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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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drop out

Withdraw from participation in a group such as a school, club, or game; also, withdraw from society owing to disillusionment. For example, He couldn't afford the membership dues and had to drop out, or She planned to drop out from college for a year. [Late 1800s]

drop the ball

Make an error; miss an opportunity. For example, She really dropped the ball when she forgot to call back, or He dropped the ball, turning down their offer. This expression comes from sports where a player who fails to catch a ball is charged with an error. Its use for more general kinds of mistakes dates from about 1950.

drown

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DROWN, also see LIKE A DROWNED

RAT.

drown one's sorrows

Drink liquor to escape one's unhappiness. For example, After the divorce, she took to drowning her sorrows at the local bar. The notion of drowning in drink dates from the late 1300s.

drown out

Overwhelm with a louder sound, as in Their cries were drowned out by the passing train. [Early 1600s]

drug on the market

A commodity whose supply greatly exceeds the demand for it. For example, Now that asbestos is considered dangerous, asbestos tile is a drug on the market. The use of the noun drug in the sense of "something overabundant" (as opposed to a medicine or narcotic) dates from the mid-1600s, but the first record of the full expression, put as drug in the market, dates only from the 1830s.

drum into someone's head

see BEAT INTO SOMEONE'S HEAD.

drummer

hand. see MARCH TO A DIFFERENT BEAT (DRUMMER).

drum out

Expel or dismiss publicly and in disgrace, as in They drummed him out of the club. This usage, which alludes to dismissal from a military service to the beat of a drum, began to be applied to civilian expulsions in the mid-1700s.

drum up

1. Bring about by persistent effort, as in I'm trying to drum up more customers, or We have to drum up support for this amendment. This expression alludes to making repeated drumbeats. [Mid-1800s] 2. Devise, invent, obtain, as in He hoped to drum up an alibi. [Mid-1800s]

drunk as a lord Also, drunk as a fiddler or skunk; falling-down or roaring drunk. Extremely intoxicated, as in He came home drunk as a lord. The three similes have survived numerous others. The first was considered proverbial by the mid-1600s and presumably alludes to the fact that noblemen drank more than commoners (because they could afford to). The fiddler alludes to the practice of plying musicians with alcohol (sometimes instead of pay), whereas skunk, dating from the early 1900s, was undoubtedly chosen for the rhyme. The most graphic variant alludes to someone too drunk to keep his or her balance, as in He couldn't make it up the stairs; he was falling-down drunk. And roaring drunk, alluding to being extremely noisy as well as intoxicated, was first recorded in 1697. Also see DEAD DRUNK.

druthers

hand. see HAVE ONE'S DRUTHERS.

dry

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DRY, also see CUT AND DRIED; HANG

OUT TO DRY; HIGH AND DRY; KEEP ONE'S POWDER DRY; WELL'S RUN DRY.

dry as dust

Dull, boring, as in This text is dry as dust; it's putting me to sleep. [c. 1500]

dry behind the ears

see under WET BEHIND THE EARS.

dry out

Undergo a cure for alcoholism, as in After years of constant drinking, he realized that he needed to dry out. [1960s]

dry run

A trial exercise or rehearsal, as in Regard this as a dry run for tonight's ceremony. This term, using dry in the sense of "unproductive," was at first employed mainly in the military for simulated bombings in which no bombs were dropped. [c. 1940]

dry up

1. Gradually become unproductive, as in After two collections of short stories, his ability to write

fiction dried up. Also see WELL'S RUN DRY. 2. Stop talking; also, cause to stop talking. For example, Dry up! You've said enough. [Slang; mid-1800s]

duck

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

DUCKS IN A ROW; LAME DUCK; LIKE WATER OFF A DUCK'S BACK; SITTING DUCK; TAKE TO (LIKE A DUCK TO WATER); UGLY DUCKLING.

duck out

Leave hurriedly or secretly; evade responsibility. For example, If I can I'll duck out of the office early, or He simply ducked out on his entire family. This slangy expression originated in the late 1800s simply as duck, out being added about 1930.

