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Idioms

Rock hound   Close call
Run up an account Coffin nail
Separate the sheep from the goats Come up smelling of roses
Set someone's teeth on edge Cool as cucumber
Skirt around Cool customer
So long Davy Jones's locker
Spitting image Dead letter
Achilles' heel Dead ringer
Play the giddy goat Dear John letter
All eyes Done to a turn
All rolled into one Donkey's years
As free as air Down and out
Bear up Down in the mouth
Smart money Dressed like a million dollars
A bed of roses Drop a line
Been around since the flood Duty calls
Behind the times Feel under the weather
Break one's word Find one's bearings
Bring someone to heel Flea in one's ear
Bring down the house Scare the living daylights of someone
Button one's lip Get lost
Chained to the oars Get wind of
   
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Rock hound

Rover is thrilled with his collection of rocks. If I were a rock hound I suppose I'd be thrilled too, for a rock hound is a person who collects various kinds of rocks and minerals. "I'm only an amateur rock hound," Rover smiled. "My collection is small compared to those of my rock hound friends."

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Run up an account

Instead of paying cash each time he shops, Mr. Long finds it more convenient to run up an account at the stores where he makes his purchases. To run up an account is to increase the money you owe. You can also run up a bill or a debt, which means the same as run up an account. Mr. Long does this ( very easily, I might add ! ) by using credit cards.

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Separate the sheep from the goats

This ancient expression is found in the Bible ( Matthew 25: 32 ). It means to recognize the difference between competent and incompetent, useful and useless people in a group and, when a selection is made, to choose only those who are capable, valuable or useful. " Our new examination to select workers for promotion is designed to separate the sheep from the goats."

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Set someone's teeth on edge

Things that cause us to feel irritated, angry or uncomfortable can be describe as setting our teeth on edge. "The squeak of the chalk on the blackboard sets my teeth on edge." "Her high-pitch voice sets my teeth on edge."

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Skirt around

Girls know what it means to have a skirt around somewhere for they probably have several in their wardrobes at this very moment. Those aren't the kind of skirts referred to in this idiom, though, for to skirt around means to avoid something. "Let's not skirt around the facts. We've skirted around them too long."

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So long

Some people say that so long is a corruption of the Arabic word salaam, meaning "peace". Others suggest it is from the Hebrew salah meaning "God be with you". Whatever its origin, so long is a way of saying goodbye. "So long, Time, "Tina wept. "I hope to see you soon."

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Spitting image

Mr. and Mrs. Toad had a beautiful baby earlier this year. Mrs. Toad says it is the spitting image of its father, while Mr. Toad says it's the spitting image of its mother. Whoever is correct, when someone is the spitting image of a person, he/she looks exactly like that person.

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Achilles' heel

Achilles was a hero in Greek mythology. His body was protected from harm except for one heel. He died when he was wounded in that heel. Today, any single weakness a person has is his Achilles' heel. "Felix is very kind -- but his Achilles' heel is that he's almost too generous !"

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Play the giddy goat

In ancient times it was thought that goats were associated with the devil. Perhaps that's why we have this idiom which refers to acting or behaving foolishly. Giddy means to be dizzy or silly. "When Raymond began acting the giddy goat I insisted that we leave the party," his wife sighed.

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All eyes

If I appeared before you with a package and, saying it was a gift for you, began slowly to unwrap it, I think you would be all eyes. To be all eyes is to be totally engrossed in looking at something. "Mr. Winkle was all eyes as he walked the streets on his first visit to Vancouver."

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All rolled into one

Charles is handsome, intelligent, talented, clever and witty. He's what some would say would be the perfect man all rolled into one. That is to say, he's a combination of things which, when viewed together, form a single -- and complete -- unit. "You, my dear, are greatness and beauty all rolled into one," Charles whispered to Sylvia.

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As free as air

Last year Manfred retired. "My time is my own now," he smiled. "I'm as free as air." To be as free as air is to be unrestrained and to have no obligations. I imagine we have this expression because, as no one owns the air, it costs us nothing to use it.

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Bear up

Walking through the forest, David encountered a bear in his path. "I can't hide so I must bear up and not be afraid," David said. Bear up he did, and in the end the bear turned and walked away. To bear up is to stay strong and brave in an annoying or difficult situation.

