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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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SHORT OF.

Certainly not, as in Can I borrow your down coat??

Nothing doing. This colloquial interjection was first recorded in 1910. Also see, NO DICF.

nothing if not

Above all else, as in He was nothing if not discreet. Shakespeare used this idiom in Othello (2:1): "I am nothing if not critical." [c. 1600]

nothing like

hand. see NOT ANYTHING LIKE.

nothing new under the sun

Everything has been seen before, as in Those designs take

me back to the 1950s?

there really is nothing new under the sun. This world-weary view was already expressed in 1382 in the Bible translation attributed to John Wycliffe's followers: "No thing under the sun is new" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

nothing of the kind Also, nothing of the sort. 1. No, certainly not, as in Did you push Charlie??

Nothing of the kind! or Do you think the kids were trying to shoplift??

Nothing of the sort. [Second half of 1800s] 2. Not at all like what is mentioned or expected, as in

They thought we would look them up, but we'd intended nothing of the kind. [Second half of 1800s]

nothing short of

The equivalent of, the same as, as in His accusation is nothing short of slander. This term is slightly stronger than little short of, meaning "almost the same as," as in Her claim is little short of stupid. The first term dates from about 1800, the second from about 1830. Also see

nothing to do with

hand. see HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH.

nothing to it, there's

It's not at all difficult, it's easy, as in Of course I can fix the faucet?

there's nothing to it. This hyperbolic term was first recorded in 1934.

nothing to sneeze at

hand. see NOT TO BE SNEEZED AT.

nothing to speak of

Not much, nothing worth mentioning, as in What's been happening in the stock market??

Nothing to speak of, or They've done nothing to speak of about publicity. This expression was first recorded in 1582.

nothing to write home about

Ordinary or unremarkable, as in The restaurant was all right but nothing to write home about. This idiom originated in the late 1800s, possibly among troops stationed far from home, and became widespread during World War I.

nothing ventured, nothing gained

One must take risks to achieve something, as in They quit their jobs, packed up, and moved to Wisconsin, saying "nothing ventured, nothing gained." Although this adage has appeared in slightly different form since the late 1300s, it was first recorded in this form only in 1624. For another

version, see NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

not hurt a fly Also, not hurt a flea. Not cause harm to anyone, be gentle and mild, as in Paul's the kindest man?

he wouldn't hurt a flea, or Bert has a temper but it's all talk; he wouldn't hurt a fly. Both fly and flea are used in the sense of "a small insignificant animal." [Early 1800s]

notice

hand. see ESCAPE NOTICE; GIVE NOTICE; SHORT NOTICE; SIT UP AND TAKE NOTICE; TAKE NOTE (NOTICE).

not if one can help it

Only without one's agreement, only if one cannot prevent it. For example, Is he taking a second job??

Not if his wife can help it, or He's not riding on the back of that motorcycle, not if I can help it. This idiom uses help in the sense of "prevent" or "cause to be otherwise." [Mid-1800s]

not if you paid me

Under no circumstances, as in I wouldn't jump off the high diving board, not if you paid me. [Late 1800s]

no time at all

hand. see IN NO TIME.

no time for, have

Can't be bothered with, dislike, as in Dad has no time for her temper tantrums. This expression alludes to unwillingness to spend time with someone or something.

no time like the present, there's

Do or say it now, as in Go ahead and call him? there's no time like the present. This adage was first recorded in 1562. One compiler of proverbs, John Trusler, amplified it: "No time like the present, a thousand unforeseen circumstances may interrupt you at a future time" (Proverbs Exemplified, 1790).

not in the least

hand. see IN THE LEAST.

not know beans Also, not know the first thing; not know from nothing. Be ignorant about something, as in a poem published in the Yale Literary Magazine in 1855: "When our recent Tutor is heard to speak, This truth one certainly gleans, Whatever he knows of Euclid and Greek, In Latin he don't know beans." The beans in this colloquial phrase, dating from the early 1800s, signify something small and worthless; not knowing the first thing about something clearly shows one doesn't know anything about it at all; and the third slangy phrase, with its double negative, implies stupidity as well as ignorance, as in Poor girl, just starting out and she doesn't know from nothing.

not know enough to come in out of the rain

hand. see COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN.

