Nail in the coffin

A nail in someone or something’s coffin is a problem or event that is a clear step towards an inevitable failure.


If a game, election, contest, etc, is a nail-biter, it is exciting because the competitors are so close that it is impossible to predict the result.

Nature abhors a vacuum

This idiom is used to express the idea that empty or unfilled spaces are unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics.

Neck and neck

If two competitors or candidates, etc, are neck and neck, then they are very close and neither is clearly winning.

Neck of the woods

If someone talks about their neck of the woods, they mean the area where they live.

Needle in a haystack

If trying to find something is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it means that it is very difficult, if not impossible to find among everything around it.

Neither fish nor fowl

Something or someone that is neither fish nor fowl doesn’t really fit into any one group.

Neither use nor ornament

Something that serves no purpose and is not aesthetically pleasing is neither use nor ornament.

Nerves of steel

If someone has nerves of steel, they don’t get frightened when other people do.

Nest egg

If you have some money saved for the future, it is a nest egg.

Never a rose without the prick

This means that good things always have something bad as well; like the thorns on the stem of a rose.

New blood

If something needs new blood, it has become stale and needs new ideas or people to invigorate it.

New brush sweeps clean

‚A new brush sweeps clean’ means that someone with a new perspective can make great changes. However, the full version is ‚a new brush sweeps clean, but an old brush knows the corners’, which warns that experience is also a valuable thing. Sometimes ‚broom’ is used instead of ‚brush’.

New kid on the block

A new kid on the block is a person who has recently joined a company, organisation, team, etc, and does not know how things work yet.

New lease of life

If someone finds new enthusiasm and energy for something, they have a new lease of life.

New man

(UK) A New man is a man who believes in complete equality of the sexes and shares domestic work equally.

New York minute

(USA) If something happens in a New York minute, it happens very fast.


People who don’t like new methods, technologies, etc, describe them as newfangled, which means new but not as good or nice as the old ones.

Nick of time

If you do something in the nick of time, you do it at the very last minute or second.

Nickel tour< Top/h2>

(USA) If someone gives you a nickel tour, they show you around a place. (‚Fifty-cent tour’ is also used.)

Night owl

A night owl is someone who goes to bed very late.

Ninth circle of hell

In Dante’s Inferno, the ninth circle of hell is the centre where the worst punishments are found, so it is used idiomatically for something that couldn’t get worse.

Nip it in the bud

If you nip something in the bud, you deal with a problem when it is still small, before it can grow into something serious.

Nitty gritty

If people get down to the nitty gritty, they concentrate on the most important and serious issues.

No bed of roses

If something isn’t a bed of roses, it is difficult.

No can do

No can do means that the speaker can’t do whatever it is that has been asked of him or her.

No great shakes

If someone is no great shakes at something, they are not very good at it.

No holds barred

If there are no holds barred, there are no rules of conduct; you can do anything.

No ifs or buts

Ifs and Buts is a term used to describe the reasons people give for not wanting to do something. To show that you don’t wish to accept any excuses, you can tell somebody that you wish to hear no ifs or buts Here IF & BUT have become nouns

No love lost

If there is no love lost between two people they have a strong enmity towards or hate for the other and make no effort to conceal it.

No quarter

This means without mercy. We can say no quarter given or asked.

No question

This idiom means that something is certain or definite.

No questions asked

If something is to be done and no questions asked, then it doesn’t matter what methods are used or what rules are broken to ensure that it gets done.

No skin off my nose

If something’s no skin off your nose, it doesn’t affect or bother you at all.

No spring chicken

If someone is no spring chicken, they are not young.

No time for

If you have no time for an activity, you have absolutely no desire to spend or waste any time doing it. You can have no time for people, too.

No time like the present Top

If people say that there’s no time like the present , they believe that it is far better to do something now than to leave it for later, in which case it might never get done.

No time to lose

If there’s no time to lose, then it’s time to get started otherwise it won’t be finished on time.

No use to man or beast

If something or someone is no use to man or beast, they it or they are utterly useless.

