English Idioms: From Have Your Cake and Eat Too to Iron Out

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Have Your Cake and Eat Too

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

Hang in the Balance

  • Be in a precarious condition or in a state of suspense the doctor said her life was hanging in the balance.

  • This expression alludes to the suspended balance scale where an object is placed in one pan and weights are added one by one to the other pan until the two are balanced.

Hang up, Hang up On

  • Suspend on a hook or hanger, as in Let me hang up your coat for you. [c. 1300] Replace a telephone receiver in its cradle; end a phone conversation she hung up the phone He hung up on her. [Early 1900s]

  • Delay or hinder; also, become halted or snagged Budget problems hung up the project for months. Traffic was hung up for miles. [Second half of 1800s]

  • Have or cause to have emotional difficulties being robbed at gunpoint can hang one up for years to come. [Slang; early 1900s]

  • Obsessed with for years the FBI was hung up on Communist spies. [First half of 1900s]

  • Hang up one’s sword or gloves or fiddle

  • Quit, retire He’s hanging up his sword next year and moving to Florida.

  • The noun in these expressions refers to the profession one is leaving—sword for the military, gloves for boxing, and fiddle for music—but they all are used quite loosely as well, as in the example.

  • Hang up one’s hat

  • Settle somewhere, reside “Eight hundred a year, and as nice a house as any gentleman could wish to hang up his hat in” (Anthony Trollope, The Warden, 1855).

Hard and Fast

  • Defined, fixed, invariable we have hard and fast rules for this procedure. There is no hard and fast rule to start a computer

  • This term originally was applied to a vessel that has come out of water, either by running aground or being put in dry dock and is therefore unable to move. By the mid-1800s it was being used figuratively.

Hoist on One’s Own Petard

  • If you are hoist with your own petard, you get into trouble or caught in a trap that you had set for someone else.

  • 10- Live on the fat of the land

  • The best or richest of anything the tiny upper class lived off the fat of the land while many of the poor were starving.

  • This expression alludes to fat in the sense of “the best or richest part”. The Bible has it as eat the fat of the land (Genesis 45:18).

Horse-Trading

  • Negotiation marked by hard bargaining and shrewd exchange the restaurant owner is famous for his horse trading; he’s just exchanged a month of free dinners for a month of free television commercials.

  • This expression alludes to the notorious shrewdness of horse traders, who literally bought and sold horses. [c. 1820].

Hilarious Detract From

Holding Out the Olive Branch

If you hold out or offer an olive branch, you make a gesture to indicate that you want peace.

Hang Up

Hold on, suspend; end a telephone conversation

Hobson’s Choice

  • An apparently free choice that actually offers no alternative my dad said if I wanted the car I could have it tonight or not at all—that’s Hobson’s choice.

  • This expression alludes to Thomas Hobson of Cambridge, England, who rented horses and allowed each customer to take only the horse nearest the stable door. [Mid-1600s]

In a Pickle

If you are in a pickle, you are in some trouble or a mess.

In Good Books

If someone is in your good books, you are pleased with or think highly of them at the moment.

In One’s Bones

  • Have an intuition or hunch about something I’m sure he’ll succeed—I can feel it in my bones.

  • This expression alludes to the age-old notion that persons with a healed broken bone or with arthritis experience bone pain before rain, due to a drop in barometric pressure, and therefore can predict a weather change.

Iconoclast

  • One who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions.

  • One who destroys sacred religious images?

  • He was an iconoclast who refused to be bound by tradition.

In a Nutshell

  • Concisely, in a few words here’s our proposal—in a nutshell, we want to sell the business to you.

  • This hyperbolic expression alludes to the Roman writer Pliny’s description of Homer’s Iliad being copied in so tiny a hand that it could fit in a nutshell.

  • For a time, it referred to anything compressed, but from the 1500s on it referred mainly to written or spoken words.

In the Doldrums

  • Depressed, dull and listless Dean’s in the doldrums for most of every winter.

  • This expression alludes to the maritime doldrums, a belt of calms and light winds north of the equator in which sailing ships were often becalmed. [Early 1800s]

In a Blue Funk

  • In a state of panic or terror just because the bride’s mother is late, you needn’t get in a blue funk.

  • This term originated in the mid-1700s as in a funk, the adjective blue, meaning “affected with fear or anxiety”, being added a century later.

  • In a state of dejection, sad Anne has been in a blue funk since her dog died.

  • This usage employs blue in the sense of “sad”—a meaning that first emerged in the late 1300s.

In Black and White

When it is very clear who or what is right and wrong, then the situation is black and white.

It Never Rains but It Pours

When things go wrong, they go very wrong.

Iron Out

  • Work out, resolve, and settle they managed to iron out all the problems with the new production process.

  • John and Mary finally ironed out their differences.

  • This expression uses ironing wrinkled fabric as a metaphor for smoothing differences. [Mid1800s]