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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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Not at all intoxicated, quite clear-headed, as in Even after three drinks he was sober as a judge. Why judges should be equated with sobriety is not known, but the simile was first recorded in 1694.

sob story

A tale of personal hardship, true or invented, that is intended to arouse pity in the listener. For example, She always came up with some sob story to excuse her absences, but no one believed her. [Early 1900s]

society

hand. see under MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY.

sock away

Put money in a safe place for future use, as in I've got about $2,000 socked away for a new car.

This usage presumably alludes to putting one's savings in a sock. [Colloquial; first half of 1900s]

sock in

Close down an airport or other facility due to thick fog or other weather con

ditions impeding visibility, as in The airport was socked in all morning and air traffic was at a standstill, or We finally got to the peak and were totally socked in?

there was no view at all. The sock referred to here is probably a wind-sock, as decisions to close an airport are made in part on the basis of observations of wind-socks, which indicate wind direction. The expression was first recorded in 1944.

sock it to

Deliver a physical blow, forceful comment, or reprimand to, as in The judge often socks it to the jury in a murder case. This idiom uses sock in the sense of ''strike hard." It is also put as an imperative, as in Sock it to them, kid! or Sock it to me!, which is sometimes used to give encouragement but can also have sexual overtones. [Second half of 1800s]

so far Also, thus far. Up to this point, as in So far we haven't seen him in the crowd, or They've made very little progress on their report thus far. [c. 1300]

so far as

hand. see under AS FAR AS.

so far, so good

Matters are satisfactory up to this point, as in You've knitted the main portion of the sweater but not the sleeves? Well, so far, so good. This idiom was first recorded in James Kelly's Scottish Proverbs (1721), where it is defined: "So far, so good. So much is done to good purpose."

soft

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with SOFT, also see HARD (SOFT) SELL.

soften up

Reduce resistance, as in His sales motto was: a fine lunch and a few drinks often will soften up a prospective customer. This expression transfers lessening of physical hardness to lessening mental resistance. It was first used, however, in World War II, where it meant "reduce the enemy's defenses by preliminary bombing." [c. 1940]

soft in the head

Mentally deficient; also, silly, foolish. For example, He's nice enough but a bit soft in the head. The soft in this idiom, first recorded in 1775, alludes to a weakness in mental capacity.

soft job

An easy job or task, as in He really has a soft job?

his assistants do nearly all the work. This colloquial expression uses soft in the sense of "involving little or no hardship or discomfort." It was first put as soft employment in 1639.

soft on

1. Attracted to or emotionally involved with, as in He's been soft on Margaret for years. This usage was first recorded in 1840. 2. Not stern, lenient, especially too much so. For example, Some think the court has been soft on violent protesters. This usage was first recorded in 1883.

soft pedal

Something that de-emphasizes, restrains, or plays down, as in The mayor put a soft pedal on this potentially explosive situation. This expression alludes to the una corda or soft pedal of the piano, which reduces the volume of the sound. It gave rise to the verb soft-pedal, meaning both "reduce the volume of" or "make less emphatic, downplay." [Early 1900s]

soft sell

hand. see HARD SELL, def. 1.

soft soap

Flattery, cajolery, as in She's only six but she's learned how to get her way with soft soap. This colloquial expression alludes to liquid soap, likening its slippery quality to insincere flattery. Its figurative use was first recorded in 1830.

soft spot

1. A weak or vulnerable point, as in That's the soft spot in his argument. [Mid-1900s] 2. have a soft spot for. Have a tender or sentimental feeling for, as in Grandpa had a soft spot for Brian, his first grandson. This expression, first recorded in 1753 as "a soft place in one's heart," uses soft in the sense of "tender."

soft touch

Someone easily persuaded or taken advantage of, especially in giving away money. For example,

Ask Dan for the money; he's always a soft touch. [First half of 1900s]

so help me Also, so help me God. I swear that what I am saying is true, as in So help me, I haven't enough cash to pay for the tickets, or I wasn't there, so help me God. This idiom became a formula for swearing a formal oath and is still so used in courts of law for swearing in a witness (I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God). It was first recorded in 1508 as "So help me, our Lord."

soil one's hands

hand. see DIRTY ONE'S HANDS.

sold on, be

hand. see SELL SOMEONE ON.

