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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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began to weigh upon us. This idiom was first recorded in 1775.

weigh one's words

Speak or write with deliberation or considerable care, as in The doctor weighed his words as he explained her illness. This term was first recorded in 1340.

weight

hand. see BY WEIGHT; CARRY WEIGHT; DEAD WEIGHT; PULL ONE'S WEIGHT; PUT ON WEIGHT; THROW ONE'S WEIGHT AROUND; WORTH ONE'S WEIGHT IN GOLD;

welcome

hand. see WARM WELCOME; WEAR OUT ONE'S WELCOME; YOU' RE WELCOME.

welcome mat

A friendly welcome, as in They put out the welcome mat for all new members. This expression alludes to a doormat with the word "Welcome" printed on it. [Mid-1900s]

welcome to, be

Be cordially or freely allowed to, as in You're most welcome to join us, or You're welcome to borrow my boat whenever you like. [1300s] Also see YOU' RE WELCOME.

well

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WELL, also see ALIVE AND KICKING

(WELL); ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL; ALL VERY WELL; AS WELL; AS WELL AS; AUGUR WELL FOR; DAMN WELL; DO WELL; FULL WELL; GET WELL; HAIL FELLOW WELL MET; HANGED FOR A SHEEP, MIGHT AS WELL BE; LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE; ONLY TOO (WELL); SIT WELL WITH; THINK A LOT (WELL) OF; TO A FARE-THEE-WELL; VERY WELL; WEAR WELL.

well and good

Acceptable, all right, as in If you can get a better discount elsewhere, well and good. This redundant phrase was first recorded in 1699.

well off

In fortunate circumstances, especially wealthy or prosperous, as in They're quite well off now. This phrase may be a shortening of come well off, that is, "emerge in good circumstances." [First half of 1600s]

well out of, be

Be lucky not to be involved with, as in You're well out of that marriage; he was never right for you.

This expression is a shortening of well to be out of.

well preserved

Aging gracefully, still in good condition, as in I can't believe she's 65; she's certainly well preserved. [Mid-1800s]

well's run dry, the

A supply or resource has been exhausted, as in There's no more principal left; the well's run dry, or There's not another novel in her; the well's run dry. This expression likens an underground water source to other plentiful sources. Benjamin Franklin used it in Poor Richard's Almanack (1757).

wend one's way

Proceed along a course, go, as in It's getting late; we had best wend our way home. [c. 1400]

west

hand. see GO WEST.

wet

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WET, also see ALL WET; GET ONE'S

FEET WET; LIKE (WET AS) A DROWNED RAT; MAD AS A HORNET (WET HEN).

wet behind the ears Also, not dry behind the ears. Immature, inexperienced, as in How can you take instructions from Tom? He's still wet behind the ears, or Jane's not dry behind the ears yet. This term alludes to the fact that the last place to dry in a newborn colt or calf is the indentation behind its ears. [Early 1900s]

wet blanket

A person who discourages enjoyment or enthusiasm, as in Don't be such a wet blanket?

the carnival will be fun! This ex

pression alludes to smothering a fire with a wet blanket. [Early 1800s]

wet one's whistle

Have a drink, as in I'm just going to wet my whistle before I go out on the tennis court. This expression uses whistle in the sense of "mouth" and may allude to the fact that it is very hard to whistle with dry lips. [Late 1300s]

we wuz robbed Also, we was robbed or we were robbed. We were cheated out of a victory; we were tricked or outsmarted. For example, That ball was inside the lines?

we wuz robbed! This expression, with its attempt to render nonstandard speech, has been attributed to fight manager Joe Jacobs (1896-1940), who uttered it on June 21, 1932, after his client, Max Schmeling, had clearly outboxed Jack Sharkey, only to have the heavy-weight title awarded to Sharkey. It is still used, most often in a sports context.

whack

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WHACK, also see HAVE A CRACK

(WHACK) AT; OUT OF KILTER (WHACK).

whacked out

1. Tired out, exhausted, as in They were whacked out after that long flight. [Slang; mid-1900s] 2. Crazy, especially under the influence of drugs. For example, She looked whacked out when the police picked her up. [Slang; mid-1900s]

whack off

1. Cut off, as in The cook whacked off the fish's head with one blow, or The barber whacked off more hair than I wanted him to. [Slang; first half of 1900s] 2. Masturbate, as in He went to his room and whacked off. [Vulgar slang; mid-1900s]

whale away

Attack physically or verbally, as in Our boys whaled away at the enemy, or The talk-show host whaled away at the hostile critics. The word whale here does not allude to the ocean mammal, but means "flog" or "thrash." [Mid-1800s]

whale of a time

A very enjoyable experience, as in We had a whale of a time in Puerto Rico. This idiom alludes to the largest mammal to describe something very large and impressive. [Colloquial; early 1900s]

what

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WHAT, also see COME WHAT MAY; FOR

