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95 . ., , 1971.

128 . (- . ) . . . . .

60 1970 5

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The aim of this book is to supply a number of colloquial English idioms classified, explained and illustrated by examples drawn mainly from modern English and American authors. It will be noticed that the term "idiom" is used here in its broader sense, embracing both idioms proper and so-called "non-idiomatic" word groups. Only colloquial phrases are included in the book; a few idioms marked "slangy" are more for recognition than actual use. W. Ball's classification of colloquial idioms (see below), though greatly changed, is partially used in this book.

The definitions and explanations are taken mainly from the following sources:

1. The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current
English, by A. S. Hornby, E. V. Gatenby, H. Wakefield,

2. A Concise Dictionary of English Slang, by W. Freeman.
3 A Practical Guide to Colloquial Idiom, by W. J.


4. English Idioms and How to Use Them, by
W McMordie

5. English Idioms for Foreign Students, by A. J.Worrall.


A general phrase for "(to be) in difficulties or trouble" is: (to be) up against it (to be) confronted by formidable difficulties or trouble

"Well, old girl, "she murmured, "you're up against

it this time, and no mistake." (K. M.)

You were a brick to me when I was up against

it. (J. G.)

We are properly up against it here, Chris. We've paid out every stiver we've got. (A. C.)

(To be) in for it (trouble)is similarly used, meaning (to be) involved in trouble.

He grabbed the knob and pulled vigorously. It had closed. Heavens! He was in for it now, sure enough. (Th. D.)

Quickly I got in before Brown and said they might be in for another kind of trouble. (C. S.) If you break the school windows, you'll be in for trouble. (A. H.)

Having (getting into) trouble (difficulties)is colloquially

expressed by these phrases:

(to be)in a jam (to be) in a difficulty or in an awkward


Well, Dad, I'm in a bit of a jam again. (J. M.) Connie was all right. She'd been in plenty of jams herself. She wouldn't turn up her nose. (N. C.) He was in a bit of a jam, that was all. (N. C.)

(to be)in a fix in a difficulty (or dilemma)

Then she'ld be in just the same old fix, only worse. (H. W.)

His cart has stuck in the river, so that he is in a bad fix. (W. M.)

I should like to see the fix I'd be in in this house if I started laying down that law. (L. A.)

to be in (get into) a scrape to be in (get into) trouble


She perceived she was in a scrape, and tried in vain to think of a way of escape. (H. W.) If he'd get into a scrape, or break his leg. (J. G.) I'll do anything you like to help you out of the scrape if you're in one. (H. W.)

(to be) in a hole (to be) faced with what appears to be a disastrous difficulty, an insurmountable trouble

You'd think to judge from the speeches of the "leaders", that the world had never been in a hole before. The world's always in a hole, only in the old days people didn't make a song about it. (J. G.)

(to be) in the soup (cart) (to be) in disastrously serious trouble

What if she declared her real faith in Court,

and left them all in the soup! (J. G.)

"He's got himself properly in the soup, he has, "

he said thickly. (N. C.)

"No good crying before we're hurt, " he said,

"the pound's still high. We're good stayers."

"In the soup, I'm afraid." (J. G.)

"Now we're really in the cart, " she said. (A. Chr.)

(to be) in hot water or to get into hot water to have (get into) trouble, especially as the result of foolish behaviour

You'll get into hot water if you type the wrong addresses on the envelopes again. (W. B.) It often happens that a young wife is in hot water as long as her mother-in-law lives in the same house. (W. M.)

The schoolmaster got into hot water with the Inspector for taking part in political meetings. (W. M.)

(to be, get into) in deep water undergoing difficulty or misfortune

He looked and looked, and the longer the situation lasted the more difficult it became. The little shop-girl was getting into deep water. (Th. D.)

(to be) in a mess (to be) in trouble

Uncle, you're so renowned for dropping your best pals when they're in a mess. (J. G.) ... if ever the story breaks you're in a worse mess than ever, aren't you? (C. S.)

to catch it to get into trouble; to receive censure or blame

The new boss is a terror. You'd better watch your step or you'll catch it. (W. B.)

The sharing of difficult or adverse circumstances is commented upon by the following phrase:

to be (all) in the same boat to have the same dangers (difficulties) to face

The trouble is how to get on without reducing staff. Everyone is in the same boat. (J. G.) You're in the same boat. Don't you see this war is being lost? (S. H.)

Lewisham looked at mother for a moment. Then he glanced at Ethel. "We're all in the same boat, " said Lewisham. (H. W.)

To leave a person in difficulties or trouble is to leave him (her) in the lurch.

One thing we have to thank Foch for, he never left us in the lurch. (J. G.)

Inviting trouble, that is acting or behaving in such a way

as to bring trouble upon oneself may be colloquially put


To look (ask) for trouble

Something in your eye says you're looking for trouble. That's the only kind of search that is bound to be a success you know. (M. W.) "Guess he is out looking for trouble, " Roy said. "He may be looking for it right here, " Jack said. (J. Ald.)

Well, to hell with it, he thought angrily, his life too complicated without looking for that kind of trouble all over again. (M. W.) "If you want to go out, I can't stop you, " she said. "But it'll probably be your last. You and your chest on a day like this ..." ..."You and your chest, " she said again. "It's just asking for trouble." (N. C.)

... I must say that you are asking for trouble ... (J. Ald.)

to ask for (it) to take an action leading almost inevitably to an undesired result or trouble

You've been dismissed but you did ask for it! CD. E. S.)

It's asking for it to put a wholly unexperienced player in the team. (W. B.)

to stick one's neck out to adopt an attitude that invites trouble or unfavourable comment; to invite trouble unnecessarily

You won't stick your neck out if you don't

need to? That's all I'm asking you, will you?

