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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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hand. see under KNOCK FOR A LOOP.

knock someone's block off

Beat up someone, as in If he doesn't leave at once, I'll knock his block off. This hyperbolic term employs block in the sense of "head," a usage dating from the 1600s. The idiom, however, dates

only from about 1900. Also see BEAT THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF.

knock someone's socks off

hand. see KNOCK THE SOCKS OFF.

knock the bottom out of Also, knock the props out from under. Render invalid, undermine. For example, The discovery of another planet that might support life knocks the bottom out of many theories, or Jane's skilled debating knocked the props out from under her opponent. The first expression dates from the late 1800s, the variant from the first half of the 1900s.

knock the living daylights out of Also, knock the shit or stuffing or tar out of. hand.

See BEAT THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF.

knock the socks off Also knock someone's socks off. 1. Overwhelm, bedazzle, or amaze someone, as in The young pianist knocked the socks off of the judges, or That display will knock their socks off. [Slang; mid-1800s] 2. Also, knock the spots off. Surpass or outdo completely, defeat. For example, These large chains have been knocking the socks off the small independent grocers, or Our team knocked the spots off them. The spots most likely allude to target practice with playing cards where the object is to shoot through all the pips, spots, or marks indicating the suit or numerical value of a playing card, but one authority holds that they were used in a horse-breeding context and meant "to be in the vanguard." [Mid-1800s]

knock together

Make or assemble quickly or carelessly, as in We knocked together the bookcases in about half an hour. [Late 1800s]

knock up

1.Make pregnant, as in The young girl said she was afraid of getting knocked up. [Slang; early 1800s]

2.Injure or damage, as in This coffee table got all knocked up in the moving van.

knot

hand. see TIE INTO KNOTS; TIE THE KNOT.

know

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with KNOW, also see BEFORE YOU KNOW IT;

(KNOW) BY HEART; COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN, KNOW ENOUGH TO; COMING OR GOING, KNOW IF ONE'S; FOR ALL (I KNOW); GOD KNOWS; (KNOW) INSIDE OUT; IN THE KNOW; IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE; LEFT HAND DOESN'T KNOW WHAT RIGHT HAND IS DOING; NOT KNOW BEANS; NOT KNOW FROM ADAM; NOT KNOW WHERE TO TURN; NOT KNOW WHICH WAY TO JUMP; THING OR TWO, KNOW; WHAT DO YOU KNOW; WHAT HAVE YOU (WHO KNOWS WHAT); WHICH IS WHICH, KNOW; YOU KNOW.

know all the answers Also, know a thing or two; know it all; know one's way around. Be extremely knowledgeable or experienced. These idioms may be used somewhat differently, expressing overconfidence, as in Helen always knew all the answers, or thought she did, or competence, as in Bob knows a thing or two about battery technology, or ruefulness, as in I thought I knew it all about plants and then I got poison ivy, or genuine expertise, as in John knows his way around tax forms. The first term dates from the early 1900s, the second from the later 1700s, the third from the later 1800s, and the fourth, also put as know one's way about, dates

from the 1500s. Also see KNOW ONE'S STUFF; KNOW THE ROPES; under TRICKS OF THE TRADE.

know a thing or two

see KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS.

know beans

hand. see NOT KNOW BEANS.

know better

Be able to recognize something as wrong or not possible, as in Mary should know better than to leave her child alone in the house, or Try to get in without a ticket? You know better than that. [c. 1700]

know by heart

hand. see BY HEART.

know by sight

Recognize someone or something by appearance but not know the name or other details. For example, I know a lot of people by sight from the tennis courts. [1200s]

know enough to come in out of the rain

hand. see COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN.

know from Adam

also see under

hand. see NOT KNOW FROM ADAM.

know if one is coming or going

hand. see

know it all

hand. see

knowledge

COMING OR GOING.

KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS.

hand. see LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING; TO THE BEST OF (ONE'S KNOWLEDGE).

know like a book Also, know like the back of one's hand or know backwards and forwards. Be extremely familiar with or knowledgeable about; understand perfectly. For example,

I know Greg like a book?