ALL ONE IS (WHAT IT'S) WORTH; GET WHAT'S COMING TO ONE; IT'S (WHAT) A ZOO; JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED; KNOW THE SCORE (WHAT'S WHAT); LEFT HAND DOESN'T KNOW WHAT THE RIGHT HAND IS DOING; NO MATTER (WHAT); ON EARTH, WHAT; OR WHAT?; PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH; SAUCE FOR THE GOOSE IS SAUCE FOR THE GANDER, WHAT'S; SO WHAT; WHERE'S (WHAT'S) THE BEEF?; YOU KNOW SOMETHING (YOU KNOW WHAT).

what about

1. Would you like, as in What about another beer? or What about a game of bridge? 2. What do you think of, as in So what about renting that white house on the corner? 3. Why, concerning what, as in I need your frank opinion.?

What about? 4. what about it? What should we do, what course of action should be taken. For example, We're supposed to be there at noon and bring two sandwiches each?

now what about it? [First half of 1900s] Also see HOW ABOUT.

what do you know

What a surprise, as in What do you know, our suitcases are the first off the plane. [Early 1900s]

what do you take me for?

What sort of person do you think I am? For example, What do you take me for, an idiot? This expression dates from the mid-1800s.

whatever

hand. see OR WHATEVER.

what for

1. For what purpose or reason, why, as in I know you're going to England, but what for?

[Mid-1700s] 2. A punishment or scolding, as in You'll get what for from Mom if

she catches you smoking, or The teacher really gave Bud what for. [Colloquial; second half of 1800s]

what gives

hand. see WHAT'S COOKING; WHAT'S WITH.

what goes around comes around

hand. see FULL CIRCLE.

what have you

What remains and need not be mentioned; and the like. For example, The display room is full of stereos, TV's, and what have you. Although first recorded in 1920, this expression uses an archaic form of putting a question (using have you instead of do you have) as a noun clause, and what in the sense of "anything that." The synonym who knows what is much older, dating from about 1700; for example,

When we cleaned out the tool shed we found old grass seed, fertilizer, and who knows what other junk.

Also see OR WHATEVER.

what if

Suppose that, as in What if the speaker doesn't get here in time? This expression is in effect a shortening of "what would happen if." It was first recorded about 1420.

what in the world

hand. see under ON EARTH.

what is more Also, what's more. In addition, furthermore, as in I never got there; what's more, I never really intended to go. [First half of 1800s]

what it takes

The necessary expertise or qualities, as in She's got what it takes to make a good doctor, or

Inherited wealth is what it takes to maintain that lifestyle. This idiom uses what in the sense of "that which" and take in the sense of "require." [1920s]

what makes one tick

What makes one function characteristically, what motivates one, as in We've never figured out what makes these chess players tick. This expression alludes to tick in the sense of "function as an operating mechanism, such as a clock." [Colloquial; first half of 1900s]

what of it? Also, what's it to you? What does it matter? Also, how does it concern or interest you? For example, I know I don't need another coat but what of it??

I like this one, or What's it to you how many hours I sleep at night? The first term, a synonym of

so WHAT, dates from the late 1500s; the second, another way of saying "mind your own business," dates from the early 1900s.

what's cooking Also, what's new (with you); what's up; what gives. What's going on, what is happening, as in What's cooking at the office these days? or What's new at your house? or Why are all those cars honking their horns? What's up? or Are you really going to France next week?

What gives? The first expression, slang from about 1940, transfers the process of preparing food to other processes. The first variant, a version of "what news are there," dates from the same period and was given added currency by a popular film and song, What's New, Pussycat? (1965); the title itself became an idiom for a time, what's new, pussycat? The second variant, a colloquialism from the first half of the 1900s, gained currency in the 1940s from Bugs Bunny cartoons in which the rabbit repeatedly says "What's up, Doc?" The last variant, what gives, may derive from the German equivalent, Was gibt's? Slang from about 1940, it is also used to mean "how are you," as in Hello Jack?

what gives? Also see WHAT'S WITH.

what's done is done

There is no changing something; it's finished or final. For example, I forgot to include my dividend income in my tax return but what's done is done?

I've already mailed the form. This expression uses done in the sense of "ended" or "settled," a usage dating from the first half of the 1400s.

what's eating you Also, what's bugging you. What is annoying or bothering you? For example,

We've conceded just about every point, so what's eating you now? or You're in a terrible mood?

what's bugging you? The first slangy term, dating from the late 1800s, presumably uses eat in the sense of "consume"; the colloquial variant, from about 1940, uses bug in the sense of "annoy."

