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Idioms

23 Idioms from American English

These idioms originated in and are typically used in American English. In some cases they have also spread to other varieties of English.

Click on any idiom for more information, including example sentences, notes and quizzes.

Idioms

a ballpark figure | a ballpark estimate American English

If you give a ballpark figure or a ballpark estimate, you give a number which you think is fairly close to the actual one.

a done deal American English Informal

A done deal is an agreement or a decision that is final.

a drop in the bucket American English

If an amount is a drop in the bucket, it's a very small portion of the amount that's needed.

a new lease on life American English

If someone has a new lease on life, they have a new enthusiasm for living.

a quick study American English

If you're a quick study, you can learn new things quickly.

a zero-sum game American English

A zero-sum game is a situation in which any gain by one side or person is at the expense of a loss to another side or person involved in the situation.

an ax to grind (1) American English

If you have an ax to grind with someone, you have a problem with them, or a complaint against them, which you'd like to discuss.

an even break American English

If you get an even break, you get a fair opportunity to succeed in your ambition or to achieve your goals.

at loose ends American English

If you're at loose ends, you feel restless and unsettled because you don't have anything to do.

beat the rap American English Informal

If someone beats the rap, they avoid being found guilty of a crime.

behind the eight ball American English Informal

If you're behind the eight ball, you're in a difficult or dangerous position.

can't see the forest for the trees American English

If you can't see the forest for the trees, you can't see the whole situation clearly because you're looking too closely at small details, or because you're too closely involved.

going down American English Informal

If you know what's going down, you know what's happening in a situation.

hit the hay | hit the sack American English

If you hit the hay, or hit the sack, you go to bed.

jockey for position American English

If you jockey for position, you try to get yourself in a good position in relation to others who're competing for the same opportunity or the same goal.

keep up with the Joneses American English

People who try to keep up with the Joneses are people who feel it's important to show that they're as successful as others (such as their rich neighbours, "The Joneses").

leave well enough alone | let well enough alone American English

If you leave well enough alone, or let well enough alone, you don't try to improve or change something that's already good enough.

No way! American English Informal

You can say "No way!" when you want to strongly reject an offer, a request, or a suggestion.

right down your alley | right up your alley American English

If something is right down your alley, or right up your alley, it would be perfect for you or ideal for your skills and interests.

the new kid on the block American English Informal

If you are the new kid on the block, you are the newest person in a workplace or in an educational institute, or any other place or organization.

under the table American English

If something is done under the table, it's done secretly, usually because it's illegal or unethical.

yellow journalism American English

Journalism in which sensational stories are used to boost sales, or biased reporting is used to change the reader's views on an issue. Both of these are unethical.

zero tolerance American English

If something is given zero tolerance, it won't be accepted even once.

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