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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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Overwhelm or defeat someone thoroughly, make short work of someone. For example, Lacking experience in manufacturing, he was eaten alive by his competitors. This slangy hyperbole dates from the early 1900s. A newer slangy variant is eat someone's lunch, dating from the mid-1900s. For example, It was a decisive victory; be ate the incumbent's lunch.

eat someone out

hand. see EAT OUT, def. 2.

eat someone out of house and home

Eat so much as to deplete someone's resources, as in The kids are eating her out of house and home. This hyperbole was well known by the time Shakespeare used it (2 Henry IV, 2:1): "He hath eaten me out of house and home."

eat someone's ass out

Rebuke or scold harshly, as in Watch it or the sergeant will eat your ass out. This expression became widespread especially in the armed forces. [Vulgar slang; c. 1940]

eat someone's lunch

hand. see under EAT SOMEONE ALIVE.

eat someone up

hand. see EAT OUT, def. 2.

eat up

1. Consume completely, as in No television until you eat up your dinner, or This quar

ter's expenses have eaten up all my spare cash. The literal use (first example) dates from the early 1500s, the figurative from the early 1600s. 2. Enjoy avidly, as in She simply eats up the publicity. [Late 1800s] 3. Believe unquestioningly, be gullible, as in He'll eat up whatever the broker tells him. [Slang; early 1900s] 4. Defeat completely, as in This new fighter just eats up every opponent.

[Slang; c. 1830]

5. See EAT OUT, def. 2.

ebb

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EBB, also see AT A LOW EBB.

ebb and flow

A decline and increase, constant fluctuations. For example, He was fascinated by the ebb and flow of the Church's influence over the centuries. This expression alludes to the inward and outward movement of ocean tides. [Late 1500s]

edge

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EDGE, also see CUTTING EDGE; GET A

WORD IN EDGEWISE; HAVE THE EDGE ON; ON EDGE; ON THE EDGE; OVER THE EDGE; SET ONE'S TEETH ON EDGE; TAKE THE EDGE OFF; THIN EDGE OF THE WEDGE.

edge in

Work into a limited space or time; move gradually or hesitantly; insert. For example, The train was crowded but I managed to edge in, or Everyone was talking at once and he barely managed to

edge in a word. [Mid-1600s] Also see GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE.

edge out

Surpass or defeat by a small margin, as in She edged out her opponent on the home stretch. [Late 1800s]

edgewise

hand. see GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE.

educated guess, an

A speculation based on past experience or knowledge, as in I'm not sure how much meat we need to feed twelve, but I'll make an educated guess and say six pounds. [Mid-1900s]

eel

hand. see

effect

hand. see

effigy

hand. see

effort

hand. see

egg

SLIPPERY AS AN EEL.

IN EFFECT; INTO EFFECT; TAKE EFFECT; TO THAT EFFECT.

IN EFFIGY.

ALL OUT (EFFORT); LAST-DITCH EFFORT.

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EGG, also see BAD EGG; GOOD EGG;

GOOSE EGG; KILL THE GOOSE THAT LAYS THE GOLDEN EGGS; LAY AN EGG; PUT ALL ONE'S EGGS IN ONE BASKET; WALK ON EGGS.

egg in your beer

A bonus, something for nothing, as in What do you want?

egg in your beer? This expression dates from about 1940 and became widespread during World War II. The origin is unknown, since adding egg to beer does not improve the taste.

egg on

Incite, urge ahead, provoke, as in Jack is always egging me on to drive faster, or Seemingly quiet, Margo actually eggs on Donald to quarrel with his staff. This expression has nothing to do with hen's eggs but comes from an Old Norse word, eggja, "to edge." Both edge on and egg on were used interchangeably, but today the latter is preferred. [c. 1200]

egg on one's face, have

Look foolish or be embarrassed, as in If you ask any more personal questions, you'll end up with egg on your face. This expression possibly alludes to dissatisfied audiences pelting performers with raw eggs. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]

ego trip

Behavior or activities undertaken mainly out of vanity or for self-gratification. For example, She's really on an ego trip, trying out for the lead. [1960s]

eight

hand. see BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL.

