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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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sure to break. [c. 1600] 2. Engage in improper or secret dealings, as in He was accused of tampering with the jury. [c. 1600]

tangent

hand. see ON A TANGENT.

tank

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with TANK, also see THINK TANK.

tank up

1.Fill a gas tank with fuel, as in As soon as we tank up the car we can leave. [First half of 1900s]

2.Drink to the point of intoxication. F. Scott Fitzgerald used this expression in The Great Gatsby (1926): "I think he'd tanked up a good deal at luncheon." This expression often is put in the passive, meaning "be or become intoxicated," as in My roommate really got tanked up last night. [Slang; c. 1900]

tan someone's hide Also, have someone's hide. Spank or beat someone, as in Dad said he'd tan Billy's hide if he caught him smoking, or I'll have your hide if you take something without paying for it. This term uses hide in the sense of "skin." The allusion in the first expression is to a spanking that will change one's skin just as chemicals tan animal hide (convert it into leather). [Second half of 1600s]

tap

hand. see ON TAP.

tape

hand. see RED TAPE.

taper off

1. Become thinner or narrower at one end, as in The road began to taper off until it was just a narrow path. [c. 1600] 2. Diminish or lessen gradually, end by degrees, as in The storm finally tapered off. [Mid-1800s]

tar

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with TAR, also see BEAT THE LIVING

DAY-LIGHTS (TAR) OUT OF.

tar and feather

Criticize severely, punish, as in The traditionalists often want to tar and feather those who don't conform. This expression alludes to a former brutal punishment in which a person was smeared with tar and covered with feathers, which then stuck. It was first used as a punishment for theft in the English navy, recorded in the Ordinance of Richard I in 1189, and by the mid-1700s had

become mob practice. The figurative usage dates from the mid-1800s.

target

hand. see ON TARGET; SITTING DUCK (TARGET).

tarred with the same brush

Having the same faults or bad qualities, as in He may be lazy, but if you ask me his friends are all tarred with the same brush. This term is thought to come from sheep farming, where the animals' sores were treated by brushing tar over them, and all the sheep in a flock were treated in the same way. The term was transferred to likeness in human beings in the early 1800s.

task

hand. see TAKE TO TASK.

taste

hand. see ACQUIRED TASTE; DOSE (TASTE) OF ONE'S OWN MEDICINE; LEAVE A BAD TASTE IN ONE'S MOUTH; NO ACCOUNTING FOR TASTES; POOR TASTE.

tat

hand. see TIT FOR TAT.

tax

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with TAX, also see DEATH AND TAXES.

tax with

Charge, accuse, as in He was taxed with betraying his fellows. [Mid-1600s] tea

hand. see CUP OF TEA; NOT FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA; TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT.

teach a lesson

Punish in order to prevent a recurrence of bad behavior. For example, Timmy set the wastebasket on fire; that should teach him a lesson about playing with matches. This term uses lesson in the sense of "a punishment or rebuke," a usage dating from the late 1500s. Also see LEARN ONE'S

LESSON.

teach an old dog new tricks

Change longstanding habits or ways, especially in an old person. For example, His grandmother avoids using the microwave oven?

you can't teach an old dog new tricks. This expression, alluding to the difficulty of changing one's ways, was first recorded in 1523 in a book of husbandry, where it was used literally. By 1546 a version of it appeared in John Heywood's proverb collection.

teacher's pet

A person who has gained favor with authority, as in Al has managed to be teacher's pet in any job he has held. This expression transfers the original sense of a teacher's favorite pupil to broader use. [1920s]

team up with

Form an association with, as in Our pediatrician is teaming up with specialists in such areas as orthopedics and cardiology. This expression alludes to the harnessing together of draft animals, such as oxen. [First half of 1900s]

teapot

hand. see TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT.

tear

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with TEAR, also see RIP (TEAR) INTO; WEAR

AND TEAR. Also see under TEARS; TORN.

tear apart

1. Upset or make distraught, as in The parents' divorce tore apart the grandparents. [Second half of 1800s] 2. Criticize severely, as in The professor tore her paper apart. [Mid-1900s] 3. Search some place completely, as in The police tore the house apart.

[Second half of 1900s] 4. Separate, especially unwillingly, as in The war tore many families apart.

tear around

Move about in excited or angry haste, as in He tore around the house, looking for the dog. [Second half of 1700s]

tear at

1. Pull at or attack violently, as in Jane eagerly tore at the wrapping paper, or The dog tore at the meat. [Mid-1800s] 2. Distress, as in Their plight tore at his heart.

tear away

Remove oneself unwillingly or reluctantly, as in I couldn't tear myself away from that painting. [Late 1700s]

tear down

1. Demolish, take apart, as in They tore down the old tenements, or He loved to tear down old engines. [Early 1600s] 2. Vilify or discredit, as in He's always tearing down someone or other.

