Idioms

Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.

Idioms

Idioms beginning with A

all Greek to me

all Greek to me

Meaning

  • used to convey that you cannot understand what is being said or written
  • something meaningless and incomprehensible to you
  • something that you do not understand

Example Sentences

  1. Don’t try to explain the technicalities of how this machine works; it would be all Greek to me.
  2. He tried to explain the rules of the game to me, but it was all Greek to me.
  3. My friends were having a discussion about the future if the financial markets, but it was all Greek to me.
  4. My wife and brother both work in the IT industry, and when they start with their technical talk, it’s all Greek to me.
  5. I tried reading that science journal, but it was all Greek to me.

Origin
The earliest references to this phrase is from medieval Latin. In the Middle Ages, use of Greek was dwindling and scribes who had difficulty translating Greek text would write “Graecum est, non legitur” or “Graecum est, non potest legi” (It is Greek; it cannot be read). The phrase entered modern English when Shakespeare used it in his play Julius Caesar in 1599. Initially it was used in the literal sense, where a person who did not know Greek would say it, but later it came to be used for anything unintelligible.

all bark and no bite

all bark and no bite

Meaning

  • threatening, aggressive, but not willing to engage in a fight
  • full of talk, but low on action
  • talk that is more impressive than one can actually do

Example Sentences

  1. I heard he has threatened you with dire consequences if you don not stop that construction. Don’t worry, he is all bark and no bite.
  2. He looks rough and dangerous, somewhat like a gangster and talks tough, but he is all bark and no bite.
  3. Jimmy goes on about how he would have done things better had he been in someone else’s place. but he is all bark and no bite.
  4. He has threatened me that he will break my leg if I ever go near his house again, but I guess he is all bark and no bite.
  5. He has these grand plans of being an entrepreneur and owning a big business, but he never takes any action. He is all bark and no bite.
  6. His manager had threatened to fire him if he came late again, but did not care much. He knew it was all bark and no bite.
  7. You had said that you would call the police if those people harassed you again, but you didn’t. You’re all bark and no bite.

Origin
The origin of the phrase is not know, but it refers to dogs which bark a lot but do not bite. A different form of the phrase “a barking dog seldom/never bites”

a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Meaning

  • what you already have is more valuable than the prospect to have something greater
  • it is better to be content with you have than risk losing it by trying to get something better
  • it is better to have something small but certain rather than the mere possibility of a  greater one

Example Sentences

  1. You may not like your job, but don’t quit merely on the hope of finding a better one. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  2. I might have got a better offer if I had waited for some more time, but I decided to take the one I had. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  3. He decided against selling off his small business for the prospects of starting a bigger one. He realized that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
  4. Do not put your life’s savings into risky investments in the hope of higher returns. You may lose everything. Don’t you know, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Origin
This proverb has its origins in medieval falconry, where a bird (falcon) in hand was more valuable than two in the bush (the prey). The earliest known usage in English is in the 15th century in “The Life of St Katherine” by John Capgrave. In its exact current form, the first use was in 1670 in “A Hand-book of Proverbs” by John Ray. Variations and alternatives of the proverb, with the same meaning, are found since ancient times.

ask out

ask out

Meaning

  • invite someone to go out, especially on a date
  • invite someone to a social engagement
  • invite someone to go out socially, especially in order to start a romantic relationship
  • ask someone to go on a date

Example Sentences

  1. When he finally asked her out, she readily accepted, and very soon they were dating on a regular basis.
  2. Tom had asked Sue out for dinner, but she declined, saying she had other plans.
  3. Realizing that he was too shy to ask her out, she took it upon herself and asked him out for a movie and dinner afterwards.
  4. It was evident that she had feelings for him, and when asked her out, she could not say no, even though she had planned to be with her friends.
  5. She had asked Jim out for a date and they really enjoyed each other’s company.
  6. He said that he had asked her out several times, but she was simply not interested and refused every time.
  7. My friend asked us out for dinner to celebrate the success of his new venture.
  8. She said she would ask him out for lunch and discuss the plans with him then.

Origin
This phrase originated around the late 1800s.

all is fair in love and war

all is fair in love and war

Meaning

  • in situations of love and war you do not have to obey rules of reasonable behaviour
  • in love and war, people are not bound by rules of fair play
  • in certain situations, like love or war, you are allowed to be deceitful to fulfill your objectives
  • in highly charged situations, even any method of achieving your goals is acceptable
  • certain situations are so overwhelming that acting in your own selfish interest is justifiable

Example Sentences

  1. In order to go on a date with Elle, Paul tricked her into believing that her boyfriend was seeing another woman. Well, all’s fair in love and war.
  2. When Ray realised that his best friend and he were attracted to the same girl, he made every effort to put him down in front of her. All’s fair in love and war.
  3. He kept asking her out although she had said no several times – all’s fair in love and war.
  4. He did not tell her of his past lest she rejected him – all’s fair in love and war.

