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184 Cards in this Set

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to eat humble pie

to admit your error and apologise

After his candidate had lost theelection, the boastful campaign manager had to eat humble pie.

a pig in a poke

an item you purchase withouthaving seen; a disappointment

The mail order bicycle that mynephew bought turned out to be a pig in a poke, and he is now trying to get hismoney back.

a flash in the pan

promising at the start but then disappointing

The rookie hit many home runs inspring training, but once the season began he proved to be a flash in the pan.

to pour oil on troubled waters

to make peace, to calm someone down

When I tried to pour oil ontroubled waters, both the angry husband and his wife stopped their quarrel andbegan to attack me.

the sword of Damocles

any imminent danger (a king seatedone of his subjects underneath a sword that was hanging by a hair, in order toteach him the dangers a king faces)

Although the president of thecompany seemed quite secure, he always complained that there was a sword ofDamocles hanging over his head.

Pyrrhic victory

a too costly victory (King Pyrrhusdefeated the Romans but his losses were extremely heavy)

In heavy fighting thetroops managed to recapture the hill, but it could only be considered a Pyrrhicvictory.

a wet blanket

one who spoils the fun

Everyone wanted the party to goon, but Ronnie, the wet blanket, decided to go home to bed.

to beard the lion in his den

to visit and oppose a person on his owngrounds

Having decided to beardthe lion, I stormed into the manager's office to ask for a raise.

crocodile tears

insincere tears (crocodiles weresaid to cry while eating their prey)

When the football player broke hisleg, his substitute wept crocodile tears.

to carry the day

to win the approval of the majority

The secretary's motion that weadjourn for lunch carried the day, and we headed for the restaurant.

Skid Row

disreputable part of town,inhabited by derelicts and people "on the skid"

The presence of so many bars hasturned our neighborhood into another Skid Row.

to go up in smoke

to come to no practical result(kindling smokes but it will not light a fire)

The mayor's plans to get thegubernatorial nomination went up in smoke when he couldn't end the costlystrike.

to throw down the gauntlet

to challenge someone (when thegauntlet, or medieval glove, was thrown down, the challenger was required topick it up)

The principal of our rival schoolthrew down the gauntlet, and we had no choice but to accept the challenge.

feeling no pain


Although the party had just begun,after his first drink he was feeling no pain.

Hobson's choice

to have no choice at all (Mr. Hobson owned alivery stable but he did not allow the customers to pick their own horses)

Despite all the talk aboutdemocracy in my family, my father usually gives the rest of us Hobson's choice.

to rule the roost

to be in charge, to be master (a roost is a perch where domestic birds can sleep)

Although he is a lowly private inthe army, at home he rules the roost.

stock in trade

the goods, tools, and otherrequisites of a profession

A quick wit and a warm smile werethe salesman's stock in trade.

to take down a peg

to take the conceit out of abraggart (ship's colors used to be raised or lowered by pegsthe higher thecolors, the greater the honor)

The alumni thought they had agreat basketball team, but our varsity took them down a peg.

to pass the buck

to evade responsibility (the"buck" may have been a piece of buckshot passed from one poker playerto another to keep track of whose turn it was to deal)

He always gives me a straightanswer and never tries to pass the buck.

to lionize a person

to make a big fuss over someone(the lions at the Tower of London were considered its main attraction) When thefamous poet Dylan Thomas visited the United States, he was lionized wherever helectured.

I'm from Missouri

a skeptic, one who is not easilyconvinced

You might swallow his promises,but I'm from Missouri.

red-letter day

day of happiness, time forrejoicing (holidays are red-letter days on our calendars) My red-letter daycame when I was chosen as senior class president.

to let sleeping dogs lie

to let well enough alone, to avoidstirring up old hostilities The lawyer wanted to open up the old case, but hispartner advised him to let sleeping dogs lie.

thumb's down

signal of rejection (Romanemperors could condemn a gladiator who fought poorly by turning their thumbsdown)

My father turned thumbsdown on our plan to hitchhike to Florida during Easter.

cause célèbre

a famous law case or controversy

It was a minor dispute, but theambitious lawyer sought to turn it into a cause célèbre.

one swallow does not make a summer

don't jump to conclusions based onincomplete evidence

"Sure, the Yankees won theiropening game, but one swallow does not make a summer."

