List of American English Idioms & Phrases

Listing 191 Entries
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A day late and a dollar short
If something is a day late and a dollar short, it is too little, too late.
All bets are off
If all bets are off, then agreements that have been made no longer apply.
All hat, no cattle
When someone talks big, but cannot back it up, they are all hat, no cattle.('Big hat, no cattle' is also used.)
All over Hell's half acre
If you have been all over Hell's half acre, you have been traveling and visiting many more places than originally intended, usually because you were unsuccessful in finding what you were looking for. It can also be used to mean everywhere.
All over the map
If something like a discussion is all over the map, it doesn't stick to the main topic and goes off on tangents.
Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades
Used in response to someone saying "almost" in a win/lose situation. The full expression is "Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades." An alternate form puts "and flinging shit from a shovel" at the end.
Armchair quarterback
An armchair quarterback is someone who offers advice, especially about football, but never shows that they could actually do any better.
As mad as a wrongly shot hog
If someone is as mad as a wrongly shot hog, they are very angry. (Same as, Angry as a bear or Angry as a bull).
As rare as hen's teeth
Something that is rare as hen's teeth is very rare or non-existent.
At a drop of a dime
If someone will do something at the drop of a dime, they will do it instantly, without hesitation.
At loose ends
If you are at a loose end, you have spare time but don't know what to do with it.
At the bottom of the totem pole
If someone is at the bottom of the totem pole, they are unimportant. Opposite is at the top of the totem pole.
At the end of your rope
If you are at the end of your rope, you are at the limit of your patience or endurance.
Baby boomer
A baby boomer is someone born in the years after the end of the Second World War, a period when the population was growing very fast.
Balls to the walls
If you do something balls to the wall, you apply full acceleration or exertion.
Band-Aid on a bullet wound
If you put Band-Aid on a bullet wound, you attempt to deal with a serious problem in an inadequate way.('Band-Aid on a gunshot wound' is also used.)  
Batting a thousand
(from baseball) It means to do something perfectly.
Be out in left field
To be out in left field is not to know what's going on. Taken from baseball, when youngsters assign less capable players to the outfield where the ball is less likely to be hit by a young player. In business, one might say, 'Don't ask the new manager; he's out in left field and doesn't know any answers yet.'
Beat someone to the draw
If you beat someone to the draw, you do something before they do.
Beating a dead horse
If someone is trying to convince people to do or feel something without any hope of succeeding, they're beating a dead horse. This is used when someone is trying to raise interest in an issue that no-one supports anymore; beating a dead horse will not make it do any more work.
Bells on
To be somewhere with bells on means to arrive there happy and delighted to attend.
Belt and suspenders
Someone who wears belt and suspenders is very cautious and takes no risks.
Bet the ranch
If you bet the ranch, you risk everything on something you think will succeed.
Bet your bottom dollar
If you can bet your bottom dollar on something, you can be absolutely sure about it.
Big Apple
The Big Apple is New York.
Big Easy
The Big Easy is New Orleans, Louisiana
If you bird-dog, you follow someone or something very closely, monitoring them.
Blow off steam
If you blow off steam, you express your anger or frustration.
Blow smoke
If people blow smoke, they exaggerate or say things that are not true, usually to make themselves look better.
Built like a Mack Truck
This is a common phrase used in the US among its citizens to refer to something that is rugged and solidly built that will provide years of reliable service. It can be a reference to a person, building, piece of furniture, a structure, etc.
Burr up the ass
If you have a burr up your ass, you are very upset about something that has happened and intend to do something about it to correct it.
Can't dance and it's too wet to plow
When you can't dance and it's too wet to plow, you may as well do something because you can't or don't have the opportunity to do anything else.
Cat fur and kitty britches
When I used to ask my grandma what was for dinner, she would say 'cat fur and kitty britches'. This was her Ozark way of telling me that I would get what she cooked. (Ozark is a region in the center of the United States)
Cat's pajamas
Something that is the cat's pajamas is excellent.
Caught with your hand in the cookie jar
If someone is caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar, he or she is caught doing something wrong.
