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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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luck of the draw

Pure chance, as in It isn't anyone's fault?

it's just the luck of the draw.

This expression alludes to the random drawing of a playing card. [Mid-1900s]

luck out Also, luck into. Gain success or something desirable through good fortune. For example, We lucked out and found the same rug for half the price, or Nell and Dave lucked into a terrific apartment. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]



lull into

Deceive into trustfulness, as in The steadily rising market lulled investors into a false sense of security. The earliest recorded version of this term referred to wine: "Fitter indeed to bring and lull men asleep in the bed of security" (Philemon Holland, Pliny's Historie of the World, 1601). Today it still often appears with the phrase a false sense of security.


hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with LUMP, also see LIKE IT OR LUMP IT.

lump in one's throat

A feeling of constriction in the throat caused by emotion, as in The bride's mother had a lump in her throat. This expression likens the sense of a physical swelling to the tight sensation caused by strong feelings. [Mid-1800s]








hand. see LAP OF LUXURY.

lying down

hand. see TAKE LYING DOWN. Also see LIE DOWN.



hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with MAD, also see


mad about Also, mad for. hand. See CRAZY ABOUT.

mad as a hatter Also, mad as a March hare. Crazy, demented, as in She is throwing out all his clothes; she's mad as a hatter. This expression, dating from the early 1800s, alludes to exposure to the chemicals formerly used in making felt hats, which caused tremors and other nervous symptoms. The variant, dating from the 14th century, alludes to the crazy behavior of hares during rutting season, mistakenly thought to be only in March.

mad as a hornet Also, mad as hell or hops or a wet hen. Very angry, enraged as in Mary was mad as a hornet when her purse was stolen, or Upset? Dan was mad as hell, or The teacher was mad as a wet hen. The use of mad for "angry" dates from about 1300, but these similes are of much more recent vintage (1800s, early 1900s). The allusions to a hornet, which can launch a fierce attack, and hell, with its furious fires, are more obvious than the other variants. Mad as hops was first recorded in 1884 and is thought to have been the writer's version of HOPPING MAD; mad as a wet hen, first recorded in 1823, is puzzling, since hens don't really mind water.


hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with MADE, also see HAVE IT MADE. Also see under MAKE.

made for each other Also, made for one another. Perfectly suited, as in Pat and Peter were just made for each other, or, as Samuel Richardson put it in Clarissa (1751): "Her features are all harmony, and made for one another." The use of made for in the sense of "fitted

for" dates from the late 1100s.

made of money

Very rich, as in Afford a limousine? Do you think I'm made of money? This hyperbolic expression uses made of in the sense of "composed of," a usage dating from about 1200.

made to measure Also, tailor-made. Fashioned to fit a particular need or purpose, very suitable. For example, Jane finds her new position is made to measure for her, or This bridge club is tailor-made for Max. Originally referring to clothes made to fit a particular person very precisely, these terms have been used figuratively since the mid-1900s. Also see MADE TO ORDER.

made to order Also, built to order. Very suitable, as in Her new assignment was built to order for her. In its literal use, this idiom refers to an item fashioned according to particular instructions. [Mid-1900s]



mad rush

A wild hurry, as in I was in a mad rush to get to the bank on time to cash my check, or Why the mad rush? We have lots of time before the concert starts. The use of in a rush for "being in a hurry" dates from the second half of the 1800s, and mad, for "frenzied," serves merely as an intensifer.

maiden voyage

The first experience, as in This tennis tournament is my maiden voyage in statewide competition.

This term, originally meaning the first voyage of a ship, was first recorded in 1901, but the use of maiden to signify "the first time" dates from the mid-1500s.


hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with MAIN, also see EYE TO THE MAIN


main drag

The principal street of a city or town, as in Several stores on the main drag have closed. This slangy term was first recorded in 1851.

main squeeze

1. One's boss, the highest authority, an important person. For example, Who's the main squeeze in this company? This slangy term was first recorded in 1896, and the precise allusion is unclear. 2. One's sweetheart, as in Nancy is his main squeeze. This slangy usage, first recorded in 1970, alludes to the "squeeze" of a hug.


