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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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Something or someone that is expected to succeed. For example, Mark is the great white hope of the international division. This expression dates from the early 1900s, when heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, who was black, seemed invincible and the term was used for any white opponent who might defeat him. It gained currency as the title of a Broadway play and later (1970) a film. By then it had been transferred to anyone of whom much was expected.

Greek to me, it's Also, it's all Greek to me. It is beyond my comprehension, as in This new computer program is all Greek to me. This expression was coined by Shakespeare, who used it literally in Julius Caesar (1:2), where Casca says of a speech by Seneca, deliberately given in Greek so that some would not understand it, "For mine own part, it was Greek to me." It soon was transferred to anything unintelligible.

green

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with GREEN, also see GRASS IS ALWAYS

GREENER.

green about the gills Also, green around the gills. Looking ill or nauseated, as in After that bumpy ride she looked quite green about the gills. The use of green to describe an ailing person's complexion dates from about 1300, and gills has referred to the flesh around human jaws and ears since the 1600s. Although in the 1800s white and yellow were paired with gills to suggest illness, the alliterative green has survived them.

green-eyed monster

Jealousy, as in Bella knew that her husband sometimes succumbed to the green-eyed monster.

This expression was coined by Shakespeare in Othello (3:3), where Iago says: "O! beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." It is thought to allude to cats, often green-eyed, who tease their prey. Also see GREEN WITH ENVY.

green light, the

Permission to go ahead, as in The chief gave us the green light for starting this project. This term originated in the late 1800s for the signal used by railroads to indicate that a train could proceed. It was transferred to more general use in the first half of the 1900s.

green thumb

A knack for making plants grow well, as in Just look at Louise's plants?

she really has a green thumb.

This term presumably alludes to the stained fingers of an avid gardener. [First half of 1900s]

green with envy

Full of desire for someone's possessions or advantages; extremely covetous. For example, Her fur coat makes me green with envy. Shakespeare described envy as the green sickness (Anthony and Cleopatra, 3:2), but the current phrase, dating from the mid-1800s, is the one most often heard.

Also see GREENEYED MONSTER.

grey

hand. see

grief

hand. see

grievance

hand. see

GRAY.

COME TO GRIEF; GOOD GRIEF.

AIR ONE'S GRIEVANCES.

grin and bear it

Put up good-humoredly with adversity, with good humor, as in It's no fun being sick for the holidays, but you might as well grin and bear it. Also put as grin and abide in the 19th century, this expression became so well known that Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911) made a pun on it in his poem, "The Firm of Grin and Barrett": "Never yet was any panic Scared the firm of Grin and Barrett."

grind

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with GRIND, also see AX TO GRIND; MILLS

OF THE GODS GRIND SLOWLY.

grindstone

hand. see NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE.

grind to a halt Also, come to a grinding halt. Gradually come to a standstill or end. For example, Once the funding stopped, the refurbishing project ground to a halt, or She's come to a grinding halt with that book she's writing. This expression alludes to a clogged engine that gradually stops or a ship that runs aground.

grin like a Cheshire cat

Smile broadly, especially in a self-satisfied way. For example, John ended the set with a beautiful serve, an ace, and couldn't help grinning like a Cheshire cat. The ultimate origin of this expression, appearing in print since the late 1700s, is disputed, but its most famous exponent was Lewis Carroll, in whose Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the grinning cat gradually vanished from view, with its grin the last part to vanish.

grip

hand. see COME TO GRIPS WITH; GET A GRIP ON; IN THE GRIP OF; LOSE ONE'S GRIP.

grist for the mill

Something that can be used to advantage, as in These seemingly useless data will be grist for the

mill when he lodges a complaint. This expression alludes to grist, the amount of grain that can be ground at one time. [Late 1500s]

grit one's teeth

Summon up one's strength to face unpleasantness or overcome a difficulty. For example, Gritting his teeth, he dove into the icy water. This expression uses grit in the sense of both clamping one's teeth together and grinding them with effort. [Late 1700s]

groove

hand. see IN THE GROOVE.