not know someone from Adam

Be unable to recognize someone, as in Although I have worked here for two months, I've never seen the department head; I wouldn't know her from Adam. This term refers to the biblical story about the world's first human being. As at least one writer has pointed out, differentiating someone from Adam makes little sense since he had no name and wore only a fig leaf. [Mid-1800s]

not know where to turn Also, not know which way to jump or turn. Have no idea of how to get help or what course to take. For example, With all these offers coming in, he didn't know where to turn, or When her car was towed, Meg was distraught and did not know which way to jump. The first phrase dates from about 1400.

not know whether one is coming or going

hand. see under COMING OR GOING.

not let the grass grow under one's feet

hand. see DON'T LET THE GRASS GROW.

not lift a finger

Refuse to exert oneself to help or perform an action. For example, Dad won't lift a finger to help them financially, or Early in the war, America officially would not lift a finger. [Mid-1900s]

not miss a trick Also, never miss a trick; not miss much. Not fail to be aware of what is going on. For example, When it comes to the commodities market, Mark never misses a trick, or Dad may seem absentminded, but he doesn't miss much. The first phrase dates from the early 1900s;

the variant employs miss in the sense of "fail to perceive," a usage dating from the late 1600s.

not move a muscle

hand. see MOVE A MUSCLE

not my cup of tea

hand. see CUP OF TEA.

not one iota

Not even the smallest amount, as in He got not one iota of thanks for his efforts. This usage appeared in slightly different form in the New Testament (Matthew 5:18): "One jot [iota] . . . shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled." (The noun jot comes from the Greek iota.)

not one's day, this is Also, just one of those days. Nothing is going right for one today. For example, The car wouldn't start, it rained unexpectedly?

this is not my day, or The phone has rung nonstop all morning; it's just one of those days. [c. 1920]

not oneself

Not feeling physically or mentally well, as in I think there's something wrong; he's not himself, or She seemed to be improving last week, but she's just not feeling herself today. Also see FEEL

LIKE ONESELF.

not on your life

Certainly not, as in Go hang-gliding? Not on your life. The first recorded use of this interjection was in 1896.

not open one's mouth Also, shut one's mouth; not say or utter a word. Be silent, repress one's feelings or opinions, keep a secret. For example, Don't worry, I'm not going to open my mouth on this issue, or She promised not to say a word about it to anyone. Also see HOLD

ONE'S TONGUE; KEEP ONE'S MOUTH SHUT.

not put something past someone

Consider someone capable of doing something, especially something bad. For example, I wouldn't put it past him to tell a lie or two. This expression uses past in the sense of "beyond." [Late 1800s]

not right in the head

Mentally unsound, as in Physically, she's quite healthy for ninety, but we suspect she's not right in the head. This usage was first recorded as right in his wits in 1662.

not see beyond one's nose

hand. see CAN'T SEE BEYOND THE END OF ONE'S NOSE.

not suffer fools gladly

Refuse to tolerate stupidity, as in Chris can be intimidating at these meetings; she does not suffer fools gladly. This expression comes from the New Testament (II Corinthians 11:19), where Paul sarcastically says, "For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise." [c. 1600]

not take no for answer

hand. see TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER.

not the half of it

hand. see HALF OF IT.

not the only fish in the sea Also, lots or plenty of good fish in the sea; not the only pebble on the beach. Plenty of other suitable persons, especially for a romantic relationship. For example, When Bob walked out on Sally, all we could tell her was that he was not the only fish in the sea, or Bill knew she wasn't the only pebble on the beach but he was determined to win her over. Both fish and pebble here refer to something available in large quantities. The expressions using fish have been used to comfort jilted lovers since the early 1500s. The variant using pebble was first recorded in a poem of 1896 by Henry Braistead: "If you want to win her hand Let the maiden understand That she's not the only pebble on the beach."

not think much of

Have little regard for, have a low opinion of, as in Bill doesn't think much of the carpentry work in that house. The phrase not much has been used in this sense since the mid-1800s.

not to be sneezed at Also, nothing to sneeze at. Not to be ignored or dismissed, as in It's a great honor, not to be sneezed at, or That salary of his is nothing to sneeze at. This expression presumably alludes to turning up one's nose in disdain. [c. 1800]

not to mention Also, not to speak of; to say nothing of. In addition to, besides what's already been said. For example, I don't think the voters will want that big program, not to mention the cost, or Dave teaches trumpet and trombone, not to speak of other brass instruments, or Their house is worth at least a million, to say nothing of their other assets.

not touch with a ten-foot pole

Stay far away from, avoid completely, as in Ronald wouldn't touch raw oysters with a ten-foot pole.