I'm sure he'll come, or I know this town like the back of my hand, or John knew his part backwards and forwards. The first of these hyperbolic idioms, dating from the early 1800s, has a close cousin in read like a book, which means "to discern someone's intent," as in I can read Greg like a book;

OPEN BOOK. The second (back of hand) dates only from the mid-1900s. Also see BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS, def. 2; INSIDE OUT, def. 2; KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS.

know one's own mind

Be certain about what one wants; be decisive. For example, Don't ask him; he's so tired that he doesn't know his own mind, or She certainly knows her own mind when it comes to giving stage directions. This term was first recorded in 1824.

know one's place

Behave suitably for one's position, rank, or status. This idiom often has the sense of "to behave humbly, not criticize ones' superiors," as in Sorry, I know my place and I can't tell you more about my supervisor's plans. [Late 1500s] Also see PUT ONE IN ONE'S PLACE.

know one's stuff Also, know one's onions. Be experienced or knowledgeable in one's field or in the matter at hand. For example, Patrice knows her stuff when it comes to Mexican history, or We need a handyman who knows his onions. The allusion in the variant is unclear. [First half of 1900s]

know one's way around

hand. see under KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS.

know only too well

hand. see under ONLY TOO.

know the ropes

Be informed about the details of a situation or task. For example, Don't worry about Sara's taking over that reporter's job?

she already knows the ropes. This expression alludes to sailors learning the rigging so as to handle a sailing vessel's ropes. It was being used figuratively by the late 1800s. The same allusion is present in show someone the ropes, meaning "to familiarize someone with the details," as in

Tom's very experienced?

he'll show you the ropes.

know the score Also, know what's what. Understand what is happening; be familiar with the real story or the full situation. For example, It will take the new legislators some time to know the score, or When it comes to teaching youngsters to read, Nell knows what's what. The first expression, dating from about 1930, alludes to score as a tally of points in a game. The variant dates from about 1400.

know where one stands

1. Be aware of one's position relative to others, or how one is regarded by others, as in I'd love to know where I stand with the new board. 2. Be aware of one's own opinion or feelings about something, as in He knows where he stands on the issue of public housing.

know which side of one's bread is buttered

Be aware of where one's best interests lie, as in Jerry always helps out his boss; he knows which side of his bread is buttered. This expression alludes to the more favorable, or buttered, side of bread and has been used metaphorically since the early 1500s.

knuckle

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with KNUCKLE, also see RAP SOMEONE'S

KNUCKLES.

knuckle down

1. Apply oneself seriously to some task or goal, as in The professor insisted that we knuckle down and get our papers in by Friday. Both this term and the rhyming synonym buckle down date from the 1860s, but the precise allusion in either is unclear. 2. See KNUCKLE UNDER.

knuckle under Also, knuckle down. Give in, acknowledge defeat, as in The dean refused to knuckle under to the graduate students' demands, or He was forced to knuckle down before their threats of violence. Presumably this idiom alludes to a kneeling position with hands on the ground, knuckles down. [Mid1700s]

labor of love

Work done for one's satisfaction rather than monetary reward. For example, The research took three years but it was a labor of love. This expression appears twice in the New Testament (Hebrews 6:10, Thessalonians 1:3), referring to those who do God's work as a labor of love. [c.

1600]

lace into Also, light into. Attack, assail, as in He laced into me for arriving late, or She lit into him for forgetting the tickets. The first of these colloquial terms employs lace in the sense of "beat up or thrash," a usage dating from the late 1500s. The idiom with light dates from the late 1800s and stems from the verb meaning "descend."

ladder

hand. see BOTTOM OF THE LADDER.

ladies' man Also lady's man. A man who enjoys and attracts the company of women. For example, Because women seemed to seek him out at parties, Brian got the reputation for being quite a ladies' man. [Late 1700s]

laid up

1. Also, sick in bed. Ill and confined to bed, as in I was laid up for a week with the flu, or Sally can't come outside; she's sick in bed. [Mid-1500s] 2. Put in a safe place, as in The ship was laid up in dock with engine trouble, or The hikers were laid up in a cave during the storm. [Mid-1600s]

Also see under LAY IN; LAY SOMEONE LOW.

la-la land

1. Los Angeles, California (often abbreviated L.A.). This expression pokes fun at the alleged eccentricities of the city's in

habitants. For example, What do you expect? Frederick has lived in la-la land for ten years and it has rubbed off on him. [Slang; c. 1980] 2. A state of being out of touch with reality, as in I don't know what's going on with Amy?

she seems to be in la-la land. [Slang; c. 1980] Also see CLOUD-CUCKOO LAND;

NEVER-NEVER LAND.

lam

hand. see ON THE LAM.

lamb

hand. see HANGED FOR A SHEEP (AS A LAMB); IN TWO SHAKES (OF A LAMB'S TAIL); LIKE A LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER.

lame duck

An elected officeholder whose term of office has not yet expired but who has failed to be re-elected and therefore cannot garner much political support for initiatives. For example, You can't expect a lame duck President to get much accomplished; he's only got a month left in office. This expression originated in the 1700s and then meant a stockbroker who did not meet his debts. It was transferred to officeholders in the 1860s. The Lame Duck Amendment, 20th to the U.S.

