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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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No decision has been made; the public's opinion is not known. For example, As for a possible merger, the jury is still out, or The jury is still out on the new spring fashions. This expression alludes to the jury that decides a legal case. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]


hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with JUST, also see ALL (JUST) THE SAME;


just about

Almost, very nearly, as in This job is just about done, or At just about midnight we'll uncork the champagne. This phrase is sometimes used alone, as in Are you finished yet??

Just about. It uses about in the sense of "nearly," a usage dating from the early 1600s.

just a minute Also, just a moment. 1. Wait a little bit. This expression is used before explaining oneself, as in Just a minute, I didn't mean that he was wrong, or to stop someone from something,

as in Just a moment, I was here first. Also see HOLD EVERYTHING. 2. Only a very short time, as in I'll be with you in just a minute.

just as

1. In precisely the same way as. For example, He's signing his name just as he's always done it.

[Early 1600s] 2. Also, just so. To the same degree as. For example, Jim's running just as fast as his friend, or He intended to give them just so much work as they could do in a day. [Late 1600s] Also see JUST SO.

just as soon Also, as soon. Rather, more readily; also, equally. For example, I'd just as soon you took care of it, or I would as soon recover before I go and babysit, or I'd as soon have the lamb as the beef. [Late 1500s]

just deserts

A deserved punishment or reward, as in He got his just deserts when Mary jilted him. This idiom employs desert in the sense of "what one deserves," a usage dating from the 1300s but obsolete except in this expression.

just folks

Friendly, unpretentious. For example, Politicians meeting the public like to pretend they are just folks, but that's not always true. [First half of 1900s]

just for the record

Let's get things straight; also, let me make myself clear. For example, Just for the record, we never endorsed this idea, or Just for the record, I didn't vote for him. This usage employs record in the sense of "public knowledge." [Mid-1900s] Also see GO ON RECORD; SET (THE RECORD)




just in case

hand. see

just in time

hand. see

IN CASE, def. 1.


just like that

1. Suddenly and, sometimes, unexpectedly. For example, The alarm went off, just like that, or And then they walked out, just like that. 2. Also, like that. Very friendly or intimate with one another. For example, Bill and his boss often see each other socially; they are just like that, or Joe and Jane are always together; they're like that. This expression is usually emphasized by the speaker's holding up two fingers and either keeping them together or crossing them to show the closeness or intimacies of the parties being discussed. [Colloquial; early 1900s]

just now

1. Exactly at this time, as in Harry isn't here just now; can he call you back? [Late 1600s] 2. Only a moment ago, as in As she was saying just now, they are fully booked. [Early 1600s]

just one of those things

A random occurrence that can't be explained. For example, It wasn't their fault that the show failed; it was just one of those things. This expression was given greater currency as the title and refrain of one of Cole Porter's most popular songs ("Just One of Those Things," 1935). [c. 1930]


just so

1. Precisely in that way, very carefully and appropriately, as in The children had to be dressed just so for their aunt's wedding. [Mid-1700s] 2. I agree, that is correct, as in The house was a mess.?

Just so; I told her to clean the place up. [Mid-1700s] 3. See JUST AS, def. 2. 4. See AS

LONG AS, def. 3.

just the same

hand. see ALL ONE, def. 2.

just the ticket Also, that's the ticket. Exactly what is needed; exactly right. For example, This van is just the ticket for carrying all our luggage, or That's the ticket?

you're handling that chain saw very well. The second phrase dates from the early 1800s, and the first is slightly newer. The exact allusion is disputed?

it could be to a winning lottery ticket, a price tag for merchandise, or, as one writer suggests, a corruption of the French word etiquette for "appropriate behavior." For a synonym, see WAY TO


just what the doctor ordered

Exactly what was needed. For example, This steak is just what the doctor ordered, or You've been a great help in our office?

just what the doctor ordered. This expression alludes to a physician's prescription for a cure. [First half of 1900s]


kangaroo court

A self-appointed tribunal that violates established legal procedure; also, a dishonest or incompetent court of law. For example, The rebels set up a kangaroo court and condemned the prisoners to summary execution, or That judge runs a kangaroo court?

he tells rape victims they should have been more careful. This expression is thought to liken the jumping ability of kangaroos to a court that jumps to conclusions on an invalid basis. [Mid-1800s]


hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with KEEL, also see ON AN EVEN KEEL.

keel over

Collapse, as if in a faint; also, faint. For example, When she heard the awful news, she keeled over. This term alludes to a vessel rolling on its keel and capsizing. [Mid-1800s]

keen about, be

Be enthusiastic about. For example, He's been keen about this whole endeavor for a long time. It is also put as be keen on, which has the additional meaning ''to be ardent about or in love with," as in Jim's been keen on Jane for years. With other adverbs, such as keen at and keen of, keen has been so used since the early 1500s; the current locutions, however, date from the mid-1800s.