duck soup

An easily accomplished task or assignment, a cinch to succeed, as in Fixing this car is going to be duck soup. This expression gained currency as the title of a hilarious popular movie by the Marx Brothers (1933). The original allusion has been lost. [Early 1900s]

dudgeon

hand. see IN HIGH DUDGEON.

due

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DUE, also see GIVE CREDIT (WHERE IT'S

DUE); GIVE SOMEONE HIS OR HER DUE; GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE; IN DUE COURSE; PAY ONE'S DUES; WITH ALL DUE RESPECT.

due to

1. Likely to, announced as, as in Betty bought more of the stock, believing it was due to rise, or

The play is due to open next week. [Early 1900s] 2. Attributable to, because of, as in Due to scanty rainfall, we may face a crop failure. This usage has been criticized by some authorities, but today it is widely considered standard. [Early 1900s] Also see ON ACCOUNT OF. 3. Owing or

payable to, as in We must give our staff whatever vacation is due to them.

dull

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DULL, also see NEVER A DULL MOMENT.

dull as dishwater Boring, tedious, as in That lecture was dull as dishwater. The original simile, dull as ditchwater, dating from the 1700s, alluded to the muddy water in roadside ditches. In the first half of the 1900s, perhaps through mispronunciation, it became dishwater, that is, the dingy, grayish water in which dirty dishes had soaked.

dumb bunny

A stupid person, as in She was a bit of a dumb bunny but very nice. This expression implies some toleration or endearment of the person. [c. 1920]

dumps

hand. see DOWN IN THE DUMPS.

dust

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DUST, also see BITE THE DUST; DRY AS

DUST; IN THE DUST; MAKE THE DUST FLY; SHAKE THE DUST FROM ONE'S FEET; THROW DUST IN SOMEONE'S EYES; WATCH MY DUST; WHEN THE DUST HAS SETTLED.

dust off

1. Restore to use. For example, I've dusted off last year's menu for the party. This usage alludes to cleaning and thereby renewing some object. [Mid-1900s] 2. Pitch a baseball dangerously close to the batter's head, as in I'm sure he dusted him off on purpose. [Slang; 1920s] 3. Finish off, kill; also, easily defeat. For example, They vowed to dust off the old man, or We'll dust off this team in no time. [Slang;

c. 1940] 4. Thrash, beat up, as in If he didn't hand over his wallet, they threatened to dust him off.

[Slang; 1920s]

Dutch

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with DUTCH, also see BEAT ALL (THE

DUTCH); DOUBLE DUTCH; IN DUTCH.

Dutch courage

False courage acquired by drinking liquor, as in He had a quick drink to give him Dutch courage. This idiom alludes to the reputed heavy drinking of the Dutch, and was first referred to in Edmund Waller's Instructions to a Painter (1665): "The Dutch their wine, and all their brandy lose, Disarm'd of that from which their courage grows."

Dutch treat

An outing or date in which each person pays his or her own expenses. For example, Her parents agreed that she might date if it were a Dutch treat. The related expression go Dutch means "to go on a date with each person paying their own way," as in Students often elect to go Dutch. The first term dates from about 1870, and the variant from the early 1900s.

Dutch uncle

A stern, candid critic or adviser, as in When I got in trouble with the teacher again, the principal talked to me like a Dutch uncle. This expression, often put as talk to one like a Dutch uncle, presumably alludes to the sternness and sobriety attributed to the Dutch. [Early 1800s]

duty

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with DUTY, also see ABOVE AND BEYOND

(THE CALL OF DUTY); ACTIVE DUTY; DO ONE'S DUTY; DOUBLE DUTY; HEAVY

DUTY; OFF DUTY; ON DUTY.

duty bound

Obliged, as in You're duty bound to help your little brother. [c. 1900]

dwell on Also, dwell upon. Linger over; ponder, speak or write at length. For example, Let's not dwell on this topic too long; we have a lot to cover today. [c. 1500]

dying

hand. see under DIE.

