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American  Idioms

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Idioms

Dance attendance on someone   Fight like cat and dog
Beard the lion Can't carry a tune
Give someone a rocket Draw the longbow
Bob's your uncle A blank check
Break out of the mold Catch someone red-handed
Do a power of good Draw and quarter
Give someone the message Fight / tilt at windmills
Burn someone up Chew the fat
Does not add up to a can of beans/sardines Feel / know in one's bones
Give someone enough rope and he will hang himself Close one's eyes
Look/feel bushed Fast and furious
For a song Come to a pretty pass
Get the elbow Dog Latin
Country cousin Mad as wet hen
Butter both sides of one's bread All's fair in love and war
Cry buckets Answer one's calling
Get in on the act The baby boom
Cast something in someone's teeth A back number
The fat is in the fire Feel the pinch
Give no quarter Bear fruit
To enter the lists A bird of a different feather
A closed book A blind alley
   
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Dance attendance on someone

It used to be the custom for a bride at her wedding to dance with every guest - no matter how tired she was. That's the origin of this expression, but it now means to be at the service of someone to carry out his or her every wish. "I suspect that Ray is interested in Fiona. Look how he is dancing attendance on her.

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Beard the lion ( in his den )

In this British idiom, 'beard' means to defy or oppose someone, and 'in his den' means in his territory. Therefore, to beard the lion ( in his den ) is to confront a person of authority ( in his own office, for example ) and to challenge him. "I'm going to walk right into the boss's office and beard the lion by demanding a nice big raise," Alex said.

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Give someone a rocket

Oh, oh ! The boss is about to give Edna a rocket - and if you ask me I really think she deserves it ! That's because this British idiom means to give someone a severe scolding or a reprimand. "You know it's amazing how much better Edna performs at her job since I gave her a rocket yesterday morning," the boss smiled.

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( and ) Bob's your uncle

No one knows why Bob is the name of the uncle in this expression, but that needn't concern us as long as we remember that ( and ) Bob's your uncle means that everything is satisfactory or will work out well. "I will put a little more ice cream on the top of this, and Bob's your uncle ! This should make a real nice treat for you," the ice cream man smiled at Teddy.

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Break out of the mold

Have you ever had a desire to break old habits and change your way of living ? If so, you would understand this expression because break out of the mold describes doing something completely different or changing one's way of doing things. "Why don't we break out of the mold and go somewhere new on our holiday this year," Steven said.

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Do a power of good

"For goodness sake, Mr Blogs ! Don't be so stingy. A small coin to that poor little fellow won't hurt you," Bessy frowned. "It would do him a power of good for he looks hungry !" To do a power of good means to help or to do a lot of good. "It might even do you a power of good to be generous to people now and then," Bessy said.

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Give someone the message

Jerome has had a nice warm feeling for Ruth for a long, long time. Being modest, he didn't know how to give her the message. Finally, on Valentine's Day he gathered up all his courage and gave her the word. When we give someone the message or the word we convey a piece of information to him or her. Ruth gave Jerome the message by giving him a think you kiss !

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Burn someone up

"Doesn't it burn you up when people refuse to wait in line at the bus stop !" Barbara said. "It sure burns me up !" Barbara is saying she is irritated or annoyed. "I get burned up by people who don't do their work properly," Jack answered. "My secretary, for instance, burns me up because she's always knitting on the job !"

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Does not add up to a can of beans / sardines

I guess it didn't cost much money to buy a can of beans or sardines when this North American idiom was first used. What it means is that someone's plan, theory, idea, opinion, etc is thought to be of little value. In fact, it's worthless. "That's an interesting idea, Frank, but I'm sure the boss will tell you that it doesn't add up to a can of beans. In fact, it does not add up to a can of sardines to me either," he frowned.

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Give someone enough rope and he will hang himself

If a person who is doing something wrong is allowed to continue his bad ways, it is said he will soon bring about his or her own defeat or destruction. That's the meaning behind this idiom. "I told you not to cheat or tell lies," Officer Mutt said. " Don't you remember hearing me say, give Willy enough rope and he will hang himself ?"

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Look / feel bushed

"Oh, you poor, poor man ! You look absolutely bushed !" Mrs. Bond said when her husband returned from work. "I've had a bad day," he answered, "and you're right ! I feel bushed." "What you need is a nice cool glass of lemonade," Mrs. Bond smiled. I'll get one for you." That should help to make Mr. Bond feel better because to look / feel bushed is to be completely exhausted.

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For a song

Felix saw a pretty bird in a pet shop window. "How much is that bird ?" he asked the man in the shop. "That would normally cost a lot of money, but you may have it for a song." the man replied. You may think that Felix had to sing a song to get the bird, but that's not true. The idiom for a song simply means for very little money. "I bought my bird for a song," Felix said later.