(C. S.)

However, if Willoughby wanted to stick his neck

out it was his neck. (S. H.)

And I'd like to be sure that I'm not the only

one to stick out his neck. (S. H.)

Don't stick your neck out too far... (D. A. S.)

Seine colloquial phrases for trouble making are:

to stir up a hornets' nest (the nest of hornets) to stir

up host of enemies; cause a great outburst of angry feeling

To bring a hornets' nest about one's earsmeans the same


... You don't seem to realize, Senator, that this has stirred up a hornets' nest. (D. R.) That suggestion of mine, it has indeed stirred up the nest of hornets. (A. Chr.)

to stir up trouble to make trouble

Sounds innocent enough; but I can see through you. Get hold of the coloured folk round here and make them dissatisfied put ideas in their heads stir up trouble! (D. R.)

to raise (make, kick up) a dust (shindy) to make a disturbance

You'd obviously got to raise the dust about

Nightingale and give them an escape-route at

one and the same damned time. (C. S.)

I don't want his lawyer to kick up a shindy

about this. (A. Chr.)

They'll make a regular dust if they learn about

it. (C. D.)

Warning of trouble to come may be expressed by these phrases in common use:

the fat is in the fire what has been done will cause great trouble, excitement, anger, etc.

Well, the fat's in the fire. If you persist in your wilfulness, you'll have yourself to blame. (J. G.) "Yes, " murmured Sir Lawrence watching her, "the fat is in the fire, as old Forsyte would have said." (J. G.)

trouble is brewing trouble is about to come

Martin knew immediately the meaning of it. Trouble was brewing. The gang was his bodyguard. (J. L.)

you're for it due for, or about to receive, punishment, etc.

Jones is late again, and this time he's for it. (D. E. S.)

A voice came right into the tower with us, it seemed to speak from the shadows by the trap a hollow megaphone voice saying something in Vietnamese. 'We're for it, " I said. (Gr. Gr.)

A difficult task is colloquially speaking:

a large (tall) order a task almost impossible to perform;

a big thing to be asked to perform

"What you and I are going, " he said expansively, "is to revolutionize this whole damn industry. That's a large order, and it may take us a long time but we'll pull it off." (M. W.) He says: "Well, Mr. Cauton, it looks a pretty tall order to me." (P. Ch.)

a hard nut to crack a very difficult problem

The police cannot find any traces; the burglars have indeed given them a hard nut to crack. (K. H.)

A difficult or critical situation is also colloquially described by the adjectives trickyand sticky.

"Never mind, " he consoled himself. "Nothing's so tricky when you've done it once." (N. C.) It was a tricky job, but Minerva pulled it off. (L. A.)

"It gets tricky here, " Moose said as they entered the woods. (J. Ald.) I expect it'll be rather a sticky do. (R. A.)

A troublesome difficulty may be aptly expressed by a phrase from Hamlet: Aye, there's the rub.

But dreams! Ay, there was the rub. (E. L.) Lammlein! Lammlein was involved, too. Here was the real rub. (S. H.)

An unexpected difficulty (hindrance) is colloquially speaking a snag or a hitch.

"If there's any snag, " said George, "I should expect you to look on me as your banker." (C. S.) I take it there won't be any hitch about that, Brown? (C. S.)

Some colloquial phrases to describe financial difficulties


to be hard up to be short of money

"She always talks about being hard up, " said Mrs. Allerton with a tinge of spite. (A. Chr.) Oh, but we may go to the theatre, you see, Mother, and I think I ought to stand the tickets; he's always hard up, you know. (J. G.)

(to be) in Queer street (to be) extremely short of money; in trouble; in debt

But if you ask me the firm's not far off Queer street. (A. Chr.)

A man must be in Queer street indeed to take a risk like that. (J. G.)

(to be) on one's beam ends to be without money, helpless or in danger

"What has he to say for himself?"

"Nothing. One of his boots is split across the

toe." Soames stared at her.

"Ah!" he said, "of course! On his beam ends."

(J. G.)

to be (stony) broke to be penniless

But we're less broke than we were. I could borrow a dress from May Turner. (M. W.) He sobered up. "Stony broke, " he said. (G.)

They can hardly (can't) make both ends meetalso expresses an acute financial embarrassment.

With the high rent for their flat they can hardly make both ends meet on his small salary. (K. H.)

An end to troubles and difficulties may be put in this


it's all plain sailing now(difficulties are overcome)

plain sailing freedom from difficulties, obstacles

The case was comparatively plain sailing. (S. M.) After we engaged a guide everything was plain sailing. (A. H.)

If your wife had only shot Hammond once, the whole thing would be absolutely plain sailing. (S. M.)

He added in a tone unusually simple and direct: "This isn't altogether plain sailing, you know." (C. S.)

to blow over to pass by; to be forgotten

"Don't worry, " said my mother, her face lined with care, defiant, protective, and loving. "Perhaps it will blow over." (C. S.)

To avoid trouble is to keep out of it or steer clear of it.

Keep out of mischief! (i. e. Don't get into mischief!) (A. H.)

Up till then he had always managed to steer clear of trouble. (A. Chr.)

Some proverbs dealing with trouble: It never rains but it pours.

Misfortunes (troubles) never come singly.They mean: misfortunes do not come one by one but many come together.

One more proverbial expression on trouble is: Pandora's box (of trouble) a source of troubles.

How do we know that we aren't opening a Pandora's box of trouble? (A. Der.) Well, let's not lift the lid of Pandora's box before we have to. (D. R.)


