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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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1. Write or sketch hastily, as in I'm just going to dash off a letter. [Early 1700s] 2. Hurry away, depart hastily, as in He dashed off as though he was being chased. This usage employs the verb dash in the sense of "impetuously run" or "rush," a usage dating from about 1300.

dash someone's hopes

Destroy someone's plans, disappoint or disillusion. For example, That fall dashed her hopes of a gold medal. This term uses dash in the sense of "destroy," a usage surviving only in this idiom. [Second half of 1500s]

date

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DATE, also see BRING UP TO DATE;

DOUBLE DATE; MAKE A DATE; OUT OF DATE; TO DATE; UP TO DATE.

date rape

Sexual intercourse forced by the victim's social escort. For example, Date rape is much more common on college campuses than was previously realized. This term originated in the 1980s, when awareness of the phenomenon increased exponentially.

Davy Jones's locker Also, Davy's locker. The bottom of the sea, especially the grave of those who die at sea. For example, Caught out at sea during the hurricane, they thought they were heading for Davy Jones's locker. This term, first recorded in 1726, alludes to Davy Jones, a name given to the evil spirit of the sea. The ultimate origin of both Davy and Jones is disputed. A logical theory is that Jones referred to the biblical Jonah who was swallowed by a whale, and Davy was a corruption of a West Indian word for "devil."

dawn

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DAWN, also see CRACK OF DAWN;

LIGHT DAWNED.

dawn on Also, dawn upon. Become evident or understood, as in It finally dawned on him that he was expected to call them, or Around noon it dawned upon me that I had never eaten breakfast.

This expression transfers the beginning of daylight to the beginning of a thought process. Harriet Beecher Stowe had it in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852): "The idea that they had either feelings or rights had never dawned upon her." [Mid-1800s]

day

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

ANY DAY; APPLE A DAY; BAD HAIR DAY; BREAK OF DAY; BY THE DAY; CALL IT A DAY; CARRY THE DAY; DIFFERENT AS NIGHT AND DAY; DOG DAYS; EVERY DOG HAS ITS DAY; FIELD DAY; FOR DAYS ON END; FOREVER AND A DAY; FROM THIS DAY FORWARD; GOOD DAY; HAD ITS DAY; HAPPY AS THE DAY IS LONG; HEAVENLY DAYS; IN ALL ONE'S BORN DAYS; IN THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY; IN THIS DAY AND AGE; LATE IN THE DAY; MAKE A DAY OF IT; MAKE ONE'S DAY;

NAME THE DAY; NIGHT AND DAY; NINE-DAY WONDER; NOT GIVE SOMEONE THE TIME OF DAY; NOT ONE'S DAY; ONE OF THESE DAYS; ORDER OF THE DAY; PASS THE TIME (OF DAY); PLAIN AS DAY; RAINY DAY; RED-LETTER DAY; ROME WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY; SALAD DAYS; SAVE THE DAY; SEEN BETTER DAYS; SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY; THAT'LL BE THE DAY; THE OTHER DAY; THOSE WERE THE DAYS; TIME OF DAY; TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY; WIN THROUGH (THE DAY).

day after day Also, day in, day out. For many days, continuously; also, every day. For example,

Day after day the rain spoiled our vacation, or Day in, day out, all I ever do is work. [First half of 1800s]

day and night

hand. see under NIGHT AND DAY.

day by day

On each successive day, daily, as in Day by day he's getting better. Percy Bysshe Shelley used this expression, first recorded in 1362, in Adonais (1821): "fear and grief . . . consume us day by day."

day in, day out

hand. see DAY AFTER DAY.

day in court, have one's

Have an opportunity to be heard, as in By asking Rob for an explanation the professor showed he was willing to let him have his day in court. This expression transfers the idea of a hearing in a court of law to more general use.

daylight

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

DAYLIGHTS OUT OF; BEGIN TO SEE DAYLIGHT; IN BROAD DAYLIGHT; LET DAYLIGHT THROUGH; SCARE OUT OF ONE'S WITS (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF).

daylight robbery

Charging exorbitant prices, as in The amount you're asking for this couch is daylight robbery.

