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1. above one’s station – higher than one’s social class or position in society.
- He has been educated above his station and is now ashamed of his parents’ poverty.
- She is getting above her station since she started working in the office. She ignores her old friends in the warehouse.
2. above someone’s head – too difficult or clever for someone to understand.
- The children have no idea what the new teacher is talking about. Her ideas are way above their heads.
- She started a physics course, but it turned out to be miles above her head.
3. according to one’s (own) lights – according to the way one believes; according to the way one’s conscience or inclinations lead one.
- People must act on this matter according to their own lights.
- John may have been wrong, but he did what he did according to his lights.
4. act the goat – deliberately to behave in a silly or eccentric way; to play the fool. (Informal.)
- He was asked to leave the class because he was always acting the goat.
- No one takes him seriously. He acts the goat too much.
5. advanced in years – old; elderly.
- My uncle is advanced in years and can’t hear too well.
- Many people lose their hearing somewhat when they are advanced in years.
6. afraid of one’s own shadow – easily frightened; always frightened, timid, or suspicious.
- After Tom was robbed, he was afraid of his own shadow.
- Jane has always been a shy child. She has been afraid of her own shadow since she was three.
7. aid and abet someone – to help someone, especially in a crime or misdeed; to incite someone to do something which is wrong.
- He was scolded for aiding and abetting the boys who were fighting.
- It’s illegal to aid and abet a thief.
8. airs and graces – proud behaviour adopted by one who is trying to impress others by appearing more important than one actually is.
- She is only a junior secretary, but from her airs and graces you would think she was managing director.
- Jane has a very humble background— despite her airs and graces.
9. (all) at sea (about something) – confused; lost and bewildered.
- Mary is all at sea about the process of getting married.
- When it comes to maths, John is totally at sea.
10. all ears (and eyes) – listening eagerly and carefully. (Informal)
- Well, hurry up and tell me! I’m all ears.
- Be careful what you say. The children are all ears and eyes.
11. (all) Greek to me – unintelligible to me. (Usually with some form of be.)
- I can’t understand it. It’s Greek to me.
- It’s all Greek to me. Maybe Sally knows what it means.
12. all hours (of the day and night) – very late in the night or very early in the morning.
- Why do you always stay out until all hours of the day and night?
- I like to stay out until all hours partying.
13. all over bar the shouting – decided and concluded; finished except for the formalities. (Informal. An elaboration of all over, which means “finished.”)
- The last goal was made just as the final whistle sounded. Tom said, “Well, it’s all over bar the shouting.”
- Tom has finished his exams and is waiting to graduate. It’s all over bar the shouting.
14. all thumbs – very awkward and clumsy, especially with one’s hands. (Informal)
- Poor Bob can’t play the piano at all. He’s all thumbs.
- Mary is all thumbs when it comes to gardening.
15. all to the good – for the best; for one’s benefit.
- He missed his train, but it was all to the good because the train had a crash.
- It was all to the good that he died before his wife. He couldn’t have coped without her.
16. any port in a storm – a phrase indicating that when one is in difficulties one must accept any way out, whether one likes the solution or not.
- I don’t want to live with my parents, but it’s a case of any port in a storm. I can’t find a f lat.
- He hates his job, but he can’t get another. Any port in a storm, you know.
17. apple of someone’s eye – someone’s favourite person or thing.
- Tom is the apple of Mary’s eye. She thinks he’s great.
- Jean is the apple of her father’s eye.
18. armed to the teeth – heavily armed with weapons.
- The bank robber was armed to the teeth when he was caught.
- There are too many guns around. The entire country is armed to the teeth.
19. as a duck takes to water – easily and naturally. (Informal.)
- She took to singing just as a duck takes to water.
- The baby adapted to the feeding-bottle as a duck takes to water.
20. as black as one is painted – as evil or unpleasant as one is thought to be. (Usually negative.)
- The landlord is not as black as he is painted. He seems quite generous.
