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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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wishful thinking

Interpreting matters as one would like them to be, as opposed to what they really are. For example, Matthew wanted to be a basketball player, but with his height that was wishful thinking.

This term comes from Freudian psychology of the mid-1920s and soon began to be used more loosely.

wish on

Foist or impose something on another, as in 1900s]

wit

I wouldn't wish this job on my worst enemy. [Early

hand. see AT ONE'S WIT'S END; HAVE ONE'S WITS ABOUT ONE; LIVE BY ONE'S WITS; SCARE OUT OF ONE'S WITS; TO WIT.

witching hour

Midnight, as in They arrived just at the witching hour. This term alludes to older superstitions concerning a time appropriate to witchcraft and other supernatural occurrences. Shakespeare and others wrote of "the witching time of night." The precise phrase was first recorded in 1835.

with

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WITH, also see ALIVE WITH; ALL OVER

WITH; ALL RIGHT WITH; ALL UP (WITH); ALONG WITH; AT HOME (WITH); AT ODDS (WITH); AT ONE (WITH); BEAR WITH; BORN WITH A SILVER SPOON; BOTH BARRELS, WITH; BOUND UP IN (WITH); BREAK WITH; BURST WITH; CAN DO WITH; CAN'T DO ANYTHING WITH; CAST ONE'S LOT WITH; CAUGHT WITH ONE'S PANTS DOWN; CHARGE WITH; CLEAR WITH; COME DOWN WITH; COME OUT WITH; COME TO GRIPS WITH; COME TO TERMS WITH; COME UP WITH; COME WITH THE TERRITORY; COOK WITH GAS; DAMN WITH FAINT PRAISE; DEAL WITH; DIE WITH ONE'S BOOTS ON; DISPENSE WITH; DO AWAY WITH; DOWN WITH; FALL IN WITH; FENCE WITH; FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE; FIT IN (WITH); FIX UP WITH; GET ALONG WITH; GET AN IN WITH; GET AWAY WITH; GET EVEN WITH; GET INVOLVED WITH; GET IN WITH; GET ON (WITH IT); GET OVER (WITH); GET TOGETHER (WITH); GET TOUGH WITH; GO ALONG (WITH); GO HALVES WITH; GO HARD WITH; GONE WITH THE WIND; GO OUT (WITH); GO THROUGH (WITH); GO TO BED WITH; GO WITH; GO WITH THE FLOW; GREEN WITH ENVY; HANDLE WITH GLOVES; HAVE A BRUSH WITH; HAVE A WAY WITH; HAVE A WORD WITH; HAVE DONE (WITH); HAVE NO TRUCK WITH; HAVE PULL WITH; HAVE TO DO WITH; HAVE WORDS WITH; HOLD WITH; IN BAD WITH; IN GOOD WITH; IN LEAGUE WITH; IN (WITH) REGARD TO; IN TROUBLE WITH; IN WITH; IT'S ALL OVER WITH; KEEP UP WITH; KILL WITH KINDNESS; LAUGH AND THE WORLD LAUGHS WITH YOU; LEAD WITH ONE'S CHIN; LEARN

TO LIVE WITH; LEVEL WITH; LIE WITH; LIKE A CHICKEN WITH ITS HEAD CUT OFF; OVER AND DONE WITH; OVER WITH; PAL AROUND WITH; PART WITH; PLAY BALL (WITH); PLAY THE DEVIL WITH; PLAY WITH FIRE; PUT UP WITH; RECKON WITH; ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES; RUB ELBOWS WITH; RUN AROUND (WITH); RUN AWAY WITH; RUN OFF WITH; RUN WITH; SADDLE SOMEONE WITH; SEE WITH HALF AN EYE; SETTLE WITH; SHAKE HANDS WITH; SHAKE WITH LAUGHTER; SIDE WITH; SIGN ON WITH; SIT WELL WITH; SLEEP WITH; SPAR WITH; SQUARE WITH; STAND UP WITH; STAY WITH; STICK WITH; STUCK WITH; SWIM WITH THE TIDE; TAKE ISSUE WITH; TAKEN WITH; TAKE THE BITTER WITH THE SWEET; TAKE THE ROUGH WITH THE SMOOTH; TAKE UP WITH; TAMPER WITH; TARRED WITH THE SAME BRUSH; TAX WITH; TEAM UP WITH; TINKER WITH; TOGETHER WITH; TO HELL WITH; TOP OFF (WITH); TO START WITH; TOY WITH; TROUBLE ONE'S HEAD WITH; VOTE WITH ONE'S FEET; WALK OFF WITH; WHAT'S WITH; WHAT WITH; YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU.

