Idioms and Phrases in English

Beat back

Meaning: To compel to retire

Example: The firemen were beaten back by angry flames and the building was reduced to ashes.

Boil down to

Meaning:  To amount to

Example: His entire argument boiled down to this that he would not join the movement unless he saw some monetary gain in it.

Cast aside

Meaning: To reject, to throw aside

Example: Men will cast aside truth and honesty for immediate gains.

Cry down

Meaning:  To deprecate

Example: Some of the Western powers did their best to cry down India’s success in the war.

To cut off with a shilling

Meaning: To give someone a mere trifle in the will

Example: The father was so angry with the son over his marriage that he cut him off with a shilling.

Egg on

Meaning: To urge on

Example: Who egged you on to fight a professional boxer and get your nose knocked off?

Gloss over

Meaning: Explain away

Example: Even if you are an important person your faults cannot be glossed over.

To laugh in one’s sleeves

Meaning: To be secretly amused

Example: While I was solemnly reading my research paper to the audience, my friends were laughing in their sleeves for they knew what it was worth.

Play off

Meaning: To set one party against another for one’s own advantage

Example: It best serves the interests of the super powers to play off one poor nation against another.

Pull one through

Meaning: To recover, to help one recover

Example: Armed with the latest medicines, the doctor will pull him through.

Cast a slur upon

Meaning: By word or act to cast a slight reproach on someone

Example: Many a man casts a slur on his own good name with some mean act.

To catch a tartar

Meaning: To encounter a strong adversary

Example: When Hitler marched in to Russia he little knew that he would catch a Tartar in the tough people of that country.

To come off with flying colours

Meaning: To come out of a conflict with brilliant success

Example: The 1971 election outcome was uncertain but finally the congress came off with flying colours.

To come off second best

Meaning: To be defeated in every contest

Example: Be it an election or a tambola, I have always come off the second best.

To cut the Gordian knot

Meaning:  To remove a difficulty by bold or unusual measures

Example: The Parliament threw out the Bill for Abolition of Privy Purses. The Government cut the Gordian knot by abolishing the privy purses through an ordinance.

To fall to one’s lot

Meaning: To become one’s fate

Example: It fell to the lot of Mujib and his colleagues to reconstruct the shattered economy of their nation.

To get into hot water

Meaning: To get into difficulty

Example: The businessman got into hot water with the Income-tax authorities for concealing his income from ancestral property.

To give someone the slip

Meaning:  To dodge someone who is looking for you

Example: The police had nearly got the dacoits when the latter gave them the slip in the Chambal ravines.

To go on a fool’s errand

Meaning: To go on an expedition which leads to a foolish end

Example: Many people earlier believed that going to the moon was like going on a fool’s errand.

To go to the wall

Meaning: To get the worst in a competition

Example: In the struggle of life, the weakest goes to the wall.

To go to rack and ruin, to go to the dogs

Meaning: To be ruined

Example: If a big war comes, our economy will go to the dogs.

To have one’s hands full

Meaning: To be very busy

Pakistan could hardly expect active help from the U.S.A. as her hands were already full with Vietnam, Laos and West Asia problems.

To have a bone to pick with one

Meaning: To have a difference with a person which has not yet been fully expressed

Example: The extreme leftists have a bone to pick with the police and if ever they come to power there may be unpleasantness between the two.

To have the whip hand of

Meaning: To have mastery over

Example: After the split in the party Mrs. Gandhi has the whip hand of the Congress.

To have too many irons in the fire

Meaning: To have so much work in hand that some part of it is left undone or is done very badly

Example: Let the Government not go in for nationalisation so fast. If they have too many irons in the fire they are bound to fare badly.

To have the tree or right ring

Meaning: To be genuine

Example: Nixon’s pronouncements on world peace do not have the right ring.

To have two strings to one’s bow

Meaning: To have an alternative means of achieving one’s purpose

Example: A wife always has two strings to her bow if coaxing fails to achieve the desired end; tears succeed.

To have an axe to grind

Meaning: Have personal interests to serve

Example: Bigger nations supply arms to the smaller ones primarily because they (the bigger nations) have their own axe to grind.

To keep the wolf from the door

Meaning: To keep away extreme poverty and hunger

Example: Lakhs in India have to struggle everyday to keep the wolf from the door.