This expression dates from the mid-1700s, when it began to replace the earlier not to be handled with a pair of tongs. In the 1800s barge-pole was sometimes substituted for ten-foot pole, but that variant has died out.

not to worry

hand. see NO PROBLEM.

not turn a hair

value (also see

hand. see TURN A HAIR.

not up to

hand. see UP TO.

not worth a damn Also, not worth a plugged nickel or red cent or bean or hill of beans or fig or straw or tinker's damn. Worthless, as in That car isn't worth a damn, or My new tennis racket is not worth a plugged nickel. As for the nouns here, a damn or curse is clearly of no great

NOT GIVE A DAMN); a plugged nickel in the 1800s referred to a debased five-cent coin; a cent denotes the smallest American coin, which was red when made of pure copper (1800s); a bean has been considered trivial or worthless since the late 1300s (Chaucer so used it), whereas hill of beans alludes to a planting method whereby four or five beans are put in a mound (and still are worthless); and both fig and straw have been items of no worth since about 1400. A tinker's dam, first recorded in 1877, was a wall of dough raised around a spot where a metal pipe is being repaired so as to hold solder in place until it hardens, whereupon the dam is discarded. However, tinker's damn was first recorded in 1839 and probably was merely an intensification of ''not worth a damn," rather than having anything to do with the dam.

no two ways about it

No room for difference of opinion, no alternative, as in We have to agree on the nomination, and no two ways about it. [Early 1800s]

no use, it's

1. It's impossible; it can't succeed. For example, It's no use; these pieces just don't fit. [c. 1800] 2. Also, it's no use to man or beast. It's worthless, it serves no purpose, as in This car is so old it's no use to man or beast. Also see HAVE NO USE FOR.

no use crying over spilt milk

hand. see CRY OVER SPILT MILK.

now

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with NOW, also see ANY DAY (NOW); EVERY

NOW AND THEN; HERE AND NOW; JUST NOW.

now and again Also, now and then. See EVERY NOW AND THEN.

no way Also, there is no way. Certainly not; never. For example, No way can I forget what he did, or Are you coming along??

No way! or There's no way our candidate can lose. This colloquial expression dates from the

mid-1900s, but an earlier adverb, noway, dates from the 1300s.

nowhere

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with NOWHERE, also see GET NOWHERE; IN

THE MIDDLE (OF NOWHERE); OUT OF NOWHERE.

nowhere near

hand. see under NOT ANYTHING LIKE.

no-win situation

A situation certain to end in failure or disappointment, as in If the in-laws visit them or they visit the in-laws, either way they see it as a no-win situation. [c. 1960]

no wonder Also, small wonder. It's not at all (or hardly) surprising, as in With the goalie out with a sprained ankle, it's no wonder you lost the game, or If he finished off all of the turkey, small wonder he has a stomachache. [c. A.D. 900]

now or never, it's

It must be done now or not at all, as in If you plan to state your case to the boss, it's now or never. This phrase was first recorded in 1560.

now that

Seeing that, since, as in Now that you're here, you might as well stay for dinner. This usage was first recorded in 1530. For a synonym, see AS LONG AS.

now you're talking

Good for you, you're saying the right thing, as in You've decided to enter the contest? Now you're talking! [Mid-1800s]

nth

hand. see TO THE NTH DEGREE.

nuisance

hand. see MAKE A NUISANCE OF ONE-SELF.

null and void

Canceled, invalid, as in The lease is now null and void. This phrase is actually redundant, since null means "void," that is, "ineffective." It was first recorded in 1669.

number

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with NUMBER, also see A NUMBER OF; ANY

NUMBER OF; BACK NUMBER; BY THE NUMBERS; CRUNCH NUMBERS; DAYS ARE NUMBERED; DO A JOB (NUMBER) ON; GET (HAVE) SOMEONE'S NUMBER; HOT NUMBER; IN ROUND NUMBERS; LOOK OUT FOR (NUMBER ONE); OPPOSITE NUMBER; SAFETY IN NUMBERS.

number is up, one's

One is in grave difficulty or near death. For example, She knew her number was up when she saw the look on her supervisor's face, or He looks terrible; I think his number's up. In the earliest use of this phrase, in the early 1800s, number referred to an unfavorable lottery number, but in other citations it could be any number whereby one is identified, such as the number on a military dog tag.