a bitter pill to swallow

a humiliating defeat

It was a bitter pill to swallowfor the famous billiard player to be overwhelmed by the 12-year-old girl.

an ax to grind

having a selfish motive in thebackground

I am always dubious* about themotives of a man who tells me that he has no ax to grind.

sour grapes to disparage

something that you cannot have (from Aesop'sfable about the fox who called the grapes sour because he could not reach them)

Marcia said that she didn't wantto be on the Principal's Honor Roll anyway, but we knew that it was just sourgrapes on her part.

to swap horses in midstream

to vote against a candidate running forreelection, to change one's mind The mayor asked for our support, pointing outhow foolish it would be to swap horses in midstream.

to cool one's heels

to be kept waiting

The shrewd mayor made the angrydelegates cool their heels in his outer office.

a red herring

something that diverts attentionfrom the main issue (a red herring drawn across a fox's path destroys thescent)

We felt that the introduction ofhis war record was a red herring to keep us from inquiring into his graft.

to spill the beans

to give away a secret

Although he was naturallyreticent,* when the felon* was intimidated* by the members of the rival gang,he spilled the beans.

to keep a stiff upper lip

to be courageous in the face oftrouble

It was admirable to see how theBritish managed to keep a stiff upper lip in spite of the German bombing.

to have cold feet

to hesitate because of fear oruncertainty

My cousin was all set to join theparatroops, but at the last moment he got cold feet.

to look a gift horse in the mouth

to be critical of a present (fromthe practice of judging a horse's age by his teeth) Although I didn't have muchuse for Uncle Roy's present, I took it with a big smile since I have beentaught never to look a gift horse in the mouth.

to pay the piper

to bear the consequences (from thestory of the Pied Piper of Hamelin) The cruel leader was doing well at thepresent time, but he knew that one day he might have to pay the piper.

on the carpet

being scolded

Because of her repeated lateness,Betty's boss called her on the carpet.

to show one's hand

to reveal one's intentions

When someone joined in bidding forthe antique, the dealer was forced to show his hand.

to tilt at windmills

to fight imaginary enemies (fromDon Quixote)

The vice president told thecommittee, "We're really on your side, and if you fight us you'll betilting at windmills."

to feather one's nest

grow rich by taking advantage ofcircumstances

While working as the taxcollector, he adroitly* feathered his own nest.


friends unreliable, they fail onein time of distress

The general was chagrined* tolearn that so many of his supposed supporters were actually fair-weatherfriends.

to sow one's wild oats

to lead a wild, carefree life

During his teen years, the millionaireavidly* sowed his wild oats.


unexpected financial gain

When the bankrupt company struckoil, the surprised investor received a windfall of $20,000.

to wear one's heart on one'ssleeve

to make one's feelings evident

People who wear their hearts ontheir sleeves frequently suffer emotional upsets.

to wash dirty linen in public

to openly discuss private affairs

"Let's talk about itprivately," his uncle said, "rather than wash our dirty linen inpublic."

to save face

to avoid disgrace

Instead of firing the corruptexecutive, they allowed him to retire in order that he might save face.

Indian summer

warm autumn weather

Parts of the country were deep insnow, but the East was enjoying an Indian summer.

to take the bull by the horns

to face a problem directly

After several days of delay, theminister decided to take the bull by the horns, and so he sent for the vandals.

the lion's share

the major portion

Because the salesman was essentialto the business, he demanded the lion's share of the profits.

out of the frying pan into thefire

to go from a difficult situationto a worse one I thought I had escaped, but actually I went out of the fryingpan into the fire.

to keep the pot boiling

to see that interest doesn't diedown

Dickens kept the pot boiling byending each chapter on a note of uncertainty and suspense.

to bury the hatchet

to make peace

After not speaking to each otherfor a year, they decided to bury the hatchet.

Philadelphia lawyer

a lawyer of outstanding ability

His case is so hopeless that itwould take a Philadelphia lawyer to set him free.

to gild the lily

to praise extravagantly

There was no need for theannouncer to gild the lily because we could see how beautiful the model was.

to steal one's thunder

to weaken one's position bystating the argument before that person does.

