Idioms


Idioms are expressive of the living speech of a people. It is the life-blood of the language, vigorous and vital as compared to the dry bones of grammar which, after all, are mere codifications from established usage.

So here are a few. Learn and Enjoy them! 🙂

Have a nodding acquaintance with

Have a slight acquaintance with a person or subject

Usage

I have only a nodding acquaintance with him.

Adamant to (Adjective)

Like a hard substance that cannot be cut or broken:

Usage

He was adamant to their prayers.

On this point I am adamant—Nothing can change my decision.

Address onself to

Apply one self to, be busy with:

Usage

It is time we addressed ourselves to the business in hand

This is a riddle to the solution of which every states man should address himself.

In the air

Spreading about. To be widely or generally rumoured.

Usuage

There are rumors in the air that war is imminent.

These questions are in the air. They are likely to be set in the examination paper.

On the Air

Broadcast

Usage

The Prime Minister will be on the air at 9:15 p.m

Establish an alibi

To prove that one was at another place at the time of an alleged act, especially a crime.

Usage

The accused was able to establish an alibi

All the same

A matter not causing inconvenience; a matter of indifference to:

Usage

It is all the same to you whether the pull-over is home—knit or bazaar made.

It is all the same to me whether you go or stay

Allow for

Take into consideration

Usuage

It will take thirty minutes to get the station, allowing for traffic delays.

Let Alone

Without referring to or considering

He cannot find money for necessities, let alone such luxuries as wine and tobacco.

Take something amiss

To be offended by a thing; to be hurt in one’s feelings:

Do not take it amiss if I point out your errors.

He took his remarks amiss and dismissed him at once.

Tied to one’s apron strings

Too long or too much under the control of somebody

He is tied to his wife’s apron-strings.

An apple of Discord

A subject of envy and strife; cause of contention.

The origin of the term is mythological story which tells the Eris—the goddess of discord—threw a golden apple among the gods and goddesses at the marriage of Thetis and Peleus to which she had not been invited. The words inscribed on this golden apple were: “For the Fairest”.

The goddesses Juno, Minerva and Venus contended for it. It was adjudged to Venus and Paris gave it to her as the most beautiful of the goddesses, from which action resulted indirectly the Trojan War:

Usage

The newly created seat in the Provincial Assembly threatens to prove a veritable apple of discord.

Add fuel to Fire

To say or do something which contributes to increase the rage of a person already enraged; to give a fresh incitement or provocation

Usage

Avoid bandying words with a superior when he is incensed lest it should add fuel to the fire.

Add insult to injury

To affront or insult a person in addition to the injuries inflicted upon him

Usage

The subsequent action of the officer was calculated to aggravate the offence and add insult to injury.

The Apple of one’s eye

A much prized treasure. A thing delightful for a person to contemplate, and therefore very dear to that person. The apple of eye is the ey-ball so called from its round shape; any cherished object; the most sensitive and precious part of the eye:

Usage

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings- Psalms.

Apple-pie order

In perfect order; perfectly neat or methodical arrangement. The phrase lends itself to a simple explanation. A good cook will tell us that , for an apple-pie to look, as well as taste well, the apples must be carefully cut and arranged and packed in the pie-dish.

Usage

The Principal made his presence felt and soon everything in the college was in apple pie order.

The new Superintendent hated confusion and disorder, therefore, everything was soon in apple-pie order in the office.

To have an axe to grind.

To have a personal interest in the matter; to have a private motive or end.

The story is told by Benjamin Franklin( 1706-1790) that when he was a boy in his father’s yard, a pleasant spoken man came up to him and made himself very agreeable. Among other things, the visitor praised the grindstone and asked young Franklin to let him see how it worked. He then got Franklin to turn the grindstone while he sharpened an axe he had with him. The boy was flattered with his compliments and honeyed words and worked till his hands were blistered. When the man was satisfied, he sent the boy off with an oath. That man had an axe to grind—he had a concealed reason for his conduct. All his politeness was prompted by selfish motives.

Usage

He was interested in the release of political prisoners because he had an axe to grind. His son was in jail.

Official complain plaintively that they are bothered by a constant stream of callers who have all their little axes to grind.

At a pinch

In an emergency; in difficultly; under necessity; in default of anything better; when hard pressed:

Usage

We can utilize the library as our meeting place at a pinch.