gross one out

Disgust or revolt one, as in Chewing gum in church grosses me out, or His explicit language grossed her out. [Slang; mid-1900s]

ground

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with GROUND, also see BOTH FEET ON THE

GROUND; BREAK GROUND; COMMON GROUND; COVER GROUND; COVER THE FIELD (GROUND); CUT THE GROUND FROM UNDER; DOWN TO THE GROUND; EAR TO THE GROUND; FROM THE GROUND UP; GAIN GROUND; GET OFF THE GROUND; GIVE GROUND; HAPPY HUNTING GROUND; HIT THE GROUND RUNNING; LEAVE THE GROUND; LOSE GROUND; ON ONE'S HOME GROUND; RUN INTO THE GROUND; RUN TO EARTH (GROUND); STAMPING GROUND; STAND ONE'S GROUND; WORSHIP THE GROUND SOMEONE WALKS ON.

ground floor, get in on the

Participate in the beginning of a venture, thereby gaining some advantage. For example, Investors were eager to get in on the ground floor of the new development. [First half of 1800s]

ground rules

Basic procedures of conduct, as in The press secretary sets the ground rules for all of the President's press conferences. The term comes from baseball, where it refers to specific rules for a particular ballpark, which are based on special conditions such as a very high outfield fence or a field obstruction of some kind. It began to be transferred to more general use in the mid-1900s.

grow

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with GROW, also see ABSENCE MAKES THE

HEART GROW FONDER; LET THE GRASS GROW UNDER ONE'S FEET.

growing pains

Problems that arise in beginning or enlarging an enterprise, as in The company is undergoing

growing pains but should be viable by next year. This expression, which dates from the late 1800s, originally referred to the joint and limb aches experienced by youngsters who are growing rapidly. By about 1900 it was being used figuratively.

grow into

1. Develop so as to become, as in The army makes a boy grow into a man. [Mid-1500s] 2. Develop or change so as to fit, as in He'll soon grow into the next shoe size, or She has grown into her job.

[Early 1800s]

grow on Also, grow upon. 1. Gradually become more evident. For example, A feeling of distrust grew upon him as he learned more about the way the account was handled. [c. 1600] 2. Gradually become more pleasurable or acceptable to, as in This music is beginning to grow on me. Jane Austen had it in Pride and Prejudice (1796): "Miss Bennet's pleasing manners grew on the good-will of Mrs. Hurst." [c. 1700]

grow out of

1. Develop or come into existence from. For example, This article grew out of a few scribbled notes, or Their mutual trust grew out of long acquaintance. 2. Also, outgrow. Become too large or mature for, as in The baby's grown out of all her dresses, or He will outgrow these picture books in a few months.

grow up

1. Become an adult, as in Sam wants to be a policeman when he grows up. [First half of 1500s] 2.

Come into existence, arise, as in Similar social problems grew up in all the big cities. [Late 1500s]

3. Become mature or sensible, as in It's time you grew up and faced the facts. This usage may also be in the form of an imperative (as in Don't bite your nails?

grow up!) [Mid-1900s]

grudge

hand. see BEAR A GRUDGE; NURSE A GRUDGE.

guard

hand. see OFF GUARD; STAND GUARD.

guess

hand. see ANYONE'S GUESS; EDUCATED GUESS; HAVE ANOTHER GUESS COMING; YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS

guess again

hand. see HAVE ANOTHER GUESS COMING.

guest

hand. see BE MY GUEST.

gum up

Ruin or bungle something, as in The front office has gummed up the sales campaign thoroughly. This idiom is also put as gum up the works, as in John's changes in procedures have gummed up the works in the shipping department. [Slang; c. 1900]

gun

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with GUN, also see AT GUNPOINT; BIG

CHEESE (GUN); GREAT GUNS; HIRED GUN; HOLD A GUN TO SOMEONE'S HEAD; JUMP THE GUN; SMOKING GUN; SON OF A BITCH (GUN); STICK TO ONE'S GUNS; UNDER THE GUN.

