Each to their own

Different people have different preferences. In American English, ‚Each to his own’ is more common.

Eager beaver

A person who is extremely keen is an eager beaver.

Eagle eyes

Someone who has eagle eyes sees everything; no detail is too small.

Early bath

(UK) If someone has or goes for an early bath, they quit or lose their job or position earlier than expected because things have gone wrong.

Early bird catches the worm

The early bird catches the worm means that if you start something early, you stand a better chance of success.

Easier said than done

If something is easier said than done, it is much more difficult than it sounds. It is often used when someone advises you to do something difficult and tries to make it sound easy.

Easy as pie

If something is easy as pie, it is very easy indeed.

Easy come, easy go

This idiom means that money or other material gains that come without much effort tend to get spent or consumed as easily.

Easy peasy

(UK) If something is easy peasy, it is very easy indeed. (‚Easy peasy, lemon squeezy’ is also used.)

Eat crow

(USA) If you eat crow, you have to admit that you were wrong about something.

Eat humble pie

If someone apologises and shows a lot of contrition for something they have done, they eat humble pie.

Eat like a bird

If someone eats like a bird, they eat very little.

Eat like a horse

Someone who eats like a horse, eats a lot.

Eat like a pig Top

If some eats like a pig, they either eat too much or they have bad table manners.

Eat someone alive

If you eat someone alive, you defeat or beat them comprehensively.

Eat your heart out

If someone tells you to eat your heart out, they are saying they are better than you at something.

Economical with the truth

(UK) If someone, especially a politician, is economical with the truth, they leave out information in order to create a false picture of a situation, without actually lying.

Egg on your face

If someone has egg on their face, they are made to look foolish or embarrassed.

Elbow grease

If something requires elbow grease, it involves a lot of hard physical work.

Elbow room

If you haven’t got enough elbow room, you haven’t got enough space.

Elephant in the room

An elephant in the room is a problem that everyone knows very well but no one talks about because it is taboo, embarrassing, etc.

Eleventh hour

If something happens at the eleventh hour, it happens right at the last minute.

Even keel

If something is on an even keel, it is balanced.

Even Stevens

If everything is equal between people, they are even Stevens.

Every ass likes to hear himself bray

This means that people like the sound of their own voice.

Every cloud has a silver lining

People sometimes say that every cloud has a silver lining to comfort somebody who’s having problems. They mean that it is always possible to get something positive out of a situation, no matter how unpleasant, difficult or even painful it might seem.

Every man for himself

If it’s every man for himself, then people are trying to save themselves from a difficult situation without trying to help anyone else.

Every man jack

If every man jack was involved in something, it is an emphatic way of saying that absolutely everybody was involved.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry

If every Tom, Dick and Harry knows about something, then it is common knowledge.

Every trick in the book

If you try every trick in the book, you try every possible way, including dishonesty and deceit, to get what you want.

Everything but the kitchen sink

If people include everything but the kitchen sink, they include every possibility, regardless of whether they are useful.

Explore all avenues Top

If all avenues are being explored, then every conceivable approach is being tried that could possibly get the desired result.

Eye for an eye

This is an expression for retributive justice, where the punishment equals the crime.

Face like thunder

If someone has a face like thunder, they are clearly very angry or upset about something.

Face the music

If you have to face the music, you have to accept the negative consequences of something you have done wrong.

Face value

If you take something at face value, you accept the appearance rather than looking deeper into the matter.

Facts of life

When someone is taught the facts of life, they learn about sex and reproduction.

Fair and square

If someone wins something fair and square, they follow the rules and win conclusively.

Fair crack of the whip

(UK) If everybody has a fair crack of the whip, they all have equal opportunities to do something.

Fair shake of the whip

(USA) If everybody has a fair shake of the whip, they all have equal opportunities to do something.

Fairweather friend

A fairweather friend is the type who is always there when times are good but forgets about you when things get difficult or problems crop up.

Fall off the back of a lorry

(UK) If someone tries to sell you something that has fallen of the back of a lorry, they are trying to sell you stolen goods.

Fall off the turnip truck

(USA) If someone has just fallen off the turnip truck, they are uninformed, naive and gullible. (Often used in the negative)

Fall on your sword

If someone falls on their sword, they resign or accept the consequences of some wrongdoing.

Familiarity breeds contempt

This means that the more you know something or someone, the more you start to find faults and dislike things about it or them.

