English Idioms: From to Bring to Mind to Take the Bull by the Horns

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To Bring to Mind

  • Cause to be remembered the film brought to mind the first time I ever climbed a mountain.

  • This idiom, first recorded in 1433, appears in Robert Burns’ familiar “Auld Lang Syne” (1788), in which the poet asks if old times should never be brought to mind.

To Call in Question / Call into Question

  • Dispute, challenge; also, cast doubt on how can you call her honesty into question?

  • This usage was first recorded in John Lyly’s Euphuise (1579): “That ... I should call in question the demeanour of all.”

To Cap It All / Cap It All Off

  • Finish or complete something to cap it all off they served three kinds of dessert.

  • Surpass or outdo something

  • This last story of Henry’s caps them all.

  • Both usages employ cap in the sense of “topping” something. [First half of 1800s]

To Clip One’S Wings

  • To end a person’s privileges; to take away someone’s power or freedom to do something my father said that if I didn’t start behaving, he was going to clip my wings.

  • In ancient Rome thousands of years ago, people clipped the wings of pet birds so that they couldn’t fly away. For centuries people have used the idiom “Clip one’s wings” to mean brings a person under control.

To Cross the Rubicon

  • Irrevocably commit to a course of action, make a fateful and final decision. Once he submitted his resignation, he had crossed the Rubicon.

  • This phrase alludes to Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon River (between Italy and Gaul) in 49 B.C., thereby starting a war against Pompey and the Roman Senate. Recounted in Plutarch’s Lives: Julius Caesar (c. A.D. 110), the crossing gave rise to the figurative English usage by the early 1600s.

To Feel the Pulse / Feel the Pulse Of

Try to determine the intentions or sentiments of a person or group these exit polls allegedly take the pulse of the voters, but I don’t believe they’re very meaningful. [First half of 1600s]

To Fly in the Face of / Fly in the Teeth Of

  • Act in direct opposition to or defiance of this decision flies in the face of all precedent. They went out without permission, flying in the teeth of house rules.

  • This metaphoric expression alludes to a physical attack. [Mid-1500s]

To Rise like a Phoenix from Its Ashes

  • In life we should all learn from the mistakes that we have made and try not to repeat them. We should not let sorrow overcome us and stand in our way. Learn to overcome hardships in life is all what life is worth living about.

  • After all that’s the definition of life. Hence the saying “rise like a phoenix from the ashes”

  • Phoenix is supposed to be a mythological bird of fire that is believed to die in flames and turn to ash. But then it comes back to life from the same ash.

The Last Ditch

  • A desperate final attempt we’re making a last-ditch effort to finish on time.

  • This expression alludes to the military sense of last ditch, “the last line of defence.” Its figurative use dates from the early 1800s.

The Backroom Boy

Men who play poker and smoke in a room at the back of the store when the police raided Gino’s they arrested four of the backroom boys.

Trudge Along

To Bear the Brunt Of

  • Put up with the worst of some bad circumstance it was the secretary who had to bear the brunt of the doctor’s anger.

  • This idiom uses brunt in the sense of “the main force of an enemy’s attack”, which was sustained by the front lines of the defenders. [Second half of 1700s]

To Call a Spade a Spade

A person who calls a spade a spade is one speaks frankly and makes little or no attempt to conceal their opinions or to spare the feelings of their audience.

To Fight Shy Of

  • Avoid meeting or confronting someone I have had to fight shy of invitations that would exhaust time and spirits”(Washington Irving, Life and Letters, 1821).

  • This usage may allude to a military reluctance to meet or engage with the enemy. [Late 1700s]

To Cry over the Spilt Milk

This idiom means that getting upset after something has gone wrong is pointless; it can’t be changed so it should be accepted.

To Burn the Candle at Both Ends

  • Someone who burns the candle at both ends lives life at a hectic pace, doing things which are likely to affect their health badly. Exhaust one’s energies or resources by leading a hectic life.

  • Joseph’s been burning the candle at both ends for weeks, working two jobs during the week and a third on weekends.

  • This metaphor originated in France and was translated into English in Randle Cotgrave’s Dictionary (1611), where it referred to dissipating one’s wealth. It soon acquired its present broader meaning.

To Rob Peter to Pay Paul

If you rob Peter to pay Paul, you try to solve one problem, but create another in doing so, often through short-term planning

To Take the Bull by the Horns

  • Taking a bull by its horns would be the most direct but also the most dangerous way to try to compete with such an animal.

  • When we use the phrase in everyday talk, we mean that the person we are talking about tackles their problems directly and is not worried about any risks involved.

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