English Idioms: From a Gentleman at Large to a Cock and Bull Story

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A Gentleman at Large

  • Free, unconfined, especially not confined in prison to our distress, the housebreakers were still at large. [1300s]

  • At length, fully; also, as a whole, in general The chairman talked at large about the company’s plans for the coming year Shakespeare wrote in Love’s Labour’s Lost (1:1): “So to the laws at large I write my name” (that is, I uphold the laws in general). This usage is somewhat less common. [1400s]

  • Elected to represent an entire group of voters rather than those in a particular district or other segment Alderman at large, representing all the wards of a city instead of just one, or delegate at large to a labour union convention. [Mid-1700s]

A Miss is as Good as a Mile

  • Coming close to success but failing is no better than failing by a lot He was beaten by just one vote, but a miss is as good as a mile.

  • This proverbial expression, first recorded in 1614, is a shortening of the older form, “An inch of a miss is as good [or bad] as a mile of a miss.”

A Swan Song

  • A final accomplishment or performance, one’s last work. I’m resigning tomorrow; this project was my swan song.

  • This term alludes to the old belief that swans normally are mute but burst into beautiful song moments before they die. Although the idea is much older, the term was first recorded in English only in 1890

As Cool as a Cucumber

If someone is as cool as a cucumber, they don’t get worried by anything.

As Flat as a Pancake

It is so flat that it is like a pancake- there is no head on that beer it is as flat as a pancake.

Account For

  • Be the determining factor in; because the heat wave accounts for all this food spoilage, or Icy roads account for the increase in accidents.

  • Explain or justify Jane was upset because her son couldn’t account for the three hours between his last class and his arrival at home.

  • Both of these related usages are derived from the literal meaning of the phrase, that is, “make a reckoning of an account.” [Second half of 1700s]

A Wild Goose Chases

A wild goose chase is a waste of time- time spent trying to do something unsuccessfully.

As Cool as a Cucumber

If someone is as cool as a cucumber, they don’t get worried by anything.

Apple of Discord

Anything causing trouble, discord, or jealousy

A Cock and Bull Story

  • An unbelievable tale that is intended to deceive; a tall tale Jack told us some cock and bull story about getting lost.

  • This expression may come from a folk tale involving these two animals, or from the name of an English inn where travellers told such tales. W.S. Gilbert used it in The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), where Jack Point and Wilfred the Jailer make up a story about the hero’s fictitious death: “Tell a tale of cock and bull, of convincing detail full.” [c. 1600]

A Jaundiced Eye

The phrase “Jaundiced eye” means to looks at something with a prejudiced view, usually in a rather negative or critical manner.

A Left-Handed Compliment, Backhanded Compliment

  • An insult in the guise of an expression of praise she said she liked my hair, but it turned out to be a left-handed compliment when she asked how long I’d been dyeing it.

  • This expression uses left-handed in the sense of “questionable or doubtful,” a usage dating from about 1600.

A Cock-And-Bull Story

A fanciful and unbelievable tale

A Casting Votes

  • Decisive vote

  • The speaker used his casting vote in the favour of proposition

A Swan Song

  • A farewell or final appearance, action, or work.

  • The beautiful legendary song sung only once by a swan in its lifetime, as it is dying.

  • I’m resigning tomorrow; this project was my swan song.

All Cars

A Skeleton in the Cupboard

If you have a skeleton in the cupboard, or in the closet, you have a secret in your past which could damage you if it became known.

An Axe to Grind

  • A selfish aim or motive the article criticized the new software, but the author had an axe to grind, as its manufacturer had fired his son.

  • This frequently used idiom comes from a story by Charles Miner, published in 1811, about a boy who was flattered into turning the grindstone for a man sharpening his axe.

  • He worked hard until the school bell rang, whereupon the man, instead of thanking the boy, began to scold him for being late and told him to hurry to school.

  • “Having an axe to grind” then came into figurative use for having a personal motive for some action. [Mid-1800s]

At One’S Beck and Call

Ready to comply with any wish or command

A Turn Coats

One who goes to work / fight / play for the opposing side, traitor

A Wild Goose Chases

  • A futile search or pursuit I think she sent us on a wild goose chase looking for their beach house.

  • This idiom originally referred to a form of 16th-century horse racing requiring riders to follow a leader in a particular formation (presumably resembling a flock of geese in flight). Its figurative use dates from about 1600.

A Wild Goose Chases

A worthless hunt or chase; a futile pursuit

A Bird’S Eye-View

If you have a bird’s eye view of something, you can see it perfectly clearly.

A Fair Weather Friends

A fair-weather friend is the type who is always there when times are good but forgets about you when things get difficult or problems crop up.

A Square Meal

A substantial or complete meal these airlines never feed you; I haven’t had a square meal on one yet. [Mid-1800s].

At Times

Occasionally, sometimes Away from home for the first time, Mary was homesick at times. [Early 1500s].

At Cross Purposes

  • When people are at cross purposes, they misunderstand each other or have different or opposing objectives with aims or goals that conflict or interfere with one another I’m afraid the two departments are working at cross purposes.

  • This idiom, first recorded in 1688, may have begun as a 17th-century parlor game called “cross-purposes,” in which a series of subjects (or questions) were divided from their explanations (or answers) and distributed around the room. Players then created absurdities by combining a subject taken from one person with an explanation taken from another.

A Bad Hat

Someone who deliberately stirs up trouble

A Cock and Bull Story

  • An unbelievable tale that is intended to deceive; a tall tale Jack told us some cock and bull story about getting lost.

  • This expression may come from a folk tale involving these two animals, or from the name of an English inn where travellers told such tales.

  • W.S. Gilbert used it in The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), where Jack Point and Wilfred the Jailer make up a story about the hero’s fictitious death: “Tell a tale of cock and bull, of convincing detail full.” [c. 1600]

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