I had planned to be the first to resign fromthe club, but my cousin stole my thunder.


absentmindedness or daydreaming

When the young genius should havebeen doing his homework, he was frequently engaged in woolgathering.

to whitewash to

conceal defects, to give a falselyvirtuous appearance to something Although a committee was appointed toinvestigate the corruption, many citizens felt that their report would be awhitewash of the culprits.*

to break the ice

to make a start by overcominginitial difficulties

The auto salesman had a poor week,but he finally broke the ice by selling a fully equipped Cadillac.

the grapevine

a secret means of spreadinginformation

The grapevine has it that Erniewill be elected president of the school's student council.

in a bee line

taking the straightest, shortestroute (that's the way a bee flies back to the hive after he has gathered food)

When the couple left, the babysitter made a bee line for the refrigerator.

the world, the flesh, and the devil

temptations that cause man to sin

By entering the monastery hesought to avoid the world, the flesh, and the devil.

to make bricks without straw

to attempt to do something withouthaving the necessary materials (In the Bible we read that the Egyptianscommanded the Israelites to do so)

My uncle's business schemes alwaysfail because he tries to make bricks without straw.

to have the upper hand

to gain control

I had him at my mercy, but now hehas the upper hand.

to draw in one's horns

to check one's anger, to restrainoneself

The performer drew in his hornswhen he saw that his critic was an eight-year-old boy.

to put the cart before the horse

to reverse the proper order, do thingsbackwards

My assistant was so eager to get the job done that he often put thecart before the horse.

to turn the tables

to turn a situation to one's ownadvantage

The wrestler thought that he couldpin me to the mat, but I quickly turned the tables on him.

a chip off the old block

a son who is like his father (fromthe same block of wood)

When we saw the alcoholic's son enter the liquor store,we assumed that he was a chip off the old block.

under the wire

just in time

Hank hesitated about his termpaper for two months and finally submitted it just under the wire.

to be at large

not confined or in jail

Since the dangerous criminal wasat large, all the townspeople began to buy dogs for protection.

to go against the grain

to irritate

My uncle is in favor of someprotests, but certain demonstrations go against the grain.

to wink at

to pretend not to see

There was a plethora* of evidenceto show that the border guards would wink at illegal shipments if they werepaid in advance.

to play possum

to try to fool someone; to make believe one isasleep or dead Sensing that his life was in jeopardy*

the hunter played possum until thevoracious* lion disappeared.

it's an ill wind

that blows nobody good someone usually benefitsfrom another person's misfortune

When the star quarterback brokehis leg, the coach gave the rookie his big chance and the youngster made good;the coach mumbled, " It's an ill wind."

to know the ropes

to be fully acquainted with theprocedures

The president of the senior classknew the ropes and quickly taught me my duties.

behind the eight ball

in trouble

Susan found herself behind theeight ball in chemistry when she failed to do the term project.

left holding the bag

to be left to suffer the blame

The profligate* businessman lefthis distraught* partner holding the bag.

a lick and a promise

to do something in a hasty andsuperficial manner

The meticulous* housewife was inso much of a hurry that she could only give the apartment a lick and a promise.

tongue in cheek


Speaking with his tongue in hischeek, the parsimonious* employer promised to double everyone's wages.

to take the wind out of one'ssails

to remove someone's advantage

Although Edna was bristling* withanger when she stormed in, I took the wind out of her sails by voicing my owndispleasure at the way she had been treated.

two strings to one's bow

means of achieving one's aim

The salesman had two strings tohis bow if a phone call didn't get results, he would appear in person.

on tenter hooks

in a state of anxiety (cloth usedto be stretched or ''tentered" on hooks)

The indicted* clerk was kept ontenter hooks by the district attorney. the fat is in the fire themischief is done

the fat is in the fire

the mischief is done

We implored* him to desist* but hesaid that the fat was already in the fire.

like Caesar's wife

above suspicion

Mrs. Drake would have to be likeCaesar's wife so that no tinge* of scandal would embarrass her husband, our newmayor.

plea bargain

to agree to plead guilty to alesser charge so as to avoid trial for a more serious offense

The defendant finally took hislawyer's advice and agreed to a plea bargain of third-degree assault.

