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EnglishLab.Net Glossary of Idioms, Proverbs, Sayings and Quotations
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A

:
Money not wasted can be used in the future, and a responsible person saves even small amounts of money.
VARIATION
Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.

EST Kes senti ei korja, see krooni ei saa.
RUS Копейка рубль бережёт.
:
is an exceptionally complicated machine or design that performs very simple tasks; a proposal that requires a lot of funding but is unlikely to yield any notable positive results; an outlandish contraption that is likely to break down on the road
VARIATION
you may say that something has a Rube Goldberg flavo(u)r

Ruben Lucius Goldberg (American, 1883-1970) is remembered for his cartoons featuring laboriously contrived inventions that perform simple operations
:
It doesn't matter what is going to happen after we're gone.

B

:
You're between Scylla and Charybdis on this. = Seeking to avoid one danger, you may well fall into another.

According to an ancient Greek myth, two monsters lived on either side of the narrow straight between Italy and Sicily, the Strait of Messina. Scylla was a six-headed sea monster who lived on a rock on the Italian side of the straight, and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily.

On May 1, 2008, All Things Digital columnist Kara Swisher published an online article titled "MicroHoo: Caught Between Scylla and Charybdis". The article is about Yahoo! steering between Microsoft and Googlesmile

:
Men often owe their success to women. It's women that make them tick.
VARIATION
Behind every broke man there is a woman.
:
1. This is what you are supposed to say to someone who has just sneezed.
2. You may hear people say informally 'God bless you!' or just 'Bless you!' when they want to express affection, thanks, or good wishes. Usually the idea is that one person (usually somebody who is young, strong, powerful or rich) has selflessly helped another (normally someone who is very old or weak, or absolutely helpless and penniless), and the latter - full of gratitude - believes that a mere 'thank you' is not enough.

E.g.
God bless you for what you do!
Bless you for caring so much!
:
You say "by the same token" to introduce a statement that you think is true for the same reasons that were given for a previous statement.

SYNONYMS
  • likewise
  • similarly
  • in the same way
  • for the same reason(s)

C

:
(Latin) Let the buyer beware
The full form of the maxim is:
Latin: Caveat emptor, quia ignorare non debuit quod ius alineum emit
English rendition: (Let the buyer beware for he ought not to be ignorant of the nature of the property which he is buying from another)

The saying carries the simple message
'The buyer should inspect merchandise for quality before purchasing it'

D

:
When someone asks you to pull a few strings for them or offers to pull a few strings for you it means that they either want you to talk to some of your friends in power or believe they could talk to some influential friends of theirs to get what either they or you want respectively.

Examples

If you are interested in that job at ABC Ltd, I know the Managing Director. Perhaps I could pull a few strings (for you) and get you an interview.

I might be able to pull a few strings for you. I'll let you know next week.


:
Don't buy anything without carefully examining it first.
"a poke", which is a loan word from Dutch, means "a bag" or "a sack"

French: Acheter chat en poche
German: Die Katze im Sack kaufen
Russian: Покупать кота в мешке

please help translate this into other languages email
:
Don't do more things at the same time than you can handle. Don't commit yourself to more responsibilities than you can manage to avoid embarrassment, blame or failure later.
VARIATION
Don't bite off more than you can chew.

E.g.
You are well enough, I see. Then, tell me this, 'Was I the only iron you had in the fire?*' (Margaret Mitchell, 'Gone With the Wind', 1936)

*Was I the only person you had counted on?
:
Don't exaggerate the size of the problem by making a trifling matter into an insurmountable obstacle.
French: Faire d'une mouche un éléphant
Russian: Делать из мухи слона

E

:
Even the meekest and humblest person will eventually be goaded into retaliation. Even the meekest person can be roused to retaliate.

The allusion is to the fact that when a lowly earthworm is dug up or its tail trodden on, it instinctively writhes, turning back upon itself and appearing to threaten its attacker.
William Shakespeare is believed to have alluded to this proverb when he wrote
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.
(Henry the Sixth, Part Three, Act 2, scene ii, 1593)

Some people argue that the proverb was coined in the days when the word ' worm' could be applied equally to a viper. In that case the proverb means that those who have the ability to fight back would certainly do so if provoked.
:
Everybody complains about a problem, but nothing is done about it. The saying is often attributed to Mark Twain (1835-1910)

F

:
If you know a person or situation very well, you can easily lose respect for that person or become careless in that situation.
:
You may hear a person say that if they are complaining and emphasizing that there is a lot of noise and it is your talking loudly that they are unhappy about as it is disturbing them or preventing them from doing something. (inf)
:
Because civilization is a collective effort, the loss of the most insignificant life is a loss for everyone; therefore, we are all in it together.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is also the title of one of Ernest Hemingway's novels. It is about the Spanish Civil War.

