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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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fall guy

1. A scapegoat, one who is blamed for the actions of others. For example, He refused to be the fall guy for his colleagues. This expression uses fall in the sense of "consequences" or "blame," which originated in prison slang. [Slang; early 1900s] Also see TAKE THE FALL. 2. An easy victim,

one who is readily duped. For example, His friends had marked him as the fall guy?

they knew he would believe their ruse. [Slang; early 1900s]

fall in

1. Take one's place in formation or in the ranks, as in The sergeant ordered the troops to fall in. A related expression is fall into, as in They all fell into their places. [Early 1600s] Also see FALL

INTO. 2. Sink inward, cave in, as in The snow was so heavy that we feared the roof would fall in. [Early 1700s] Also see under DROP IN; the subsequent idioms beginning with FALL IN; FALL INTO.

falling down drunk

hand. see under DRUNK AS A LORD.

fall in line Also, fall into line. Adhere to established rules or predetermined courses of action. For example, This idea falls in line with the entire agenda, or It wasn't easy to get all the tenants to fall into line concerning the rent hike. A related term is bring into line, meaning "to make someone fit established rules," as in It was her job to bring her class into line with the others.

These terms employ line in the sense of "alignment," a usage dating from about 1500.

fall in love

Become enamored. This expression may be used either literally, as in John and Mary fell in love on their first date, or hyperbolically, as in I fell in love with that antique chest. [First half of 1500s]

fall in place Also, fall into place. Fit well; also, become organized. For example, With the last witness's testimony, the entire sequence of events fell in place, or When the architect's plans were complete, the construction schedule fell into place. This idiom uses place in the sense of "proper position," a usage dating from the mid-1500s.

fall into

1. Enter or engage in, be drawn into, as in I told Dad not to fall into conversation with them. [Late

1400s] 2. See FALL IN, def. 1. 3. Be naturally divisible into, as in These students fall into three categories. [First half of 1600s] 4. fall into error or sin. Be drawn into bad behavior, as in I fell into error when I started spending time with the wrong crowd. This usage, like FALL FROM GRACE, originally alluded to religious concerns. It is now used less often and more loosely. [Late 1100s]

5. fall into a trap. Be deceived, unknowingly become involved in something. For example, By admitting I had free time, I fell into the trap of having to help him with his work. Also see under

FALL IN; FALL IN LINE; FALL IN PLACE.

fall in with

1. Agree with, be in harmony with, as in We happily fell in with his plans. [First half of 1600s] 2. Associate with, become acquainted with (especially by chance), as in On the cruise we fell in with a couple from Boston. [Late 1500s]

fall off

hand. see FALL AWAY.

fall off the wagon

hand. see OFF THE WAGON.

fall on Also, fall upon. 1. Attack suddenly and viciously, as in They fell on the guards and overpowered them.

[c. 1400] 2. Meet with, encounter, as in They fell on hard times. [Late 1500s] 3. Find by chance, discover, as in We fell upon the idea last Saturday night. [Mid-1600s] 4. Be the responsibility or duty of someone, as in It fell on Clara to support the entire family. [Mid-1800s] Also see the subsequent idioms beginning with FALL ON.

fall on deaf ears

Be ignored or disregarded, as in Any advice we give them about remodeling seems to fall on deaf ears. This expression transfers physical inability to hear to someone who does not want to listen. [1400s] Also see TURN A DEAF EAR.

fall on one's face Also, fall flat on one's face. Make a blunder or error of judgment, as in Holly fell on her face whenever she forecast earnings, or That weatherman keeps falling flat on his face with his predictions. This term, first recorded in 1614, originally had the literal meaning of "prostrate oneself in reverence." The present colloquial usage, however, transfers a physical fall to various kinds of bungling.

fall on one's feet Also, land on one's feet. Overcome difficulties, be restored to a sound or stable condition. For example, Don't worry about Joe's losing his job two years in a row?

be always falls on his feet, or The company went bankrupt, but the following year it was restructured and landed on its feet. This term alludes to the cat and its remarkable ability to land on its paws after falling from a great height. [Mid1800s]

fall out

1. Leave one's place in military ranks, as in After inspection they were ordered to fall out. [First half of 1800s] 2. Also, have a falling-out. Disagree, quarrel, as in The brothers fell out over their inheritance, or They no longer speak?

they had a falling-out some years ago. [First half of 1500s] 3. Happen, result, as in Let us know how it falls out in the end. [Second half of 1500s]

fall over

hand. see under FALL ALL OVER ONE-SELF.

fall short of

Prove inadequate or insufficient. For example, His skills fell short of the required standard. [Late 1500s]

fall through

Fail, miscarry, as in The proposed amendment fell through, or I hope our plans won't fall through.