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


make a beeline for

Go straight to, as in He made a beeline for the refreshments. In this expression, beeline means "the shortest distance between two points," alluding to the route of worker bees bringing nectar and pollen back to the hive. [c. 1830]

make a break for Also, make a run for. Run toward something. For example, As soon

as it ended, they made a break for the door, or I'll have to make a run for the plane. The noun break here means ''escape," and both terms may be put as make a break or run for it, meaning "to escape or get away quickly." For example, With the guards asleep, he decided to make a break for it, or The rain's stopped; let's make a run for it. [c. 1840]

make a bundle Also, make a pile. Make a great deal of money, as in When the market went up they made a bundle, or He made a pile from that department store. The first term, dating from about 1900, comes from the somewhat earlier use of bundle for a roll of banknotes. The variant, alluding to a heap of money, was first recorded in 1864.

make a clean breast of

Confess fully, as in Caught shoplifting, the girls decided to make a clean breast of it to their parents. This expression, first recorded in 1752, uses clean breast in the sense of baring of one's heart, the breast long considered the seat of private or secret feelings.

make a clean sweep

1. Remove or eliminate unwanted persons or things, as in The new owners made a clean sweep of the place, intending to replace all the equipment. This phrase replaced the much older (16th-century) general sweep. [Mid-1800s] 2. Win overwhelmingly, as in Our candidate made a clean sweep of all the districts. This usage is most often found with reference to success in a sports competition or election.

make a comeback Also, stage a comeback. Achieve a success after retirement or failure, as in After years in mediocre movies, she made a comeback on Broadway, or The humble hamburger is about to stage a comeback. [Colloquial; c. 1920] Also see COME BACK,

def. 1.

make a crack

Utter an impudent, sarcastic, or ironic remark, as in She's constantly making cracks about the

store's management. The noun crack here alludes to a hunter's shot at game. [Slang; late 1800s]

make a date

Arrange a meeting with someone, as in Let's get the department heads together and make a date for lunch next week, or I've made a date with Jean; can you join us? At first alluding only to social engagements, especially with a member of the opposite sex, this term, first recorded in 1876, is now used more broadly.

make a day of it Also, make a night of it. Devote a day (or night) to some pleasurable pursuit, as in Now that we're at the beach, let's make a day of it, or Since they missed the seven o'clock train, they decided to make a night of it. [Mid-1600s]

make a dent in

Begin to accomplish or consume something, as in I've barely made a dent in this pile of correspondence, or Help us put a dent in this pie. This metaphoric expression alludes to striking a blow to make a physical indentation in something.

make a difference

1. Distinguish or discriminate. This phrase appears in the Bible (Leviticus 11:47): "To make a difference between the unclean and the clean." [Late 1500s] 2. Also, make the difference. Cause a change in effect, change the nature of something, as in His score on this test will make the difference between passing and failing, or These curtains sure make a difference in the lighting. 3. Be important, matter, as in Her volunteer work made a difference in many lives. The antonym of this usage is make no difference, as in It makes no difference to me if we go immediately or in an hour. This usage appeared long ago in slightly different versions. Miles Coverdale's translation of the Bible of 1535 had it is no difference, and the converse, it makes great difference, was first recorded about 1470.

make advances

1. Attempt to make someone's acquaintance or make overtures, as in The ambassador knew that the ministers would soon make advances to him. [Late 1600s] 2. Approach amorously or sexually, as in His wife accused him of making advances to the nanny. [c. 1700] Also see MAKE A PASS


make a face

Grimace, distort the facial features, as in The teacher told Joan to stop making faces at Mary. This expression was first recorded in 1570.

make a federal case of Also, make a big deal of. Give undue importance to an issue, as in I'll pay you back next week?

you needn't make a federal case of it, or Jack is making a big deal of filling out his passport application. The first hyperbolic expression, almost always used in a negative context, alludes to taking a legal action before a high (federal) court. The second alludes to an important business transaction (see BIG DEAL, def. 1).

make a fool of Also, make an ass or monkey out of. Cause someone or oneself to look foolish or stupid. For example, John doesn't mind making a fool of himself at parties, or They made an ass of me by giving me the wrong instructions, or just watch him make a monkey out of this amateur chess player. The use of fool and ass date from the early 1600s; the latter is sometimes put more rudely as make a horse's ass of, alluding to a horse's behind. The use of monkey dates from about 1900.

make a fortune Also, make a small fortune. Earn a great deal of money, as in He made a fortune on the stock market. Similar expressions are be worth a fortune or small fortune, as in Now that their parents have died, they're worth a small fortune. Make a fortune dates from about 1700, and its use with small from the second half of the 1800s.

make a fuss

1.Cause a needless commotion or display, as in I'm sure he'll be here soon; please don't make a fuss. It is also often put as make a fuss about or over, as in He's making a fuss about nothing, or If you make a fuss over the small budget items, what will it be like when we discuss the big ones? The idiom dates from about 1800, although the use of fuss in this sense is a century older.