G

:
author: Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931)
a variation by the same author:
A genius is just a talented person who does his homework
:
Self-help stimulates divine assistance. We can only expect help from God if we are prepared to play our part, too.
:
Who needs you? I'm glad you're leaving. OR That thing is worthless: I'm glad I've lost it.
VARIATIONS
Good riddance to bad rubbish.
It's good riddance.
Go and good riddance!
:
You say "Guess what?" (= Can you imagine what happened next? I bet you haven't got a clue and will be astonished!) - in an informal situation - to indicate that you are going to say something exciting or surprising.

And guess what? Despite his lack of experience, he got the job!

H

:
We should be grateful for what we do get rather than complain about what we don't receive.
:
He is so stupid that he gets confused about or doesn't know very simple things
:
He is used to drinking large amounts of alcohol at a time. It takes a lot more alcohol for him to get drunk than for other people, i.e. when he and another person drink the same amount of alcohol each, he appears to be less drunk than the other person. He drinks more than average, and he needs more alcohol to get drunk than average.
:
Decisions are made by those who are in financial control.
:
A humorous definition of home by Henry Ainsley.
:
How is that possible? Why did it happen?

You ask this question when you think that something is surprising because it is illogical or unbelievable.
Haven't you heard? They've broken up and she's going out with someone else! - How come?

I

:
A rigmarole is a complicated process that you find annoying because it is tedious and about half of the time you spend doing it is usually wasted because of delays and paperwork.
:
If you can't get a word in edgeways it means that the person you are talking to is speaking so much and so fast that it is not possible for you to say anything.
:
I know that place very well - I know how to get around there and where everything is.
:
The quote is attributed to Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988), who was an American novelist and science fiction writer.
:
This is a relatively polite way of saying that you do not want to do what you are offered, invited or asked to do.

e.g.
How about going to the cinema?
I don't want to. (this is quite rude) VS I'd prefer not to. (this is more polite)

SYNONYM
I'd rather not.
:
I am very busy.
:
means I've been trying hard to remember something, e.g. what someone's called or when something happened
E.g.
- Then she mentioned Donald McDowell ...
- I knew it was Donald something! I've been racking my brains all day.
:
This catchphrase is often used to scold a child. It stands for "I mean what I say", "Stop ignoring me and listen to what I say" or "You are not paying attention to me and I have to tell you this again, and again, and again, and I hope this time you will understand"
The word thousand* can be replaced by any other number.
e.g.
Doctor to patient: If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times - I do not treat amnesia cases!
:
Know your limitations. If the pressures are too great for you, leave the task to those who can handle it without complaining.
VARIATIONS
If you're gonna run with the big dogs, you can't pee like a puppy.
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
If you don't like the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
:
In dangerous or difficult circumstances, it's often a blessing not to fully understand the situation. Naive people are often happier than knowledgeable ones. It is easier to do something if you don't know how hard it is.

The adage was originated by the English poet Thomas Gray in 1742 (Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College)

...

To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan,
The tender for another's pain;
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.
:
This is what is usually said ironically when someone tries to gain attention by copying someone else's original words, style, ideas, etc.
:
The meaning: The weather is abominable.

The saying is generally attributed to the American humorist W. C. Fields (1880-1946). He used it several times in the movie The Fatal Glass of Beer, but denied having coined the phrase.
:
Your view of the justness of the outcome of a dispute depends on which side you are on and the degree of personal loss you have suffered.
:
It is not possible to give a clear answer without considering other factors. There are some "ifs" that you have to take into account.
:
There is nothing special about it. There is absolutely nothing that makes it different from everything else of the same kind. I can't think of anything to do with it that is worth mentioning or remembering.

Do you agree that the last holiday you had was nothing to write home about?
:
If something rings a bell, it means that it reminds you of something, but you cannot remember exactly what it is.
E.g.
The plot of the film is definitely familiar. It rings a bell.
:
What someone claims does not seem to be true.
:
The struggle for survival in life or business turns man into an animal. There isn't anybody you could trust.

Are you well-prepared to join the great big lousy world of the dogs eating dogs eating other dogs? thoughtful
:
It's unbelievable.
:
You have to make a final decision as to what you're going to do. Nobody is going to do that for you.