[Mid1900s] Also see HIGHWAY ROBBERY.

day off

A day away from work, school, or a similar obligation; a free day. For example, Sophie always used her day off to do errands. [Late 1800s]

days are numbered, one's Also, its days are numbered. The usefulness or life of someone or something is nearly ended. For example, When they announced the layoffs, she knew her days at

the company were numbered, or My car's days are numbered?

the transmission is shot. A version of this expression appears in the Bible (Daniel 5:26): "God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it." It came into common use in the late 1800s.

day to day Also, from day to day. 1. Continuously, without interruption, on a daily basis. For example, Running this office day to day is not an easy task. [Late 1800s] 2. live from day to day. Be interested only in immediate concerns, without thought for the future. For example, Jean lives from day to day, planning nothing in advance. Also see LIVE FOR THE MOMENT.

dead

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DEAD, also see BEAT A DEAD HORSE;

CAUGHT DEAD; CUT SOMEONE DEAD; DROP DEAD; KNOCK DEAD; MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE; OVER MY DEAD BODY; QUICK AND THE DEAD; STOP COLD (DEAD); TO WAKE THE DEAD. Also see under DEATH.

dead ahead

Directly or straight in front of one, as in There's the house, dead ahead. The use of dead in the sense of "straight" dates from the last quarter of the 1800s.

dead and buried Also, dead and gone. Long forgotten, no longer in use, as in That argument is dead and buried, or No point in worrying about regulations that are long dead and gone. This figurative use of "having died" is usually applied to some issue. [Late 1800s]

dead as a doornail Also, dead as a dodo or herring. Totally or assuredly dead; also finished. For example, The cop announced that the body in the dumpster was dead as a doornail, or The radicalism she professed in her adolescence is now dead as a dodo, or The Equal Rights Amendment appears to be dead as a herring. The first, oldest, and most common of these similes, all of which can be applied literally to persons or, more often today, to issues, involves doornail, dating from about 1350. Its meaning is disputed but most likely it referred to the costly metal nails hammered into the outer doors of the wealthy (most people used the much cheaper wooden pegs), which were clinched on the inside of the door and therefore were "dead," that is, could not be used again. Dead as a herring dates from the 16th century and no doubt alludes to the bad smell this dead fish gives off, making its death quite obvious. Dead as a dodo, referring to the extinct bird, dates from the early 1900s.

dead beat

1. Defeated; also exhausted. For example, That horse was dead beat before the race even began, or, as Charles Dickens put it in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843): "Pull off my boots for me . . . I am quite knocked up. Dead beat." [Slang; first half of 1800s] 2. Also, deadbeat. A lazy person or loafer; also, one who does not pay debts. For example, Her housemate knew she was a deadbeat, shirking her share of the chores, or He's a deadbeat; don't count on getting that money back.

[Slang; second half of 1800s]

dead drunk

Completely intoxicated, as in I can't remember a thing about last night; I was dead drunk. This

phrase, first recorded in 1599, alludes to the immobility and insensibility of actual death.

dead duck

1. A person doomed to failure or death; a hopeless case. For example, If they can't find a heart to transplant soon, he's a dead duck. [1940s] 2. A useless, worthless, or outmoded person or thing. For example, They didn't interview the outgoing senator; to the press he's a dead duck. Some speculate that this slangy term comes from an old saying, "Never waste powder on a dead duck," first recorded in 1829.

dead end

1. A passage that has no exit, as in This street's a dead end, so turn back. [Late 1800s] 2. An impasse or blind alley, allowing no progress to be made. For example, This job is a dead end; I'll never be able to advance. [c. 1920]

dead from the neck up

Extremely stupid, as in That news commentator sounds dead

from the neck up. This expression alludes to being "brain-dead." [Early 1900s]

dead heat

A contest in which the competitors are equally matched and neither can win; a tie. For example,

The two companies are in a dead heat to get a new personal computer on the market. This term comes from 18th-century British horse racing and is still part of racing terminology. It later was transferred to other kinds of competition.

dead horse

hand. see BEAT A DEAD HORSE.

dead in one's tracks

hand. see under STOP COLD.

dead in the water

Unable to function or move; inoperable. For example, Without an effective leader, our plans for expansion are dead in the water. Originally referring to a crippled ship, this colloquialism was soon applied more broadly.

dead letter

1. An unclaimed or undelivered letter that is eventually destroyed or returned to the sender. For example, She moved without leaving a forwarding address, so her mail ended up in the dead letter office. [c. 1700] 2. A statute or directive that is still valid but in practice is not enforced. For example, The blue laws here are a dead letter; all the stores open on Sundays and holidays.

[Second half of 1600s]

dead loss

1. A total loss, as in They've changed the currency, so these old coins are a dead loss. [Early 1700s] 2. A worthless person or thing; also, an utter waste of time. For example, With an injured knee he's a dead loss to the team, or It rained every day, so our week at the beach was a dead loss. [1920s]

dead man

hand. see DEAD SOLDIER.

dead of

The period of greatest intensity of something, such as darkness or cold. For example, I love looking at seed catalogs in the dead of winter, when it's below zero outside. The earliest recorded use of dead of night, for "darkest time of night," was in Edward Hall's Chronicle of 1548: "In the dead of the night . . . he broke up his camp and fled." Dead of winter, for the coldest part of winter, dates from the early 1600s.