To make short work of

Meaning: To bring to sudden end

Example: The locusts made short work of the ripe standing corn.

To make amends for

Meaning: To compensate for damage

Example: By his kindness today he has made amends for his past insolence.

To make common cause with

Meaning: To unite, to co-operate with

Example: During the last elections the princes made a common cause with the rightist parties. Both went down.

To make a virtue of necessity

Meaning: To do a very disagreeable thing as though from duty but really because you must do it

Example: When a minister knows that he is going to be booted out of the cabinet he makes a virtue of necessity and resigns on health grounds.

To make much ado about nothing

Meaning: Make a great fuss about a trifle

Example: Demonstrations and protests over the change in the timing of news bulletins over AIR was making much ado about nothing.

To make a cat’s paw or a tool of someone

Meaning: To use someone as a means of attaining your object

Example: The super-powers have made a cat’s paw of the smaller nations of Asia in their game of power politics.

To play into the hands of someone

Meaning: To act as to be of advantage to another

Example: By raising the slogan ‘Indira Hatao’ the opposition played into her hands and Mrs. Gandhi won the elections hands down (easily).

To play second fiddle

Meaning: To take a subordinate part

With Mrs. Gandhi as the undisputed leader of the Congress and the nation, everyone else is content to play second fiddle to her.

To put the cart before the horse

Meaning: To begin at the wrong end to do a thing

Example: Preparing the blue print of a project without the provision of funds is like putting the cart before the horse.

Idioms and Phrases in English

To put one’s shoulder to the wheel

Meaning: To make great efforts ourselves

Example: No amount of foreign aid will pull us out of the economic morass; we have to put our own shoulders to the wheel.

To set store by

Meaning: To value highly

Example: India, surely sets much store by the Indo Soviet Treaty of Friendship.

To set the Thames on fire

Meaning: To do something extraordinary

Example: He is a steady worker but never likely to set the Thames on fire.

To set one’s house in order

Meaning: To arrange one’s affairs

Example: Let Pakistan set her own house in order before talking of the welfare of the Kashmiris.

To take into one’s head

Meaning: To occur to someone

Example: The Manager took it into his head that by shutting off the electricity for a few hours daily he could save on refrigeration costs.

To take the bull by the horns

Meaning: To grapple with a problem courageously instead of avoiding it

Example: There is no short cut to prosperity. We have to take the bull by the horns and make people work like slaves.

To take a leap in the dark

Meaning: To do a hazardous thing without any idea of what it may result in

Example: You took a leap in the dark in going into partnership with that man.

To throw cold water upon

Meaning: To discourage something

Example: The doctor threw cold water upon my plans for a world tour by declaring that I could never stand the strain of it.

To throw up the sponge

Meaning: To give up a contest

Example: Faced with stiff competition from big companies, many a small company will throw up the sponge.

To turn over a new leaf

Meaning: To change one’s course of action completely

Example: After a long career of crime the convict suddenly turned over a new leaf and became a model citizen.

To turn tail

Meaning: To retreat ignominiously

Example: The enemy turned tail in the face of heavy onslaughts on its key positions.

To turn the tables

Meaning: To reverse someone’s success or superiority

Example: Pakistan started war with a blitz on our positions but the superior tactics of our Armed Forces soon turned the tables on them.

To cook or doctor an account

Meaning: To tamper with or falsify the account

Example: From the balance sheet presented to the shareholders, the company seemed to be flourishing, but it afterwards turned out that the Secretary had cooked the accounts.

To bear the brunt of

Meaning: To endure the main force or shock of

Example: The infantry has to bear the brunt of a battle.

To beard the lion in his den

Meaning: To oppose someone, in his stronghold

Example: The Indian Army broke through strong Pakistani fortifications in the Shakargarh area and bearded the lion in his own den.

To bid fair to

Meaning: To give fair prospect of

Example: His health is so good that he bids fair to live till he is sixty.

To blow one’s own trumpet

Meaning: To parade one’s own good deeds

Example: Modesty does not pay. Only if you blow your own trumpet, you can succeed.

To blunt the edge of

Meaning: To make something less effective

Example: Time blunts the edge of grief.

