Hair of the dog

If someone has a hair of the dog, they have an alcoholic drink as a way of getting rid of a hangover, the unpleasant effects of having drunk too much alcohol the night before. It is commonly used as a way of excusing having a drink early on in the day.

Hale and hearty

Someone who is hale and hearty is in very good health.


A half-baked idea or scheme hasn’t not been thought through or planned very well.

Hammer and tongs

If people are going at it hammer and tongs, they are arguing fiercely. The idiom can also be used hen people are doing something energetically.

Hand in glove

If people are hand in glove, they have an extremely close relationship.

Hand that rocks the cradle

Women have a great power and influence because they have the greatest influence over the development of children- the hand that rocks the cradle. (‚The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’ is the full form.)

Hand to mouth

Someone who’s living from hand to mouth, is very poor and needs the little money they have coming in to cover their expenses.
Hands down

Handwriting like chicken scratch

If your handwriting is very hard to read, it is like chicken scratch.

Hang by a thread

If something hangs by a thread, there is a very small chance indeed of it being successful or surviving.

Hang in the balance

If an outcome is hanging in the balance, there are at least two possibilities and it is impossible to predict which will win out.

Hang out to dry

If you hang someone out to dry, you abandon them when they are in trouble.

Hangdog expression

A hangdog expression is one where the person’s showing their emotions very clearly, maybe a little too clearly for your liking. It’s that mixture of misery and self-pity that is similar to a dog when it’s trying to get something it wants but daren’t take without permission.

Hanged for a sheep as a lamb

This is an expression meaning that if you are going to get into trouble for doing something, then you ought to stop worrying and should try to get everything you can before you get caught.

Hard as nails

A person who is as hard as nails is either physically tough or has little or no respect for other people’s feelings.
Hard cheese

Hard of hearing

Someone who’s hard of hearing is a bit deaf.

Hard sell

If someone puts a lot of pressure on you to do or buy something, they are hard selling it.

Haste makes waste Top

This idiom means that if you try to do something quickly, without planning it, you’re likely to end up spending more time, money, etc, doing it.

Hat trick

Three successes one after the other is a hat trick.

Hatchet job

A piece of criticism that destroys someone’s reputation is a hatchet job.

Have a bash

If you have a bash at something, you try to do it, especially when there isn’t much chance of success.

Have a trick up your sleeve

If you have a trick up your sleeve, you have a secret strategy to use when the time is right.

Have the floor

If someone has the floor, it is their turn to speak at a meeting.

Have your cake and eat it too

If someone wants to have their cake and eat it too, they want everything their way, especially when their wishes are contradictory.

Have your collar felt

If someone has their collar felt, they are arrested.

Have your tail up

If someone has their tail up, they are optimistic and expect to be successful.

Having a gas

If you’re having a gas, you are having a laugh and enjoying yourself in company.

He’ll rue the day

He’ll rue the day that he crossed me. This means that the person will one day bitterly regret what they have done.

Head for the hills

If people head for the hills, they run away from trouble.

Head is in the clouds

If a person has their head in the clouds, they have unrealistic, impractical ideas.

Head nor tail

If you can’t make head nor tail of something, you cannot understand it at all or make any sense of it.

Head on a spike

If someone wants a head on a spike, they want to be able to destroy or really punish a person.

Head on the block

If someone’s head is on the block, they are going to be held responsible and suffer the consequences for something that has gone wrong.

Head over heels in love

When someone falls passionately in love and is intoxicated by the feeling has fallen head over heels in love.

Heads will roll

If heads will roll, people will be punished or sacked for something that has gone wrong.


A headstrong person is obstinate and does not take other people’s advice readily.

Healthy as a horse

If you’re as healthy as a horse, you’re very healthy.

Hear a pin drop Top

If there is complete silence in a room, you can hear a pin drop.

Heart in the right place

If someone’s heart is in the right place, they are good and kind, though they might not always appear to be so.

Heart in the right place

If someone’s heart is in the right place, their intentions and feelings are good.

Heart in your boots

If you’re heart is in your boots, you are very unhappy.

Heart in your mouth

If your heart is in your mouth, then you feel nervous or scared.

Heart isn’t in it

If your heart is not in something, then you don’t really believe in it or support it.

Heart misses a beat

If your heart misses a beat, you are suddenly shocked or surprised. (‚Heart skips a beat’ is an alternative)

Heart of gold

Someone with a heart of gold is a genuinely kind and caring person.

Heaven knows

If you ask someone a question and they say this, they have no idea.

Heavenly bodies

The heavenly bodies are the stars.


If someone is heavy-handed, they are insensitive and use excessive force or authority when dealing with a problem.

Hedge your bets

If you hedge your bets, you don’t risk everything on one opportunity, but try more than one thing.

