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American  Idioms

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Idioms

Gift of gab   Know the ropes
Give a helping hand Last resort
Go begging Laugh one's head off
Go fly a kite Laugh up one s sleeve
Go off someone Lay the blame at someone's door
Good clean fun Left at the altar
Hands off Let fly
Happy as the day is long Like a pig in clover
Hard-boiled Live out of a suitcase
A head for figures Measure up
Have a head screwed on right Mend a broken heart
Heat wave No oil painting
Hold one's peace Old as the hills
Horse opera An old hand
Hot off the press On a fool s errand
In a tight squeeze On the run
In fine fettle On the warpath
In for a penny, in for a pound One s face fell
In stitches Paint the town red
It's later than you think A pat on the back
Kick back Pay one s respects
Knit one's brows A penny for your thoughts
   
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Gift of gab

Some seem born with a gift of gab. Others might study to acquire it. Many more never have it at all. That's because a gift of gab ( or the gift of the gab ) refers to having the ability to speak freely and easily. "Mona's such a quiet girl. No one could describe her as having a gift of gab," Linux said.

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Give a helping hand

Penny is such a nice little girl, always ready to give a helping hand. At the museum, for instance, a lady asked if she'd please lend her a helping hand. To give or lend a helping hand is to give someone help or assistance. "I wasn't busy so I gave the lady a helping hand," Penny said.

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Go begging

The other day I saw a newspaper item that said : "Luxury flats go begging." Naturally, I thought the flats were begging for charity. I was wrong, for when something goes begging it is available ... but nobody wants it. "Those flats are so nice," Mr. de Silva said. "It's a shame they should go begging."

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Go fly a kite

This chiefly North American idiom can mean either "no" or "go away". It's always used informally. "When Bert asked Mill to dance she told him to go fly a kite." ( No ) "Please go fly a kite. I haven't time to discuss sale figures this morning, " the boss said to Bill. ( Go away )

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Go off someone/something

Mr. and Mrs. White have been married for forty-three years. While having tea the other day Mr. white's chair overturned and he fell to the floor. "I suspected you had gone off me," Mrs. White said. To go off someone ( or something  ) is to begin to dislike someone ( or something ) once loved.

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Good clean fun

When we do something for fun, we do it for amusement. There are times, though, when people have fun in a way that does not amuse us -- such as when they ridicule us or play tricks on us. That's why to have good clean fun is to have fun or pleasure in a way that doesn't harm anyone.

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Hands off

This is a command meaning "do not touch". While you would probably never say this to your boss or to your teacher, I am sure you wouldn't hesitate shouting it to a friend or a stranger. "Those are my books. Hands off !" Dick cried. "hands off my bicycle !" Dennis shouted.

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Happy as the day is long

What joy ! What happiness ! At last school is over for the summer. No more books, no more studies ! Clark is happy as the day is long. When a person is content, cheerful and happy, he is happy as the day is long. "Oh, how I wish the summer would last forever," Clark smiled.

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Hard-boiled

Never ask a hard-boiled person for help. He'd probably refuse you. People who are hard-boiled are uncooperative and unsympathetic. In the extreme, they have no feelings at all. "What's wrong with Henrietta ? When she's happy she's so nice -- but when she's angry she's really hard-boiled !"

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A head for figures

To have a head for something is to be good or smart at it. A successful businessman, for instance, obviously has a head for business. A person good at mathematics is said to have a head for figures. "Andy has a good head for geography but she sure doesn't have a head for figures," Professor Osborn said.

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Have one's head screwed on the right way

A person said to have his head screwed on right ( or the right way or properly or correctly ) thinks and acts in a reasonable and thoughtful way. He is wise and logical. "If Mr. Bob had his head screwed on the right way he wouldn't have used a match to try to locate a leak in his gas tank," the doctor said.

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Heat wave

Last winter Stefan left his home in Sweden to spend Christmas with his Uncle Oscar in Los Angeles. When he returned home he said the weather had been terrible. "The whole time I was there Los Angeles was having a heat wave," he gasped. A heat wave is a period of very hot weather.

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Hold one's peace

"Who ate the fish I was saving for supper ?" Emily screamed. One look at the anger in Emily's eyes was enough to convince Eric to hold his peace. To hold one's peace is to remain silent. "I just wanted to sample it," Eric wanted to say -- but he wisely held his peace and said nothing.

