Idioms and Phrases

Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.

Idioms

an arm and a leg

an arm and a leg

Meaning:

  • costing a lot of money
  • to be very expensive
  • a very large and exorbitant sum of money
  • very costly
  • excessively pricey

Examples:

  1. This dress is really nice, but it cost me an arm and a leg.
  2. You must visit that restaurant; the food is really good, and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
  3. “How much would you pay for luxurious farmhouse by the beach? An arm and a leg?”
  4. I would have loved to go with my friends on a vacation, but it would have cost me an arm and a leg.
  5. The show is excellent, but the tickets cost an arm and a leg.
  6. He really wants to go to that event. He’s willing to pay an arm and a leg for it.
  7. I went to the auction but didn’t pick up anything. Everything cost an arm and a leg.
  8. This resort lets you experience luxury without having to pay an arm and a leg.

Origin:
This is an American phrase, coined sometime after World War II. Probable reference is to soldiers who had lost their limbs in the war, thus having to pay a very high price for the war.

also see: cost an arm and a leg

add insult to injury

add insult to injury

Meaning:

  • to make a bad situation worse
  • to further hurt the feelings of someone who has already been hurt
  • to worsen an unfavorable or uncomfortable situation
  • to add to a loss with mockery or indignity

Examples:

  1. The company rejected his application for a job, and to add insult to injury, refused to pay his expenses.
  2. I was already getting late for work stuck in the traffic, and to add insult to injury, I was stopped by the police for speeding.
  3. First, the bathroom flooded, and then, to add insult to injury, a tap started leaking.
  4. First, they lost the match, and then, to add insult to injury, one of players was suspended for cheating.
  5. Not only did the club stop the team from playing, they also took away their equipment – that’s adding insult to injury.
  6. They were already stranded in the middle of nowhere without any conveyance, then, to add insult to injury, it started to rain.
  7. His brothers not only sold off all his property, but, to add insult to injury, they refused to pay him anything from the proceeds.

Origin:
The phrase is an ancient one, but was recorded in English in the mid 1700s. The most often cited use is in the Roman writer Phaedrus’ fable of a bald man and a fly.

penny for your thoughts

penny for your thoughts

Meaning:

  • used for ​wanting to ​know what another ​person is ​thinking, usually because they have not spoken for a some time
  • a way of asking what someone else is thinking

Examples:

  1. “You have been quiet for a while, a penny for your thoughts.”
  2. “You seem pretty serious. A penny for your thoughts.”
  3. For several minutes they sat in silence, finally she said “A penny for your thoughts, Maya.”
  4. Noticing that Raj was in a pensive mood, Tina said “A penny for your thoughts, Raj.”
  5. “You seem pretty pleased, a penny for your thoughts.”

Origin:
The phrase is probably older, but first written recordings of it were in the early to mid 1500s.

hot potato

hot potato

Meaning:

  • any subject which several folks are talking about and which is frequently argued
  • something that is hard or terrible to handle
  • a ​problem or ​situation that is ​difficult to ​deal with and ​causes a lot of ​disagreement
  • an issue or question about which people have different opinions and feel very strongly
  • a controversial situation that is awkward to deal with
  • a delicate or contentious matter which many people do not want to talk about

Examples:

  1. The issue of gun control is a political hot potato in the United States.
  2. The legality of abortion is a hot potato in many countries around the world.
  3. I never discuss about anyone’s religion, it can be a hot potato.
  4. The party members are not speaking on this topic as it is a political hot potato.
  5. The government’s decision to curb benefits to some sections of society is like a hot potato.

Origin:
The term originated in the mid 1800s and is derived from the slightly older term “to drop like a hot potato”, meaning “to abandon something or someone quickly”. It alludes to the fact that cooked potatoes retain considerable heat because they contain a lot of water.

bankers’ hours

bankers’ hours

Meaning:

  • short working hours
  • a work day that begins late and ends early
  • a working day that is shorter than usual or acceptable
  • working or being open for the shortest and most inconvenient amount of time
  • especially, working hours that start at 10 am and end at 2 pm or 3 pm.
  • a very easy job, which requires short working hours

Examples:

  1. With our boss on leave, most of us worked banker’s hours for the whole week.
  2. He’s working banker’s hours today, he has to leave for a doctor’s appointment after lunch.
  3. I wish my job was an easy one, which required banker’s hours.
  4. Does that department do any work? They seems to be doing banker’s hours.
  5. He is so efficient at his work that he only requires to work banker’s hours.
  6. I am so tired of my job, I envy people who have to work banker’s hours.