Fast and furious

Things that happen fast and furious happen very quickly without stopping or pausing.

Fat cat

A fat cat is a person who makes a lot of money and enjoys a privileged position in society.

Fat chance!

This idiom is a way of telling someone they have no chance.

Fat head

A fat head is a dull, stupid person.

Fat hits the fire

When the fat hits the fire, trouble breaks out.

Fat of the land Top

Living off the fat of the land means having the best of everything in life.

Fate worse than death

Describing something as a fate worse than death is a fairly common way of implying that it is unpleasant.

Feather in your cap

A success or achievement that may help you in the future is a feather in your cap.

Feather your own nest

If someone feathers their own nest, they use their position or job for personal gain.

Feathers fly

When people are fighting or arguing angrily, we can say that feathers are flying.

Fed up to the back teeth

When you are extremely irritated and fed up with something or someone, you are fed up to the back teeth.

Feel at home

If you feel relaxed and comfortable somewhere or with someone, you feel at home.

Feel free

If you ask for permission to do something and are told to feel free, the other person means that there is absolutely no problem

Feel the pinch

If someone is short of money or feeling restricted in some other way, they are feeling the pinch.

Feeling blue

If you feel blue, you are feeling unwell, mainly associated with depression or unhappiness.

Feet on the ground

A practical and realistic person has their feet on the ground.

Fiddle while Rome burns

If people are fiddling while Rome burns, they are wasting their time on futile things while problems threaten to destroy them.

Fifth columnist

(UK) A fifth columnist is a member of a subversive organisation who tries to help an enemy invade.

Fifth wheel

(USA) A fifth wheel is something unnecessary or useless.

Fight tooth and nail

If someone will fight tooth and nail for something, they will not stop at anything to get what they want. (‚Fight tooth and claw’ is an alternative.)

Fighting chance Top

If you have a fighting chance, you have a reasonable possibility of success.

Find your feet

When you are finding your feet, you are in the process of gaining confidence and experience in something.

Fine and dandy

(UK) If thing’s are fine and dandy, then everything is going well.

Fine tuning

Small adjustments to improve something or to get it working are called fine tuning.

Fine words butter no parsnips

This idiom means that it’s easy to talk, but talk is not action.

Finger in the pie

If you have a finger in the pie, you have an interest in something.

Fingers and thumbs

If you are all fingers and thumbs, you are being clumsy and not very skilled with your hands.

Fire away

If you want to ask someone a question and they tell you to fire away, they mean that you are free to ask what you want.

Fire on all cylinders

If something is firing on all cylinders, it is going as well as it could.

First come, first served

This means there will be no preferential treatment and a service will be provided to those that arrive first.

First out of the gate

When someone is first out of the gate, they are the first to do something that others are trying to do.

First port of call

The first place you stop to do something is your first port of call.

Fish or cut bait

(USA) This idiom is used when you want to tell someone that it is time to take action.

Fish out of water

If you are placed in a situation that is completely new to you and confuses you, you are like a fish out of water.


If there is something fishy about someone or something, there is something suspicious; a feeling that there is something wrong, though it isn’t clear what it is.

Fit as a fiddle

If you are fit as a fiddle, you are in perfect health.

Fit for a king

If something is fit for a king, it is of the very highest quality or standard.

Fit of pique

If someone reacts badly because their pride is hurt, this is a fit of pique.

Fit the bill

If something fits the bill, it is what is required for the task.

Flash in the pan Top

If something is a flash in the pan, it is very noticeable but doesn’t last long, like most singers, who are very successful for a while, then forgotten.

Flat out

If you work flat out, you work as hard and fast as you possibly can.

Fleet of foot

If someone is fleet of foot, they are very quick.

Flesh and blood

Your flesh and blood are your blood relatives, especially your immediate family.

Flogging a dead horse

(UK) If someone is trying to convince people to do or feel something without any hope of succeeding, they’re flogging a dead horse. This is used when someone is trying to raise interest in an issue that no-one supports anymore; beating a dead horse will not make it do any more work.

Flowery speech

Flowery speech is full of lovely words, but may well lack substance.

Fly by the seat of one’s pants

If you fly by the seat of one’s pants, you do something difficult even though you don’t have the experience or training required.

Fly in the ointment

A fly in the ointment is something that spoils or prevents complete enjoyment of something.

Fly off the handle

If someone flies off the handle, they get very angry.

Fly on the wall

If you are able to see and hear events as they happen, you are a fly on the wall.

