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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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in large measure

hand. see under IN SOME MEASURE.

in league with Also, in cahoots with. In close cooperation or in partnership with, often secretly or in a conspiracy. For example, "For anybody on the road might be a robber, or in league with robbers" (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859), or We suspect that the mayor is in cahoots with the construction industry. The first term dates from the mid-1500s. The variant, a colloquialism dating from the early 1800s, may come from the French cahute, "a small hut or cabin," and may allude to the close quarters in such a dwelling.

in left field

hand. see OUT IN LEFT FIELD.

in lieu of

hand. see INSTEAD OF.

in light of Also, in the light of; in view of. In consideration of, in relationship to. For example,

In light of recent developments, we're postponing our meeting, or In the light of the weather forecast we've canceled the picnic, or He got a special bonus in view of all the extra work he had done. The first two of these terms date from the late 1600s, the third from about 1800.

in limbo

1. In a condition of oblivion or neglect, as in They kept her application in limbo for months. [Early 1600s] 2. An intermediate or transitional state, as in After his editor left the firm, his book was in limbo. [Early 1600s] Both usages allude to the theological meaning of limbo, that is, a place outside hell and heaven to which unbaptized infants and the righteous who died before Christ's coming were traditionally consigned.

in line

1. Also, in line with. In conformity or agreement; within ordinary or proper limits. For example,

The new policy was intended to keep prices in line with their competitors, or It's up to the supervisor to keep the nurses in line. Also see FALL IN LINE. 2. Also, on line. Waiting

behind others in a row or queue. For example, The children stood in line for their lunches, or There were at least 50 persons on line for opera tickets. 3. in line for.

Next in order for, as in He is next in line for the presidency. All of these terms employ line in the sense of "an orderly row or series of persons or objects," a usage dating from the 1500s.

in love

hand. see FALL IN LOVE.

in luck

Fortunate, enjoying success, as in You're in luck?

we found your car keys. [Mid-1800s]

in memory of

As a reminder of or memorial to. For example, In memory of Grandma we put flowers on her grave every Easter, or In memory of our happy times here we've planted a little garden. [First half of 1300s]

in mind


in name only Also, only in name. Nominally, not actually. For example, He's the chief

executive in name only; his vice-president makes all the decisions, or Theirs was a marriage only in name; they lived on different continents. [Late 1300s]

in no case

Never, under no circumstances, as in She should in no case be told that he has a terminal illness.

[First half of 1400s] For an antonym, see IN ANY CASE.

in nothing flat

hand. see under IN NO TIME.

in no time Also, in no time at all; in less than no time; in nothing flat. Almost instantly, immediately, as in The train will be here in no time at all, or He'll be finished in less than no time, or I'll be there in nothing flat. All these hyperbolic terms equate a very short time with "at once." [First half of 1800s]

in no uncertain terms

Emphatically, definitely so. For example, Jane told them in no uncertain terms that she wanted no part of their practical joke. The double negative in this idiom serves for emphasis. [Mid-1900s] Also


in on, be Also, get in on. Be or become a participant; be or become one of a group who have information. For example, Is she in on our secret? or I'd like to get in on this venture. [c. 1920] Also see BARGE IN ON; GROUND FLOOR (GET IN ON THE); IN GOOD WITH.

in one blow

hand. see AT ONE STROKE.

in one breath


in one ear and out the other

Quickly forgotten, as in Their advice to her just went in one ear and out the other. This expression, a proverb in John Heywood's 1546 collection, conjures up a graphic image of sound traveling through one's head. [Late 1300s]

in one fell swoop

hand. see

in one piece

hand. see

in one's



In addition to the idioms beginning with IN ONE'S, also see under IN SOMEONE'S;


in one's behalf

hand. see IN BEHALF OF.

in one's blood Also, in the blood. Part of one's essential nature. For example, The whole family loves music; it's in their blood, or Sailing somehow gets in your blood. Also see RUN IN THE


in one's book

According to one's opinion or way of thinking. For example, In my book he's a wonderful father. This expression alludes to a book containing a personal list of some kind. [Slang; mid-1900s] Also


in one's cups

Drunk, as in You can't believe anything he says when he's in his cups. [Early 1600s]

in one's element

In an environment naturally suited to or associated with one; doing what one enjoys. For example,

He's in his element when he's doing woodworking. This term alludes to one's natural abode, as does the antonym, out of one's element (used by Daniel Defoe in Robinson Crusoe, 1719: "When they came to make boards . . . they were quite out of their element"). [Late 1500s] Also


in one's eyes



in one's favor

hand. see IN FAVOR OF.