[First half of 1900s]

tear into

hand. see RIP INTO.

tear it

Ruin something, spoil one's chances, as in She knew she'd torn it when she lost the address. It is often put as that tears it, as in He's a whole week late?

well, that tears it for the September issue. [Colloquial; early 1900s]

tear off

1. Produce hurriedly and casually, as in He tore off a poem a day for an entire month. 2. Leave in a hurry, as in She tore off to the store because it was about to close. [c. 1900]

tear one's hair Also, tear out one's hair. Be greatly upset or distressed, as in I'm tearing my hair over these errors. This expression alludes to literally tearing out one's hair in a frenzy of

grief or anger, a usage dating from A.D. 1000. Today it is generally hyperbolic.

tears

hand. see BORE TO DEATH (TEARS); BURST INTO (TEARS); CROCODILE TEARS. Also see under TEAR.

tease out

Lure out, obtain or extract with effort, as in We had a hard time teasing the wedding date out of him. This term alludes to the literal sense of tease, "untangle or release something with a pointed tool." [Mid1900s]

tee off

1. Start or begin, as in We teed off the fundraising drive with a banquet. This usage is a metaphor taken from golf, where tee off means "start play by driving a golf ball from the tee." [Second half of 1900s] 2. Make angry or irritated, as in That rude comment teed him off, or I was teed off because it rained all weekend. [Slang; mid-1900s] Also see TICK OFF.

teeth

hand. see ARMED TO THE TEETH; BARE ONE'S TEETH; BY THE SKIN OF ONE'S TEETH; CUT ONE'S TEETH ON; FED TO THE GILLS (TEETH); FLY IN THE FACE (TEETH) OF; GIVE ONE'S EYETEETH; GNASH ONE'S TEETH; GRIT ONE'S TEETH; IN THE TEETH OF; KICK IN THE PANTS (TEETH); LIE THROUGH ONE'S TEETH; LIKE PULLING TEETH; SCARCE AS HEN'S TEETH; SET ONE'S TEETH ON EDGE; SINK ONE'S TEETH INTO; TO THE TEETH. Also see under TOOTH.

tell

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with TELL, also see DO TELL; KISS AND

TELL; SHOW AND TELL; SOMETHING TELLS ME; THERE'S NO TELLING; THING OR TWO, TELL A; TIME WILL TELL; WHICH IS WHICH, TELL; YOU NEVER CAN TELL; YOU' RE TELLING ME. Also see under TOLD.

tell apart

Discern or distinguish, as in It's hard to tell the twins apart. [First half of 1900s] tell a thing or two

hand. see THING OR TWO.

tell it like it is

Speak the truth, no matter how unpleasant. For example, We're obligated to tell it like it is to the stockholders. [Slang; second half of 1900s]

tell it to the Marines

Go fool someone else because I won't believe that. For example, He's a millionaire? Tell it to the Marines!

This term originated among British sailors, who regarded marines as naive and gullible. [c. 1800]

tell me Also, tell me about it. I know, I agree with you, as in Since the layoffs I have been overloaded with work??

Tell me! or We had a hard time finding the place.Tell me about it! It took me all morning. Identical to a literal request to be told about something, this expression must be distinguished from it by the context and the speaker's tone. [Colloquial; second half of 1900s]

tell off

Rebuke severely, reprimand, as in It's time someone told her off about her behavior. There is also a synonymous expression, tell someone where to get off, as in When he called back a third time, I told him where to get off. [Colloquial; early 1900s] Also see GET OFF, def. 7.

tell on

Tattle on, inform on, as in Marjorie said she'd tell on him if he pulled her hair again. This seemingly modern term appeared in a 1539 translation of the Bible (I Samuel 27:11): "David saved neither man nor woman . . . for fear (said he) lest they should tell on us."

tell someone where to get off

see TELL OFF.

tell tales

Divulge secrets, as in Don't trust him; he's apt to tell tales. This expression was first recorded

about 1350. A variant, tell tales out of school, first recorded in 1530, presumably alluded to schoolchildren gossiping but was soon broadened to revealing secret or private information. Both may be obsolescent.

tell time

Keep track of the hours; also, know how to read a clock or watch. For example, This old clock still tells time quite accurately, or He taught his niece to tell time by using a cuckoo clock. This expression uses tell in the sense of "reckon" or "calculate," a usage dating from about A.D. 1000.

