a ballpark figure a guess about a number; your best estimate “I don’t know how much it costs, but my ballpark figure is about $300.”
a bitter pill to swallow a situation or information that is unpleasant but must be accepted “When my house burned down it was a bitter pill to swallow, but I got through it.”
a dime a dozen anything that is common, inexpensive, and easy to get or available anywhere. “Another white, skinny pop star with blonde hair? Please, they are a dime a dozen.”
a drop in the bucket a very small contribution to something larger “I donated $10 to the library. I know it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s all I can give right now.”
a place at the table a reserved place for someone to sit at a table; an all-inclusive invitation “You are welcome to come over any time. There’s always a place at the table for you here.”
a ray of sunshine a person or thing that brings happiness into the lives of others “I’m definitely not a ray of sunshine until after I drink my morning coffee.”
a rip off a grossly overpriced article “$20 for a cocktail?! What a rip-off!”
ace in the hole a hidden or secret strength, or unrevealed advantage “He thought he had me beat, but I’ve still got an ace in the hole – the dagger in my boot!”
Achilles’ heel a metaphor for a fatal weakness in spite of overall strength “Chocolate is really my Achilles’ heel. I just can’t stop eating it when I’m on a diet.”
actions speak louder than words what you do is more important than what you say “Beth has been saying that she will quit smoking for years, but actions speak louder than words. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
add fuel to flames make a volatile situation worse “Sally and Molly were already upset that someone ate all their Halloween candy, so when they found out that the soda was gone too, it just added fuel to the flames.”
add insult to injury to further a loss with mockery or indignity; to worsen an unfavorable situation. “It was bad enough that I had terrible acne, but when I got braces too, it was just adding insult to injury.”
all bets are off agreements that have been made no longer apply “If Bob doesn’t do what he promised, then all bets are off.”
all ears listening intently; fully focused or awaiting an explanation. “You may deliver your monologue now, I’m all ears.”
all hell broke loose everything suddenly becomes chaotic “Everything was fine until the dog got into the chicken coop. Then all hell broke loose.”
all keyed up nervous; tense; excited “I’m all keyed up after that double espresso.”
all over the map all over the place; off topic; no clear direction “Yikes, that meeting was all over the map. He talked about finance, compassion, the football game, everything!”
all that Jazz and all that stuff “He said I was experienced and all that jazz”
all thumbs clumsy, awkward “He dropped the tray and broke all the glasses. He’s all thumbs.”
at each other’s throats describes people that are fighting a lot “Jane and Joe have been at each other’s throats ever since they broke up.”
at the drop of a hat without any hesitation; instantly “I can leave anytime at the drop of a hat.”
at the end of (your) rope the limit of your patience “We have got to get a babysitter for these kids. I’m at the end of my rope!”
back to square one back to the beginning “After the test rocket exploded, we had to go back to square one.”
back to the drawing board when an attempt fails and you must start over “We tested our theory, but it didn’t work so we went back to the drawing board.”
backseat driver someone who gives unwarranted advice to the driver of a car “My mom is such a backseat driver! She’s always telling me what to do when she’s in my car.”
barking up the wrong tree looking in the wrong place “If you’re looking for true love in a club, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
basket case one made powerless or ineffective, as by nerves, panic, or stress “When Bob broke up with his girlfriend, he was a basket case for days.”
be glued to the tube watch TV incessantly without taking a break “Go play outside! You’re always glued to the tube!”
be in line for to be likely to get something “Who’s next in line for the throne?”
beat around the bush to avoid answering a question; to stall; to waste time “Alexander is always beating around the bush. I wish he would give me a straight answer.”
behind the eight ball in a difficult situation or tight spot “She felt desperate playing behind the eight ball.”
bend over backwards try very hard to do something or help someone “I’m not going to bend over backwards because you forgot to do your assignment.”
bet your bottom dollar be very sure about something “You can bet your bottom dollar that I will arrive on time.”
bite off more than you can chew take on more responsibilities than you can manage “I’m taking 20 units this semester. I’ve really bitten off more than I can chew.”
bite the bullet to endure a painful or unpleasant situation that is unavoidable “I’ll just bite the bullet and tell my boss that I’m quitting.”
