Pieces originate in questions asked by subscribers to the World Wide Words newsletter and are as eclectic as you could wish.
A A flea in one’s ear; Abbreviation ‘lb’ for pound; Abracadabra; According to Cocker; Acid test; Across the board; Adam’s off ox; Aeriated; Aga saga; Agitory; Agog; Ahead of the curve; Ahoy!; Aksed versus asked; All mouth and trousers; All my eye and Betty Martin; All wool and a yard wide; All-singing, all-dancing; Ambulance at the bottom of the cliff; Amn’t; Andrew; Apostrophes; Apple of one’s eye; April; Arfanarf; Argy-bargy; Arms akimbo; Artefact versus artifact; As the crow flies; Ascian; Ash; Asynartesia; At sixes and sevens; At the drop of a hat; Aunt Sally.
B Back to square one; Bad cess; Bail out; Bald-faced, boldfaced or barefaced?; Balls-up; Banter; Barbarian; Barbecue; Barber’s cat; Barking mad; Basket case; Bat an eyelid; Bated breath; Bear up; Beat; Beat the band; Beck and call; Bee’s knees; Beefing; Beg the question; Beggar on horseback; Beggar-my-neighbour; Believe you me; Bells and whistles; Besmitten; Bespoke; Best bib and tucker; Between versus among; Beyond the pale; Big Apple; Big cheese; Big girl’s blouse; Big pond; Big shot; Bill; Bint; Birds and the bees; Bistro; Bitter end; Black Maria; Blackbirding; Bless your cotton socks; Blighty; Blind Freddie; Blivet and nitnoid; Blizzard of horseradish; Blockbuster; Bloke; Blooper; Blot one’s copy book; Blow the gaff; Blower; Blue; Blue blood; Blue murder; Blue-plate special; Bob’s your uncle; Bobby; Bog-standard; Bohemian; Boilerplate; Bold as brass; Bonce; Boodle bag; Books without the letter ‘e’; Boot; Boot camp; Bootleg; Bossy; Bounding main; Bounty hunter; Box of birds; Boxing Day; Boycott; Bozo; Brand spanking new; Brass monkey weather; Brass ring; Brass tacks; Brassed off; Brassiere; Bread-and-butter letter; Break a leg; Break one’s duck; Briar pipe; Bridie; Bringing Home the Bacon; Brouhaha; Brown as a berry; Brown study; Brownie points; Buck up; Buckley’s chance; Bug; Bug letter; Bull in a china shop; Bulldozer; Bulls and bears; Bully pulpit; Bumbershoot; Bumf; Bun fight; Bunny rabbit; Burden of one's song; Burke; Butter no parsnips; Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth; Butterfly; Butterscotch; By and large; By Jove; By the great horn spoon; By the skin of one’s teeth.
C C3; Cabal; Cack-handed; Cagmag; Camp; Can of worms; Capitulate and recapitulate; Card; Cardigan; Career versus careen; Carpet; Carrot and stick; Carry the can; Case in point; Case the joint; Cash on the nail; Cast aspersions; Catbird seat; Caught red-handed; Centre about; Centrifical force; Chaise longue; Chalk and cheese; Chance your arm; Charley horse; Cheap at half the price; Cheese it!; Chequered past; Chestnut; Chew the fat; Chew the scenery; Chickens coming home to roost; Chillaxing; Chin wag; Chip off the old block; Chip on one’s shoulder; Chock-a-block; Chook; Chops; Chow; Chunder; Church key; Circular; Claptrap; Clean one’s clock; Cleft stick; Cloud nine; Cobblers; Cock a snook; Cock and bull story; Cock-a-hoop; Cockles of your heart; Cockpit; Cocksure; Cocktail; Cock-up; Cold shoulder; Collapse of stout party; Colon; Colonel; Column; Come a cropper; Come hell or high water; Come the old soldier; Compleat v complete; Comprise; Cooking one's goose; Cool; Cooties; Cop; Cop-out; Copper-fastened; Coppice; Cotton on; Country names in -stan; Countryside; Crêpe hanger; Crack shot; Crackerjack; Crackpot; Crap; Cream; Cream crackered; Crib; Crimony; Crocodile tears; Crush; Cry all the way to the bank; Cudiles or cudulles; Cupertino; Curate’s egg; Curmudgeon; Curry favour; Cut and dried; Cut the mustard; Cut your stick; Cute as a bug’s ear; Cuts no ice.