in apple pie order

in neat order, good condition

The house was in dreadfulcondition when Mrs. Maslow arrived, but when she left it was in apple pieorder.

apple polishing

trying to gain favor by gifts or flattery

If the way to advancement in thiscompany is through apple polishing, I quit!

the Draconian Code

a very severe set of rules(Draco, an Athenian lawmaker of the 7th century B.C., prescribed the deathpenalty for almost every violation.)The head counselor ran our campaccording to his own Draconian Code.

the distaff side

(distaff was a staff used inspinning) The men had brandy on the porch,while the distaff side gathered to gossip in the kitchen.

on the qui vive

on the alert

My mother is always on the quivive for bargains.

to get one's back up

to become angry

Every time his mother mentionedgetting a haircut, the young guitarist got his back up.

to bring home the bacon

to earn a living, to succeed

The man's inability to bring homethe bacon was the actual reason for the couple's incompatibility.*

to get down off a high horse

to act like an ordinary person

When Susan discovered that theyoung man who was trying to make conversation with her was the son of amillionaire, she immediately got down off her high horse.

the first water

of the best quality, the greatest

Michael Jordan is obviously abasketball player of the first water who would be of enormous value to any team.


set in one's ways

He was a dyed-in-the-woolRepublican who would not consider voting for a Democrat.

blue chip

a highly valuable asset, stock, orproperty In poker, the blue chips are those with the highest value.

My father's broker recommendedthat for safety we invest in blue chip stocks only.

as broad as it is

long it makes very little difference

Since both jobs pay $5.15 an hourand are equally boring, it is about as broad as it is long whether I take oneor the other.

blow hot and cold

swing for and against something

I told Charlie to give up hissummer job and come cross-country biking with us. He's blowing hot and cold onthe deal at this point.

in the doldrums

in a bored or depressed state

Mary has been in the doldrumssince her best friend moved away.

burn the midnight oil

study or work late into the night

If I'm going to pass the testtomorrow, I will have to burn the midnight oil tonight.

to split hairs

to make fine distinctions

The mother and child spent a greatdeal of time arguing about the hair-splitting question of whether "goingto bed"

to strike while the iron is hot

to take an action at the right moment

As soon as John heard that hisfather had won in the lottery, he struck while the iron was hot and asked foran increase in his allowance.

once in a blue moon

on a very rare occasion

His wife complained that they goout to dinner and a show once in a blue moon.

sleep on it

postpone a decision while givingit some thought

He didn't want to show his hand*immediately, so he agreed to sleep on it for a few more days.

to break the ice

to make a beginning, to overcome

stiffness between strangers Allafter-dinner speakers break the ice by telling a story or joke at the start oftheir speeches.

loaded for bear

to be well prepared

When the enemy finally attackedthe positions, the defenders were loaded for bear.

to bring down the house

to cause great enthusiasm

Popular entertainers can becounted on to bring down the house at every public performance.

to pull one's weight

to do a fair share of the work

Everyone in a pioneer family hadto pull his or her own weight.

a white elephant

a costly and useless possession

When he discovered the 30-volumeencyclopedia, dated 1895, in his attic, he knew he had a white elephant on hishands.

lock, stock, and barrel

entirely, completely

The company moved its operationsto another state lock, stock, and barrel.

a feather in one's cap

something to be proud of

If she could get the movie star'sautograph, she knew it would be a feather in her cap.

out on a limb

in a dangerous or exposed position

He went out on a limb andpredicted he would win the election by a wide margin.

on the spur of the moment

on impulse, without thinking

On the spur of the moment heturned thumbs down* on the new job.

a fly in the ointment

some small thing that spoils orlessens the enjoyment

He was offered a lucrative* position with the firm, butthe fly in the ointment was that he would have to work on Saturday and Sunday.

to take French

leave to go away withoutpermission

The star player was fined $100when he took French leave from the training camp.

in the arms of Morpheus


The day's activities were soenervating,* he was soon in the arms of Morpheus.

forty winks

a short nap

During the night before the bigtest, he studied continuously, catching forty winks now and then.

from pillar

to post from one place to another

The company was so large andspread out, he was sent from pillar to post before he found the properofficial.

in the lap of the gods

out of one's own hands

I handed in my application for thejob, and now it is in the lap of the gods.