Charley horse
A charley horse is a stiff leg or a cramp, especially in the leg.
Circle the wagons
If you circle the wagons, you stop communicating with people who don't think the same way as you to avoid their ideas.  It can also mean to bring everyone together to defend a group against an attack.
Close but no cigar
If you are close but no cigar, you are close to success or the truth, but have not got there.
Cooking with gas
If you're cooking with gas, you're working very efficiently.
Cool your Jets
If someone is angry or unsettled, telling them to cool their jets means they should calm down.
Coon's age
A very long time, as in 'I haven't seen her in a coon's age!'
Country mile
A country mile is used to describe a long distance.
Crepe hanger
One who always looks at the bad side of things and is morbid or gloomy. In olden days crepe was hung on the door of a deceased person's home.
If someone says that it's been crickets, they mean that there has been complete silence and no ommincation on an issue.
Curve ball
If something is a curve ball, it is deceptive.
Cut someone off at the knees
If you cut someone off at the knees, you humiliate them or force them to do what you want.
Cute as a bug
If something is as cute as a bug, it is sweet and endearing.
Decorate the mahogany
When someone buys a round a pub or bar, they decorate the mahogany; putting cash on the bar.
Different ropes for different folks
This idiom means that different people do things in different ways that suit them.
Different strokes for different folks
This idiom means that different people do things in different ways that suit them.
Dime a dozen
If something is a dime a dozen, it is extremely common, possibly too common.
Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?
(US Southern) This is a response given to an unnecessary question for which the obvious answer is yes. Example: If you were to ask an Olympic archer whether she could put an arrow in an apple at ten yards, she could answer: "Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?"('Do one-legged ducks swim in circles?' is also used.)
Dog and pony show
A dog and pony show is a presentation or some marketing that has lots of style, but no real content.
Dollars for doughnuts
If something is dollars for doughnuts, it is a sure bet or certainty.
Don't stop and kick at every dog that barks at you
If we stop to kick at every dog that barks at us we will never arrive at our destination in life, because we are obsessed with righting insignifigant wrongs that should have no more effect on us then a dog that barks as we walk by.
Don't sweat the small stuff
This is used to tell people not to worry about trivial or unimportant issues.
Don't take any wooden nickels
This idiom is used to advise people not to be cheated or ripped off.
Down to the wire
If something goes down to the wire, like a competition, then it goes to the very last moment before it is clear who has won.
Drawing card
A famous person who attracts people to attend an event is a drawing card.
Drop a dime
If you drop a dime, you inform the police about someone's illegal activities.
Drop in the bucket
A drop in the bucket is something so small that it won't make any noticeable difference.
Drunker than a peach orchard boar
Southern US expression - Very drunk, as when a boar would eat fermented peaches that have fallen from the tree.
Duck soup
If something is duck soup, it is very easy.
Ducks in a row
If you have your ducks in a row, you are well-organized.
Eat crow
If you eat crow, you have to admit that you were wrong about something.
Fair shake of the whip
If everybody has a fair shake of the whip, they all have equal opportunities to do something.
Fall off the turnip truck
If someone has just fallen off the turnip truck, they are uninformed, naive and gullible. (Often used in the negative)
Feel your oats
If your are energetic and vigorous, you are feeling your oats.
Fifth wheel
A fifth wheel is something unnecessary or useless.
Fine as frog's hair
If something is as fine as frog's hair, it is very delicate and fine. The phrase is facetious as frogs do not possess hair.
Fish or cut bait
This idiom is used when you want to tell someone that it is time to take action.
Forest for the trees
If someone can't see the forest for the trees, they get so caught up in small details that they fail to understand the bigger picture.
Frog strangler
A frog strangler is a very heavy downpour of rain.
From Missouri
If someone is from Missouri, then they require clear proof before they will believe something.
From the get-go
If something happens from the get-go, it happens from the very beginning.
Get on my last nerve
If something is getting on your last nerve, you are completely fed up, ready to lose your temper. (Southern USA)
Give away the store
If someone gives away the store, they say or do something that makes their position in negotiations, debates, etc, much weaker.