E

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EACH, also see AT EACH OTHER'S

THROATS; MADE FOR (EACH

each and every one Also, every last one; every single one. Every individual in a group, as in Each and every student must register by tomorrow, or I've graded every last one of the exams, or Every single one of his answers was wrong. All of these phrases are generally used for emphasis. The first, although seemingly redundant, has replaced all and every, first recorded in 1502. The first variant dates from the late 1800s, and both it and the second are widely used. Also see EVERY TOM, DICK, AND HARRY. Every mother's son (late 1500s) and every man Jack (mid-1800s) are earlier versions that refer only to males.

each other Also, one another. Each one the other, one the other, as in The boys like each other, or The birds were fighting one another over the crumbs. Both of these phrases indicate a reciprocal relationship or action between the subjects preceding (the boys, the birds). Formerly, many authorities held that each other should be confined to a relationship between two subjects only and one another used when there are more than two. Today most do not subscribe to this distinction, which was never strictly observed anyway. [Late 1300s] Also see AT EACH OTHER'S

THROATS.

eager beaver

An exceptionally zealous person, one who habitually takes on more tasks or works harder than others. For example, Bill is a real eager beaver, always volunteering to stay late. This expression became especially popular during World War II, applied to recruits anxious to impress their commanding officers by such behavior. [First half of 1900s]

eagle eye

Unusually keen sight; also, keen intellectual vision. For example, Antiques dealers have an eagle eye for valuable objects, or A good manager has an eagle eye for employee errors. [Late 1500s]

ear

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EAR, also see ALL EARS; BELIEVE ONE'S

EARS; BEND SOMEONE'S EAR; CAN'T MAKE A SILK PURSE OUT OF SOW'S EAR; COMING OUT OF ONE'S EARS; CUTE AS A BUTTON (BUG'S EAR); FALL ON DEAF EARS; FLEA IN ONE'S EAR; HAVE SOMEONE'S EAR; IN ONE EAR AND OUT THE OTHER; LEND ONE'S EAR; MUSIC TO ONE'S EARS; OUT ON ONE'S EAR; PIN SOMEONE'S EARS BACK; PLAY BY EAR; PRICK UP ONE'S EARS; PUT A BUG IN SOMEONE'S EAR; TURN A DEAF EAR; UP TO ONE'S EARS; WALLS HAVE EARS; WET BEHIND THE EARS.

early

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EARLY, also see BRIGHT AND EARLY.

early bird catches the worm Also, early bird gets the worm. One who arrives first has the best chance for success, as in She's always the first one in line and does well at these auctions?

the early bird catches the worm! This proverbial saying, first recorded in English in 1605, is so familiar that it is often shortened to early bird, a term also used in the sense of "early riser", as in

You can call me at seven?

I'm an early bird, as well as "early diner" (This restaurant has early-bird specials at lower prices).

early on

At an early stage in a process or course of events, as in He started using computers very early on. [1920s]

early to bed, early to rise (makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise)

Prudent habits pay off, as in With final exams coming, you'd best remember, early to bed and early to rise. This ancient rhyming proverb, so familiar that it is often abbreviated as in the example, was long ascribed to Benjamin Franklin, who quoted it in this form in Poor Richard's Almanack.

However, slightly different versions existed in English in the mid-1400s and in Latin even earlier.

earn

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EARN, also see PENNY SAVED IS A

PENNY EARNED.

earnest

hand. see IN EARNEST.

earn one's keep Also, be worth one's keep or salt. Work well enough to deserve what one is

paid, as in Get a job?

it's time you earned your keep, or With that batting average

he's not worth his salt. The keep in this phrase refers to ''room and board," which in former times sometimes constituted the only reward for working (on a farm, in a home, etc.). The salt stands for "salary" and alludes to the ancient Roman practice of paying soldiers an allowance to buy salt.