Also see WHAT'S WITH.

what's it to you

hand. see WHAT OF IT.

what's new

hand. see WHAT'S COOKING.

what's the good of Also, what's the use of. What purpose or advantage is there in, as in

What's the good of crying when you can't do anything about it? or What's the use of getting a doctorate in philosophy when you won't be able to get a job afterward? This idiom was first recorded in 1701.

what's the idea Also, what's the big idea; the very idea. What do you think you are doing? What foolishness do you have in mind? For example, What's the idea of taking the car without permission? or You've invited yourself along? What's the big idea? or Take a two-year-old up Mount Washington? The very idea! These phrases, all implying the speaker's disapproval, use idea in the sense of "what one has in mind." The first two date from about 1900; the third is heard more in Britain than America.

what's the matter

what's the matter? or Can you tell me what's the matter with my car? This idiom uses matter in the sense of "the essence of something," in this case a problem. It was first recorded in 1469. Also see

WHAT'S WITH.

What is the difficulty or problem? What troubles or ails you? For example, You look upset?

what's up

hand. see WHAT'S COOKING.

what's what

hand. see KNOW WHAT'S WHAT.

what's with Also, what's up with; what gives with. What is going on with; tell me about or explain it. For example, What's with all the food they're giving away? or What's up with Lee these days? or What gives with Jack? Why is he so glum? This idiom is also sometimes used as a substitute for how are you or what's wrong, as in Hi, Pam, what's with you? or What gives with you?

why are you yelling? [Colloquial;

c. 1940]

what the hell

1. It's not important, who cares, as in It cost a lot more, but what the hell, we can afford it.

[Second half of 1800s] Also see WHAT OF IT. 2. An intensive of what, as in What the

hell do you think you're doing? [First half of 1800s] Also see under ON EARTH.

what with

Taking into consideration, because of, as in What with all you have to carry, we should take a taxi.

This usage replaced the earlier what for. [c. 1600]

wheel

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WHEEL, also see ASLEEP AT THE

SWITCH (WHEEL); AT THE WHEEL; BIG CHEESE (WHEEL); COG IN THE WHEEL; FIFTH WHEEL; GREASE (OIL) THE WHEELS; HELL ON WHEELS; PUT ONE'S SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL; REINVENT THE WHEEL; SET (WHEELS) IN MOTION; SPIN ONE'S WHEELS; SQUEAKY WHEEL GETS THE GREASE.

wheel and deal

Operate or manipulate for one's own interest, especially in an aggressive or unscrupulous way. For example, Bernie's wheeling and dealing has made him rich but not very popular. This term comes from gambling in the American West, where a wheeler-dealer was a heavy bettor on the roulette wheel and at cards. [Colloquial; c. 1940]

wheels in motion

hand. see under SET IN MOTION.

wheels within wheels

Complex interacting processes, agents, or motives, as in It's difficult to find out just which government agency is responsible; there are wheels within wheels. This term, which now evokes the complex interaction of gears, may derive from a scene in the Bible (Ezekiel 1:16): "Their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel." [c. 1600]

when

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WHEN, also see CROSS A BRIDGE

WHEN ONE COMES TO IT; PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, WHEN.

when all's said and done Also, after all is said and done. In the end, nevertheless, as in

When all's said and done, the doctors did what they could for Gordon, but he was too ill to survive.

This term was first recorded in 1560.

when in Rome do as the Romans do

Follow local custom, as in Kate said they'd all be wearing shorts or blue jeans to the outdoor wedding, so when in Rome?

we'll do the same. This advice allegedly was Saint Ambrose's answer to Saint Augustine when asked whether they should fast on Saturday as Romans did, or not, as in Milan. It appeared in English by about 1530 and remains so well known that it is often shortened, as in the example.

when it comes to Also, if or when it comes right down to. As regards, when the situation

entails. For example, When it comes to renting or buying, you'll spend about the same amount. It is also put as when it comes down to it or that, as in If it comes right down to it, they said you could visit any time you're able to, or When it comes to that, we can lend you the fare. This idiom uses come to in the sense of "amount to" or "be equivalent to." [Second half of 1700s]

when least expected

When something is not awaited, as in My brother always calls when least expected, or You might know that the furnace would break down when least expected?

we just had it overhauled.

when one's back is turned

When one is away or not looking, as in You can count on the children to misbehave when the teacher's back is turned, or I don't dare go on vacation; he'll take my job when my back is turned.

