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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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take a picture

Photograph, as in I'd love to take a picture of your garden. This idiom was first used in the 1600s for making a drawing or other portrayal. It was transferred to photography in the mid-1800s.

take a poke at

Hit with one's fist, as in If you don't quit teasing I'll take a poke at you. [Colloquial; c. 1930]

take a powder

Make a speedy departure, run away, as in I looked around and he was gone?

he'd taken a powder. This slangy idiom may be derived from the British dialect sense of powder as "a sudden hurry," a usage dating from about 1600. It may also allude to the explosive quality of gunpowder.

take a rain check

hand. see RAIN CHECK.

take as gospel Also, take for gospel. Believe absolutely, regard as true, as in We took every word of his as gospel, but in fact he was often mistaken. This idiom, first recorded in 1496, uses gospel in the sense of the absolute truth. Also see GOSPEL TRUTH.

take a shellacking

Be soundly beaten or defeated, as in Our team took quite a shellacking last night. Why being coated with shellac should suggest defeat is not clear. [Slang; c. 1930]

take a shine to

hand. see TAKE A FANCY.

take aside Also, take to one side. Talk to another privately or away from others, as in The doctor took Pat aside to explain what she had to do, or The boss took William to one side rather than criticize his work in front of his colleagues.

take a spill

hand. see TAKE A FALL.

take a stand

Adopt a firm position about an issue, as in She was more than willing to take a stand on abortion rights. This idiom alludes to the military sense of stand, "hold one's ground against an enemy." [Mid-1800s] Also see MAKE A STAND.

take at face value

hand. see AT FACE VALUE.

take a turn for the better

Improve, as in We thought she was on her deathbed but now she's taken a turn for the better. The antonym is take a turn for the worse, meaning "get worse, deteriorate," as in Unemployment has been fairly low lately, but now the economy's taken a turn for the worse. This idiom employs turn in the sense of "a reversal," a usage dating from about 1600.

take a walk

Leave abruptly, walk out. For example, If she's rude again I'm just going to take a walk, or The director would not put up with tantrums and ordered the young actress to take a walk. [Colloquial; late 1800s] Also see TAKE A HIKE.

take away from

Detract, as in Her straggly hair takes away from her otherwise attractive appearance. [Second half of 1800s]

take a whack at

hand. see HAVE A CRACK AT.

take back

1. Retract a statement, as in I said you weren't much of a cook but after that dinner I take it all back. This usage was first recorded in 1775. 2. take one back. Return in thought to a past time, as in That music takes me back to the first dance I ever went to. [Late 1800s]

take by storm

Make a vivid impression on, quickly win popular acclaim or renown, as in The new rock group took the town by storm. This usage transfers the original military meaning of the phrase, "assault in a violent attack," to more peaceful endeavors. [Mid-1800s]

take by surprise

Encounter unexpectedly, as in The rainshower took us by surprise. [Late 1600s]

take care

1. Be careful, use caution, as in Take care or you will slip on the ice. [Late 1500s] 2. Good-bye, as in I have to go now; take care. This apparent abbreviation of take care of yourself is used both orally and in writing, where it sometimes replaces the conventional Sincerely or Love in signing off correspondence. [Colloquial; 1960s]

take care of

1. Attend to, assume responsibility for, as in Go ahead to the movies, I'll take care of parking the car, or They've hired someone to take care of the children for a week. [Late 1500s] 2. Beat up or kill someone, as in If he didn't pay up they threatened to take care of him and his family. [Slang; c. 1930]

take charge

Assume control, command, or responsibility, as in I'll take charge of selling the

tickets if you'll do the publicity, or They're not happy about the counselor who took charge of the children. [Late 1300s]

take cover

Seek protection, find a hiding place, as in It started to pour so we took cover under the trees, or He wanted to avoid the reporters so we said he could take cover in our summer cottage. This term uses cover in the sense of ''shelter" or "concealment," a usage dating from the 1400s.

take doing

Require considerable effort, as in It'll take doing to get the whole house painted in a week. This expression sometimes is put as take some doing, as in You want the President to come? That'll take some doing! [First half of 1900s]

take down

1. Bring from a higher position to a lower one, as in After the sale they took down all the signs. [c. 1300] 2. Take apart, dismantle, as in They took down the scaffolding. [Mid-1500s] 3. Humble or

humiliate; see TAKE DOWN A NOTCH. 4. Record in writing, as in Please take down all these price quotations. [Early 1700s]

take down a notch Also, take down a peg. Deflate or humble someone, as in He's so arrogant that I wish someone would take him down a notch, or That defeat took them down a peg. Both notch and peg in this idiom allude to a series, the former of indentations, the latter of knobs, used to raise or lower something. Specifically, peg alludes to the pegs used to lower a ship's colors. Their figurative use dates from the second half of the 1600s. Also see CUT DOWN, def. 4.

