For example:-

He chanced his arm on the horses.

To take a chance in order to get something that you want.

To cost an arm and a leg.

For example:-

Running this web site costs me an arm and a leg.

Extremely expensive.


For example:-

The police used strong-arm tactics to break up the protest.

To use force and threats to make people do what you demand.

To twist someone's arm.

For example:-

She didn't want to study English, but the teacher twisted her arm.

To persuade someone to do something they do not want to do.

Back to back

For example:-

British cities are full of back to back housing.

To be close together and facing in opposite directions.

Back passage

For example:-

The doctor examined his back passage.

A polite phrase for rectum.

Behind someone's back.

For example:-

I bought the car behind his back and now he's really angry.

To do something without them knowing, in a way which is unfair.

The shirt off someone's back.

For example:-

He's so generous he'd give you the shirt off his back, if you asked him.

The last thing that someone has left.

To break your back.

For example:-

I don't know why English teachers break their backs for so little financial reward.

To work extremely hard.

To get off someone's back.

For example:-

If you got off her back about studying she might do better.

To tell someone to stop criticizing.

To get someone's back up.

For example:-

She does it deliberately, even though she knows I don't like it, just to get my back up.

To really annoy someone.

To put your back into something.

For example:-

Hermine really put her back into learning English.

To work very hard at something.

To scratch someone's back.

For example:-

If I give you the planning permission you have to vote for me on the council. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

To offer to help someone if they help you.

To stab someone in the back.

For example:-

He thought they were his friends until they stabbed him in the back.

To say nasty things about someone when they are not there.

To turn your back on something/someone.

For example:-

I had to turn my back on it before I became ill.

To stop being involved.

To have your back to the wall.

For example:-

The CEO had his back to the wall, so he resigned.

To be in a difficult or desperate situation.

Water off a duck's back.

For example:-

The crowd was booing but he carried on anyway, it was water off a duck's back to him.

Criticisms of or warnings to a particular person that have no effect on that person.

To show a bit of backbone.

For example:-

In the end she showed some backbone and she refused to pay for the course.

To show fortitude and determination.

To go belly up.

For example:-

The company went belly up soon after.

To be ruined or defeated, especially financially.

Thanks to Sally Hiller

To have a beer belly.

For example:-

Most women find a beer belly very unattractive.

A beer belly (or pot belly) is , is the accumulation of visceral fat resulting in an increase in waist size. Aka: abdominal obesity, clinically known as central obesity.

Body politic

For example:

Judge Sydney Harris ordered the crown to return to the Body Politic all material seized during the raid.

A politically organized group of people under a single government.

Over my dead body.

For example:

When she asked me if she could go to the pop festival, I told her she could go over my dead body. She's only 15!

To be unwilling to allow something to happen.

A bone of contention.

For example:-

The rise in student fees is becoming a real bone of contention for the coalition.

Something that people argue about over a long period of time.

As smooth as a baby's bottom,

For example:-

Feel this cloth, it's as smooth as a baby's bottom."

Very smooth.

Bottom out.

For example:-

The economy has bottomed out and must start to get better this year.

To reach the lowest point in a continuously changing situation and to be about to improve.

Brain drain.

For example:-

The country's brain drain began to reverse as professors returned from abroad.

The movement of people with education and skills from their own country to another country where they are paid more for their work.

To brain someone.

For example:-

During the robbery the security guard was brained.

To hit someone on the head.

To be all brawn and no brain.

For example:-

The trouble with many footballers is that they're all brawn and no brains.

To be physically strong but not very intelligent.

To beat your brains out.

For example:-

I've been beating my brains out trying to remember more brain idioms.

To spend a lot of time worrying about a problem and thinking about how to deal with it.

To pick someone's brain.

For example:-

People often pick my brain on the forum.

To ask for information or advice from someone who knows more about a subject than you do.

Scatterbrain / Scatterbrained

For example:-

She had to go home to get her handbag. She's such a scatterbrain!

A flighty and disorganized person.


For example:-

He always gets good marks, he's so brainy.


To have a bun in the oven.

For example:-

I didn't know whether she had a bun in the oven, or she'd just put on weight.

To be pregnant.

Calf length.

For example:-

She wore a calf length dress to the party.

Clothing or boots that end at the middle point between the foot and the knee.

Tongue in cheek.

For example:-

They said that he was America's greatest President, although I suspect it was tongue in cheek.

When you say something as a joke, although you might appear to be serious.

Cheek by jowl.

For example:-

There were over twenty people living in the house. They were living cheek by jowl.

If things or people are cheek by jowl, they are very close together.