eke out

1. Supplement, make last, as in The survivors eked out their food and water until they were rescued. [Late 1500s] 2. Get with great difficulty or effort, as in The soil was terrible but they managed to eke out a living by rotating crops. [Early 1800s]

elbow

In addition to the idioms beginning with ELBOW, also see AT SOMEONE'S ELBOW;

CROOK ONE'S ELBOW; OUT AT THE ELBOWS; RUB ELBOWS WITH.

elbow grease

Strenuous physical effort, as in You'll have to use some elbow grease to get the house painted in time. This term alludes to vigorous use of one's arm in cleaning, polishing, or the like. It soon was extended to any kind of hard work, and Anthony Trollope used it still more figuratively (Thackeray, 1874): "Forethought is the elbow-grease which a novelist . . . requires." [First half of 1600s]

elbow room

Enough space to move about, as in Two hundred on the stage? There won't be any elbow room.

This term alludes to having enough room to extend one's elbows. [Late 1500s]

element

hand. see

elephant

hand. see

BRAVE THE ELEMENTS; IN ONE'S ELEMENT.

SEE THE ELEPHANT; WHITE ELEPHANT.

eleventh hour

The latest possible time, as in We turned in our report at the eleventh hour. This term is thought to allude to the parable of the laborers (Matthew 20:1-16), in which those workers hired at the eleventh hour of a twelve-hour working day were paid the same amount as those who began in the first hour. [Early 1800s]

else

hand. see IN SOMEONE'S (ELSE'S) SHOES; OR ELSE; SOMETHING ELSE; SOMETHING ELSE AGAIN.

embarrassment of riches

An overabundance of something, too much of a good thing, as in All four of them have their own cars but there's no room in the driveway?

an embarrassment of riches. This term originated in 1738 as John Ozell's translation of a French play, L'Embarras des richesses (1726).

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EMPTY, also see GLASS IS HALF FULL

(HALF EMPTY); RUNNING ON EMPTY.

empty calories

Food that has little or no nutritional value. For example, Snacking on beer and potato chips makes for a lot of empty calories. [1960s]

empty nest

The home of parents whose children have grown up and moved out. For example, Now that they had an empty nest, Jim and Jane opened a bed-and-breakfast. This expression, alluding to a nest from which baby birds have flown, gave rise to such related ones as empty-nester, for a parent whose children had moved out, and empty-nest syndrome, for the state of mind of parents whose children had left. [c. 1970]

empty suit

An unimportant person; also, a phony. For example, Don't pay any attention to him?

he's just an empty suit, or She acts as though she knows what she's doing, but she's really an empty suit. This graphic expression calls up the image of an empty suit of clothes. [c. 1970]

enchilada

hand. see BIG CHEESE (ENCHILADA); WHOLE BALL OF WAX (ENCHILADA).

end

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

WELL; AT LOOSE ENDS; AT ONE'S WIT'S END; BE-ALL AND END-ALL; BEGINNING OF THE END; BITTER END; BURN THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS; CAN'T SEE BEYOND THE END OF ONE'S NOSE; COME TO AN END; DEAD END; GO OFF THE DEEP END; HAIR STAND ON END; HOLD ONE'S END UP; IN THE END; LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL; MAKE ENDS MEET; NEVER HEAR THE END OF; ODDS AND ENDS; ON END; ON THE RECEIVING END; PLAY BOTH ENDS AGAINST THE MIDDLE; PUT AN END TO; REAR END; SHORT END (OF THE STICK); TAIL END; WRONG END OF THE STICK.

endangered species

A group threatened with extinction or destruction. For example, Workers willing to put in overtime without extra pay are an endangered species, or With the new budget cuts, public television has become an endangered species. This expression, originally referring to species of plants or animals in danger of dying out, began in the 1980s to be extended to anything or anyone becoming rare.

end game

The final stage of some process, as in The book discussed the diplomatic end game resulting in the treaty. This term, dating from about 1880, comes from chess, where it denotes the stage of a game when most of the pieces have been removed from the board. In the mid-1900s it began to be transferred to other activities.

end in itself

A purpose or goal desired for its own sake (rather than to attain something else). For example, For me, writing books is an end in itself; they don't really make that much money. This expression employs the noun end in the sense of "final cause or purpose," a usage dating from the early 1500s.