J

:
author: Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931)

K

:

attempting to match one's neighbo(u)r's social and living standards, trying hard to emulate one's neighbo(u)r's elegant lifestyle


Test yourself:

keeping up with the Joneses takes

A. all of your time

B. most of your time

C. some of your time

D. little of your time

E. none of your time

Would you be interested in doing a course in Leisure Management?

:
A humorous definition of knowledge.

L

:
He created the problem, so let him suffer for it.
VARIATIONS
Let her stew in her own juice,
Let them stew in their own juice, etc
:
Concern yourself only with things that you know something about.

Latin: Sutor ne supra crepidam

The origin of the proverb is said to be in an anecdote about Apelles, the famous Greek artist ( IVth century BC), who was wont to exhibit his works in the front of his shop while he hung around so that he could hear passers'-by comments. One day a cobbler commented on his mistakes in painting a shoe - he criticised a shoe latchet. Apelles obliged by correcting his fault that very night; the next day the cobbler noticed the changes, and, emboldened by his success and the effect of his comment on the artist's work, ventured to criticize how Apelles portrayed the thigh. On hearing that Apelles, who was hiding behind the picture, said the shoemaker should not go beyond his last.

VARIATION
Let the shoemaker venture no further


:
Let's be optimistic about that, the future, etc.

M

:
If you rush into marriage without thinking, you will have plenty of time to ponder upon your mistake after the ceremony. Hasty marriage brings regret in its wake.
:
Misfortune may force us to befriend people we would otherwise avoid.
:
An offer of money is ever so often by far the most persuasive argument in getting someone to do what you want. Money speaks sense in a language that all nations understand.

O

:
A. can mean something like "everyone knows that" , "naturally", "needless to say" or "it is obvious"
E.g.
Of course I won't tell anyone; I was only pulling your leg!
Could you help me? - Of course!
Of course every magazine spread is Photoshopped nowadays.
WARNING
Of course is NOT a very polite reply to a statement of fact, and may make the other person think you are quite rude
E.g.
It is too cold to go cycling. - Of course. It certainly is.
("of course" would indicate that you thought the other person silly enough to say something too obvious to be worth mentioning- Even if that is the case, it is still a good idea to be polite and not to insult the person you are talking to:=)

B. you can use "of course" as a way of saying politely "I allow you to do it", i.e. to give permission
E.g.
Could I have a look? - Yeah, of course.

C. it can mean "I agree (and will do that)" in contexts when you have to agree (compare with the example in the WARNING above which refers to instances when you just want to be polite)
E.g.
Doctor: You will strictly observe your diet: no wine or spirits, very little meat.
Patient: Of course.



:
If something slips your mind, you forget about it.
E.g.
- Did you remember to call Dave?
- Oh, sorry. It completely slipped my mind. I'll do that right away.
:
author: Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931)
:
When you see an opportunity to improve your lot, you should act quickly and resolutely for you may never get another chance.
:
If someone is over the limit, they have drunk more alcohol than they are legally allowed to when driving a vehicle. (BrE)
E.g.
If police breathalyse him and find he is over the limit, he'll face a long ban.

P

:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
/ or (How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?) /

Peter Piper on "Songs from Mother Goose" (1987, VHS)



Practising saying tongue twisters out loud as quickly as possible could help you train your accent. This tongue twister focuses on the pronunciation of the aspirated P sound.
:
When you ask someone to stop moving the goalposts, you mean that they have changed the rules in a situation or an activity, in order to gain an advantage for themselves and to make things difficult for you and/or some other people involved. (BrE)
E.g.
You seem to move the goalposts every time I meet the conditions which are required.

R

:
Learning the sentence by heart is a way to help yourself remember the order of the colours of the spectrum as seen in a rainbow
RAINBOW

Richard - RED
of - ORANGE
York - YELLOW
gave - GREEN
battle - BLUE
in - INDIGO
vain - VIOLET

S

:
You ask this question when you think that what you are doing is so unsuccessful or everybody is so tired that there is no point in continuing.

SYNONYMS
Let's call it a day then. (=Let's stop now and continue some other time)
Do you think we should stop now?
Is that enough for today?
:
She is treating it as though it is not important or serious, whereas in fact it is very serious and matters a lot. She is playing down the significance of the situation trying to make people believe that it is not as important as it is.

opposite: play up
Can you play up your strengths and play down your weaknesses?
Have you ever hurt anyone's feelings by making light of what seemed to be of utmost importance to them?
:
She prefers not to take sides. She avoids supporting a particular side in an argument or a discussion.