with a grain of salt Also, with a pinch of salt. Skeptically, with reservations. For example, I always take Sandy's stories about illnesses with a grain of salt?

she tends to exaggerate. This expression is a translation of the Latin cum grano salis, which Pliny used in describing Pompey's discovery of an antidote for poison (to be taken with a grain of salt). It was soon adopted by English writers.

with all due respect

Although I think highly of you, as in With all due respect, you haven't really answered my question, or With all due respect, that account doesn't fit the facts. This phrase always precedes a polite disagreement with what a person has said or brings up a controversial point. [c. 1800]

with all one's heart

With great willingness or pleasure; also, with the deepest feeling or devotion. For example, I wish you well with all my heart. [Late 1400s]

with an eye to

hand. see HAVE ONE'S EYE ON, def. 2.

with a vengeance

With great violence or energy; also, to an extreme degree. For example, The cottage was filthy and Ruth began cleaning with a vengeance, or December has turned cold with a vengeance. This expression was first recorded in 1533. Also see WITH A WILL.

with a view to

For the purpose of, aiming toward, as in A-frame houses were designed with a view to shedding heavy snow. This idiom was first recorded in 1728.

with a will

Vigorously, energetically, as in He started pruning with a will. This term, first recorded in 1848, uses will in the sense of "determination."

with bad grace

Reluctantly, rudely, as in He finally agreed to share the cost, but with bad grace. [Mid-1700s] Also

see WITH GOOD GRACE.

with bated breath

Eagerly or anxiously, as in We waited for the announcement of the winner with bated breath. This expression literally means "holding one's breath" (bate means "restrain"). Today it is also used somewhat ironically, indicating one is not all that eager or anxious. [Late 1500s] Also see HOLD

ONE'S BREATH, def. 2.

with bells on

Ready to celebrate, eagerly, as in Of course I'll come; I'll be there with bells on. This metaphoric expression alludes to decorating oneself or one's clothing with little bells for some special performance or occasion. A well-known nursery rhyme has: "See a fine lady upon a white horse, Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, And she shall have music wherever she goes" (in

Gammer Gurton's Garland, 1784).

wither on the vine

Fail to come to fruition, as in This building project will wither on the vine if they don't agree on a price. This expression alludes to grapes shriveling and drying up because they were not picked when ripe.

with flying colors, pass with Also, come through with flying colors. Win, succeed, as in She came through the bar exam with flying colors. This expression alludes to a victorious ship sailing with its flags high. [Late 1600s]

with good grace

Willingly, pleasantly, as in They had tried hard to win but accepted their loss with good grace.

[Mid1700s] Also see WITH BAD GRACE.

with half a heart

hand. see HALF A HEART.

within

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WITHIN, also see IN (WITHIN)

REASON; SPITTING DISTANCE, WITHIN; WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS.

within an ace of Also, within an inch of. Very close to, within a narrow margin of, as in We

AS ONE; TO A MAN.
KEEP ONE'S EYES OPEN.

were within an ace of calling you, but we'd lost your phone number, or We were within an inch of buying tickets for that concert. The first term refers to the ace of dice, that is, the one pip on a die. The lowest number one can throw with a pair of dice is two (two aces), a throw that is within an ace of one. The term began to be used for other kinds of near miss by about 1700.

within bounds

Reasonable and allowable, up to a certain point, as in It's all right to play your stereo, but please

keep the volume within bounds. Like its antonym, OUT OF BOUNDS, this term originally referred to the boundaries of a playing area or field.