To build castles in the air

Meaning: To indulge in reveries or visionary schemes)

Example: There is nothing wrong if you build castles in the air; now put foundations under them.

To burn the candle at both ends

Meaning: To use too much energy

Example: Our resources are limited. Let us use them judiciously and not burn the candle at both ends.

To buy a pig in a poke

Meaning: To purchase a thing without previously examining it

Example: Buying shares in a new Company started by unknown entrepreneurs is like buying a pig in a poke.

To cross or pass the Rubicon

Meaning: To take a decisive step forward

Example: The Government will have to think of many things before nationalizing the textile industry for once they cross the Rubicon there will be no going back.

To cry over spilt milk

Meaning: To nurse unnecessary regrets

Example: We have failed to build up a sizeable total against England’s meager first innings total. It is no use crying over spilt milk now.

To err on the safe side

Meaning: To choose a course which may in fact be inaccurate, but which will keep you safe from risk or harm

Example: In going in for mixed economy rather than wholesale nationalization the Government were erring on the safe side.

To flog a dead horse

Meaning: Waste one’s energies

Example: We are flogging a dead horse if we are trying to make Sanskrit the national language of India.

To feather one’s nest

Meaning: To provide for oneself through dishonest means

Example: Many tax collectors make a point of feathering their own nests well while they have opportunity.

To Eat one’s heart out

Meaning: To brood over one’s sorrows or disappointments

Example: Don’t eat your heart out over failure in this competition.

To eat humble pie

Meaning: To have to humiliate oneself

Example: Since none came to his support he had to eat humble pie and give in to their demands.

To eat one’s words

Meaning: To retract one’s assertions under compulsion

Example: It is hard for a haughty man to have to eat his words.

To throw down the gauntlet, to take up the gauntlet

Meaning: To offer or give a challenge, to accept a challenge

Example: It is not for a small country to throw down the gauntlet to the right and the left.

To run the gauntlet

Meaning: To undergo severe criticism or ill treatment

Example: Most trend-setting books have to run the gauntlet of the literary critics.

To burn one’s fingers

Meaning: To get oneself into unexpected trouble

Example: They were happily placed in the woollen industry. But they went in for cosmetics and burnt their fingers.

To force one’s hands

Meaning: To compel one to do something unwillingly or earlier than he wished to do it

Example: The Government wanted to do all that they could to meet the workers’ demands. But the violence by the strikers forced their hands to declare a lockout.

 To haul over the coals

Meaning: To scold a man, reprove him

Example: If your bad habits become known, you will get hauled over the coals and richly deserve it.

To let the grass grow under your feet

Meaning: To be inert and passive to things around

Example: The authorities should listen to students’ grievances. By being indifferent they would only let the grass grow under their feet till it will be too late to turn these young people take away from the path of violence.

To put in a nutshell

Meaning: This is said of a thing which is capable, of, or presented in, brief expression

Example: His conduct is weird. To put in a nutshell be is insane. The explanation of his conduct can be put in a nutshell – he is insane.

To let loose the dogs of war

Meaning: To set in motion the destructive forces of war

Example: Pakistan has let loose the dogs of war in Kashmir, through organised terrorism.

To lord it over someone

Meaning: To domineer over someone, to act as a lord

Example: The love of power is so strong in human nature, that when a man becomes popular he seeks to lord it over his fellows.

To mind one’s Ps and Qs

Meaning: To be punctilious

Example: The manager suspects his chief clerk of dishonesty, and if the clerk does not mind his Ps and Qs, he will soon find himself without a job.

To muster in force

Meaning: To assemble in large numbers

Example: The citizens mustered in force to welcome their beloved leader.

To pay one back in one’s own coin

Meaning: To give tit for tat, to retaliate

Example: Howsoever revengeful you may be, unless you are strong enough you cannot pay him back in his own coin.

To plough a lonely furrow

Meaning: To work without help or support

Example: In the organised society of today no individual or nation can plough a lonely furrow.

To poison the ears or mind

Meaning: To prejudice another person

Example: A judge must not allow anyone to poison his mind against either the plaintiff or the defendant.

To rest on one’s laurels

Meaning: To rest satisfied with honours already won, and to make no attempt to gain further distinction

Example: Even if he wins the biggest award, a film star will never rest on his laurels. He will try to rise higher and higher.