- Young people are rarely as black as they are painted in the media.
21. (as) black as pitch – very black; very dark.
- The night was as black as pitch.
- The rocks seemed black as pitch against the silver sand.
22. (as) bold as brass – brazen; very bold and impertinent.
- She went up to her lover’s wife, bold as brass.
- The girl arrives late every morning as bold as brass.
23. (as) bright as a button – very intelligent; extremely alert.
- The little girl is as bright as a button.
- Her new dog is bright as a button.
24. (as) calm as a millpond – [for water to be] exceptionally calm. (Referring to the still water in a pond around a mill in contrast to the fast-flowing stream which supplies it.)
- The English channel was calm as a millpond that day.
- Jane gets seasick even when the sea is calm as a millpond.
25. (as) cold as charity –
very cold; icy.
- The room was as cold as charity.
- It was snowing and the moors were cold as charity.
Very unresponsive; lacking in passion.
- Their mother keeps them clean and fed, but she is cold as charity.
- John’s sister is generous and welcoming, but John is as cold as charity.
26. (as) fit as a fiddle – healthy and physically fit. (Informal)
- In spite of her age, Mary is as fit as a fiddle.
- Tom used to be fit as a fiddle. Look at him now!
27. (as) happy as a lark – visibly happy and cheerful. (Note the variations in the examples.)
- Sally walked along whistling, as happy as a lark.
- The children danced and sang, happy as larks.
28. (as) happy as a sandboy and (as) happy as Larry; (as) happy as the day is long – very happy; carefree.
- Mary’s as happy as a sandboy now that she is at home all day with her children.
- Peter earns very little money, but he’s happy as Larry in his job.
- The old lady has many friends and is happy as the day is long.
29. (as) hungry as a hunter – very hungry.
- I’m as hungry as a hunter. I could eat anything!
- Whenever I jog, I get hungry as a hunter.
30. (as) large as life (and twice as ugly) – an exaggerated way of saying that a person or a thing actually appeared in a particular place. (Informal)
- The little child just stood there as large as life and laughed very hard.
- I opened the door, and there was Tom, large as life.
- I came home and found this cat in my chair, as large as life and twice as ugly.
31. asleep at the wheel – not attending to one’s assigned task; failing to do one’s duty at the proper time.
- I should have spotted the error. I must have been asleep at the wheel.
- The management must have been asleep at the wheel to let the firm get into such a state.
32. (as) near as dammit – very nearly. (Informal)
- He earns sixty thousand pounds a year as near as dammit.
- She was naked near as dammit.
33. (as) plain as a pikestaff – very obvious; clearly visible. (Pikestaff was originally packstaff, a stick on which a pedlar’s or traveller’s pack was supported. The original reference was to the smoothness of this staff, although the allusion is to another sense of plain: clear or obvious.)
- The ‘no parking’ sign was as plain as a pikestaff. How did he miss it?
- It’s plain as a pikestaff. The children are unhappy.
34. (as) pleased as Punch – very pleased or happy. (From the puppet-show character who is depicted as smiling gleefully)
- The little girl was pleased as Punch with her new dress.
- Jack’s as pleased as Punch with his new car.
35. (as) quiet as the grave – very quiet; silent.
- The house is as quiet as the grave when the children are at school.
- This town is quiet as the grave now that the offices have closed.
36. (as) safe as houses – completely safe.
- The children will be as safe as houses on holiday with your parents.
- The dog will be safe as houses in the boarding-kennels.
37. (as) sound as a bell – in perfect condition or health; undamaged.
- The doctor says the old man’s heart is as sound as a bell.
- I thought the vase was broken when it fell, but it was sound as a bell.
38. (as) thick as thieves – very close-knit; friendly; allied. (Informal)
- Mary, Tom, and Sally are as thick as thieves. They go everywhere together.
- Those two families are thick as thieves.
39. (as) thick as two short planks – very stupid. (Informal)
- Jim must be as thick as two short planks, not able to understand the plans.