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


keep abreast of

Stay or cause to stay up-to-date with, as in He's keeping abreast of the latest weather reports, or Please keep me abreast of any change in his condition. This term alludes to the nautical sense of abreast, which describes ships keeping up with each other. [Late 1600s]

late 1800s, the variant from the mid1700s. Also see

keep a civil tongue in one's head

Speak politely, as in The teacher won't allow swearing; she says we must keep a civil tongue in our heads. This expression uses tongue in the sense of "a manner of speaking," a usage dating from the 1400s. An early cautionary version was "Keep a good tongue in your head, lest it hurt your teeth" (1595).

keep after

Make a persistent effort regarding; also, persistently urge someone to do something. For example,

We'll have to keep after the cobwebs, or He won't get anything done unless you keep after him.

Also see KEEP AT, def. 2.

keep a low profile

Stay out of public notice, avoid attracting attention to oneself. For example, Until his appointment becomes official, Ted is keeping a low profile. This expression alludes to profile in the sense of "a visible contour," a usage dating from the 1600s. [Late 1900s]

keep an eye on

hand. see HAVE ONE'S EYE ON, def. 1.

keep an eye out for Also, keep a sharp lookout for. Be watchful for something or someone, as in Keep an eye out for the potholes in the road, or They told him to keep a sharp lookout for the police. The first expression, sometimes amplified to keep a sharp eye out for, dates from the


keep a sharp lookout

hand. see KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR.

keep a stiff upper lip

Show courage in the face of pain or adversity. For example, I know you're upset about losing the game, but keep a stiff upper lip. This expression presumably alludes to the trembling lips that precede bursting into tears. [Early 1800s]

keep a straight face

Don't show one's feelings, especially refrain from laughing. For example, The school orchestra played so many wrong notes that I had trouble keeping a straight face. [Late 1800s]

keep at

1. Persevere or persist at doing something. For example, If you keep at your math, you'll soon master it. It is also put as keep at it, as in He kept at it all day and finally finished the report.

[Early 1800s] 2. keep at someone. Nag, harass, or annoy someone, as in You have to keep at Carl if you want him to do the work, or He keeps at Millie all the time. Also see KEEP AFTER.

keep at arm's length

hand. see AT ARM'S LENGTH.

keep a weather eye out Also, keep a weather eye on or open. Be extremely watchful or alert, as in We should keep a weather eye on our competitors in case they start a price war.

The precise allusion in this expression is disputed, but presumably it refers to watching for a storm. [Early 1800s]

keep back

hand. see HOLD BACK.

keep body and soul together

Stay alive, support life, as in He earns barely enough to keep body and soul together. This expression alludes to the belief that the soul gives life to the body, which therefore cannot survive without it. Today it most often is applied to earning a living. [Early 1700s]

keep company

1. Also, keep company with. Associate with; also, carry on a courtship. For example, He keeps company with a wild bunch, or Jack and Françoise kept company for two years before they married. [Mid-1500s] 2. keep someone company. Accompany or remain with someone, as in

Mary kept Mother company while she shopped, or Do you want me to stay and keep you company?

This term was originally put as bear someone company. [c. 1300]

keep cool Also, keep a cool head; stay cool; be cool; take it cool. Remain calm and under control, as in Keep cool, they'll soon show up, or Be cool, the surprise is not spoiled, or You have to keep a cool head in these volatile situations, or Sit tight, take it cool, they won't bother you again.