To rest on one’s oars

Meaning: To suspend efforts after something has been attained

Example: The agitators have been vigorously at work during the winter, but at present they seem to be resting on their oars.

To harp on the same string

Meaning: To keep repeating the same sentiment over and again

Example: This gentleman keeps harping on the same string: he is from Oxford and deserves this and deserves that etc.

To rise like a phoenix from its ashes

Meaning: The phoenix was a fabulous Arabian bird. It had no mate but when about to die, made a funeral pile of wood and aromatic gums and on it burned itself to ashes. From the ashes a young phoenix was believed to rise

Example: Germany was completely decimated in the Second World War. But she has risen like a phoenix from its ashes.

To rule the roast or roost

Meaning: To lord it over others in a party or group

Example: In almost every party there is some overbearing person who tries to rule the roost.

To run in the same groove

Meaning: To move forward on the same path, to advance in harmony

Example: It is clear that the ideas of both reformers run in the same groove.

To run in the blood

Meaning: A peculiarity which clings to certain families

Example: Snobbery runs in the blood of the Englishmen.

To scatter to the winds

Meaning: To waste, to scatter abroad

Example: We have scattered to the winds what we had gained by our independence.

To be on the right scent

Meaning: To be on the right track

Example: The customs have decided to patrol the Kerala seas to nab smugglers from Dubai. They are on the right scent (Its opposite is to be on the wrong scent or wrong track)

To see how the wind blows

Meaning: To observe what influence, favourable or adverse, is likely to affect the existing state of things

Example: In party-politics people sitting on the fence keep on watching how the wind is blowing before deciding on their options.

To see a thing through coloured glasses

Meaning: To regard something favourably because of one’s prejudice

Example: Pakistan has for long looked at India through coloured glasses and never trusted even the most genuine gestures for peace. (The world is a place of strife and one should not see it through coloured glasses.)

Idioms and Phrases in English

To show the white feather

Meaning: To show signs of cowardice

Example: The agitators shouted and gesticulated but the moment the police appeared on the scene they seemed to show the white feather.

To sow broadcast

Meaning: To scatter widely or without stint

Example: The emissaries of the banished king were sowing sedition broadcast.

To split hairs

Meaning: To make subtle and useless distinctions

Example: As the drought played havoc in Bihar, the authorities were busy splitting hairs trying to decide whether it was ‘scarcity conditions’ or famine.

To steal a march

Meaning: To gain an advantage over another stealthily

Example:  While we were still debating the desirability of joint ventures with foreign concerns, Singapore and Malaysia stole a march over us and opened their gates to foreign investment in a big way.

To steer clear of

Meaning: To avoid

Example:  India decided on non-alignment to steer clear of the hazards of alignment with one block or the other.

To stick at nothing

Meaning: The phrase implies readiness to stoop to baseness or deception to reach one’s end

Example:  An ambitious politician will stick at nothing if he can only serve himself.

To strain every nerve

Meaning: To use one’s utmost efforts

Example:  We have to strain every nerve to get over the poverty line.

To strike while the iron is hot

Meaning: To take advantage of the opportunity when it arises

Example:  If you want to succeed in life, you must strike the iron while it is hot. In going in for general elections immediately after the war, the Congress struck while the iron was hot.

To swallow the bait

Meaning: To catch others by guile, by offering them large promises

Example:  The candidate offered the people everything on earth and in the heavens if selected. The people swallowed the bait and elected him.

To talk shop

Meaning: To use the phrases peculiar to one’s circumstances

Example:  Except for the undertakers, people of the same professions always talk shop at parties.

To tie one’s hands

Meaning: To restrain one from action

Example:  The Government’s hands are already tied with problem plants. It would not like to go in for nationalization in a big way.

To tread on the heels of

Meaning: follow close behind

Example:  Famine treads on the heels of drought.

To fish in troubled waters

Meaning: To make personal profit out of a disturbance

Example: The super powers are there in West Asia to fish in troubled waters.

To pour oil on troubled waters

Meaning: To say or do anything which soothes and calms angry passions

Example: The government poured oil on troubled waters by announcing a judicial enquiry into the firing.