D Dab hand; Darby and Joan; Dashboard; Dauncy; Davy Jones’ locker; Daylight robbery; Dead as a doornail; Dead cat bounce; Dead reckoning; Deadhead; Dealybob; Dear John letter; Death toll; Dekko; Denigrate; Derby; Devil to pay, the; Dibs; Dichotomy; Dick’s hatband; Diddler; Different to; Digs; Dilemma; Dint; Disgruntled and gruntled; Ditto; Dog and pony show; Dog in the manger; Dogsbody; Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; Done and done; Donkey’s years; Doolally tap; Doozy; Dopp kit; Dot and carry one; Double possessive; Double-dog dare you; Doughboy; Down to the wire; Drag; Dreaded lurgi; Dressed to the nines; Dribs and drabs; Drug on the market; Drum and Gaff; Dry run; Duck soup; Ducks and drakes; Ducks in a row; Duct tape; Dude; Duke’s mixture.
E Early doors; Eavesdropper; Egg on one’s face; Egg somebody on; Eggcorns; Eggplant; Eggy; Egregious; Eighty-six; Elephant and Castle; Elephant in the room; Embuggerance; Enquire versus inquire; Enthuse; Envision versus envisage; Esprit de l’escalier; Etiquette; Exception that proves the rule.
F Face the music; Faffing; Faggot; Fainites; Fair cop; Fair dinkum; Fair to middling; Fall guy; Fatootsed; Feckless; Fender; Fiasco; Fib; Fiddler’s Green; Fiddlesticks; Fight like Kilkenny cats; File; Film trailer; Finagle; Fine fettle; Fink; First, Second and Third; First, second and third worlds; Fist; Fit to be tied; Flamenco; Flammable; Flat; Flummox; Fly in the face of; Fog; Foot the bill; Footloose and fancy free; For appearance’s sake; For Pete’s sake; Fornication; Forte; Forthwith; Fossick; Freelance; French fries; Frequency of initial letters; Frick and Frack; Friend and pitcher; Fro; From cellar to dome; From hero to goat; From pillar to post; From soup to nuts; From whence; Fuck; Fuddy-duddy; Funk; Funner and funnest; Furthest and farthest; Fuzz.
G Gadget; Gander; Gandy dancer; Garbage in, garbage out; Garnish versus Garnishee; Gas and gaiters; Geronimo; Get one’s goat; Getting a word into dictionaries; Gibus; Gig; Gigantic; Gingerly; Girl and youth; Git; Give it some welly; Give no quarter; Give one’s eye teeth; Give someone the sack; Give the mitten; Go hence without day; Goat and Compasses; Gobsmacked; God willing and the creek don’t rise; Going Dutch; Going south; Going spare; Going to hell in a handbasket; Going to the dogs; Goldbricking; Golf; Gone for a Burton; Goody two shoes; Goose-step; Gorp; Gotham; Grand slam; Grapefruit; Grasp the nettle; Grass; Grass roots; Grass widow; Gravy train; Great Scott; Great Wen; Green room; Green-ink letter; Gringo; Grog; Groovy; Ground zero; Groundswell; Grub; Gubernatorial; Guff; Guinea pig; Gussied up; Gyp: pain; Gyp: thieve.