Also see WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY, THE MICE WILL PLAY.

when one's ship comes in

When one has made one's fortune, as in When my ship comes in I'll get a Mercedes or better. This term alludes to ships returning from far-off places with a cargo of valuables. It may be obsolescent. [Mid1800s]

when pigs fly

Never, as in Sure he'll pay for the drinks?

when pigs fly. Equating the flight of pigs with something impossible dates from the early 1600s, when several writers alleged that pigs fly with their tails forward. The idiom is also put as pigs may fly.

when the cat's away, the mice will play

Without supervision, people will do as they please, especially in disregarding or breaking rules. For example, As soon as their parents left, the children invited all their friends over?

when the cat's away, you know. This expression has been a proverb since about 1600 and is so well known it is often shortened, as in the example.

when the chips are down

When a situation is urgent or desperate, as in When the chips were down, all the children came home to help their mother. This expression comes from poker, where chips represent money being bet. When all the bets have been made, and the chips put down, the hand is over and the players turn up their cards to see who has won. [Late 1800s]

when the dust has settled Also, after or once the dust settles. When matters have

calmed down, as in The merger is complete, and when the dust has settled we can start on new projects. This idiom uses dust in the sense of "turmoil" or "commotion," a usage dating from the first half of the 1800s.

when the going gets tough, the tough get going

hand. see under GET GOING, def. 2.

when the shit hits the fan

hand. see SHIT WILL HIT THE FAN.

where

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WHERE, also see CLOSE TO HOME (HIT

WHERE ONE LIVES); FOOLS RUSH IN WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD; GIVE CREDIT (WHERE CREDIT IS DUE); KNOW WHERE ONE STANDS; LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY; NOT KNOW WHERE TO TURN; PUT ONE'S MONEY WHERE ONE'S MOUTH IS; TAKE UP WHERE ONE LEFT OFF; TELL SOMEONE WHERE TO GET OFF; THIS IS WHERE I CAME IN.

where do we go from here

Given the present situation, what should we do next? For example, Unemployment's rising and numerous banks have failed; where do we go from here? This phrase originated about 1945 and is most often applied to a political, economic, social, or moral state of the country, of a business, or the like.

wherefore

hand. see WHYS AND WHEREFORES.

where it's at Also, where the action is. The key center of activity; where important things are happening. For example, He decided to set up his store here, convinced that this is where it's at, or I'm going into the brokerage business; that's where the action is these days. The action or activity in this phrase can relate to just about anything?

financial, political, social, or commercial. [Slang; c. 1960]

where one is coming from

What one means, from one's point of view, based on one's background or prior experience. For example, I don't believe in capital punishment, but as a pacifist you know where I'm coming from.

[Second half of 1900s]

where one lives

hand. see under CLOSE TO HOME.

where's the beef?

1. Also, what's the beef? What is the source of a complaint, as in Where's the beef? No one was hurt in the accident. This usage employs beef in the sense of a "complaint" or "grudge," also

appearing in the phrase have no beef with, meaning "have no quarrel with." [Slang; late 1800s]

2. Where is the content or substance, as in That was a very articulate speech, but where's the beef? This usage was originally the slogan for a television commercial for a hamburger chain attacking the poor quality of rival chains. (1984) The phrase was almost immediately transferred to other kinds of substance, especially in politics.

where's the fire

What's the big hurry, as in We've got to finish up.?

Why, where's the fire? This phrase, generally addressed to someone in an unseemly rush (such as a speeding motorist pulled over by a police officer), alludes to firemen hurrying to put out a fire. [Slang; 1920s]

where there's a will, there's a way If one really wants to do something, one can. For example,

Max has no idea of how to get the money to repair his boat, but where there's a will. This proverb was stated slightly differently in 1640 (To him that will, ways are not wanting) but has been repeated in its present form since the early 1800s. It is so well known it is often shortened, as in the example.

where there's smoke

hand. see NO SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE.

whether

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with WHETHER, also see NOT KNOW

WHETHER.

whether or not Also, whether or no. Regardless of whether, no matter if. For example,

Whether or not it rains, we're going to walk to the theater, or She plans to sing at the wedding, whether or no anyone asks her to. The negative element in these constructions may also follow the subject and verb, as in I have to attend, whether I want to or not. [c. 1600]

whet one's appetite

Arouse one's interest or eagerness, as in That first Schubert piece whetted my appetite; I hope she sings some others. This idiom, first recorded in 1612, transfers making one hungry for food to other kinds of eagerness.

which

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WHICH, also see EVERY WHICH WAY;

KNOW WHICH SIDE OF BREAD IS BUTTERED; (WHICH) WAY THE WIND BLOWS.

which is which

What particular one is what particular one, or what is the difference between different ones. For example, These twins look so much alike I can't tell which is which, or Both our raincoats are tan; do you know which is which? This idiom was first recorded about 1412.