take effect

hand. see IN EFFECT, def. 2.

take exception to

Disagree with, object to, as in I take exception to that remark about unfair practices. This idiom, first recorded in 1542, uses exception in the sense of "objection," a meaning obsolete except in a few phrases.

take five

Relax, take some time off from what one is doing, as in We've been at it long enough; let's take five. This term is short for "take five minutes off." [Slang; first half of 1900s] For a synonym, see


take flight Also, take wing. Run away, flee, go away, as in When the militia arrived, the demonstrators took flight, or The tenant took wing

before paying the rent. The first idiom derives from the earlier take one's flight, dating from the late 1300s, and was first recorded in 1435. The variant was first recorded in 1704.

take for

1. Regard as, as in Do you take me for a fool? [First half of 1400s] 2. Consider mistakenly, as in

Don't take our silence for approval, or I think they took us for foreigners. [Second half of 1500s]


take for a ride


take for gospel

hand. see TAKE AS GOSPEL.

take for granted

1. Consider as true or real, anticipate correctly, as in I took it for granted that they'd offer to pay for their share but I was wrong. [c. 1600] 2. Underestimate the value of, become used to, as in

The editors felt that the publisher was taking them for granted.

take heart

Be confident, be brave, as in Take heart, we may still win this game. This idiom uses heart in the sense of "courage." [First half of 1500s]

take hold

1. Grasp, as in Take hold of this end of the rope. [Late 1500s] 2. Become established, as in The new vines quickly took hold, or This idea will never take hold with the voters. [c. 1300]

take ill

hand. see GET SICK.

take in

1. Admit, receive as a guest or employee, as in They offered to take in two of the orphaned children. [First half of 1500s] 2. Reduce in size, make smaller or shorter, as in I've lost some weight so I'll have to take in my clothes. [Early 1500s] 3. Include or constitute, as in This list takes in all the members, past and present. [Mid-1600s] 4. Understand, as in I couldn't take in all that French dialogue in the movie. [Second half of 1600s] 5. Deceive, swindle, as in That alleged fundraiser took me in completely. [First half of 1700s] 6. Look at thoroughly, as in We want to take in all the sights. [First half of 1700s] 7. Accept work to be done at home, as in His grandmother took in washing to support her children. [First half of 1800s] 8. Receive as proceeds, as in We had a good audience; how much did we take in? [Late 1800s] Also see the following entries beginning

with TAKE IN.

take in good part

hand. see IN GOOD PART.

take in hand

Deal with, assume control of, as in He's going to take their debts in hand and see if they need to declare bankruptcy, or Once the new teacher takes them in hand this class will do much better. [c.

1300] Also see IN HAND, def. 2.

take in stride

Accept something as a matter of course, not allow something to interrupt or disturb one's routine. For example, There were bound to be setbacks but Jack took them in stride. This idiom alludes to a horse clearing an obstacle without checking its stride. [c. 1900]

take into account Also, take account of; take into consideration. Bear in mind, consider, allow for, as in We have to take into account that ten of the musicians were absent, or It's important to take account of where the audience is coming from, or When you take into consideration the fact that they were founded only a year ago, they've done very well. Take into consideration is the oldest of these expressions, dating from the mid-1500s. Take into account and take account of date from the late 1600s. The antonyms, leave out of account or take no account of, mean "ignore, pay no attention to," as in They've left the most important item out of account. [Second half of 1800s] All of these idioms use account in the sense of "reckoning" or "calculation," and consideration in the sense of "regard for the circumstances."

take into one's confidence

Trust someone with a secret, as in She took me into her confidence and admitted that she was quitting next month. This idiom uses confidence in the sense of "trust," a usage dating from the late 1500s.

take into one's head

hand. see GET INTO ONE'S HEAD.

take into one's own hands


take issue with

Disagree with, as in I take issue with those figures; they don't include last month's sales. This idiom comes from legal terminology, where it was originally put as to join issue, meaning "take the opposite side of a case." [Late 1600s]

take it

1. Understand, as in I take it they won't accept your proposal. [Early 1500s] 2. Endure abuse, criticism, harsh treatment, or unpleasantness, as in Tell me what you really think of me?

I can take it. [Mid-1800s] This phrase is sometimes modified as take just so much, meaning "endure only up to a point." For example, I can take just so much of this nonsense before I lose

patience. Also see TAKE IT ON THE CHIN; TAKE LYING DOWN. 3. Accept or believe something, as in I'll take it on the doctor's say-so.

