Before you can say Jack Robinson or before you know where

youare very quickly, very soon, in no time

"Now you sit down, " she said, "and I'll make up the bed before you can say Jack Robinson." (S. M.)

If I tell him you're our man you'll get a letter from him before you can say Jack Robinson. (C. S) One thing leads to another, and before you know where you are you're mixed up with a lot of riff-raff and you can't get rid of them. (S. M.) For God's sake, hurry, Doctor. We'll have this roof down on us before we know where we are. (A. C.)

In a twink; in a twinkling; in the twinkling of an eye

very quickly, in a moment

I'll be ready in a twink. The plumber repaired the water-tap in the twinkling of an eye. (K. H.)

In a jiffy; in a second (in half a second); in half a mo; in a minuteare similarly used, all meaning very soon; very quickly.

Come up to my room and have a wash. Lunch'll

be ready in a jiffy. (J. G.)

Wait there, I'll be back in half a second. (A. W.)

"No objection at all, my boy. I'll just go through

the cash, lock up, and be with you in half-a-mo, "

said Mr. Claye ... (J. F.)

Show him into the study, please, and say I'll

be there in a minute. (J. G.)

"I'll bring you the other things in a minute, "

said the waitress. (J. G.)

Half a mo (moment)or half a minuteusually means wait a little time.

Johnson? Half a mo! Yes, the name is familiar

to me. (A. W.)

Now, then, we'll have a try at the door. Half

a moment, though, isn't there a door into Miss Cynthia's room? (A. Chr.) "'scuse me half a minute, Mrs. Owen, " exclaimed Ronnie's new client. (B. R.)

On the other hand a long time is colloquially expressed

by these phrases of exaggeration:

(for) donkey's years a long time; (for) ages

Hello! I haven't seen you for donkey's years.

(A. W.)

"Isn't she working?"

"Well, no, she says, after working for donkey's

years as you might say, now she's married she's

going to take it easy. ..." (S. M.)

"Oh, I came to tell you Uncle is very anxious

for you to play something for him this evening, "

Dessy said suddenly. "Will you?"

"My dear, I haven't practised for donkey's years."

(V. L.)

till Doomsdayor till Kingdom come a long time; for ever

Go on! If you wait for me, you'll wait till Dooms

day. (A. W.)

"I haven't an opening. And I may not have one

for a year."

"I can wait a year."

"But I can't promise you one even then. I might

die or retire. If you wait for me, you may wait

till Doomsday." (L. A.)

"You could live up here till Kingdom come, "

he said to Moose, "and no one would ever find

out, particularly those dumb wardens." (J. Ald.)

A month (week) of Sundaysis similarly used meaning a long time or never.

It will take me a month of Sundays to do it.

(A. W.)

I've been with Mr. Gallagher for four years now

and a better gentleman you wouldn't find in

a week of Sundays. (S. M.)

He'll not learn to swim in a month of Sundays.

(W. B.)

Don't be half an hourmeans Don't be long about it

Go and put on your hat and don't be half an hour about it. (A. W.)

Once in a blue moonis colloquial for rarely or never.

And the food's pretty rough. You know how these peasants eat: macaroni on Sundays and meat once in a blue moon. (S. M.) That only happens once in a blue moon. (A. W.) He calls on me once in a blue moon.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since we last

met is a usual comment when you haven't seen people for a long time.

Of things that in your opinion bear no more delay or should have happened long ago you may say: it's high time (he came); it's about time (we left).Note the form of the verb in the following clauses, if there is one.

What! You have not learnt geography? Well, well, it's high time you did. (A. W.) The general feeling is that if we're not married it's high time we were. (S. M.) It's about time you knew how to behave yourself.

Note also these patterns with similar meaning:

And about time too.

And not before it's time.

"Come along, " he said. "We're" ready for you." "About time too, " Connie answered and joined the little queue that was going upstairs. (N. C.) So you're ready? And not before it's time!

(Rather) late in the dayis colloquial for at a late stage, very late, especially unreasonably.

"What exactly do you want?"

"She deserted me. I want a divorce."

"Rather late in the day, isn't it?" (J. G.)

I am not going to begin to be polite now about old Bounderby. It would be rather late in the day. (Ch. D.)

"Consent?" thought Jolyon. "Rather late in the day to ask for that." (J. G.)

How goes the enemy? is colloquial for What is the time? One can kill time that is find ways of passing time without being bored; busy oneself in some useless thing but so as to make the time pass without tediousness.

"What have you been doing?" his mother used

to ask him when he came in late for dinner.