Constitution, calls for Congress and each new President to take office in January instead of March (as before), thereby eliminating the lame-duck session of Congress.

land

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with LAND, also see CLOUD-CUCKOO LAND;

FALL (LAND) ON ONE'S FEET; FAT OF THE LAND; LA-LA LAND; LAY OF THE LAND; NEVER-NEVER LAND.

land in Also, land up. Arrive at, end in something. For example, This situation could land you in a terrible mess, or I never thought I'd land up with a reward for excellence. These expressions both employ land in the sense of "to end," a usage dating from the late 1600s.

land-office business

A thriving, expanding, or very profitable concern or volume of trade. For example, After the storm they did a land-office business in snow shovels and rock salt. This term, dating from the 1830s, alludes to the throng of applicants to government land offices through which Western lands were sold. It has been used for other booming business since the mid-1800s.

land on hand. see under JUMP ALL OVER; for land on one's feet, see FALL ON ONE'S FEET.

land up

hand. see LAND IN.

lane

hand. see FAST LANE; LOVERS' LANE.

lap

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with LAP, also see DROP IN SOMEONE'S LAP.

lap of luxury, in the

In affluent circumstances, equipped with anything money can buy. For example, Jane grew up in the lap of luxury. This expression alludes to the lap as a place of comfort. [Late 1700s]

lap of the gods, in the

Beyond one's control, in the hands of providence. For example, She's done what she can to expedite matters; now it's in the lap of the gods. This expression is a translation from Homer's

Iliad, in which Automedon, the charioteer of Achilles and Patroclos, said the battle's outcome was "in the lap of the gods." Lap of the gods has also been translated as knees of the gods.

lap up

Take in or receive very eagerly, as in She loves to travel?

she just laps it up, or The agency is lapping up whatever information their spies send in. This expression alludes to an animal drinking greedily. [Late 1800s]

large

hand. see AT LARGE; BIG (LARGE) AS LIFE; BY AND LARGE; COG IN THE (A LARGE) WHEEL; IN SOME (LARGE) MEASURE; LOOM LARGE; WRIT LARGE.

large as life Also, larger than life. hand. See BIG AS LIFE.

lark

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with LARK, also see HAPPY AS THE DAY IS

LONG (AS A LARK).

lark it up Also, lark about. Have a noisy, exuberant good time. For example, We were larking it up when the supervisor walked in, or He's always larking about at night. These expressions employ lark in the sense of "to frolic," a usage dating from the early 1800s. Also see CUT UP.

lash out

Make a sudden blow or fierce verbal attack. For example, The mule lashed out with its hind legs, or

After listening to Dad's criticism of his driving, Arthur lashed out at him. [Second half of 1500s]

last

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with LAST, also see AT LAST; AT THE LAST

MINUTE; BREATHE ONE'S LAST; EACH AND EVERY (LAST ONE); FAMOUS LAST WORDS; FIRST AND LAST; HEAD FOR (THE LAST ROUNDUP); IN THE FINAL (LAST) ANALYSIS; ON ONE'S LAST LEGS; SEE THE LAST OF; STICK TO ONE'S LAST; TO THE LAST.

last analysis

hand. see FINAL ANALYSIS.

last but not least

Last in sequence but not least in importance, as in Last but not least, I want to thank all the people who sent me copies of my article in the paper. [Late 1500s]

last-ditch effort

A desperate final attempt, as in We're making a last-ditch effort to finish on time. This expression alludes to the military sense of last ditch, "the last line of defense." Its figurative use dates from the early 1800s.

last fling

A final enjoyment of freedom. For example, He's planning to have one last fling before joining the army. This expression employs fling in the sense of "a brief period of indulging one's impulses," a usage dating from the first half of the 1800s.

last gasp

The moment before death; also, the end. For example, "Fight till the last gasp" (Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI, 1:2), or He was determined to stay at the party until the last gasp. This idiom alludes to taking one's last breath, literally (first example) or figuratively (second example). [Late 1500s]

last laugh, have the

Succeed in the end, after some earlier reverses. For example, We'll have the last laugh when they learn we got the contract. This expression, alluding to laughing at the loser, appeared in slightly different form in the mid-1500s and gave rise to the modern proverbial phrase, He who laughs last laughs best (or He laughs best who laughs last).

last resort

A final expedient or recourse to achieve some end or settle a difficulty. For example, If you don't improve, we'll try this new medication as a last resort. This term originally referred to a court of law from which there was no appeal. [Late 1600s]

last straw, the

The final annoyance or setback, which even though minor makes one lose patience. For example, I could put up with his delays and missed deadlines, but when he claimed the work was unimportant?