dead on one's feet Also, dead tired. Extremely weary, as in Mom was in the kitchen all day and was dead on her feet, or I'd love to go, but I'm dead tired. The use of dead for "tired to exhaustion" dates from the early 1800s, and dead on one's feet, conjuring up the image of a dead person still standing up, dates from the late 1800s.

dead ringer

A person or thing that closely resembles another; an exact counterpart. For example, Brian's a dead ringer for his Dad, or That red bike is a dead ringer for Mary's. [Late 1800s]

dead set against

Completely opposed to, as in His parents were dead set against John's taking a year off from college. Set against has been used to mean "opposed to" since the 1400s. Dead acquired the meaning "utterly" in the 16th century.

dead soldier Also, dead man. An empty liquor, wine, or beer bottle, as in Their trash barrel's full of dead soldiers; they must drink a lot, or That dead man sticking out of your pocket alerted the officer to the fact that you'd been drinking. Dead man has been slang for "empty bottle" since the late 1600s but has been largely replaced by dead soldier, dating from the late 1800s.

dead tired

hand. see DEAD ON ONE'S FEET.

dead to rights

In the act of committing an error or crime, red-handed. For example, They caught the burglars dead to rights with the Oriental rugs. This phrase uses to rights in the sense of "at once." [Slang; mid-1800s]

dead to the world

Sound asleep or unconscious, as in The alarm clock went off but Joseph was dead to the world.

1. See

[Late 1800s]

dead weight

A heavy or oppressive burden, as in That police record will be a dead weight on his career. This term alludes to the unrelieved weight of an inert mass. [Early 1700s]

deaf

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DEAF, also see FALL ON DEAF EARS;

STONE DEAF; TURN A DEAF EAR.

deaf as a post Also, deaf as an adder. Unable to hear or to listen, as in Speak louder, Grandpa's deaf as a post. The first simile has its origin in John Palsgrave's Acolastus (1540): "How deaf an ear I intended to give him . . . he were as good to tell his tale to a post." It has largely replaced deaf as an adder, alluding to an ancient belief that adders cannot hear; it is recorded in the Bible (Psalms 58:3-5).

deal

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DEAL, also see BIG DEAL; CLOSE THE

SALE (DEAL); CUT A DEAL; DONE DEAL; GOOD DEAL; MAKE A FEDERAL CASE (BIG DEAL); NO DEAL; RAW DEAL; SQUARE DEAL; SWEETEN THE KITTY (DEAL); WHEEL AND DEAL.

deal in

1. Also, deal with. Be occupied or concerned with, as in Jim deals in generalities, or This book deals with idioms. The first term dates from the late 1500s, the variant from about 1300. 2. Do business or trade in something, as in They deal in diamonds. [Late 1500s] Also see DEAL WITH.

3. deal someone in. Also, deal one a hand. Include someone, give someone a share, as in I hope they'll deal me in on this new enterprise. This usage comes from card games, where to deal has meant "to distribute cards" since the 16th century. [Early 1900s]

deal out

1. Distribute, as in He dealt out more and more work. [Late 1300s] Also see DEAL IN, def. 3. 2.

deal someone out. Exclude someone, as in I don't have time for this project, so deal me out. This usage is the opposite of DEAL IN, def. 3.

deal with

DEAL IN, def. 1. 2. Do business with someone, as in I like dealing with this company. [Late 1600s] Also see DEAL IN, def. 2. 3. Take action in, handle, administer, dispose of, as in The committee will deal with this matter. [Second half of 1400s] 4. Act in a specified way toward someone, as in He dealt extremely

fairly with his competitors. [c. 1300]

dear

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DEAR, also see FOR DEAR LIFE;

NEAREST AND DEAREST.

dear me Also, oh dear. A polite exclamation expressing surprise, distress, sympathy, etc. For example, Dear me, I forgot to mail it, or Oh dear, what a bad time you've been having. These usages may originally have invoked God, as in dear God or oh God, which also continue to be so used. [Late 1600s]

death

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DEATH, also see AT DEATH'S DOOR; BE

THE DEATH OF; BORE TO DEATH; CATCH COLD (ONE'S DEATH); FATE WORSE THAN DEATH; IN AT THE DEATH; KISS OF DEATH; LOOK LIKE DEATH (WARMED OVER); MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH; PUT TO DEATH; SCARE OUT OF ONE'S WITS (TO DEATH); SIGN ONE'S OWN DEATH WARRANT; THRILL TO PIECES (TO DEATH); TICKLED PINK (TO DEATH); TO DEATH. Also see under DEAD.

death and taxes, certain as Also, sure as death and taxes. Bound to occur, inevitable, as in

His business is going to fail, certain as death and taxes. This phrase was invented by Benjamin Franklin in a letter (1789) and has been repeated ever since, the government's recurring need for revenue probably assuring its continued popularity.