Achilles heel

weak spot

He wanted to lead an ascetic*life, but his obsession with liquor was his Achilles heel.

cold shoulder

to disregard or ignore

She was so piqued* at his uncouth*behavior, she gave him the cold shoulder for over a week.

without rhyme or reason

making no sense

Without rhyme or reason thepennant-winning baseball team decided to jettison* its manager.

swan song

final or last (swans are said tosing before they die)

The ex-champion said that if helost this fight it would be his swan song.

to get the sack

to be discharged or fired

Despite the fact that he was soobsequious* toward the boss, he got the sack because he was lethargic* aboutdoing his job.

ivory tower

isolated from life; not in touch with life'sproblems

Many artists have been said to beliving in an ivory tower.

to feather one's nest

to enrich oneself on the sly or atevery opportunity

He played up to his senile* auntin the hope of feathering his nest when she made out her will.

the writing on the wall

an incident or event that showswhat will happen in the future In retrospect*

he should have seen the writingon the wall when his girlfriend gave him only a cursory* greeting on hisbirthday.

on the bandwagon

joining with the majority; going along withthe trend

Most advertisements showing manypeople using a product hope to convince the viewer to get on the bandwagon andbuy the item.

to hit the nail on the head

to state or guess somethingcorrectly

When Charlie said there were 3,627beans in that jar, he hit the nail on the head.

on the dot

exactly on time

Despite his having taken fortywinks,* he got to his appointment on the dot.

to take under one's wing

to become responsible for

As the new term began, the seniortook the freshman under her wing.

out of one's depth

in a situation that is toodifficult to handle

We thought he knew the ropes,* butwe found him behind the eight ball* because he was out of his depth.

to take a leaf out of someone'sbook

to imitate or follow the example

The chip off the old block* took aleaf from his father's book and never sowed wild oats*.

brass tacks

the real problem or situation

After some moments of congenial*levity,* they got down to brass tacks.

hook, line, and sinker

completely, all the way

The teacher fell for the practicaljoke hook, line, and sinker.



The lily-livered gangster got coldfeet* and spilled the beans.*

to pull up stakes

to quit a place

He could no longer rule the roost*or get the lion's share,* so he pulled up stakes and moved on.

to raise Cain

to cause trouble, make a fuss

When he found he was left holdingthe bag,* he decided to raise Cain.

to leave no stone unturned

to try one's best, to make everyeffort

Since you're from Missouri,* I'llleave no stone unturned to convince you.

tongue in one's cheek

not to be sincere

John's father surely had histongue in his cheek when he told his son to go sow wild oats* and to kick overthe traces* at his kindergarten party.

keep a stiff upper lip

keep up courage, stand up totrouble

When he heard through thegrapevine* that the fat was in the fire,* he knew he had to keep a stiff upperlip so as not to spill the beans.*

to throw the book at someone

to give the maximum punishment

The judge got his back up* andthrew the book at the criminal.

terra firma

solid, firm land

The rough ocean crossing took thewind out of his sails*, and he was happy to be on terra firma again.

in seventh heaven

the highest happiness or delight

The oldest child was in seventhheaven when her mother let her rule the roost* for a day.

to tighten one's belt

to get set for bad times orpoverty

He knew he would have to draw inhis horns* and tighten his belt or he would wind up on skid row*.

off the beaten track

not usual, out of the ordinary

Because his ideas were always offthe beaten track, he lived under a sword of Damocles* on his job.

a square peg in a round hole

an able man in the wrong job

It was a bitter pill to swallow*when they had to fire him because he was a square peg in a round hole.

to upset the apple cart

to overturn or disturb a plan orintention

It was a bitter pill to swallow*when they upset the apple cart and elected a dark horse.*

by hook or by crook

any way at all, at any cost

He had bought the white elephant*without rhyme or reason*; now he had to get rid of it by hook or by crook.

to get up on the wrong side of thebed

to be in a bad mood

When his mother raised Cain* abouthis slovenly* room, he accused her of getting up on the wrong side of the bed.

castles in the air

a dream about some wonderfulfuture

People on Skid Row* often buildcastles in the air.

to maintain the status quo

to keep things as they are

You hit the nail on the head* whenyou said we ought to maintain the status quo and not change horses inmidstream.*

a sacred cow

a person or thing that cannot becriticized (From India, where cows may not be harmed because of religiousrules)