Have you ever chosen to sit on the fence during a heated discussion?
:
Stop talking! (very impolite)

You can make it quite sarcastic, by adding ,will you?(=please)

Just shut up, will you?
:
This what you say when two or more people are talking and you want to interrupt them to say something to do with what they are talking about.
VARIATION
Sorry to barge in, but ...

T

:
do something risky because you believe it will succeed OR accept something without sufficient empirical evidence, e.g. to adopt a view or a religious belief (see S. Kierkegaard on that)

Any reform, untested by a pilot evaluation, represents a leap of faith.

:
The person who has been talked about secretly is likely to show up unexpectedly.
:
People say so when they believe that the suggested arrangement is risky, because there is barely enough time allocated to do what is intended.

Example

- If we catch the 5.15pm bus, we'll arrive at the conference centre 10 minutes before the plenary.
- That's cutting it a bit fine. What if the bus is late?
:
The term glass ceiling is all about the attitudes and traditions in society and business practices that prevent women from climbing up the career ladder. If a woman hits or bumps her head on the glass ceiling, it means that her career prospects are bleak no matter what she does provided she keeps doing the same job working in the same line of business in the same city or country. It is occasionally possible to break through the glass ceiling by changing careers, retraining, relocating, emigrating and the like only.
The term is said to have been coined in 1984 by Gay Bryant, who published in article in Adweek .


:
I can't remember what's it called.
E.g.
- Can you recommend a good restaurant near the town centre?
- Oh, yeah, I know a good one. It's opposite the National Library. But what's it called? Sorry, the name escapes me.
:
We often mean to do something good but achieve exactly the opposite. People frequently do or change something because they believe that will improve the situation or will bring about something positive, but, unfortunately, such initiatives ever so often produce unwanted results or screw everything up completely.
:
Don't assume that a small thing is a major catastrophe. Check your facts before you alarm everyone else.

This saying is taken from the fable Chicken Licken and is often used to keep people from panicking when their fears are unfounded.
:
means there is no limit to what is being discussed, e.g. to what can be achieved or done, or how long something might take
E.g.
- How long will it last?
- Dunno. The sky is the limit.


:
Even though one's spirit might be willing to resist temptation, one's body may be unable to do so.
:
Whoever makes the biggest fuss gets all the attention.
:
Latin: Nulla regula sine exceptione
French: Faire exception à la règle
German: Keine Regel ohne Ausnahme
Russian: Нет правил без исключений

please help translate this into other languages email
:
There are many ways to do something. Sometimes people adapt this proverb to their context or situation, so the formula is

There is more than one way to do sth.

VARIATIONS
There are more ways to kill a cat besides choking him to death.
There are more ways to kill a cat besides choking him with butter.
There are more ways to kill a cat besides choking him on cream.
:
If you say that two people are like chalk and cheese, you mean that they are very different
:
In informal BrE, if someone describes something that someone has just said as codswallop, they mean that they think it is nonsense.
VARIATION
This is a load of cobblers.
:
You get three tries; if you do not succeed on your third attempt, you'll get no additional tries. The saying is derived from baseball: batters are allowed two strikes at the ball and if they miss the ball the third time, they are out. The saying may be used in reference to any kind of activity.
VARIATION
Three gross violations and you're finished.
:
Each person has his or her own unique inclinations or idiosyncrasies. People's tastes differ and there is no logic to it.
VARIATIONS
Tastes differ.
There is no accounting for tastes.
LATIN: De gustibus non est disputandum. (There's no disputing about taste)
:
A humorous definition of tomorrow by Richard Sheridan Willis.

U

:
not completely; partly; yes and no

Was it good? - Up to a point.

W

:
Weather the weather is good,
Or whether the weather is not,
Whether the weather is cold,
Or whether the weather is hot,
We weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Weather we like it or not!