within call Also, within hail. Near enough to hear a summons, as in Tommy's allowed to play outside but only within call of his mother, or We told them they could hike ahead of us but to stay within hail. The first term was first recorded in 1668, the variant in 1697.

within reason

hand. see IN REASON.

with interest

With more than what one should receive, extra, and then some. For example, Mary borrowed Jane's new dress without asking, but Jane paid her back with interest?

she drove off in Mary's car. This idiom alludes to interest in the financial sense. Its figurative use dates from the late 1500s.

with it, be Also, get with it. Be or become knowledgeable about the current or latest trends, fashions, or ideas, as in She just turned 60, but she's still very much with it, or Get with it, Dad, that kind of razor hasn't been made for years. [Slang; 1920s]

with one arm tied behind one's back Also, with one hand; with one's eyes closed. Very easily, as in I can assemble that chair with one arm tied behind my back, or I could make a better dinner with one hand, or He can do that puzzle with his eyes closed. All these phrases are hyperbolic. Also see DO BLINDFOLDED.

with one's eyes open

Fully aware, as in We started this project with our eyes open and are not surprised at the results.

[First half of 1900s] Also see

with one's pants down

hand. see CAUGHT WITH ONE'S PANTS DOWN.

with one voice

Unanimously, in complete agreement, as in The board rejected the proposal with one voice. [Late 1300s] For synonyms, see

with open arms

Enthusiastically, warmly, as in They received their new daughter-in-law with open arms. This term alludes to an embrace. [Mid-1600s]

without

In addition to the idioms beginning with WITHOUT, also see ABSENT WITHOUT LEAVE;

DO WITHOUT; GET ALONG WITHOUT; GO WITHOUT SAYING; NO SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE; WORLD WITHOUT END.

without a leg to stand on

With no chance of success, as in He tried to get the town to change the street lights, but because there was no money in the budget he found himself without a leg to stand on. A related idiom is not have a leg to stand on, as in Once the detective exposed his false alibi, he didn't have a leg to stand on. This metaphoric idiom transfers lack of physical support to arguments or theories. [Late 1500s]

without a stitch on

Naked, as in They let their baby run around outside without a stitch on.

A related phrase is not have a stitch on. These expressions use stitch in the sense of "a piece of clothing," a usage dating from the early 1800s.

without batting an eye

Showing no emotion, acting as though nothing were unusual. For example, Richard ate the snails without batting an eye. A related phrase is not bat an eye, as in He didn't bat an eye when she told him he was being laid off. These expressions, which use bat in the sense of "blink," date from about 1900.

without doubt Also, without a doubt. hand. See NO DOUBT.

without fail

For certain, as in That check will arrive tomorrow morning without fail. This idiom today is used mainly to strengthen a statement. [Early 1700s]

without further ado Also, without more ado. Without more work, ceremony, or fuss. For example, Without further ado they adjourned the meeting and went home, or And now, without more ado, here is our speaker of the day. This idiom has one of the few surviving uses of the noun ado, meaning "what is being done." (Another is MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.) [Late

1300s]

without question

Certainly, undoubtedly, as in Without question he's the best editor we've ever had. [Late 1600s]

without so much as

With not even, as in She stormed out without so much as a goodbye. [Mid-1600s]

with reason

For a ground or cause, justifiably, as in He turned down their offer, but with reason? he didn't want to move his family to a big city. [c. 1600]

with reference to Also, with regard or respect to. hand. See IN REGARD TO.

with the best of them

As well as anyone, as in Donna can pitch a ball with the best of them. This idiom was first recorded in 1748.

with the best will in the world

No matter how much one wants to or tries, as in I couldn't eat another bite, not with the best will in the world. [Mid-1800s]

with the exception of

hand. see EXCEPT FOR.

with the gloves off

With or ready to dispense rough treatment, as in Prepared to oppose the council, the mayor marched into the meeting with the gloves off. This idiom alludes to old-style boxing, when gloves were not used. [Early 1800s]

wives

hand. see OLD WIVES'TALE.

wolf

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with WOLF, also see CRY WOLF; KEEP THE

WOLF FROM THE DOOR; LONE WOLF.