gun for

1. Pursue relentlessly so as to overcome or destroy. For example, He was sure they were gunning for him and asked for police protection, or The senator felt that the reporters were gunning for him with that article about his brother. [Slang; late 1800s] 2. Go after in earnest, try hard to obtain. For example, He's been gunning for a raise all year. [Slang; mid-1900s]

gung ho Also, gung-ho. Extremely enthusiastic or dedicated, as in She was gung ho about her new job. This expression was introduced in 1942 as a training slogan for a U.S. Marine battalion, derived from what an American officer thought were Mandarin Chinese words for "work together." It was actually an abbreviation for the name of Chinese industrial cooperatives.

gussied up Also, all gussied up. Dressed up, as in Dana loves to get all gussied up and go to a fine restaurant. The origin of this expression is not clear, though possibly it relates to the earlier use of the noun gussie (derived from a proper name) for an effeminate man. [Slang; mid-1900s]

gut

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with GUT, also see BUST A GUT; HATE

SOMEONE'S GUTS; HAVE THE GUTS.

gut it out Also, tough it out. Show pluck and perseverance in the face of opposition or adversity. For example, I know it's hard but we'll just have to gut it out, or His boss has a terrible temper, but Joe is determined to tough it out. The first term dates from the mid-1900s; the variant was first recorded in 1860.

gutter

hand. see IN THE GUTTER.

YOU' D BETTER

H

hand. see KICK A HABIT.

hackles

hand. see RAISE SOMEONE'S HACKLES.

had

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with HAD, also see under HAVE.

had, to be

hand. see BE HAD.

had better Also, had best. Ought to, should. For example, You had better finish this one before starting another, or We had best be going. [Mid-1400s] Also see

BELIEVE IT. had enough

hand. see HAVE HAD ENOUGH.

had it

hand. see HAVE HAD IT.

had its day, has

Is no longer useful or popular or successful, as in Some people think the railroad has had its day. This expression is the antonym of have its (or one's) day, meaning "to experience success or prosperity," as in Every dog has its day, a proverb dating from the 16th century. Both terms use day in the sense of "a propitious or opportune time."

had one's fill Also, have one's fill. hand. See GET ONE'S FILL.

had rather Also, had sooner. Would prefer. For example, I had rather you let me do the driving, or He'd sooner switch than fight. This idiom today is often replaced by WOULD RATHER. [Late 1500s] Also see JUST AS SOON.

hail

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with HAIL, also see WITHIN CALL (HAIL).

hail from

Come from, originate from, as in He hails from Oklahoma. This term originally referred to the port

from which a ship had sailed. [Mid-1800s]

hair

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with HAIR, also see BAD HAIR DAY; BY A

HAIR; BY THE SHORT HAIRS; FAIR-HAIRED BOY; GET GRAY HAIR FROM; HANG BY A THREAD (HAIR); HIDE OR HAIR; IN SOMEONE'S HAIR; LET ONE'S HAIR DOWN; MAKE ONE'S HAIR STAND ON END; PUT LEAD IN ONE'S PENCIL (HAIR ON ONE'S CHEST); SPLIT HAIRS; TEAR ONE'S HAIR; TURN A HAIR.

hair of the dog that bit you

Whatever made you ill used as a remedy, especially alcohol as a hangover cure. For example, A little hair of the dog will cure that hangover in no time. This expression, already a proverb in John Heywood's 1546 compendium, is based on the ancient folk treatment for dogbite of putting a burnt hair of the dog on the wound. It is often shortened, as in the example.

hair shirt

A self-imposed punishment or penance, as in I apologized a dozen times?

do you want me to wear a hair shirt forever? This term, mentioned from the 13th century on, alludes to wearing a coarse, scratchy hair shirt, the practice of religious ascetics. Its figurative use dates from the mid-1800s.