Go fly a kite
This is used to tell someone to go away and leave you alone.
Go fry an egg
This is used to tell someone to go away and leave you alone.
Go over like a lead balloon
If something goes over like a lead balloon, it will not work well, or go over well.
Go pound salt
This means 'Get lost' or 'Go away'('Go pound sand' is also used.)
Go to the mat
If people go  to the mat, they continue to struggle or fight to the end, until they have either won or have finally been defeated.  
Going Jesse
If something is a going Jesse, it's a viable, successful project or enterprise.
Green thumb
Someone with a talent for gardening has a green thumb.
Hill of beans
It something doesn't amount to a hill of beans, it is worthless. 
Hold the bag
If someone is responsible for something, they are holding the bag.
Horse of a different color
If something is a horse of a different color, it's a different matter or separate issue altogether.
Hot button
A hot button is a topic or issue that people feel very strongly about.
Hot ticket
A hot ticket is something that is very much in demand at the moment.
How do you like them apples
This idiomatic expression is used to express surprise or shock at something that has happened. It can also be used to boast about something you have done.
How the hog ate the cabbage
If you tell someone how the hog ate the cabbage, it means you tell it like it is- tell someone the truth that they probably don't want to hear.
I may have been born at night, but not last night
This is an expression used in the Southern USA meaning I am not a fool.
If I had a nickel for every time
When someone uses this expression, they mean that the specific thing happens a lot. It is an abbreviation of the statement 'If I had a nickel for every time that happened, I would be rich'
In a pig's eye
This is used when the speaker does not believe the other person.
In high gear
If something is in high gear, it is in a quick-paced mode. If someone is in high gear, they are feverishly on the fast track.
In like a dirty shirt
If someone is in like a dirty shirt, they are fully involved in something.
In the catbird seat
If someone is in the catbird seat, they are in an advantageous or superior position.
It's been a slice
When someone leaves and you have said your goodbyes it is usually the last thing you may say..........It's been a slice. I use it after a visit where we have had a good time.
Jerkwater town
A jerwater town is a small and insignificant town without many amenities.
John Hancock
John Hancock means a signature- his signature on the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence is very prominent.
John Q Public
John Q Public is the typical, average person.
Kick up your heels
If you kick up your heels, you go to parties or celebrate something.
Like a bump on a log
If someone is sitting there like a bump on a log, they are not doing anything. sittting around while everybody else is working.
Like green corn through the new maid
If something is very fast, it is like green corn through the new maid.
Like nailing jello to the wall
Describes a task that is very difficult because the parameters keep changing or because someone is being evasive.
Like taking candy from a baby
If something is like taking candy from a baby, it is very easy to do.
Like to died
This is regional southern Midwest American English, and may extend to other areas in the U.S. South. In the phrase, "like to" means "almost," and "died" is hyperbole, expressing the extreme effect on the speaker. Here's an example: "That job was so hard, I like to died".
Like white on rice
If you do something like white on rice, you do it very closely: When Bob found out I had front row tickets for the concert, he stuck to me like white on rice.
Little pitchers have big ears
This means that children hear more and understand the world around them better than many adults realize.
Lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut
If someone or something is lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut, they are of low moral standing because a snake's belly is low and if the snake is in a wagon rut, it is really low.
Mad as a hornet
If someone is as mad as a hornet, they are very angry indeed.
Make bets in a burning house
If people are making bets in a burning house, they are engaged in futile activity while serious problems around them are getting worse.
Make out like a bandit
If someone is extremely successful in a venture, they make out like a bandit.
Mind your own beeswax
This idiom means that people should mind their own business and not interfere in other people's affairs.
Mom and pop
A mom and pop business is a small business, especially if it is run by members of a family. It can used in a wider sense to mean that something is small scale.
Monday morning quarterback
A Monday morning quarterback is someone who, with the benefit of hindsight, knows what should have been done in a situation.
More bang for your buck
Something that will give you more bang for your buck will deliver more value than any other option.