To win or gain laurels or to bear away palm

Meaning: To achieve success in a contest

Example: The Indian Cricket Team won laurels on two successive occasions once in West Indies and then in England.

To worship the rising sun

Meaning: To pay respect to the man who is rising in power the influence

Example: The newly appointed manager has taken over and his clerks worship the rising sun.


Meaning: Jealously watchful

Example: The husband of a pretty wife has got to be Argus-eyed.

Aegean stables

Meaning: To clean Aegean stables, To correct a great abuse, from the stables of king Agues of Greece, whose stables had not been cleaned for thirty years

Example: The law against prostitution has cleaned no Aegean stables; it has merely pushed it underground.

Backstairs influence

Meaning: Influence exerted secretly and in a fashion not legitimate

Example: The moneyed people do exercise backstairs influence on Parliament.

Bad blood

Meaning: Active enmity

Example: There has been bad blood between India and Pakistan since 1947.

A bone of contention

Meaning: Subject of dispute

Example: Kashmir continues to be a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947.

A bosom friend

Meaning: A very intimate and trusted friend

Example: Bosom friends never betray one another.

A bull in a China shop

Meaning: Someone who destroys everything at the same time he happens to be in

Example: The plainsmen proved to be a bull in a China shop in the hills, ruining the hill people in all ways.

A close shave

Meaning: A narrow escape from collision accident

Example: The bus had a close shave as its driver swerved to the right a split second before the on-coming truck could run into it.

A cold comfort

Meaning: Something calculated to cause pain or irritation

Example: The promise of a better future is only cold comfort to the frustrated youth of today.

A dog in the manger policy

Meaning: Said of a person who cannot himself use what another wants, and yet will not let that other have it

Example: The affluent nations are a dog-in-the manger, destroying what they can’t use themselves than giving it to the poor nations of Asia and Africa.

Elbow room

Meaning: Opportunity for freedom of action

Example: Only give him elbowroom and he will succeed.

A fair-weather Friend

Meaning: One who deserts you in difficulties

Example: A fair-weather friend disappears the moment your money disappears.

French leave

Meaning: Absence without permission.

Example: He went on a french leave and was summoned by the direction the next day he went to office.

Good offices

Meaning: Recommendation

Example: One can get a good job only through the good offices of someone in power.

A good Samaritan

Meaning: One who be-friends a stranger or a friendless person

Example: Centuries ago, India played a good Samaritan to the hapless Parsees fleeing their native land.

The green-eyed monster

Meaning: Jealousy

Example: The green-eyed monster strikes a woman the moment she sees her husband talking to a pretty woman.

A Herculean task

Meaning: A job requiring great efforts

Example: Eradication of poverty is a Herculean task requiring the collective efforts of the entire country.

Lynch Law

Meaning: The practice of punishing people where the punishment is inflicted by unauthorized persons and without judicial trial

Example: Mob law denotes the same thing when carried out by a mob. In African countries they often resort to lynch laws.

A maiden speech

Meaning: The first speech of a new member in a public body as in Town Hall or in Parliament

Example: Amitabh’s maiden speech was very impressive.

A nine day’s wonder

Meaning: A fascinating but temporary phenomenon

Example: Beauty is, proverbially, a nine day’s wonder.

An open question

Meaning: A matter for discussion and not yet decided

Example: As far as India is concerned, Kashmir is no longer an open question.

A red-letter day

Meaning: An auspicious, fortunate or important day

Example: The 26th January, 1950 is a red-letter day in India’s history.


Meaning: Exempt from payment, unhurt, safe

Example: Because he had influential connections, the culprit went scot-free.

A sheet anchor

Meaning: The chief safety, the last refuge for safety

Example: One’s faith in God is one’s sheet anchor in times of stress and strain.

Tall Talk

Meaning: Boastful language

If we have no real accomplishments, we indulge in tall talk to delude ourselves and others too.

A white elephant

Meaning: An unprofitable possession

Example: The upper Houses are white elephants and should be abolished.  

A white lie

Meaning: An evasion, a harmless and non-malicious untruth

Example: Professional members often indulge in white lies.

A wild goose chase

Meaning: A foolish, wild, unprofitable adventure

Example: Attempts towards stabilization of prices in a developing economy, is a wild goose chase.