sold out

hand. see SELL OUT.

so long

Good-bye, as in So long, we'll see you next week. The allusion here is puzzling; long presumably means "a long time" and perhaps the sense is "until we meet again after a long time," but the usage has no such implication. [Colloquial; first half of 1800s]

so long as

hand. see AS LONG AS, def. 1 and 2.

so many

1. Such a large number, as in There were so many guests that we didn't have enough chairs. [First half of 1200s] 2. An unspecified number, as in There allegedly are so many shrimp per pound, but of course the exact number depends on their size and weight. [First half of 1500s] 3. Forming a group, as in The reporters turned on the speaker like so many tigers let loose. [c. 1600]

some

hand. see AND THEN SOME; CATCH SOME RAYS; CATCH SOME Z'S; DIG UP (SOME DIRT); IN A (SOME) SENSE; IN SOME MEASURE; ONE OF THESE DAYS (SOME DAY); TAKE SOME DOING; TO SOME DEGREE; WIN SOME, LOSE SOME.

somebody up there loves me

I am having very good luck right now; also, someone with influence is favoring me. For example, I won $40 on that horse?

somebody up there loves me, or I don't know how I got that great assignment; somebody up there

FRIEND IN COURT.

loves me. This idiom, generally used half-jokingly, alludes either to heavenly intervention or to the help of a temporal higher authority. [Colloquial; mid-1900s] Also see

somehow

hand. see under OR OTHER.

something

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

SOMETHING; GET (HAVE) SOMETHING ON SOMEONE; GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT; HAVE SOMETHING AGAINST; HOLD SOMETHING AGAINST; HOLD (SOMETHING) OVER; LOOK LIKE SOMETHING THE CAT DRAGGED IN; MAKE SOMETHING OF; NOT PUT SOMETHING PAST ONE; ON THE BALL, HAVE SOMETHING; (SOMETHING) OR OTHER; PULL SOMETHING ON; START SOMETHING; TAKE SOMETHING; YOU KNOW SOMETHING?

something else

A person, thing, or event that is quite remarkable, as in That pitcher is something else, or Her new film is something else. The else in this idiom means "other than ordinary." [Colloquial; early 1900s]

something else again

A different case entirely, as in If he'd called to cancel, we wouldn't mind, but not showing up, that's something else again. [Mid-1800s]

something in the wind

A secret plan or undertaking, as in I think there's something in the wind for Mom and Dad's anniversary. This expression alludes to the carrying of a scent by the wind. [First half of 1500s]

something like

Similar to, resembling, as in They want a flower garden something like the ones they saw in England. [Mid-1600s]

something of a

To some extent, as in Our professor is something of an eccentric. [Early 1700s]

something or other

hand. see under OR OTHER.

something tells me

I suspect, I have an intuition, as in Something tells me that she's not really as ill as she says, or Something told him that it was going to snow.

sometime thing, a

Something occasional or transient, as in For most free-lance musicians, work is a sometime thing.

This idiom gained currency in the title of a song by George Gershwin, "A Woman Is A Sometime Thing" (1935), introduced in the folk opera Porgy and Bess.

somewhere

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with SOMEWHERE, also see GET

SOMEWHERE; (SOMEWHERE) OR OTHER.

somewhere along the line

At some point in time, as in Somewhere along the line I'm sure I climbed that mountain.

[Mid-1900s]

so much

An unspecified amount or cost, as in They price the fabric at so much per yard. [Late 1300s] Also

see AS MUCH AS; SO MUCH FOR; SO MUCH THE.

so much as

hand. see AS MUCH AS, def. 3.

so much for

We have sufficiently treated or are finished with something, as in So much for this year's sales figures; now let's estimate next year's. [Late 1500s]

so much the

To that extent or degree, as in You decided to stay home? So much the better, for now we won't need a second car. This usage is always followed by a comparative adjective, such as better in the example. [Early 1200s]

son

In addition to the idiom beginning with SON, also see FAVORITE SON; LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON.

song

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with SONG, also see FOR A SONG; SWAN

SONG.