end justifies the means, the

A good outcome excuses any wrongs committed to attain it. For example, He's campaigning with illegal funds on the theory that if he wins the election the end will justify the means, or The officer tricked her into admitting her guilt?

the end sometimes justifies the means. This proverbial (and controversial) observation dates from ancient times, but in English it was first recorded only in 1583.

end of one's rope, at the Also, at the end of one's tether. At the limits of one's resources, abilities, endurance, or patience. For example, If that loan doesn't come through, we'll be at the end of our rope, or The workmen are driving me crazy; I'm at the end of my tether. This

expression alludes to a tied-up animal that can graze only as far as the rope (or tether) permits. [Late 1600s]

end of the line Also, end of the road. The conclusion or final outcome. For example, The editorial pointed out that it was the end of the line for the President; he'd never be reelected, or It was obviously the end of the road for this television series. This idiom alludes to the point where a road or line stops. [c. 1900]

end run

Evasive action, as in The new department head was making an end run around the old hands who opposed her appointment. This term comes from American football, where it denotes an offensive play in which the ball carrier runs around one end of the opposing team's line. [Mid-1900s]

ends of the earth, the

The utmost limit, as in She would go to the ends of the earth for him. This usage was once literal (referring to the farthest reaches of the planet) but now is used only figuratively.

end to end

1. In a row with the ends touching. For example, The logs were laid end to end. [Mid-1800s] 2. from end to end. Throughout the length of something, as in We hiked the Appalachian Trail from end to end. [First half of 1600s]

end up

Arrive at, result in, finish. For example, He thought he'd end up living in the city, or We don't know how Nancy will end up. [First half of 1900s] Also see WIND UP.

English

hand. see BODY ENGLISH; IN PLAIN ENGLISH.

en masse

In one group or body; all together. For example, The activists marched en masse to the capitol. This French term, with exactly the same meaning, was adopted into English about 1800.

enough

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with ENOUGH, also see FAIR ENOUGH; HAD

ENOUGH; LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE; NOT ENOUGH ROOM TO SWING A CAT; SURE ENOUGH; (ENOUGH) TO WAKE THE DEAD.

enough is enough

One should be satisfied; stop, there should be no more. For example, No more speeches?

enough is enough, or as Robert Southey put it (The Doctor, 1834): "As for money, enough is enough; no man can enjoy more." This expression already appeared in John Heywood's proverb

collection of 1546 and is often used as an interjection (first example).

enough rope, give someone

Allow someone to continue on a course and then suffer its consequences. For example, The auditor knew something was wrong but decided to give the chief accountant enough rope. This expression, a shortening of enough rope to hang oneself, was already proverbial in John Ray's English Proverbs (1678).

enough said

Say no more; also, I agree completely. For example, She didn't even bother to call?

enough said? or You'll bring the wine?

enough said. [Mid-1800s]

enough to sink a ship Also, enough to sink a battleship. A more than sufficient amount, as in

They brought enough food to sink a ship. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]

en route

On or along the way, as in We'll pick up Dan en route to the restaurant, or We can finish our discussion en route. This French term was adopted into English in the late 1700s.

enter into

1. Participate in, take an active role or interest in, as in We had to think twice before we entered into these negotiations. [Late 1700s] 2. Become party to (a contract), bind oneself, as in The nations entered into a new agreement. [First half of 1500s] 3. Become a component, form a part of, as in Finances soon entered into the discussion. [Early 1700s] 4. Also, go into. Consider, investigate, as in The report entered into the effect of high interest rates, or Let's not go into that.

[Mid-1500s]

enter on Also, enter upon. Set out, begin, as in We are entering on a new era, or They entered upon the most difficult part of the research. [Early 1600s]

enter one's mind Also, enter one's head. Occur to one, come into one's consciousness. This expression is most often used negatively, as in It didn't enter my mind that he'd want to join us, or

Run for office? It never entered my head.

enterprise

hand. see FREE ENTERPRISE.

enter the lists Also, enter the fray. Engage in a fight or competition, as in He said he'd be willing to enter the lists well before the primaries, or Whenever people disagreed, she was eager to enter the fray. The first term uses the noun lists in the sense of "a barrier around the arena enclosing medieval jousting tournaments" and was being used figuratively by the late 1500s. The variant uses fray in the sense of "a noisy skirmish or battle," a usage from the late 1300s.

envy

hand. see GREEN WITH ENVY.

equal

In addition to the idioms beginning with EQUAL, also see OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL; SEPARATE BUT EQUAL.

equal to

Adequate or fit in ability or extent, as in I'm not sure I'm equal to the task. [Late 1600s] Also see

FEEL UP TO; UP TO.

errand

hand. see

error

hand. see

escape

FOOL'S ERRAND; RUN AN ERRAND.

