To put a spoke in a person's wheel to spoil his plans

In your own best interests perhaps I should put a spoke in your wheel. (C. S.) He ought perhaps to have put a spoke in the wheel of their marriage; they were too young. ... (J. G.) Icould have easily finished the experiments if they had not put a spoke in my wheel. (K. H.)

Waste is variously expressed by these colloquial phrases: Wasting effort:

a wild-goose chase a practically hopeless pursuit or search; a foolish and useless enterprise

Wolfe knew that the Colonel was remembering that he had sent Michaelmas on a wild-goose chase; but it was a small consideration now. (S. A.) The Colonel shook his head. "He is the best man I've got. I don't like sending him on a wild-goose chase." (S. A.)

I hope you won't insist on my starting off on a wild-goose chase. (St.)

I hope you won't insist on my starting off on a wild-goose chase after the fellow now. (B. Sh.) "I wish now they'd found him in the river." "They may still; this is a bit of a wild-goose chase." (J. G.)

to flog (beat) a dead horse to waste energy

We discussed some incidents that had happened long ago, it was really flogging a dead horse.

(K. H.)

I'm flogging a dead horse, (i. e. wasting my energies) (W. B.)

to carry coals to Newcastle to do something which is unnecessary; to use one's effort uneconomically

To write another book on the same topic means to carry coals to Newcastle. (K. H.)

Sending a can of olives to Greece would be like carrying coals to Newcastle. (W. B.)

Wasting one's breath (words),i. e. talking uselessly, is

described in this way:

I might as well talk to a brick wall. I might as well save

my breath. (What I say has no effect.) My words fall on

deaf ears. (Nobody listens to me.)

What I say goes in at one ear and out of the other. (You

don't listen to me.)

"So that's your line?" she said. "You're wasting

your breath on me." (V. L.)

It's no use talking to Tuppy. You might as well

talk to a brick wall. (0. W.)

The information went in one ear of Lola and out

of the other. (Th. D.)

I might as well save my breath, for all the notice

they take of me. (W. B.)

Wasting money:

to play (make) ducks and drakes with one's money to

waste money; spend it extravagantly

He played ducks and drakes with his money instead of paying the family's debts. (K. H.) He soon made ducks and drakes of what I'd left him. (W. B.)

to go down the drain to be wasted

"All right, all right, " Connie answered. "What's wrong with me paying for myself if it all goes down the drain?" (N. C.) My £100 has all gone down the drain. (W. B.) That's another £50 down the drain! (W. B.) And it was his second evening of revision... that went down the drain as he said it. (N. C.)

A proverbial warning against extravagance and wastefulness:

Waste not; want not. (Be economical and careful, then you may never be in need.)

3 B. B. 65


Some colloquial phrases connected with the idea of scolding are: a flea in one's ear is colloquial for a sharp reprimand.

...and if I see you next or nigh my house I'll put you in the ditch with a flea in your ear: mind that now. (B. Sh.)

Irene was in front; that young fellow what had they nicknamed him "The Buccaneer!" looked precious hangdog there behind her; had got a flea in his ear, he shouldn't wonder. (J. G.)

to tick a person off (to give a person a good ticking off)

to reprimand, scold or blame him

She's no beggar on horseback; as Ronny said I couldn't help admiring the way she ticked off those journalist fellows. (B. R.) She gave Augustus a good ticking off for talking too much about his pictures (V. L.)

to tell a person off (to give a person a good telling off) to rebuke, scold or reprimand him

Listen, unless you can learn to flatter your guests,

I'm not coming back again, I can be told off at

home. (M. W.)

Last time he had spoken to this astounding girl

it had been to tell her off for insulting his people

who trusted and liked her. (B. R.)

And now well, you can't be allowed to go on

like this; that's that. Somebody'd got to give you

a good telling off. (B. R.)

I'd tell her off proper. (K. M.)

to give a person a piece (bit) of one's mind to rebuke him;

to tell him frankly what one thinks of him, his behaviour,


Oh, if I could only pay that woman, I'd give her a piece of my mind that she wouldn't forget. I'd tell her off proper. (K. M.) I'd like to go back there and give them a piece of my mind they're asleep most of the time. (S. H.) ... one day he would forget himself and give her not a piece, but the whole of his mind. (S. M.)

to give a person a (good) dressing down to scold or beat


Father gave Mary a dressing down when she told him that she had broken off the engagement. (K. H.)

to be (come) down on a person to be severe upon him; to scold, blame or punish him

"You'll have Zel down on you if you start shooting, " Roy said. (J. Ald.)

My mother did not like it, and she came down on us severely. (B. H.)

To be at a person means the same thing.

"Go on, " he growled. "Give me all my faults when you're about it. Suspicious! Jealous! You've been at me before! Oh, and I'm too young, I suppose." (A. C.)

He finds out eventually, and he'll be at you in the end, ay, and make it a bitter end. (A. C.) My mother is always at me about my behaviour at meals. (B. H.)

to give a person a good talking to to scold or rebuke him

I'll give her a good talking to when she comes. I'm not going to stand any of her nonsense. (B. Sh.)

"I must give her a good talking to this afternoon, " said Lewisham... (H. W.)

3* 67

Give it him hot!is colloquial for rebuke him severely. An official reprimand may be colloquially put in this way: to have (call) a person on the carpet (mat) to censure; to summon for reprimand. To be on the carpet(to be censured or summoned for reprimand) is also similarly used.

The Headmaster had me on the mat this morning. He wanted to know who was responsible for the uproar last night in the dormitory. (W. B.) The unpunctual clerk was repeatedly on the carpet. (W. M.)

to call (haul) a person over the coals to censure or rebuke him

Now tell me, why is that a conscience can't haul a man over the coals once for an offence and then let him alone. (M. T.)

to teach a person a lesson to give him a rebuke or punishment which will serve as a warning

Well, sir, we shall teach you and your townspeople a lesson they will not forget. (B. Sh.) And I think it's time they were taught a lesson. (C. S.)

I'll teach him to meddle in my affairs. (C. D.) It's a great mistake, when one has attained a certain position in the world to be too genteel about teaching people a lesson. (C. S.)

to put a person in his place to reprimand him severely or take him down

I should just like to take a taxi to the corner of Tottenham Court Road and get out there and tell it to wait for me, just to put the girls in their place a bit. (B. Sh.)

An insulting and abusive reprimand is expressed by the phrase:

to call a person names to insult him by using bad names

"Steady-on! Don't you go a-calling us names,


"One minute!" said Mr. Hoopdriver. "It wasn't

I began calling names." (H. W.)

To go for a person may be similarly used with the meaning to abuse, to blame, to reprimand.

The manager went for the office boy, who he

said, was saucy. (B. H.)

The speaker went for the profiteers. (U. D.)

to snap (bite) a person's head (nose) off to speak to him rudely, angrily or impatiently

Make up your mind. First you tell me it's no good. When I agree, you snap my head off. (M. W.) The old lady bit the boy's nose off because he had broken her window-pane. (K. H.) There's no need to snap my head off. I only want a civil answer to a civil question. (W. B.)

To receive heavy censure or punishment is colloquially speaking to get it in the neck.

Any one that worries you, my dear, will get it in

the neck from me, and you can be sure of that.

(V. L.)

She hadn't half been wanting to see him get it in

the neck from someone without being able to

answer back. (N. C.)

You don't know what's going on. You sit here

in Paris and send home yards of silk and cases

of cognac while we get it in the neck. (S. H.)

To catch it and to get it hotmean the same thing.

"You'll catch it! (You'll be scolded, punished, etc.)

(A. H.)

He'll get it hot for it.

To blame someone is also colloquially to put (fix, lay) the blame on him to say that a person is responsible for,

My father grinned. "She always puts the blame on

me. I have to bear it." (C. S.)

I warn you it's no use trying to put the blame on

me. How was I to know the sort of fellow he was?

(B. Sh.)

"I don't quite see why they tried to fix the blame

on John, " I remarked. (A. Chr.)

Another phrase for to blame a person is to find fault with a person.It may be not so strong as to blame and have the meaning to complain, to criticize.

"Please!" The foreman lifted his hand and cleared

his throat again. "It's not our job to find fault with

each other. It's our job to find the prisoner guilty."

(N. C.)

People sometimes find fault with others when they

should blame themselves. (W. M.)

Mother is constantly finding fault with my

husband. (K. H.)

To find fault with a thingis to find it deficient in some particular. The phrase implies that you point out the fault.

I cannot find fault with Miss Sharp's conduct. (W. Th.)

"Any more fault to find with the evidence?" I inquired satirically. (A. Chr.)

to pick on a person to find fault with him

Why don't you pick on him? He's the one to

benefit not me. (A. Chr.)

It's no use picking on them when they're so young

and tender. I can't stand it. (K. R.)

And, of course, Cheese-Face had picked on him

again, and there was another fight... (J. L.)