"Oh, hanging about just to kill time." Even at

the age of sixteen he had found it necessary to

kill time. (J. M.)

Look, let's not talk about atomic energy or the

problems and pleasures of marriage. Let's just

kill time. (M. W.)

As a matter of fact, you're not interested in sides,

you just want to kill time. (M. W.)

That would kill the night. We lords of the earth,

I reflected as I climbed into bed, are always

trying to kill time now generally with a blunt

instrument. (J. P.)

To take one's time is not to be in a hurry, and the advice Take your time means: Do not hurry.

"Sit down!" said Jolly. "Take your time! Think

it over well...." "...Take your time, " said Jolly

again; "I don't want to be unfair." (J. G.)

"I must say, Lewis, " he said, "the old boys are

taking their time." (C. S.)

Leave that to me, Mrs. Dudgeon; and take your

time. (B. S.)

The operator seemed to be taking his time. (S. H.)

"I don't know, " I answered. I took my time

to think. (S. M.)

The proverb Better late than never suggests that it is better to arrive late than never to arrive at all, or be late in the performance of anything rather than never do it. The

proverb is usually quoted to a person who has apologised or being late. Another proverb derived from this one is: But better never late.The idea of exactness is expressed in the colloquial on the dot,that is, exactly on time, promptly.

We were to dine with the Greens at seven and we reached their house on the dot. (S. M.) "We'll be ready on the dot, " said Hetty. (V. L.) She says: "Hello, pal. You're right on the dot. Let's go and have a little drink." (P. Ch.)

To make good timeis not to be late, or even to be ahead of time(in advance).

Gorin has come ahead of time to get the lay of the land. (M. W.)

When you are behind time(late) you may have to make up for lost time,that is, to hurry in order to recover lost time.

"Quick, girls, " urged Mamma, "do up your father's

garters for him. Look sharp now, he's behind

time!" (A. C.)

He paused. "We've got a lot of work to do, "

he added, looking hard to Mr. Josser. "Making

up for lost time." (N. C.)

But I'll not rest till I've made it up to you.

Let's make up for lost time. (A. C.)

One can spend time or pass the time(use it up); waste time(spend time uselessly) and lose time(let time pass without turning it to account), but one should remember the proverb: Lost time is never found again.Aconvenient or favourable time (or occasion) is an opportunity and to seize (grasp) an (the) opportunitymeans to see and promptly make use of one.

Old Jolyon was not slow to seize the opportunity this gave him. (J. G.)

Winterbourne seized the opportunity to put forward one or two ideas he had been thinking over ... (R. A.)

Seizing the opportunity may be also colloquially expressed in these words of wisdom:

Strike while the iron's hot.(Choose the best time for doing

anything, the time when circumstances are most favourable.)

"You see, " he heard Soames say, "we can't have it all begin over again. There's a limit; we must strike while the iron's hot." (J. G.)

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do todayor Do it now.(If you have any task to do, do it today; do not postpone doing what you can do now.)

"Never put off till tomorrow, Charlie, what you can do today, " said the man in the velveteen coat. (H. W.)

Opportunity only knocks onceor Opportunity seldom knocks twice.(If an opportunity is neglected, it may not come again for a long time.)

"Opportunity only knocks once! Remember that, " cried Gay. (G. S.)

Blast Mr. Blaker. "Opportunity only knocks once, " he told himself. (N. C.)

Other proverbs in common use are:

Make hay while the sun shines.(Make the best and earliest

use of your opportunities.)

Time and tide wait for no man.(If an opportunity slips

away, it may not come again for a long time.)

To take (grasp) time by the forelock.(To use an opportunity

as soon as it appears.)


Colloquial phrases concerned with work and business include the following:

to be on the job to be at work; to be working; especially working well

Despite all Mrs. Josser's warnings, Mr. Josser was back on the job again. (N. C.) Nobody knows his business. Nobody knows how he spends his time. Even when he's on the job, he ... disappears most of each day soon as his work is done. (J. L.)

(to be) on thego (to be) at work or doing something active

I'll keep the car on the go about here till you

come. (B. Sh.)

Ido my best. I'm on the go night and day.

(D. A. S.)

I've been on the go ever since daybreak. (H. W.)

to get down to (one's work, business, etc.) to settle down to it seriously

The holidays are over; we must get down to work

again. (A. H.)

He paused and then said in his ordinary everyday

voice: "Let's get down to it." (A. Chr.)

The Jossers were just having a cup of tea before

they got down to things. (N. C.)

to get on with work (job, etc.) to advance in doing it;

to progress with one's business

I couldn't back out on them even if I wanted to. And I don't want to. However, let's get on with the work. (M. W.)