wolf in sheep's clothing

An enemy disguised as a friend, as in Dan was a wolf in sheep's clothing, pretending to help but all the while spying for our competitors. This term comes from the ancient fable about a wolf that dresses up in the skin of a sheep and sneaks up on a flock. This fable has given rise to a rich history of allusions as in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus speaks of false prophets in sheep's clothing, "but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matthew 7:15).

woman

hand. see FEEL LIKE ONESELF (NEW WOMAN); MARKED MAN (WOMAN);

(WOMAN) OF FEW WORDS; OWN PERSON (WOMAN); RIGHT-HAND MAN (WOMAN); SCARLET WOMAN.

wonder

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with WONDER, also see FOR A WONDER; NO

WONDER; WORK

wonders will never cease

What a surprise, as in He's on time?

wonders will never

cease. This expression is generally used ironically. [Late 1700s]

won't hear of

hand. see under NOT HAVE IT.

won't wash

Will not stand up to examination, is unconvincing, will not work, as in That excuse about your sick aunt just won't wash. This expression originally alluded to a fabric that would not stand up to washing but by the late 1800s was used figuratively for other kinds of failure.

woo

hand. see PITCH WOO.

wood, woods

hand. see BABE IN THE WOODS; CAN'T SEE THE FOREST (WOOD) FOR THE TREES; DEAD WOOD; KNOCK ON WOOD; NECK OF THE WOODS; OUT OF THE WOODS.

wool

hand. see ALL WOOL AND A YARD WIDE; PULL THE WOOL OVER SOMEONE'S EYES.

word

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WORD, also see ACTIONS SPEAK

LOUDER THAN WORDS; AT A LOSS (FOR WORDS); AT A WORD; BREAK ONE'S WORD; EAT ONE'S WORDS; FAMOUS LAST WORDS; FIGHTING WORDS;

FOUR-LETTER WORD; FROM THE WORD GO; GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE; GIVE THE WORD; GO BACK ON (ONE'S WORD); GOOD AS ONE'S WORD; HANG ON SOMEONE'S WORDS; HAVE A WORD WITH; HAVE WORDS WITH; IN BRIEF (A WORD); IN OTHER WORDS; IN SO MANY WORDS; KEEP ONE'S WORD; LAST WORD; LEAVE WORD; MAN OF HIS WORD; MARK MY WORDS; MINCE MATTERS (WORDS); MUM'S THE WORD; NOT BREATHE A WORD; NOT OPEN ONE'S MOUTH (UTTER A WORD); OF FEW WORDS; PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS; PLAY ON WORDS; PUT IN A GOOD WORD; PUT INTO WORDS; PUT WORDS IN SOMEONE'S MOUTH; SWALLOW ONE'S WORDS; TAKE SOMEONE AT HIS OR HER WORD; TAKE THE WORDS OUT OF SOMEONE'S MOUTH; TRUE TO (ONE'S WORD); WEASEL WORD; WEIGH ONE'S WORDS.

word for word

Exactly as written or spoken, as in That was the forecast, word for word. Chaucer used this idiom in the late 1300s.

word of honor

A pledge of one's good faith, as in On his word of honor he assured us that he was telling the truth. [Early 1800s]

word of mouth, by

Orally, by one person telling another, as in They don't advertise; they get all their customers by word of mouth. [Mid-1500s]

words fail me

I can't put my thoughts or feelings into words, especially because of surprise or shock, as in When she showed up at the wedding with all three ex-husbands?

well, words fail me. [Second half of 1900s]

words of one syllable, in

In simple terms, as in I don't understand financial derivatives? can you explain them in words of one syllable? [Colloquial; 1920s]

words stick in one's throat

hand. see STICK IN ONE'S THROAT.

words to that effect

hand. see TO THAT EFFECT.

word to the wise, a

WORK WONDERS.
WORK UP.