nurse a drink

Consume a drink slowly, especially in order to conserve it. For example, He nursed one drink for the whole evening. This idiom alludes to holding a glass very carefully, as one might a child. [c. 1940]

nurse a grudge

Bear resentment for a long time, as in We don't know why Karl looks so angry; I think he's nursing a grudge against the family. This expression uses nurse in the sense of "foster a feeling," a usage dating from the mid-1700s.

nut

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with NUTS, also see DRIVE SOMEONE CRAZY

(NUTS); FROM SOUP TO NUTS; HARD NUT TO CRACK.

nuts about, be

Be extremely enthusiastic; also, be extremely fond of. For example, Ellen is nuts about opera, or

Kevin has been nuts about Megan since he met her. This seemingly new slangy expression began life in the late 1700s as nuts on or upon; about began to be substituted about 1940.

nuts and bolts, the

The essential or basic aspects of something, as in They have lofty goals but don't specify the nuts and bolts of how to achieve them. This expression alludes to basic working components of machinery. [Mid1900s]

nutshell

hand. see IN A NUTSHELL.

nutty as a fruitcake

Crazy, idiotic, as in Mary's nutty as a fruitcake if she thinks she can get away with that. The adjective nutty meaning "insane" was first recorded in 1821; the similarity to fruitcake, which

literally contains nuts as well as fruit, was first recorded in 1935.

O

oar

hand. see PUT ONE'S OAR IN.

oats

hand. see FEEL ONE'S OATS; SOW ONE'S WILD OATS.

object

hand. see MONEY IS NO OBJECT.

objection

hand. see RAISE AN OBJECTION.

occasion

hand. see ON OCCASION; RISE TO THE OCCASION.

occur to one

Come to mind, as in It never occurred to me that he might refuse. [Early 1600s]

odd couple

hand. see under STRANGE BEDFELLOWS.

odd man out

1. A person who is left out of a group for some reason, as in The invitation was for couples only, so Jane was odd man out. [Mid-1800s] 2. Something or someone who differs markedly from the others in a group, as in Among all those ranch-style houses, their Victorian was odd man out. [Late 1800s]

odds

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with ODDS, also see AGAINST ALL ODDS; AT

ODDS; BY ALL ODDS; LAY ODDS.

odds and ends

Miscellaneous items, fragments and remnants, as in I've finished putting everything away, except for a few odds and ends. This expression may have originated as odd ends in the mid-1500s, meaning "short leftovers of some material" (such as lumber or cloth). It had acquired its present form and meaning by the mid-1700s.

odds are, the

The chances are, as in The odds are that they'll serve turkey for Thanksgiving. Replacing it is odds by the late 1600s, this phrase refers to betting.

odor of sanctity

Exaggerated or hypocritical piety, an assumption of moral superiority, as in This candidate puts off some voters with his odor of sanctity. This expression, originating in the medieval idea that the dead body of a saintly individual gives off a sweet smell, was used to describe saintliness in the mid-1700s. Today it is generally used ironically.

of age

1. Old enough, according to the law, to be eligible for something, as in In this state he's not of age for buying liquor, but he may vote, or Next year Jane's coming of age and will get her driver's license. This usage was first recorded about 1430. The term under age signifies being too young to be eligible, as in It's against the law to serve alcohol to anyone under age. 2. come of age. Mature or develop fully, as in The school's bilingual program has finally come of age.

of a kind

1. Of some sort, but not a typical or perfect specimen. For example, They have a backyard of a kind, but it's tiny. This usage was first recorded in 1895. For a synonym, see OF SORTS. 2.

one of a kind. A unique instance, as in There are no others like it; this hybrid daylily is one of a kind, or She's extremely generous, one of a kind. Also see TWO OF A KIND.

of all things

From all the possibilities, as in I said I'd help in any way I can, and of all things they want me to handle publicity. This term, generally expressing surprise, was first recorded in 1925.

of a piece Also, all of a piece. Of the same kind, as in This legislation is of a piece with the previous bill, or Her rude behavior was all of a piece. The piece in this idiom alludes to a single mass of material. [Early 1600s]

of a sort

hand. see OF SORTS.

of choice

Preferred above others, as in A strike is the union's weapon of choice. Used with other prepositions (by, for, with), all meaning "by preference," this idiom dates from about 1300.

of consequence

Important, as in For all matters of consequence we have to consult the board, or Only scientists of consequence have been invited to speak. This idiom was first recorded in 1489.