Colloquial phrases connected with the idea of fear include

the following:

to get the wind up to be frightened

Oh, the reason is clear. He lost his nerve. Got the wind up suddenly. (A. Chr.) Race suggested: "She may have recognized the stole as hers, got the wind up, and thrown the whole bag of tricks over on that account." (A. Chr.) "Shut up, Larkin, and don't get the wind up." (R. A.)

to put the wind up a person to frighten him; to make him scared

I could put the wind up him by talking of that paper he had the copy wrapped in. (V. L.) That horror film is enough to put the wind up even the bravest man. (W. B.)

to have one's heart in one's mouth to be in a state of tension or fear

Mary had her heart in her mouth when she heard the explosion in the workshop. (K. H.) My heart was in my mouth when I approached him. (A. Chr.)

to have one's heart in the boots to be in a state of extreme depression and fear

Utter dejection or dismay may be also described thus: his heart sank (sank into his boots).

The driver had his heart in his boots when we lost our way in the desert and ran short of petrol. (K. H.)

His heart sank. He felt like turning away, a

beaten dog. (A. C.)

Mr. Squales' heart sank as he realized what it

was that he had done. (N. C.)

... when I returned home from dining at the

Inn; my heart sank. (C. S.)

A turn is colloquial for a nervous shock, hence:

to give a person a nasty (bad) turn to shock or frighten


It gave him a nasty turn, but he put on a bold

front. (S. M.)

You gave us a bad turn, old thing. (J. G.)

to be scared stiff to be terrified

to scare someone stiff to terrify him

To be scared out of one's wits (senses) and to scare someone

out of one's wits (senses) are similarly used.

Organisation. Clever, such organisation. In a

group, you don't dare to admit that you're scared

stiff and that you want to go home. (S. H.)

"You don't seem worried, " Pyle said.

"I'm scared stiff but things are better than

they might be." (Gr. Gr.)

When the blow fell it is not strange that she was

scared out of her wits. (S. M.)

A person in a state of extreme fear is colloquially said to be in a funk (blue funk); to funk (+ gerund) is to refuse to act through cowardice; to fail to do something through fear; to fear, to be afraid.

Each morning he climbed the stairs to the office in a state of blue funk and all day he was like a cat on hot bricks. (M. E. M.) You're in a funk. Pull yourself together. It's all right I tell you. (A. Chr.) Before I went to bed I found I was funking opening the front door to look out. (H. W.) "Let's walk as far as the park. I wanted to ask you about Jack Muskham." "I funk telling him." (J. G.)

The coward is said to have no guts (to do something); to have gutsis to possess courage.

It's all you can expect of a chap like that. He's got no guts. (C. S.)

Go on and do it, you lady's man. Show you've got guts. (N. C.)

to show the white feather to exhibit cowardice

The young recruit had boasted of his bravery; but when the first bullets whizzed past his ears, he showed the white feather. (K. H.) It was reported ... he ... had certainly shown the white feather in his regiment. (W. Th.)

Other phrases in common use are:

to give one the creeps to cause one to have sensation

of fear and horror (or strong dislike)

The Square was too big for one woman to have all to herself. It was like taking a midnight walk on the moon. It gave Connie the creeps. (N. C.)

Let's get out of here. This place gives me the creeps. (P. Ch.)

The jittersis colloquial for a state of fear, excitement or other mental tension. Hence to have (get) the jitters to be in (get into) a panic, frightened or nervous. Also: to get (be) jittery (jumpy).

She laughed with a sort of shamed apology. "All right, darling. If you really have the jitters, we'll go to a movie." (M. W.) Many people get the jitters at examination time. (W. B.)

He'd got the jitters and didn't mind who knew it. (N. C.)

He was worried, wasn't he? Not that worried described it. He was excited. And jittery. (N. C.) "Why, you're all of a tremble, Mr. Brown!" said Miss Spinks sympathetically. "What's getting you down? You're not usually jumpy like this." (M. E. M.) George was very jittery all last week. (M, E. M.)

to give somebody the shivers to cause a sensation of fear in him, to frighten him

You know, you think "my turn next" and it gives you the shivers. (A. Chr.) "You appeared so suddenly that it gave me the shivers, " she said. (A. Chr.)

to get (have) cold feet to be afraid, to lose courage

He ... urged me to go ahead not to faint or get cold feet. (Th. D.)

When one of the mountaineers saw the steep rock, he had cold feet, and went back to the refuge. (K. H.)

Some proverbs dealing with cowardice and fear: Cowards die many times before their deaths.(Cowards experience many times the fear of dying.) He daren't say "Boo" to a goose.(He is so timid and cowardly that he dare not frighten away a goose if it threatens him. The proverb is quoted to describe any very timid person.) Faint heart never won a fair lady.(A fair lady cannot be won in marriage unless the man shows courage.) The proverb comes out in favour of boldness in the pursuit of romance.


The exercise of firmness and discipline is colloquially expressed by these phrases:

to put one's foot down to be firm; to insist; firmly and without qualifications

This is one time I'm putting my foot down because it's more than your career it's what we've got together. (M. W.)

"That's where I do put my foot down, " she said. "We may have to live at the cottage ourselves without Doris, because we've bought it. But I'm not going to have Cynthia with us." (N. C.) When the boy wanted to discontinue his studies to get married, his father put his foot down. (K. H.)

Mildred said: "He's a most unbalanced young man and absolutely ungrateful for everything that's been done for him you ought to put your foot down, Mother." (A. Chr.)

to pin a person down to ...(a promise, arrangement, date, etc.) to make him keep it; to refuse to let him take a different course

I hope to pin her down to a definite undertaking

to sing at our charity concert. (W. B.)

"All I want to know is whether you'll go riding

with me again next Sunday?"

"I refuse to be pinned down like that. Really,

Derrick, you're the limit." (L. A.)

to lay down the law to speak as one having authority and knowledge, though not necessarily possessing either; to talk authoritatively as if one were quite sure of being right

He could not bear ... hard-mouthed women who laid down the law and knew more than you did. (J. G.)