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Get the elbow

Craig has been working for the Ga-Ga Company for about six years. Imagine his shock when he went to work yesterday and found he had got the elbow ! To get the elbow is to be fired - though in a personal relationship the same expression can mean the relationship has ended. "Have you heard Lily got the elbow from her boyfriend !"

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Country cousin

"I am taking Ashley, my country cousin, to the theater today," Teddy explained. Ashley isn't really Teddy's cousin though : we just use this expression when referring to people who live in small country towns or who actually live on farms in the country. They are called country cousins because it is thought that their manners and habits are simple and uncomplicated. "That's not always true," Ashley smiled.

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Butter both sides of one's bread

"I have a great idea," Frank said, "I can butter both sides of my bread during my summer vacation if I offer swimming lessons to young people. In that way I can have fun at the swimming pool, and at the same time I will earn some spending money !" To butter both sides of one's bread is to do two things at the same time - and to profit from them both.

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Cry bucket

If this isn't a sad sight ! There is Grandma watching her favorite afternoon television drama - and it is so sad that everyone in the room is crying buckets ! "To cry buckets means to cry lots and lots of tears," Grandma explained. "Grandma is crying buckets, and that has caused me to cry buckets too," Grandma's cat wept.

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Get in on the act

Professor Alan is having trouble. Everyone in the auditorium seems to be getting in on the act today ! This idiom ( it's a term from the theater ) refers to taking part in something while others are doing it. "I can tell that everyone enjoyed my lecture today," Professor Alan said, "because so many people wanted to get in on my act," he smiled.

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Cast something in someone's teeth

Otto is furious ! His dentist keeps casting his bill in Otto's teeth. "I won't pay it !" Otto cried. "It's far too much - and besides, the dammed teeth don't even fit properly ! I'd like to fling them back in his teeth !" To cast / fling / throw something in someone's teeth is to continually remind someone of something disagreeable or unpleasant. "If I made a mistake, I'll correct it. But please don't fling my error in my teeth," the dentist pleaded.

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The fat is in the fire

Putting fat near an open flame is dangerous for it can easily ignite and cause a serious fire. That's the idea behind this idioms, which refers to the start of something troublesome or dangerous. "Someone has stolen our food supply !" Max cried. "The fat is in the fire unless we can get back to our camp before it starts to snow !"

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Give no quarter

In this idioms the word 'quarter' refers to mercy or understanding. Therefore, to give no quarter is to be firm and show no mercy. "You have made me very, very angry," Billy's mother said. "If you don't return that piece of cake this instant I will give no  quarter and you will be severely punished !" That convinced Billy, and he returned the cake.

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To enter the lists

In days of old when knights were bold, the arenas in which they held tournaments were called lists. From that, to enter the lists means to begin a competition, a contest - or an argument ! "Unless you are prepared to enter the lists and play as well as you can, you have no business being on this team," the football coach said to his players.

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A closed book

"I am supposed to know just about everything," Professor Olson said, "so I can't let anyone know that I have just come across something that is a closed book to me." As it is used here, a closed book is something - a topic, a subject, an idea - you don't know anything about. "But I have to confess that physics is a closed book to me," the Professor said with a huge sigh.

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Fight like cat(s) and dog(s)

Since the beginning of time, cats and dogs have been natural enemies, and when they meet they usually get involved in fierce fights. From that, when people argue or fight bitterly they are said to fight like cats and dogs or fight like cat and dog. "If we invite the Smiths to our party, we can't invite the Waltons. I don't know why, but they fight like cats and dogs.

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Can't carry a tune

Most people have no problem singing, humming, or whistling a tune. But Ozzie is different. He isn't able to distinguish one note of music from the other. "It's lucky I wasn't born a canary," Ozzie said, "because I really can't carry a tune." Those who can't carry a tune cannot sing, hum or whistle properly. "They make mistakes and sound terrible," Ozzie added.

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Draw the longbow

"I have played my violin in Paris in front of thousands of people," Buddy smiled. Personally, I think Buddy is drawing the longbow. To draw the longbow means to make an exaggerated remark or to tell an elaborate story in order to impress someone. A longbow is a large bow used to shoot arrows great distances. This is a British expression.

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A blank check

It must be a great feeling to receive a blank check. "I got a blank check from my father to buy any car I wanted," Harry said. See, I told you it's a good feeling to get a blank check ! Actually, the idiom means to be given complete freedom to do whatever you want. Here's another example : "Our teacher gave us a blank check to work on any project we desired."

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Catch someone red-handed

"Ah ha, so you're the one who has been painting pictures on my blackboard !" Professor Michael exclaimed. "At last I have caught you red-handed !" To catch someone red-handed is to discover him or her in the process of committing a naughty or forbidden act. "I'm sorry, I thought a little color would help to brighten up our classroom," Danny pleaded.