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Horse opera

Several years ago Hollywood produced a great many films about cowboys and the wild American West. Technically the films were called Westerns but because everyone galloped about on a horse they became known as horse operas. "There's an exciting new horse opera playing at the Pearl. shall we go see it ?"

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Hot off the press

Before advances in modern technology, books, magazines and newspapers were printed from plates of type that had been formed from hot molten metal. That has led to our saying that just-published material is hot off the press. "Yes, that's the latest edition of the newspaper," Hilda said. "It's hot off the press."

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In a tight squeeze

To be in a tight squeeze is to be in a difficult situation. "I'm in a tight squeeze trying to do two jobs at the same time," Lenny complained. Also, someone who is in financial trouble is in a tight squeeze. "The reason I'm doing two jobs at the same time is because I'm in a tight squeeze trying to pay my bills," Lenny said.

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In fine fettle

It's not likely that you'll find the word fettle ( it rhymes with kettle ) used anywhere else. It's an old word meaning "condition" or "state of mind". For that reason, when a person is in fine fettle he is physically or mentally fit. "I'm looking and feeling in fine fettle this morning," Alex grinned.

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In for a penny, in for a pound

The pound here is the British pound sterling. A penny is 1/100 part of one. This old saying tells us that if we decide to do something, we should commit ourselves to it boldly and completely. "I'm going to devote myself to earning as much as possible this summer," Carl said. "After all, in for a penny, in for a pound."

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In stitches

Desmond is very ticklish. He laughs whenever he's touched. That, I suppose, explains why he's presently in stitches. When a person is in stitches he laughs and laughs. "Oh, Doctor Wong, you've got me in stitches," Desmond laughed. "You'll have the entire hospital in stitches if you don't be quiet," Doctor Wong replied.

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It's later than you think

David rarely looks at the clock. That probably explains why he spends all his time working. But beware, David, it may be later than you think ! That is , time moves by quickly so if you have something to do or you want to enjoy yourself you should seize the opportunity. You may have less time than you realize !

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Kick back

I'll introduce you to the man in charge of the building project if we can agree on a kick back," Ambrose said. What he means is that he expects to receive a fee or a commission for his service. "If the meeting leads to a contract I'll give you a 15% kick back," Ambrose's friend agreed.

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Knit one's brows

As you might have noticed, Mr. Singh is in deep thought. You can tell because he is knitting his brows. Brows are one's forehead or eyebrows, and to knit one's brows is to wrinkle them while thinking. "I'm knitting my brows trying to solve a problem," Mr. Singh said.

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Know the ropes

A good sailor knows all about ropes and how to tie them into knots. From that we have this idiom, and it means to know all there is about a job, a hobby, a business or a method. "You'll never get to know the ropes if you continue to daydream," Lynx said.

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Last resort

When Hubert got off the train at Microville all the hotels were full. As a last resort he stayed in an old inn on the edge of town. "It was my last resort," Hubert sighed. ( As a ) last resort is a course of action taken when all other methods or attempts have failed.

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Laugh one's head off

"I was chatting with Felicity Frump at a party the other day," Michael grinned. When she began telling jokes, I laughed so hard I laughed my head off." What Michael is saying is that Felicity's jokes were so funny they made him laugh and laugh. In fact, he laughed so much he couldn't stop.

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Laugh up one's sleeve

From the fact that people sometimes hid their laughs behind their hands, we have this idiom. It means to be secretly amused -- and usually because a person is quietly laughing at someone for failing or for being wrong. "I could sense that Jerome was laughing up his sleeve at me when I didn't pass my history quiz," Ron said.

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Lay the blame at someone's door

To lay the blame ( or fault ) at someone's door is to state that a person, group, company or organization is responsible for the fault or failure of something. "The coach laid the blame at the door of the players after our football team lost the championship match."

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Left at the altar

Altars are found in churches. People getting married stand before them and say "I do." If one of the parties fails to appear, the other is left at the altar. That has come to mean someone is rejected or his hopes are not fulfilled. "I wasn't promoted. I was left at the altar again," Rooney frowned.