Origin
This phrase, in its current form, was first found in the novel “Frank Fairlegh” by Frank E. Smedley in 1850. Very similar phrases with the same meaning are found in the 1620 translation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote II by Tom Sheldon and the 1845 novel Smuggler II by G.P.R. James. Even prior to that, love has been equated to lawlessness and trickery since 1578-1579.

as nice as ninepence

as nice as ninepence

Meaning

  • A place that is very well organized.
  • Neat and tidy looking.
  • In good order and neat.

Example Sentences

  1. I was taken aback when I saw that this place is as nice as ninepence.
  2. She like to keep things in order, you should see her office it is as nice as ninepence.
  3. Bob’s home is as nice as ninepence ever since he has got married.

Origin
When playing Skittles the pins are set in a neat square. The ‘nine pins’ could have later changed to ‘ninepence’. James Howell used the phrase in his work in 1659 which gave the meaning of it to refer to money instead of the pins in Skittles. It was a list of phrases in use and hence the origin of the phrase stands to be even older. In the early 16th to the 17th century there was a ninepence coin that was in circulation but it is not clear how the ‘nice’ or ‘neat’ part got associated with it. In the 20th century the ‘as nice as ninepence’ phrase is the most popular one.

Synonyms
as smart as ninepins
as right as ninepence
as neat as ninepence
as clean as ninepence
as grand as ninepence

a little bird told me

a little bird told me

Meaning

  • It is used when a person is trying to hide the source of his information.
  • It indicates that the person knows something that is a secret and wants to withhold the identity of the person who let him know about it.

Example Sentences

  1. I’d like to believe that a little birdie told you about my secret but I know exactly who it was that let you in on it.
  2. A little bird told me that it is your wedding anniversary today.
  3. A little bird has told me all about your journey to New York.

Origin
Messenger birds and pigeons may have been the source for this phrase. It has been used in the Holy Bible too, Ecclesiastes 10:20. John Heywood explained a slightly different version in 1562 which was edited again in 1906.

The phrase also appears in the Norse legend where Sigurd could hear and understand the birds after he slayed the dragon Fafnir. The birds warned him that Regin would kill him. Sir Richard Wagner also used birds instructing him to steal a helmet and ring through a small song. The communication of and with the birds is speculated as a source of origin or at least popularity of the phrase.

as bald as a coot

as bald as a coot

Meaning

  • Totally bald.
  • An appearance of being completely bald, that is, without any hair on the head.

Example Sentences

  1. She is in remission now but the Chemo Therapy has left her as bald as a coot.
  2. He keeps shaving his head every summer and likes to look as bald as a coot. He says it cools him down to not have hair on the head.
  3. After visiting the religious site they shave their heads and become as bald as a coot. It is a part of the ritual without with the pilgrimage is not considered complete.
  4. I visited her today to find that she is as bald as a coot. She is quite bold to have taken such a step since women use their hair to make themselves look pretty.

Origin
A coot is a water bird which has marking on its head that gives it an appearance of being bald. It does have feathers on his head but it is the way it looks from a distance that gives this expression its shape.

This phrase has been in existence since several centuries with the first literary use being in 1430 in ‘Chronicle of Troy’ written by John Lydgate.

all singing, all dancing

all singing, all dancing

Meaning

  • Something that is full of verve, vivacity and liveliness.
  • Something that is full of life.
  • It is a description of something that is amazing.

Example Sentences

  1. She went home from the play all singing all dancing. It was one of the liveliest performances that she had ever witnessed.
  2. His stand-up comedy is amongst the best I have seen. Everyone goes home all singing, all dancing.
  3. To say no to an invitation from him is just not done. He hosts the best parties ever, all singing, all dancing.
  4. He is all singing, all dancing all the time. Joie de vivre is something that everyone can learn from him.
  5. She is able to make even the dullest person go all singing and all dancing. Her interaction with people is just amazing to watch.

Usage
In the recent times, this idiom is used to point something that has got many features, qualities and characteristics.

Origin
This idiom was first used in the year 1929 in an advertisement for a musical film which was meant to describe the film in a literal sense. The next popular literary use is from 1995 where the ‘Daily Telegraph’ printed the idiom in their newspaper.

as easy as pie

as easy as pie

Meaning

  • A very simple task.
  • It is a comparison between a task and pie, the latter being very easy and hence the former depicts the same too.

Example Sentences

  1. The results are sure to be good this time since the exam was as easy as a pie.
  2. I went to work on a Saturday thinking that the task will take long to complete but it was actually as easy as a pie.
  3. She needs reassurances on contracts which are as easy as a pie. I cannot keep counselling her all the time.
  4. To write this paper was as easy as a pie.

Origin
A pie is not easy to make, so the comparison is not related to making a pie. It is in fact related to having or eating a pie. The phrase came to existence in the 1900’s in the United States of America. A pie was use to represent something that was pleasant and exchanged at joyous occasions. In 1855, the phrase, in a slight variation was published in the book called ‘Which? Right or Left?’ Here it was used as ‘nice as a pie’. Prior to this Mark Twain used the phrase ‘as polite as a pie’.

Synonym

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