Idioms

Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.

Idioms

knee jerk reaction

knee jerk reaction

Meaning

  • an automatic response to something
  • an immediate reaction made without thinking
  • a reflex reaction
  • an instant reaction made without examining causes or facts
  • a spontaneous and involuntary reaction

Example Sentences

  1. It was a typical knee jerk reaction. He said no immediately without considering our proposal.
  2. In a knee jerk reaction after the big defeat, the coach dropped many of the players and fielded a new look team for the next match.
  3. We want to avoid a knee jerk reaction to this crisis, so we will have to sit down and plan our next course of action.
  4. Her remark was probably a knee jerk reaction to your comments, which were not very flattering.
  5. The actions of the police were a knee jerk reaction to the sudden rise in crime in the city.
  6. In a knee jerk reaction to the increase in costs, the company decided to shut down some of its operations.
  7. Megan was so afraid of the horror movie that she denied to recognise her father on phone call in a knee jerk reaction.

Origin
This phrase refers to the actual physical tendency of the knee to jerk involuntarily when when hit sharply just below the kneecap. Scientifically, this is called the patellar reflex. The phrase began to be used figuratively from the early 20th century onwards. An early reference is found in O. O. McIntyre’s column New York Day-By-Day in The Coshocton Tribune in October 1921.

keep body and soul together

keep body and soul together

Meaning

  • manage to stay alive with very little money
  • earn barely enough to keep you alive
  • just be able to pay for the basic necessities of life – food, clothing and a place to live
  • to survive or exist, especially in difficult circumstances

Example Sentences

  1. When he first came to the city, he earned barely enough to keep body and soul together.
  2. John said he would not be able to keep body and soul together on the salary he was being offered by that company.
  3. Artists and writers often do not earn enough to be able to keep body and soul together. They need a second job to sustain themselves.
  4. With rising costs and dwindling income, she had to take up two jobs to keep body and soul together.
  5. Those workers worked long hours in toxic conditions just to be able to keep body and soul together.
  6. He did not earn enough from his job to keep body and soul together, so he took up a small side business in order to supplement his income.

Origin
This phrase alludes to the belief that the soul gives life to the body and life continues as long as the soul inhabits the body. It has been used since the early 1700s.

it’s anyone’s call

it’s anyone’s call

Meaning

  • a competition where the outcome is difficult to predict or judge
  • a situation where all possible outcomes are equally likely

Example Sentences

  1. I think this year’s election would be anyone’s call. Both the candidates seem to have an equally divided support base.
  2. The fight between the two boxing champions could be anyone’s call. Both the boxers are equally matched.
  3. I guess its anyone’s call on who would win tonight’s game. Both the teams have been performing well and are in the form of their lives.
  4. “Who do you think will win the race today?” “Well, its anyone’s call, really.”
  5. Its anyone’s call on which way the results will go. Either way, we have to be prepared for the next step.
  6. At the halfway stage of the big match, it was anyone’s call on who would win. Both were playing well and were evenly placed.

Origin
The phrase most likely originated in sports where a referee had to “make a call”, or take a decision. When there was a close situation and a decision was difficult to make, it was referred to as “anyone’s call”, implying that no one’s information was better than any other person’s.

in your face

in your face

Meaning

  • a bold, defiant or aggressive manner
  • aggressive or confrontational
  • direct and forceful
  • shocking or annoying in a manner difficult to ignore
  • provocative

Example Sentences

  1. Unable to tolerate Jack’s in your face attitude anymore, his boss fired him from the job.
  2. That was a very in your face advertisement they showed last night on TV which made some very bold statements.
  3. Mark is just an in your face sort of a person and sometimes talks rough. He really means no harm.
  4. In your faces, kids” shouted the footballer to his opponents after having scored his third goal of the match.
  5. It was going to be a high profile fight by the two boxers and was marked by in your face comments from either side before it began.
  6. No one liked him because he was always in your face and seemed to be at war with the world.
  7. Her performance yesterday at the dance show was very aggressive and in your face. Not many would have liked it.
  8. His defiant and in your face nature was a result of his difficult childhood.

Origin
The phrase originated in the USA around the 1970s and most of the early uses related to confrontation in sports. The phrase became popular outside of sports around the 1980s.

in the buff

in the buff

Meaning

  • naked
  • without any clothes on
  • nude

Example Sentences

  1. The model created a sensation when she posed for a magazine cover in the buff.
  2. Not knowing that someone was there in the room, he came out of the bathroom in the buff.
  3. There was a huge scandal when some pictures of the actress in the buff were leaked over the internet.
  4. Kim was terribly embarrassed having walked into Pat’s room while he was in the buff.
  5. Some people sleep in their pajamas, while some prefer to sleep in the buff.
  6. Out here, don’t be shocked if you see children running out onto the streets in the buff and playing in the rain.