Don't lay down the law to me! I shall say what I think and nobody's going to stop me. (W. B.)

to keep a tight rein on to be firm with; to allow little freedom to; to control very carefully

He has to keep a tight rein on his passion for collecting jade. (W. B.)

to make no bones about something to act firmly without hesitation

I tell you frankly I shall make no bones about doing what I think is best. (A. W.) The squire made no bones about the matter; he despised the captain. (R. S.)

The workers made no bones about telling the employers that they would go on strike unless their wages were raised. (K. H.)

Phrases connected with the idea of control include the


inhand under control

totake (have, keep) oneself in hand to get control

of oneself

She had her car well in hand when I saw her last. (A. W.)

These unruly children need to be taken in hand. (A. H.)

If he will take himself in hand, he ought to do well. (J. M.)

It's all my fault in a sense, but I have tried to keep myself in hand. (J. G.)

to pull oneself together to recover one's normal self-control or balance

No, no, my dear: you must pull yourself together and be sensible. I am in no danger not the least in the world. (B. Sh.)

She cleared her throat, pulled herself together and pertly addressed the man-servant. (B. R.) Pennington suddenly pulled himself together. He was still a wreck of a man, but his fighting spirit had returned in a certain measure. (A. Chr.)

Keep your hair (shirt) on!means Keep calm! Keep your temper!

All right! Keep your hair on! There's no need to

shout at me. (A. W.)

Jack Cofery was taken aback. "Keep your shirt

on, " he said. (C. S.)

He told the courier, "I got to say So Long to

somebody. Keep your shirt on I want to get

away from here too!" (S. H.)


Absolute self-control is expressed in the following phrases: not to turn a hair to be quite calm and undisturbed; show no sign of being nervous, shocked or worried. Also: without turning a hair.

"Why should the Owens be upset?" "Wouldn't you turn a hair if you found that somebody of whom you have been making a friend turned out to be not what you liked them for, but a completely different person?" (B. R.) When the general received the news of his army defeat he did not turn a hair. (A. W.) "What do you think of her?" "Fascinating." "I'll tell her that, she won't turn a hair. The earth's most matter of fact young woman." (J. G.) When asked by the Detective-Inspector Smogg what he was doing between 8 and 11 p.m. on the night of the murder, he answered, without turning a hair, "What murder? This is news to me." (W. B.)

without batting an eyelid without any signs of embarrassment, astonishment or other emotion not to bat an eyelid not to show any sign of astonishment or other emotion

The innocent person is often acutely embarrassed when he is answering the judge's questions. But the guilty man will tell his lies without so much as batting an eyelid. (W. B.) "No, I'm not a guy who goes for dames, " I tell her without batting an eyelid. (P. Ch.)

The idea of losing control is contained in the phrases: (to get, be) out of hand (to get, be) out of control, beyond control; undisciplined

The boys have quite got out of hand. (A. H.) Things are getting a little out of hand and I need someone. (M. W.)

"You are getting out of hand, " his wife said to him ... (J. Ald.)

to lose one's grip to lose control of circumstances

The Prime Minister is losing his grip. He won't be able to command the country's confidence much longer. (W. B.)

He felt that he was losing his grip on audience. (N. C.)

to lose one's head to lose one's presence of mind; to become irresponsible and incapable of coping with an


When accused he lost his head completely and

behaved like a fool. (A. W.)

"Don't ever lose your head like that again, " said

Haviland at last. (M. W.)

A great many servants might have lost their

heads and let us down. (B. R.)

Losing one's self-control and getting angry may be described by these phrases in common use:

to lose one's temper to lose one's self-control; to get angry

Well, she lost her temper and I didn't mine. (J. G.)

You have caused me to lose my temper: a thing that has hardly ever happened to me before. (B. Sh.)

to fly off the handle; to fly out suddenly take offence; to lose one's temper; to burst out suddenly into anger

"Don't you believe the old man's all right?" "Not for a minute. Nor will Julian. That's why I don't want him to fly off the handle." (C. S.) He flies off the handle at the least provocation. (W. B.)

He's a bit hot-tempered, a word and a blow, you know, flies off the handle. (W. B.)

I haven't got

the slightest the faintest the remotest the foggiest the vaguest the least

Idea (notion)

I haven't a notion (an idea, a clue). I have no idea (notion).

How much they could earn earnestly? I haven't the slightest idea. (H. W.) Lady Plymdale. Who is that well-dressed woman talking to Windermere?

Dumby. Haven't got the slightest idea. (0. W.) I've got an idea you're trying to tell me something but I haven't the faintest idea what it is. (A. Chr.)

What on earth you are serious about I haven't got the remotest idea. (0. W.) I haven't the vaguest idea where to start. (M. W.) "You did not know he was coming?" "I had not the least idea of it." "And have you no idea why he came?" (A. Chr.) I still hadn't the vaguest notion what I was going to do... (J. P.)

1 hadn't the faintest notion what all this was about. (S. M.)

I had no idea he was in Egypt... (A. Chr.) "What was his name?" "I haven't a notion." (A. Chr.)

To be (completely) in the dark (about something)means the same thing.

"You and Miss Howard seem to know what you are talking about, " I observed coldly. "Perhaps you don't realize that I am still in the dark." (A. Chr.)

...there certainly were one or two points on which we were a little in the dark. (B. Sh.) Damn it all, man, two murders, and we're still in the dark. (A. Chr.)

Iwouldn't knowis also used to express ignorance of fact but implies / cannot really be expected to know,

"Did he go to see General The?"

"I wouldn't know." (Gr. Gr.)

"You don't know if Mr. Smith telephoned?"

"I wouldn't know, inspector." (V. L.)

"He was brilliant. What about his private life?"