Nod’s as good as a wink

(UK) ‚A nod’s as good as a wink’ is a way of saying you have understood somethin that someone has said, even though it was not said directly.

None so blind as those who will not see

This idiom is used when people refuse to accept facts presented to them. (‚None so deaf as those who will not hear’ is an alternative.)

Nosy parker

(UK) A nosy parker is someone who is excessively interested in other people’s lives. (‚Nosey parker’ is an alternative spelling.)

Not all there

If someone isn’t all there, they are a little bit stupid or crazy.

Not bat an eye

If someone doesn’t bat an eye, they do not react when other people normally would.

Not born yesterday

When someone says that they weren’t born yesterday, they mean that they are not naive or easily fooled.

Not cricket

(UK) If something is not cricket, it is unfair.

Not enough room to swing a cat

If a room is very small, you can say that there isn’t enough room to swing a cat in it.

Not have two pennies to rub together

If someone hasn’t got two pennies to rub together, they are very poor indeed.

Not know beans about

(USA) If someone doesn’t know beans about something, they know nothing about it.

Not much cop Top

Describing a film or something as not much cop is a way of saying that you didn’t think much of it.

Not my cup of tea

If something is not your cup of tea, you don’t like it very much.

Not to be sneezed at

If something is not to be sneezed at, it should be taken seriously.

Not wash

If a story or explanation will not wash, it is not credible.

Notch on your belt

A success or achievement that might help you in the future is a notch on your belt.

Nothing to crow about

If something’s nothing to crow about, it’s not particularly good or special.

Now and then

This idiom means ‚occasionally’.

Null and void

If something’s null and void, it is invalid or is no longer applicable.

Number cruncher

A number cruncher is an accountant or someone who is very good at dealing with numbers and calculations.

Nuts and bolts

The nuts and bolts are the most essential components of something.

Object lesson

An object lesson serves as a warning to others. (In some varieties of English ‚abject lesson’ is used.)

Odds and ends

Odds and ends are small, remnant articles and things- the same as bits and bobs.

Off colour

If someone looks off colour/color, they look ill.

Off the beaten track

Somewhere that’s off the beaten track is in a remote location.

Off the chart

If something goes off the chart, it far exceeds the normal standards, good or bad, for something.

Off the cuff

If you do something off the cuff, you do it without any preparation.

Off the hook

If someone is off the hook, they have avoided punishment or criticism for something they have done.

Off the mark

If something is off the mark, it is inaccurate or incorrect.

Off the rails

If someone has gone off the rails, they have lost track of reality.

Off the scale

If something goes off the scale, it far exceeds the normal standards, good or bad, for something.

Off the shelf

If a product is off the shelf, it can be used straightaway without any setting-up.

Off the wall Top

Something that is off the wall is unconventional.

Off your chump

(UK) If someone is off their chump, they are crazy or irrational.

Off your rocker

(UK) Someone who is off their rocker is crazy.


Off-hand means without preparation. People say that they don’t know the answer off-hand, meaning that they don’t know it at that time.

Old chestnut

An old chestnut is something that has been repeated so many times that it has lost its impact.

Old hat

If something’s old hat, it seems rather old fashioned and dated.

Oldest trick in the book

The oldest trick in the book is a well-known way of deceiving someone, though still effective.

Olive branch

If you hold out or offer an olive branch, you make a gesture to indicate that you want peace.

On a fishing expedition

If someone is on a fishing expedition, they are trying to get information, often using incorrect or improper ways to find things out.

On a roll

If you’re on a roll, you’re moving from success to success.

On a silver platter

If you hand or give something on a silver platter to someone, you let them have it too easily.

On Carey Street

(UK) If someone is on Carey Street, they are heavily in debt or have gone bankrupt.

On good terms

If people are on good terms, they have a good relationship.

On hold

If something is on hold, no action is being taken.

On ice

If plans are put on ice, they are delayed and no action will be taken for the foreseeable future.

On tenterhooks

This means that she is waiting impatiently and excitedly for something.

On the ball

If someone’s on the ball, they are well-informed and know what’s going on in their area of responsibility or interest.

On the blink

(UK) Is a machine is on the blink, it isn’t working properly or is out of order.