[First half of 1800s]

earn one's stripes

Gain a position through hard work and accumulated experience. For example, She'd earned her stripes by serving for years as the governor's secretary and personal aide. This expression alludes to a military promotion or award, indicated by strips of chevron or braid added to the recipient's uniform and known as stripes since the early 1800s.

ears are burning, one's

Be disconcerted by what one hears, especially when one is being talked about. For example, Were your ears burning? Jim was telling us about your exploits. Similarly, make one's ears burn means "to embarrass," as in Mom's stories about us as babies make my ears burn. These expressions allude to one's ears turning red from blushing.

earth

hand. see DOWN TO EARTH; ENDS OF THE EARTH; FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH; MOVE HEAVEN AND EARTH; NOT HAVE AN EARTHLY CHANCE; ON EARTH; RUN TO EARTH; SALT OF THE EARTH.

ear to the ground, have one's Also, keep one's ear to the ground. Be or remain well informed; be on the watch for new trends and information. For example, She knew she'd succeed as a reporter if she kept her ear to the ground. This graphic expression probably alludes to listening for distant hoofbeats by putting one's ear close to the ground. [Late 1800s]

ease

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EASE, also see AT EASE; ILL AT EASE.

Also see under EASILY; EASY.

ease off 1.Also, ease up. Lessen in severity, relax; abate. For example, I wish you'd ease off on Harold; he's doing the best he can, or The wind's eased up so I think the storm is just about over.

[Late 1800s] Also see LET UP. 2. Fall away, gradually decrease, as in The market's easing off, so we may get some stocks more cheaply. [Late 1800s]

ease out

Extract or remove someone or something gradually or gently. For example, He carefully eased the car out of the garage, or We were trying to ease him out of office without a public scandal.

[Mid-1900s]

easier said than done Also, more easily said than done. Describing something more readily talked about than accomplished, as in Keeping the cats off the sofa is easier said than done. This expression also was put as sooner or better said than done. Today, the variant (more easily) is still heard less often than the original. [c. 1450]

easily

hand. see BREATHE EASY (EASILY); EASIER (MORE EASILY) SAID THAN DONE.

easy

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EASY, also see BREATHE EASY; FREE

AND EASY; GET OFF (EASY); GO EASY; LET SOMEONE DOWN EASY; ON EASY STREET; TAKE IT EASY.

easy as pie Also, easy as falling or rolling off a log. Capable of being accomplished with no difficulty, as in This crossword puzzle is easy as pie. The first term presumably alludes to consuming pie (since making pie requires both effort and expertise). The variants most likely allude to standing on a log that is moving downstream, a feat in which falling off is a lot easier than remaining upright. Mark Twain had it in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889): "I could do it as easy as rolling off a log." The first colloquial term dates from the early 1900s, the colloquial variants from the 1830s. For a synonym, see PIECE OF CAKE.

easy come, easy go

Readily won and readily lost, as in Easy come, easy go?

that's how it is for Mark when he plays the stock market. This phrase states a truth known since ancient times and expressed in numerous proverbs with slightly different wording (lightly come, lightly go; quickly come, quickly go). The adverb easy was substituted in the early 1800s.

easy does it

Go carefully, don't hurry, as in That chest is heavy, so easy does it. [1920s] Also see GO EASY. easy money

Money obtained readily, with little effort and, often, illegally. For example, Winning the lottery?

that's easy money! or I was wary of making easy money with the insider tips I'd been given. [c. 1900] Also see FAST BUCK.

easy on the eyes Also, easy to look at. Attractive, beautiful, as in That model is definitely easy on the eyes. [Colloquial;

c. 1900]

easy sledding

Effortless progress, as in It's easy sledding from here on. This expression alludes to coasting

FAT CITY.

smoothly down a hill and was first recorded as smooth sledding in 1898. Also see the antonym

TOUGH SLEDDING.

easy street, on

A condition of financial security and comfort, as in If he actually makes partner, he will be on easy street. [Colloquial; c. 1900] Also see

eat

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EAT, also see DOG EAT DOG; PROOF