death knell

Something that indicates impending failure, as in His low scores sounded the death knell for his ambitions. The noun knell, used for the ringing of a bell since at least A.D. 1000, is rarely

heard today except in this figurative phrase.

death of

hand. see BE THE DEATH OF.

death on

Very effective against; also, very fond of. For example, "He is a wonderful fielder and sure death on bunts" (Christy Mathewson, Pitching, 1912), or The boss is death on tardiness, or She's death on the latest fashions. [Slang; early 1800s]

debt

hand. see HEAD OVER HEELS (IN DEBT).

deck

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DECK, also see CLEAR THE DECKS; HIT

THE DECK; ON DECK.

deck out

Decorate, dress up, as in They were all decked out in their best clothes. [Mid-1700s]

declare war on Also, declare war against. Announce one's intent to suppress or eradicate something or someone. For example, The police have declared war on drug dealing in the neighborhood, or Several gangs have declared war against each other. This usage transfers the literal sense of the term, "to state formally one's intention to carry on hostilities against another power," to a somewhat smaller scale.

deep

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DEEP, also see BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN

DEEP; BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE (DEVIL AND DEEP BLUE SEA); GO OFF THE DEEP END; IN DEEP; STILL WATERS RUN DEEP.

deep down

At bottom, basically. For example, Deep down she was a rebel, or Although he would never admit it, deep down he was very fond of her. [c. 1900]

deep end

hand. see GO OFF THE DEEP END.

deep pocket Also, deep pockets. A source of substantial wealth or financial support, as in The college relies on the deep pocket of one particular alumna. This term alludes to money-filled pockets. [Slang; 1970s]

deep six

1. Also, give or get the deep six. Burial at sea. For example, When the torpedo hit our boat, I was sure we'd get the deep six. This expression alludes to the customary six-foot depth of most graves. [Early 1900s] 2. Disposal or rejection of something, as in They gave the new plan the deep six. This usage comes from nautical slang of the 1920s for tossing something overboard (to its watery grave; see def. 1). It was transferred to more general kinds of disposal in the 1940s and gave rise to the verb to deep-six, for "toss overboard" or "discard."

deep water

hand. see IN DEEP, def. 2.

default

hand. see IN DEFAULT OF.

defensive

hand. see ON THE DEFENSIVE.

defiance

hand. see IN DEFIANCE OF.

degree

hand. see BY DEGREES; THIRD DEGREE; TO SOME DEGREE; TO THE NTH DEGREE.

deliver

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DELIVER, also see SIGNED, SEALED,

AND DELIVERED.

deliver the goods

Do what is required, come up to expectations. For example, Kate delivered the goods and got us the five votes we needed. This phrase alludes to delivering an order of groceries or other items. [Colloquial; second half of 1800s]

demand

hand. see IN DEMAND; MAKE DEMANDS ON; ON DEMAND.

dent

hand. see MAKE A DENT IN.

depth

hand. see IN DEPTH; OUT OF ONE'S DEPTH.

description

hand. see BEGGAR DESCRIPTION.

desert

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DESERT, also see JUST DESERTS.

desert a sinking ship

Abandon a failing enterprise before it is too late. For example, After seeing the company's financial statement, he knew it was time to desert a sinking ship. This metaphoric expression alludes to rats, which leave a vessel when it founders in a storm or runs aground so as to escape drowning. It was transferred to human behavior by about 1600.

deserve

hand. see ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES ANOTHER.

design

hand. see BY DESIGN; HAVE DESIGNS ON.

desire

hand. see LEAVE A LOT TO BE DESIRED.

desist

hand. see CEASE AND DESIST.

detail

hand. see IN DETAIL.

determine

hand. see

device

hand. see

devil

BOUND AND DETERMINED.

LEAVE TO SOMEONE'S OWN DEVICES.

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DEVIL, also see BETWEEN A ROCK AND

A HARD PLACE (DEVIL AND DEEP BLUE SEA); FULL OF IT (THE DEVIL); GIVE SOMEONE HELL (THE DEVIL); GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE; GO TO HELL (THE DEVIL); LUCK OF THE DEVIL; PLAY THE DEVIL WITH; RAISE CAIN (THE DEVIL); SPEAK OF THE DEVIL.

devil and deep blue sea

hand. see under BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE.

devil of a Also, one devil or the devil of a; hell of a. Infernally annoying or difficult, as in This is a devil of an assembly job, or She had one devil of a time getting through the traffic, or I had a hell of a morning sitting in that doctor's office. The first expression dates from the mid-1700s. The variant is a couple of decades newer and its precise meaning depends on the context. For example, We had a hell of a time getting here invariably means we had a very difficult or annoying time, but He is one hell of a driver could mean that he is either very good or very bad (see HELL OF A,

def. 2).

devil's advocate