Hell for leather

If you do something hell for leather, especially running, you do it as fast as you can.

Hell in a handcart

If something is going to hell in a handcart, it is getting worse and worse, with no hope of stopping the decline.

Herding cats

If you have to try to co-ordinate a very difficult situation, where people want to do very different things, you are herding cats.

Here today, gone tomorrow

Money, happiness and other desirable things are often here today, gone tomorrow, which means that they don’t last for very long.

Hiding to nothing

If people are on a hiding to nothing, their schemes and plans have no chance of succeeding. ‚Hiding to nowhere’ is an alternative.

High and dry

If you are left high and dry, you are left alone and given no help at all when you need it.


If someone is high-handed, they behave arrogantly and pompously.

High-wire act

A high-wire act is a dangerous or risky strategy, plan, task, etc.

Hit and miss

Something that is hit and miss is unpredictable and may produce results or may fail.

Hit the bull’s-eye

If someone hits the bull’s-eye, they are exactly right about something or achieve the best result possible. "Bulls-eye" and "bullseye" are alternative spellings.

Hit the ceiling

If someone hits the ceiling, they lose their temper and become very angry.

Hit the fan

When it hits the fan, or, more rudely, the shit hits the fan, serious trouble starts.

Hit the ground running

If someone hits the ground running, they start a new job or position in a very dynamic manner.

Hit the hay

When you hit the hay, you go to bed.

Hit the mark

If someone hits the mark, they are right about something.

Hit the nail on the head. Top

If someone hits the nail on the head, they are exactly right about something.

Hit the road

When people hit the road, they leave a place to go somewhere else.

Hit the roof

If you lose your temper and get very angry, you hit the roof.

Hit the sack

When you hit the sack, you go to bed.

Hoist with your own petard

If you are hoist with your own petard, you get into trouble or caught in a trap that you had set for someone else.

Hold all the aces

If you hold all the aces, you have all the advantages and your opponents or rivals are in a weak position.

Hold the baby

(UK) If someone is responsible for something, they are holding the baby.

Hold the bag

(USA) If someone is responsible for something, they are holding the bag.

Hold the fort

If you hold the fort, you look after something or assume someone’s responsibilities while they are away.

Hold your horses

If someone tells you to hold your horses. you are doing something too fast and they would like you to slow down.


Someone who is holier-than-thou believes that they are morally superior to other people.

Hollow victory

A hollow victory is where someone wins something in name, but are seen not to have gained anything by winning.

Home stretch

The home stretch is the last part of something, like a journey, race or project.

Home, James

(UK) This is a cliched way of telling the driver of a vehicle to start driving. It is supposed to be an order to a chauffeur (a privately employed driver).

Honest truth

If someone claims that something is the honest truth, they wish to sound extra-sincere about something.

Honours are even

If honours are even, then a competition has ended with neither side emerging as a winner.

Hook, line, and sinker

If somebody accepts or believes something hook, line, and sinker, they accept it completely.

Hop, skip, and a jump

If a place is a hop, skip, and a jump from somewhere, it’s only a short distance away.

Hope against hope

If you hope against hope, you hope for something even though there is little or no chance of your wish being fulfilled.

Hope in hell

If something hasn’t got a hope in hell, it stands absolutely no chance of succeeding.

Hornets’ nest

If you stir up a hornets’ nest, you do something very controversial that causes a lot of trouble and anger.

Horns of a dilemma

If you are on the horns of a dilemma, you are faced with two equally unpleasant options and have to choose one.

Horse of a different color Top

(USA) If something is a horse of a different color, it’s a different matter or separate issue altogether.

Horse trading

Horse trading is an idiom used to describe negotiations, especially where these are difficult and involve a lot of compromise.

Horses for courses

Horses for courses means that what is suitable for one person or situation might be unsuitable for another.

Hostile takeover

If a company is bought out when it does not want to be, it is known as a hostile takeover.

Hot air

Language that is full of words but means little or nothing is hot air.

Hot as blue blazes

If something’s as hot as blue blazes, it’s extremely hot.

Hot as Hades

If something’s as hot as Hades, it’s extremely hot.

Hot foot

If you hot foot it out of a place, you leave very quickly, often running.

Hot ticket

(USA) A hot ticket is something that is very much in demand at the moment.

Hot under the collar

If you’re hot under the collar, you’re feeling angry or bothered.

Hot water

If you get into hot water, you get into trouble.


A hot-headed person gets angry very easily. (The noun ‚hothead’ can also be used.)

How come

If you want to show disbelief or surprise about an action, you can ask a question using ‚how come’. How come he got the job? (You can’t believe that they gave the job to somebody like him)

How do you like them apples

(USA) This idiomatic expression is used to express surprise or shock at something that has happened. It can also be used to boast about something you have done.