temper

hand. see HOLD ONE'S TEMPER; LOSE ONE'S TEMPER.

temperature

hand. see RUN A FEVER (TEMPERATURE).

tempest in a teapot Also, tempest in a teacup. A great disturbance or uproar over a matter of little or no importance. For example, All that because a handful of the thousand invited guests didn't show up? What a tempest in a teapot! This expression has appeared in slightly different forms for more than 300 years. Among the variations are storm in a cream bowl, tempest in a glass of water, and storm in a hand-wash basin. The British prefer storm in a teacup. The current American forms were first recorded in 1854. For a synonym, see MUCH ADO ABOUT

NOTHING.

tempt fate Also, tempt the fates. Take a severe risk, as in It's tempting fate to start up that mountain so late in the day, or Patrice thought driving that old car was tempting the fates; it was sure to break down. This expression uses tempt in the sense of "test in a way that involves risk or danger." Earlier idioms with a similar meaning were tempt God, dating from the 1300s, and tempt fortune, first recorded in 1603, with fate appearing about 1700.

ten

hand. see COUNT TO TEN; NOT TOUCH WITH A TEN-FOOT POLE.

tender

hand. see LEAVE TO SOMEONE'S TENDER MERCIES.

tender age

A young age, as in It's a great advantage to learn languages at a tender age. [Early 1300s]

tender loving care Also, TLC. Solicitous and compassionate care, as in These houseplants sure have had tender loving care, or Older

house for sale, needs some renovation and TLC. Originally used to describe the work of

caregivers such as nurses, this term today is often used ironically or

euphemistically. [Second half of 1900s]

tender mercies

hand. see LEAVE TO SOMEONE'S TENDER MERCIES.

tend to

1. Apply one's attention, as in We should tend to our business, which is to teach youngsters. This term uses tend in the sense of "attend." [1300s] 2. Be disposed or inclined, as in We tend to believe whatever we are told. This term uses tend in the sense of "have a tendency." [c. 1600]

tenterhooks

hand. see ON TENTERHOOKS.

terms

hand. see BRING TO TERMS; COME TO TERMS WITH; CONTRADICTION IN TERMS; IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS; IN TERMS OF; ON GOOD TERMS; ON SPEAKING TERMS.

territory

hand. see COME WITH THE TERRITORY; COVER THE FIELD (TERRITORY).

terror

hand. see HOLY TERROR.

test

hand. see ACID TEST; PUT TO THE TEST.

tether

hand. see END OF ONE'S ROPE (TETHER).

than

hand. see ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS; BARK IS WORSE THAN ONE'S BITE; BETTER LATE THAN NEVER; BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY; BETTER THAN; BITE OFF MORE THAN ONE CAN CHEW; BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER; EASIER SAID THAN DONE; EYES ARE BIGGER THAN ONE'S STOMACH; IN (LESS THAN) NO TIME; IRONS IN THE FIRE, MORE THAN ONE; LESS THAN; MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE; MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF MONKEYS; MORE IN SORROW THAN IN ANGER; MORE OFTEN THAN NOT; MORE SINNED AGAINST THAN SINNING; MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE; MORE THAN ONE BARGAINED

FOR; MORE THAN ONE CAN SHAKE A STICK AT; MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT; NONE OTHER THAN; NO SOONER SAID THAN DONE; OTHER THAN; QUICKER THAN YOU CAN SAY JACK ROBINSON; WEAR ANOTHER (MORE THAN ONE) HAT.

thank

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with THANK, also see GIVE THANKS FOR

SMALL BLESSINGS.

thank God Also, thank goodness or heaven. I'm grateful, as in Thank God you arrived safely, or We didn't, thank goodness, run out of food, or Thank heaven the book arrived on time. These ejaculations originally expressed gratitude to divine providence but today tend to be used in a more casual way. [c. 1200]

thank one's lucky stars

Be grateful for good fortune, as in I thank my lucky stars that I wasn't on that plane that crashed.

