Kangaroo court

When people take the law into their own hands and form courts that are not legal, these are known as kangaroo court.

Keen as mustard

(UK) If someone is very enthusiastic, they are as keen as mustard.

Keep abreast

If you keep abreast of things, you stay informed about developments.

Keep at bay

If you keep someone or something at bay, you maintain a safe distance from them.

Keep body and soul together

If you earn enough to cover your basic expenses, but nothing more than that, you earn enough to keep body and soul together.

Keep it under your hat

If you keep something under your hat, you keep it secret.

Keep mum

If you keep mum about something, you keep quiet and don’t tell anyone.

Keep posted

If you keep posted about something, you keep up-to-date with information and developments.

Keep someone at arm’s length

If you keep someone or something at arm’s length, you keep a safe distance away from them.

Keep up with the Joneses

People who try to keep up with the Joneses are competitive about material possessions and always try to have the latest and best things.

Keep your chin up

(UK) This expression is used to tell someone to have confidence.

Keep your ear to the ground

If you keep your ear to the ground, you try to keep informed about something, especially if there are rumours or uncertainties.

Keep your eye on the ball

If you keep your eye on the ball, you stay alert and pay close attention to what is happening.

Keep your fingers crossed

If you are keeping your fingers crossed, you are hoping for a positive outcome.

Keep your hair on

Keep your hair on is advice telling someone to keep calm and not to over-react or get angry.

Keep your head above water

If you are just managing to survive financially, you are keeping your head above water.

Keep your nose clean

If someone is trying to keep their Nose Clean, they are trying to stay out of trouble by not getting involved in any sort of wrong-doing.

Keep your nose to the grindstone

If you keep your nose to the grindstone, you work hard and seriously.

Keep your options open

If someone’s keeping their options open, they aren’t going to restrict themselves or rule out any possible course of action.

Keep your pecker up

If someone tells you to keep your pecker up, they are telling you not to let your problems get on top of you and to try to be optimistic.

Keep your powder dry Top

If you keep your powder dry, you act cautiously so as not to damage your chances.

Keep your shirt on!

This idiom is used to tell someone to calm down.

Keep your wig on!

(UK) This idiom is used to tell someone to calm down.

Kettle of fish

A pretty or fine kettle of fish is a difficult problem or situation.

Kick a habit

If you kick a habit, you stop doing it.

Kick away the ladder

If someone kicks away the ladder, they remove something that was supporting or helping someone.

Kick in the teeth

Bad news or a sudden disappointment are a kick in the teeth.

Kick something into the long grass

If an issue or problem is kicked into the long grass, it is pushed aside and hidden in the hope that it will be forgotten or ignored.

Kick the bucket

When someone kicks the bucket, they die.

Kick up your heels

If you kick up your heels, you go to parties or celebrate something.

Kid gloves

If someone is handled with kid gloves, they are given special treatment and handled with great care.

Kill the goose that lays the golden egg

If you kill the goose that lays the golden egg, you ruin something that is very profitable.

Kill two birds with one stone

When you kill two birds with one stone, you resolve two difficulties or matters with a single action.

Kindred spirit

A kindred spirit is someone who feels and thinks the way you do.

Kiss of death

The kiss of death is an action that means failure or ruin for someone, a scheme, a plan, etc.

Kissing cousin

A kissing cousin is someone you are related to, but not closely.


(UK) Kitchen-sink drama deals with ordinary people’s lives.

Kith and kin

Your kith and kin are your family; your next of kin are close relations you nominate to deal with your affairs in the event of your death on a document, like a passport.

Knee-jerk reaction

A knee-jerk reaction is an instant, instinctive response to a situation.

Knight in shining armour

A knight in shining armour is someone who saves you when you are in great trouble or danger.

Knock ’em dead

‚Knock ’em dead’ is used as a way of wishing someone luck before they give a performance or have to appear before people, as in an interview, etc. (’em = them)

Knock on wood

This idiom is used to hope for good luck.

Knock on wood

This idiom is used to wish for good luck. (‚Touch wood’ is also used.)

Knock your socks off

If something knocks your socks off, it amazes and surprises you, usually in a positive way.

Know full well Top

When you know full well, you are absolutely sure that you know.

Know the ropes

Someone who is experienced and knows how the system works know the ropes.