An apple of discord

Meaning: A subject of envy and strife

Example: Kashmir continues to be the apple of discord between India and Pakistan.

Cock and bull story

Meaning: A silly improbable story

Example: That India wanted to break up West Pakistan was a cock and bull story published by the U.S.A.

A fish out of water

Meaning: A person in uncomfortable surroundings

Example: An Indian may earn tons of money in the Western countries, but he will always feel like a fish out of water there.

The gift of the gab

Meaning: Fluency of speech

Example: The gift of the gab combined with a slight cunning makes for a successful politician.

Lion’s share

Meaning: An unfairly large share

Example: The big nations continue to have the lion’s share of world trade.

A mare’s nest

Meaning: A discovery that turns out to be false or worthless

Example: There was much fanfare about the solar cooker. Later it turned out to be a mare’s nest.

The milk of human kindness

Meaning: Kindly feelings a phrase used by Shakespeare.

Example: With all their poverty, Indians do not lack the milk of human kindness.

Penelope’s web

Meaning: A work which seems to be going on and yet never comes to an end.

Example: A housewife’s chores are a penelope’s web.

The pros and cons of a question

Meaning: Arguments for and against a thing

Example: They discussed the pros and cons of the matter before taking a decision.

The skin of one’s teeth

Meaning: A phrase used when one escapes losing everything except life.

Example: The storm broke up the ship but the sailors escaped by the skin of their teeth.

A snake in the grass

Meaning: A secret foe.

Example: China has certainly been a snake in the grass for India. Even in the heyday of Hindi Chini bhai-bhai, she was quietly devouring bits of our territory.

A stone’s throw

Meaning: Very near.

Example: The Taj Hotel is at a stone’s throw from the Gateway of India.

All moonshine

Meaning: Foolish, idle, untrue statement.

Example: The talk about welfare of the poor is all moonshine.

Behind the scenes

Meaning: A person having secret or private information and influence

Example: The dismissed Secretary, having been behind the scenes, has made some strange revelations as to the way in which the business is managed.

Between two fires

Meaning: Assailed or shot at from two sides

Example: A man, arbitrating between the mother and wife, is to be between the two fires, for his decisions can rarely please both.

In a body

Meaning: Together

Example: The striking workers went in a body to the Manager to present their demands.

Wide off the mark or beside the mark

Meaning: Irrelevant, ‘Beside the mark reasoning or argument’.

Cheek by jowl

Meaning: In the same position

Example: There was a lawyer who never had a client cheek by jowl with a doctor who never had a patient.

Out at elbows

Meaning: Destitute

Example: The rising prices and the new taxes may soon see most of us out at elbows.

Part and Parcel

Meaning: Integral part of a society, community etc.

Example: Some customs and traditions are a part and parcel of Indian culture.

A storm in a tea cup

Meaning: A great fuss about a trifle

Example: The crackers fired by Diwali revellers caused a storm in the tea cup when minority communities thought it to be a bomb attack by the other community.

A fly in the ointment

Meaning: A trifling circumstance which mars enjoyment

Example: It was a wonderful picnic, the only fly in the ointment being the absence of shady trees at the picnic spot.

Not worth his salt

Meaning: Good for nothing

Example: A soldier who shivers at the boom of guns is not worth his salt.

With a pinch of salt

Meaning: To take a statement with a grain of salt is to feel some doubt whether it is altogether true

Example: Shaw’s claim of having remained a celibate even after marriage has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Null and void

Meaning: Invalid, valueless, no longer in force

Example: The court declared the appointment to be null and void.

To be posted up

Meaning: Well acquainted with

Example: I want to be posted up in Indian History.

To be worth its weight in gold

Meaning: Extremely valuable

Example: In the desert a bottle of water is often worth its weight in gold.

To be Greek or double Dutch to one

Meaning: Unintelligible

Example: He spoke so fast that all he said was double Dutch to the audience.

To be with in an ace of

Meaning: To be very nearly

Example: He was within an ace of being shot.

To be at the back and call

Meaning: To be always ready to serve

Example: You must not expect me to be at your back and call, I have my own business to attend to.