Origin:
Refers to the traditional working hours of a bank, which were from 10 to 3 during the 1800s to the mid and late 1900s.

fit as a fiddle

fit as a fiddle

Meaning:

  • A very healthy person
  • in very good health
  • very fit and well
  • healthy and energetic
  • a strong person
  • a physically fit person

Examples:

  1. My grandfather is 90 years old, but he is as fit as a fiddle.
  2. She had fallen very ill, but with rest and medication, she is now fit as a fiddle.
  3. The team had partied late into the night, but on match day, each of them was as fit as a fiddle.
  4. After a refreshing vacation by the sea, I now feel fit as a fiddle.
  5. You may be feeling tired and sleepy now, but with a good night’s rest, you will feel fit as a fiddle in the morning.
  6. A few years back he was as fit as a fiddle, but long work hours and little sleep has wrecked his body.
  7. That woman is 50 years old but she is running like a 20 year old! She is as fit as a fiddle.
  8. I have completely recovered from my surgery and climb the stairs to my fifth floor apartment. I feel as fit as a fiddle.

Origin:
Fiddle refers to stringed musical instruments, especially violin, which had to be kept in good condition (fit). The phrase was recorded in a book entitled English-men for my Money, written in the year 1616 by Haughton William.

throw in the towel

throw in the towel

also throw in the sponge

Meaning:

  • to quit
  • to admit defeat or failure
  • to fail
  • to give up
  • to concede (a match, a duel, a bout, etc.)
  • (of boxers or their seconds) throw a towel (or sponge) into the ring as a token of defeat.

Examples:

  1. Rocky was told by his trainer that he was going to throw in the towel in if he did not start throwing punches
  2. My brother was so fed up of his manager that he threw in the towel and quit his job.
  3. Unable to make him see my point of view, I threw in the towel and let him do it his way.
  4. She was playing a game of chess with her friend and was in a good position, but finally had to throw in the towel as she had to leave.
  5. Having labored on all night to crack the code, he finally threw in the towel and went to sleep.
  6. The argument was getting heated up, but not wanting to start a slanging match, she threw in the towel.
  7. Unable to decide upon a venue, the team threw in the towel and cancelled the event.
  8. Our team fought till the very end, but the opposition was just too good; they had to throw in the towel.

Origin:
From boxing, where the boxer’s trainer throws in the towel to stop the fight and accept defeat.

third wheel or fifth wheel

fifth wheel or third wheel

Meaning:
a person who is in a situation where they are not needed; an extra and unnecessary person or thing; also know as “fifth wheel

Examples:

  1. I was the only person at the dinner party without a date. I felt like a third wheel.
  2. I felt like a fifth wheel when i couldn’t speak English well with my English teacher.
  3. I’m going, I don’t want to be a fifth wheel.
  4. I quit my bank job and am preparing for civil service. Now I feel like I am a third wheel.
  5. The way I live my life, I always feel like a fifth wheel.

Origin:

This phrase originated from extra wheel that was on four wheel coaches, carriages and wagons (American).

lights are on but nobody is home

the lights are on but nobody is home

Meaning:

  • used to describe a stupid person
  • something that you say when you think someone is stupid
  • when someone does not react because they are thinking about something else
  • have a brain, but not using it
  • used to tell that someone lacks cleverness or alertness

Examples:

  1. I tried all to understand him, but the lights are on but nobody is home.
  2. John has no idea about this – the lights are on but nobody’s home.
  3. Lilly studied about interior designing but the lights are on nobody is home.

bell the cat

bell the cat
Meaning: do a dangerous job.
Example: Someone has to bell the cat and tell the commissioner that his own started the violence.

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