bite the dust euphemism for dying or death (irreverent; impolite) “When did Aunt Janie bite the dust?”
bite your tongue stay silent even if you would rather speak out “My cousin tried to draw me into a debate about politics, but I just bit my tongue.”
blow things out of proportion exaggerate; make something seem more important than it is “Don’t blow things out of proportion! I forgot to load the dishwasher, but you shouldn’t be angry about something so small.”
blue moon (once in a blue moon) something rare (rarely) “I only go to the movies once in a blue moon.”
break a leg good luck (for theatre only) “Don’t forget to say ‘break a leg’ before she goes on stage!”
break the ice do something to overcome shyness and awkwardness “Let’s play a game to break the ice.”
breaking news a current issue that broadcasters feel warrants the interruption of scheduled programming and/or current news in order to report its details “Pardon this interruption, we have breaking news about Fukushima.”
brush up on review, refresh your memory “I really need to brush up on my literary theory before I write this essay.”
burn the midnight oil to work late into the night, alluding to the time before electric lighting. “I’ve been burning the midnight oil to plan all my lessons.”
bust one’s chops to say things intended to harass. “Chris was busting my chops all night so I told him he had to go”
by the seat of one’s pants to achieve through instinct or do something without advance preparation. “I got an ‘A’ in that class by the seat of my pants!”
by the skin of one’s teeth narrowly; barely. Usually used in regard to a narrow escape from a disaster. “I survived the hike through the desert by the skin of my teeth.”
call it a day to declare the end of a task. “Let’s call it a day. We’ve done as much as we can.”
call it a night to declare the end of a nighttime task “Well, it was a great party, but let’s call it a night. I have to work in the morning.”
can of worms a very difficult issue or set of problems; an array of difficulties; something you don’t want to talk about “John’s divorce? Don’t open up that can of worms at the dinner table.”
cat nap a short period of sleep “Doctors say that cat naps are good for you.”
catch something on TV watch something on TV “I want to catch the 6 o’clock news”
catch you later goodbye; see you later “I have to go to class now, but I’ll catch you later!”
caught with your hand in the cookie jar to be caught doing something wrong; guilty with evidence “We put out a security camera and caught the perpetrator with his hand in the cookie jar!”
change your tune change your mind, attitude “I thought my professor hated me, but she really changed her tune when I did that extra credit assignment.”
chew someone out verbally scold someone “Bobby’s parents really chewed him out for skipping school.”
chew the fat to chat idly or generally waste time talking “We chewed the fat until midnight.”
chink in one’s armor an area of vulnerability “There must be a chink in his armor somewhere.”
chomp at the bit be impatient; show frustration when delayed “We packed up all our snow gear and now I’m chomping at the bit to get up to the ski slopes.”
chow down eat heartily “I’m starving, let’s chow down!”
circle the wagons bring everyone together to defend against an attack “Circle the wagons! Here comes the door-to-door evangelist!”
clam up to become silent; to stop talking, to shut up “Fisher clams up if you ask him about his love life.”
close but no cigar close to success but ultimately unsuccessful “Close but no cigar. The other team won in overtime.”
cold shoulder to display aloofness and disdain “She invited me to coffee, but I gave her the cold shoulder.”
come clean confess; reveal the truth “Sally came clean about the embezzling she had done.”
come hell or high water any difficult situation “I will finish the hike come hell or high water.”
Couch potato A lazy person who spends too much time on the couch “Joe is such a couch potato! He plays ‘Call of Duty’ all day.”
country mile an unspecified distance longer than a mile “I could hear them singing a country mile away.”
cry over spilt milk complain or regret about something that you can no longer change “It’s no use crying over spilt milk. I’ll just have to find a new job.”
cry wolf raise a false alarm “US news outlets often say that North Korea is about to start a war, but they are just crying wolf.”
cut a rug to dance “Watching ‘Dancing with the Stars’ makes me want to cut a rug.”
cut the cheese to pass gas, fart, break wind (irreverent; informal) “What is that smell? Did someone cut the cheese?”
cut to the chase to focus on what is important; to abandon the preliminaries and deal with the major points “Let’s cut to the chase. Who broke the glass?”