in one's glory

At one's best, happiest, or most gratified. For example, She was in her glory playing her first big solo, or In the classroom, this teacher's in his glory. [c. 1800] Also see

in one's hands Also, in the hands of one. In one's responsibility, charge, or care. For example,

The disposition of the property is in his hands, or Let's put this part of that project in


in one's heart of hearts

According to one's truest, innermost feelings, especially when secret. For example, It's a wonderful job offer, but in my heart of hearts I don't want to leave this area. [Late 1500s]

in one's interest Also, in the interest of one; in one's own interest; in one's best interest.

For one's benefit or advantage, as in It's obviously in their interest to increase profits, or Is this policy in the interest of the townspeople? or I suspect it's in your own best interest to quit now.

[Early 1700s]

in one's mind's eye

In one's imagination or memory. For example, I can just see the old farm in my mind's eye. This term pairs mind and eye in the sense of "a mental view." [Early 1400s]

in one's name

hand. see IN THE NAME OF.

in one's own backyard

In one's own domain, in a position very close to one. For example, You didn't expect to find a first-class organist in your own backyard. [Mid-1900s] Also see CLOSE TO HOME.

in one's own right

Through one's own skills or qualifications, as in He's a fine violinist in his own right, or She has a fortune in her own right. This term originally alluded to a legal title or claim, as in She was queen in her own right, but has been used more loosely since about 1600.

in one's own world Also, in one's own little world; in a world of one's own. In deep thought or concentration. For example, Luanne was really in her own world at the meeting this morning, or Like many mathematicians, Bill lives in his own little world, or Bob's in a world of his own when he's listening to music. [Late 1500s]

in one's pocket

1. In one's power or possession, under one's influence. For example, The defense lawyer had the jury in his pocket. [Mid-1800s] 2. in each other's pockets. In very close proximity or mutual dependence, as in Bert and Harry work in the same office, live in the same house, belong to the same clubs?

they're constantly in each other's pockets. [Mid-1900s]

in one's prime


in one's right mind

In a healthy mental state; sane and rational. For example, No one in his right mind would ski down this icy slope. This expression is often used in a negative construction, as in the example. The positive sense appears in the New Testament (Mark 5:15), where a deranged man whom Jesus helped is now "sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind." The antonym out of one's mind, as in

You must be out of your mind to swim in that icy stream, is from the same period. [c. 1600] Also


in one's shell Also, into one's shell. In a quiet or withdrawn state. For example, Jim is extremely shy; if you try to get him to talk he immediately goes into his shell. This usage alludes to the shell as a protective covering and dates from about 1800, as does the antonym, out of one's shell, as in Once Anne is out of her shell she's very articulate. However, the same expression was also used from the 1500s on to denote being young and inexperienced, alluding to a baby bird that had not quite emerged from its shell.

in one stroke

hand. see AT ONE STROKE.

in one's tracks


in one's way

1. Also, in one's own way. According to one's personal manner. For example, She's brusque but kind in her own way, or Both of them are generous in their way. This phrase is often used to limit an expression of praise, as in the examples. [c. 1700] 2. Also, put in one's way; put in the way of. Before one, within reach or experience, as in That venture put an unexpected sum of money in my way, or He promised to put her in the way of new business. [Late 1500s] 3. in someone's way Also, in the way. In a position to obstruct, hinder, or interfere with someone or something. For example, That truck is in our way, or You're standing in the way; please move to one side. [c. 1500]

in orbit

Thrilled, delighted, as in Dean's in orbit over his son's success. This expression alludes to the successful launching into orbit of a satellite or other spacecraft. [Slang; late 1900s]

in order

1. In proper sequence or arrangement, as in The children lined up in order of size, or Are the letters all in order? [c. 1400] 2. Suitable, correct, appropriate, as in A few words on this subject are

in order now. [Mid-1800s] 3. See IN SHORT ORDER. 4. in order that. So that, to the end or purpose that, as in In order that Bob can meet my husband, we've come early. [Early 1700s] 5. in order to. For the purpose of, as a means to, as in We'll have to hire more help in order to finish on time. This usage always precedes a verb, such as finish in the example. [c. 1700]

in other words

Putting it differently, usually more simply or explicitly. For example, The weather was terrible, the plane took off several hours after the scheduled time, and then fog prevented their landing?

in other words, they never got to the wedding at all. [Mid-1800s]

in over one's head

hand. see under IN DEEP, def. 2.

in part Also, in large or small part. To some extent, not wholly, somewhat. For example, We didn't get to Chicago, in part because we didn't have time, or Jerry was the one to blame, in large part because he was the one who hired the contractor, or The attorney himself was in small part responsible for this witness. [Late 1300s]

in particular

Especially; also, separately, individually, in detail. For example, The chancellor talked about the curriculum, the core courses in particular, or The orchestra was outstanding, the strings in particular.