Know which side one’s bread is buttered on

If you know which side one’s bread is buttered on, you know where your interests lie and will act accordingly to protect or further them.

Know your onions

If someone is very well-informed about something, they know their onions.

Know your place

A person who knows their place doesn’t try to impose themselves on others.

Labor of love

A labor of love is a project or task undertaking for the interest or pleasure in doing it rather than the reward, financial or otherwise.

Lame duck

If something or someone is a lame duck, they are in trouble.

Land of nod

If someone has gone to the land of nod, they have fallen asleep or gone to bed.

Lap of the gods

If something is in the lap of the gods, it is beyond our control and fate will decide the outcome.

Larger than life

If something is excessive or exaggerated, it is larger than life.

Last hurrah

If an elderly person does something special before they die, it is a last hurrah.

Last straw

The last straw is the final problem that makes someone lose their temper or the problem that finally brought about the collapse of something. It comes from an Arabic story, where a camel was loaded with straw until a single straw placed on the rest of the load broke its back.


A last-ditch attempt is a desperate attempt that will probably fail anyway.

Laugh to see a pudding crawl

(UK) Someone who would laugh to see a pudding crawl is easily amused and will laugh at anything.

Laughing stock

If someone becomes a laughing stock they do something so stupid or wrong that no one can take them seriously and people scorn and laugh at them.

Law unto yourself

If somebody’s a law unto themselves, they do what they believe is right regardless of what is generally accepted as correct.

Lay down the law

If someone lays down the law, they tell people what to do and are authoritarian.

Lead someone up the garden path

If someone leads you up the garden path, they deceive you, or give you false information that causes you to waste your time. ‚Lead someone down the garden path’ is also used.

Leave no stone unturned

If you look everywhere to find something, or try everything to achieve something, you leave no stone unturned.

Leave well alone

If you leave something well alone, you keep a safe distance from it, either physically or metaphorically.

Left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing

If the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, then communication within a company, organisation, group, etc, is so bad that people don’t know what the others are doing.

Left in the dark

If you are left in the dark about something, you aren’t given the information that you should have.

Left-handed compliment

A left-handed compliment is one that sounds like praise but has an insulting meaning. (‚Backhanded compliment’ is an alternative form.)

Legend in your own lunchtime

Somebody who becomes a legend in their own lifetime acquires fame, but often only to a select or specialist audience, while they are still alive.

Lend an ear

If you lend an ear, you listen to what someone has to say. (‚Lend your ear’ is an alternative form.)

Leopard can’t change its spots

This idiom means that people cannot change basic aspects of their character, especially negative ones. ("A leopard doesn’t change its spots" is also used.)

Lesser of two evils Top

Something that is the lesser of two evils, is an unpleasant option, but not as bad as the other.

Let alone

This is used to emphasise how extreme something could be: ‚We hadn’t got the money to phone home, let alone stay in a hotel.’ This emphasises the utter impossibility of staying in a hotel.

Let bygones be bygones

If people decide to let bygones be bygones, they decide to forget old problems or grievances they have with each other.

Let sleeping dogs lie

If someone is told to let sleeping dogs lie, it means that they shouldn’t disturb a situation as it would result in trouble or complications.

Let the cat out of the bag

If you accidentally reveal a secret, you let the cat out of the bag.

Let the devil take the hindmost

This idiom means that you should think of yourself and not be concerned about other people; look after yourself and let the devil take the hindmost.

Let the genie out of the bottle

If people let the genie out of the bottle, they let something bad happen that cannot be put right or controlled.

Let the grass grow round your feet

If you let the grass grow round your feet, you delay doing things instead of taking action.

Let your hair down

If someone lets their hair down, they relax and stop feeling inhibited or shy.

Letter of the law

If people interpret laws and regulations strictly, ignoring the ideas behind them, they follow the letter of the law.

Level playing field

If there’s a level playing field everybody is treated equally.

Lie through your teeth

Someone who is always lying, regardless of what people know, lies through their teeth.

Light at the end of the tunnel

If you can see light at the end of the tunnel, then you can see some signs of hope in the future, though things are difficult at the moment.

Light bulb moment

A light bulb moment is when you have a sudden realisation about something, like the light bulbs used to indicate an idea in cartoons.

Light years ahead

If you are light years ahead of others, you are a long way in front of them in terms of development, success, etc.