The knife will do at a pinch, be we ought to have a better one.

Above-board

Honest and straightforward; openly; without trickery.

Dr. Johnson in his Dictionary defined the term as ‘In open sight; without artifice or trick’. This is figurative expression borrowed from gamesters. The man who cheats at cards keeps his hands under the table or board:

Usage

The secret of his popularity was that he was above-board in all his dealing.

Aladdin’s lamp

A lamp which gave its owner or rather the person who rubbed it, everything he wished. Anything which helps a person realizing his desire in a very short time. See Arabian Night’s Entertainments.

Usage:

The execution of this plan will take time. I have no Aladdin’s lamp to do it overnight.

Goodwill in business is almost as expeditious and effective as Aladdin’s lamp.

All and sundry

Everyone without distinction:

Usage

He invited all and sundry to partake freely of the cake and pastry that he had brought from Andrea

Alpha and Omega

The beginning and the end. These are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet.

Usage

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord—Rev 1, 8.

Interrogation of nature is the alpha and omega of Science.

Animal Spirits

The liveliness and that comes from heath and physical exhilaration; natural buoyancy:

Usage

She had high animal spirits- Jane Austen

The villagers seemed to be inspired by sheer animal spirits at the fair.

Keep Up Appearances

To put up outward show; to behave in a seemly way before other; to conceal the real state of things by wearing an outward show of normalcy:

Usage

He lived beyond his means simply to keep up appearances.

In trying to keep up appearances, the people are everywhere bringing themselves to ruin.

He was cut to the quick, but continued smiling to keep up appearances.

To cleanse the Augean Stables

To perform a great work of purification. To bring about a drastic reform in some public evil.

The allusion is to fifth labour of Hercules, of cleaning in one day the stables of Augeas. P. Augeas was a fabulous king of Elis, who imposed the Hercules the task of cleansing his stables, where three thousand oxen had lived for thirty years without any purification. Hercules performed this task in one day by letting two rivers flow through the stables. Augean stable has come to mean an accumulation of corruption to filth almost beyond the power of man to remedy.

Usage

To abolish these evil customs is like cleansing the proverbial Augean Stables.

In short, Malta was an Augean stable and Ball had all the inclination to be a Hercules—S.T Coleridge.

Every effort should be made to cleanse the Augean stable of this department.

To entertain an angel unawares

To be hospitable to a guest whose good qualities are unknown.

See the Bible (Genesis XVIII) for the origin of the phrase. It gives an account of Abraham entertaining angels. The Holy Quran also gives this episode, but while the angels eat the flesh of the calf served in the Bible, they avoid it in Quran, because they are angels.

Usage

In the course of the evening some one informed her that she was entertaining an angel unawares, in the shape of a composer of the greatest promise.

When she knew that he was a great paint, she felt astonished; it seemed that she had been entertaining an angel unawares.

Against a rainy day

For a rainy day; in provision for evil times; a rainy day in its metaphorical meaning is a time of adversity; a time of trouble and difficulty.

Usage

A prudent man does not spend all he earns but lays up something for a rainy day.

We should put by something against a rainy day.

As ill-luck would have it

Unfortunately

Usage

There is a ray of heaven in John Ruskin. But, as ill-luck would have it, John Ruskin is not earnestly studied and cultivated in Pakistan.

As the Crow Flies

Directly; without any deviation from the straight line to ones’s destination.

Usage

We went as the crow flies though hedge and ditch never pausing to draw breath.

To be at daggers drawn

Is said to be of two persons or parties between whom there is as much enmity as if they stood face to face with daggers drawn, ready to stab each other; bitterly hostile to

Use

The quarrel between these two men has unhappily grown more bitter till now they are at daggers drawn.

To be at Sixes and Sevens.

Is said of persons who cannot agree.

The phrase implies, more or less, that the parties carry on strife and do not wish to agree. It is also used of things which are in a muddle and out of order:

Usage

Home rulers, who are all at sixes and sevens among themselves agree only upon one thing and that is freedom of India.

The servants have gone off, leaving everything at sixes and sevens.

Adams’s ale or Adam’s wine

Purer water

We will drink Adam’s ale—Hood

I slake my thirst with Adam’s wine.

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