To beat your breast/chest.

For example:-

There's no point in beating your breast/chest about it - she won't come back.

To show grief or guilt in an obvious or public way.

To get sth off your chest.

For example:-

When I told him I was leaving I was glad to get it off my chest.

To tell someone about something that has been worrying you or making you feel guilty for a long time.

To put hairs on your chest.

For example:-

Get that down you, it'll put hairs on your chest.

To drink something that is alcoholic or eat something nice.

Chin up.

For example:-

A. I've got my exams tomorrow.
B. Chin up, it will all be over soon.

Something you say to someone to tell them to have confidence.

Keep your chin up.

For example:-

I told her to keep her chin up and everything would be ok in the end.

Something that you say to someone in a difficult situation in order to encourage them to be brave and to try not to be sad.

Take it on the chin.

For example:-

In spite of the setbacks he took it all on the chin and set up the business anyway.

To be brave and not complain when bad things happen to you or people criticise you.

To be all ears.

For example:-

When she heard their was an important message for her, Spitz was all ears.

Thanks to Spitzgogo for a timely reminder.

To be waiting eagerly to hear about something.

To box someone's ears.

For example:-

The teacher threatened to box his ears if he didn't stop being cheeky.

To hit someone on the ear, usually as a punishment.

To not believe your ears.

For example:-

When he told me he had won the lottery, I couldn't believe my ears!

To be unable to believe something you hear.

To be out on your ear.

For example:-

One day, he was the CEO of a major company. The next, he was out on his ear.

To be forced to leave somewhere because you have done something wrong, or because your work is not good enough.

To go in one ear and out the other.

For example:-

I could tell he wasn't really listening to my advice. It was going in one ear and out the other.

Used when someone isn't paying attention to what is being said, or obviously has no intention of acting upon it.

Elbow grease.

For example:-

If you use some elbow grease on your furniture it will make the wood look lovely.

To do some hard work, especially when you are cleaning something.

Elbow room.

For example:-

I daren't invite friends to stay because there's no elbow room in my flat, it's so small.

Enough space to move around in.
The freedom to do what you want to do.

To give someone the elbow.

For example:-

He's very depressed, his girlfriend gave him the elbow last week.

To end a romantic relationship with someone.

The naked eye

For example:-

Amoebas are too small to be seen with the naked eye.

If something can be seen with the naked eye, it can be seen without the help of a microscope.


For example:-

She wore an eye-catching blouse.

When someone or something is particularly attractive or noticeable.

In the blink of an eye.

For example:-

In the blink of an eye, she was gone.

Extremely quickly.

Keep an eye on something / someone.

For example:-

He kept an eye on the dogs whilst I went to the gym.

To watch or look after something or someone.

Keep an eye out for something / someone.

For example:-

Whilst his partner robbed the bank, he kept an eye out for the police.

To watch carefully for someone or something to appear.

Run your eye over.

For example:-

You should run your eye over that message before you send it.

To look quickly at the whole of something.

See eye to eye.

For example:-

My husband and I agree on most things, we usually see eye to eye.

To share the same opinion.

Turn a blind eye.

For example:-

Governments often turn a blind eye to corruption.

To ignore something that you know is wrong.

To have eyes in the back of your head.

For example:-

My mother always knew when I had been naughty. She had eyes in the back of her head.

Used to describe people who always seem to know what you are doing (usually mothers or teachers).

Keep your eyes peeled.

For example:-

There have been several burglaries in the area, so keep your eyes peeled for anything suspicious. .

To watch very carefully.

To raise eyebrows.

For example:-

Her decision to appear in Playboy raised a few eyebrows.

To shock people.

Keep your feet on the ground.

For example:-

It is hard to keep your feet on the ground when you suddenly become famous.

To have a realistic understanding of your own ideas, actions, and decisions.

To stuff your face.

For example:

"He's always stuffing his face. No wonder he's so fat."

To eat a lot, very quickly and greedily. (negative)

To face up to something.

For example:

"We have to face up to the fact that we are losing money hand over fist."

To accept a usually unpleasant fact.

Itchy feet.

For example:-

I've been living in Germany for over 12 years, but now I'm getting itchy feet.

To be restless and have a strong desire to travel.

To drag your feet.

For example:-

I suspect the government is dragging its feet over lowering taxes.

To be deliberately slow (usually because you don't want to do something).

To get cold feet.

For example:-

They're getting married next week - that's if he doesn't get cold feet!

To suddenly become too frightened to do something you had planned to do.

To put your feet up.

