Idioms and Phrases

Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.

Idioms

wash dirty linen in public

wash dirty linen in public

Meaning:

  • discuss publicly matters that one should keep private
  • to discuss in public one’s private scandals, disagreements, or difficulties
  • to unveil private problems with public

Examples:

  1. She decided not to take the family dispute to court as she feared it would only lead to a lot of washing of dirty linen in public.
  2. Listen, our relationship may have real problems, but it’s unfortunate that you have chosen to wash our dirty linen in public.
  3. My parents taught me not to wash my dirty laundry in public that the reason I only discusses private issues with family.
  4. I never understand why you wash all your dirty linen in public in your group discussions.

Origin:
before 900; Middle English lin ( n ) en (noun, adj.), Old English linnen, līnen (adj.) made of flax, equivalent to līn flax (< Latin līnum; see line2 ) + -en -en2.

in dire straits or need

in dire straits or need

Meaning:
- experience difficult financial conditions or circumstances
- in a very serious, bad circumstance
- in extreme danger or difficulty
- causing or involving great fear or suffering

Examples:
1. The earthquake and the drought left the region in dire straits for a long time.
2. I am totally broke and need help to buy some food for my children. We are in dire straits.
3. After the death of her father, little girl in dire need.
4. Last night everything burned in the factory of a successful business man now he is in dire straits.

Origin:
1560–70;
Latin dīrus worried, ill-fated.

toll or sound the death knell

toll or sound the death knell

Meaning:
Cause an organization, system or activity to fail or end

Examples:
1. The shutdown of the local iron industry tolled the death knell for the village.
2. Recent changes of software in cell phones sound the death knell for several popular models.
3. Resign of such a loyal manager might sound the death knell for that store.

Origin:
The noun knell, used for the ringing of a bell since at least A.D. 1000, is rarely heard today except in this figurative phrase.

turn a deaf ear

turn a deaf ear

Meaning:
- choose not to hear
- refuse to listen
- to ignore what someone says

Examples:
1. Please do not just turn a deaf ear to their cries for help.
2. This was too cheap when Sarah turned a deaf ear to our insistent.
3. The Bank tended to turn a deaf ear to ATM card lost complaints.
4. When I asked Michael to go with me for help he just turned a deaf ear.
5. How can you turned a deaf ear to the crying victims of accident.

Origin:
This idiomatic expression dates from the first half of the 1400s and was in most proverb collections from 1546 on.

dab hand

a dab hand at

Meaning and Synonyms:
- expert
- adept at
- one skillful at
- a person who is an expert at a particular activity
- someone specially skilled at a task

Usage:
The noun phrase a dab hand, is usually followed by at.

Examples:
1. My friend was too weak in all computer studies, but now he’s become a dab hand at Internet and Software.
2. Try one spoon of this pasta and you’ll agree she is a dab hand at making great Italian foods.
3. George is a dab hand at tennis, he always in this game.
4. Barbara is a dab hand at chopping onions fast and without tears.
5. For our new car garage, we are required a experienced mechanic who is a dab hand at engine repairing.
6. My 4 years old son is amazingly a dab hand at using mobile phones.
7. If you want to be a dab hand at chess you need to work hard.
8. Practice makes it perfect, keep practicing, you will be a dab hand at playing guitars one day.
9. I am a dab hand in touch typing on computer keyboard and typewriters more than you do on mobile phones to send texts.

Origin:
Great Britain, [1950-60s]

Dab hand apparently originated as Yorkshire dialect pre-1800, but didn’t become widely used in Britain until the 1950s, according to a Google Ngram. Following a familiar pattern, it peaked in Britain in about 1990, while U.S. use continues to rapidly increase (though it’s still used less than half as often here as there).

The first recorded use of dab by itself in a related sense is in the Athenian Mercury of 1691. It’s also in the Dictionary of the Canting Crew of 1698-99: a dab there is “an exquisite expert” in some form of roguery.

Dab Synonyms:
- daub, wipe, touch lightly, pat, small amount, bit, blob.

Hand Synonyms:
- give, hand over, pass, offer, tender, supply, furnish, dispense.

throw dust in eyes

throw dust in eyes

Meaning:
- to confuse or mislead somebody to deceive
- make a fool of

Examples:
1. She threw dust in the eyes of the jeweler by pretending to be a well-to-do lady, and then stole the jewellery.
2. The taxi drivers in Shimla throws dust in tourist’s eyes and take too much money for a small distance.
3. Give my whole money back; you cannot throw dust in my eyes.
4. The thug threw dust in her eyes and exchanged her real diamonds with fake stones.
5. The secretary of the film actress threw dust in the fan’s eyes, talking about a show at the airport when she was heading for the expressway.
6. Don’t ever earn money by throwing dust in customer’s eyes or soon you will lost your business.