Grant waited. "I wouldn't know." (A. Der.)

Ask me another!and Search me!admit complete ignorance but are a bit too colloquial for general use.

"Bill, " the Economic Attache said, "we want

to know who Mick is." "Search me." (Gr. Gr.)

"How come no one is there looking after them?"

Roy asked.

"Search me, " Moose said. ... (J. Ald.)

Mrs. Jan Byl gripped Connie's arm. "What's

that?" she asked. "Ask me another, " Connie

answered. (N. C.)

"Are you one of them, Fleur?" "Ask me another."

(J. G.) .

Other colloquial phrases expressing ignorance, especially ignorance of technique (not knowing how), are: it's beyond me; it's got me beaten.

The expression of her personality through the room, the conviction that she knew things which were beyond him, confounded him. (A. C.)

Have a look at this patent tin-opener, will you? It's got me beaten. I can't see how it works. (W. B.)

Ignorance of a particular subject is colloquially expressed thus:

It's (all) Greek (double Dutch) to me. I can't understand it.

Tell him I don't know what he is talking about.
It's double Dutch to me. (A. Chr.)

If only he could have understood the doctor's
jargon, the medical niceties, ... but they were
Greek to him like a legal problem to a layman.
(J. G.)

I'm out of my depth. (i.e. I can't understand the subject.)

Now I am quite out of my depth. I usually am when Lord Illingworth says anything. (O. W.) It's a funny thing, I'm afraid I got beyond my depth in it, but my intentions were good. (J. L.)

A fat lot you know! means You don't know anything at all!

His brogue! A fat lot you know about brogues! (B. Sh.)

I've lost my way (my bearings) admits ignorance of direction or locality.

"Where'll he come up?" asked Steevens. "I've lost my bearings." (H. W.) If you've lost your way, the lift is the third on the right. (A. C.)

I don't know my way around is similarly used. Colloquial phrases for not to know a person are: not to know him from Adam (not to know her from Eve)

A Mr. Withers whom she did not know from Adam having learned by some hook or crook

where she resided, bowed himself politely in.

(Th. D.)

"You are making some mistake, sir, " said he

eyeing the stranger as if he did not know him

from Adam. (J. F.)

"Do your people know the woman?" "Not from

Eve." (V. L.)

to be a complete stranger to one

I am sure they were complete strangers to one another. (V. L.)

I can't place him (the name, face)means / can't fully identify him (it).

The stranger's face was familiar to Lammlein, though he couldn't place it. (S. H.) Jasha, Prince Bereskin somewhere Jates had heard his name, but he couldn't quite place it. (S. H.)

Ignorance of future developments or of a person's intentions is expressed by these phrases in common use: one (you) never can tell

(you can't ever tell)it is impossible to know

I don't (quite) get you (it).

I don't quite follow you.

I can't follow you (it).

I don't quite see (what you mean; why...).

I don't quite understand.

He hesitated: "I don't quite get you." (C. S.). The young man frowned. "I simply don't get it." (A. Chr.) I beg your pardon, I didn't quite get you. (A.Chr.) I'm afraid, Mr. Serrocold, that I don't quite follow you. (A. Chr.) They talked about various topics he didn't quite follow... (R. A.) I don't quite see what you mean. (A. Chr.) "I don't quite see why they tried to fix the blame on John, " I remarked. (A. Chr.) I'm afraid I don't quite see what all this has to do with it. (B. R.) By the way, Mr. Anderson, I do not quite understand. (B. Sh.)

Other phrases similarly used include the following:

I can't make head or tail of it. I can't understand it in

the least.

Linnet thought she saw a telegram for her sticking up on the board. So she tore it open, couldn't make head or tail of it... (A. Chr.)

it beats me I can't understand :

"This thing beats me, " he whispered. "I don't see

through it a bit." (S. L.)

"How you can stand that old fool beats me, "

said Ferguson gloomily. (A. Chr.)

...it beats me what set you looking there.

(A. Chr.)

How he could be such a fool beats me! (A. Chr.)

I'm all at sea. I'm unable to understand, in a state of ignorance about circumstances, situation, etc.

"Have you any theories?" he asked the sergeant. "I am all at sea, sir, " the other told him. (A. Der.)

Ican't make it (him) out. I can't understand it (him).

There's one thing I can't make out, why didn't he destroy it at once when he got hold of it? (A. Chr.)

I am sure I never can make out what you are talking about. (O. W.)

Complete misunderstanding (of a situation) is colloquially

expressed thus:

to get it all wrong to misunderstand it completely

"I know, " he rubbed his forehead. "I got things all wrong." (A. Chr.)

To get the wrong end of the stickhas the same significance.

Her eyes flashed angrily. "You've got the wrong end of the stick, " she said. (A. Chr.)

Some proverbs dealing with ignorance are:

Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.(As long as

one remains in ignorance of certain unpleasant events he is

likely to be happy sometimes it is better not to know

the unpleasant truth.)


Colloquial phrases for to irritate, to annoyinclude the


to get on one's nerves to irritate, to annoy

Oh, dear, no. Ernest is invariably calm. That is

one of the reasons he always gets on my nerves.

(O. W.)

Joanna amuses me, but I don't really like her,

and to have her around much gets on my nerves.

(A. Chr.)

Don't let Peter get on your nerves, sweetheart.

I'd almost forgotten him. (V. L.)

to get under somebody's skin to irritate

As a rule I was not touchy, but Howard had a knack of getting under my skin. (C. S.) The truth is, we all get under his skin particularly Gina, of course. (A. Chr.) "I reckon that got under their skins, " he said, rubbing his hands together. "That made them think." (N. C.)

to put someone's back up to irritate, to antagonise
to get one's back up to become irritated

She seemed perfectly self-possessed, but I had

a notion that she was sizing me up. To tell you

the truth it put my back up. (S. M.)