For example:-

After a long day shopping she looked forward to putting her feet up with a nice cup of tea.

To relax.

To be a butterfingers.

For example:-

He had the ball, but he dropped it! What a butterfingers!

Somebody who often drops things

Cross fingers.

For example:-

It's no good crossing your fingers, I want to know the truth!

People, usually children, sometimes cross their fingers behind their back when they're telling a lie thinking it gives them immunity. (Not to be confused with keeping your fingers crossed for luck.)

"Have a finger in every pie."

For example:

He was a very influential man, he seemed to have a finger in every pie.

To be involved in lots of different things.

Keep your fingers crossed.

For example:-

I've got an exam tomorrow at 9am, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

To literally cross your middle finger over your first finger to try and hope for a bit of luck, or a positive outcome.

"To not lift a finger."

For example:

When I fell over no one lifted a finger to help me

To be unwilling to help.

To point the finger.

For example:-

He knew that his next door neighbour had pointed the finger at him.

To accuse someone of being responsible for something bad that has happened.

Pull your finger out.

For example:-

To pass her exams she had to pull her finger out.

To start working harder.

To put your finger on something.

For example:-

She was worried about the project, but couldn't put her finger on what was wrong.

To discover the exact reason why a situation is the way it is, especially when something is wrong.

To be all fingers and thumbs.

For example:-

While I was baking the cake I dropped two eggs. I'm all fingers and thumbs today.

To be clumsy and unable to hold things steadily without fear of dropping or damaging them.

Best foot forward .

For example:-

If you put your best foot forward you'll be sure to pass the exam.

To do your very best.

To put your foot in it.

For example:-

I really put my foot in it with Alison. I had no idea she was married.

To say something by accident which embarrasses or upsets someone.

To get in somone's hair.

For example:-

She texts me every other minute. She really gets in my hair.

To annoy someone.

The hair of the dog.

For example:-

I felt better after having a hair of the dog. One whisky and the hangover was gone.

An alcoholic drink taken when one has a hangover.

To pull your hair out.

For example:-

She's got a test tomorrow and she's pulling her hair out.

To be very worried about something.

At first-hand.

For example:-

The applicant should have first-hand knowledge of accounting procedures.

If you experience something first-hand, you experience it yourself.

Hand over fist.

For example:-

They were making money hand over fist.

To do something at a very fast rate.

To be a dab hand.

For example:-

She was a dab hand at drawing.

To be very good at something.

To be an old hand.

For example:-

He's an old hand at difficult negotiations.

To have a lot of experience in something.

To have a free hand.

For example:-

When it comes to what appears on this web site, I have a free hand.

To have the power to do what you want.

To have a hand in something.

For example:-

Hubby has a hand in running the technical side of the Network.

To be involved in something.

To have the upper hand.

For example:-

In the UK the upper classes still have the upper hand.

To have power and control over someone or a situation.

To be caught red handed.

For example:

They caught him red-handed as he tried to rob the bank .

To be discovered doing something illegal or wrong.

To be hand in glove.

For example:

They make a great team. They work hand in glove.

To have an extremely close relationship, especially at work.

Many hands make light work.

For example:

We finished in no time at all with everyone's help. Many hands make light work.

When everyone helps to do something, it gets done quickly.

On your own head be it.

For example:-

Well if you want to go out clubbing the night before your final exams, on your own head be it.

Something we say when someone decides to ignore advice and do something we dissaprove of..

To have a head for heights.

For example:-

To clean the windows in Dubai, you have to have a good head for heights.

Used to describe someone who isn't worried about being high up.

To have your head in the clouds.

For example:-

Lynne needs to concentrate harder, her head is always in the clouds. (From an old school report of mine.)

To be living in a fantasy, often used to describe people who are absentminded or impractical.

Thanks to Martina

To have eyes in the back of your head.

For example:-

My mother always knew when I had been naughty. She had eyes in the back of her head.

Used to describe people who always seem to know what you are doing (usually mothers or teachers).

To be a bighead

For example:-

Ever since he came top of the class, he's been a real bighead.

We call someone a bighead if they're acting in a conceited way.

Eat your heart out.

For example:-

I'm going to pickle a gummy bear in a jar of formaldehyde. Eat your heart out Damien Hirst!

If someone says eat your heart out followed by the name of a famous person, they are joking that they are even better than that person.

Have a heart.

For example:-

Student: Have you marked my homework yet?
Teacher: Have a heart! You only handed it in yesterday!

Ask someone to be kinder to you.


For example:-

She was heartbroken when she found out she hadn't got the job.

Suffering from or exhibiting overwhelming sorrow, grief, or disappointment.