Why pick on me?may be used as a protest by a person absolving himself from blame.

All I say is, why pick on me when I don't benefit by her death? (A. Chr.)

Tommy showed Krone into an armchair. "Why pick on me, Krone?" Tommy said. (R. K.)

Note also the following patterns:

I'm (he's, etc.) to blame.(I'm (he's, etc.) to be blamed.)

I admit I was entirely to blame. (A. Chr.)

Who is to blame?(Who is to be blamed?) It's all (entirely) my (his, etc.) fault.

"How do you account for your pistol being used?" "Well I'm afraid I may be to blame there. Quite soon after getting abroad there was a conversation in the saloon one evening, and I mentioned then that I always carried a revolver with me when I travel. I'm certainly to blame there." (A. Chr.)

These doors are exceedingly treacherous. They ought, of course, to have glass windows to them. It is entirely my fault for not having brought the matter before the Borough Council. (A. C.) It will be all your fault if we're late. (W. B.)

If you suspect a person of some misbehaviour or think that he is capable of it although you have no proof that he is to blame, you may say: I wouldn't put it past (beyond) him.

She may even teach Mark how to relax. I wouldn't

put it past her. (L. A.)

I shouldn't have put it past him to do a trick like

that. (C. D.)

I wouldn't put it beyond him to countermand my

instructions when I've gone. (W. B.)

to have a bone to pick (with a person) to have a cause of complaint against him

Here! I've a bone to pick with you about the way you spoke to me yesterday. (A. W.)


Introductory phrases for general complaints of not too explosive a nature include the following: it's a bit thick or it's a bit much (or off).

I was really annoyed now. "Look here, Bridget, I must say that's a bit thick. You don't know " "I do know, " she interrupted mocking me. "And it isn't a bit thick." (J. P.) Don't you think it's a bit thick that when you've been thoroughly decent with people they should go out of their way to do the dirty on you? (S. M.) "I must say, sir, " her husband echoed, "it's a bit much." (L. A.)

You are the limit! It's the limit!or There's a limit! express extreme annoyance and mark the end of toleration.

I know we haven't been alone much, but that could

easily have been managed. I do think you are

the limit, Gregory. (J. P.)

Watching for a moment of weakness, she wrenched

it free; then placing the dining table between

them, said between her teeth: "You are the limit,

Monty." (J. G.)

What is the matter with you? I'll make a certain

allowance for your nerves. But there's a limit!

(S. H.)

To exaggerate a complaint and make a lot of fuss about it is: to make a song and dance about it.

"I wouldn't make too much of a song and dance about it, if I were you, " he said. "You'll have to walk warily. She'll have a lot to forgive too." (S. M.)

When she spoke it was quite calmly, as though well, as though she'd just missed a bus and would have to wait for another. As though it was a nuisance, you know, but nothing to make a song and dance about. (S. M.)

The world's always in a hole, only in old days people didn't make a song about it. (J. G.)

To make a mountain out of a mole-hill is similarly used with the meaning to exaggerate; make difficulties appear much greater than they really are.

I dare say I've been making a mountain out of a mole-hill. I must just wait patiently for his letter. (S. M.)

Don't take it too seriously, James has surely made a mountain out of a mole-hill. (K. H.)



To avoid telling a secret is to keep it. Keeping something secretand saying nothing about it may be also colloquially expressed by these phrases: to keep (it, something) dark to keep secret. Also: to keep someone in the dark(about something).

You're not in love with somebody, are you and have been keeping it dark? (J. P.) Somebody has to know these things beforehand no matter how dark they're kept. (B. Sh.) "Good God!" he exclaimed, "then it isn't poetry you're writing. I thought that's what you were keeping dark." (E. L.) You may have been right to keep dark, as you call it, so far as the doctors are concerned....

(J. G.)

"Well, I think it is very unfair to keep me in the dark about the facts."

"I'm not keeping you in the dark. Every fact that I know is in your possession." (A. Chr.)

Mum's the word say nothing about the matter; be silent. Also: keep mum remain silent.

"Don't say anything about this, " he asked. "Just let it be private between the two of us."

"Mum's the word, " Connie promised. (N. C.) Keep mum about this. (A. H.)

to keep one's mouth shut to remain silent, say nothing about

Has none of you any idea when it's useful to keep

your mouths shut? (C. S.)

Why can't I keep my mouth shut? (S. H.)

Do you think all that came from keeping my mouth

shut? No: it came from keeping my ears and eyes

open. (B. Sh.)

to keep something under one's hat to keep it secret

He kept under his hat what he had seen that evening. (K. H.)