dark horse something previously unknown that becomes successful “Vampire Weekend was kind of a dark horse, but now they’re one of the biggest indie bands.”
dead ringer identical, duplicate “That Elvis impersonator is a real dead ringer! He looks exactly like Elvis.”
devil’s advocate someone who takes a position for the sake of argument without actually believing it. “Don’t play devil’s advocate just because you want to argue with me.”
different strokes for different folks different people like different things “Some people drink Bailey’s in a glass, while others would rather drink it from a shoe. Different strokes for different folks.”
dirt cheap very cheap “My boyfriend buys all his clothes at the thrift store. Everything is dirt cheap there.”
do the trick achieve desired results “When we jump started the car, it really did the trick.”
dog days of summer the hottest days of summer “It’s hard to leave the air-conditioned house during the dog days of summer.”
(don’t) have a cow (don’t) overreact “Dad had a cow when we broke his favorite DVD.”
don’t look a gift horse in the mouth if someone gives you a gift, be grateful and don’t criticize the gift “I didn’t really want another turtleneck sweater for my birthday, but I never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
(don’t) put all your eggs in one basket (don’t) make everything dependent on only one thing; don’t place all one’s resources in one place, account, etc. “Don’t put your eggs in one basket! It’s better to diversify.”
don’t sweat the small stuff don’t worry about unimportant things “Don’t sweat the small stuff! There are more important things to worry about than whether your car has a scratch.”
down-to-earth humble “Barack Obama seems like a real down-to-earth kind of guy.”
down to the wire until the very last moment that it is possible to do something “We were down to the wire on that last assignment but we turned it in just in time.
drink like a fish drink a lot of alcohol “My buddy Alex drinks like a fish, but other than that he is a total health nut.”
drive someone up a wall bother someone “My neighbors are driving me up the wall with their loud music.”
dropping like flies when many people fall ill “Yikes, another co-worker got the flu! They’re dropping like flies.”
Elvis has left the building a phrase that was often used to disperse audiences who lingered in hopes of an Elvis encore. Nowadays people use it to say that someone has left or that something is over “When the curtains come down and the lights come up, you know that Elvis has left the building.”
excuse my French an apology for swearing “Well shit-howdy! Oh, pardon my French.”
face the music accept the unpleasant consequences of your actions “I robbed many banks but now it’s time to face the music.”
feeding frenzy an aggressive attack on someone by a group “When the company found out that the CEO had been embezzling money, it was a real feeding frenzy. The workers, the press, everyone was criticizing her.”
feel like a million dollars feel really great “I feel like a million dollars after getting that promotion.”
fit as a fiddle in good physical health “My Granny does yoga and she’s fit as a fiddle.”
fly-by-night business a derisive term for businesses that appear to be transient and/or untrustworthy “I wouldn’t eat there. It seems like a fly-by-night kind of establishment.”
for a song almost free; very cheap “I bought my TV at a garage sale. They were letting it go for a song.”
for the birds boring and uninteresting “Some people think marriage is for the birds. They would rather stay single.”
french kiss kiss deeply with tongue “It seems like every James Bond movie is full of french kissing.”
fresh as a daisy healthy and full of energy “I feel fresh as a daisy after I’ve had my coffee.”
from A to Z covering a complete range; comprehensively “This guidebook tells you everything you need to know from A to Z.”
from the get-go from the beginning “I liked learning English from the get-go.”
get bent out of shape to take offense; to get worked up, aggravated, or annoyed “Kyle is bent out of shape because his cell phone broke.”
get in someone’s hair bother and annoy “I don’t like to babysit. Kids always get in my hair.”
get off someone’s back stop bothering someone “Get off my back! I’m tired of you telling me what to do all the time.”
get some shut-eye sleep “After a day like that I need to get some shut-eye
get the ax lose a job “Bummer. Sophie is going to get the ax today.”
get the ball rolling start something; initiate “Let’s get the ball rolling on our project. I have a lot of great ideas.”
get up on the wrong side of the bed wake up grumpy for no reason “I feel so annoyed! I must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.”