[c. 1500]

in passing

Incidentally, by the way, as in "It may be remarked in passing" (Charlotte Brontë, Shirley, 1849). [Mid1800s]

in perpetuity

For all time, forever, as in This land was given to the state in perpetuity. [First half of 1400s]

in person Also, in the flesh. In one's physical presence, as in He applied for the job in person, or

I couldn't believe it, but there she was, in the flesh. The first expression dates from the mid-1500s. The variant, from the 1300s, was long used to allude to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but later acquired its looser meaning. Charles Dickens has it in Our Mutual Friend (1865): "The minutes passing on, and no Mrs.

W. in the flesh appearing."

in phase Also, in sync. In a correlated or synchronized way; in accord, in harmony. For example,

If everyone were in phase we could step up the schedule, or John and Pat often say the same thing at the same time; their minds are perfectly in sync. Both versions of this idiom refer to physical phenomena. The first, dating from the second half of the 1800s, alludes to being at the same stage in a series of movements. The second, a slangy abbreviation of synchronization dating from the mid-1900s, alludes to exact coincidence in the time or rate of movement. Also see IN

STEP; PHASE IN; for the antonym, see OUT OF PHASE.

in place

1. In the appropriate or usual position or order. For example, With everything in place, she started

the slide show. [Mid-1500s] Also see PUT SOMEONE IN HIS OR HER PLACE. 2. In the same spot, without advancing or retreating, as in While marching in place, the band played six more numbers.

in place of


in plain English

In clear, straightforward language, as in The doctor's diagnosis was too technical; please tell us what he meant in plain English. [c. 1500] Also see IN SO MANY WORDS.

in play

1. In action or operation. For example, A number of conflicting forces were in play, so the outcome was uncertain. It is also put as bring into play, meaning "to put into action," as in The surprise witness brought new evidence into play. [Mid-1600s] 2. In sports, in a position to be legally or feasibly played, as in The ball is now in play. [Late 1700s] 3. In business, in a position for a possible corporate takeover, as in After a news item said the company was in play, the price of its stock began to rise. [Colloquial; second half of 1900s]

in pocket

Having funds; also, having a particular amount of extra funds that constitute a profit. For example,

Tom's in pocket this week so let him treat us all, or After a day at the races she was a hundred dollars in pocket. [Mid-1700s] Also see IN ONE'S POCKET.

in point

1. Relevant or pertinent, as in That is a case in point. [Mid-1600s] 2. in point of. With reference to, in the matter of, as in In point of the law, he is obviously wrong. [c. 1600] 3. in point of fact.

See under IN FACT.

in practice

1. Actually, in fact, especially as opposed to theoretically or IN PRINCIPLE. For example, In

practice this contraption seems to work, although no one knows how or why.

[Second half of 1500s] Also see PUT INTO PRACTICE. 2. In the exercise of a particular profession, as in She's an obstetrician and has been in practice for at least ten years. [c. 1700] 3. In a state of being exercised so as to maintain one's skill, as in This trumpeter is always in practice. [Early 1600s] For an antonym, see OUT OF PRACTICE.

in principle

Fundamentally, in general, but not necessarily in all particulars. For example, The diplomats accepted the idea in principle but would rely on experts to work out all the details. [Early 1800s]

in print

1. In printed or published form, as in You can find this information in print. This usage dates from the late 1400s, almost from the time of the first printing press. 2. Offered for sale by a publisher, as in The library has a list of all the books in print. The antonym for this usage is out of print, describing material no longer offered for sale by a publisher, as in Most of his books are out of print. [Late 1800s]

in private

Not in public; secretly, confidentially. For example, The hearings will be conducted in private, or May I speak to you in private? [Late 1500s] For an antonym, see IN PUBLIC.

in progress

Going on, under way, happening, as in She's got another book in progress, or The game was already in progress when I tuned in. [c. 1600]

in proportion


in public

Openly, open to public view or access. For example, They've never appeared together in public. [c. 1450] For an antonym, see IN PRIVATE.