- Some of the children are clever, but the rest are as thick as two short planks.
40. (as) thin as a rake – very thin; too thin.
- Mary’s thin as a rake since she’s been ill.
- Jean’s been on a diet and is now as thin as a rake.
41. at a loose end – restless and unsettled; unemployed. (Informal)
- Just before school starts, all the children are at a loose end.
- When Tom is home at the week-ends, he’s always at a loose end.
- Jane has been at a loose end ever since she lost her job.
41. at a pinch – if absolutely necessary.
- At a pinch, I could come tomorrow, but it’s not really convenient.
- He could commute to work from home at a pinch, but it is a long way.
42. at a rate of knots – very fast. (Informal)
- They’ll have to drive at a rate of knots to get there on time.
- They were travelling at a rate of knots when they passed us.
43. at death’s door – near death. (Euphemistic)
- I was so ill that I was at death’s door.
- The family dog was at death’s door for three days, and then it finally died.
44. at first glance – when first examined; at an early stage.
- At first glance, the problem appeared quite simple. Later we learned just how complex it really was.
- He appeared quite healthy at first glance.
45. at full stretch – with as much energy and strength as possible.
- The police are working at full stretch to find the murderer.
- We cannot accept any more work. We are already working at full stretch.
46. at half-mast – half-way up or down. (Primarily refers to flags. Can be used for things other than flags as a joke.)
- The flag was flying at half-mast because the general had died.
- We fly f lags at halfmast when someone important dies.
- The little boy ran out of the house with his trousers at half-mast.
47. at large – free; uncaptured. (Usually said of criminals running loose)
- At midday the day after the robbery, the thieves were still at large.
- There is a murderer at large in the city.
48. at liberty – free; unrestrained.
- You’re at liberty to go anywhere you wish.
- I’m not at liberty to discuss the matter.
49. at loggerheads (with someone) – in opposition; at an impasse; in a quarrel.
- Mr. and Mrs. Jones have been at loggerheads with each other for years.
- The two political parties were at loggerheads during the entire legislative session.
50. at one’s wits’ end – at the limits of one’s mental resources.
- I’m at my wits’ end trying to solve this problem.
- Tom could do no more to earn money. He was at his wits’ end.
51. at sixes and sevens – disorderly; completely disorganized. (Informal)
- Mrs. Smith is at sixes and sevens since the death of her husband.
- The house is always at sixes and sevens when Bill’s home by himself.
52. at someone’s beck and call – always ready to obey someone.
- What makes you think I wait around here at your beck and call? I live here, too, you know!
- It was a fine hotel. There were dozens of maids and waiters at our beck and call.
53. at the bottom of the ladder – at the lowest level of pay and status.
- Most people start work at the bottom of the ladder.
- When Ann was declared redundant, she had to start all over again at the bottom of the ladder.
54. at the drop of a hat – immediately and without urging.
- John was always ready to go fishing at the drop of a hat.
- If you need help, just call on me. I can come at the drop of a hat.
55. at the eleventh hour – at the last possible moment. (Biblical)
- She always handed her term essays in at the eleventh hour.
- We don’t worry about death until the eleventh hour.
56. at the end of one’s tether – at the limits of one’s endurance.
- I’m at the end of my tether! I just can’t go on this way!
- These children are driving me out of my mind. I’m at the end of my tether.
57. at the expense of someone or something – to the detriment of someone or something; to the harm or disadvantage of someone or something.
- He had a good laugh at the expense of his brother.
- He took employment in a better place at the expense of a larger income.
58. at the top of one’s voice – with a very loud voice.
- Bill called to Mary at the top of his voice. _ How can I work when you’re all talking at the top of your voices?
59. avoid someone or something like the plague – to avoid someone or something totally. (Informal)
- What’s wrong with Bob? Everyone avoids him like the plague.
- I don’t like opera. I avoid it like the plague.