that was the last straw! This term is a shortening of the straw that broke camel's back, which conveys a vivid image of an overloaded animal being given one slight additional weight. The expression dates from the mid-1800s, and replaced the earlier the last feather that breaks the horse's back.

last word, the

1. The final statement in a verbal argument, as in Karen is never satisfied unless she has the last word. [Late 1800s] 2. A conclusive or authoritative statement or treatment; also, the power or authority of ultimate decision. For example, This report is considered to be the last word on genetic counsel

ing, or In financial matters, the treasurer has the last word. [Late 1800s] 3. The latest thing; the newest, most fashionable of its kind. For example, Our food processor is the last word in kitchen gadgetry. [c. 1930]

latch onto Also, latch on to. 1. Get hold of, grasp; also, understand, grasp mentally. For example, They latched onto a fortune in the fur trade, or Carol quickly latched on to how the sewing machine works. [c. 1930]

2. Attach oneself to, join in with, as in Rob didn't know the way so he latched on to one of the older children. [c. 1930]

late

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with LATE, also see AT THE LATEST; BETTER

LATE THAN NEVER; JOHNNY-COME-LATELY; KEEP LATE HOURS; OF LATE; THE LATEST; TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE. Also see under LATER.

late in life

In old age. For example, Isn't it rather late in life for your grandmother to go trekking in Nepal? late in the day

Far advanced; also, too far advanced. For example, It's late in the day to change the kitchen layout, since we've already ordered the cabinets, or It's a bit late in the day for apologizing. [Late 1700s]

later

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with LATER, also see SOONER OR LATER.

Also see under LATE.

later on

Subsequently, afterward, as in They served the main course, and later on, the dessert, or When can I use the sewing machine??

Later on, when I'm done. [Late 1800s]

lather

hand. see IN A LATHER.

laugh

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with LAUGH, also see CANNED LAUGHTER;

DIE LAUGHING; IT'S TO LAUGH; LAST LAUGH; NO JOKE (LAUGHING MATTER); SHAKE WITH LAUGHTER.

laugh all the way to the bank Also, cried all the way to the bank. Exult in a financial gain from something that had either been derided or thought worthless. For example, You may not think much of this comedian, but he's laughing all the way to the bank. Despite the seeming difference between laugh and cry, the two terms are virtually synonymous, the one with cry being used ironically and laugh straightforwardly. [c. 1960]

laugh and the world laughs with you

Keep your sense of humor and people will sympathize with you, as in She's always cheerful and has dozens of friends; laugh and the world laughs with you. This expression actually is part of an ancient Latin saying that concludes, weep and the world weeps with you. The current version, with the ending weep and you weep alone (meaning "you'll get no sympathy in your sorrow"), first

appeared in 1883 in Ella Wilcox's poem "Solitude." O. Henry used a slightly different version: "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and they give you the laugh" (The Count and the Wedding Guest, 1907).

laugh at

Treat lightly, scoff at. For example, He said the other children all laughed at his jacket, or They stopped laughing at his theory when it proved to be correct. [Late 1300s]

laughing matter

hand. see under NO JOKE.

laugh off Also, laugh away. Dismiss as ridiculous or trivial, as in He laughed off the suggestion that his career was over. [Early 1700s]

laugh one's head off

hand. see SPLIT ONE'S SIDES.

laugh out of court

Dismiss with ridicule or scorn, as in When he told them the old car could be repaired, they laughed him out of court. This expression, which originally referred to a case so laughable or trivial that a court of law would dismiss it, originated in ancient Roman times but has been used in English, without its former legal significance, since the late 1800s.

laugh out of the other side of one's mouth Also, laugh on the wrong side of one's mouth or face. Change from happiness to sadness, disappointment, or vexation. For example, He'll be laughing out of the other side of his mouth when he learns that he'll have to pay for the business trip he sought. [Late 1700s]

laugh up one's sleeve

Rejoice or exult secretly, hide one's amusement, as in When she tripped over her bridal train, her sister couldn't help laughing up her sleeve. This expression replaced the earlier laugh in one's sleeve, used by Richard Sheridan in The Rivals (1775): "'Tis false, sir, I know you are laughing in your sleeve." The expression, which alludes to hiding one's laughter in big loose sleeves, was already a proverb in the mid1500s.

laundry

hand. see

laurel

hand. see

law

WASH ONE'S DIRTY LINEN (LAUNDRY).

LOOK TO ONE'S LAURELS; REST ON ONE'S LAURELS.

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with LAW, also see ABOVE SUSPICION (THE