Origin:
This idiomatic expression alludes to throwing dust or sand in the eyes to confuse a pursuing enemy. [Mid-1700s]

Throw dust in eyes Synonyms:
- Befool

well-to-do

well-to-do

Meaning:
- rich and of good social status
- having plenty of money and possessions
- in favorable circumstances
- in fortunate circumstances financially

Well-to-do Synonyms:
wealthy, rich, well-off, well-healed, affluent, Prosperous, comfortable, loaded.

Examples:
1. In the capital’s well-to-do suburbs, hiring a security guard has become a must for every family.
2. People living below poverty line protested against the new tax bill that favored the well-to-dos.
3. Most of well-to-do parents send their wards to London for study.
4. One friend mine is quite well-to-do and she is kind heart.
5. They are lucky who born in a well-to-do family.
6. I was not born in well-to-do family, but I worked really hard to reach this level.
7. He was a quite well-to-do business man but left everything becomes a Buddhist monk.

Usage:
well-to-do often used with quite.

Origin:
[1805–25]

at a discount

at a discount

Meaning:
- not valuable or not in worth
- at a lower price than usual
- below the nominal value
- held in low esteem
- out of favor
- poorly esteemed
- depreciated
- offering or selling at reduced prices

Examples:
1. Freedom fighters are at a discount in the present politics.
2. Carl bought that necklace at a discount which Emily wanted to have since last 2 years.
3. I won’t purchase an Apple iPhone until i can get one at a discount.
4. Honesty and goodness is at a discount in this selfish and cruel world.
5. It’s a winter sale at this garment shop today and you can purchase your favorite cloths at a discount.
6. Yesterday, I bought two burgers at a discount at McDonald’s restaurant.

Origin:
The first usage, mainly found in business and commerce, dates from about 1700. The figurative usage is about a century newer.

Discount synonyms:
reduction, money off, markdown, price cut, cut rate, concession and reduce

dirt cheap

dirt cheap

Meaning:
- very cheap
- almost free
- at an extremely low cost
- quite inexpensive

Examples:
1. Its quite a useful book, but luckily I could buy it dirt cheap at a junk shop.
2. Take few more of those water colors for painting they’re dirt cheap.
3. In United Kingdom, the carrots are dirt cheap.
4. Outsourcing sounds a great deal to earn money here in India, but for the people of western world it is dirt cheap.
5. The SUV truck required a huge mechanical job work, but still it was dirt-cheap.
6. I bought this welding machine dirt cheap but not working the way I want, a bad idea.
7. Don’t buy these dirt cheap electronic equipment, they are useless.

Origin:
1815–25, America.
Although the idea dates back to ancient times, the precise expression, literally meaning “as cheap as dirt,” replaced the now obsolete dog cheap. [Early 1800s]

Dirt Synonyms:
grime, filth, mud, dust, muck, soil, earth, clay.

Cheap Synonyms:
inexpensive, contemptible, despicable, low priced, economical, discounted, not expensive, shameful.

a rough diamond

a rough diamond or a diamond in the rough

Meaning:
- a person of exceptional character
- a person with great potential but lacking polish and refinement
- a person who does not seem very polite or well educated at first, although they have a good character
- a person who has good qualities despite a rough exterior
- someone or something whose good qualities are hidden
- a person who is kinder and more amusing than they seem to be from their appearance and behavior

Examples:
1. Bob is intelligent and trustworthy but lacks sophistication, he is a rough diamond.
2. Mitchell may have been a rough diamond, but he was absolutely loyal to his employer.
3. Rickey looks a little messy, but he’s a diamond in the rough.
4. She’s a diamond in the rough – a little hard to take at times, but very elegant and cooperative.
5. This show is one of those diamonds in the rough, a wonderful gem that almost no one has noticed.
6. Her singing voice is beautiful, but she needs help with her gestures; she’s a rough diamond.
7. Jack is intelligent and loyal but lacks manners – he’s a rough diamond.

Origin:
This idiomatic expression is obviously a metaphor for the original unpolished state of diamond gemstones. It comes from the fact that when diamonds are newly mined – that is, before they have been cut and polished – they don’t shine, in fact they look quite a lot like pebbles and are easily overlooked in their “rough” state.

From this comes the idea that a person can also be like a diamond in the rough or, in the more common idiom, “a rough diamond.” This means a person who has rough, uncultivated or even impolite manners, but at heart is a very good person with excellent qualities. It is more commonly expressed in the form ‘rough diamond’. The first recorded use in print is in John Fletcher’s ‘A Wife for a Month, 1624′ - “She is very honest, and will be as hard to cut as a rough diamond.”

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