English Idioms: From to Break a Lance with to Turn the Corner

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To Break a Lance With

To engage in a tilt or contest

To Foul of, (Foul Play)

  • Unfair or treacherous action, especially involving violence the police suspected he had met with foul play.

  • This term originally was and still is applied to unfair conduct in a sport or game and was being used figuratively by the late 1500s.

  • Shakespeare used it in The Tempest (1:2): “What foul play had we that we came from thence?”

To Keep Open House

To entertain friends at all times, to be hospitable

To Put Out of Countenance

Turn a New Leaf

  • Make a fresh start, change one’s conduct or attitude for the better He promised the teacher he would turn over a new leaf and behave himself in class.

  • This expression alludes to turning the page of a book to a new page. [Early 1500s].

To Die in Harness

  • Expire while working, keep working to the end He’ll never retire—he’ll die with his boots on. She knows she’ll never get promoted, but she wants to die in harness.

  • Both phrases probably allude to soldiers who died on active duty. Until the early 1600s the noun boot denoted a piece of Armor for the legs, which may have given rise to this usage.

  • Shakespeare used harness in the sense of Armor when he wrote: “At least we’ll die with harness on our back” (Macbeth 5:5).

To Raise Coin

To Strike One’S Colours

To carry the day Win, prevail at auctions the wealthiest bidders usually carry the day. [Late 1600s]

Taken down at Peg

If someone is taken down a peg (or taken down a peg or two), they lose status in the eyes of others because of something they have done wrong or badly.

To Monkey with in Hot Water

In trouble

To Pull Oneself Together

Regain one’s composure or self-control after that frightening episode, it took her a while to pull herself together. [Second half of 1800s]

To Rise from the Ranks / Come up through the Ranks

  • Work one’s way to the top He’s risen through the ranks, starting as a copy boy and ending up as senior editor.

  • Originally this term was used for an officer who had worked his way up from the rank of private, a rare feat. It was being applied to non-military advances by the mid-1800s

To Rub Shoulders

If you rub shoulders with people, you meet and spend time with them, especially when they are powerful or famous.

Thin End of the Wedge

The thin end of the wedge is something small and seemingly unimportant that will lead to something much bigger and more serious.

To Keep At

  • Persevere or persist at doing something. If you keep at your Math, you’ll soon master it.

  • It is also put as keep at it He kept at it all day and finally finished the report. [Early 1800s]

  • Keep at someone

  • Nag, harass, or annoy someone you have to keep at Carl if you want him to do the work. He keeps at Millie all the time.

To Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

If someone wants to have their cake and eat it too, they want everything their way, especially when their wishes are contradictory.

Time and Tide

  • One must not procrastinate, or delay let’s get on with the voting; time and tide won’t wait, you know.

  • This proverbial phrase, alluding to the fact that human events or concerns cannot stop the passage of time or the movement of the tides, first appeared about 1395 in Chaucer’s Prologue to the Clerk’s Tale.

  • The alliterative beginning, time and tide, was repeated in various contexts over the years but today survives only in the proverb, which is often shortened (as above).

To Live from Hand to Mouth

  • With only the bare essentials, existing precariously after she lost her job she was living from hand to mouth.

  • This expression alludes to eating immediately whatever is at hand. [c. 1500]

To Beat About the Bush

If someone doesn’t say clearly what they mean and try to make it hard to understand, they are beating about (around) the bush.

To Fish in Troubled Waters

  • Try to take advantage of a confused situation He often buys up stock in companies declaring bankruptcy; fishing in troubled waters generally pays off.

  • This term, first recorded in 1568, expresses the even older notion that fish bite more readily when seas are rough.

Turn Turtle

  • Capsize, turn upside down When they collided, the car turned turtle.

  • This expression alludes to the helplessness of a turtle turned on its back, where its shell can no longer protect it. [First half of 1800s]

Turn the Corner

  • Pass a milestone or critical point, begin to recover. Experts say the economy has turned the corner and is in the midst of an upturn. The doctor believes he’s turned the corner and is on the mend.

  • This expression alludes to passing around the corner in a race, particularly the last corner. [First half of 1800s]

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