Oh, bother! There: don't be offended, old chap.

What's the use of putting your back up at every

trifle? (B. Sh.)

They were rather reserved and you couldn't help

seeing that they liked their own society better

than other people's. I don't know if you've

noticed it, but that always seems to put people's back up. (S. M.)

"Whew!" said Simon. "You've put the old boy's back up." (A. Chr.)

to rub (stroke) someone the wrong way to irritate him

Whatever I say these days seems to rub him

up the wrong way. (W. B.)

His tactless questions rubbed her the wrong

way. (K. H.)

to get one's goat to annoy, to exasperate

"You only say that, Daddy, to get my goat." "And only because your goat is so easy to get." (L. A.)

What's wrong with England is Snobbishness. And if there's anything that gets my goat it's a snob. (S. M.)

to give someone the pip to annoy

Women drivers often give me the pip. (A. W.)

That gives me the pip. (A. H.)

His wish-wash gives me the pip. (K. H.)

to get (take) a rise out of someone to annoy, to tease him; to act in such a way that he gives a display of bad temper, shows annoyance (or other weakness)

He said those unpleasant things to get a rise out of you. (A. H.)

To be annoyed or vexed is colloquially speaking: to be put out (about something or with somebody) to be annoyed, irritated

She missed it yesterday at lunch-time, sir, and told me to look carefully for it. She was very much put out about it. (A. Chr.)

"Do you mind telling me if they're much put out with her?" "My people?" "Apparently not, " said Ronnie... (B. R.)

An irritated person (or his nerves) may be said to be on edge

(to be irritable; to be in a state of nervous tension).

"Strange things happen there."

"This is getting on my nerves, " said the doctor...

Her nerves too were on edge. (S. M.)

"Take it easy, Larry, we're both a little on edge."

(M. W.)

to be (to get) sore (about something, at someone) to be

(to become) annoyed, vexed, hurt, aggrieved

"And you are not sore, any more?" he asked.

She turned and shook her head tenderly as if he

were hopeless.

"No, " she said, and it was her supreme understatement. "I'm not sore." (M. W.)

"What are you getting sore about?" White demanded. (M. W.)

"Don't get sore at me, " he said. "It's not my fault."

(M. W.)

to be fed up (with) to be utterly bored with and tired of (This is rather slangy.)

He said in a grating tone: "I'm fed up" "What?" cried Tom. "I'm fed up with being talked about." (C. S.)

To be (get) sick and tired of to be (become) annoyed, tired of, disgusted with. Also: to be sick to death of; to be deadly sick of.

"I'm sick and tired of going over stuff you know as well as I do, " said Howard... (C. S.) It was interesting enough at first, while we were at the phonetics; but after that I got deadly sick of it. (B. Sh.)

Exasperation, annoyance and irritation may be expressed by

these exclamations and phrases:


Such a bore! What a bore! What a nuisance! Oh, bother!

How annoying! How vexing! How awful! Etc.


(it's) enough to drive a man to drink; (it's) enough to try

the patience of a saint (of Job); enough to make a saint swear; (it's) enough to make you tear your hair.

What a nuisance their turning us out of the club at

this time! (0. W.)

"It is such a bore putting on one's dress clothes, "

muttered Hallward. (O. W.)

"Listen: will you dine with me to-night?"

"Darling, I'm so sorry, but I simply can't. I've an

appointment I simply must keep. Such a bore!"

"Such a bore, as you say!" (R. A.)

Oh, bother! There: don't be offended, old chap.

What's the use of putting your back up at every

trifle? (B. Sh.)

Having his house constantly full of gossiping

women is enough to drive a man to drink. (W. B.)

The remonstrances... I have received... have been

enough to make a saint swear. (Fr. M.)

Irritation may be also expressed by using the phrase on earth after the interrogative word of a question: Why on earth...? What on earth...? How on earth...? Where on earth...? Etc.

What on earth's he doing out here?" Tim asked.

His mother laughed. "Darling, you sound quite

excited." (A. Chr.)

What! Why on earth should you say that? (B. R.)

Why on earth didn't you say so before? (W. B.)


Thorough knowledge (understanding) of a thing (person) is

expressed by these phrases in common use:

to know something (somebody) like the palm of one's hand

to know thoroughly

Everything that can be done is being done, you needn't worry about that. Martin knows the place like the palm of his hand. (C. S.)

"You are what we Mr. Poirot".

call 'quick in the uptake',

"Ah, that, it leaps to the eye!" (A. Chr.) She was not at all shy, and she asked me to cal her Sally before we'd known one another ten minutes, and she was quick in the uptake. (S. M.)

Some general phrases of understanding are:

to know what is what to have proper knowledge of

the world and of things in general

He isn't such a fool as They took him for. He

knows what is what. (N. C.)

"And that won't wash!" said Trager. "He knows

what is what." (V. L.)

Never you mind. It shows you know what is what.

(S. M.)

to know the ropes to be thoroughly familiar with the details of any occupation; to be worldly and sophisticated

"Did he find it easy?"

'"I expect he knew the ropes." (C. 5.)

Mr. Bart said not to worry. And he's smart. He

knows the ropes. (N. C.)

to know a thing or two to have practical ability and

common sense

You needn't have to worry about her. She'll be a help too. Not just a bleeding drag. She knows a thing or two already, not like Doris. (N. C.)

He wasn't born yesterday! He is not a fool, he is a shrewd and knowing person.

The new Headmaster will stand no nonsense from anybody. He wasn't born yesterday, I can tell you. (W. B.)

to know on which side one's bread is buttered to know where one's interests lie

Bosinney looked clever, but he had also and it was one of his great attractions an air as if he

. B. 33

did not quite know on which side his bread were buttered; he should be easy to deal in money matters. (J. G.)