"How are you getting on with my cousin's house?" "It'll be finished in about a week." (J. G.) We've had enough amusement and must get on with our job. (J. P.)

The general idea of being (very) busy may be expressed by

the following phrase in common use:

to have one's hands full to be very busy; to have as

much to do as one is able to do

When a man is so busily engaged that he cannot attempt

anything more, he is said to have his hands full.

My hands are full (or) I have my hands full.

(i. e. I am fully occupied.) (A. H.)

At the end of his visit, as Andrew stood, talking

to her at the door of her house, he remarked with

regret: "You have your hands full. It's a pity

you must keep Idris home from school." (A. C.)

"What if I ask Jack Burton to give you a hand?"

Roy told him. "Jack will do what he can ..."

"He's got his own hands full, " Sam said. (J. Ald.)

"Another thing is, " he goes on, "we've got our

hands pretty full." (P. Ch.)

Do not expect him to help you; he has his hands

full. (W. M.)

We have our hands full preparing the show.

(K. H.)

To have a lot of work on one's handsmeans the same thing,

Shouldn't I look foolish to forgo a competent adviser now that I've got a lot of work on my hands. (B. R.)

To have (a lot) on also means to be very busy,

I've a lot on this week, but next week I shall probably have more time to spare. (W. B.) Have you anything on this afternoon? (i. e. Have you any engagement? Are you free?) (A. H.)

Other phrases expressing the notion of being busy include the following: to be snowed under with work; not to have a minute to spare; to be (hard) at it.

After so much inactivity it's good to be hard at

it again. (W. B.)

If well-behaved they even on occasion served

as house-boys. Cooper kept them hard at it.

He liked to see them work. (S. M.)

I wish I could help you with the Garden Party,

but I really haven't a minute to spare. (W. B.)

I'm snowed under with work this week, but next

week I'll probably have more time.

(to have) other fish to fry (to have) other business to do (and therefore be busy)

No; I can't go now. I've got other fish to fry. If you can see through this mystery, it's more than I can. I'm beaten, and I confess it. In any case I've other fish to fry. (A. Chr.) What did you mean by saying you had other fish to fry, Sir Charles? (A. Chr.)

A common simile describing a busy person is: as busy as a bee.

She had no sooner done this, than off she was again; and there she stood once more, as brisk and busy as a bee... (Ch. D.)

A busy person may protest (against some additional work, etc.) in the following words: I have only one pair of hands.

"Can't you look after yourselves for once? I've only got one pair of hands, you know, " said their harassed mother. (W. B.)

The idea of working too hard is expressed in the following phrases: to burn the candle at both ends to work too hard; use all one's energy; stay up late and get up early

"I'm worried about you, " she said.

"What's the matter?"

"You mustn't burn the candle at both ends, "

(C. S.)

to overdo it to make oneself too tired by working too hard

"Mind you don't go overdoing it now you are

here, " he remarked at last, as though Mr. Josser's

return had been his own idea entirely. "Take

it easy, remember no late hours." (N. C.)

"And if I might suggest, Miss Dinny, a little sea

air for you."

"Yes, Blore, I was thinking of it."

"I'm glad, miss; one overdoes it at this time of

the year." (J. G.)

Other phrases connected with the idea of much work include the following: to work one's fingers to the bone to work very hard

I intend to go at my profession in earnest, and work my fingers to the bone. (B. Sh.) In the cotton-mills young girls and women worked their fingers to the bone. (K. H.)

to put one's back into something to work very hard

at it

"That's why I'd rather else tackled her... Firstly, " he smiled ruefully, "I shall be accused of not putting my back into the job, and secondly well she's a friend you understand?" (A. Chr.)

to keep one's nose to the grindstone to work hard and labouriously

John wants to take the doctor's degree; he has to keep his nose to the grindstone. (K. H.)

to have one's work cut out (for one) to have as much work as one can do; to have a difficult task

It's a big job, he'll have his work cut out for him. (A. H.)

I expect to have my work cut out for me. I shall act and I shall act promptly. (S. M.) "Huph!" said Soames. "Commisions! You'll have your work cut out, if you begin that sort of thing!" (J. G.)

"Mrs. Nunro is a great friend of mine. She's been kindness itself to me. I won't hear a word said against her." "Then I'm afraid you'll have your job cut out for you if you stay here much longer." (S. At.)

Getting over the hard, preliminary work may be colloquially put in this way: to break the back (the neck) of a thing (job, etc.)

to have disposed of the main part of the task

We have broken the back of it; what remains

to be done is easy. (K. H.)