On the blower

(UK) If someone is on the blower, they are on the phone.

On the case

If someone is on the case, they are dealing with a problem.

On the cheap

If you do something on the cheap, you spend as little as possible to do it.

On the dot

If someone says that they’re leaving at seven on the dot, don’t be late; they mean at exactly seven o’clock.

On the factory floor

On the factory floor means the place where things are actually produced.

On the fiddle

(UK) Someone who is stealing money from work is on the fiddle, especially if they are doing it by fraud.

On the fly Top

If you do things on the fly, you do things without preparation, responding to events as they happen.

On the game

(UK) A person who is on the game works as a prostitute.

On the ground

Events on the ground are where things are actually happening, not at a distance.

On the hoof

If you decide something on the hoof, you do it without planning, responding to events as they happen.

On the house

If you get something for free that would normally have to be bought, especially in a bar or restaurant, it is on the house.

On the lam

If someone is on the lam, they are hiding from the police or authorities, especially to avoid arrest or prison.

On the level

If someone is honest and trustworthy, they are on the level.

On the line

If somebody’s job is on the line, they stand a very good chance of losing it.

On the map

If a place becomes widely known, it is put on the map. A place that remains unknown is off the map.

On the never-never

(UK) If you buy something on the never-never, you buy it on long-term credit.

On the nod

(UK) If something is accepted by parliament or a committee majority, it is on the nod.

On the nod

(UK) Someone who’s on the nod is either asleep or falling asleep, especially when the shouldn’t or are are in a position unusual for sleep, like sitting or standing.

On the rebound

If someone is on the rebound, their relationship has recently ended and they are emotionally unstable.

On the right foot

If you start something or set off on the right foot, you get off to a good start.

On the ropes

When something or someone is on the ropes, it or they are doing badly and likely to fail.

On the same page

If people are on the same page, they have the same information and are thinking the same way.

On the shelf

If something like a project is on the shelf, nothing is being done about it at the moment.

On the sly

If someone does something on the sly, they do it furtively or secretly.

On the stump

When politicians are campaigning for support and votes, they are on the stump.

On the take

(UK) Someone who is stealing from work is on the take.

On the tip of your tongue

If a word is on the tip of your tongue, you know you know the word, but you just can’t quite remember it at the moment.

On the trot

(UK) This idiom means ‚consecutively’; I’d saw them three days on the trot, which means that I saw them on three consecutive days.

On the up and up

If you are on the up and up, you are making very good progress in life and doing well.

On the wagon

If someone is on the wagon, they have stopped drinking alcohol.

On top of the world

If you are on top of the world, everything is going well for you.

On your high horse

When someone is on their high horse, they are being inflexible, arrogant and will not make any compromises.

On your last legs

If someone’s on their last legs, they’re close to dying.

Once bitten, twice shy

If somebody is said to be once bitten twice shy, it means that someone who has been hurt or who has had something go wrong will be far more careful the next time.

Once in a blue moon Top

If something happens once in a blue moon, it happens very rarely indeed.

One bad apple

The full form of this proverb is ‚one bad apple spoils the barrel’, meaning that a bad person, policy, etc, can ruin everything around it.

One fell swoop

If something is done at one fell swoop, it is done in a single period of activity, usually swiftly and ruthlessly.

One for the road

A last drink before leaving a pub or bar is one for the road.

One hand washes the other

This idiom means that we need other people to get on as cooperation benefits us all.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison

This idiom means that one person can like something very much, but another can hate it.

One over the eight

(UK) Someone who is one over the eight is drunk.

One swallow does not make a summer

This means that one good or positive event does not mean that everything is all right.

One-man band

If one person does all the work or has all the responsibility somewhere, then they are a one-man band.


A one-off event only happens once and will not be repeated.

One-trick pony

A one-trick pony is someone who does one thing well, but has limited skills in other areas.

Open all hours

If a shop or suchlike is open all hours, it only closes, if at all, terribly late.

Open book

If a person is an open book, it is easy to know what they think or how they feel about things.

