English Idioms: From “to Make Out” to “Beat the Air or Beat the Wind”

Get top class preparation for UGC right from your home: Get detailed illustrated notes covering entire syllabus: point-by-point for high retention.

Download PDF of This Page (Size: 116K)

To Make Out

  • Discern or see, especially with difficulty I can hardly make out the number on the door. [Mid-1700s]

  • Manage, get along how did you make out with the accountant? This usage was first recorded in 1820.

  • Understand I can’t make out what she is trying to say. [Mid-1600s]

  • Establish or prove He made out that he was innocent. [Colloquial; mid-1600s]

  • Amply or suggest. This usage often occurs with an infinitive are you making me out to be a liar? [Colloquial; mid-1600s]

  • Write out, draw up; fill in a written form He made out the invoices, or Jane started making out job applications. This usage was first recorded in 1465

The Acid Tests

An acid test is something that proves whether something is good, effective, etc, or no

Twiddle With

  • To play with something; to play with something, using one’s fingers; to fiddle with something.

  • I asked Jason to stop twiddling with the pencils.

  • Someone is twiddling with the stereo controls.

To Hang Fire

  • Delay the advertising campaign is hanging fire until they decide how much to spend on it.

  • This expression originally referred to the 17th -century flintlock musket, where the priming powder ignited but often failed to explode the main charge, a result called hanging fire. [c. 1800]

To Put the Lid on or Keep the Lid On

  • Suppress I don’t know how but we’ll have to put the lid on that rumor about her. Let’s keep the lid on our suspicions.

  • The word lid here is used in the sense of “a cover for a container.” [Early 1900s]

To Pig Out

Eat ravenously, gorge oneself the kids pigged out on the candy they had collected on Halloween. [Slang; early 1970s]

The Tip of the Iceberg

Turn Someone In

The Lion’S Share

  • The greater part or most of something whenever they won a doubles match, Ethel claimed the lion’s share of the credit. As usual, Uncle Bob took the lion’s share of the cake.

  • This expression alludes to Aesop’s fable about a lion, who got all of a kill because its fellow hunters, an ass, fox, and wolf, were afraid to claim their share.

To Bring to Book

  • Call to account, investigate He was acquitted, but one day soon he’ll be brought to book. As for your records, the IRS is sure to bring you to book concerning your tax deductions.

  • This term uses book in the sense of “a written record,” such as an account book or ledger. [c. 1800]

To Read between the Lines

  • Perceive or detect a hidden meaning they say that everything is fine but reading between the lines I suspect they have some marital problems.

  • This term comes from cryptography, where in one code reading every second line of a message gives a different meaning from that of the entire text. [Mid-1800s]

To Stick to One’S Guns

  • Hold fast to a statement, opinion, or course of action the witness stuck to her guns about the exact time she was there.

  • This expression, originally put as stand to one’s guns, alluded to a gunner remaining by his post. Its figurative use dates from the mid-1800s.

To be under a Cloud

If someone is suspected of having done something wrong, they are under a cloud.

To Back Out, Back Away or Back Out of Something

  • Move or retreat backwards without turning, withdraw from a situation, or break an agreement or engagement.

  • After the announcement appeared in the papers, Mary found it doubly difficult to back out of her engagement to Todd. [Early 1800s]

To Keep Out Of

To Smell a Rat

If you smell a rat, you know instinctively that something is wrong or that someone is lying to you.

To Burn One’S Fingers

  • Harm oneself I’m staying away from risky stocks; I’ve burned my fingers often enough.

  • Some believe this expression came from a legend about a monkey who gets a cat to pull its chestnuts out of the fire (see cat’s paw); others hold it is from an English proverb: “Burn not thy fingers to snuff another’s candle” (James Howell, English Proverbs, 1659)

To Catch up With

  • Suddenly snatch or lift up the wind caught up the kite and sent it high above the trees. [First half of 1300s]

  • Catch up with

  • Come from behind, overtake

  • Literal: You run so fast it’s hard to catch up with you.

  • Figurative: The auditors finally caught up with the embezzler. [Mid-1800s]

  • Become involved with, enthralled by We all were caught up in the magical mood of that evening. [Mid-1600s]

  • Catch up on or with

  • Bring or get up to date Let’s get together soon and catch up on all the news. Tonight, I have to catch up with my correspondence. [First half of 1900s]

To Stand up For

  • Remain valid, sound, or durable His claim will not stand up in court. Our old car stood up well over time. [Mid-1900s]

  • Fail to keep a date or appointment with Al stood her up twice in the past week, and that will be the end of their relationship. [Colloquial; c. 1900].

To Beat the Air or Beat the Wind

  • Continue to make futile attempts, fight to no purpose the candidates for office were so much alike that we thought our vote amounted to beating the air.

  • These phrases call up a vivid image of someone flailing away at nothing. [Late 1300s]

Developed by: