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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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Take a firm stand, as in She put her foot down and said we could not go to the carnival. This idiom alludes to setting down one's foot firmly, representing a firm position. [Late 1800s]

put one's foot in it

Make a blunder, as in I didn't know it was a surprise party; I guess I put my foot in it. This expression presumably alludes to setting one's foot down in mud or

excrement. [Late 1700s] Also see FOOT IN ONE'S MOUTH.

put one's hand to

hand. see TURN ONE'S HAND TO.

put one's head on the block

hand. see ON THE BLOCK, def. 2.

put one's house in order

Arrange one's affairs, as in Stop meddling in your daughter's business and put your own house in order. This metaphoric term appears in slightly different form in the Bible (Isaiah 38:1): "Set thine house in order." [Late 1500s]

put one's mind to Also, set one's mind on. Concentrate on or be determined to achieve, as in

She's put her mind to improving her test results, or I've set my mind on finding a job I really like.

[First half of 1800s]

put one's money where one's mouth is

Back up one's opinion with action, as in He goes on and on about helping the homeless; I wish he'd put his money where his mouth is. This idiom, alluding to contributing cash to support one's stated views, has been broadened to include any kind of action. [First half of 1900s]

put one's nose out of joint

hand. see NOSE OUT OF JOINT.

put one's oar in

Interfere with something or insert one's opinion, as in I'll thank you not to put your oar in when we're discussing a private matter. This term, referring to helping to row a boat, was first recorded in Charles Coffey's 1731 play The Devil to Pay: "I will govern my own house without your putting in an oar."

put one's shoulder to the wheel

Work hard, make a strenuous effort, as in We'll have to put our shoulder to the wheel to get this job done. This metaphoric term, alluding to pushing a heavy vehicle that has bogged down, has been used figuratively since the late 1700s.

put on hold

hand. see ON HOLD.

put on ice

hand. see ON ICE, def. 1.

put on one's thinking cap

Think or reflect seriously, as in A new slogan? I'll have to put on my thinking cap for that. This term originated in the late 1800s and replaced considering cap, which dates from the early 1600s.

put on the dog Also, put on the ritz. Behave in an elegant, extravagant manner, as in

We'll have to put on the dog when our daughter's in-laws visit, or They really put on the ritz for the wedding reception. The allusion in the first of these slangy terms, first recorded in 1865, is unclear, although it has been suggested that the newly rich displayed their wealth by keeping pampered lapdogs. The second term, from the 1920s, alludes to the large, luxurious hotels founded by and named for César Ritz (1850-1918), which still exist in Paris, London, and many other major cities.

put on the feed bag Also, tie on the feed bag. Eat a meal, as in Come on, it's time to put on the feed bag. This slangy term, alluding to a horse's feed bag that is literally tied on, dates from the early 1900s.

put on the map

Make famous, publicize, as in The incident got on the national news and put our community on the map. This expression, alluding to a locality that formerly was too small to put on a map, dates from the early 1900s.

put on the spot

hand. see ON THE SPOT.

put on weight

hand. see PUT ON, def. 5.

put our heads together Also, put their heads together. Discuss or plan something among ourselves (or themselves), as in Let's put our heads together and figure out what we can give him for his birthday. This idiom, alluding to combining mental forces, originated in the late 1300s as lay our heads together and acquired its current form in the second half of the 1800s.

put out

1. Extinguish, as in We put out the fire before we turned in. [Early 1500s] 2. Also, put to sea. Leave a port or harbor, as in They put out yesterday morning. [Late 1500s] 3. Publish, as in They put out a weekly newsletter. [Early 1500s] 4. Engage in sex. This usage is applied solely to women, as in She had a reputation for putting out. [Vulgar slang; mid-1900s] Also see PUT ONE

OUT.

put out feelers

Discreetly try to learn something, as in They put out feelers to see if anyone was interested in buying the company. This idiom alludes to an animal's feelers, such as antennae or tentacles, used to find food. [First half of 1800s]

put out of business

hand. see OUT OF BUSINESS.

put out of one's mind

Make oneself forget or overlook, as in You've lost, but put that out of your mind and concentrate on the job.

put out to grass Also, put out to pasture. Cause to retire, as in With mandatory retirement they put you out to grass at age 65, or She's not all that busy now that she's been put out to pasture. These idioms refer to farm animals sent to graze when they are no longer useful for other work.

put over

1. Make successful, bring off, as in Do you think we can put over this play? [Early 1900s] 2. Make something or someone be understood or accepted, as in The public relations staff helped put our candidate over to the public. [Early 1900s] 3. put over on. Fool, deceive, as in We can't put anything over on Tom. [Early 1900s] 4. Delay, postpone, as in The meeting was put over until tomorrow. [Early 1500s] Also see PUT OFF.

put paid to

Finish off, end, as in We'd best put paid to this issue. [Early 1900s]

put right

Fix, make amends, correct, as in The wheel's come off, but we can put that right in no time, or Victor thought we were moving out, but we put him right. [Late 1800s]

put someone away

hand. see PUT AWAY, def. 3.

put someone down

hand. see PUT DOWN, def. 4.

put someone in his or her place

1. Rebuke someone, remind someone of his or her position, as in Alice is entirely too rude; it's time you put her in her place. The noun place here denotes one's rank or position. [Mid-1900s] 2. Also,

put oneself in someone's place. Imagine being someone else, as in Just put yourself in my place?

how would you deal with it? [Mid-1600s]

put someone on

hand. see PUT ON, def. 4.

put someone out of his or her misery

1. Kill a wounded or suffering animal or person, as in When a horse breaks a leg, there is nothing to do but put it out of its misery. [Late 1700s] 2. End someone's feeling of suspense, as in Tell them who won the tournament; put them out of their misery. [c. 1920] Both usages employ put out of in the sense of "extricate" or "free from."

put someone right

hand. see PUT RIGHT.

put someone through his or her paces

Test thoroughly to see what someone can do, as in We put the new programmer though her paces, and she passed with flying colors. The idiom can refer to things as well, as in When we put the electrical system through its paces, we blew a fuse. The expression alludes to testing a horse's ability in the various paces (trot, canter, and gallop). Its use referring to horses dates from the late 1700s; its figurative use was first recorded in 1871.

put someone up

hand. see PUT UP, def. 5.

put someone up to

Incite someone to do something, especially a mischievous or malicious act. For example, My brother put me up to making those prank telephone calls, or They didn't think of it on their own; someone put them up to it. [Early 1800s]

put someone wise

hand. see PUT WISE.

put that in your pipe and smoke it

Take that information and give it some thought, as in I'm quitting at the end of the week?

put that in your pipe and smoke it. This term alludes to the thoughtful appearance of many pipe smokers. [Colloquial; early 1800s]

put the arm on Also, put the bite or touch on. Ask for or demand money, as in He's the youngest and he's always putting the arm on Dad. The first of these slangy usages, first recorded

in 1939, alludes to a robber assaulting someone by yoking his arm around the victim's throat. The bite variant, first recorded in 1919, similarly alludes to a violent attack. The last, touch, has been slang for "theft" since the mid1800s.

put the blame on

hand. see under LAY ON, def. 3; PUT IT TO, def. 3.

put the cart before the horse

hand. see CART BEFORE THE HORSE.

put the fear of God into

Terrify someone, as in The school counselor put the fear of God into the girls when she talked

about AIDS. This phrase alludes to a time when most people had a mingled feeling of dread and reverence toward the deity. [Late 1800s]

put the finger on

Inform on, as in The witness put the finger on the defendant. [Slang; c. 1920] Also see PUT

ONE'S FINGER ON.

put the heat on

hand. see TURN UP THE HEAT.

put their heads together

hand. see PUT OUR HEADS TOGETHER.

put the kibosh on

Restrain or check something, as in The rain put the kibosh on our beach party, or The boss put the kibosh on the whole project. The word kibosh has been used in English since the first half of the 1800s and its origin is unknown.

put the lid on Also, keep the lid on. Suppress, as in I don't know how but we'll have to put the lid on that rumor about her, or Let's keep the lid on our suspicions. The word lid here is used in the sense of "a cover for a container." [Early 1900s]

put the make on

Make sexual advances to, as in He's always putting the make on his wife's friends. This slangy expression, dating from the second half of the 1900s, uses make in the sense of "sexual overtures."

put the screws on

hand. see under TURN UP THE HEAT.

put the skids on

Bring to a halt, as in The school committee put the skids on the idea of a dress code. The word skid here probably refers to a shoe or drag that applies pressure to the wheel of a vehicle to prevent it from moving.

put the skids under

Bring about the failure or defeat of, as in It was lack of funds that put the skids under the new senior center. The skids here are runners or rollers on which a heavy object may be moved. [Colloquial; early 1900s]

put through

1. Bring to a successful conclusion, as in We put through a number of new laws. [Mid-1800s] 2. Make a telephone connection, as in Please put me through to the doctor. [Late 1800s] 3. Cause to undergo, especially something difficult or troublesome, as in He put me through a lot during this last year. The related expression, put someone through the wringer, means ''to give someone a hard time," as in The lawyer put the witness through the wringer. The wringer alluded to is the old-fashioned clothes wringer, in which clothes are pressed between two rollers to extract moisture. [First half of 1900s]

put through the wringer

hand. see PUT THROUGH, def. 3.

put to bed

Complete something and either set it aside or send it on to the next step, as in We put the magazine to bed at ten, or They said they'd put the whole project to bed at least a month ago. This expression, transferring nighttime retirement to other kinds of completion, was first applied to a newspaper, where it meant "send to press," that is, start to print. [Mid-1900s]

put to death

Kill, execute, as in Another convicted murderer was put to death last night. [c. 1400]

put to flight

Cause to run away, as in The bombs put the civilians to flight. [Mid-1800s]

put together

1. Build, assemble, create, as in We put together the new bookcase, or This writer can't put together a coherent sentence. [First half of 1500s] 2. Combine mentally, as in Once she put this and that together she knew exactly what had happened. [First half of 1600s] Also see PUT OUR

HEADS TOGETHER; PUT TWO AND TWO TOGETHER.

put to good use

Employ to the best advantage, as in I'm sure this dictionary will be put to good use.

put to it, be

Be confronted with a severe difficulty, as in I was put to it to finish this book on time. This usage is derived from the active sense of put to it, that is, "force or challenge someone to something." [c. 1600]

put to rights

hand. see SET TO RIGHTS; also PUT RIGHT.

put to sea

hand. see PUT OUT, def. 2.

put to shame

Outdo, eclipse, as in Jane's immaculate kitchen puts mine to shame. This idiom modifies the literal sense of put to shame, that is, "disgrace someone," to the much milder "cause to feel inferior." [Mid1800s]

put to sleep

1. Bore utterly, as in That show put me to sleep. This hyperbolic term implies that something is so dull one could fall asleep. 2. Kill, especially as a kindness, as in We had to put the cat to sleep. This euphemism dates from the mid-1900s. 3. Subject to anesthesia, as in This injection will put you to sleep so you won't feel any pain.

put to the test

Try or check out something or someone, as in This tall grass will put our new lawnmower to the test, or Let's put Harry to the test and see if he knows the last 20 World Series winners.

[Mid-1600s]

put two and two together

Draw the proper inference from existing evidence, as in Putting two and two together, it's not hard to guess who will be chosen for the lead role in the play. [Mid-1800s]

putty in someone's hands

A person who is easily influenced or malleable, as in Dean adored his little granddaughter; he was putty in her hands. This metaphoric term, first recorded in 1924, transfers the malleable quality of putty to human behavior. Also see TWIST AROUND ONE'S FINGER.

put up

1. Erect, build; also, lift to a higher position. For example, They put up three new houses on our street, or She looks more grownup when she puts up her hair in a bun. [c. 1600] 2. Preserve, can, as in She put up countless jars of jam. [Early 1800s] 3. Nominate, as in Tom

put up Peter for president. [Late 1500s] 4. Provide funds, especially in advance, as in They put up

nearly a million for the new museum. 5. put someone up. Provide lodgings for, as in We can put you up for the night. [Mid-1700s] 6. Startle game from cover, as in The hunter put up three grouse. [Late 1400s] 7. Offer for sale, as in They had to put up their last antiques. [Early 1700s] 8. Make a display or appearance of, as in They were actually broke but put up a good front. [First half of 1800s] 9. Do well in a contest, as in They put up a good fight. [Late 1800s] 10. Stake money for a bet, as in Each player put up ten dollars. [Mid-1800s]

put-up job

A prearranged conspiracy, especially a crime such as a burglary. For example, The police suspected that the butler was in on it?

it was a put-up job. This colloquial phrase was first recorded in 1810.

put upon, be

Be taken advantage of, be imposed on, as in Bob was always put upon by his friends, who knew he couldn't say no. It also is put as feel put upon, as in We felt quite put upon because the entire family insisted on spending every holiday at our house. [Mid-1800s]

put up or shut up

Act on what you are saying or stop talking about it, as in You've been citing evidence for months but never presented it?

now put up or shut up. This somewhat impolite term, often put as a command, is believed to come from gambling, in which a card player is told to ante up or withdraw. A second theory maintains that it means either put up your fists to fight or back down. [1870s] Also see PUT ONE'S

MONEY WHERE ONE'S MOUTH IS.

put up with

Endure without complaint, as in She's been very patient, putting up with all kinds of inconvenience.

[Mid-1700s]

put wise

Inform or enlighten someone, as in You'd better put Arthur wise about the protocol before be visits them. [Colloquial; early 1900s]

put words in someone's mouth

Tell what someone should say, as in Give Janey a chance to answer my question; don't put words in her mouth. This graphic term appeared in the Bible (II Samuel 14:3): "So Joab put words in her

mouth." Also see TAKE THE WORDS OUT OF ONE'S MOUTH.

puzzle out

Clarify or solve something, as in It took him a while to puzzle out the significance of the statement.

[Late 1700s]

Pyrrhic victory

A victory that is offset by staggering losses, as in The campaign was so divisive that even though be won the election it was a Pyrrhic victory. This expression alludes to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who

defeated the Romans at Asculum in A.D. 279, but lost his best officers and many of his troops. Pyrrhus then said: "Another such victory and we are lost." In English the term was first recorded (used figuratively) in 1879.

Q

q

hand. see MIND ONE'S P' S AND Q'S.

Q.T.

hand. see ON THE Q.T.

quake in one's boots Also, shake in one's boots; quake or shake like a leaf. Tremble with fear, as in The very thought of a hurricane blowing in makes me quake in my boots. Both quake and shake here mean "tremble." These idioms were preceded by the alliterative phrase shake in one's shoes in the late 1800s.

The idioms with leaf allude to trembling leaves, as in He was shaking like a leaf when the exams were handed back. A similar expression was used by Chaucer, who put it as quake like an aspen leaf, a particularly apt comparison since aspen leaves have flattened stems that cause the leaves to quiver in the gentlest breeze.

quantity

hand. see UNKNOWN QUANTITY.

quantum leap

A dramatic advance, especially in knowledge or method, as in Establishing a central bank represents a quantum leap in this small country's development. This term originated as quantum jump in the mid1900s in physics, where it denotes a sudden change from one energy state to another within an atom. Within a decade it was transferred to other advances, not necessarily sudden but very important ones.

quarrel

hand. see PICK A QUARREL.

quarter

hand. see AT CLOSE QUARTERS; DRAW AND QUARTER.

A.D., it survives only in this

queen it

Act like a queen, domineer, as in She queened it over the family, treating her siblings like servants.

This female counterpart of LORD IT OVER was used by Shakespeare in The Winter's Tale (4:4). [c. 1600]

quest

hand. see under IN SEARCH OF.

question

hand. see ASK A STUPID QUESTION; BEG THE QUESTION; BESIDE THE POINT (QUESTION); BEYOND QUESTION; BURNING QUESTION; CALL IN QUESTION; IN QUESTION; LEADING QUESTION; LOADED QUESTION; OPEN QUESTION; OUT OF THE QUESTION; POP THE QUESTION; RHETORICAL QUESTION; WITHOUT QUESTION.

quick

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with QUICK, also see CUT TO THE QUICK;

(QUICK) ON THE UPTAKE.

quick and the dead

The living and the dead, as in The explosion was loud enough to wake the quick and the dead.

Although quick has been used for "living" since the 9th century

idiom and in CUT TO THE QUICK, and may be obsolescent.

quick as a wink Also, quick as a bunny or a flash. Very speedily, as in He was out of here quick as a wink, or She answered, quick as a bunny. These similes have largely replaced the earlier quick as lightning, although quick as a flash no doubt alludes to it (also see LIKE GREASED

LIGHTNING), and quick as thought, now obsolete. The bunny variant dates from the mid-1800s, the others from the late 1800s.

quicker than you can say Jack Robinson

hand. see BEFORE YOU CAN SAY JACK ROBINSON.

quick off the mark

Fast to start or try something, as in This physician is quick off the mark in trying the newest medications. This expression comes from various kinds of races, where mark indicates the starting point. It was being used figuratively from the mid-1900s on.

quick one, a

An alcoholic drink to be consumed rapidly, as in We have time for a quick one before we board the