Lightning rod Top

Someone or something that attracts a lot of negative comment, often diverting attention from other problems, is a lightning rod.

Like a beached whale

Once a whale is on a beach, it cannot get back into the easily, so if you are completely stuck somewhere and can’t get away, you are stranded like a beached whale.

Like a bear with a sore head

(UK) If someone’s like a bear with a sore head, they complain a lot and are unhappy about something.

Like a cat on hot bricks

If someone is like a cat on hot bricks, they are very nervous or excited.

Like a cat that got the cream

If someone looks very pleased with themselves and happy, they look like a cat that got the cream.

Like a duck to water

If someone has a natural talent for something and enjoys it, they take to it like a duck to water.

Like a fish needs a bicycle

If someone needs something like a Fish Needs a Bicycle, they do not need it at all, originally a feminist slogan: A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

Like a fish out of water

If someone feels like a fish out of water, they are very uncomfortable in the situation they are in.

Like a rat deserting a sinking ship

If people leave a company because they know that it’s about to have serious problems, or turn their back on a person about to be in a similar situation, they are said to be like rats deserting a sinking ship.

Like clockwork

If something happens like clockwork, it happens at very regular times or intervals.

Like father, like son

This idiom is used when different generations of a family behave in the same way or have the same talents of defects.

Like lambs to the slaughter

If somebody does something unpleasant without any resistance, they go like lambs to the slaughter.

Like peas in a pod

If people or things are like peas in a pod, they look identical.

Like pulling teeth

If something if like pulling teeth, it is very difficult, especially if trying to extract information or to get a straight answer from someone.

Like taking candy from a baby

(USA) If something is like taking candy from a baby, it is very easy to do.

Like the back of your hand

If you know something like the back of your hand, you know it very well indeed.

Like the clappers

If something is going like the clappers, it is going very fast.

Like there’s no tomorrow

If you do something like there’s no tomorrow, you do it fast or energetically.

Like two peas in a pod

Things that are like two peas in a pod are very similar or identical,

Like white on rice

(USA) If you do something like white on rice, you do it very closely: When Bob found out I had front row tickets for the concert, he stuck to me like white on rice.

Like wildfire

If something happens or spreads like wildfire, it happens very quickly and intensely.


Someone who is lily-livered is a coward.

Lines of communication

Lines of communication are the routes used to communicate by people or groups who are in conflict; a government might open lines of communication with terrorists if it wished to negotiate with them.

Lion’s share

The lion’s share of something is the biggest or best part.

Lip service

When people pay lip service to something, they express their respect, but they don’t act on their words, so the respect is hollow and empty.
Live wire

A person who is very active, both mentally and physically, is a live wire.

Lo and behold Top

This phrase is used to express surprise.

Loan shark

A loan shark lends money at very high rates of interest.

Lock horns

When people lock horns, they argue or fight about something.

Lock the stable door after the horse has bolted

If someone takes action too late, they do this; there is no reason to lock an empty stable.

Lock, stock and barrel

This is an expressions that means ‚everything’; if someone buys a company lock, stock and barrel, they buy absolutely everything to do with the company.

Long in the tooth

If someone is long in the tooth, they are a bit too old to do something.

Long time no see

‚Long time no see’ means that the speaker has not seen that person for a long time.

Look after number 1

You are number one, so this idiom means that you should think about yourself first, rather than worrying about other people.
Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves

(UK) If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves, meaning that if someone takes care not to waste small amounts of money, they will accumulate capital. (‚Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves’ is an alternative form of this idiom.)

Look before you leap

This idiom means that you should think carefully about the possible results or consequences before doing something.

Look out for number one

If you look out for number one, you take care of yourself and your interests, rather than those of other people.

Look what the cat dragged in

This idiom is used when someone arrives somewhere looking a mess or flustered and bothered.

Lose the plot

If someone loses the plot, they have stopped being rational about something.

Lose your lunch

(UK) If you lose your lunch, you vomit.

Lose your marbles

If someone has lost their marbles, they’ve gone mad.

Lose your shirt

If someone loses their shirt, they lose all their money through a bad investment, gambling, etc.

Low-hanging fruit

Low-hanging fruit are things that are easily achieved.

Lower the bar

If people change the standards required to make things easier, they lower the bar.

Lower your sights

If you lower your sights, you accept something that is less than you were hoping for.

