English Idioms: From Put Your Foot down to Sting in the Tail, Set in

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Put Your Foot Down

When someone puts their foot down, they make a firm stand and establish their authority on an issue.

Petticoat Government

Palm Off

  • Pass off by deception, substitute with intent to deceive the salesman tried to palm off a zircon as a diamond. The producer tried to palm her off as a star from the Metropolitan Opera.
  • This expression alludes to concealing something in the palm of one՚s hand. It replaced the earlier palm on in the early 1800s.

Play Truant

To stay away from school without permission

Play Down

  • Make little of, minimize the importance of A skilful salesman plays down the drawbacks of the product and emphasizes its good features. [First half of 1900s]
  • Play down to
  • Lower one՚s standards to meet the demands of someone
  • Some stand-up comics deliberately play down to the vulgar taste of their audiences. [Late 1800s]


Close enough to go directly to a target

Plain Sailing

  • Easy going: straightforward, unobstructed progress the first few months were difficult, but I think its plain sailing from here on.
  • Alluding to navigating waters free of hazards, such as rocks or other obstructions, this term was transferred to other activities in the early 1800s.

Playing to the Gallery

If someone plays to the gallery, they say or do things that will make them popular at the expense of more important issues

Run Riot (Wild)

  • Behave in a frenzied, out-of-control, or unrestrained manner I was afraid that if I left the toddler alone, she would run amok and have a hard time calming down. The weeds are running riot in the lawn the children were running wild in the playground.
  • Amok comes from a Malay word for “frenzied” and was adopted into English, and at first spelled amuck, in the second half of the 1600s.
  • Run riot dates from the early 1500s and derives from an earlier sense, that is, a hound՚s following an animal scent. Run wild alludes to an animal reverting to its natural, uncultivated state; its figurative use dates from the late 1700s.

Sell like Hot Cakes

If something is selling like hotcakes, it is very popular and selling very well.

Stare in the Face/Look in the Face

Be glaringly obvious, although initially overlooked the solution to the problem had been staring me in the face all along. I wouldn՚t know a Tibetan terrier if it looked me in the face. [Late 1600s]

Storm in a Tea Cup

If someone exaggerates a problem or makes a small problem seem far greater than it really is, then they are making a storm in a teacup

Steal a March on Someone

To get ahead of, especially by quiet enterprise.

Swan Song

A person՚s swansong is their final achievement or public appearance.

Set One՚s Cap At

  • Pursue someone romantically we all thought Anne had set her cap for Joe, but we were wrong.
  • In the 1700s this term, which may have alluded to donning one՚s best headgear, was applied to members of either sex, but by the early 1800s it generally described a woman chasing a man. It is probably obsolescent.

Salt Something Away

  • Keep in reserve, store, save
  • He salted away most of his earnings in a bank account. This idiom alludes to using salt as a food preservative. [Mid-1800s]

Solved Idioms

Set One՚s Cap down at Heel

  • Also, on someone՚s heels. Immediately behind, in close pursuit.
  • Literal use Jean՚s dog was always at her heels.
  • Figurative use although his company dominated the technology, he always felt that his competitors were on his heels.
  • This idiom appeared in the 14th -century romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
  • The expression is sometimes intensified as hard on someone՚s heels or hot on someone՚s heels

Spade a Spade

  • Speak frankly and bluntly, be explicit you can always trust Mary to call a spade a spade.
  • This term comes from a Greek saying, call a bowl a bowl that was mistranslated into Latin by Erasmus and came into English in the 1500s.

Set the Pace

  • Establish a standard for others to follow Jim has set the pace for the department, exceeding the monthly quota every time.
  • This expression comes from racing, where it is said of a horse that passes the others and leads the field. It was transferred to other activities in the early 1900s.

Steal the Show/Steal the Spotlight

  • Be the centre of attention the speeches were interesting, but Eliza՚s singing stole the show.
  • This idiom alludes to unexpectedly outshining the rest of the cast in a theatrical production. [First half of 1900s] .


Characterized by clear, precise expression in few words; concise and terse a succinct reply; a succinct style.

Sting in the Tail

Set In

  • Insert, put in I still have to set in the sleeves and then the sweater will be done. [Late 1300s]
  • Begin to happen or become apparent Darkness was setting in as I left. [c. 1700]
  • Move toward the shore, said of wind or water the tide sets in very quickly here. [Early 1700s]