We're going to fight them and soon we'll get 'em out. Keep that under your hat, Brother Mac Adams. (A. S.)

not to breathe a word (a syllable) to a soul to keep it secret; to say nothing

Before she left Connie gave her oath that she wouldn't breathe a word to a soul. (N. C.) She had never let him know never breathed a word. (J. G.)

My lips are sealed. I won't tell it anyone; I can keep a secret.

"My lips are sealed, " said the statesman. "I shall not tell you what my policy is." "Mum's the word, " Connie promised. "Sealed lips, that's me." (N. C.)

To keep it (something) to oneselfmay also be used with the meaning not to tell anyone.

"Well, Julian?" said Martin. "I didn't think I ought to keep it to myself any longer." (C. S.) "I hope you'll keep this to yourself, " she said. (A. Chr.)

1 fancy she's a woman who likes well, to keep things to herself. (A. Chr.)

But I decided that if I made any interesting and important discoveries and no doubt I should I would keep them to myself, and surprise Poirot with the ultimate result. (A. Chr.)

Common comparisons are: as mute as a fish; as silent as the grave.

I will be as silent as the grave, but honestly I don't understand what does it all mean? (S. M.) I will be as silent as the grave. I swear it. (B. Sh.)

A person keeping his plans secret is said to keep his own counsel.

He was a man who kept his own counsel, and a very patient man. (A. Chr.)

to take a person into one's confidence to tell him something private or secret

"That is why, " said Poirot, "I could take no one into my confidence." (A. Chr.) After some reflecting, I decided to take John into my confidence and leave him to make the matter public or not as he thought fit. (A. Chr.)

An adverbial phrase: under the rose surreptitiously; in secret.

In Ireland, having no mistletoe, the girls are obliged to kiss under the rose. (A. W.)

Practical advice to avoid revealing a secret is contained in the following proverbial phrase: Never let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.The fact that something is told in confidence (as a secret) may be underlined by the following colloquial phrases: between you and me

between you and me and the doorpost (the gatepost, the wall, etc.) between ourselves in strict confidence

Between you and me, Freddy, I never had much time for this Manson of yours, but that's neither here nor there. (A. C.)

"Between you and me, Sir, " remarked Japp, "I'd sooner have any amount of rumours than be arrested for murder." (A. Chr.) But between you an' me an' the old doorpost I am worried about that dame. (P. Ch.) Well, between you and me and the wall, Sir Pearce, I think the less we say about that until the war's over, the better. (B. Sh.) "I'll tell you a secret, " I whispered, "just between ourselves, George. I'm beginning to hate the dam' story." (J. P.)

Between ourselves, there are only three distinguished men here ... (C. S.)

On the other hand, talking too much and revealing a secret may be colloquially put in this way: to give the show away to reveal, unconsciously or maliciously

Well, at any minute, old Babbington in the most innocent way in the world, might give the show away. (A. Chr.)

Lloyd looked over his shoulder at the other men. "Don't give the show away, " he said. (J. F.)

to let the cat out of thebag to reveal unintentionally

In the last cabinet meeting the Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag revealing the true circumstances of the case. (K. H.) I shouldn't have let the cat out of the bag. But there it is it's a lucky start for you, my dear fellow. (A. C.)

to spill the beans to reveal a secret; to confess all

Maybe the old boy had heard something about

Alex and was going to spill the beans to the

Serrocolds. (A. Chr.)

Whoever is poisoning Mrs. Serrocold killed Guid-

bransen to prevent him spilling the beans.

(A. Chr.)

I'm goin' to spill the beans. I'll tell you the whole

truth. (P. Ch.)

to blurt out to say something without thought, unguardedly; hence reveal a secret

Has that fool Skeffington to blurt out the whole

story before any of us have had a chance to have

a look at it? (C. S.)

He remembered how... June had blurted out to

him that Fleur ought to have married her young

brother. (J. G.)

"If you do want to know the truth, " he blurted

out, "it put me to a hell of a lot of trouble!"

(A. C.)

to let out to reveal a secret

"George and I talked it "

"Oh! His name's 'George, ' is it?"

"Yes. Did I let that out?" (R. A.)

Blackmail! Oh, Mr. Sartorius, do you think I

would let out a word about your premises? (B. Sh.)

to let on to reveal (a secret); to betray (a fact)

I haven't heard a word about anything. She obviously wasn't going to let on. (B. R.) Don't let on that I told you. (W. B.)

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