Online Illustrated Idiom Dictionary


  • (like) a shot in the arm

    A sudden stimulus, something vitalising, uplifting or encouraging

  • A bad workman blames his tools

    A person who has done a bad job will blame his equipment rather than admit their lack of skills

  • A ballpark figure

    a rough estimate

  • A hot potato

    An issue that makes everyone feel uncomfortable or is very controversial

  • A jobsworth

    Someone who uphold petty rules in their work, even at the expense of common sense

  • A leopard never changes its spots

    It’s very hard to change your character even if you try

  • A round peg in a square hole

    A person unsuited to a role or activity

  • A silver bullet

    something that acts as a magical weapon especially one that instantly solves a long-standing problem

  • A whitewash

    To cover up vices, crimes or scandals or to clear someone’s name using a superficial investigation or through biased presentation of data. It’s also known as a cover-up.

  • Ambulance chaser

    A disrespectful name for someone (often working for a law firm) who seeks out the scenes of accidents to profit from those involved, usually by encouraging them to seek compensation.

  • Below the belt

    To unfairly target someone’s weakness or vulnerability

  • Born with a silver spoon in your mouth

    Very privileged (inherited wealth or high social status).

  • Canary in a coal mine

    an early warning of danger
    (A canary is a small bird)

  • Can’t see the wood for the trees (US - forrest)

    By focussing on details you miss what is important

  • Done and dusted

    Completed or finished with (usually of a big task or one that has been “hanging over you” / weighing heavily on you

  • Don’t blow your own trumpet

    To boast or brag

  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
    (sometimes just “Don’t count your chickens”)

    Don’t make plans that depend on something good happening until it happens

  • Don’t cry/there is no use crying over spilled milk

    It’s not useful to be upset about something that has already happened

  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

    Don’t concentrate all your efforts and resources in one area as you will have no alternative if it fails.

  • Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth (halfpennyworth) of tar

    Don’t risk the failure of a large project or spoil the look of something by trying to economise on trivial things.

  • Dressed to the nines

    Dresses to perfection/high class or the highest degree

  • Feeling under the weather

    Feeling (a little) sick

  • First world problem

    An issue in First World nations that are complained about in response to the perceived absence of more pressing concerns. It’s applied to an individual’s complaint of a trivial nature.

  • Get this show on the road

    To begin an activity that has been planned

  • Glass half full type of person

    Someone who has a generally optimistic worldview

  • Hard up

    Short of money

  • Honeymoon period

    A period of time at the beginning of something, (maybe a relationship, a job, a period in government) when everybody is pleased with you and there appear to be no problems

  • I could kick myself

    I am annoyed with myself for doing something

  • It never rains but it pours

    A proverb meaning problems or difficult situations tend to follow each or to arrive all at the same time

  • It takes two to tango

    Both people/groups involved in something must take responsibility

  • It went in one ear and out the other

    Something someone has heard was quickly forgotten

  • Like (two) peas in a pod

    People or things that are very similar to each other

  • Like a well oiled machine

    very well/efficiently run; smoothly running without any problems. Usually said of an organisation or system of work

  • Like trying to find a needle in a haystack

    Said when the task of finding something is very difficult

  • More than you can shake a stick at

    A large quantity, perhaps too much

  • My guilty pleasure

    Something that someone enjoys despite it not being held in high regard

  • Nimbyism

    The behaviour of someone who doesn’t want something to be built or done near where they live, although they may agree with the idea

  • Over the moon

    Very pleased or delighted

  • Robbing Peter to pay Paul

    Shifting resources around in order to be able to pay all debts/bills

  • Skeletons in the cupboard/closet

    embarrassing or damaging information about you that you would like to remain secret

  • Someone can’t cut the mustard

    Someone is unable to succeed or to meet the required standard

  • Someone can’t do right for doing wrong

    Whatever you do you will be criticised and/or feel bad

  • Someone is skating on thin ice

    they are doing something (or are in a situation that is) risky, dangerous or that may cause trouble

  • Someone looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth

    Someone looks as if they would never do anything wrong, even if they may have done.

  • Someone would give you the shirt off their back

    They are very generous

  • Someone wouldn’t say boo to a goose

    Someone is very shy, quiet or nervous

  • Someone’s bark is worse than their bite

    Someone seems much more unpleasant or hostile than they really are.

  • Something is right up someone’s street

    It’s something they are interested in or love

  • Swings and roundabouts

    A situation where each option has apparently similar advantages and disadvantages making it difficult to choose.