Move the chains
Derived from the act of moving the chains in an American football game when a team gets a first down, this expression describes taking a project to the next step, especially one that has lost its momentum for one reason or another. Example: Frustrated with our lack of progress, our boss finally shouted, "Make a decision today about which one to use, and let's move the chains on this."
My dogs are barking
When someone says this, they mean that their feet are hurting.
Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs
This means that someone is very nerfvous or jumpy.
New York minute
If something happens in a New York minute, it happens very fast.
Nickel tour
If someone gives you a nickel tour, they show you around a place. ('Fifty-cent tour' is also used.)
Not have two nickels to rub together
If a person doesn't have two nickels to rub together, they are very poor.
Not know beans about
If someone doesn't know beans about something, they know nothing about it.
Not worth a red cent
If something is not worth a red cent, it has no value.
Off like a dirty shirt
If someone is off like a dirty shirt, they leave quickly.
On the mound
If you're on the mound, you're on the mound back at your game, back in control.
Out of the left field
If something comes out of the left field, it is beside the point and has nothing to do with the matter being discussed.
Paddle your own canoe
If you paddle your own canoe, you do things for yourself without outside help.
Paint yourself into a corner
If someone paints themselves into a corner, they get themselves into a mess.
Pennies on the dollar
If something is pennies on the dollar, it's much cheaper than it  cost originally.
Penny ante
Something that is very unimportant is penny ante.
Pick-up game
A pick-up game is something unplanned where people respond to events as they happen.
Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered
This idiom is used to express being satisfied with enough, that being greedy or too ambitious will be your ruin.
Polish the apples
Someone who polishes the apples with someone, tries to get into that person's favor.
Pull numbers out of your ass
If sopmeone pulls numbers out of their ass, they give unreliable or unsubstantiated figures to back their argument.
Pull out of the fire
If you pull something out of the fire, you save or rescue it.
Pull your chain
If someone pulls your chain, they take advantage of you in an unfair way or do something to annoy you.
Put more green into something
To put more green into something is to spend more or to increase investment in it.
Put some mustard on it!
It's used to encourage someone to throw a ball like a baseball hard or fast.
Ragged blue line
This term was used to signify the Union forces (who wore blue uniforms) in the American Civil war .
Raise Cain
If someone raises Cain, they make a big fuss publicly, causing a disturbance.
Rake someone over the coals
If you rake someone over the coals, you criticize or scold them severely.
Rest is gravy
If the rest is gravy, it is easy and straightforward once you have reached that stage.
Rode hard and put away wet
Someone who's been rode hard and put away wet has had a very hard life. When a horse is ridden hard and sweaty, it needs to be walked and cooled down before being stabled.
Root hog or die poor
It's a expression used in the Southern USA that means that you must look out for yourself as no one's going to do it for you.  (It can be shortened to 'root hog'.  A hog is a pig.)
Run around the bush
If you run around the bush, it means that you're taking a long time to get to the point.
Saigon moment
A Saigon moment is when people realise that something has gone wrong and that they will lose or fail.
Say uncle
If you say uncle, you admit defeat. ('Cry uncle' is an alternative form.)
Sharp as a tack
If someone is as sharp as a tack, they are very clever indeed.
Sharpen your pencil
If someone says this when negotiating, they want the other person to make a better offer, a lower price.
Slap leather
This is used as an instruction to tell people when to draw their guns.
Slower than molasses going uphill in January
To move extremely slowly. Molasses drips slowly anyway but add January cold and gravity, dripping uphill would be an impossibility, thereby making the molasses move very slowly indeed!
Squeaky wheel gets the grease
When people say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, they mean that the person who complains or protests the loudest attracts attention and service.
Squeeze blood out of a turnip
When people say that you can't squeeze blood out of a turnip, it means that you cannot get something from a person, especially money, that they don't have.
Stool pigeon
A stool pigeon is a police informer.
Stop on a dime
If something like a vehicle stops on a dime, it stops very quickly and accurately.
Sweat bullets
If someone is sweating bullets, they're very worried or frightened.