COMEDY OF ERRORS; TRIAL AND ERROR.

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with ESCAPE, also see NARROW ESCAPE.

escape notice

Elude attention or observation, as in It must have escaped the editor's notice so I'll write again. [c. 1700]

etched in stone

hand. see CAST IN STONE.

eternal triangle

A relationship involving three lovers, such as two women involved with one man or two men with one woman. For example, The plot of the murder mystery revolved around the eternal triangle of a husband, wife, and another woman. [c. 1900]

eve

hand. see ON THE EVE OF.

even

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EVEN, also see BREAK EVEN; GET

EVEN; NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK; ON AN EVEN KEEL.

evening

hand. see GOOD DAY (EVENING).

even money

Equal odds that something will occur, as in It's even money that he'll get the contract. The term comes from gambling, where it signifies equal odds in a bet. [Late 1800s]

even so

Nevertheless, still, that being the case. For example, That may be true, but even so we will investigate further, or She claimed it contained no garlic, but even so I could taste it. [Late 1300s]

even-steven

Exactly equal; also, with nothing due or owed on either side. For example, I've paid it all back, so now we're even-steven. This rhyming phrase is used as an intensive for even. [Mid-1800s]

event

hand. see BLESSED EVENT; IN ANY CASE (EVENT); IN CASE (IN THE EVENT); IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT.

ever

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with EVER, also see HARDLY EVER; LIVE

HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

ever and again

Now and then, occasionally. For example, We visit her ever and again. This phrase has largely replaced the earlier ever and anon, dating from the late 1500s, but is less common than EVERY

NOW AND THEN. [Late 1800s]

every

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with EVERY, also see AT EVERY TURN; EACH

AND EVERY; FINGER IN THE (EVERY) PIE; LIVING SOUL, EVERY; NOOK AND CRANNY, EVERY.

every bit

1. All of something, as in Eat every bit of that broccoli! 2. In all ways, equally. For example, He is every bit as smart as his sister. Also see EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS.

every cloud has a silver lining

hand. see SILVER LINING.

every dog has its day

Even the lowliest will sometimes come to the fore, as in They may not listen to me now, but just wait, every dog has its day. This proverbial saying alludes to the lowly status dogs once held. [Mid-1500s] Also see HAD ITS DAY.

every inch

Completely, wholly, as in He was every inch a leader, or I had to argue this case every inch of the way. [Early 1400s]

every last one

hand. see EACH AND EVERY.

every little bit helps

Any contribution can be useful, as in He can only give us one day, but every little bit helps. This expression, with slightly different wording (everything helps), dates from the late 1500s.

every man for himself

Each individual puts his or her own interests foremost. For example, In this company no one helps anyone?

it's every man for himself. In Chaucer's day

this dictum was stated approvingly, meaning "if you don't look out for yourself, no one else will," but today such selfishness is usually censured. Despite the wording, the term applies to either sex.

every man has his price

Any person can be bribed in some way, as in They had trouble persuading her to join, but when they offered her a car?

well, every man has his price. This cynical observation was first recorded in 1734 but may be much older, and it applies to either sex.

every minute counts Also, every moment counts. Time is of the essence. For example, Hurry up with those tools?

every minute counts, or In performing surgery every moment counts. This idiom uses count in the sense of "to enter into the reckoning" (and hence be important).

every nook and cranny

hand. see NOOK AND CRANNY.

every now and then Also, every now and again; every once in a while; every so often. Occasionally, from time to time; also, periodically. For example, Every now and then I long for a piece of chocolate, or We take long walks every now and again, or Every once in a while he'll call, or Every so often she washes the car. The first term dates from the first half of the 1700s, the last

from the mid-1900s. Also see FROM TIME TO TIME; ONCE IN A WHILE.