2.make a fuss over someone. Treat someone with excessive attention, solicitude, or affection, as in Whenever they visit Grandma she makes a fuss over the children. [1920s]

make a go of

Achieve success in, as in He has made a go of his new business. This expression was first recorded in 1877.

make a hash of Also, make a mess of. Ruin or spoil something, as in They've made a hash of their financial affairs, or She thought he'd make a mess of the garden. The first term, first recorded in 1833, uses hash in the sense of "a jumble of mangled fragments"; the variant, using mess in the sense of "a muddle" or "a state of confusion," was first recorded in 1862.

make a hit

1. Also, be a hit. Achieve (or be) a success, especially a popular one, as in She made a big hit in this performance, or In out-of-town tryouts the play was already a hit. This seemingly modern term, which transfers the literal meaning of hit as "a stroke or blow," has been around since the early 1800s. It was used then, as now, for theatrical performances, books, songs, and the like 2.

In underworld slang, commit a murder, as in Known for his deadly accuracy, he was about to make his third hit. This usage also has been extended to such terms as hit list, a roster of persons to be killed, and hit man, a killer who is usually hired by someone else. [Second half of 1900s]

make a hole in

hand. see under PICK APART.

make a killing

Enjoy a large and quick profit, as in They made a killing in real estate. This expression alludes to a hunter's success. [Slang; late 1800s]

make a laughingstock of

Lay open to ridicule, as in They made a laughingstock of the chairman by inviting him to the wrong meeting-place, or She felt she was making a laughing-stock of herself, always wearing the wrong clothes for the occasion. The noun laughingstock replaced the earlier mockingstock and sportingstock, now obsolete. The idiom was first recorded in 1667.

make a living

Earn enough to support one-self, as in Can he make a living as a freelance trumpeter? This term was first recorded in 1632.

make allowance for Also, make allowances for. Take into account extenuating circumstances, as in We have to make allowance for Jeff; he's very new to the business, or Grandma is always making allowances for the children's bad manners. [c. 1700]

make a long story short

Get to the point, as in To make a long story short, they got married and moved to Omaha.

Although the idea of abbreviating a long-winded account is ancient, this precise phrase dates only from the 1800s. Henry David Thoreau played on it in a letter of 1857: "Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long time to make it short."

make amends

Compensate someone for a grievance or injury, as in They must make amends for the harm they've caused you. This expression was first recorded in 1330.

make a monkey out of

hand. see under MAKE A FOOL OF.

make a mountain out of a molehill

Exaggerate trifling difficulties, as in If you forgot your racket you can borrow one?

don't make a mountain out of a molehill. This expression, alluding to the barely raised tunnels created by moles, was first recorded in John Fox's The Book of Martyrs (1570).

make a name for oneself

Achieve distinction, become prominent or well known, as in Martha is making a name for herself as an excellent chef. The earliest recorded use of this term was in John Wycliffe's followers' translation of the Bible (II Samuel 8:13): "Forsooth David made to him a name." Also see MAKE


make an appearance


make an appointment

1. Assign someone to a particular office or position, as in When the head of White House security

resigned, it was up to the President to make an appointment. [Mid-1800s] 2. Schedule a meeting with someone, as in Do I need to make another appointment with the doctor? [Mid-1700s]

make an ass of

hand. see MAKE A FOOL OF.

make an end of

hand. see PUT AN END TO.

make an example of

Punish someone so as to be a warning to others, as in The teacher made an example of the boy she caught cheating, or The judge imposed a tough sentence to make an example of the car thieves. This usage is first recorded in John Wycliffe's followers' translation of the Bible (c. 1382).

make an exception

Exempt someone or something from a general rule or practice, as in Because it's your birthday, I'll make an exception and let you stay up as late as you want. This expression was first recorded about 1391.

make an exhibition of oneself

Show off or otherwise embarrass oneself in public, as in When Mike has too much to drink he's apt to make an exhibition of himself. The first recorded use of this term was in Charles Dickens's A Child's History of England (1853).