get your act together get organized and solve your own problems “Joe has been missing classes and forgetting his homework. He really needs to get his act together.”
get your foot in the door to complete the first step in a process. (Alludes to people selling things from door-to-door and blocking the door with a foot so it cannot be closed on them.) “If I can just get my foot in the door, I know I can get a job with the government.”
give someone a ring call on the phone “I’ll give you a ring tomorrow before I pick you up.”
give someone the cold shoulder be unfriendly or unresponsive to someone “He calls me everyday but I’m giving him the cold shoulder.”
go belly up fail (especially a business) “I knew that hipster donut place was going to go belly up when they started making everything bacon flavored.”
go over someone’s head too difficult for someone to understand “Olivia’s lecture on physics really went over my head.”
go to the dogs become run down; in need of repair “That shed in the backyard has really gone to the dogs. The roof is rotting.”
go under the knife get surgery “I’m going under the knife tomorrow to get my wisdom teeth out.”
green thumb ability to garden and make things grow “My boyfriend has a green thumb. His garden is gorgeous!”
gut feeling a personal, intuitive feeling or response “You should always trust your gut feeling.”
hang around To spend a lot of time with someone; to waste time with someone “Sally and I have been hanging around the coffee-shop all day, talking about the books we want to write someday.”
happy camper a happy person; a satisfied person “My dad was a happy camper when he saw the giant ice cream sundae he ordered.”
have a blast to have a good time or to enjoy oneself “I had a blast jumping off the rope swing!”
have a heart of gold to be very kind and loving “Grandma Marie has a heart of gold. She is always helping other people.”
have eyes in the back of one’s head someone can perceive things and events that are outside of their field of vision “Listen kids, I’ve got eyes in the back of my head, so don’t even try to cheat on the test.”
head over heels (in love) very much in love “I fell head over heels when I met my girlfriend, Lauren.”
hit the books study hard “Samantha really needs to hit the books this semester and bring her grades up.”
hit the nail on the head to be exactly right about something “You hit the nail on the head when you said that we need to revamp our business model.”
hit the road to leave “It’s time for me to go. I better hit the road.”
hit the sack /sheets/hay to go to bed “It’s midnight. I’m going to hit the sack.”
horse of a different color different matter; separate issue “I’m an expert on bird-calls but a duck’s quacking is a horse of a different color.”
icing on the cake an additional gain on something already good “Mia’s new work truck is awesome and the icing on the cake is that the payments are really low.”
if I had a nickel for every time… when something specific happens frequently “If I had a nickel for every time someone thought I was my sister, I’d be rich!”
if the shoe fits, wear it if a description applies to you, then accept it “People call me a nerd just because I play hours of Starcraft and attend every Star Wars convention in the state!” “If the shoe fits, wear it.”
in like Flynn having achieved a goal or gained access as desired “My boss told me I’m going to get a raise! I’m in like Flynn!”
in the red negative money; overdrawn bank account “After spending money at Christmas, I’m always in the red.”
is the Pope Catholic? an answer to an obvious question “Is it cold in winter?” “Is the Pope Catholic?”
Ivy league institute An association of eight universities and colleges in the northeast United States, comprising Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. “Stanford is not an Ivy League institute, but it’s still a really good school.”
jump down someone’s throat get angry and scold someone “Don’t jump down my throat just because I forgot to buy milk!”
jump the gun be hasty “I told him not to come over until 11, but he jumped the gun and arrived at 10.”
junk food food that is not healthy, especially packaged foods full of fat, sugar, and salt. “Lots of people eat junk food on Super Bowl Sunday. Chips, dip, nachos, and fried chicken wings are all popular choices.”
keep your head above water avoid succumbing to difficulties, typically debt “Keep your head above water and save your money.”
kick the bucket die (irreverent) “Dick Cheney is still alive? When is he going to kick the bucket?”
kick up your heels cut loose, celebrate “When I graduate, I’m going to kick up my heels.”
kiss up to to flatter someone “I hate it when Laura kisses up to the boss.”
know the ropes knowledge of how to do something; how to work something “As soon as I know the ropes I’m going to be a great employee.”