Mary often stays with her old uncle and keeps house for him. He is very rich, and she knows on which side her bread is buttered. (K. H.)

to know better (than...) to be wise enough not to...

My father would talk morality after dinner. I told him he was old enough to know better. But my experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better, they don't know anything at all. (O. W.) She ought to know better than to ask him. (A. Chr.)

to get to know to become acquainted

"Well, well, " he said, "we want to get to know our new friends, don't we, Mother?" (N. C.) He is all right when you get to know him. (J. P.) Compared to John, he was an astoundingly difficult person to get to know. (A. Chr.) Was there any way of getting to know where Hetty was? (V. L.)

Understanding is often colloquially expressed by these verbs: to see,especially in I see(I understand), to get and to catch (on).

"A man?" asked Esa.

"Man or woman it is the same."

"I see." (J. P.)

"I see what you mean, " said Mr. Satterthwaite.

(A. Chr.)

"Then tie my wrist up to my shoulder somehow, as

hard as you can. Do you get that? Tie up both

my arms."

"Yes, I get it." (J. Ald.)

"All right, " said Percy. "I get you." Mr. Basks,

however, could see that he hadn't got him. (N. C.)

Do you catch my meaning? (A. H.)

An amusing phrase meaning a belated act of comprehension


The penny's dropped,(i. e. He's at last got my meaning.)

Two common sayings commenting on knowledge:

Knowledge is power. (The more a man knows, the greater

power he has.)

Live and learn. (As long as you live there'll be new things

to learn. This is usually said by someone who has just

learned something which he did not know before.)

"But Mummy, I had no idea you were so immoral!" "We live and learn" (L. A.)



The idea of making a mistake is present in the following

phrases in common use:

to put one's foot in it to commit a blunder

Sir George mopped his moist forehead. "I'm afraid

I've put my foot in it." (C. D.)

That's why I haven't moved till now, sir. It is

the sort of a case a man might well put his foot in.

(V. L.)

Why did you ask Smith how his wife is when you

know she's left him? You are always putting

your foot in it. (A. W.)

I'm sorry if I put my foot in it, Miss Morris.

(B. R.)

Wendy? Well, he had put his foot in it now, even

if he didn't know it. (V. L.)

to drop a brick to make a bad mistake, especially to make a stupid and indiscreet social mistake

I dropped a brick by inquiring after her husband, not knowing that she was divorced last year. (K. H.)

"Whatever happens, " Mickael thought, " I've got to keep my head shut, or I shall be dropping a brick." (J. G.)

At dinner I lit a cigarette before the host had given permission. That was only the first of many bricks I dropped that evening. (W. B.)

Miscalculation uses the following phrases:

to bark up the wrong tree to act under a mistake; to

blame the wrong person or thing

But because I like you and respect your pluck I'll do you a good turn before we part. I don't want you to waste time barking up the wrong tree. (St.) (Ch).

If you think your driver was responsible for the accident, you are barking up the wrong tree. (K. H.)

to back the wrong horse to misplace one's trust

In voting for the Republicans you backed the wrong horse, since they lost thousands of votes

(K. H.)

His promises came to nothing. I'm afraid we've backed the wrong horse this time. (W. B.)

Over-estimating one's strength:

to bite off more than one can chew to try to achieve something beyond one's power; to underestimate the difficulties

He works overtime, attends evening classes, and studies French; I think he bit off more than he can chew. (K.. H.)

Over-estimating one's chances:

to count one's chickens before they are hatched to be too

hopeful of one's chances

I'm not counting my chickens before they're hatched, Simon. I tell you Linnet won't let us down! (A. Chr.)

"Dinny will have two boys and a girl." "Deuce she will! That's counting her chickens rather fast." (J. G.)

Your luck was cut.

"Bad luck!" exclaimed Ronnie Owen before he knew he had spoken. (B. R.) "Rotten luck, isn't it?" "Rotten." (S. M.)

"Oh, dear, that was hard lines, " said Miss Moss, trying to appear indifferent.(K.. M.) He's won again. My luck is definitely out tonight. (W. B.)

Some proverbial comments:

A miss is asgood as a mile.(A failure is still a failure even

though it came near to success.)

"If it hadn't been that the revolver wasn't cocked, you'd be lying dead there now." Mr. Ledbetter said nothing but he felt that the room was swaying. "A miss is as good as a mile. It's lucky for both of us it wasn't". (H. W.)

It is no use crying over spilt milk.(When we have made mistakes through carelessness, or suffered loss that cannot be recovered, we should not waste our time weeping

or regretting what has happened, but should make the best of it and be more careful in the future.)

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Carrie. Then she settled back with a sigh. "There's no use crying over spilt milk, " she said. "It's too late." (Th. D.)

Every dog has his day.(Neither success nor failure is permanent, even the most wretched person can expect at least one day of good fortune in his life.)

Well, every dog has his clay; and I have had mine: I cannot complain. (B. Sh.)



The following colloquial phrases and comparisons are used to underline the fact that something is quite clear and plain: (to be) as plain as a pikestaff (to be) perfectly clear and obvious

That Jane would have trouble with the fellow was as plain as a pikestaff; he had no more idea of money than a cow. (J. G.)

I can't give you long time to make up your mind. That's as plain as a pikestaff, isn't it? (C. S.) Why do you ask me again? Everything is as plain as a pikestaff. (K. H.)

to stick out a mile to be obvious, extremely conspicuous

By the way, I confess I think Nightingale's had a rough deal. The one thing that sticks out a mile to my eye is that he's as blameless as a babe unborn. (C. S.)

I knew that sooner or later she would break down. It stuck out a mile. (S. M.)