hale and hearty

In robust good health, as in After her long bout with pneumonia, I was glad to see her hale and hearty. This redundant

expression, since both hale and hearty here mean "healthy," probably survives owing to its pleasing alliteration. [Mid-1800s]

half

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with HALF, also see AT HALF-MAST; BETTER

HALF; BY HALF; GLASS IS HALF FULL; GO HALFWAY; GO OFF (HALF-COCKED); IN HALF; NOT BAD (HALF BAD); SIX OF ONE, HALF DOZEN OF THE OTHER; TIME AND A HALF; WITH HALF AN EYE. Also see under HALF-WAY; HALVES.

half a heart, with

With only moderate enthusiasm, as in After his transfer he worked with half a heart, looking forward to early retirement. [Mid-1800s] For an antonym, see WITH ALL ONE'S HEART.

half a loaf is better than none

Something is better than nothing, even if it is less than one wanted. For example, He had asked for a new trumpet but got a used one?

oh well, half a loaf is better than none. This expression, often shortened, was already a proverb in 1546, where it was explicitly put: "For better is half a loaf than no bread."

half a mind

An inclination that is not definite or resolute. For example, I've half a mind to drop the course, or

He went out with half a mind to walk all the way there. [First half of 1700s] Also see HAVE A

GOOD MIND TO.

half of it

Only part of something, as in You saw them together, but that's just the half of it; she's moved in with him. This phrase, signifying the most important portion (more than half), is often put negatively as not the half of it, as in You thought they played badly? That's not the half of it, because they've been kicked out of the league. [First half of 1900s]

half the battle

A successful beginning, as in You've got the shopping list done?

that's half the battle. This expression is an abbreviation of an 18th-century proverb, "The first blow is half the battle."

halfway

hand. see

halt

hand. see

halves

hand. see

hammer

GO HALFWAY.

CALL A HALT; COME TO A HALT; GRIND TO A HALT.

BY HALVES; GO HALVES. Also see under HALF.

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with HAMMER, also see UNDER THE

HAMMER.

hammer and tongs

Forcefully, with great vigor. For example, She went at the weeds hammer and tongs, determined to clean out the long neglected flowerbed. Often put as go at it hammer and tongs, this phrase alludes to the blacksmith's tools. [c. 1700]

hammer away at

Keep at something continuously, as in The reporters hammered away at the candidate. This phrase employs hammer in the sense of "beat repeatedly," a usage dating from the mid-1600s.

hammer out

Work out with considerable effort, as in It took weeks of negotiations to hammer out an acceptable compromise. This usage likens intellectual effort to shaping metal with the blows of a hammer. [Mid1700s]

ham up

Exaggerate or overdo, especially with extravagant emotion, as in Hamming up the eulogy was disgraceful, especially since he didn't even know the deceased. It is also put as ham it up, meaning "overact," as in She loves to ham it up in front of the class. This idiom probably alludes to the hamfat (lard) used to remove stage makeup, mentioned in the minstrel song, "The Ham-Fat Man." From this hamfatter came to mean "an inexpert and flamboyant actor," and was in the late 1800s shortened to ham. The idiom here was first recorded in 1933.

hand

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with HAND, also see AT FIRST HAND; AT