Also see the subsequent entries beginning with TAKE IT.

take it easy

Don't hurry, proceed at a comfortable pace, relax. For example, Take it easy?

we don't have to be there till noon, or Bruce decided to take it easy this weekend and put off working on the house. [Mid-1800s]

take it from here Also, take it from there. Continue from a certain point onwards, as in I've done what I could with correcting the blatant errors; you'll have to take it from here. [Mid-1900s]

take it from me Also, you can take it from me. Rest assured, believe me, as in You can take it from me, we've been working hard on it. This idiom was first recorded in 1622 in slightly different form, take it upon my word. The current form appeared in 1672.

take it on the chin

Suffer adversity or defeat, as in Paul really took it on the chin today when he got fired for missing a deadline. This idiom alludes to taking a physical blow on the chin. [First half of 1900s]

take it or leave it

Accept or reject unconditionally, as in I'm asking $1,000 for this computer?

take it or leave it. This term, used to indicate one's final offer, was first recorded in 1576.

take it out of one

Exhaust or fatigue one, as in This construction job really takes it out of me. This idiom alludes to depleting one's energy. [Mid-1800s]

take it out on Also, take something out on. Vent one's frustration or anger on a person or object. For example, I know you're furious about your grades but don't take it out on me. [First half of 1800s]

take its toll

Be damaging or harmful, cause loss or destruction, as in The civil war has taken its toll on both sides, or The heavy truck traffic has taken its toll on the highways. This expression transfers the taking of toll, a tribute or tax, to exacting other costs. [Late 1800s]

take it upon oneself Also, take on oneself. Undertake something, as in I took it upon myself to count the precise number of children in the audience, or She took it on herself to enter a convent.

[Second half of 1400s]

take kindly to

Be receptive to, attracted by, or pleased with, as in He'll take kindly to the criticism if it's constructive, or Henry won't take kindly to your stepping on his newly planted grass. This idiom uses kindly in the sense of "in a pleasant or agreeable manner." [c. 1800]

take leave of

1. Also, take one's leave of. Depart from, say good-bye to. For example, Sorry but I have to take leave of you now, or After the movie we'll take our leave of you. [Mid-1200s] 2. take leave of one's senses. Behave irrationally, act crazy, as in Give them the keys to the house? Have you taken leave of your senses? [Late 1800s] Also see COME TO ONE'S SENSES.

take liberties

1.Behave improperly or disrespectfully; also, make unwanted sexual advances. For example, He doesn't allow staff members to take liberties, such as calling clients by their first names, or She decided that if Jack tried to take liberties with her she would go straight home. This idiom uses liberties in the sense of "an overstepping of propriety," and thus differs markedly

from TAKE THE LIBERTY OF. [c. 1700]

2.Make a statement or take an action not warranted by the facts or circumstances, as in Their book takes liberties with the historical record.

take lying down

Submit to an insult, rebuke, or other harsh treatment without resisting, as in He won't take that snub lying down.

This idiom uses lying down in the sense of "passively." [Late 1800s] Also see TAKE IT, def. 2.

taken aback

hand. see TAKE ABACK.

take no for an answer, not

Not accept a refusal, be persistent in demanding something, as in I want you to show me the statements and I won't take no for an answer. This idiom was first recorded in 1930 in Winston Churchill's My Early Life: "Don't take no for an answer, never submit to failure."

take note Also, take notice. Pay attention, as in Take note, not one man here is wearing a tie, or The aide took notice of the boys throwing spitballs and reported them. An antonym is take no notice of, meaning "ignore," as in Take no notice of them and they'll stop teasing you. [Late 1500s] Also see TAKE NOTES.

take notes Also, make notes. Record one's observations or what one hears in order to help recall them later. For example, Jim never takes notes in class and I think he'll regret it, or The decorator made notes of window measurements and other dimensions. [Mid-1500s] Also see


taken with, be

Be attracted to or charmed by, as in I was quite taken with those watercolors, or The composer seemed to be taken with the young soprano who performed his songs. [First half of 1500s]

take off

1.Remove, as in Take off your coat and stay for a while, or I took my foot off the brake. [c. 1300]

2.Deduct, decrease, as in He took 20 percent off the original price, or I want you to trim my hair, but please don't take off too much. [c. 1700] 3. Carry or take away, as in The passengers were taken off one by one. [Late 1800s] 4. Also, take oneself off. Leave, go away, as in I'm taking off now, or We take ourselves off for China next month, or, as an imperative, Take yourself off right now! [First half of 1800s] 5. Move forward quickly, as in The dog took off after the car. 6. Become well known or popular, or achieve sudden growth, as in That actor's career has really taken off, or