For example:-

The story of the dog who saved the life of its owner was such a heartwarming story.

Something that causes a feeling gladness and pleasure.


For example:-

She'll help anyone who needs it, she's such a warmhearted person.

Someone who is very kind and generous.

To warm the cockles of your heart

For example:-

A baby's smile will warm the cockles of even the meanest person's heart.

Something you see or hear that makes you feel happy because it shows that people can be kind and good.

A heel.

For example:-

He took all her money, and then left her. What a heel!

A person who treats other people badly and unfairly.

Achilles heel.

For example:-

Alcohol was always his Achilles heel.

A small fault or weakness in a person or system that can result in its failure.

Down at heel.

For example:-

The restaurant looked very down at heel.

To look shabby due to a lack of money

To be under the heel.

For example:-

The people rose up as one to get out from under the heel of oppression.

To be completely controlled by something or someone.

Cheek by jowl.

For example:-

There were over twenty people living in the house. They were living cheek by jowl.

If things or people are cheek by jowl, they are very close together.

To have a knees up.

For example:-

We had a good old knees up at the pub.

To have a party.

To be near the knuckle.

For example:-

He's just not very funny, all his jokes are too near the knuckle for my liking.

If something (usually a joke or a remark) is near the knuckle, it is about sex in a way that some people find offensive.

To rap someone's knuckles.

For example:-

He's just been to the boss to get his knuckles rapped.

A light punishment which warns you not to behave in a particular way again.

A knuckle sandwich.

For example:-

If he keeps on annoying those men, he'll end up with a knuckle sandwich.

A punch.

A white knuckle ride.

For example:-

Have you been on the Oblivion at Alton Towers? It's a real white knuckle ride.

A scary ride.

Break a leg.

For example:-

It's your debut tonight, isn't it? Well break a leg.

Used to wish someone good luck, especially used in the theatre.

To cost an arm and a leg.

For example:-

Running this web site costs me an arm and a leg.

Extremely expensive.

To give someone a leg up.

For example:-

She needed a leg up to get on the horse.

To help someone onto or over something or to help them improve their situation, especially at work.

To pull someone's leg.

For example:-

She was very shocked until she realised he was only pulling her leg.

To try to persuade someone to believe something which is not true as a joke.

To stretch your legs.

For example:-

If I have been sitting at the computer for too long, I need to get up and stretch my legs.

To  move around after having been in one place or position for a long time.

To talk the hind leg(s) off a donkey.

For example:-

He is so boring. He could talk the hind legs of a donkey.

To talk for a long time without stopping.

Many a slip twixt cup and lip

For example:

"They thought they had the contract all sewn up, but the client didn't sign in the end. There's many a slip twixt cup and lip."

Used to imply that even when the outcome of an event seems certain, things can still go wrong.

To cross someone's mind.

For example:-

Do I ever cross your mind?

To think about something or someone.

To have a big mouth.

For example:-

When I told them he had a girlfriend they looked surprised. Me and my big mouth!

If someone says you have a big mouth, they think you talk too much, especially about things that should be secret 

To be down in the mouth.

For example:-

Governments often turn a blind eye to corruption.

To feel sad or depressed.

Word of mouth

For example:-

She was looking really down in the mouth, so I asked her what the matter was.

In speech but not in writing.

A muffintop

For example:-

The paparazzi like nothing better than to photograph a famous actress sporting a muffintop.

The roll of flesh that is visible above a waistband.

To have a brass neck.

For example:-

He's got a brass neck to take time off when we're so busy.

Someone who is extremely confident about themselves and are unable to understand that their behaviour is unacceptable to others.

To breathe down sb's neck.

For example:-

It's awful having a boss who breathes down your neck all the time.

To stay so close to someone, watching everything that they do, that it's annoying.

To get it in the neck.

For example:-

She'll get it in the neck for not doing her homework.

To be punished or severely criticized for something that you have.

To stick your neck out.

For example:-

She really stuck her neck out expanding the business during a recession.

To take a risk.

To be up to your neck in sth,

For example:-

She's up to her neck in work.

To be very involved in a situation, or to have too much of the thing stated.

A bag (bundle) of nerves.

For example:-

Before the exam I was a bag of nerves.

To be very nervous.

A lot of nerve.

For example:-

He asked me to do his homework for him. What a lot of nerve!

To be brash, rude or arrogent.

To get on someone's nerves.

For example:-

The teacher really gets on my nerves when she goes on about correct spelling and grammar.

To annoy someone.

To win by a nose.

For example:-

She won by a nose. It was a very close race.