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Let fly

To let fly can mean (1) to throw something forcefully; or (2) to shout angrily at someone. (1)"Paul leaned back and, aiming a stone at a log in the water, let fly with it. He missed." (2)"Irine was so furious that Ivan had let his pet bird free that he let fly at him and didn't talk to him for a week."

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Like a pig in clover

Food is food to a pig. Therefore, sweet tasty clover wouldn't be considered special and worth saving. A pig would waste it, and that's why a person who wastes riches is like a pig in clover. "Tommy has a fine job with a big salary but he's like a pig in clover the way he spends his money foolishly," Derek exclaimed.

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Live out of a suitcase

People who do a lot of traveling and stay in various places away from home often say they live out of a suitcase. Mr. Howe, for example, is tired of traveling. When I accepted this job I had no idea I'd have to live out of a suitcase six or seven months of the year," he complained.

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Measure up

Danny thought it would be great to wear a soldier's uniform. Hurrying to the nearest enlistment office, he asked if he measured up. "I'm sorry to say, young man, that you don't measure up," an officer said. To measure up means to meet a required standard or have the necessary qualifications for something.

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Mend a broken heart

When Nora's boyfriend moved away she was left with a broken heart. That is, she felt sad and unhappy. Eventually she met someone who helped mend her broken heart. To mend a broken heart is to make an unhappy person feel better. "I'm so glad we met. You've mended my broken heart." Nora smiled.

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No oil painting

People who believe that oil paintings are only of pretty things should have no difficulty thinking that unattractive people or ugly things are no oil painting. "Martha's a wonderful person, but you must admit she's no oil painting to look at." "This is an interesting town, but it's certainly no oil painting, is it ?" Nellie said.

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Old as the hills

This expression -- which means that something is very old or ancient -- can be used when referring to just about anything or anybody. "I need a new hat. This one is as old as the hills." "Grandpa's old as the hills but he stays in shape by jogging two or three miles every day."

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An old hand

We need someone for the information desk so I think I'll give the job to Ralph. He's an old hand here," Mr. Drudge said. That's how Ralph got his promotion at the museum, for an old hand is a person very experienced at doing something. "I'm becoming an old hand at answering questions," Ralph yawned.

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On a fool's errand

To go on a fool's errand is to go on a useless or unnecessary trip. Sidney, for example, has been told to deliver a package to someone living in the middle of the desert. "There's no one here," Sidney frowned. "I think I've been sent on a fool's errand." I suspect Sidney is right.

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On the run

The last time I saw Fred he was in jail. He must have escaped for I  see he's on the run again. A person on the run is hiding from the police. Looking at the man at his side, Fred said : "This is rather fun. Are you on the run too ?"

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On the warpath

Mr. Wilson's employees are very, very upset. "The workers are on the warpath," the supervisor said. "They are demanding shorter hours and more pay!" The expression the supervisor is using was given to us by the American Indians. To them it meant going to war. To us it means to be in a threatening or angry mood.

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One's face fell

For a dozen or more years Webster has worked for the ABC Company. Yesterday he was called into the boss's office and told he would be replaced by a computer. Webster's face fell. When someone's face falls he looks terribly disappointed. If I were Webster, I'm sure my face would fall too.

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Paint the town red

Perhaps someday we will know why, when people go out to have a happy time spending a lot of money, they paint the town red. Until then, all we know about this idiom is that it has been around since the 1800s. "I got my promotion ! Let's go out and paint the town red !"

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A pat on the back

To give someone a pat on the back is to praise him for doing well. "In his speech, Mr. Black gave his employees a pt on the back for being so loyal to the company." "After losing the competition. Gary gave his opponent a sportsmanlike pat on the back.

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Pay one's respects

When Peggy was told that Grandmother would be coming to pay her respects, she immediately imagined that she would be coming to distribute money. Happily Grandmother did give her a coin when she arrived, but this expression actually means "to honor someone with a visit." "I've come to pay my respects to all of you," Grandmother smiled.

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A penny for your thoughts

A penny is a coin of little value. About the time of Shakespeare ( 1600 ) people began using this expression to ask a person what he was thinking. The complete expression is often shortened to a penny ? or a penny for them ? "You're awfully quiet today. A penny for your thoughts ?"
 

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