In an hour's time we shall have broken the back

of the job. (W. B.)

This has been a big job but I have broken the

back of it now. (Eck.)

Other common phrases dealing with work are: to sack a person to dismiss him from work to get (be given) the sack to be dismissed from a job

As a matter of fact, I hadn't thought they would want to sack me, but (B. R.) We'll wait three months to make sure you don't get the sack and then (A. Chr.) He's just given me the sack; and I have four children looking to me for their bread. (B. Sh.) For the last five years he's been in the City in a stuffy office. And now they're cutting down and he's got the sack. (A. Chr.)

To get (be given) one's cards means the same thing.

If the men don't return by tomorrow they'll get their cards. (W. B.)

to be kicked out to be thrown out; to be dismissed with contempt

"Did Almond play?" asked Kenning. "You bet your life he didn't, " said Walton. "They kicked him out of the team last season." (S. M.)

to give notice (to one's employer) to give official warning of one's intention to cease employment

"And are you his manager?"

"I have given him notice. In a couple of weeks

I shall have shaken off his accursed slavery."

(A. C. D.)

I had a man called Foreman then, the best valet

I ever had, and why do you think he gave me

notice? (S. M.)

to knock off to stop work for a (short) period

The work went well all the morning, and it was half past one when I knocked off for lunch. (J. P.) Today's Friday. Let's knock off until Monday. (M. W.)

to pack (it) upand to pack inhave the same significance to leave off work

Let's pack in and have a drink together. I've got sort of a date to-night but there's plenty of time. (M. W.)

But we can't pack up. ... We have to carry on. (J. P.)

To call it a daymay be similarly used with the meaning to consider that particular period of work finished.

"You must have had something in mind?" said De Witt. "You didn't think you'd close shop and call it a day?" (S. H.)

A rest from work is a break.

When I came to Kremmen I said to myself: Now you're going to take a little break. (S. H.) A week-end at Brighton makes a nice break. (W. B.)

to be at a loose end to be without definite occupation; to have nothing to do although you would like to be occupied

I'm at a loose end so I was telling Mr. Croxton a thing or two about the City. (J. P.) She's at a loose end, you know, badly wants something to do. (J. G.)

to kick one's heels to be waiting for work; to waste time waiting uselessly

You've just got to kick your heels and look as

though you like it. (C. S.)

I won't leave you here to kick your heels. (J. G.)

to twiddle one's thumbs to wait in forced inaction; to be idle

I can't stay here for ever twiddling my thumbs. Better give it up and call on her in the late afternoon. (J. G.)

She's nothing else to do, it seems, but to sit and twiddle her thumbs. (W. B.)

To shirk work(i. e. to avoid it) may be also colloquially

put in this way:

to play truant (play hookey) to remain away from

one's place of work, especially school, without a good


I happened to have nothing very pressing just

then to tie me, and I determined to play hookey

from my consulting room for half a day and go

over to Eastfolk museum. (H. W.)

"What made you run away? Playing truant, eh?"

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

It was a wonderful day, so the two boys decided

to play truant and go swimming. (K. H.)

Some proverbs concerned with work: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.(People, especially children, should not be kept at work for too long but should be given time for games and rest.) Many hands make light work.(Work is easy when several people share it.)

"Sorted this lot? I thought we shouldn't get through them this afternoon!" "Many 'ands, anyway two pairs, make light work." (B. R.)

Put your shoulder to the wheel.(Do not stand idle looking at any work that has to be done, but set to work with a good will.)


Colloquial phrases concerned with the idea of responsibility include the following:

Leave it to me expresses a willingness to undertake responsibility and means I'll make myself responsible for it. The latter is also colloquially used.

You must stay and have dinner with us. Leave it to me to tell your father. (7. G.) "You leave it to me, " she said. "I'll see her." (S. M.)

"And the show at the pavilion?" she giggled. "You must leave that to me, my dear." (V. L.) I'll make myself responsible for the arrangement. I see no reason why I should make myself responsible for his mistakes. (W. B.) "You'll leave everything to me?" he said. "Everything, " she echoed. (A. C.)

it's up to you - it is your responsibility; the responsibility rests with you

It's up to you to teach him better. (D. E. S.) It's up to you to break the news to her. (W. B.) It was up to me to tell her about Helen. (W. B.) It was up to her to take that decision.

to take (something) on to accept responsibility

You've taken a bit too much, on ... Most of the stuff isn't your responsibility. (W. B.) John has taken on that job at the office for the time being. (W. B.)