To win by a very small margin.

Cut off your nose to spite your face.

For example:-

She should have gone with them, she would have enjoyed it. She's just cutting off her nose to spite her face.

To do something because you are angry, even if it is not in your best interest.

Keep your nose to the grindstone.

For example:-

If you want to pass your exams you'll have to keep your nose to the grindstone.

To work hard.

It's no skin off my nose

For example:-

It's no skin off my nose if I win or lose.

You can use this expression to show that you don't care if something happens or not.

To powder your nose.

For example:-

Excuse me a moment, I'm just going to powder my nose.

When a woman says she is going to "powder her nose", she means she is going to the toilet.

To get up sb's nose.

For example:-

People who don't clean up after their dogs really get up my nose.

To annoy someone.

Turn your nose up at something.

For example:-

She turned her nose up at my homemade cakes, she only likes shop bought ones.

To not like something because you think it is not good enough for you.

To be head and shoulders above

For example:-

Joe Kinnear claims he is "head and shoulders" above all the other directors of football in the Premier League having been a manager in the past. Mirror 2013 2nd Jul 2013

Used to describe someone who is superior.

A shoulder to cry on

For example:-

When my mother died, I really needed a shoulder to cry on.

Used to describe someone who gives you sympathy when you are upset.

Skeleton in the closet / cupboard.

For example:-

Nearly every family has a skeleton in the cupboard.

If you have a skeleton in the cupboard it means you have are hiding a shocking secret about yourself.

To have a thick skin. / To be thick skinned.

For example:-

If you work as a salesperson, you soon develop a thick skin.

If you are thick-skinned, you do not notice or get upset when people criticize you.

To have a thin skin. / To be thin skinned.

For example:-

Think skinned people shouldn't go into politics.

If you are thin-skinned, you get upset when people criticize you, or think people are critisizing you when they aren't.

By the skin of your teeth.

For example:-

He escaped by the skin of his teeth.

To only just manage to do something.

To get your teeth into something.

For example:-

He did really well in his exams after he got his teeth into learning English.

To get completely involved in something.

A kick in the teeth.

For example:-

Finding our content on other web pages is a real kick in the teeth for us.

To feel very disappointed when someone lets you down, or life treats you unfairly. (Unless it's a real kick in the teeth during a fight.)

To jump down someone's throat.

For example:-

I know I annoyed her, but she didn't have to jump down my throat.

To react angrily to something that someone says or does.

To ram something down someone's throat.

For example:-

She's a vegetarian, but she doesn't ram her views down your throat.

To try and force someone  to accept something against their will.

To have a frog in your throat.

For example:-

Excuse me (cough cough), I've got a bit of a frog in my throat.

To have a tight feeling in your throat and be unable to speak clearly until you give a slight cough.

To have a green thumb.

For example:-

Her garden won many prizes. People said she had green thumbs.

If you have a green thumb or even green thumbs it means you are good at gardening, or growing plants.

For Competent

To twiddle your thumbs.

For example:-

They kept me waiting for two hours with nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs.

To do nothing or to have nothing useful to do while you are waiting for something to happen.

Toe the line.

For example:

He'll have to learn to toe the line, if he wants to get on in this organisation.

To conform to certain rules or standards.

To keep on your toes.

For example:

Aladdin and Leo will have to keep on their toes to find the Live Chat session.

To keep on your toes, or to keep someone else on their toes, makes them stay alert and conscious of everything going on.

To bite your tongue.

For example:-

Barack Obama said he bit his tongue many times during his primary fight against Hillary Clinton.

When you stop yourself from saying something because you realise it might cause offense or be hurtful.

Has the cat got your tongue?

For example:-

I know that you know the answer to this question. What's the matter, has the cat got your tongue?

Something someone else might say to you if you don't say anything to them.

The tip of your tongue.

For example:-

His name is on the tip of my tongue.

The feeling you get when you know something, but you just can't actually remember it.

A slip of the tongue.

For example:-

Be careful what you say, one slip of the tongue and we're all in trouble.

When you say something that you did not mean to say.

Tongue in cheek.

For example:-

They said that he was America's greatest President, although I suspect it was tongue in cheek.

When you say something as a joke, although you might appear to be serious.

To be tongue tied.

For example:-

I knew I should have said something to make her feel better, but I was completely tongue tied.

Describes the feeling (familiar to many language learners) that you get when you can't seem to find the right words to say, and so you are unable to speak. As if your tongue were tied in knots.

To be long in the tooth.

For example:-

He's a bit long in the tooth for her.

To be too old for something.