Luck of the draw

To have the ‚Luck of the draw’ is to win something in a competition where the winner is chosen purely by chance.

Mad as a badger

If someone is as mad as a badger, they are crazy.

Mad as a hornet

(USA) If someone is as mad as a hornet, they are very angry indeed.

Mad as a March hare

Someone who is excitable and unpredictable is as mad as a March hare.

Mailed fist

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

Major league Top

Something major league is very important.

Make a better fist

If someone makes a better fist of doing something, they do a better job.

Make a killing

If you make a killing, you do something that makes you a lot of money.

Make a meal

If someone makes a meal of something, they spend too long doing it or make it look more difficult than it really is.

Make a mint

If someone is making a mint, they are making a lot of money.

Make a monkey of someone

If you make a monkey of someone, you make them look foolish.

Make a mountain out of a molehill

If somebody makes a mountain out of a molehill, they exaggerate the importance or seriousness of a problem.

Make a pitch

If you make a pitch for something, you make a bid, offer or other attempt to get it.

Make a request

If you request something, or make a request, you are asking for something you want or need.

Make a song and dance

(UK) If someone makes a song and dance, they make an unecessary fuss about something unimportant.

Make an enquiry

If you make an enquiry, you ask for general information about something.

Make bets in a burning house

(USA) If people are making bets in a burning house, they are engaged in futile activity while serious problems around them are getting worse.

Make ends meet

If somebody finds it hard to make ends meet, they have problems living on the money they earn.

Make hay

If you make hay, or may hay while the sun shines, you take advantage of an opportunity as soon as it arises and do not waste time.

Make headway

If you make headway, you make progress.

Make no bones about it

If somebody make no bones about a scandal in their past, they are open and honest about it and show no shame or embarrassment.

Make out like a bandit

(USA) If someone is extremely successful in a venture, they make out like a bandit.

Make waves

If someone makes waves, they cause a lot of trouble.

Make your blood boil

If something makes your blood boil, it makes you very angry.

Make your flesh crawl

If something makes your flesh crawl, it really scares or revolts you. (‚Make your flesh creep’ is an alternative. ‚Make your skin crawl’ is also used.)

Make your hair stand on end

If something makes your hair stand on end, it terrifies you.

Make yourself scarce

If someone makes themselves scarce, they go away from a place, especially to avoid trouble or so that they can’t be found.

Man in the street Top

The man in the street is an idiom to describe ordinary people, especially when talking about their opinions and ideas.

Man of letters

A man of letters is someone who is an expert in the arts and literature, and often a writer too.

Man of means

A man, or woman, of means is wealthy.

Man of straw

A weak person that can easily be beaten of changed is a man of straw.

Man of straw

A man of straw is a a weak person or argument that is easily defeated.

Man of the cloth

A man of the cloth is a priest.

Man on the Clapham omnibus

(UK) The man on the Clapham omnibus is the ordinary person in the street.

Man’s best friend

This is an idiomatic term for dogs.

Man’s man

A man’s man is a man who does things enjoyed by men and is respected by other men.

Many a slip twixt cup and lip

There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip means that many things can go wrong before something is achieved.

Many hands make light work

This idiom means that when everyone gets involved in something, the work gets done quickly.

Mark my words

Mark my words is an expression used to lend an air of seriousness to what the speaker is about to say when talking about the future. You often hear drunks say it before they deliver some particularly spurious nonsense.

Mark someone’s card

If you mark someone’s card, you correct them in a forceful and prompt manner when they say something wrong.

Marked man

A marked man is a person who is being targeted by people who want to do them harm or cause them trouble.

Matter of life and death

If something is a matter of life and death, it is extremely important.


A mealy-mouthed person doesn’t say what they mean clearly.

Meet someone halfway

If you meet someone halfway, you accept some of their ideas and make concessions.

Meet your expectations

If something doesn’t meet your expectations, it means that it wasn’t as good as you had thought it was going to be; a disappointment.

Meet your Maker

If someone has gone to meet their Maker, they have died.

Meet your match

If you meet your match, you meet a person who is at least as good if not better than you are at something.

Megaphone diplomacy

If negotiations between countries or parties are held through press releases and announcements, this is megaphone diplomacy, aiming to force the other party into adopting a desired position.

Melting pot

A melting pot is a place where people from many ethnicities and nationalities live together.