How long is a piece of string

If someone has no idea of the answer to a question, they can ask ‚How long is a piece of string?’ as a way of indicating their ignorance.

Hue and cry

Hue and cry is an expression that used to mean all the people who joined in chasing a criminal or villain. Nowadays, if you do something without hue and cry, you do it discreetly and without drawing attention.

I hereby give notice of my intention

Hereby is used sometimes in formal, official declarations and statements to give greater force to the speaker’ or the writer’s affirmation. People will say it sometimes to emphasise their sincerity and correctness.

I should cocoa

(UK) This idiom comes from ‚I should think so’, but is normally used sarcastically to mean the opposite.

I’ll eat my hat

You can say this when you are absolutely sure that you are right to let the other person know that there is no chance of your being wrong.
I’ve got a bone to pick with you

If you’ll pardon my French

(UK) This idiom is used as a way of apologising for swearing.

Ill-gotten gains

Ill-gotten gains are profits or benefits that are made either illegally or unfairly.

In a cleft stick Top

If you are in a cleft stick, you are in a difficult situation, caught between choices.

In a flash

If something happens in a flash, it happens very quickly indeed.

In a heartbeat

If something happens very quickly or immediately, it happens in a heartbeat.

In a jam

If you are in a jam, you are in some trouble.

In a jiffy

If something happens in a jiffy, it happens very quickly.

In a nutshell

This idiom is used to introduce a concise summary.

In a pickle

If you are in a pickle, you are in some trouble or a mess.

In a tick

(UK) If someone will do something in a tick, they’ll do it very soon or very quickly.

In all honesty

If you say something in all honesty, you are telling the complete truth. It can be used as a way of introducing a negative opinion whilst trying to be polite; in all honesty, I have to say that I wasn’t very impressed.

In an instant

If something happens in an instant, it happens very rapidly.

In broad daylight

If a crime or problem happens in broad daylight, it happens during the day and should have been seen and stopped.

In cahoots

If people are in cahoots, they are conspiring together.

In cold blood

If something is done in cold blood, it is done ruthlessly, without any emotion.

In dire straits

If you’re in dire straits, you’re in serious trouble or difficulties.

In donkey’s years

‚I haven’t seen her in donkey’s years.’ – This means for a very long time.

In dribs and drabs

If people arrive in dribs and drabs, they come in small groups at irregular intervals, instead of all arriving at the same time.

In droves

When things happen in droves, a lot happen at the same time or very quickly.

In for a penny, in for a pound

If something is worth doing then it is a case of in for a penny, in for a pound, which means that when gambling or taking a chance, you might as well go the whole way and take all the risks, not just some.

In full swing

If things are in full swing, they have been going for a sufficient period of time to be going well and very actively.

In high gear

(USA) If something is in high gear, it is in a quick-paced mode. If someone is in high gear, they are feverishly on the fast track.

In hot water

If you are in hot water, you are in serious trouble.

In my bad books

If you are in someone’s bad books, they are angry with you. Likewise, if you are in their good books, they are pleased with you.

In my book

This idiom means ‚in my opinion’.

In my good books

If someone is in your good books, you are pleased with or think highly of them at the moment.

In one ear and out the other Top

If something goes in one ear and out the other, you forget it as soon as you’ve heard it because it was too complicated, boring etc.

In over your head

If someone is in over their head, they are out of the depth in something they are involved in, and may end up in a mess.

In rude health

(UK) If someone’s in rude health, they are very healthy and look it.

In someone’s pocket

If a person is in someone’s pocket, they are dependent, especially financially, on them.

In spades

(UK) If you have something in spades, you have a lot of it.

In stitches

If someone is in stitches, they are laughing uncontrollably.

In tandem

If people do things in tandem, they do them at the same time.

In the black

If your bank account is in credit, it is in the black.

In the club

(UK) If a woman’s in the club, she’s pregnant. ‚In the pudding club’ is an alternative form.

In the dock

If someone is in the dock, they are on trial in court.

In the doghouse

If someone is in the doghouse, they are in disgrace and very unpopular at the moment.

In the doghouse

If someone is in the doghouse, they are in disgrace because they have done something wrong.

In the face of

If people act in the face of something, they do it despite it or when threatened by it.

In the family way

If a woman is in the family way, she is pregnant.

In the flesh

If you meet or see someone in the flesh you actually meet or see them, rather than seeing them on TV or in other media.

In the hot seat

If someone’s in the hot seat, they are the target for a lot of unwelcome criticism and examination.

In the long run

This means ‚over a long period of time’, ‚in the end’ or ‚in the final result’.

In the loop

If you’re in the loop, you are fully informed about what is happening in a certain area or activity.

In the offing

If something is in the offing, it is very likely to happen soon.