let the cat out of the bag tell a secret “I let the cat out of the bag when I told my dad that I got him a yoga mat for his birthday.”
level playing field a situation that is fair to all; a situation where everyone has the same opportunity “We need to give boys and girls a level playing field so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”
like a chicken with its head cut off frantic; with no clear direction “Sorry I haven’t called you back, I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
like white on rice someone or something that sticks to you very closely “Stick to the suspect like white on rice.”
long time, no see it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other. “John! Long time no see!” “I know! It’s been 5 years at least.”
lose one’s touch to no longer be able to do something well “I used to bake delicious cookies, but it’s been so long, I think I’ve lost my touch.”
lounge around to pass time idly some place “I am going to lounge around the house this morning and drink coffee and read books.”
made of money very rich “She bought her boyfriend a new Ferrari! She must be made of money.”
make ends meet to earn and spend equal amounts of money “Bridget has been working two jobs to make ends meet.”
make up your mind decide “Hurry and make up your mind about what you want to eat, the waitress is coming to take your order.”
mom and pop shop a small family owned business; something on a small scale “I could buy things cheaper on Amazon, but I prefer to give my business to the mom and pop shop down the street.”
more bang for your buck better value; get more for what you pay for “If you buy in bulk, you get more bang for your buck.”
mumbo jumbo language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment; magic or beliefs with questionable authenticity “So then Mindy started talking about curing AIDS with crystals and all that mumbo jumbo.”
my dogs are barking my feet hurt “We’ve been walking all day. My dogs are barking.”
new kid on the block the newest person in a group. “Harry just moved here, so he’s the new kid on the block.”
no picnic not easy “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was no picnic, but it was very rewarding.”
no room to swing a cat used in reference to a very confined space. “The bar was so crowded last night there was no room to swing a cat!”
off one’s rocker crazy; senile “My grandpa always thinks I’m a famous movie star. He’s really off his rocker.”
off the hook to escape a situation of responsibility, obligation, or danger “I found a substitute so I’m off the hook! I don’t have to teach tomorrow.”
off the record unofficial; informal. (Of comments to the press that one does not want reported.) “If I may speak off the record here, I believe that the suspect is guilty.”
on a first-come, first-serve basis the first people to arrive will be able to get the best choices; no reservations accepted “It’s first come, first served for these apple cider donuts.”
on the cheap without spending much money “It’s possible to travel on the cheap, you just have to be smart about where you stay and what you eat.”
on the same page thinking in a similar way “Emma called us in to make sure we’re all on the same page on the new advertising campaign.”
out of left field out of nowhere; unexpected “Then Madison said she was moving to Madagascar. It really came out of left field.”
out of the woods out of danger/difficulty “We survived the avalanche, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”
over my dead body you will do everything you can to prevent something from happening “You can go to Las Vegas over my dead body!”
over the top outrageous/ overdone “Lady Gaga’s outfits are over the top! She never wears anything normal!”
pass the buck to pass the blame (to someone else); to give the responsibility (to someone else) “My brother always tries to pass the buck when he gets in trouble.”
pay an arm and a leg pay too much [money] for something “I hate to have to pay an arm and a leg for a tank of gas.”
pay through the nose pay too much [money] for something “I’ve been paying through the nose just to keep my gas tank full.”
pedal to the medal accelerate (in a car) quickly “Yikes! There’s a tornado behind us! Put the pedal to the metal!”
play it by ear act spontaneously; (literally, to play music without reading the notes) “My sister never makes plans ahead of time. She just plays it by ear.”
prick up your ears listen carefully “Prick up your ears, students, I’m going to tell you how to conjugate a verb.”
pull a few strings to use influence (with someone to get something done) “My mom pulled a few strings to get me into the choir.”
pull my leg fool somebody with a ridiculous story “Peter said that Canadians drive on the left side of the road, but he was just pulling my leg.”
pull someone’s leg tease someone, make fun of someone “Hey, did you know that drinking water causes cancer?” “Come on, you’re just pulling my leg.”
put on your thinking cap start thinking carefully “Put on your thinking caps and let’s invent something!”
rags-to-riches when someone very poor becomes very rich “Do you know Dolly Parton? She has a real rags-to-riches story.”