To be at daggers drawn

Meaning: In bitter enmity

Example: With every passing year the hostility between the Arabs and the Israelis has grown more bitter. They have always been at daggers drawn.

To be at sea

Meaning: Contused, uncertain of mind

Example: I am quite at sea in Mathematics.

To be at one’s wits end

Meaning: Perplexed

Example: With the master shouting from the bathroom and the mistress from the kitchen the servant was at his wits end as to whom to attend first.

To be in one’s element

Meaning: To be in agreeable company or work

Example: Shaw is in his element when he is writing about the social ills of his time.

To be on wane

Meaning: To be on the decline

Example: After the second World War, the British Empire was on the wane.

To be on the carpet

Meaning: To be summoned to one’s employer’s room for reprimand

Example: The unpunctual clerk was repeatedly on the carpet.

To be on the last legs

Meaning: About to collapse

Example: With science dominating life more and more, religion seems to be on its last legs.

Chip of the old block

Meaning: A son who is very like his father

Example: The younger Nawab of Pataudi has proved to be a chip of the old block. He is as good a batsman as his father.

To bring under the hammer

Meaning: To sell it by auction

Example: If a person goes insolvent, his creditors will bring everything that he owns under the hammer to recover their money.

To pay one’s way

Meaning: Not get into debt

Example: While at college, he paid his way by working as a newspaper vendor.

To weather the storm

Meaning: To come out of a crisis successfully

Example: In a crisis it is unity which helps a nation to weather the storm.

To sail before the wind

Meaning: To go in the direction towards in which the wind is blowing

Example: An opportunist is he who sails before the wind (Its opposite is to sail close to the wind i.e., to break a law or principle)

To be in the same boat

Meaning: To be equally exposed with a person to risk or misfortune

Example: In a nuclear war, the rich and the poor nations will be in the same boat. None will be able to protect themselves.

To sail under false colours

Meaning: To pretend to be what one is not, to try to deceive

Example: In our blessed country, a smuggler sailing under the false colours of a socialist will never be exposed.

To take the wind out of one’s sails

Meaning: Frustrating him by anticipating his arguments, take away his advantage suddenly

Example: Before the U.S. could spread the canard about India’s intention to destroy West Pakistan after “capturing” Bangladesh, India took the wind out of their sails by declaring a unilateral cease-fire.

Game is not worth the candle

Meaning: The advantage or enjoyment to be gained is not worth the time spent in gaining it

Example: Journey to the moon is an elaborate and costly affair and some people with a pragmatic approach feel the game is not worth the candle.

Not fit to hold a candle to

Meaning: One is inferior

Example: For all his pious platitudes and political stunts, Mr. Nixon is not fit to hold a candle to Lincoln or Roosevelt.

Some More Idioms and Phrases in English

  • Hope springs eternal in the human breast : (one never loses hope).
  • Fools rush in where angels fear to tread : (said of reckless persons)
  • He who pays the piper calls the tune : (one has to act according to the wishes of one’s master)
  • You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear : (said of something impossible)
  • A bird in hand is worth two in the bush : (right use of the present opportunity)
  • One man’s meat is another man’s poison : (what is good for one may he harmful for another person)
  • Out of the frying pan into the fire : (from one trouble to another)
  • The last straw breaks the camel’s back : (the smallest addition to an already heavy task makes it intolerable)
  • Distance lends enchantment to the old : (things look nice and beautiful when they are not within reach)
  • Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s : (to be wise)
  • Look before you leap : (don’t be reckless and impulsive)
  • Make hay while the sun shines : (to make/ill use of the given opportunity)
  • Never look a gift horse in the mouth : (there can be no choice about things given in charity)
  • Beggars can’t be choosers : (no choice in scarcity)
  • Nearer the Church, farther from heaven : (the more opportunity you have, the less you benefit from it)
  • Every cock fights best on his own dung hill : (one is very brave and confident in one’s own place)
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss : (an aimless person cannot succeed)
  • Rome was not built in a day : (things take time to complete and to mature)
  • One swallow does not make a summer : (one person can ‘t do everything)
  • Apparel proclaims the man : (you judge a man’s worth by his clothes)
  • To run with the hare, to hunt with the hound : (to be insincere to someone)
  • Sweet are the uses of adversity : (sufferings are to be welcomed)

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