Don't tell any more lies. I can prove you were there. It's sticking out a mile. (J. P.)

(to be) as plain as the nose on one's face (to be) perfectly obvious

Alice's voice: You mustn't talk like that. The

servants will

Langdon's voice: It's as plain as the nose on my

face! CD. R.)

It's as plain as the nose on your face, Roebuck,

that she won't go because she doesn't want to be

separated from this man.... (B. Sh.)

(to be) as clear (plain) as day (daylight)

"Oh, come!" said Summerhaye, opening his lips for the first time. "Surely the whole thing is clear as daylight. The man's caught red-handed." (A. Chr.)

Presently he said to himself: "What to do is as plain as day, now." (M. T.)

it leaps to the eye(s) it is extremely conspicuous; it stands out; it catches one's eye

"You are what we call 'quick in the uptake'." "Ah, that, it leaps to the eye." (A. Chr.) They tell me he is away in Cornwall. It leaps to the eye where he has gone. (A. Chr.)

to see something with half an eye to see it easily because it is obvious

Anyone can see with half an eye that you're in love with her. (A. W.)

We could see with half an eye that he was a swindler. (K.H.)

I saw with half an eye that all was over. (R. S.) You can see with half an eye that she is in love. (D. E. S.)

it (that) goes without saying it is quite obvious

"I prefer your not taking advantage of this offer." Lammlein raised his hands. "But that goes without saying, sir." (S. H.) "And, remember all this is in confidence." "Oh, of course that goes without saying." (A. Chr.)

"We have to keep friends anyhow and hear of each other." "That goes without saying." (H. W.)

Comparisons are also commonly used to underline the fact that a thing is easy to do:

(it's) as easy (simple) as falling off a log extremely easy (simple)

"Easy as falling off a log, if you use your head

properly, " it was saying. "All it needs is timing.

Pick your moment." (N. C.)

"I don't quite follow you, Freddy, " Manson


"Why, it's as simple as falling off a log...." (A. C.)

(it's) as easy as kiss your hand (my thumb) extremely easy

When two attendants got out their stretcher and walked importantly through the middle of the crowd, Connie followed them closely like a kind of plain-clothes nurse. She was inside the shop as easy as kiss your hand. (N. C.)


Progress and success in the affairs of life may be expressed by these colloquial phrases:

to make good to succeed in spite of obstacles; to make a success of things

Well, I made good in the end, didn't I, and there's a little token to remember it by. (J. M.) I had been employed in one business and another quite a good few years, more years than I cared to look back upon; and yet I hadn't made good. I hadn't made good, and I knew I hadn't made good, and sometimes this knowledge that I hadn't made good made me feel bad. (S. L.) What if he didn't make good? (M. W.) If he doesn't make good, sack him. (A. Chr.) ... but they couldn't deny he had made good (S. M.)

to get on (very well) to progress with one's profession or business; to make a success of things; to prosper

When I had first entered the great houses in

which she was brought up, I had been a poor young

man determined to get on. (C. S.)

You talk as if I was some kind of dirty crook.

I only want to get on. (A. C.)

"How will you get on without a team?" Roy said


"I won't get on, unless you give me a hand."

(J. Ald.)

But Herbert got on very well at school. He was

a good worker and far from stupid. His reports

were excellent. (S. M.)

"How have you been getting on?" "All right, "

she said regarding him. (H. W.)

to shape well to give promise of success

Our plans are shaping well. (A. H.)

"Well hit, Harris!" shouted Bonover, and began

to clap his hands. "Well hit, sir." "Harris shapes

very well, " said Mr. Lewisham. (H. W.)

It would be best of Irene to come quietly to us at

Robin Hill, and see how things shape. (J. G.)

to make out (Amer.) to get along; to succeed

Well, if it ain't old Barnacle Bill back from the sea! How are you making out, Dad? (J. M.)

A person who is successful in life through one's own efforts is said to be self-made.

He was a success himself and proud of it. He was

self-made. No one had helped him. He owed to no

man. (J. L.)

I said I was a self-made man; and I am not

ashamed of it. (B. Sh.)

Pretty well this, for a self-made man. (Ch. D.)

The idea of achievement or success is also contained in the following phrases in common use:

to make it ultimately succeed (frequently applied to a punctual arrival)

There you are, Edgar. I thought I wouldn't make it

in time. (A. Chr.)

The list of examinations which stood between

Erik and degree was made even more formidable

by Maxwell's quiet recitation. "Some fellows

make it, and others don't. It depends on what you


"I want to make it, " said Erik simply. (M. W.)

The train leaves at 7.25; can we make it? (reach

the station in time to catch it) (A. H.)

to pull (bring) off something to bring to a successful conclusion; to succeed in a plan, in winning something, etc. Also: to pull it off and bring it down.

He said: "I hope I can pull it off."

"You've got to pull it off, " his partner said.

(A. Chr.)

That's a large order, and it may take us a long

time, but we'll pull it off. (M. W.)

"Well, look here, " Tom went on, "I've got an

idea and it's a big thing. If we can pull it off

and bring it down, I believe we can put it over."

(S. L.)

"You ought to bring off something, " she teased me,

"with your automatic competence." (C. S.)

Inever made up my mind to do a thing yet that

I didn't bring it off. (B. Sh.)

"I must say, " she cried, "I should like to bring off

something for him." (C. S.)

to do the trick to achieve one's object

You don't need million volts. Perhaps a quarter would do the trick. (M. W.) Ithink I've done the trick this time. I just gave them a bit of straight talk and it went home.

Be careful. Say nothing. Get outside men to do the trick. (F. H.)

"It wouldn't have done any good, " I said. "It would have done the trick." (C. S.)

to come off to succeed; to reach a satisfactory end

The work's come off pretty well all things considered. (C. S.)


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