Origin
The phrase originally referred to the buff-coat, which was a light leather tunic worn by the English soldiers until the 17th century. “In the buff” meant to be wearing such a coat. This usage is found in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in 1590. The later, and current meaning is an allusion to the colour of human skin, which is somewhat similar to the colour of buff (a light brown yellowish colour).This usage was first recorded by Thomas Dekker, in “Satiro-mastix or the untrussing of the humorous poet” in 1602. In this work, “in the buff” is likened to “in stag”, which, at that time, was a commonly used term for being naked.

in the bag

in the bag

Meaning

  • have something as good as secured or certain
  • certain to get or achieve something
  • assured of a successful result
  • virtually secured or achieved

Example Sentences

  1. The deal was finally in the bag after a few rounds of tough negotiations.
  2. The game was in the bag when the team scored their third goal.
  3. After months of hard campaigning, the politician believed that elections were in the bag.
  4. I have not yet got the job, but I believe its pretty much in the bag.
  5. Everyone thought that he had the match in the bag, but his opponent suddenly put in a tremendous performance and snatched it away from him.
  6. Having received a lot of praise from the management, he knew that his promotion was in the bag.
  7. Though I feel the contract is in the bag, I’ll wait for the confirmation before telling anyone.

Origin
The phrase originated in America in the early 20th century from a tradition of the baseball team New York Giants. The Giants had a superstition that if the ball bag was carried off the field with them in lead, the game was “in the bag” and they would not lose. It was first recorded in may, 1920 in the Ohio newspaper The Mansfield News.

idle hands are the devil’s tools

idle hands are the devil’s tools

or idle hands are the devil’s workshop

Meaning

  • if you have nothing to do, you are likely to do some mischief
  • an idle person is likely to do something evil
  • people are more likely to do something bad and get into trouble when they have nothing to do

Example Sentences

  1. They kids should be kept busy while you are away; idle hands are the devil’s tools.
  2. I don’t like the look the man standing outside doing nothing. Idle hands are the devil’s tools.
  3. We should find something useful for Amy to do during the afternoon. Idle hands are the devil’s tools.
  4. Why are you wasting your time doing nothing? Don’t you know, idle hands are the devil’s tools.

Origin
The origin of the phrase is not clear, however, it is believed to be an ancient one with its roots in the Bible. Though the phrase does not appear in the Bible, the message conveyed by it is present. A saying by St Jerome (347 – 420 AD) in Latin has a similar meaning. In English, it can be traced back to at least the 12th century when Chaucer referred to idle hands being devil’s tools.

A similar phrase also exists, which says “an idle mind or brain is a devil’s workshop”.

icing on the cake

icing on the cake

or frosting on the cake

Meaning

  • when something good is added to another good thing that you already have
  • an extra enhancement
  • an additional benefit to an already good thing
  • something that makes a good situation even better
  • an attractive but often unessential addition to something

Example Sentences

  1. Everyone expected him to do well in the exams. Getting first rank was the icing on the cake.
  2. He was happy to have his first book published. All those congratulatory messages and fan-mail that came in were the icing on the cake.
  3. The sportsman was already on a high after having won at the competition, the frosting on the cake was when the government announced a huge cash reward for is achievement.
  4. He was already happy with his pay hike, the icing on the cake came when he received a large bonus.
  5. Winning the race was a feat in itself, creating a world record was the icing on the cake.
  6. The hotel was very nice and we enjoyed our stay there. The icing on the cake was when they gave a complimentary voucher for a two day stay which we could redeem on out next visit.

Origin
The phrase refers to the sweet, creamy toppings, called the icing, added to a cake to make it even better. It has been in use since the mid 1900s. “Icing on the cake” is used mostly in British English, while “frosting on the cake” is used mostly in American English.

going to hell in a handbasket

going to hell in a handbasket

Meaning

  • in extremely bad state and becoming worse
  • headed for complete disaster
  • deteriorating rapidly

Example Sentences

  1. With corruption and malpractices everywhere, the political leadership seem to be going to hell in a handbasket.
  2. The security arrangement at the stadium was pathetic and the whole place went to hell in a handbasket as the people in charge looked on.
  3. The company was rapidly going to hell in a handbasket when the chairman and some top officials were accused of fraud.
  4. The fortunes of the club did not change with a change in management and soon they were going to hell in a handbasket.
  5. Many believe that if that candidate wins the elections, the country would soon be going to hell in a handbasket.
  6. The healthcare system in this city is going to hell in a handbasket as the people responsible are busy blaming each other.
  7. With mounting debt and dwindling operations, the company is going to hell in a handbasket.

Origin
The phrase originated in the USA in the mid 19th century and the first print record is in I. Winslow Ayer’s account of events of the American Civil War “The Great North-Western Conspiracy”, 1865.

lose head

lose head

also lose one’s headlose your headlost his/her head

Meaning

  • not have control over your emotions
  • become very angry or upset and unable to think clearly
  • lose control and not act in a calm manner
  • behave irrationally and lose self control

Example Sentences

  1. He is usually very calm and does not lose his head in stressful situations.
  2. He lost his head completely when his wife left him over his drinking habit.
  3. The project manager lost his head when the project was delayed for the fifth time, this time due to lack of funds.
  4. When fire broke out in the building, instead of keeping calm, everyone lost their heads and started running helter skelter.
  5. She did not lose her head when faced with a scary situation and calmly got herself out of it.
  6. He has a very short temper. He’s always losing his head at the slightest provocation.
  7. He has been losing his head over the missed opportunity since the past few days.

Origin
The phrase alludes to the fact that our emotions, thinking ability and self control are regulated in the head. The exact origin is unclear, however, it was definitely known and in use by the late 19th century.

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