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Smart money

"When we talk of smart money we are not really speaking of money but of professional investors and the places where they invest their money," Professor Bridge said. Here is an example of what he means : "Much of today's smart money is being invested in antiques and old paintings. Smart money seems to be avoiding the bond market."

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A bed of roses

Mimi is absolutely convinced that life is a bed of roses. "The only time it's not a bed of roses is when I'm called upon to chase mice," Mimi yawned. A bed of roses describes a situation that is agreeable and gives peace, comfort and pleasure.

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Been around since the flood

The Great Flood ( or Noah's Flood ) written about in the Bible ( Genesis 7,8 ) happened a long, long time ago. For that reason, someone or something that has been around since the flood is very old. "I think these buses have been around since the flood." "I've heard that joke. It's been around since the flood."

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Behind the times

Some people think that Mr. Potts is behind the times. That is, they believe his way of thinking and doing things is old-fashioned. It is not fresh or modern. "I'm not behind the times,' Mr. Potts exclaimed. "I'm just not interested in updating my business. And I have no wish to get into one of those awful-looking modern suits !"

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Break one's word

Every year Billy makes the same old promises," the crowd hissed, "and every year he breaks his word." Apparently Mr. Billy can't be trusted for to break one's word is to fail to keep a promise. "Vote for me one more time and I swear I'll never break my word again," Mr. Billy declared.

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Bring someone to heel

Dogs that are well-trained have been taught to follow closely behind the heels of their masters. That is the origin of this idiom which, when applied to people, means to make them obey our wishes or to act as we desire. "I have a new boss. He's re-organizing his staff to bring everyone to heel," Hilbert said.

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Bring down the house

This term originated in the theater. It refers to an act, a play, or a performance that is so enjoyable it produces loud cheers, applause or laughter. "The audience brought the house down at the end of our school play." "Lydia is so funny ! The moment she steps on stage she brings down the house."

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Button one's lip

"There's an important football game on television tonight," Mr. Bush said to his wife. "Could I ask you to button up while I watch it ?" "Sure, I'll be glad to button my lip -- if you'll agree to wash the dishes after supper," she replied. Both these slang expressions mean to keep quiet, to stop talking.

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Chained to the oars

Once upon a time slaves on ships were chained to the oars and forced to row for their masters. In today's world this idiom means to be forced to work hard and long. "I'm just a little kid and I feel I've been chained to the oars all my life," Angela sighed. "Maybe we're slaves," Jimmy said.

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Close call

Henry sure had a close call yesterday. He was hiking with his wife when he fell over the edge of a cliff. Luckily there was a tree he could clutch, and that saved his life. A close call is a lucky escape from danger. "Wow, what a close call that was." Henry gasped. "I don't think I'll ever take a hike again !"

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Coffin nail

Since about 1890 people have recognized that cigarette smoking does indeed damage one's health for even then they said that each cigarette a person smoked drove another nail in his coffin. That led to a cigarette being called ( in slang ) a coffin nail. "I stopped smoking," Hank said. "I haven't had a coffin nail in three months."

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Come up smelling of roses

I'm sure we all know people who, no matter what they do, always manage to turn a bad situation to their advantage. They -- and anyone who manages to overcome a serious problem -- come up smelling like a rose or of roses. "No matter what strange things Alvin gets into, he always seems to come up smelling of roses."

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Cool as cucumber

If you are in a difficult situation or have an important job to do, you'll perform better if you remain cool as a cucumber. Those who are cool as cucumbers are calm and relaxed. "You'd never know that Paul has examinations tomorrow. Look at him, he's cool as a cucumber."

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Cool customer

this idiom has nothing to do with a customer -- and it has nothing to do with a customer lacking warmth. That's because a cool customer is someone who is calm, completely in control of himself, and shows little emotion. Being relaxed under pressure is this person's distinctive quality. "With no display of fear, Harry traveled all the way to the North Pole alone. He sure is a cool customer."

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Davy Jones's Locker

A locker is a chest for storing things. Many years ago, sailors called the evil spirit of the sea "Day Jones". Anything sinking to the bottom of the sea -- even an entire ship with all its crew -- ended up in what they called Davy Jones's locker. To this day, Davy Jones's locker means the bottom of the sea.