I decided to throw down thegauntlet* by exposing the boss's son who had been ruling the roost* as thesacred cow of the business.

through thick and thin

in spite of all sorts of difficulties

He decided to stick with hisfairweather friends* through thick and thin.

to take by storm

to make a fast impression

The new opera star took thecritics by storm and carried the day.*

to be in fine fettle

to be in high spirits, or feelingwell

He did a lot of woolgathering* andwas in fine fettle during the whole of the Indian summer.*

to live in a fool's paradise

to be happy without a real basis

He lived in a fool's paradisewhile he sowed wild oats*, but he soon had to pay the piper.*

the sum and substance

the heart or substantial part

The sum and substance of ourpyrrhic victory* was that our hopes for a stable future had gone up in smoke.*

on pins and needles

to be on edge, jumpy

He was on pins and needles whilehe cooled his heels* in the principal's office.

to have at one's fingertips

to have thorough knowledge, tohave ready

He had at his fingertips anextensive repertoire.*

a pretty kettle of fish

a mess, troubles

He thought it was an innocentwhite lie,* but it got him into a pretty kettle of fish.

the acid test

a severe test

The new job was an acid test ofhis ability to bring home the bacon.*

a blind alley

a direction that leads nowhere

The modus operandi* was leading upa blind alley and they were barking up the wrong tree.*

to twist around one's finger

to control completely

He winked at* the little girl'sbad behavior; she had him twisted around her finger.

to do one's heart good

to make one feel happy or better

It did my heart good to see thatinveterate* egotist* eat humble pie.*

worth one's weight in gold

extremely valuable, very useful

The coach said the new star centerwas worth his weight in gold.

to make the best of a bad bargain

to change or go along with a poorsituation

After he bought the whiteelephant,* he made the best of a bad bargain and let sleeping dogs lie.*

to make ends meet

to manage on a given income

He turned thumbs down* on a newcar; he was having enough trouble making ends meet, as it was.

to burn the midnight oil

to study or work until very late

The radio was such an enigma* thathe had to burn the midnight oil* for several nights in order to get it working.

a bolt from the blue

a great surprise

The windfall* from his distantcousin came like a bolt from the blue.

to tell tales out of school

to reveal harmful secrets

The fat was in the fire* for thepolitician when his private secretary started telling tales out of school abouthis secret sources of income.

to build upon sand

to have a poor base, or not sufficientpreparation

Because they were amateurs andwithout money, the political campaign was built upon sand and the candidate wasa flash in the pan.

a pretty kettle of fish

a messy situation, a problem

He knew that when he attacked thesacred cow* he would be in a pretty kettle of fish.

to toe the mark

to obey or stick to a rule orpolicy

He wanted to kick over thetraces,* but his parents made him toe the mark.

to be under a cloud

to be in temporary disgrace ortrouble

Until they discovered the realthief, he was under a cloud.

to flog a dead horse

to continue

to make an issue of something thatis over He thought he could keep the pot boiling* about his opponent's winkingat* crime, but he was flogging a dead horse.

the die is cast

an unchangeable decision has beenmade

The fat was in the fire* and thedie was cast when he decided to tell the white lie about how he had found themoney.

a cat's paw

a person used as a tool or dupe*

The spy used the innocent girl asa cat's paw to get military information from the grapevine.*

coup de grâce

the finishing stroke

When my girlfriend left me, it wasa bitter pill to swallow,* but the coup de grâce was that she kept myengagement ring.

straight from the shoulder

in a direct, open way

I took the wind out of his sails*by telling him straight from the shoulder that I was not going to wink at* hisapple polishing.*

to rub a person the wrong way

to do something that irritates orannoys

The quickest way to rub a personthe wrong way is to give him the cold shoulder.*

to draw in one's horns

to become cautious

He knew he was out of his depth,*so he drew in his horns and quit the poker game.

to throw cold water

to discourage a plan or idea

I was going to pull up stakes* andmove out lock, stock, and barrel,* but my wife threw cold water on the wholething.

to lay one's cards on the table

to talk frankly

He knew he was out of his depth*so he laid his cards on the table and asked for assistance.