raining cats and dogs raining hard “My mom refuses to drive when it’s raining cats and dogs.”
rake someone over the coals criticize someone harshly “After Bob forgot to lock the doors, his boss really raked him over the coals.”
right as rain perfect, well, absolutely right “I feel right as rain after getting over the flu.”
rule of thumb a general principle developed through experiential rather than scientific means “As a rule of thumb, I try to be home around midnight.”
saved by the bell saved in the nick of time from doing something undesirable. “The bell” can be a school bell, door bell, telephone ring, alarm clock etc… “I was having a terrible nightmare about zombies. They were about to eat me when my alarm went off. Saved by the bell!”
say uncle admit defeat “Just say uncle! We know you’re going to lose.”
science nerd an intelligent person who likes science “That Bill Nye the Science Guy is a real science nerd. I love him!”
sell like hot cakes if things are going like hot cakes, people are buying a lot of them very fast (often in continuous tenses) “Come get an autographed photo while you can! They’re selling like hot cakes!”
sharp as a tack very smart; clever “My grandma is 93 years old but she is sharp as a tack!”
shoot off one’s mouth talk too much (especially if the speaker really doesn’t know much about the topic) “Whenever I talk about politics, Matt always shoots off his mouth about family values, which has nothing to do with my political view.”
shoot the breeze to chat idly or generally waste time talking “I know we have to talk business, but I’m having a great time just shooting the breeze with you.”
show your stuff to demonstrate one’s talent “When I get on stage, I’m going to really show my stuff.”
sick as a dog very sick “I’m sick as a dog. I’ve had a fever all day.”
sit tight wait patiently “Just sit tight until the doctor can see you.”
smell a rat believe something suspicious is happening “The company’s charity funds went missing. I smell a rat.”
squeaky wheel gets the grease someone who complains a lot normally gets attention “I told the manufacturer I needed a refund and they gave it to me! The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
start from scratch to start from the very beginning; to start from nothing “Whenever I bake a cake, I start from scratch. I never use a cake mix in a box.”
stop on a dime (also turn on a time) something that stops quickly (often a vehicle) “Wow! Joe’s car gets from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds and it stops on a dime.”
straight from the horse’s mouth from a reliable source “Jackson told me himself that he is quitting his job. I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.”
take a backseat let other people take a more active and responsible part in an organization or a situation “I’m going to take a backseat on this project and see what the novices can come up with.”
take one for the team do something sacrificial for the greater good of the group “I’ll take one for the team tonight and be the designated driver.”
take someone to the cleaners to take someone’s money or property; to swindle someone “Be smart. Don’t get taken to the cleaners during your divorce.”
take someone under one’s wing protect someone, help someone, especially someone less experienced than you “When I first got this job, Paul really took me under his wing and showed me what to do.”
take the bull by the horns act decisively; control the situation “I took the bull by the horns and confronted my boss about his unfair business practices.”
that’s all she wrote something has ended and there’s no more to say “That’s all she wrote. Time to go home now, the movie’s over.”
the apple of your eye something or someone that you cherish above all others “I love to tell my boyfriend that he’s the apple of my eye.”
the ball’s in your court it’s your turn to do something “I called him first, so now the ball is in his court.”
the bigger they are, the harder they fall the more power or success a person has, the harder it is for them to accept losing it “A lot of child stars end up poor and alone. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
the early bird gets the worm arrive early for positive results “I got up at 6 to get the new novel in the series. The early bird gets the worm!”
the telephone is ringing off the hook the telephone is ringing non-stop “The phone has been ringing off the hook ever since the office announced our merger.”
the whole nine yards the full extent; the whole thing “My dad cooked a ham, potatoes, crème brûlée – the whole nine yards!”
through thick and thin in good times and bad times “I promise to stick by you through thick and thin.”
throw a curveball surprise someone with something new and difficult “Life really threw me a curveball when I found out I had cancer.”
tie the knot to get married “Ellen and Portia tied the knot years ago.”
tongue in cheek not serious; something said jokingly “Do you want a pet crocodile?” asked my mom, tongue in cheek.”
toy with an idea think about something in a casual way “I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to school, but I probably won’t actually do it.”