Here's good advice, as in A word to the wise: don't walk alone here because these streets are not safe at night. A shortening of A word to the wise is enough, as it was put by Roman writers, this phrase in English dates from the mid-1500s.

work

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with WORK, also see ALL IN A DAY'S WORK;

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY; AT WORK; BUSY WORK; DIRTY WORK; GET DOWN TO (WORK); GOOD WORKS; GUM UP (THE WORKS); HAVE ONE'S WORK CUT OUT; IN THE WORKS; MAKE SHORT WORK OF; MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK; OUT OF WORK; SHOOT THE WORKS; THE WORKS; TURN (WORK) OUT ALL RIGHT.

work both sides of the street

Engage in doubledealing, be duplicitous, as in The real estate agent was known for working both sides of the street, advising first the buyer and then the seller. This metaphoric term transfers opposite sides of a street to opposite sides of a negotiation.

worked up, be Also, get all worked up. Be or become excited or upset, as in She got all worked up about the idea of adopting a baby. [Late 1600s] Also see

work in

1. Insert or introduce, as in As part of their presentation they worked in a request for funding the exhibit. Similarly, work into means "insert or introduce into something else," as in She worked more flour into the mixture. [Late 1600s] 2. Make time for in a schedule, as in The dentist said he would try to work her in this morning. Here, too, work into is sometimes used, as in She had to work two emergency cases into her morning schedule. [Mid-1700s]

work it

Arrange, bring about, as in We'll try to work it so that the board meets tomorrow. [Colloquial; late 1800s]

work like a beaver Also, work like a dog or horse or Trojan. Work very energetically and hard, as in She worked like a beaver to clean out all the closets, or I've been working like a dog weeding the garden, or He's very strong and works like a horse. The first of these similes is the oldest, first recorded in 1741; the variants date from the second half of the 1800s. Also see

WORK ONE'S FINGERS TO THE BONE.

work like a charm

Function very well, have a good effect or outcome, as in That knife-sharpener works like a charm, or Her deferential manner worked like a charm; he agreed to everything they'd asked for. This expression uses charm in the sense of "a magic spell." [Mid-1800s] Also see

work off

Get rid of by work or effort, as in They worked off that big dinner by running on the beach, or It'll take him months to work off that debt. [Second half of 1600s]

TURN OUT ALL RIGHT. 2. Find a solution for, solve, as in

work on Also, work upon. Exercise influence on, as in If you work on him, he might change his mind, or She always worked upon their feelings by pretending to be more ill than she really was.

[Early 1600s]

work one's fingers to the bone Also, work one's tail or butt off. Exert oneself, labor very hard, as in She's working her fingers to the bone to support her children, or I work my tail off and then the government takes half my income in taxes. The first hyperbole, with its image of working the skin and flesh off one's fingers, dates from the mid-1800s; the less polite variants date from the first half of the 1900s.

work one's way

Exert oneself to proceed in a particular direction; also, finance a project by working. For example,

The painters are working their way from the top floor to the basement, or I'm trying to work my way into the publishing world, or She's working her way through college. [Second half of 1800s]

work out

1. Accomplish by work or effort, as in I think we can work out a solution to this problem. [1500s] For work out all right, see

They hoped to work out their personal differences, or Can you help me work out this equation? [Mid-1800s] 3. Formulate or develop, as in We were told to work out a new plan, or He's very good at working out complicated plots. [Early 1800s]

4. Discharge a debt by working instead of paying money, as in She promised she'd work out the rest of the rent by babysitting for them. [Second half of 1600s] 5. Prove effective or successful, as in I wonder if their marriage will work out. 6. Have a specific result, add up, as in It worked out that she was able to go to the party after all, or The total works out to more than a million. [Late 1800s] 7.

Engage in strenuous exercise for physical conditioning, as in He works out with weights every other day. [1920s] 8. Exhaust a resource, such as a mine, as in

This mine has been completely worked out. [Mid-1500s]

work over

Beat up, as in The secret police worked him over and he's never been the same. [c. 1920]

work up

1. Arouse emotions; see WORKED UP. 2. Increase one's skill, status, or responsibility through effort, as in He worked up to 30 sit-ups a day, or She worked up to bank manager. Also see WORK ONE'S WAY. [Second half of 1600s] 3. Intensify gradually, as in The film worked up to a thrilling climax. [Second half of 1600s] 4. Develop or produce by effort, as in Swimming always works up an appetite.

[Second half of 1600s]

work wonders