All these terms employ cool in the sense of "not heated by strong emotion," a usage dating from the late 1300s or even earlier. The first three expressions are colloquial and date from the second half of the 1800s; both of the last two are slang, and the very last (take it cool) is the oldest, first

recorded in 1841. Also see KEEP ONE'S COOL; PLAY IT COOL.

keep down

1. Hold under control, repress; also, retain food. For example, Keep your voice down, or They vowed to keep down the insurgency, or With morning sickness, she had a hard time keeping down her breakfast. [Late 1500s] 2. Prevent from increasing or succeeding, as in The government was determined to keep prices down, or Joyce felt that her lack of an advanced degree kept her down in terms of promotions. [Early 1800s]

keep from

1. Withhold; also, prevent. For example, What information are you keeping from me? or Please keep your dog from running through our garden. [c. 1340] 2. Restrain one-self, hold oneself back, as in I can hardly keep from laughing. [c. 1340]

keep house

Manage a household, especially do the housework. For example, It's difficult

to find time to keep house when you work full-time. [c. 1600]

keeping up with the Joneses

hand. see KEEP UP, def. 1.

keep in mind

hand. see BEAR IN MIND.

keep in the dark

hand. see IN THE DARK, def. 2.

keep in touch

hand. see IN TOUCH.

keep in with

hand. see IN WITH.

keep it up

Continue to do or maintain something, as in They were playing loud music, and they kept it up all night long. [Mid-1700s] Also see KEEP UP, def. 4.

keep late hours

Stay awake until late at night. For example, Never call Ethel before noon; she keeps late hours and sleeps all morning.

keep off

1. Ward off, avert, as in She used a bug spray to keep off the mosquitoes. [Mid-1500s] 2. Stay away from, not touch or trespass on; also, prevent from touching or trespassing. For example,

They put up a sign asking the public to keep off their property, or Please keep your feet off the sofa. [Late 1500s] Also see HANDS OFF.

keep on

1. Continue, persist, as in They kept on singing all night. [Late 1500s] 2. Maintain an existing situation, as in After Mr. Brown died, the housekeeper wondered if she would be kept on.

[Mid-1600s] 3. Cause to stay on or remain attached, as in Keep your coat on; it's cold in here. [Late 1800s]

keep one's chin up

Be stalwart and courageous in a difficult situation, as in Don't let the loan officer intimidate you;

keep your chin up, or Despite all the difficulty, he kept his chin up. This expression alludes to a posture of firm resolution. [First half of 1900s]

keep one's cool

Retain one's composure and poise, as in Billy keeps his cool, no matter what the situation. This slangy usage dates from the mid-1900s, as do the antonyms blow one's cool and lose one's cool, as in Try not to blow your cool in front of the team, or Dad lost his cool when he saw Jim playing with matches. Also see KEEP COOL.

keep one's distance

Stay away; also, remain emotionally remote. For example, It's wise to keep one's distance from any wild animal, or Since the family argued with him, Harry's been keeping his distance. [Late 1500s]

keep oneself to oneself

hand. see under KEEP TO ONESELF.

keep one's end up

hand. see HOLD ONE'S END UP.

keep one's eye on the ball

Remain alert and attentive, as in The research director told her students to keep their eye on the ball when it came to accurate footnotes. This expression alludes to numerous sports in which players must watch a ball's path. [c. 1900]

keep one's eyes open Also, keep one's eyes peeled or skinned. Be watchful and observant. For example, We should keep our eyes open for a change in the wind's direction, or Keep your eyes peeled for the teacher. The first phrase dates from the late 1800s; the second and third, both colloquial and alluding to the lids not covering the eyes, date from the mid-1800s and 1830s, respectively.

keep one's fingers crossed


keep one's hand in

hand. see under HAVE A HAND IN.

keep one's hands off

hand. see HANDS OFF.

keep one's head

1. Stay calm, retain self-control, as in When the rowboat capsized, George yelled that everyone


should keep their head and hold onto the boat. This usage dates from the early 1600s and is about two cen

turies older than the antonym, lose one's head, meaning "to become confused and agitated," as in Whenever the stock market goes down sharply, people seem to lose their heads and sell. 2. keep one's head above water. See

keep one's mouth shut

Be quiet; don't reveal confidential information. For example, The teachers told us to keep our mouths shut during the entire presentation, or You can't tell Carol anything; she's incapable of keeping her mouth shut. Also see HOLD ONE'S TONGUE.

keep one's nose clean

Stay out of trouble. For example, Dad told Brian to keep his nose clean from now on or he'd cut off his allowance. [Colloquial; late 1800s]

keep one's nose to the grindstone


keep one's own counsel

Say little or nothing about one's opinions or intentions. For example, Betty is notorious for keeping her own counsel; you never know what she really thinks. This expression employs counsel in the sense of "a secret," a usage dating from about 1300.

keep one's powder dry

Stay alert, be careful, as in Go ahead and take on the opposition, but keep your powder dry. This colloquial expression, which originally alluded to keeping gunpowder dry so that it would ignite, has been used figuratively since the 1800s but today is less common than TAKE CARE.