H Hackneyed; Hail fellow well met; Hair of the dog; Hairbrained; Hairy at the heel; Hammer and tongs; Handicap; Handicapped; Hang a Louie; Hang fire; Hangover; Hap; Happy as a clam; Happy as a sandboy; Happy as Larry; Hard graft; Hard lines; Harsh one’s mellow; Hat trick; Have no truck with; Have one’s guts for garters; Have your cake and eat it; Haymaker; Haywire; Head over heels; Heat; Heath Robinson; Heavens to Betsy; Heebie-jeebies; Heighth; Hem and haw; Herb; Herf; Hide one’s light under a bushel; High dudgeon; High jinks; High Street; Hill of beans; Hillbillies; Hippie; His nibs; Historical forms of the possessive; Hobo; Hobson’s choice; Holy cow!; Holy smoke; Home in on; Honeymoon; Honky-tonk; Honour and honorary; Hoodwink; Hoo-ha; Hooker; Hooplehead; Hoosier; Hootenanny; Hop the twig; Hopefully; Horns of a dilemma; Horse latitudes; Horsefeathers; Hot dog; How’s your father; Huckleberry; Hue and cry; Hullabaloo; Hunker down; Hunky-dory; Hush puppy.
I I could care less; I feel good; I should cocoa; Immense chemical names; Importantly; In a trice; In cold blood; In like Flynn; In the field; Indefinite article before words starting with H; Indexes versus indices; Indian summer; In-laws; Irish twins; Irregardless; It ain’t over till the fat lady sings; It’s a dog’s life; It’s Greek to me; Ivory tower; Ivy League.
J Jack; Jackpot; Jacob’s join; Jake-leg; Jalopy; Jamoke; Jay-walking; Jazz; Jeep; Jericho; Jesus H Christ; Jimmy a lock; Jinx; Jitney; Joe; Joe Soap; John; John Doe; Johnny-on-the-spot; Jolly hockey-sticks; Joystick; Juju & jujube; Jukebox; Jumbo; Jump the shark; Jumper; Jumping Jehoshaphat; Jury rigged; Just des(s)erts.
K Kangaroo court; Katy bar the door; Keep it under your hat; Keep mum; Keep your eyes peeled; Kelsey’s nuts; Ketchup versus catsup; Kettle of fish; Kick the bucket; Kidding on the square; Kilometre; Kilroy was here; Kilter; King Charles’s Head; Kip; Kippers and curtains; Kiss the gunner’s daughter; Kitty; Kitty-corner; Kludge; Knock seven bells out of someone; Know the ropes; Know your onions.
L Landing; Lazy Susan; Lead-pipe cinch; Lead-swinger; Left holding the bag; Left in the lurch; Let the cat out of the bag; Lickety-split; Lieutenant; Life of riley; Lightning in a bottle; Like a banshee; Like the clappers; Like the dickens; Likeness; Limerick; List slippers; Living daylights, the; Lizzie Tish (or Tizzy Lish); Lo and behold; Lobbyist; Loblolly boy; Lock, stock and barrel; London to a brick; Long arm of the law; Long johns; Loo; Loophole; Lope; Lord love a duck; Losing one’s marbles; Lukewarm; Lump it; Lush; Lynch.
M Mad as a hatter; Mad as hops; Make a hames of something; Make ends meet; Make no bones about it; Malacia; Man of straw; Mangel-wurzel; Mare’s nest; Marmalade; Marthambles; Marylebone stage; Mash note and masher; Mayfair; Mazoola; McGuffin; Meld; Merismus; Mess; Meteoric rise; Mickey Finn; Milquetoast; Mind your beeswax; Missing opposites; Mogadored; Moggie; Mollycoddling; Mollydooker; Moniker; Monkey wrench; Monkey’s uncle; Monkey’s wedding; Monstering; Mooch; Mooncalf; Moot point; More than one way to skin a cat; Morgan’s Orchard; Mortarboard; Mosey; Moxie; Mrs; Muchness; Mufti; Muggins; Mullered; Mummer; Mumpsimus; My giddy aunt; Myriad.
N Naff; Nail; Nauseous versus nauseated; Nave; Navvy; Near miss; Nebbishy; Needs must when the devil drives; Nerd; New York minute; News; Niche; Nick of time; Niggardly; Nine days’ wonder; Nineteen to the dozen; Nit-picking; Nitty-gritty; No names, no pack drill; No room to swing a cat; No soap; Noggin; Nonce; Nosy parker; Not a happy bunny; Not a word to Bessie!; Not by a long chalk; Not on your tintype; Not this little black duck!; Not to be sneezed at; Nothing like leather; Nummits and crummits.