I'm not going to take any more work on now, I'm too busy.

To take it upon oneselfmeans undertaking something abitrarily, i. e. without proper authorisation.

He strikes me as taking a bit too much on himself. (W. B.)

Look here, Charles. I take all responsibility on myself. (A. Chr.)

(to have something) on ones hand(s) (to have it) resting on one as a responsibility, under one's charge

Myself, I don't bother about the surgeries, I have the hospital on my hands. (A. C.) I have an empty house on my hands. (A. H.) "You have grave affairs on hand?" Poirot shook his head. (A. Chr.)

to letoneself infor being involved in some unpleasant responsibility (difficulty, loss)

"My word, she doesn't know what she's letting herself in for, " said Banford... (D. L.) If I'd known what I was letting myself in for, I wouldn't have come here. (B. Sh.) I oughtn't to have let you in for this, Jean, it was I who brought the young things together, you know. (J. G.)

Do you two boys know what you're letting yourself in for? (S. H.)

(to do something) off one's own bat (to do it) on one's own initiative, and the action is usually regarded favourably

He arranged the show completely off his own

bat. (W. B.)

Do you think he acted off his own bat?

to be landed with someone (something) to have an unpleasant responsibility thrust upon one

I am landed with her as a travelling companion. (W. B.)

to carry (take) the can (back) to have to answer for other people's misdeeds, bear the chief burden of blame

I'm not responsible and I'm certainly not going to carry the can.

I suppose I will have to take the can back for the lot. (W. B.)

to carry (hold) the baby to be left with an unpleasant responsibility or task

We moved house just when Dad was on a business trip. So Mummy and I had to carry the baby alone. (K. N.) He was left holding the baby. (W. B.)

To shift the responsibility on to someone else is to pass the buck (baby).

Yates had no desire to go to the kitchen. He passed the buck to Bing... (S. H.) You're always trying to pass the buck to somebody.

Other expressions for evasion of responsibility are: that's your (his, etc.) funeral that's your (his, etc.) responsibility in the event of failure; whatever happens, you alone are responsible

that's your (his, etc.) look-out in case of failure, you (he, etc.) alone are responsible is similarly used

All right, it's your funeral. But I still think

you ought to have a definite figure in mind.

(M. W.)

If the car breaks down, it will be your funeral.

(D. E. S.)

"Oh, well, it's not my funeral, " he went on.

"If the governor wants to keep him on here

whether he's fitted for anything special or not,

that's his look-out." (Th. D.)

Never you mind what I look her for; that's my

look-out. (Ch. D.)

"If you wait for me, you may wait till Doomsday." "I guess that's my look-out." (L. A.)

it's (not) my (his, etc.) pigeon it's (not) my (his, etc.) concern

Leave the unpacking to me. That's my pigeon. You can get the kettle boiling for the tea. (W. B.) The prisoners are my pigeon, and you've got no right to interfere. (S. M.) "One understands, " the detective said to the chief... "that this lady I have seen is not our pigeon at all." (V. L.) But isn't it his pigeon?

to wash one's hand of something (somebody) to disclaim all further responsibility for it (him)

If you must come to grief, you must; I wash my

hands of it. (J. G.)

Either you cut it out, or we should have to wash

our hands of the whole business. (C. S.)

If you don't come back to-morrow, I'll wash my

hands of you.

If you marry that wastrel, I shall wash my hands

of you. (W. B.)

The evasion of responsibility is also expressed thus: to hang back to be reluctant to assume responsibility; show unwilingness to act or move

You were driving yourself with the idea that I wouldn't be able to hang back if you set a fast pace. (M. W.)

When the officer asked for volunteers, not one soldier hung back. (A. H.)

to back out towithdraw from understanding, agreement, etc.

Do you think I'm trying to back out? (M. W.)

I had been lying. There was still time to back

out. (C. S.)

Aren't you going to help us? Are you backing


to shirk it (responsibility, danger, work, etc.) to avoid


Mind you, we may have to tell you that it's not your vocation. One mustn't shirk one's responsibilities. (C. S.)

With you at the end awaiting me, I have never shirked. (7. L.)

Unpleasant to be thought a shirker by one's own mother. But it wasn't shirking. (J. G.)

Have it your own way!resigns responsibility to someone who has been persistently clamouring for it. It means Do just what you want to, I refuse to argue or discuss it further!

He grinned. "Have it your own way. You always

do." (V. L.)

Very well then, have it your own way. I leave

it in your hands. (A. Chr.)

"All right, have it your own way, " he said. (S. M.)


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