song and dance

An elaborate story or effort to explain and justify something, or to deceive and mislead someone. For example, Do you really believe his song and dance about the alarm not going off, being

stopped for speeding, and then the car breaking down? or At every annual meeting the chairman goes through the same song and dance about the company's great future plans. This term originally referred to a vaudeville act featuring song and dance. [Late 1800s]

son of a bitch Also, SOB; son of a gun. A mean, disagreeable individual, as in He was regarded as the worst son of a bitch in the industry, or He ran out on her? What an SOB, or He's a real son of a gun when it comes to owing you money. The first of these terms, calling a man the son of a female dog, dates from the early 1300s and is considered vulgar enough to have given rise to the two variants, both euphemisms. The first variant, an abbreviation, dates from World War I. The second, first recorded in 1708, gave rise to the theory that it originally applied to baby boys born at sea (in the days when women accompanied their husbands on long voyages). The explanation seems unlikely, especially since presumably some of the babies were girls. It also once meant the illegitimate son of a soldier (or "gun"). More probably, however, son of a gun evolved simply as a euphemism for the first term and appealed because of its rhyme. Both it and son of a bitch are also put as interjections expressing surprise, amazement, disgust, or disappointment, as in Son of a bitch! I lost my ticket, or I'll be a son of a gun! That must be the governor.

soon

hand. see AS SOON AS; FOOL AND HIS MONEY ARE SOON PARTED; HAD RATHER (SOONER); JUST AS SOON; NO SOONER SAID THAN DONE; SPEAK TOO SOON.

sooner or later

Eventually, at some unspecified future time, as in Sooner or later we'll have to answer that letter, or It's bound to stop raining sooner or later. This term, which generally implies that some future event is certain to happen, was first recorded in 1577.

sooner the better, the

As quickly or early as possible, as in As for stopping that check, the sooner the better. This idiom was first recorded in 1477.

sore

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with SORE, also see SIGHT FOR SORE EYES;

STICK OUT (LIKE A SORE THUMB).

sore point, a

A sensitive or annoying issue, as in Don't mention diets to Elsie; it's a sore point with her. This idiom was first recorded as a sore place in 1690.

sorrow

hand. see DROWN ONE'S SORROWS; MORE IN SORROW THAN IN ANGER.

sorry

hand. see BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY.

sort

hand. see AFTER A FASHION (SORT); ALL KINDS (SORTS) OF; BAD SORT; IT TAKES ALL SORTS; KIND (SORT) OF; NOTHING OF THE KIND (SORT); OF SORTS; OUT OF SORTS.

so that

1. In order that, as in I stopped so that you could catch up. 2. With the result or consequence that, as in Mail the package now so that it will arrive on time. 3. so . . . that. In such a way or to such an extent that, as in The line was so long that I could scarcely find the end of it. All three usages

date from A.D. 1000 or earlier, and the first two are sometimes put simply as so, as in I stopped so you could catch up, or Mail it now so it will arrive on time.

so to speak

Phrased like this, in a manner of speaking, as in He was, so to speak, the head of the family, although he was only related by marriage to most of the family members. This term originally meant "in the vernacular" or "lower-class language" and was used as an aristocrat's apology for stooping to such use. [Early 1800s] Also see AS IT WERE.

sought after Also, much sought after. Very popular, in demand, as in He was much sought after as a throat specialist, particularly by singers. This expression uses the past participle of seek in the sense of "desired" or "searched for." [Late 1800s]

soul

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with SOUL, also see BARE ONE'S SOUL;

HEART AND SOUL; KEEP BODY AND SOUL TOGETHER; KINDRED SPIRIT (SOUL); LIVING SOUL.

soul of, the

The essence of some quality, as in You can trust her; she's the soul of discretion, or He's the very soul of generosity but he can be cranky at times. This idiom was first recorded in 1605.

sound

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with SOUND, also see SAFE AND SOUND.

sound as a bell

In excellent condition, as in Now that the brakes have been relined, the car is sound as a bell, or The surgery went well and now he's sound as a bell. This simile rests on the assumption that the bell in question is not cracked (which would make it useless). First recorded in 1565, it has survived numerous other similes (sound as a top or roach or dollar), probably owing to its pun on "sound."

sound bite

A short, striking, quotable statement well suited to a television news program. For example, He's extremely good at sound bites, but a really substantive speech is beyond him. This slangy expression, first recorded in 1980, originated in political campaigns in which candidates tried to get across a particular message or get publicity by having it picked up in newscasts.

sound off

Express one's views vigorously and loudly, as in Dad's always sounding off about higher taxes. This expression probably comes from the original meaning, that is, "strike up a military band." [Early 1900s]

sound out

Seek the views or intentions of, as in We'd better sound out Mom about who's using the station wagon, or Let's sound out the staff before we decide which week we should close for vacation.