Memory like a sieve

If somebody can’t retain things for long in his or her memory and quickly forgets, he or she has a memory like a sieve. A sieve has lots of tiny holes in it to let liquids out while keeping the solids inside.

Memory like an elephant

‚An elephant never forgets’ is a saying, so if a person has a memory like an elephant, he or she has a very good memory indeed.

Mend fences

When people mend fences, they try to improve or restore relations that have been damaged by disputes or arguments.

Method in his madness Top

If there’s method in someone’s madness, they do things in a strange and unorthodox way, but manage to get results.

Mickey Mouse

If something is Mickey Mouse, it is intellectually trivial or not of a very high standard.

Midas touch

If someone has the Midas touch, they make a lot of money out of any scheme they try.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

Big or great things start very small.

Millstone round your neck

A millstone around your neck is a problem that prevents you from doing what you want to do.

Mind the gap

Mind the gap is an instruction used on the Underground in the UK to warn passengers to be careful when leaving the tube or train as there is quite a distance between the train and the platform.

Mind your own beeswax

(USA) This idiom means that people should mind their own business and not interfere in other people’s affairs.

Mind Your P’s and Q’s

If you are careful about the way you behave and are polite, you mind Your P’s and Q’s.

Mint condition

If something is in mint condition, it is in perfect condition.

Misery guts

A misery guts is a person who’s always unhappy and tries to make others feel negative.

Miss is as good as a mile

A miss is as good as a mile means that if you fail, even by the smallest margin, it is still a failure.

Miss the boat

If you miss the boat, you are too late to take advantage of an opportunity.

Money for jam

If something’s money for jam, it’s a very easy way of making money.

Money for old rope

(UK) If something’s money for old rope, it’s a very easy way of making money.

Money laundering

If people launder money, they get money made illegally into the mainstream so that it is believed to be legitimate and clean.

Money to burn

If someone is very rich, they have money to burn.

Monkey business

If children get up to monkey business, they are behaving naughtily or mischievously. This is the same as ‚monkeying around’.

Moot point

If something’s a moot point, there’s some disagreement about it: a debatable point.

More haste, less speed

The faster you try to do something, the more likely you are to make mistakes that make you take longer than it would had you planned it.

More heat than light

If a discussion generates more heat than light, it doesn’t provide answers, but does make people angry.

More than meets the eye

If there is more than meets the eye to something, it is more complex or difficult than it appears.

More than one string to their bow

A person who has more than one string to their bow has different talents or skills to fall back on.

More than one way to skin a cat

When people say that there is more than one way to skin a cat, they mean that there are different ways of achieving the same thing.

Mountain to climb

If you have a mountain to climb, you have to work hard or make a lot of progress to achieve something.

Move mountains

If you would move mountains to do something, you would make any effort to achieve your aim. When people say that faith can move mountains, they mean that it can achieve a lot.

Move the goalposts

When people move the goalposts, they change the standards required for something to their advantage.

Mover and shaker

A person who is a mover and shaker is a highly respected, key figure in their particular area with a lot of influence and importance.


If someone is mud-slinging, they are insulting someone and trying to damage that person’s reputation.

Muddy the waters

If somebody muddies the waters, he or she makes the situation more complex or less clear.

Mum’s the word

When people use this idiom, they mean that you should keep quiet about something and not tell other people.

Murder will out

This idiom means that bad deeds can’t be kept secret forever.

Murky waters

Where people are behaving in morally and ethically questionable ways, they are in murky waters.

Music to my ears

If something someone says is music to your ears, it is exactly what you had wanted to hear.

Mutton dressed as lamb

Mutton dressed as lamb is term for middle-aged or elderly people trying to look younger.

My dogs are barking

(USA) When someone says this, they mean that their feet are hurting.

My foot!

This idiom is used to show that you do not believe what someone has just said.

My hands are full Top

If your hands are full, you have so much to do that you cannot take on any more work, responsibilities and so on.

My hands are tied

If your hands are tied, you are unable to act for some reason.

My heart bleeds

If your heart bleeds for someone, you feel genuine sympathy and sadness for them.

My heart goes out to someone

If your heart goes out to someone, you feel genuine sympathy for them.

My way or the highway

This idiom is used to say that if people don’t do what you say, they will have to leave or quit the project, etc.

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