In the pink

If you are in very good health, you are in the pink.

In the pipeline

If something’s in the pipeline, it hasn’t arrived yet but its arrival is expected.

In the red

If your bank account is overdrawn, it is in the red.

In the same boat

If people are in the same boat, they are in the same predicament or trouble.

In the soup

If you’re in the soup, you’re in trouble.

In the swim

If you are in the swim, you are up-to-date with and fully informed about something.

In the swing

If things are in the swing, they are progressing well.

In the twinkling of an eye

If something happens in the twinkling of an eye, it happens very quickly.

In two minds

If you are in two minds about something, you can’t decide what to do.

In your face

If someone is in your face, they are direct and confrontational. (It is sometime written ‚in yer face’colloquially)

In your sights Top

If you have someone or something in your sights, they are your target to beat.

Indian file

If people walk in Indian file, they walk in a line one behind the other.

Indian giver

An Indian giver gives something, then tries to take it back.

Indian summer

If there is a period of warmer weather in late autumn, it is an Indian summer.

Ins and outs

If you know the ins and outs of something, you know all the details.

Into thin air

If something vanishes or disappears without trace, it vanishes into thin air; no-one knows where it has gone.

Iron fist

Someone who rules or controls something with an iron fist is in absolute control and tolerates no dissent. An iron fist in a velvet glove is used to describe someone who appears soft on the outside, but underneath is very hard. ‚Mailed fist’ is an alternative form.

Irons in the fire

A person who has a few irons in the fire has a number of things working to their advantage at the same time.

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings

This idiom means that until something has officially finished, the result is uncertain.

It cost an arm and a leg

If something costs an arm and a leg, it is very expensive indeed.

It cost the earth

If something costs the earth, it is very expensive indeed.

It never rains but it pours

‚It never rains but it pours’ means that when things go wrong, they go very wrong.

It takes two to tango

This idiom is used to suggest that when things go wrong, both sides are involved and neither side is completely innocent.

It’s an ill wind that blows no good

This is said when things have gone wrong; the idea being that when bad things happen, there can also be some positive results.

It’s no use crying over spilt milk

This idiom means that getting upset after something has gone wrong is pointless; it can’t be changed so it should be accepted.

Ivory tower

People who live in ivory towers are detached from the world around them.

Jack Frost

If everything has frozen in winter, then Jack Frost has visited.


A jack-of-all-trades is someone that can do many different jobs.

Jam tomorrow

(UK) This idiom is used when people promise good things for the future that will never come.

Jane Doe

Jane Doe is a name given to an unidentified female who may be party to legal proceedings, or to an unidentified person in hospital, or dead. John Doe is the male equivalent.

Jersey justice

(UK) Jersey justice is very severe justice.


To emphasise just how black something is, such as someone’s hair, we can call it jet-black.

Job’s comforter

Someone who says they want to comfort, but actually discomforts people is a Job’s comforter. (Job’s is pronounced ‚jobes’, not ‚jobs’)

Jobs for the boys

Where people give jobs, contracts, etc, to their friends and associates, these are jobs for the boys.

Jockey for position

If a number of people want the same opportunity and are struggling to emerge as the most likely candidate, they are jockeying for position.

John Doe

John Doe is a name given to an unidentified male who may be party to legal proceedings, or to an unidentified person in hospital, or dead.

Jane Doe is the female equivalent.

John Q Public

(USA) John Q Public is the typical, average person.


A Johnny-come-lately is someone who has recently joined something or arrived somewhere, especially when they want to make changes that are not welcome.

Joined at the hip

If people are joined at the hip, they are very closely connected and think the same way.

Juggle frogs

If you are juggling frogs, you are trying to do something very difficult.

Jump on the bandwagon Top

If people jump on the bandwagon, they get involved in something that has recently become very popular.

Jump the gun

If you jump the gun, you start doing something before the appropriate time.

Jump through hoops

If you are prepared to jump through hoops for someone, you are prepared to make great efforts and sacrifices for them.

Jungle out there

If someone says that it is a jungle out there, they mean that the situation is dangerous and there are no rules.

Jury’s out

If the jury’s out on an issue, then there is no general agreement or consensus on it.

Just around the corner

If something is just around the corner, then it is expected to happen very soon.

Just coming up to

If the time is just coming up to nine o’clock, it means that it will be nine o’clock in a very few seconds. You’ll hear them say it on the radio in the morning.

Just deserts

If a bad or evil person gets their just deserts, they get the punishment or suffer the misfortune that it is felt they deserve.

Just in the nick of time

If you do something in the nick of time, you just manage to do it just in time, with seconds to spare.

Just off the boat

If someone is just off the boat, they are naive and inexperienced.

Just what the doctor ordered

If something’s just what the doctor ordered, it is precisely what is needed.

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