[Late 1700s]

fall through the cracks

hand. see FALL BETWEEN THE CRACKS.

fall to

Energetically begin an activity, set to work, as in As soon as they had the right tools, they fell to work on the house. This expression

is also often used to mean "begin to eat." Charles Dickens so used it in American Notes (1842): "We fall-to upon these dainties." [Late 1500s]

fall under

1. Be classified as, as in These scores fall under choral music. [Mid-1400s] 2. Be subject to, as in

This precinct falls under the city's jurisdiction. [Second half of 1500s]

false

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FALSE, also see LULL INTO (FALSE

SENSE OF SECURITY); PLAY FALSE; RING FALSE.

false alarm

A warning signal that is groundless, made either by mistake or as a deliberate deception. For example, The rumor that we were all going to get fired was just a false alarm, or Setting off a false alarm is a criminal offense. This expression, first recorded in 1579, today is often used for a report of a nonexistent fire.

false colors

Pretense, misrepresentation, or hypocrisy; deceptive statements or actions. For example, She's sailing under false colors?

she claims to be a Republican, but endorses Democratic legislation. This term alludes to the practice of pirate ships sailing under false colors?

that is, running a particular flag specifically to lure another vessel close enough to be captured. [Late 1600s]

false start

A wrong beginning, as in After several false starts she finally managed to write the first chapter.

The term originated in racing, where it refers to beginning a race before the starting signal has been given. The expression was soon transferred to other kinds of failed beginning. [Early 1800s]

false step

A stumble or blunder, as in Making a down payment without securing a mortgage was clearly a false step. This term transfers physical stumbling or tripping to other enterprises. [c. 1700]

familiar

hand. see HAVE A FAMILIAR RING.

familiarity breeds contempt

Long experience of someone or something can make one so aware of the faults as to be scornful. For example, Ten years at the same job and now he hates it?

familiarity breeds contempt. The idea is much older, but the first recorded use of this expression was in Chaucer's Tale of Melibee (c. 1386).

family

hand. see IN A FAMILY WAY; IN THE FAMILY; RUN IN THE BLOOD (FAMILY).

famine

hand. see FEAST OR FAMINE.

famous last words

A phrase used to express disbelief, rejection, or self-deprecation. For example, They said we'd get an extra bonus at Christmas??

famous last words! or This book is bound to make the best-seller listfamous last words! This expression alludes to grandiose statements about human affairs that prove to be untrue, such as "This is the war to end all wars," or "We must make the world safe for democracy." [Late 1930s]

fan

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with FAN, also see SHIT WILL HIT THE FAN.

fancy

hand. see FLIGHT OF FANCY; FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY-FREE; TAKE A FANCY TO; TICKLE ONE'S FANCY.

fan the flames

Intensify or stir up feelings; exacerbate an explosive situation. For example, She already found him attractive, but his letters really fanned the flames, or His speech fanned the flames of racial dissension.

far

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FAR, also see AS FAR AS; AS FAR AS

POSSIBLE; AS FAR AS THAT GOES; BY FAR; CARRY TOO FAR; FEW AND FAR BETWEEN; GO FAR; GO SO FAR AS TO; GO TOO FAR; SO FAR; SO FAR SO GOOD.

far afield

Wide-ranging, at a distance, as in I started out identifying wild mushrooms, but since then I've gone far afield in other branches of botany. [c. 1400]

far and away

hand. see under BY FAR.

far and near

Everywhere, at a distance and nearby. For example, People came from far and near to see the Pope. [c.

A.D. 1000]

far and wide

For a great distance, over a large area. For example, They searched far and wide for the lost child, or The message went out far and wide. [c. A.D. 900]

far be it from one to

One will not do or say something. This disclaimer may be true or false, depending on the speaker or the context. For example, Far be it from him to disagree may be used as a straightforward indication that he is unlikely to disagree, or it may be used ironically to indicate that he actually disagrees quite strongly. [Late 1300s] For a phrase used similarly, see GOD FORBID.

far cry from, a

1. Also, far from. Very different from, as in Thinking someone is stupid is a far cry from saying so, or Far from being neutral, Jack regarded him as his friend. The first term may have originated as calculating the distance of one's enemies by shouting, but it has been used figuratively (signifying difference rather than distance) since the early 1800s. The variant, dating from the mid-1600s, is most often used with a participle, as in the example (being). 2. far from it. An interjection expressing strong denial, as in I thought you were bored.?