Uncle Sam the United States government “Uncle Sam sent me to Vietnam.”
under fire attacked and criticized heavily “We’re really under fire after posting that inappropriate picture.”
under lock and key stored securely “My parents always kept the alcohol under lock and key when I was growing up.”
under one’s breath said very quietly, in a whisper “Speak up! Don’t mumble things under your breath.”
under the radar unobserved, undetected “We’re just going to have to fly under the radar here, so everybody look casual.”
under the table untaxed income or illegal payments “When I was a part-time gardener, I got paid under the table.”
under the weather slightly sick “I hate working when I’m under the weather.”
up in the air undecided “Our plans are still up in the air, but we will decide what we are going to do soon.”
variety is the spice of life the more different things that you experience, the richer your life will be “Sue has worked three different jobs in the last five years and moved to three different countries. Variety really is the spice of life.”
wallflower a shy person that doesn’t like to dance “Henry is such a wallflower. He never wants to attract attention to himself.”
warm and fuzzy the feeling evoked as though you were enclosed in a warm and fuzzy blanket “When she tells me that she loves me I feel all warm and fuzzy.”
warm the cockles of one’s heart feel very happy and loved “It warms the cockles of my heart every time I look at my engagement ring.”
wash your hands (of something) disassociate yourself and accept no responsibility for what will happen “I wash my hands of the whole affair. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore.”
watching paint dry something really boring “I hate going to graduations. I would rather watch paint dry.”
water under the bridge something that has happened and cannot be changed “We broke up in 2002. It’s water under the bridge.”
way to go congratulations; good job “Way to go David! You broke the record for running the fastest mile!”
weak at the knees have a powerful emotional reaction to something; feel as though one may fall over “When I saw my daughter perform at Carnegie Hall I got all weak at the knees.”
wear many hats different roles or tasks to perform “When I plan a wedding, I wear many hats. I might be a counselor, financial advisor, caterer, florist, and photographer in one day.”
wear your heart on your sleeve show your emotions freely “It’s really obvious how Liam feels about you. He wears his heart on his sleeve.”
weather a storm to experience something and survive it “I hate Christmas. Every year I stay at home and weather the storm until January.”
wee hours the hours after midnight “I was up working on that paper until the wee hours of the night.”
weight off one’s shoulders relieved of a burden, normally something that has been troubling you or worrying you “It was such a weight off my shoulders when I found out I wasn’t going to be laid off.”
when it rains, it pours when things go wrong, a lot of things go wrong at the same time. “When it rains, it pours. Three different professors assigned big papers and my boss told me I have to work overtime.”
whole ball of wax everything “After the divorce, my husband took everything: the whole ball of wax.”
without a doubt for certain “Scientists know without a doubt that the glaciers are melting.”
work like a dog work really hard “My girlfriend works like a dog, but she makes 100K a year.”
work your fingers to the bone work really hard “It’s tough to work retail! I’ve been working my fingers to the bone every day!”
wrench in the works ruin a plan; serious setback “We were supposed to arrive yesterday, but that snowstorm threw a real wrench in the works.”
X marks the spot where something is located or hidden “At last! This is the place we have to dig to find the buried treasure. X marks the spot!”
yell bloody murder scream loudly “I screamed bloody murder when I saw the rat in my kitchen.”
you are what you eat if you eat healthy food, you will be healthy. If you eat unhealthy food, you will be unhealthy “I feel terrible. I ate pork skins all day yesterday.” “Well, you are what you eat.”
you can say that again wholehearted agreement; that is true “The news says that it’s the coldest day of the year today.” “You can say that again, it’s freezing out there!”
you can’t take it with you when you die, you don’t need your possessions; your possessions are not as important as you think they are “I keep telling my grandma to stop hoarding things, because she can’t take it with her.”
your guess is as good as mine I have no idea; you have as much information as I do “Will it rain tomorrow?” “Your guess is as good as mine.”
zero tolerance no crime or infraction will be tolerated “We have a zero tolerance policy on cigarettes.”
zip one’s lip keep quiet about something “Zip your lip! I can hear someone coming.”