O Ocker; OK; Old besom; Old Dart; Old leather-arse; Old-fashioned look; Ollie ollie oxen free; On a hiding to nowhere; On a wing and a prayer; On all fours; On one’s tod; On pins and needles; On tenterhooks; On the Adrian; On the ball; On the fritz; On the lam; On the QT; On the wagon; On your uppers; Once upon a time; One another; One fell swoop; One might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb; Oneirodynia; One-off; Orange; Orey-eyed; Organogram; Orientated versus oriented; Out like Lottie’s eye; Out of sorts; Out of whack; Over a barrel; Over the moon; Over the yardarm; Oxford comma.
P Pain versus pine; Pair of pants; Palooka; Panhandle; Panic button; Pardon my French!; Part and parcel; Part brass rags; Past master; Patient; Peanut gallery; Pearls of wisdom; Pear-shaped; Penny dreadful; Penny for your thoughts; Perfect storm; Peruse; Peter out; Philogynist; Photo cut-outs; Picnic; Pie in the sky; Piffy on a rock bun; Pig in a poke; Piggy bank; Piggyback; Pigs might fly; Piker; Pinch of salt; Pinkie; Piping hot; Piss-poor; Pitch; Play it by ear; Playing gooseberry; Pleased as Punch; Plonk; Pluck the gowans fine; Plurals in ‘-en’; Po-faced; Pogey; Point-blank; Policy wonk; Political stripe; Pollyanna; Pom; Pony up; Pop goes the weasel; Pop one’s clogs; Posh; Possessives with verbal nouns; Potboiler; Prat; Predominately versus predominantly; Pretty; Preventative or preventive; Private Eye; Proof of the pudding; Pull (out) the plug; Pull devil, pull baker; Pulling one’s leg; Punchline; Punctuation and quotation marks; Punt; Purl; Purse-lipped; Push the envelope; Put a sock in it; Put on (the) dog; Put the mockers on; Putter or potter.
R Raining cats and dogs; Ramping cat; Range; Read the riot act; Real McCoy, the; Rear its ugly head; Receipt versus recipe; Red rag to a bull; Redd; Redding; Red-headed stepchild; Restaurateur; Restive versus restless; Reticent versus reluctant; Reticule; Retort; Reuben; Rhino; Rhykenology; Ride shotgun; Riff-raff; Right as rain; Ringer / Dead ringer; Road; Road metal; Rod; Roger; Rogue; Rotate versus revolve; Round the bend; Round-robin; Rozzer; Rub of the green; Ruckus; Rule of thumb; Rum do; Rush the growler.
S Safe as Houses; Safe harbour / Safe haven; Salad days; Salt of the earth; Sam Hill; San fairy ann; Sand; Sandy-grey russet; Saucered and blowed; Saved by the bell; Say (or cry) uncle; Scot free; Scotch; Scran; Screaming ab-dabs; Screw your courage to a sticking-place; Scuttlebutt; Sea change; See a man about a dog; See-saw; Segue; Send down; Send to Coventry; Sentence-initial conjunctions; Set one’s cap at NEW ; Settle a score; Seven-year itch; Sha’n’t versus shan’t; Shaggy-dog story; Shake a stick at; Shank’s mare; Sharpshooter; Shilling ordinary; Shindig; Shirttail relative; Shit; Shiver my timbers; Shoestring; Shoo-in; Shoot one’s cuffs; Shoot oneself in the foot; Short shrift; Shot; Shovel-ready; Shrink; Shrinking violet; Shufti; Shyster; Sick abed on two chairs; Sick as a dog; Sidekick; Silver bullet; Since Hector was a pup; Singular or plural verb with ‘none’; Singular they; Sitting bodkin; Six ways from Sunday; Sixpenny nails; Sizzle and steak; Skeleton in the closet; Skell; Skinny; Skive; Skivvies; Skosh; Skunk works; Sky-blue pink; Slang; Slanging match; Sleep tight; Sleeping one’s head into train oil; Sling