Far from it, I enjoyed the evening.

far from

hand. see under FAR CRY FROM.

far gone

Extremely advanced, referring to some progressive action or condition. For example, These trees are too far gone to be saved, or He's had a lot to drink and is too far gone to drive himself home.

[Mid1500s]

farm

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with FARM, also see BUY IT (THE FARM).

farm out

Assign something to an outsider; subcontract something. For example, The contractor was so busy he had to farm out two jobs to a colleague, or When their mother was hospitalized, the children had to be farmed out to the nearest relatives. This term originally referred to letting or leasing land. Today it usually refers to subcontracting work or the care of a dependent to another. In baseball it means "to assign a player to a lesser (farm) league," as opposed to a BIG LEAGUE.

[Mid-1600s]

far out

1. Unusual or eccentric; very advanced. For example, Painting blindfolded, that's far out, or Her child-rearing theories are far out. 2. An interjection meaning "great" or "cool," as in All he could say when he won the lottery was "Far out!" Originally a slang term for daringly creative jazz, this expression has been applied to other art forms and undertakings. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]

farther

hand. see CAN'T SEE BEYOND (FARTHER THAN) THE END OF ONE'S NOSE.

fashion

hand. see AFTER A FASHION; IN FASHION.

fast

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FAST, also see GET NOWHERE (FAST);

HARD AND FAST; PULL A FAST ONE; STAND ONE'S GROUND (FAST); THICK AND FAST.

fast and furious

Swiftly, intensely and energetically, as in The storm moved in fast and furious, or The sale was going fast and furious, attracting large crowds. This phrase is also often applied to intense gaiety, as when it was first recorded in Robert Burns's poem "Tam o' Shanter" (1793): "The mirth and fun grew fast and furious."

fast and loose

hand. see PLAY FAST AND LOOSE.

fast buck

Money made quickly and easily and, often, dishonestly. For example, He's all

right, but his partner is just out for a fast buck. This expression gave rise to fast-buck artist for an individual, especially a swindler, intent on making money quickly. [Slang; mid-1900s] Also see

EASY MONEY.

fast lane Also, life in the fast lane. A lifestyle that involves free spending and self-indulgence, and sometimes also dissipation and danger. For example, They're finding that life in the fast lane can be very stressful. This term alludes to the highway express lane used by faster vehicles to pass slower ones. [Colloquial;

c. 1970] Also see FAST TRACK.

fast track

A situation involving high pressure, competition, and, especially, rapid success or advancement. For example, He was definitely on a fast track, becoming a partner after only five years in the firm, or This company was on the fast track in software development. This term alludes to a dry, hard horse track that enables horses to run at high speeds. [Colloquial; mid-1960s] Also see FAST

LANE.

fat

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FAT, also see CHEW THE FAT; KILL THE

FATTED CALF.

fat cat

A wealthy and privileged person, as in This neighborhood, with its million-dollar estates, is full of fat cats. This term originally meant "a rich contributor to a political campaign," and while this usage persists, it now is often applied more broadly, as in the example. [Colloquial; 1920s]

fat chance

Very little or no possibility, as in A fat chance he has of coming in first, or You think they'll get married? Fat chance! A related expression is a fat lot, meaning "very little or none at all," as in A fat lot of good it will do her. The first of these slangy sarcastic usages dates from the early 1900s, the second from the 1890s.

fat city Also, Fat City. A condition or circumstance marked by considerable prosperity or having a superior advantage. For example, With that new job she'll be in fat city. [Slang; 1960s] Also see

EASY STREET.

fate

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FATE, also see SEAL ONE'S FATE;

TEMPT FATE.

fate worse than death, a

A highly undesirable occurrence, a misfortune, as in Dean thinks driving daily during rush hour is a fate worse than death. Formerly applied quite seriously to a woman's loss of virginity, this idiom today is used hyperbolically and far more loosely. [1600s]

fat farm

A clinic or resort where people go to lose weight, as in She spends all her vacations at a fat farm but it hasn't helped so far. This is a somewhat derisive term for such an establishment. [Colloquial; 1960s]

father

hand. see LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON.

fat is in the fire, the

A course of action with inevitable bad consequences has begun; there's trouble ahead. For example,

Now the fat's in the fire?

the boss arrived early and will see we haven't even started work. This expression, with its allusion to fat dropping into a fire and causing a burst of flames, was already a proverb in John Heywood's 1546 collection.

fat lot

hand. see under FAT CHANCE.

fat of the land, the

The best or richest of anything, as in The tiny upper class lived off the fat of the land while many of the poor were starving. This expression alludes to fat in the sense of "the best or richest part." The Bible has it as eat the fat of the land (Genesis 45:18).

fatted calf

hand. see

fault

hand. see

favor

KILL THE FATTED CALF.