Opening a can of worms

If you open a can of worms, you do something that will cause a lot of problems and is, on balance, probably going to cause more trouble than it’s worth.

Opportunity knocks but once

This idiom means that you only get one chance to achieve what you really want to do.

Other side of the coin

The other side of the coin is a different, usually opposing, view of a situation. (‚Flip side of the coin’ is an alternative.)

Out and about

If someone is out and about, they have left their home and are getting things done that they need to do.

Out in the sticks

(UK) If someone lives out in the sticks, they live out in the country, a long way from any metropolitan area.

Out like a light

If you are out like a light, you fall fast asleep.

Out of hand

If something gets out of hand, it gets out of control.

Out of pocket

If you are out of pocket on a deal, you have lost money.

Out of sight, out of mind

Out of sight, out of mind is used to suggest that someone will not think or worry about something if it isn’t directly visible or available to them.

Out of sorts

If you are feeling a bit upset and depressed, you are out of sorts.

Out of the blue

If something happens out of the blue, it happens suddenly and unexpectedly.

Out of the box

Thinking out of the box is thinking in a creative way. However, it can also be used for a ready-made product that requires no specialist knowledge to set it up.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

If you get out of one problem, but find yourself in a worse situation, you are out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Out of the woods

If you are out of the woods, you have emerged safely from a dangerous situation, though the idiom is often used in the negative.

Out of this world

If something is out of this world, it is fantastic.

Out of your hair

If you get someone out of your hair, you get them to stop bothering or annoying you. (‚Stay/keep/get out of my hair!’ can be used as imperatives)

Out of your mind

If someone is out of the mind, they are so emotional about something that they are no longer rational.

Out of your own pocket

If someone does something out of their own pocket, they pay all the expenses involved.

Out on a limb

If somebody’s out on a limb, they are in a very exposed position and could get into difficulties.

Out to lunch

If someone’s out to lunch, they are crazy or out of touch.

Out to lunch

If someone is out to lunch, they are not very aware of things around them.

Over a barrel

If someone has you over a barrel, they have you in a position where you have no choice but to accept what they want.

Over and over

If something happens over and over, it happens repeatedly.

Over the counter

Medicines and drugs that can be sold without a doctor’s prescription are sold over the counter.

Over the hill Top

If someone is over the hill they have reached an age at which they can longer perform as well as they used to.

Over the moon

If you are over the moon about something, you are overjoyed.

Over the top

If something is over the top, it is excessive or unnecessary.

Over your head

If something is over your head, or goes over your head, it is too complex or difficult for you to understand.

Over-egg the pudding

(UK) If you over-egg the pudding, you spoil something by trying to improve it excessively. It is also used nowadays with the meaning of making something look bigger or more important than it really is. (‚Over-egg’ alone is often used in this sense.)

Packed like sardines

If a place is extremely crowded, people are packed like sardines, or packed in like sardines.

Paddle your own canoe

(USA) If you paddle your own canoe, you do things for yourself without outside help.

Pain in the neck

If someone is very annoying and always disturbing you, they are a pain in the neck. Pain in the butt, or pain in the ass (USA), and Pain in the arse (UK) are less polite alternative forms.

Paint the town red

If you go out for a night out with lots of fun and drinking, you paint the town red.

Paint yourself into a corner

(USA) If someone paints themselves into a corner, they get themselves into a mess.

Painted Jezebel

A painted Jezebel is a scheming woman.

Pandora’s box

If you open a Pandora’s box, something you do causes all sorts of trouble that you hadn’t anticipated.

Paper tiger

A paper tiger is a person, country, institution, etc, that looks powerful, but is actually weak.

Par for the course

If something is par for the course, it is what you expected it would be. If it is above par, it is better, and if it is below par, it is worse.

Parrot fashion

If you learn something parrot fashion, you learn it word for word. A parrot is a bird from South America that can talk.

Part and parcel

If something is part and parcel of your job, say, it is an essential and unavoidable part that has to be accepted.

Pass muster

If something passes muster, it meets the required standard.

Pass the buck

If you pass the buck, you avoid taking responsibility by saying that someone else is responsible.