in question

Under consideration, referring to the subject being discussed, as in No new facts have been discovered about the period in question. Shakespeare used this idiom in Cymbeline (1:1): "His father . . . had, besides the gentleman in question, two other sons." [c. 1600] Also see CALL IN


in quest of

hand. see IN SEARCH OF.

inquire after

Ask about the health or condition of someone or something. For example, She was inquiring after you in particular. [c. 1600]

in reach Also, within reach. Within one's means or powers or understanding. For example, The legatees were extremely greedy, taking whatever of their aunt's came within reach, or Don't price this item too high; it should be in reach of the average customer. This expression dates from the mid-1500s, as do the antonyms out of reach and beyond reach, meaning "unattainable"; for example, This plan is out of reach for most subscribers, or His explanation is beyond my reach.

in reality

Actually, in fact, as in He may seem slow to you, but in reality he's very intelligent. [Second half of 1600s]

in reason Also, within reason. Inside the bounds of good sense, justification, or practicality. For example, We need to keep our prices in reason, or He promised to do what he can to help us, within reason. [Late 1500s]

in reference to

hand. see IN REGARD TO.

in regard to Also, as regards; in or with reference to; with regard to; in or with respect to. Concerning, about. For example, In regard to your letter, forget it, or As regards your subscription, I'm not sure why it was canceled, or In reference to your inquiry, we'll have to pass it on to the board, or We have a few questions with regard to your recent offer, or With respect to your latest request, we'll be happy to oblige. The word reference has been used in this idiom since the late 1500s, regard from the second half of the 1400s, and respect from the first half of the 1500s. Also see RELATIVE TO.

in relation to

hand. see RELATIVE TO.

in reserve

Kept back, set aside, or saved. For example, We have a fair amount of cash in reserve, or The coach decided to keep the best player in reserve until the last quarter. [Late 1600s]

in residence

Committed to live and work in a certain place, often for a specific length of time. For example, He loved being the college's poet in residence. This expression, dating from the 1300s, originally referred to ecclesiastical clerics whose presence was required in a specific church. It was extended to other appointments in the mid-1800s.

in respect to Also, with respect to. hand. See IN REGARD TO.

in retrospect

Looking backward, reflecting on the past. For example, In retrospect, he regarded his move as the best thing he'd ever done. This idiom employs retrospect in the sense of "a view of the past." [Second half of 1600s]

in return Also, in return for. In repayment or reciprocation for something, as in I did her many favors and got nothing in return, or In return for your patience, I promise to do a really good job.

[c. 1600]



in round numbers Also, in round figures. As an approximate estimate. For example, How much will the new highway cost, in round numbers? or In round figures a diamond of this

quality is worth five thousand dollars, but it depends on the market at the time of selling. This idiom, which uses round in the sense of "whole" or "rounded off," is sometimes used very loosely, as Thomas Hardy did in Far from the Madding Crowd (1874): "Well, ma'am, in round numbers, she's run away with the soldiers." [Mid-1600s] Also see BALLPARK FIGURE.

ins and outs

1. The intricate details of a situation or process. For example, It takes a newcomer some time to learn the ins and outs of the legislative process, or David really knows the ins and outs of how this engine works. This usage alludes to the tortuous windings and turnings of a road or path. [Second half of 1600s] 2. Those with position and influence and those without, especially those in office versus those who are not, as in "Juan stood well both with Ins and Outs" (Byron, Don Juan, 1823). [Mid-1700s]

in search of Also, in quest of. Looking for, seeking, as in They went to California in search of gold, or I went to the library in quest of a quiet place to read. The first term dates from the mid-1400s, the second from the second half of the 1500s.

in season

1. At the right time, opportunely, as in "The two young men desired to get back again in good season" (Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844). 2. Available and ready for eating, or other use; also, legal for hunting or fishing. For example, Strawberries are now in season, or Let me know when trout are in season and I'll go fishing with you. Both usages date from the 1300s, as does the antonym out of season, used for "inopportunely," "unavailable," and also for "not in fashion.'' For example, Sorry, oysters are out of season this month, or This style used to be very popular, but it's been out of season for several years.

in secret

Unknown to others, privately. For example, They met in secret, or, as Shakespeare put it in Love's Labour's Lost (5:2): "One word in secret." [Second half of 1400s]

in seventh heaven

In a state of bliss, as in John was in seventh heaven when the director praised his speech. Used