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Dead letter

A letter that the post office is unable to deliver -- maybe it's addressed incorrectly or the person to whom it's addressed has moved -- is a dead letter. So, too, is a law, an order or a directive that has lost its effectiveness and is no longer used. "That order from the boss is a dead letter. Nobody obeyed it anyway."

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Dead ringer

Contrary to what you might think, a dead ringer is very much alive. Used here, dead means "absolutely" and ringer means a person who resembles another. Therefore, a person who is a dead ringer strongly or absolutely looks like someone else. "Charlie is a dead ringer of his father."

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Dear John letter

Originally, a dear John letter was a letter written by a wife or a sweetheart telling a man she was leaving him. Today it can be a note or a letter from a person of either sex telling someone that their romance is over, "Peggy left a Dear John letter on the table and went home to mother."

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Done to a turn

Good grief, I'm done to a turn !" Alex cried. The term Alex is using is one that is borrowed from cooking where meat is roasted over a fire. It refers to food that is cooked just right. "While you were sunbathing I had a wonderful dinner," Alex's wife said. "Everything was done to a turn."

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Donkey's years

Donkeys have very long ears. The reason we have this funny expression ( it is assumed ) is because the word "years" rhymes with "ears". It means a long, long time. "I wonder how my old friend and stablemate Oliver is ?" Alfonso wondered. "He hasn't visited me in donkey's years."

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Down and out

To be without money, a job -- and sometimes a home -- is to be down and out. Fergus is in that unfortunate position. He's a down-and-outer. "I may be down and out but I don't intend to remain down-and-outer. I'm going to find a job soon," he said with determination."

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Down in the mouth

Winnie is feeling miserable. She should be for she's down in the mouth today. She had planned to go on a trip but the rain has caused her to change her plans. "I'm sad, discouraged and unhappy," Winnie moaned. "I'm down in the mouth because this storm has forced me to cancel my flying lesson."

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Dressed like a million dollars

Claudia wouldn't dare leave her house without dressing a million. When I saw her yesterday, she was dressed like a million dollars. To dress a million/dress like a million dollars is to be exceedingly well dressed. Here are more examples : "Tim went to the party dressed a million." "You don't have to dress like a million dollars to attend a concert."

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Drop a line

Here's a riddle: when does drop mean "to write" and a line mean "a letter"? Answer : when it is used in the expression drop a line. "Dear Liz," the letter began. "I thought I would sit down and drop you a line. Now that I have, when are you going to drop me a line ?"

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Duty calls

I'd like to spend more time talking to you but duty calls, you know, and I have to hurry off to do my shopping," Helen said. Duty calls is another way of saying one must attend to one's obligations. "Hey ! Duty calls ! Stop nodding off at your desks and get to work !" the boss shouted.

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Feel under the weather

Poor Mr. Lee. He says he's feeling under the weather. I hope it's nothing serious for to feel under the weather is to feel unwell. Literally, it means to be affected by changes in the weather. "I'm feeling a little under the weather today but I'm sure I'll feel better tomorrow," Mr. Lee sighed.

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Find one's bearings

Our three lost sailors are convinced that they have found their bearings. To find/get one's bearings is to know where one is or where one is going. "The shore is over there," Tom shouted. "You're wrong. I've found our bearings and the shore is that way," Dick replied. Harry finally said, "I don't think we've got our bearings yet."

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Flea in one's ear

When a dog has a flea in his ear he's confused and distressed. When a person gets a flea in his ear, he too is distressed for a flea in one's ear is a harsh scolding. "Howard's feeling miserable. The boss gave him a flea in his ear for being late to work today."

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Scare the living daylight out of someone

An unconscious person wouldn't be able to see anything, let alone daylight. That's why to scare the living daylights out of someone is to scare him so badly he feels he'll faint or lapse into unconsciousness. "Eeeeek, a mouse !" Iris screamed. "It's scaring the living daylights out of me !"

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Get lost

The job of a shepherd is to make sure sheep don't get lost. Possibly because Jacob has spent so much time away from people he's becoming temperamental !" Whatever his problem is, he's telling his sheep to get lost ! This is an emphatic way of telling someone to go away. "When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it," Jacob complained. "Meanwhile, get lost !"

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Get wind of

To get wind of something is to receive news or information indirectly. It's usually information that's meant to be a secret. "I just got wind of the news that Shirley is moving to Canada." "I wonder how Wenger got wind of the fact that I baked cakes today ?" Orion asked.
 

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