Fly the flag

If someone flies the flag, they represent or support their country. (‚Wave the flag’ and ‚show the flag’ are alternative forms of this idiom)

Food for thought

If something is food for thought, it is worth thinking about or considering seriously.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

This idiom is used where people who are inexperienced or lack knowledge do something that more informed people would avoid.

Foot the bill Top

The person who foots the bill pays the bill for everybody.

Football’s a game of two halves

(UK) If something’s a game of two halves, it means that it’s possible for someone’s fortunes or luck to change and the person who’s winning could end up a loser.

For a song

If you buy or sell something for a song, it is very cheap.

For donkey’s years

(UK) If people have done something, usually without much if any change, for an awfully long time, they can be said to have done it for donkey’s years.

For England

(UK) A person who talks for England, talks a lot- if you do something for England, you do it a lot or to the limit.

For kicks

If you do something for kicks, or just for kicks, you do it purely for fun or thrills.

For my money

This idiom means ‚in my opinion’.

For the time being

For the time being indicates that an action or state will continue into the future, but is temporary. I’m sharing an office for the time being.

Forbidden fruit

Something enjoyable that is illegal or immoral is forbidden fruit.

Foregone conclusion

If the result of, say, a football match is a foregone conclusion, then the result is obvious before the game has even begun.

Forest for the trees

(USA) If someone can’t see the forest for the trees, they get so caught up in small details that they fail to understand the bigger picture.

Foul play

If the police suspect foul play, they think a crime was committed.

Four corners of the earth

If something goes to, or comes from, the four corners of the earth, it goes or comes absolutely everywhere.

Four-square behind

If someone stands four-square behind someone, they give that person their full support.

Fourth estate

This is an idiomatic way of describing the media, especially the newspapers.

Free rein

If someone has a free rein, they have the authority to make the decisions they want without any restrictions. (‚Free reign’ is a common mistake.)

Fresh from the oven

If something is fresh from the oven, it is very new.

Freudian Slip

If someone makes a Freudian slip, they accidentally use the wrong word, but in doing so reveal what they are really thinking rather than what they think the other person wants to hear.

Friendly footing Top

When relationships are on a friendly footing, they are going well.

From Missouri

(USA) If someone is from Missouri, then they require clear proof before they will believe something.

From pillar to post

If something is going from pillar to post, it is moving around in a meaningless way, from one disaster to another.

From rags to riches

Someone who starts life very poor and makes a fortune goes from rags to riches.

From scratch

This idiom means ‚from the beginning’.

From soup to nuts

If you do something from soup to nuts, you do it from the beginning right to the very end.

From the bottom of your heart

If someone does something from the bottom of their heart, then they do it with genuine emotion and feeling.

From the get-go

(USA) If something happens from the get-go, it happens from the very beginning.

From the horse’s mouth

If you hear something from the horse’s mouth, you hear it directly from the person concerned or responsible.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

If something declines considerably in quality or importance, it is said to have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.

From the word go

From the word go means from the very beginning of something.

Full circle

When something has come full circle, it has ended up where it started.

Full Monty

(UK) If something is the Full Monty, it is the real thing, not reduced in any way.

Full of beans

If someone’s full of beans, they are very energetic.

Full of piss and vinegar

Someone who’s full of piss and vinegar is full of youthful energy.

Full of the joys of spring

If you are full of the joys of spring, you are very happy and full of energy.

Full swing

If a something is in full swing, it is going or doing well.

Fullness of time

If something happens in the fullness of time, it will happen when the time is right and appropriate

Game plan

A game plane is a strategy.

Gardening leave

(UK) If someone is paid for a period when they are not working, either after they have given in their notice or when they are being investigated, they are on gardening leave.

Gather steam Top

If something gathers speed, it moves or progresses at an increasing speed.

Get your feathers in a bunch

If you get your feathers in a bunch, you get upset or angry about something.

Get along famously

If people get along famously, they have an exceedingly good relationship.

Get away scot-free

If someone gets away scot-free, they are not punished when they have done something wrong. (‚Get off scot-free’ is an alternative.)

Get in on the ground floor

If you get in on the ground floor, you enter a project or venture at the start before people know how successful it might be.

Get it in the neck

(UK) If you get it in the neck, you are punished or criticised for something.

Get my drift

If you get someone’s drift, you understand what they are trying to say. (‚Catch their drift’ is an alternative form.)