This phrase, which reflects the ancient belief in the influence of stars over human destinies, appeared in slightly different form in Ben Jonson's play Every Man Out of His Humour (1599): "I thank my Stars for it." The exact locution dates from the 1800s and is more a general expression of relief than of belief in the stars' protection. Also see THANK GOD.

thanks to

On account of, because of, as in Thanks to your help, we'll be done on time. This phrase alludes to gratitude being due to someone or something. It is also put negatively, no thanks to, meaning "without the benefit of help from," as in We finally found your house, no thanks to the confusing map you drew. This usage, first recorded in 1633, is about a hundred years older than the first term, recorded only in 1737.

that

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with THAT, also see ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS

WELL; ALL THAT; ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD; AND ALL (THAT); AS FAR AS THAT GOES; AT THAT POINT; AT THIS (THAT) RATE; AT THIS (THAT) STAGE; BE THAT AS IT MAY; BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU; CROSS A (THAT) BRIDGE; FOR THAT MATTER; GAME THAT TWO CAN PLAY; HOW ABOUT THAT; HOW DOES THAT GRAB YOU; HOW'S THAT; IN ORDER (THAT); IN THAT; IS THAT A FACT; IT (THAT) FIGURES; JUST LIKE THAT; JUST THE (THAT'S THE) TICKET; LAST STRAW (THAT BREAKS); LIKE THAT; LOOK LIKE THE CAT THAT ATE THE CANARY; NOT ALL THAT; NOT BUILT THAT WAY; NOW THAT; ON CONDITION THAT; ON THE CHANCE (THAT); POWERS THAT BE; PUT THAT IN YOUR PIPE; SEEING THAT; SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT; SO THAT; SUFFICE IT TO SAY THAT; TEAR (THAT TEARS) IT; THIS AND THAT; TO THAT EFFECT; WHEN IT COMES TO (THAT); WOULD THAT; YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN.

that ain't hay

That's a great deal, especially of money; also, that's important. For example, He's making ten thousand a month, and that ain't hay. Originally used to describe a sum of money that is large, this phrase was later extended to other circumstances, as in She married a titled lord, and that ain't hay. [Colloquial; first half of 1900s]

that does it Also, that does the trick. The last requirement has been fulfilled; that accomplishes it. For example, That does it; we're ready to send in the application now, or That last screw does the trick?

it's fully assembled. Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1823) defines do the trick as "accomplish a robbery or other business successfully," and presumably the it in the first term stands for the trick. [Early 1800s] Also see THAT'S THAT.

that is Also, that is to say. To explain more clearly, in other words, as in It's on the first floor, that is, at street level, or We're coming next month, that is to say, in November. [Early 1600s] Also see under THAT'S.

that'll be the day

That will never happen, that's very unlikely, as in You think I'll win the lottery? That'll be the day! Presumably this phrase is short for that will be the day worth waiting for, but it is nearly always used ironically, as in the example. [Mid-1900s]

that makes two of us

I agree, me too, as in I'm sure it's going to rain.?

That makes two of us. [First half of 1900s]

that's about the size of it.

That sums up the situation; that's how things are. For example, So he's going to resign next month??

Yes, that's about the size of it, or Mary's applying to all those colleges??

That's about the size of it. A mid-19th century British expression that soon crossed the Atlantic, it appeared in Mark Twain's Tramp Abroad (1880): "'Bloodshed!' 'That's about the size of it,' I said."

that's ____ for you

This is the way something or someone is, as in She's changed her mind again; that's Mary for you, or They came close to winning but they lost; that's tennis for you.

that's how the ball bounces Also, that's the way the ball bounces or the cookie crumbles. That is the way matters have worked out and nothing can be done about it. For example, I'm sorry you got fired but that's how the ball bounces, or They wanted a baby girl but got a third boy?

that's the way the cookie crumbles. These phrases allude to an odd bounce or a crumbled cookie

that cannot be put back together. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]

that's one on me

That's a joke at my expense, as in And after all that discussion they didn't show up?

that's one on me. This phrase must be distinguished from that's a new one on me, which means "this is the first time I've heard of or seen that" (as in A checkerboard

rug?

that's a new one on me). Both idioms can be used with other personal pronouns (for example, that's one on you) and date from the early 1900s.

that's right

Yes; that's correct; I agree. For example, Are you leaving early??

That's right, I have to go now, or So you were classmates??

That's right. [c. 1900]

that's that Also, that takes care of that. There's no more to be said or done; the matter is finished, the issue is settled. For example, Dad's not buying you a television set, and that's that, or We've paid all we owe, and that takes care of that. [Early 1800s]

that's the beauty of

This is the most satisfactory feature of, as in And our vacations fall at the same time; that's the beauty of working in different law practices. [Mid-1700s]

that's the ticket

hand. see JUST THE TICKET.

that will do

That is enough, that will suffice, as in Please don't give me more peas; that will do, or That will do, children! There's to be no running near the pool. [Late 1800s]

the beauty of

hand. see under THAT'S THE BEAUTY OF.

the bigger they come

hand. see BIGGER THEY COME.

the breaks

Pieces of luck, turns of events, as in No matter how well he pitches, the team always makes fielding errors?