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Draw and quarter

It was once common to execute criminals by having their four limbs drawn ( pulled ) off. Thank heavens criminals are not drawn and quartered any more, though we still use this idiom ( humorously ) to threaten a person ! "My wife said she would draw and quarter me if I came home late again," Ken said. "I hope she doesn't mean it !"

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Fight / tilt at windmills

"Ha, there you are again making threatening gestures at me !" Aaron cried. "I'll show you that you are not fighting windmills !" To fight or tilt at windmills is from the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha in which the hero attacks windmills thinking they are giants. The idiom means to struggle against an imaginary opponent or to oppose things that are not important.

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Chew the fat

After a hard day, Nani and his friend like nothing better than to sit around a nice warm fire chewing the fat. "Normally we are so busy hunting and fishing that we don't have much time to get together to chew the fat," Nani noted. To chew the fat is to have a casual chat or a nice little talk. "Our wives have just gone to one of their friend's igloo to chew the fat," Nani smiled.

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Feel / know in one's bones

"I feel in my bones someone is watching us," Angela whispered. "I know in my bones you are right !" John answered. John and Angela are saying that though they do not have absolute proof of something, they feel or believe it by instinct. "I know in my bones my mother would be upset if I did not hurry home after school," Angela said.

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Close one's eyes

When we deliberately ignore something we don't wish to admit it is there -- usually because it isn't approved of or because we don't approve of it -- we close our eyes to it. "I sometimes think the authorities close their eyes to the indecent way people dress in the streets.

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Fast and furious

Albert was strolling along outside the prison gate when Officer Derek caught him. A struggle raged fast and furious, but in the end Albert was safely back inside. "If I had been quicker, Derek would not have caught me." Albert sulked. "But I learned something," he said. "I learned that fast and furious describes an activity that is full of noise and excitement !"

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Come to a pretty pass

'Pretty' in this expression means terrible and 'pass' refers to a distressing situation. Therefore, a pretty pass is a bad condition or an annoying state of affairs. "It has come to a pretty pass when a gentleman can't look at an attractive young lady without ending up in a hospital bed !" Andy complained as he was rescued from a hole in the street.

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Dog Latin / English / Chinese, etc

"Dogs are friends of the whole human race," Fido barked in rather bad Latin. "A role in which I played a significant part," Scotty added. Fido and Scotty are conversing in dog Latin. To speak or write dog Latin / English / Chinese, etc. is to speak or write bad Latin, English, Chinese, etc. In other words, not like a native would speak or write it.

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Mad as a wet hen

Gustov is mad as a wet hen. "You are the most annoying chicken I have ever seen ! You must stop running," he shouted. Gustov knows a lot about chickens because he has been cooking them for many years - and to be mad as a wet hen is to be very angry ! "I would rather see you mad as a wet hen than see me in your cooking pot !" the hen replied.

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All's fair in love and war

In love and war the rules of proper social behavior aren't always obeyed. From that, there are times when people justify their selfish behavior by saying all's fair in love and war. "It's hard to believe there are people who think all's fair in love and war so it's OK to cheat in an examination." Ted said.

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Answer one's calling

The "calling" in this expression is someone's profession, particularly one he seems strongly motivated to do. This is usually due to his special ability or exceptional desire to do it. A person who does well or is successful in his job has answered his calling. "When John grows up he'll probably answer his calling and become a leader of men."

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The baby boom

A boom is the rapid expansion or sudden numerical growth of something. since our topic here is babies, a/the baby boom refers to sudden increase in the birth rate. "The universities are filled to capacity due to the baby boom that followed the war." "We've had a baby boom and our hospital is becoming overcrowded," Dr Gabriello said.

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A back number

An outdated newspaper or periodical is a back number. "I'm researching back number newspapers for an article I'm writing."  the reporter said. A person is a back number when he has lost his influence or his thinking is considered old-fashioned. "No one seeks my opinion anymore," Neil sighed. "I feel like a back number in this office."

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Feel the pinch

It hurts to be pinched. It also hurts to be without money. I guess that's why be pinched is a colloquialism for having little or no money, and to feel the pinch is to experience hardship because of a shortage of money. "If we have a recession everyone is going to feel the pinch," Andre said.

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Bear fruit

When trees or vines bear fruit they produce fruit. Idiomatically, bear fruit means to produce a desired effect or to achieve a successful result. "I've studied hard. I hope my efforts will bear fruit," Josh said. "Ha," Robert laughed. " MY work bore fruit this morning when I sold a painting.

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A bird of a different feather

People who are different or unusual would never object to being called a bird of a different feather for this particular 'bird' is a person who is independent and free-thinking. "Kate refuses to wear the same fashions everyone else wears. She's a bird of different feather who designs and makes her own clothes."

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A blind alley

An alley is a narrow street between buildings. One that is "blind" has no exit. It is enclosed on three sides. Idiomatically, however, a blind alley refers to a situation or physical activity that leads nowhere. "I've got to change jobs. The one I have is truly a blind alley," Ezra complained.
 

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