Sales took off around the holidays. [Mid-1900s] 7. Rise in flight, as in The airplane took off on time. [Mid-1800s] 8. Discontinue, as in The railroad took off the commuter special. [Mid-1700s] 9. Imitate humorously or satirically, as in He had a way of taking off the governor that made us howl with laughter. [Mid-1700s] 10. Withhold service, as in I'm taking off from work today because of the funeral. [First half of 1900s]

take offense

Feel resentment or emotional pain, as in I didn't realize he'd take offense when he wasn't invited.


take office

Assume an official position or employment, as in The new chair takes office after the first of the year. [Mid-1800s]

take off one's hands

hand. see OFF ONE'S HANDS.

take off one's hat to

hand. see TAKE ONE'S HAT OFF.

take on

1. Undertake or begin to deal with, as in I took on new responsibilities, or She took on too much when she accepted both assignments. [Early 1300s] 2. Hire, engage, as in We take on extra workers during the busy season. [Early 1600s] 3. Oppose in competition, as in This young wrestler was willing to take on all comers. [Late 1800s] 4. Display strong emotion, as in Don't take on so.

[Colloquial; early 1400s]

5. Acquire as, or as if, one's own, as in He took on the look of a prosperous banker. [Late 1700s]

take one's breath away

Astonish or shock one, with pleasure, surprise, or some other emotion. For example, That beautiful display just takes my breath away. This idiom alludes to the way one holds one's breath when overcome with sudden emotion. [Mid-1800s]

take one's chances

Accept the risks, resign oneself to whatever happens, as in I've no idea whether this scheme will work; I'll just take my chances. [Early 1300s]

take one's cue from

Follow the lead of another, as in I'm not sure what to bring, so I'll take my cue from you. This expression, first recorded in 1622, alludes to the cue giving an actor a signal to speak.

take one's hat off to Also, take off one's hat to. Express one's admiration, as in I take off my hat to you?

you've done very well indeed. [Mid-1800s] Also see HATS OFF TO.

take one's leave

hand. see TAKE LEAVE OF.

take one's medicine

Put up with unpleasantness, learn one's lesson. For example, After failing math, he had to take his medicine and go to summer school. This idiom uses medicine in the sense of "a bitter-tasting remedy." [Mid-1800s]

take one's time

Act slowly or at one's leisure, as in You can take your time altering that dress; I don't need it right away. [Late 1700s]

take one's word for


take on faith

hand. see ON FAITH.

take on oneself


take out

1. Extract, remove, as in He should take out that splinter. [c. 1300] 2. Secure by applying to an authority, as in She took out a real estate license. [Late 1600s] 3. Escort on a date, as in He's been taking out a different girl every night of the week. [c. 1600] 4. Give vent to; see TAKE IT OUT

ON. 5. Carry away for use elsewhere, as in Can we get some pizza to take out? 6. Obtain as an equivalent in different form, as in We took out the money she owed us by having her babysit. [Early 1600s] 7. Set out, as in Jan and Herb took out for

the beach, or The police took out after the suspects. [Mid-1800s] 8. Kill, destroy, as in Two snipers took out a whole platoon, or Flying low, the plane took out the enemy bunker in one pass. [1930s] 9. See under TAKE OUT OF.

take out of


take over

Assume control, management, or possession of, as in The pilot told his copilot to take over the controls, or There's a secret bid to take over our company. [Late 1800s]

take pains

hand. see AT PAINS.

take part

Play a role in, share in, participate, as in Will you be taking part in the wedding? or He did not take part in the discussion. [Late 1300s] Also see TAKE ONE'S PART.

take pity on Also, have pity on. Show compassion or mercy to, as in Take pity on the cook and eat that last piece of cake, or, as Miles Coverdale's 1535 translation of the Bible has it (Job 19:21), "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye, my friends." This idiom may be used half-jokingly, as in the first example, or seriously. [Late 1200s]

take place

1.Happen, occur, as in Let me know where the ceremony will take place. [Second half of 1700s]

2.take the place of. Substitute for, as in These glasses will have to take the place of wine goblets, or Jane took her sister's place in line. [Second half of 1800s]

take potluck

Come to eat whatever happens to be served; also, take one's chances. For example, You're welcome to join us for supper but you'll have to take potluck, or When the flight was canceled, passengers had to take potluck on other airlines. This idiom alludes to accepting whatever happens to be in the cooking pot. [Second half of 1700s]

take pride in


take root

Become established or fixed, as in We're not sure how the movement took root, but it did so very