Take the fifth
If you do not want to answer a question you can take the fifth, meaning you are choosing not to answer.  ('Plead the fifth' is also used.)
Talk a blue streak
If someone talks a blue streak, they speak quickly and at length. ('Talk up a blue streak' is also used.)
Tall enough to hunt geese with a rake
A person who's much taller than a person of average height.
Tell them where the dog died
If you tell them where the dog died, you strongly and sharply correct someone.
That and 50 cents will buy you a cup of coffee
This is used to describe something that is deemed worthless. "He's got a Ph.D. in Philosophy." "So? That and 50 cents will buy you a cup of coffee."
That dog won't hunt
Very common Southern US expression meaning: What you say makes no sense.
That's all she wrote
This idiom is used to show that something has ended and there is nothing more to say about something.
Throw a curve
If you throw someone a curve, you surprise them with something they find difficult to deal with. ('Throw' a curveball' is also used.) 
Throw a monkey wrench into the works
If you throw a monkey wrench into the works, you ensure that something fails.
Tough row to hoe
A tough row to hoe is a situation that is difficult to handle. ('A hard row to hoe' is an alternative form.)
Ugly as a stick
If someone is as ugly as a stick, they are very ugly indeed.
Uncle Sam
Uncle Sam is the government of the USA.
Under the wire
If a person does something under the wire, they do it at the last possible moment.
Until the last dog is shot
It means until the very last possible moment or until every possibility is exausted: You boys always stay until the last dog is shotI will stay until the last dog is shot to complete this project by deadline (Expression my mom who was born in 1917 in Wisconson always used.)  
A shy person who is not asked to dance is a wallflower.
Watch your six
This idiom means that you should look behind you for dangers coming that you can't see.
Water over the dam
If something has happened and cannot be changed, it is water over the dam.
Wedge politics
In wedge politics, one party uses an issue that they hope will divide members of a different party to create conflict and weaken it.
What can you expect from a hog but a grunt?
This means that you can't expect people to behave in a way that is not in their character- a 'hog' is a 'pig', so an unrefined person can't be expected to behave in a refined way.
Where the rubber meets the road
Where the rubber meets the road is the most important point for something, the moment of truth. An athlete can train all day, but the race is where the rubber meets the road and they'll know how good they really are.
Whistling Dixie
If someone is whistling Dixie, they talk about things in a more positive way than the reality.
Whistling past the graveyard
If someone is whistling past the graveyard, they are trying to remain cheerful in difficult circumstances. ('Whistling past the cemetery' is also used.)
Who wears the pants?
The person who wears the pants in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.
Whole ball of wax
The whole ball of wax is everything.
Whole cloth
If something is made out of whole cloth, it is a fabrication and not true.
Wilder than a peach orchard boar
A person who is out of control or running wild.
Wouldn't throw a rock in a school yard
Going through old photo albums with my 99 year old Gramma she pointed out one of my grandpa's uncle's & said this.  I was not sure why anyone would throw a rock in a schoolyard but I asked why this uncle in particular- it's a pretty obscure saying, but it's a very polite & modest, though playful, way to say someone is promiscuous. She explained that they "wouldn't throw a rock in a schoolyard" for fear of hitting one of their own illegitimately fathered kids, as any of them could be theirs.
Wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole
If you wouldn't touch something with a ten-foot pole, you would not consider being involved under any circumstances. (In British English, people say they wouldn't touch it with a bargepole)
Wrench in the works
If someone puts or throws a wrench, or monkey wrench, in the works, they ruin a plan. In British English, 'spanner' is used instead of 'wrench'.
Yell bloody murder
If someone yells bloody murder, they protest angrily and loudly, or scream in fear.
You can't get there from here
US expression used in the New England area (most frequently in Maine) by persons being asked for directions to a far distant location that cannot be accessed without extensive, complicated directions.
You can't have cake and the topping, too
This idiom means that you can't have everything the way you want it, especially if your desires are contradictory.
You've got rocks in your head
Someone who has acted with a lack of intelligence has rocks in their head.
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