keep one's shirt on

Stay calm, be patient; not give way to temper or excitement. For example, Keep your shirt on, Bob, they'll be here in time for the wedding. [Colloquial; mid-1800s]

keep one's temper

hand. see HOLD ONE'S TEMPER.

keep one's wits about one


keep one's word

Honor one's promises, as in You can count on Richard; he'll keep his word. This expression employs word in the sense of "a promise," a usage dating from the late 1500s. For an antonym,


keep pace Also, keep up. Go at the same rate as others, not fall behind. For example, The teacher told his mother that Jimmy was not keeping up with the class. Shakespeare had the first term in A Midsummer Night's Dream (3:2): "My legs cannot keep pace with my desires." [Late 1500s]

keep posted

Supply with up-to-date information, as in Keep me posted about your new job. This usage alludes to the accounting practice of posting the latest figures in a ledger. [Early 1800s]

keep quiet Also, keep still. 1. Also, be quiet or still. Remain silent; same as HOLD ONE'S

TONGUE. For example, Please keep quiet about the party. Also see KEEP ONE'S MOUTH SHUT. 2. Refrain from moving, stay in the same position; same as HOLD STILL. For example, The doctor gave the young boy a toy to keep him quiet while on the examining table, or It's hard for the baby to keep still unless he's sleeping.

[Late 1300s]

keep tabs on

Observe carefully, keep a record of. For example, I hate having my boss keep tabs on my every move, or We've got to keep tabs on outgoing mail so we can keep track of postage. This expression uses to tab in the sense of "an account." [Late 1800s] Also see KEEP TRACK.

keep the ball rolling


keep the lid on

hand. see PUT THE LID ON.

keep the peace

Maintain public order; prevent strife. For example, President Clinton ordered troops to Bosnia to keep the peace. This ex

pression dates from the 1400s and was originally used more in the first sense, that is, of police keeping public order. It gained extra currency in the second half of the 1900s when military forces were sent to diverse places??

Lebanon, Haiti, Bosniato stop warring factions.

keep the wolf from the door

Ward off starvation or financial ruin. For example, In many countries people are working simply to keep the wolf from the door, and owning a car or washing machine is just a dream, or Gail would take any job now, just to keep the wolf from the door. This term alludes to the wolf's fabled ravenousness. [Mid-1500s]

keep time

1. Maintain the correct tempo and rhythm of music; also, mark the rhythm by foot-tapping, hand movements, or the like. For example, The children love to keep time by clapping their hands. This usage dates from the late 1500s and is occasionally put figuratively, as Ben Jonson did in Cynthia's Revels (1699): "Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears." 2. Also, keep good time.

Indicate the correct time, as in This inexpensive watch does not keep good time. [Late 1800s]

keep to

1. Adhere to, conform to, as in Let's keep to the original purpose of this will. [Early 1600s] 2. Confine oneself to, as in Whenever she didn't feel well, she kept to her bed. Also see KEEP TO


keep to oneself

1. Also, keep oneself to oneself. Shun the company of others, value one's privacy, as in She kept to herself all morning, or, as Doris Lessing put it in In Pursuit of the English (1960): "She keeps herself to herself so much." [Late 1600s] 2. Refrain from revealing, hold secret, as in He promised to keep the news to himself. Also see the synonym KEEP UNDER ONE'S HAT.

keep track

Remain informed, follow the course of, as in Are you keeping track of the time? This usage alludes to following a literal track, as of footsteps. The antonym, lose track, alludes to straying or wandering from a track, as in I've lost track?

what day are you leaving? [Late 1800s]

keep under one's hat

Preserve the secrecy of something, as in I'll tell you about it if you promise to keep it under your hat. This usage alludes to hiding a secret in one's head, covered by a hat. [Late 1800s]

keep under wraps

hand. see UNDER WRAPS.

keep up

1. Also, keep up with. Proceed at the same pace, continue alongside another, as in We try to keep up with the times. [First half of 1600s] This usage, also put as KEEP PACE, appears in

the phrase keeping up with the Joneses, which was coined in 1913 by cartoonist Arthur R. Momand for the title of a series in the New York Globe. It means "trying to match the lifestyle of one's more affluent neighbors or acquaintances." For example, Their buying a new van is just another attempt to keep up with the Joneses. 2. Support, sustain, as in They're trying to keep up their spirits while they wait for news of the crash. [Late 1600s] Also see KEEP ONE'S CHIN UP. 3. Maintain in good condition, as in Joan really kept up the