Get on like a house on fire

If people get on like a house on fire, they have a very close and good relationship.

Get on your soapbox

If someone on their soapbox, they hold forth (talk a lot) about a subject they feel strongly about.

Get out of bed on the wrong side

If you get out of bed on the wrong side, you wake up and start the day in a bad mood for no real reason.

Get the ball rolling

If you get the ball rolling, you start something so that it can start making progress.

Get the green light

If you get the green light to do something, you are given the necessary permission, authorisation.

Get the nod

(UK) If you get the nod to something, you get approval or permission to do it.

Get to grips

If you get to grips with something, you take control and do it properly.

Get up and go

If someone has lots of get up and go, they have lots of enthusiasm and energy.

Get your feet wet

If you get your feet wet, you gain your first experience of something.

Get your goat Top

If something gets your goat, it annoys you.

Get your hands dirty

If you get your hands dirty, you become involved in something where the realities might compromise your principles.

Ghost of a chance

If something or someone hasn’t got a ghost of a chance, they have no hope whatsoever of succeeding.

Ghostly presence

You can feel or otherwise sense a ghostly presence, but you cannot do it clearly only vaguely.

Gift of the gab

If someone has the gift of the gab, they speak in a persuasive and interesting way.

Gild the lily

If you gild the lily, you decorate something that is already ornate.

Gilded cage

If someone is in a gilded cage, they are trapped and have restricted or no freedom, but have very comfortable surroundings- many famous people live in luxury but cannot walk out of their house alone.

Girl Friday

A girl Friday is a female employee who assists someone without any specific duties.

Give and take

Where there is give and take, people make concessions in order to get things they want in negotiations.

Give it some stick

(UK) If you give something some stick, you put a lot of effort into it.

Give me a hand

If someone gives you a hand, they help you.

Give someone a leg up

If you give someone a leg up, you help them to achieve something that they couldn’t have done alone.

Give someone a piece of your mind

If you give someone a piece of your mind, you criticise them strongly and angrily.

Give someone a run for their money

If you can give someone a run for the money, you are as good, or nearly as good, as they are at something.

Give someone enough rope

If you give someone enough rope, you give them the chance to get themselves into trouble or expose themselves. (The full form is ‚give someone enough rope and they’ll hang themselves)

Give someone stick

(UK) If someone gives you stick, they criticise you or punish you.

Give the nod

(UK) If you give the nod to something, you approve it or give permission to do it.

Give up the ghost

People give up the ghost when they die.

Give your eye teeth

If you really want something and would be prepared to sacrifice a lot to get it, you would give your eye teeth for it.

Glass ceiling Top

The glass ceiling is the discrimination that prevents women and minorities from getting promoted to the highest levels of companies and organisations.

Glutton for punishment

If a person is described as a glutton for punishment, the happily accept jobs and tasks that most people would try to get out of. A glutton is a person who eats a lot.

Gnaw your vitals

If something gnaws your vitals, it troubles you greatly and affects you at a very deep level. (‚Gnaw at your vitals’ is also used.)

Go against the grain

A person who does things in an unconventional manner, especially if their methods are not generally approved of, is said to go against the grain. Such an individual can be called a maverick.

Go awry

If things go awry, they go wrong.

Go blue

If you go blue, you are very cold indeed. (‚Turn blue’ is an alternative form.)

Go bust

If a company goes bust, it goes bankrupt.

Go Dutch

If you go Dutch in a restaurant, you pay equal shares for the meal.

Go fly a kite

(USA) This is used to tell someone to go away and leave you alone.

Go for broke

If someone goes for broke, they risk everything they have for a potentially greater gain.

Go fry an egg

(USA) This is used to tell someone to go away and leave you alone.

Go off on a tangent

If someone goes off on a tangent, they change the subject completely in the middle of a conversation or talk.

Go pear-shaped

If things have gone wrong, they have gone pear-shaped.

Go play in traffic

This is used as a way of telling someone to go away.

Go round in circles

If people are going round in circles, they keep discussing the same thing without reaching any agreement or coming to a conclusion.

Go south

If things go south, they get worse or go wrong.

Go spare

(UK) If you go spare, you lose your temper completely.

Go the extra mile

If someone is prepared to go the extra mile, they will do everything they can to help or to make something succeed, going beyond their duty what could be expected of them .

Go the whole hog

If you go the whole hog, you do something completely or to its limits.