This expression derives from sound meaning "to measure the depth of water by lowering a line or lead." It was transferred to other kinds of inquiry in the late 1500s, but out was not added for several centuries.

soup

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with SOUP, also see DUCK SOUP; FROM SOUP

TO NUTS; IN THE SOUP; THICK AS THIEVES (PEA SOUP).

soup up

Make something more powerful; especially, add speed to an engine. For example, He was riding around in that car he'd souped up, or They had to soup up the sound system for the outdoor concert. [Slang; c. 1930]

sour grapes

Disparaging what one cannot obtain, as in The losers' scorn for the award is pure sour grapes. This expression alludes to the Greek writer Aesop's famous fable about a fox that cannot reach some grapes on a high vine and announces that they are sour. In English the fable was first recorded in William Caxton's 1484 translation, "The fox said these raisins be sour."

sour on

Become disenchanted with, take a dislike to, as in At first they liked the new supervisor, but now they've soured on her. [c. 1860]

south

hand. see GO SOUTH.

sow

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with sow, also see CAN'T MAKE A SILK PURSE

OUT OF A SOW'S EAR.

so what

Who cares? What does it matter? For example, You're not going to the beach today? Well, so what, you can go tomorrow, or So what if she left without saying goodbye?

she'll call you, I'm sure. [First half of 1900s] Also see WHAT OF IT.

sow one's wild oats

Behave foolishly, immoderately or promiscuously when young, as in Brad has spent the last couple of years sowing his wild oats, but now he seems ready to settle down. This expression alludes to sowing inferior wild oats instead of good cultivated grain, the verb sowing??

that is, "planting seed"in particular suggesting sexual promiscuity. [Mid-1500s] space

hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with SPACE, also see BREATHING SPACE;

TAKE UP SPACE.

space out

Stupefy or disorient, as if or from a drug. For example, This medication spaces me out so I can't think clearly, or I wonder what those kids are on?

they look totally spaced out. [1960s] Also see ZONE OUT.

spade

hand. see CALL A SPADE A SPADE; DO THE SPADEWORK; IN SPADES.

Spain

hand. see CASTLES IN THE AIR (SPAIN).

span

hand. see SPICK AND SPAN.

spare

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

spare the rod and spoil the child

Discipline is necessary for good upbringing, as in She lets Richard get away with anything?

spare the rod, you know. This adage appears in the Bible (Proverbs 13:24) and made its way into practically every proverb collection. It originally referred to corporal punishment. It is still quoted, often in shortened form, and today does not necessarily mean physical discipline.

spare tire

Fat around one's middle, as in He's determined to lose ten pounds and that spare tire he's acquired. This expression transfers the term for an extra tire carried in cars in case of a flat tire to excess fat around the waist. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]

spark

hand. see MAKE THE SPARKS FLY.

sparring partner

An individual with whom one enjoys arguing, as in Jim's my best sparring partner. This expression alludes to boxing, where since about 1900 it has denoted the person one practices or trains with. [Mid1900s] Also see SPAR WITH.

spar with

Argue or debate with, as in You'd never know they were happily married, because they're constantly sparring with each other. [Early 1600s]

speak

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

LOUDER THAN WORDS; IN A MANNER OF SPEAKING; NOTHING TO SPEAK OF; NOT TO MENTION (SPEAK OF); ON SPEAKING TERMS; SO TO SPEAK; TO SPEAK OF.

speak down to

hand. see TALK DOWN TO.

speak for

1. Intercede for, recommend, as in He spoke for the young applicant, commending her honesty. [c. 1300] 2. Express the views of, as in I can't speak for my husband but I'd love to accept, or I don't care what Harry thinks?

Speak for yourself, Joe. [c. 1300] 3. speak for itself. Be significant or self-evident, as in They haven't called us in months, and that speaks for itself. [Second half of 1700s] 4. spoken for. Ordered, engaged, or reserved, as in This lot of rugs is already spoken for, or Is this dance spoken for? This usage comes from the older verb, bespeak, meaning "to order." [Late 1600s]