make a night of it

hand. see under MAKE A DAY OF IT.

make an impression

Produce a strong effect on one. This phrase is often qualified with an adjective such as good, bad, strong, or the like. For example, He tried to make a good impression on his girlfriend's parents, or Be careful or you'll make a bad impression on the jury, or You made quite an impression with that speech. [Mid-1600s]

make a note of

Write down so as to remember; also, remember. For example, I'll make a note of the fact that the tires are low. Shakespeare used this term in slightly different form in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (2:7): "Go with me to my chamber to take a note of what I stand in need."

make a nuisance of oneself

Bother or annoy others, as in That child is making a nuisance of himself.

make a pass at

1. Flirt or make advances to someone, especially of a sexual nature, as in "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" (Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep As A Well, 1936). [1920s] 2. Also, take a pass at. Make an attempt, as in I've made a pass at opening it but had no luck, or Jake, will you take a pass at changing the oil? This usage employs pass in the sense of a "jab" or "poke." [Colloquial; 1900s] Also see MAKE A STAB AT.

make a pig of oneself

Overeat, as in I really made a pig of myself at the buffet. [Colloquial; 1940s] Also see PIG OUT.

make a pile

hand. see MAKE A BUNDLE.

make a pitch for

Say or do something in support of someone or something, as in That announcer really made a pitch for Sunday's concert, or Her agent's been making a pitch for her books all over town. This expression originally alluded to an inflated sales talk that was "pitched" (in the sense of "thrown") at the listener. [Slang; late 1800s]

make a play for

Try to attract someone's interest, especially romantic interest. For example, Bill has been making a play for Anne, but so far it hasn't gotten him anywhere. [Slang; c. 1900]

make a point of

Treat something as important or essential, as in She made a point of thanking everyone in the department for their efforts. This expression uses point in the sense of "an objective or purpose." [Late 1700s] Also see MAKE ONE'S POINT.

make a practice of

Habitually do something, as in Bill makes a practice of checking the oil and gas before every long trip.

[c. 1900]

make arrangements for

Plan or prepare for someone or something, as in Who is making all the arrangements for our sales meeting? This expression employs arrangements in the sense of "measures or preparations for a particular purpose," a usage dating from the late 1700s.

make a run for

hand. see MAKE A BREAK FOR.

make a scene Also, create a scene; make an uproar. Make a public disturbance or excited emotional display. For example, Joan made a scene when the restaurant lost her

dinner reservation, or Ted made an uproar over losing his luggage. Make a scene was first recorded in 1831; the variant employs uproar in the sense of "a noisy commotion," a usage first recorded in 1548.

make as if Also, make as though; make like. Behave as if, pretend that. For example,

Jean made as if she really liked the soup, or Dad made as though he had not heard them, or She makes like she's a really important person. The first two usages date from the early 1500s; the third, a colloquialism, dates from the late 1800s.

make a silk purse


make a stab at

Try to do something, as in I don't know the answer but I'll make a stab at it. This expression derives from stab in the sense of "a vigorous thrust." [Late 1800s] Also see MAKE A PASS AT,

def. 2.

make a stand

Hold firm against something or someone, as in The government was determined to make a stand against all forms of terrorism. This idiom transfers the early meaning of holding ground against an enemy to other issues. [c. 1600]

make a statement

Create a certain impression; communicate an idea or mood without using words. For example, The furnishings here make a statement about the company. [Mid-1900s]

make a stink Also, raise a stink. Create a great fuss; complain, criticize, or otherwise make trouble about something. For example, They promised to fix the printer today; you needn't make a stink about it, or The parents were raising a stink about the principal's new rules. This idiom transfers an offensive odor to a public fuss. [Mid-1800s] Also see MAKE A SCENE.

make a virtue of necessity

Do the best one can under given circumstances, as in Since he can't break the contract, Bill's making a virtue of necessity. This expression first appeared in English in Chaucer's The Knight's Tale: "Then is it wisdom, as it thinketh me, to make virtue of necessity." Also see MAKE THE


make away with

1.Carry off, steal, as in The burglars made away with all their jewelry. [Late 1600s] 2. Use up, consume, as in The boys made away with all the sandwiches. This usage was first recorded in 1843. 3. Kill, destroy, as in We decided to make away with the old horse. [c. 1500] Also see