one’s hook; Smart Alec; Smart as paint; Smarty pants; Smelling of the lamp; Snake oil; Snit; Snob; So dull you could ride to China on them; Soap opera; Soapbox; Sock it to them; Soft sawder; Softly, softly, catchee monkey; Soup and fish; Souped-up; Southpaw; Sow one’s wild oats; Spatchcock; Speaking out of school; Spelling bee; Spelunking; Spendthrift; Spick and span; Spiff; Spill the beans; Spitting feathers; Spitting image; Spiv; Spoil; Spoonerism; Sport one’s oak; Spot of tea; Square; Square meal; Squared away; Squaw; Squilgee; Stars and garters; Start from scratch; State of the art; Stationary versus stationery; Steal one’s thunder; Steam radio; Stemwinder; Step-; Stick one’s oar in; Stick-in-the-mud; Sticky wicket; Stiff upper lip; Stitched up like a kipper; Stone the crows; Stonking; Stool pigeon; Strait and narrow; Strop; Suffonsified; Sugar and sure; Sugar daddy; Sundae; Sunday throat; Swag; Swain; Swamper; Swan song; Swanning around; Swashbuckling; Swearing on one’s testicles; Swiz; Sycophant; Synecdoche and metonymy.
T Tacky; Take a powder; Take the biscuit; Take the mickey; Take the piss; Talk turkey; Tall tale; Tapping the Admiral; Tarred with the same brush; Tattoo; Taxi; Tchotchke; Teaching one’s grandmother to suck eggs; Teetotal; Teller; Tempest in a teapot; Terms using Dutch; Terrific; That’s all she wrote; The abbreviation ‘pp’; The balloon’s gone up; The cat’s mother; The cheese gets binding; The ending -ati; The ending -wards; The endings ‘-ise’ and ‘-ize’; The whole megillah; The whole shebang; Theodolite; There’s the rub; Thimbles and thumbs; Thirteen and the odd; Three sheets in the wind; Through the grapevine; Throw a tub to a whale; Throw in the towel; Thrown for a loop; Thwart; Tickety-boo; Tide one over; Time out of mind; Tin Pan Alley; Tinhorn; Tinker’s damn; Tinny; Tip; Tit for tat; To a T; To be in someone’s black books; To boot; To buy the farm; To wit; Toad-eater; Toad-in-the-hole; Toast; Toe the line; Toe-rag; Toffee-nosed; Toise; Tom; Ton; Toodle-pip; Top dog; Top notch; Topsy-turvy; Touch and go; Touch wood/knock on wood; Tracklements; Trig and trim; Trimmer; Trip the light fantastic; Trivial; Troop; Troubleshoot; True facts; Try and; Tub thumping; Tundra; Turn up for the book; Turnpike; Tussie-mussie; Twaddle; Twee; Twenty-three Skidoo; Two Australian expressions; Two hoots; Two-car funeral.
W Waddle; Waffling; Wag; Waiting for the other shoe to drop; Walker!; Watch; Watershed; Wax poetic; Weakest go to the wall; Weaved or wove?; Weight of public opinion; Well heeled; Well, blow me!; West Brit; Wet one’s whistle; Whale of a time; What Paddy shot at; Wheeling and dealing; Whelmed; Whet one’s appetite; Which came first: he or she?; While versus whilst; While versus wile; Whim-wham for a goose’s bridle; Whip round; Whipping-boy; Whistle-stop tour; White lie; Whole ball of wax; Whole cloth; Whole kit and kaboodle; Whopper-jawed; Whose; Whys and wherefores; Widget; Widow’s peak; Widowered; Wigs on the green; Wild West; Wildcat strike; Windy City; Wine bottle sizes; Witching hour; Within a gnat’s ...; Woebegone; Won’t; Words for the numbers following ten; Work cut out; Worth the candle; Wrack or rack?; Wrong and wrongly; Wrong end of the stick; Wrong side of the bed.
Last updated: 20 Sep 2014
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