Go to seed

If someone has gone to seed, they have declined in quality or appearance.

Go under the hammer Top

If something goes under the hammer, it is sold in an auction.

Go with the flow

If you go with the flow, you accept things as they happen and do what everyone else wants to do.

Golden handshake

A golden handshake is a payment made to someone to get them to leave their job.

Golden rule

The golden rule is the most essential or fundamental rule associated with something. Originally, it was not a general reference to an all purpose first rule applicable to many groups or protocols, but referred to a verse in the Bible about treating people they way you would want them to treat you, which was considered the First Rule of behavior towards all by all.

Gone fishing

If someone has gone fishing, they are not very aware of what is happening around them.

Gone for a burton

(UK) If something’s gone for a burton, it has been spoiled or ruined. If a person has gone for a burton, they are either in serious trouble or have died.

Gone pear-shaped

(UK) If things have gone pear-shaped they have either gone wrong or produced an unexpected and unwanted result.

Gone to pot

If something has gone to pot, it has gone wrong and doesn’t work any more.

Gone to the dogs

If something has gone to the dogs, it has gone badly wrong and lost all the good things it had.

Good antennae

Someone with good antennae is good at detecting things.

Good egg

A person who can be relied on is a good egg. Bad egg is the opposite.

Good shape

If something’s in good shape, it’s in good condition. If a person’s in good shape, they are fit and healthy.

Good spell

A spell can mean a fairly or relatively short period of time; you’ll hear weather forecasts predict a dry spell. Sports commentators will say that a sportsperson is going through a good spell when they’re performing consistently better than they normally do.

Good time

If you make good time on a journey, you manage to travel faster than you expected.

Good walls make good neighbours

Your relationship with your neighbours depends, among other things, on respecting one another’s privacy.

Goody two-shoes

A goody two-shoes is a self-righteous person who makes a great deal of their virtue.

Grab the bulls by its horns

If you grab (take) the bull by its horns, you deal head-on and directly with a problem.

Grain of salt Top

If you should take something with a grain of salt, you shouldn’t necessarily believe it all. (‚pinch of salt’ is an alternative)

Grain of salt

If you should take something with a grain of salt, you shouldn’t accept it as true without looking more carefully at it.

Grasp the nettle

(UK) If you grasp the nettle, you deal bravely with a problem.

Grass roots

This idioms is often used in politics, where it refers to the ordinary people or voters. It can be used to mean people at the bottom of a hierarchy.

Grass widow

A grass widow is a woman whose husband is often away on work, leaving her on her own.

Graveyard shift

If you have to work very late at night, it is the graveyard shift.

Gravy train

If someone is on the gravy train, they have found and easy way to make lots of money.

Grease monkey

A grease monkey is an idiomatic term for a mechanic.

Grease someone’s palm

If you grease someone’s palm, you bribe them to do something.

Greased lightning

If something or someone moves like greased lightning, they move very fast indeed.

Great guns

If something or someone is going great guns, they are doing very well.

Great unwashed

This is a term used for the working class masses.

Great white hope

Someone who is expected to be a great success is a great white hope.

Greek to me

If you don’t understand something, it’s all Greek to you.

Green around the gills

If someone looks green around the gills, they look ill.

Green fingers

(UK) Someone with green fingers has a talent for gardening.

Green light

If you are given the green light, you are given approval to do something.

Green thumb

(USA) Someone with a talent for gardening has a green thumb.

Green-eyed monster

The green-eyed monster is an allegorical phrase for somebody’s strong jealousy


A greenhorn or someone who is described simply as green lacks the relevant experience and knowledge for their job or task

Grey area

A grey/gray area is one where there is no clear right or wrong.

Grey matter

Grey/gray matter is the human brain.

Grey pound Top

(UK) In the UK, the grey pound is an idiom for the economic power of elderly people.

Grey suits

The men in grey suits are people who have a lot of power in business or politics, but aren’t well-known or charismatic.

Grin and bear it

If you have to grin and bear it, you have to accept something that you don’t like.

Grin like a Cheshire cat

If someone has a very wide smile, they have a grin like a Cheshire cat.


If you are a guinea-pig, you take part in an experiment of some sort and are used in the testing.

Gunboat diplomacy

If a nation conducts its diplomatic relations by threatening military action to get what it wants, it is using gunboat diplomacy.

Gung ho

If someone is gung ho about something, they support it blindly and don’t think about the consequences.


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