HAND; AT SECOND HAND; AT THE HAND OF; BACK OF ONE'S HAND; BARE HANDS; BIRD IN THE HAND; BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU; BOUND HAND AND FOOT; BY HAND; CATCH RED-HANDED; CHANGE HANDS; CLEAN HANDS; COLD HANDS, WARM HEART; DEAL IN (ONE A HAND); DIRTY ONE'S HANDS; EAT OUT OF SOMEONE'S HAND; FEED (HAND) SOMEONE A LINE; FORCE SOMEONE'S HAND; FREE HAND; FROM HAND TO HAND; GIVE A HAND; GLAD HAND; GREASE SOMEONE'S PALM (HAND); HANG HEAVY ON ONE'S HANDS; HAT IN HAND; HAVE A HAND IN; HAVE ONE'S HANDS FULL; HEAVY HAND; HELPING HAND; IN GOOD HANDS; IN HAND; IN ONE'S HANDS; IN THE HANDS OF; IRON HAND; KEEP ONE'S HAND IN; KNOW LIKE A BOOK (THE BACK OF ONE'S HAND); LAY HANDS ON; LEFT HAND DOESN'T KNOW WHAT THE RIGHT HAND IS DOING; LEFT-HANDED COMPLIMENT; LEND A HAND; MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK; OFF ONE'S HANDS; ON A PLATTER, HAND; ON HAND; ON ONE'S HANDS; ON THE ONE HAND; ON THE OTHER HAND; OUT OF CONTROL (HAND); OUT OF HAND; PLAY INTO THE HANDS OF; PUTTY IN SOMEONE'S HANDS; RAISE A HAND AGAINST; RIGHT-HAND MAN; RUB ONE'S HANDS; SHAKE HANDS; SHOW OF HANDS; SHOW ONE'S HAND; SIT ON ONE'S HANDS; SLEIGHT OF HAND; TAKE IN HAND; TAKE INTO ONE'S HANDS; TAKE ONE'S LIFE (IN ONE'S HANDS); TAKE THE LAW INTO ONE'S HANDS; THROW IN ONE'S HAND; THROW UP ONE'S HANDS; TIE ONE'S HANDS; TIME ON ONE'S HANDS; TIP ONE'S HAND; TO HAND; TRY ONE'S HAND; TURN ONE'S HAND TO; UPPER HAND; WAIT ON HAND AND FOOT; WASH ONE'S HANDS OF; WITH ONE ARM (HAND) TIED.

hand and foot

hand. see BOUND HAND AND FOOT; WAIT ON SOMEONE HAND AND FOOT.

hand down

1. Bequeath to one's heirs, as in The silver and jewels have been handed down from generation to generation in that family. [Late 1600s] 2. Make and pronounce an official decision, especially the verdict of a court. For example, The judge wasted no time in handing down a sentence of contempt of court. [First half of 1900s] Also see HAND ON; HAND OVER.

hand in glove

On intimate terms, in close association, as in The internist is hand in glove with the surgeon, so you'd better get a second opinion. This metaphoric expression for a close fit was already included in John Ray's 1678 collection of proverbs, when it was put hand and glove.

hand in hand

In cooperation, jointly, as in Industrial growth and urbanization often go hand in hand. This phrase, often put as go hand in hand with, was first recorded in 1576.

hand in the till, with one's Also, with one's fingers in the till; have one's hand in the cookie jar. Stealing from one's employer. For example, He was caught with his hand in the till and was fired immediately, or They suspected she had her hand in the cookie jar but were waiting for more evidence. The noun till has been used for a money box or drawer since the 15th century; cookie jar, perhaps alluding to the "sweets" of money, dates only from about 1940.

hand it to

Give credit to, congratulate, as in You've got to hand it to her; she knows what she's doing. [c. 1900]

handle

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with HANDLE, also see FLY OFF THE

HANDLE; GET A FIX (HANDLE) ON.

handle to one's name

A nickname or title, as in He was knighted and now had a handle to his name, or His gluttony earned him a handle to his name, Big Mouth. [First half of 1800s]

handle with gloves Also, handle with kid gloves. Treat with great care or very gently, as in She has a terrible temper, so try to handle her with kid gloves. This usage probably alludes to the antonym, handle without gloves, meaning "to treat harshly." Gloves made of kidskin, the hide of a young goat, are soft and pliable, whence the transfer to delicate treatment. [Second half of 1800s]

hand on

Turn over to another, as in When you've read it, please hand it on to Sam. This term can also be

used in the sense of "bequeath" (see HAND DOWN, def. 1). [Second half of 1800s]

hand out

Distribute, as in The teacher handed out the test papers. [Late 1800s] For a synonym, see PASS