Pass the time of day

If you pass the time of day with somebody, you stop and say hello, enquire how they are and other such acts of social politeness.

Patience of Job

If something requires the patience of Job, it requires great patience.

Pay on the nail

If you pay on the nail, you pay promptly in cash.

Pay through the nose

If you pay through the nose for something, you pay a very high price for it.

Pecking order

The pecking order is the order of importance or rank.

Pen is mightier than the sword

The idiom ‚the pen is mightier than the sword’ means that words and communication are more powerful than wars and fighting.

Penny ante

(USA) Something that is very unimportant is penny ante.

Penny wise, pound foolish

Someone who is penny wise, pound foolish can be very careful or mean with small amounts of money, yet wasteful and extravagant with large sums.

Perfidious Albion

England is known to some as perfidious Albion, implying that it is not trustworthy in its dealings with foreigners.

Perish the thought Top

Perish the thought is an expression meaning that you really hope something will not happen.

Pick up the tab

A person who pays for everyone picks up the tab.

Pick-up game

(USA) A pick-up game is something unplanned where people respond to events as they happen.

Pie in the sky

If an idea or scheme is pie in the sky, it is utterly impractical.

Piece of cake

If something is a piece of cake, it is really easy.

Pieces of the same cake

Pieces of the same cake are things that have the same characteristics or qualities.

Pig in a poke

If someone buys a pig in a poke, they buy something without checking the condition it was in, usually finding out later that it was defective.

Pigs might fly

If you think something will never happen or succeed, you can say that ‚pigs might fly’ (or ‚pigs can fly’ and ‚pigs will fly’- the idiom is used in many forms)

Pin money

(UK) If you work for pin money, you work not because you need to but because it gives you money for extra little luxuries and treats.

Pinch of salt

If what someone says should be taken with a pinch of salt, then they exaggerate and distort things, so what they say shouldn’t be believed unquestioningly. (‚with a grain of salt’ is an alternative.)

Pink pound

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

Pink slip

If someone receives a pink slip, they receive a letter telling them they have lost their job.

Pipe dream

A pipe dream is an unrealistic, impractical idea or scheme.

Piping hot

If food is piping hot, it is very hot indeed.

Plain as a pikestaff

(UK) If something is as plain as a pikestaff, it is very clear.

Plain as the nose on your face

If something is as plain as the nose on your face, it is very clear and obvious.

Plain Jane

A plain Jane is a woman who isn’t particularly attractive.

Plain sailing

If something is relatively easy and there are no problems doing it, it is plain sailing.

Plastic smile

When someone is wearing a plastic smile, they are appear to be happier with a situation or events than they actually are. This is actually a description of the forced smile you might see in many photographs.

Play fast and loose

If people play fast and loose, they behave in an irresponsible way and don’t respect rules, etc.

Play hardball

If someone plays hardball, they are very aggressive in trying to achieve their aim.

Play havoc

Playing havoc with something is creating disorder and confusion; computer viruses can play havoc with your programs.

Play hooky

If people play hooky, they don’t attend school when they should and don’t have a valid reason for their absence.

Play it by ear

If you play it by ear, you don’t have a plan of action, but decide what to do as events take shape.

Play out of your skin

If someone plays out of their skin, they give an outstanding performance.

Play second fiddle

If you play second fiddle, you take a subordinate role behind someone more important.

Play the field

Someone who plays the field has sexual relationships with many people.

Play the fool

If someone plays the fool, they behave in a silly way to make people laugh. (‚Act the fool’ is and alternative form.)

Play with fire

If people take foolish risks, they are playing with fire.

Playing to the gallery

If someone plays to the gallery, they say or do things that will make them popular, but which are not the right things to do.

Poetry in motion

Something that is poetry in motion is beautiful to watch.


Pointy-heads are supposed intellectuals or experts, but who don’t really know that much.

Poison pill

A poison pill is a strategy designed to prevent a company from being take over.

Pop the question

When someone pops the question, they ask someone to marry them.

Pop your clogs

When someone pops their clogs, they die.

Pork barrel

Pork barrel politics involves investing money in an area to get political support rather than using the money for the common good.