Practising saying tongue twisters out loud as quickly as possible could help you train your accent. This tongue twister focuses on the differences in the pronunciation of the following pair of English phonemes: /th/ (voiced) and /w/
:
We're talking about different things without realizing it: we're most probably using the same words, but we understand them differently and that causes confusion or misunderstanding.
:
What do you mean? Tell me what you're implying. This saying is used when someone's hint or implication is not clear.
VARIATION
What the hell are you driving at?
:
What is wrong? What is worrying you? What has happened?
:
When you are asked this question, the speaker wants to know the name of the constellation associated with your date of birth. You are supposed to name one of the following:

Aries Aries March 21-April 19
Taurus Taurus April 20-May 20
Gemini Gemini May 21-June 21
Cancer Cancer June 22-July 22
Leo Leo July 23-August 22
Virgo Virgo August 23-September 22
Libra Libra September 23-October 22
Scorpio Scorpio October 23 - November 21
Sagittarius Sagittarius November 22-December 21
Capricorn Capricorn December 22-January 19
Aquarius Aquarius January 20-February 18
Pisces Pisces February 19-March 20

It is a good idea to learn the names of a dozen nice character traits and attribute them to your conversation partner's star sign. You do not have to believe in what you say, but it helps maintain a friendly atmosphere and gives you an opportunity to make some small talk when you can't think of a topic to discuss.
:
This is a popular piece of advice given to those people who have difficulty operating a device and yet can't make themselves read the manual.
VARIATION
When everything else fails, read the manual.
:
What shall we do next? What is our next move?
The saying is often used in a political context.

This catch phrase was popularized through the US wartime song Where Do We Go From Here? (1917) with lyrics by Percy Wenrich (1887-1952) and music by Howard Johnson (1887-1952). The tune, which you can listen to here, was popular shortly following America's entry into WWI.

There is another more romantic song (style soul/R & B) which has exactly the same title Where Do We Go From Here? (album As I Am, 2007) and which is sung by Alicia Keys (born Alicia Augello-Cook; January 25, 1981), who is an American R&B/soul singer-songwriter, composer, record producer, pianist, and actress.
:
author: Agatha Mary Clarissa, Lady Mallowan, DBE (née Miller; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976), commonly known as Dame Agatha Christie
:
The proverb first appears in the Old Testament. It means that people suffer if they have no plans for or dreams of a better future.

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. - Prov.29:18 (KJV)
:
When do we get to the heart of the matter?

Asking this question implies that what is being talked about, especially what one's opponent's saying, lacks substance and is basically waffling.
You can also say or write "here is the beef:" to introduce the main point or make a quintessential summary.
:
Why are you so happy and smiling (usually at what I do not think funny or amusing at all)?
:
People ask this question when they want to know why someone would do something themselves when they already pay someone else to do that thing (mainly UK).
:
If a person adds within limits, of course to a statement of his/hers, s/he means that it is true or applies only when talking about reasonable or normal situations.
E.g.
Under the circumstances I'll tell you what I can, within limits, of course, and in confidence.
:
The quote is attributed to Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) , who was an American novelist and science fiction writer.

Over the course of his career Heinlein wrote three somewhat overlapping series:

  • Future History series describes a projected future of the human race from the middle of the 20th century through the early 23rd century
  • Lazarus Long series Lazarus Long is a fictional character, who turns out to be unusually long-lived, living well over two thousand years with the aid of occasional rejuvenation treatments.
  • World as Myth series In one of the novels, the Biblical number of the beast turns out to be not 666, but (66)6, or 10,314,424,798,490,535,546,171,949,056, which is the number of parallel universes accessible through the continua device to the protagonists.

Y

:
Author: Thomas Lanier Williams III (March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983), better known as Tennessee Williams, was an American playwright who received many of the top theatrical awards.
:
You cannot have two different things at once if one choice negates the other possibility.
:
As we age, it's harder to learn new things. It is impossible to change someone's ways or habits, especially if he is old and resists change.The expression is an excuse for those of a certain age who have tried a little and failed, and who can't be bothered to try at all, and is often used when people have just given up or are about to do so.

CONTEMPORARY VARIATIONS
  • Nobody said it was easy to teach an old dog new tricks, ... (you may use this variation to encourage someone to continue their efforts)
  • Who says you can't teach an old salad* new tricks? (=Who says it's impossible to change or improve it?)
  • You can't teach an old hound* new tricks.
* People occasionally substitute the word with an asterisk with a different one, not necessarily a synonym of "dog", for example, "guard", "politician", "man" etc.

OLDER VARIATIONS
XVIth Century
It's hard to make an olde dogge stoop.
XVIIth Century
It's hard to teach an old dog tricks.
XIXth Century
An old dog will learn no tricks.

:
No matter what you do someone will be unhappy. It is impossible to please absolutely everyone however hard you try.
:
You're wasting your time and energy by following the wrong path or blaming the wrong person.
:
You know as much (or as little) as I do.
VARIATION
Anybody's guess is as good as mine

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