AT FAULT; FIND FAULT; TO A FAULT.

hand. see CURRY FAVOR; IN FAVOR OF; IN FAVOR WITH; IN ONE'S FAVOR; OUT OF FAVOR; RETURN THE COMPLIMENT (FAVOR).

favorite son

A person valued by his or her hometown or organization for his or her achievements, usually political, as in Mary hoped they would treat her as a favorite son and nominate her for state senator. This term was originally employed for a candidate nominated for office by his own locality. Today this usage may ignore gender, as in the example. [c. 1780]

fear

hand. see FOOLS RUSH IN WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD; FOR FEAR OF; NEVER FEAR; PUT THE FEAR OF GOD IN.

feast one's eyes on

Be delighted or gratified by the sight of, as in I'm feasting my eyes on this new sculpture?

it's wonderful. This metaphoric expression may have been originated by Shakespeare, who used it in Sonnet 47: "With my love's picture then my eye doth feast."

feast or famine Also, either feast or famine. Either too much or too little, too many or too few. For example, Free-lancers generally find it's feast or famine?

too many assignments or too few, or Yesterday two hundred showed up at the fair, today two dozen?

it's either feast or famine. This expression, which transfers an overabundance or shortage of food to numerous other undertakings, was first recorded in 1732 as feast or fast, the noun famine being substituted in the early 1900s.

feather

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FEATHER, also see BIRDS OF A

FEATHER; FUSS AND FEATHERS; IN FINE FEATHER; KNOCK DOWN WITH A FEATHER; LIGHT AS A FEATHER; MAKE THE DUST (FEATHERS) FLY; RUFFLE SOMEONE'S FEATHERS; SHOW THE WHITE FEATHER; TAR AND FEATHER.

feather in one's cap, a

An act or deed to one's credit; a distinctive achievement. For example, Getting all three factions to the bargaining table would be a feather in his cap. This expression alludes to the practice of putting a feather on a soldier's cap for every enemy he kills, an early practice of some Native American tribes and many other peoples. [Early 1600s]

feather one's nest

Acquire wealth for oneself, especially by taking advantage of one's position or using the property of others. For example, Bill's many profitable consulting assignments enabled him to feather his nest

quite comfortably. This expression alludes to birds making a soft nest for their eggs. [Mid-1500s] fed to the gills Also, fed to the teeth; fed up. Disgusted, unable or unwilling to put up with something. For example, I'm fed to the gills with these delays (the gills here is slang for "mouth"), or He was fed to the teeth with her excuses, or I'm fed up?

let's leave right now. Of these colloquial expressions, fed up, alluding to being overfull from having overeaten, dates from about 1900, and the others from the first half of the 1900s. Also see UP TO

ONE'S EARS.

feed

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FEED, also see BITE THE HAND THAT

FEEDS YOU; CHICKEN FEED; OFF ONE'S FEED; PUT ON THE FEED BAG.

feed one's face Also, stuff one's face. Eat greedily, overeat, as in When Dave comes home he's apt to feed his face, or She won't lose any weight if she keeps stuffing her face like that. [Slang; c. 1900]

feed someone a line

1. Also, feed someone lines. Cue an actor with his or her next

line (or lines), or tell someone what to say, as in Some contestants become tongue-tied, so someone has to feed them a line, or Eric still has trouble learning a part; he needs someone to feed him his lines. 2. Also, hand someone a line. Lead someone on, deceive with glib or exaggerated talk. For example, He really fed them a line about his important new position, or Don't hand me a line?

I know exactly how much you paid for it. [Early 1900s]

feed the kitty

Contribute money to a pool or reserve, as in I can't make a big donation this year, but I'm willing to feed the kitty something. This term, originating in gambling, incorporates a pun, since kitty can mean ''cat" as well as "pool." [Late 1800s]

feel

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with FEEL, also see (FEEL) AT HOME; COP A

FEEL; GET THE FEEL OF; (FEEL) PUT UPON. Also see FEELINGS.

feel bad Also, feel bad about. Experience regret, sadness, embarrassment, or a similar unpleasant emotion. For example, I feel bad about not attending the funeral, or The teacher's scolding made Bobby feel bad.

[First half of 1800s]

feel blue

Be depressed or sad, as in I was really feeling blue after she told me she was leaving. The use of