Pot calling the kettle black

If someone hypocritically criticises a person for something that they themselves do, then it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.


If you take pot-luck, you take whatever happens to be available at the time.

Pound of flesh

If someone wants their pound of flesh, the force someone to pay or give back something owed, even though they don’t need it and it will cause the other person a lot of difficulty.

Pour oil on troubled waters

If someone pours oil on troubled waters, they try to calm things down.

Powder your nose

If somebody goes to powder your nose, it is a euphemism for going to the lavatory (toilet).

Powers that be

The powers that be are the people who are in charge of something.

Preaching to the choir

If someone preaches to the choir, they talking about a subject or issue with which their audience already agrees. (‚Preaching to the converted’ is an alternative form.)

Presence of mind

If someone behaves calmly and rationally in difficult circumstances, they show presence of mind.

Primrose path

The primrose path is an easy and pleasurable lifestyle, but one that ends in unpleasantness and problems.

Proclaim it from the rooftops

If something is proclaimed from the rooftops, it is made as widely known and as public as possible.

Prodigal son Top

A prodigal son is a young man who wastes a lot on money on a lavish lifestyle. If the prodigal son returns, they return to a better way of living.

Pull in the reins

When you pull in the reins, you slow down or stop something that has been a bit out of control.

Pull no punches

If you pull no punches, you hold nothing back.

Pull out all the stops

If you pull out all the stops, you do everything you possibly can to achieve the result you want.

Pull someone’s leg

If you pull someone’s leg, you tease them, but not maliciously.

Pull strings

If you pull strings, you use contacts you have got to help you get what you want.

Pull the other one, it’s got brass bells on

This idiom is way of telling somebody that you don’t believe them. The word ‚brass’ is optional.

Pull the trigger

The person who pulls the trigger is the one who does the action that closes or finishes something.

Pull the wool over someone’s eyes

If you pull the wool over someone’s eyes, you deceive or cheat them.

Pull up your socks

If you aren’t satisfied with someone and want them to do better, you can tell them to pull up their socks.

Pull your chain

(USA) If someone pulls your chain, they take advantage of you in an unfair way or do something to annoy you.

Pull your finger out!

If someone tells you to do this, they want you to hurry up.

Pull your punches

If you pull your punches, you do not use all the power or authority at your disposal.

Pull your weight

If someone is not pulling their weight, they aren’t making enough effort, especially in group work.

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps

If you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you make the effort to improve things for yourself.

Punching bag

A punching bag (or punch bag) is a person who gets a lot of unfair criticism.

Pup’s chance

A pup’s chance is no chance.

Push the envelope

This means to go to the limits, to do something to the maximum possible.

Pushing up the daisies

If someone is said to be pushing up the daisies, they are dead.

Put all your eggs in one basket

If you put all your eggs in one basket, you risk everything on a single opportunity which, like eggs breaking, could go wrong.

Put or get someone’s back up

If you put or get someone’s back up, you annoy them.

Put somebody’s nose out of joint

If you put someone’s nose out of joint, you irritate them or make them angry with you.

Put someone out to pasture

If someone is put out to pasture, they are forced to resign or give up some responsibilities.

Put two and two together

If someone puts two and two together, they reach a correct conclusion from the evidence.

Put you in mind

If something suggests something to you, it puts you in mind of that thing.

Put your foot down

When someone puts their foot down, they make a firm stand and establish their authority on an issue.

Put your foot in it

If you put your foot in it, you do or say something embarrassing and tactless or get yourself into trouble.

Put your foot in your mouth

If you put your foot in your mouth, you say something stupid or embarrassing.

Put your hand on your heart

If you can out your hand on your heart, then you can say something knowing it to be true.

Put your heads together

If people put their head together, they exchange ideas about something.

Put your money where your mouth is

If someone puts their money where their mouth is, they back up their words with action.

Putting the cart before the horse

When you put the cart before the horse, you are doing something the wrong way round.

Pyrrhic victory Top

A Pyrrhic victory is one that causes the victor to suffer so much to achieve it that it isn’t worth winning.

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