  • Ten a penny

    To be very common

  • That takes the biscuit (U.S. takes the cake)

    For something to be especially annoying or surprising, or to be the best or worst of its kind

  • That went over my head

    It was too difficult or strange to understand

  • The early bird catches the worm

    The one who is first (to an opportunity or a place of work) has the best chance for success

  • The elephant in the room

    A big or controversial issue or matter that is obvious or that everyone is aware of but no one mentions because it makes at least some of them uncomfortable or embarrassed

  • The fly in the ointment

    The single thing or person that spoils what would otherwise be very enjoyable or positive

  • The gloves are off

    People are arguing or competing with each other in a serious manner

  • The grass is always greener on the other side

    It appears that other people’s lives or situations are better than our own

  • The jury is still out

    People do not yet know the answer or have not decided on an issue

  • The last straw that broke the camel’s back

    A minor action that has a huge impact because of the cumulative effect

  • The pot calling the kettle black

    A situation where one person accuses someone of or comments on something that they too share

  • The tail wagging the dog

    A situation where a large or more important group has to do something to satisfy a smaller or less important group.

  • To a t (or To a tee)

    Perfectly or exactly right.

  • To add fuel to the fire

    To make an argument or bad situation worse

  • To be tongue-tied

    To be unable to say what you want, often through shyness, embarrassment or intense emotion

  • To bite someone’s head off

    To react angrily to someone

  • To bite the bullet

    To do something unpleasant or difficult that you have put off doing

  • To bite the hand that feeds you

    To act badly towards someone who helps/has helped you

  • To burn plastic

    To spend a lot of money in a short time

  • To burn the candle at both ends

    To work excessively hard; to work too hard for good health or peace of mind

  • To burn your bridges

    to commit to an irreversible course of action that makes an alternative impossible subsequently.

  • To burst someone’s bubble

    To do or say something that shows that what they want to happen will not happen, or that something they believe is not true.
    Its commonest use is to give news that will disappoint the hearer.

  • To bury the hatchet

    To make peace.
    (A hatchet is an axe).

  • To cast your pearls before swine

    to waste your time by offering something that is helpful or valuable to someone who does not appreciate or understand it.

  • To change your tune

    To change the way you talk about or your opinion of something

  • To clutch at straws

    To try anything in a very difficult situation with little chance of success

  • To come clean

    To confess/own up to/admit to having done something wrong

  • To come out of your shell

    To become more confident/interested in other people and more willing to talk and take part in social activities

  • To cost an arm and a leg

    To be VERY expensive or unreasonably so

  • To cut off your nose to spite your face

    An unnecessarily self-destructive response to a problem.

  • To dangle a carrot in front of someone

    to persuade someone to do something by offering some kind of reward

  • To do something on a shoestring

    To do something with very little money

  • To find your feet

    In a new situation to start to feel confident or to deal with things well

  • To get a taste of your own medicine

    to have the same unpleasant experience that you have inflicted on someone else

  • To get away with murder

    To do whatever you like and not be punished for it

  • To get something off your chest

    To say something you have wanted to say for some time (usually because it’s difficult to say or you’re nervous about it).
    Saying it usually causes you to feel better

  • To get your ducks in a row

    To be well prepared or well organized for something that is going to happen

  • To go to the dogs

    to get worse or become ruined

  • To have a bone to pick with someone

    To want to speak to someone about something annoying that they have done

  • To have a heart of gold

    To be very kind, sincere and genuine

  • To have an off day

    Not to perform at your best

  • To have egg on your face

    To look foolish or be embarrassed because of something you have done

  • To have something coming out of your ears

    To have more of something than you could want or need

  • To have two left feet

    To be clumsy, uncoordinated

  • To have your heart in your mouth

    To be very frightened or anxious

  • To have/keep a stiff upper lip

    to show courage in the face of pain or adversity; to bear difficulties without showing emotion.

  • To hit the nail on the head

    To identify something exactly; to arrive at exactly the right solution/analysis.

  • To hold your tongue

    To keep quiet or remain silent about something (often used when to say something would cause trouble)

  • To judge a book by its cover

    To prejudge the worth or value of something by its outward appearance alone

  • To kill two birds with one stone

    To achieve two goals with a single action

  • To let someone off the hook

    To allow someone in an awkward or unpleasant situation (often involving wrong-doing) to get away with little or no consequence

  • To let the cat out of the bag

    to give away a secret, usually by mistake

  • To lock horns

    to argue, clash or fight with someone

  • To make a drama out of a crisis

    To exaggerate or to focus on a minor issue, making it a major one

  • To not do things by half

    to put a lot of effort and enthusiasm into doing things, often more than is necessary

  • To over egg the pudding

    to over state or exaggerate

  • To play ball

    To agree to work with or help someone in the way they have suggested

  • To play gooseberry

    to be an unwanted third person when two people (usually in a romantic relationship) want to be alone

  • To pull the wool over someone’s eyes

    To trick or deceive someone , to hide the truth from someone