Unique Idiomatic Expressions

Make a beeline for

Go rapidly and directly towards – The bee was supposed to fly in such a way when returning to its hive.

Work like a beaver

Work steadily and industriously – The beaver is proverbial for the industriousness with which it constructs the dams necessary for its aquatic dwelling.

Between you and me and the bedpost

In strict confidence. The bedpost, gatepost, or wall is seen as marking the boundary beyond which the confidence must not go

Best Bib and Tucker

Best clothes. Originally used of items of women’s dress: a bib is a garment worn over the upper front part of the body ( e.g., the bib of an apron ), and a tucker was a piece of lace formerly used to adorn a woman’s bodice.

Birds of a feather

People with similar tastes, interests, etc. From the proverb birds of the same feather flock together.

One’s better half

One’s husband or wife

Better the devil you know

It’s wiser to deal with an undesirable but familiar person or situation than to risk a change that might lead to a situation with worse difficulties or a person whose faults you have yet to discover.

Black sheep

A betrayer

Write ( or give someone ) a blank cheque

Allow someone unlimited scope, especially to spend money. A blank cheque is literally one in which the amount of money to be paid has not been filled in by the payer.

A blind date

A social meeting, usually with the object of starting a romance between two people who have not met each other before.

A blow-by-blow account

A detailed narrative of events as they happened.

Out of the blue

Without warning; unexpectedly – with reference to a blue clear sky, from which nothing unusual is expected.

The wide ( or wild ) blue yonder

The sky or sea; the far or unknown distance.

A blue-eyed boy

The favourite of someone in authority.

Rock the boat

Say or do something to disturb an existing situation and upset other people.

Bob and weave

Make rapid bodily movements up and down and from side to side.

Shake one’s booty

Dance energetically

Like a bull in a china shop

Behaving recklessly and clumsily in a place or situation where one is likely to cause damage or injury.

Take the bull by the horns

Deal bravely and decisively with a difficult, dangerous, or unpleasant situation.


Very close together, as cars in a traffic jam.

The White man’s burden

The supposed responsibility of whites to civilize other races.

Bury the hatchet

End a quarrel or conflict and become friendly.

Have butterflies in one’s stomach

Have a queasy feeling because one is nervous.

Let bygones be bygones

Forgive and forget past offences or causes of conflicts.

A chapter of accidents

A series of misfortunes.

A conspiracy of silence

An agreement to say nothing about an issue that should be generally known.

Too many cooks spoil the broth

If too many people are involved in a task or activity, it will not be done well.

Over the counter

By ordinary retail purchase, with no need for a prescription or license.

Dance to someone’s tune

Comply completely with someone’s demands and wishes.

Day in, day out

Continuously or repeatedly over a long period of time.

Day of reckoning

The time when past mistakes or misdeeds must be punished or paid for; a testing time when the degree of one’s success or failure will be revealed = with allusion to the Day of Judgement, on which according to traditional Christian eschatology, human beings will have to answer to God for their transgressions.

The Dead of night

The quietest, darkest part of the night.

The law of diminishing returns

The principle by which, after a certain point, the level of profits or benefits to be gained is reduced to less than the amount of money or energy invested.

Divide and rule ( or conquer )

The policy of maintaining supremacy over one’s opponents by encouraging dissent between them, thereby preventing them from uniting against one.

Do or die

To persist in the face of great danger, even if death is the result.

For donkey’s years

For a very long time.


Doomsday means literally ‘judgement day’

Dos and Don’ts

Rules of behavior

A doubting Thomas

A person who refuses to believe something with incontrovertible proof; a sceptic. From the biblical story of the apostle Thomas, who said that he would not believe that Christ had risen from the dead until he had seen and touched his wounds ( John 20:24-29 ).

On the downgrade

In decline

Drag one’s feet or heels

Be deliberately slow or reluctant to act.

Dutch courage

Bravery induced by drinking alcohol – with allusion to the long-standing British belief that the Dutch are extraordinarily heavy drinkers.

Keep an ear to the ground

Be well-informed about events and trends.

Easy come, easy go

What is acquired without effort or difficulty may be lost or spent casually and without regret.

Putting ( or having ) all one’s eggs in one basket

Risking everything on the success of one venture

At the eleventh hour

At the last moment or latest possible moment – originally with allusion to Jesus’s parable of the labourers hired right at the end of the day to work the vineyard ( Matthew 20:1-16 )

An eye for an eye ( and a tooth for a tooth )

Retaliation in kind – with allusion to the law of retribution in the Old Testament ( Exodus 21:24 ) often used to express the view that the appropriate way to deal with an offence or crime is the exact retribution in kind.

As fit as a fiddle

In very good health.

Fight fire with fire

Use the weapons or tactics of one’s enemy or opponent, even if one finds them distasteful.

Fire and brimstone

The supposed torments of hell. In the Bible the means of divine punishment of the wicked ( e.g, Genesis 19:24, Revelation 21:8 ). Brimstone is an obsolete word for ‘ sulphur ‘ and now seldom occurs outside this phrase, except as the name of a species of sulphur-yellow butterfly.

Flog a dead horse

Waste energy on a lost cause or unalterable situation.

Take a French leave

Make an unannounced or unauthorized departure. From the custom prevalent in 18th century France of leaving a reception or entertainment without taking leave of one’s host or hostess.

Out of the frying pan into the fire

From a bad situation to one that is worse

Garbage in, garbage out

Incorrect or poor quality input inevitably produces faulty output.

Gnash one’s teeth

Feel or express anger or fury.

What goes around comes around

The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.

At the rainbow’s end

A large but distant or illusory reward.

A golden Age

A period in the past when things were at their best, happiest. etc

Jump the gun

Act before the proper or appropriate time

Hand to mouth ( or from hand to mouth )

Satisfying only one’s immediate needs because of lack of money for future plans and investment.

Play hard to get

Deliberately adopt an a loof or uninterested attitude, typically in order to make oneself more attractive or interesting.

Out of harm’s way

In a safe place

A heart of gold

A generous nature or heart

Heart of stone

A stern or cruel nature, or a heart that is rebellious, unremorseful

In one’s heart of hearts

In one’s inmost feelings


Of a person causing accidental or willful damage and escaping before being discovered or stopped.

Holy of holies

A place or thing regarded as sacrosanct – with reference to the Hebrew phrase for the inner chamber of the sanctuary in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem, separated by a veil from the outer chamber.