OF THE PUDDING IS IN THE EATING; WHAT'S EATING YOU.

eat and run

Depart immediately after consuming a meal; also, leave in a hurry. For example, Sorry, but I'll have to eat and run or I'll miss the last train, or Jim runs a meeting so efficiently that in effect it's eat and run. [Colloquial; first half of 1900s]

eat away at

Destroy gradually, erode; also, worry one constantly. For example, The sea has been eating away at the outer banks for years, or The fact that he failed the test is eating away at him. [Early 1800s]

eat crow Also, eat dirt or humble pie. Be forced to admit a humiliating mistake, as in When the reporter got the facts all wrong, his editor made him eat crow. The first term's origin has been lost, although a story relates that it involved a War of 1812 encounter in which a British officer made an American soldier eat part of a crow he had shot in British territory. Whether or not it is true, the fact remains that crow meat tastes terrible. The two variants originated in Britain. Dirt obviously tastes bad. And humble pie alludes to a pie made from umbles, a deer's undesirable innards (heart, liver, entrails). [Early 1800s] Also see EAT ONE'S WORDS.

eat high off the hog

hand. see HIGH OFF THE HOG.

eat in

Have a meal at home, as in Are we eating in tonight? [Colloquial; second half of 1900s] Also see

EAT OUT, def. 1.

eat like a bird

Eat very little, as in Jan is very thin?

she eats like a bird. This simile alludes to the mistaken impression that birds don't eat much (they actually do, relative to their size), and dates from the first half of the 1900s. An antonym is eat like a horse, dating from the early 1700s, and alluding to the tendency of horses to eat whatever food is available. For example, I never have enough food for Ellen?

she eats like a horse!

eat one's cake and have it, too Also, have one's cake and eat it, too. Have a dual benefit, consume something and still possess

it, as in Doug was engaged to Ann and still dating Jane; he was trying to eat his cake and have it, too. This metaphoric expression is often put negatively, as it already was in John Heywood's proverb collection of 1546: "You cannot eat your cake and have your cake."

eat one's hat

Declare one's certainty that something will not happen or is untrue. This hyperbolic expression almost always follows an if-clause, as in If he's on time, I'll eat my hat, that is, "I'll consume my headgear if I'm wrong." Charles Dickens used it in Pickwick Papers (1837): "If I knew as little of life as that, I'd eat my hat and swallow the buckle whole." [First half of 1800s]

eat one's heart out

Feel bitter anguish, grief, worry, jealousy, or another strong negative emotion. For example, She is still eating her heart out over being fired, or Eat your heart out?

my new car is being delivered today. This hyperbolic expression alludes to strong feelings gnawing at one's heart. [Late 1500s]

eat one's words

Be forced to retract something one has said, as in The incumbent won easily, so I had to eat my words. This expression was already proverbial in John Ray's English Proverbs (1670). [Second half of 1500s]

eat out

1. Have a meal outside one's home, usually at a restaurant. For example, We're almost out of groceries, so let's eat out tonight. [Second half of 1900s] For the antonym, see EAT IN. 2. eat

someone out Also, eat someone up. Rebuke or scold someone sharply, as in

He was always eating out the kids, or Why are you eating me up? I haven't done anything wrong. This slangy synonym for CHEW OUT probably originated as a euphemism for EAT SOMEONE'S ASS OUT. It dates from the 1940s, the variant from the 1840s. Also see the subsequent entries beginning with EAT OUT.

eat out of someone's hand

Be manipulated or dominated by another, be submissive, as in He had the press eating out of his hand. This metaphoric expression alludes to a tame animal eating out of one's hand. [Early 1900s]

eat shit Also, eat crap. Submit to degrading treatment, as in He refused to eat shit from the coach. James T. Farrell had the one term in Grandeur (1930), "They don't eat nobody's crap," and Mario Puzo the other in Dark Arena (1955), "He'd eaten shit all week." [Vulgar slang; second half of 1800s]

eat someone alive