|act of God||This term refers to an natural event or accident, for which no person is responsible (such as an earthquake, lightning and similar acts of nature).|
The insurance company refused to pay for the damage because it was caused by an act of God.
|been through the wars||If something has been in or through the wars, it show signs of rough treatment or damage.|
He arrived in a car that looked as though it had been through the wars.
|beyond recall||Something which is beyond recall is impossible to retrieve, cancel or reverse.|
I’m afraid we can’t recover the pictures – your camera is beyond recall.
|beyond redemption||If something is beyond redemption, it is in such a poor state that there is no hope of improvement or recovery.|
With the latest scandal, his reputation is now beyond redemption.
|bodice-ripper||A novel, usually on a historical theme, with a plot that involves romantic passion between a vulnerable heroine and a rich, powerful male character, is called a bodice-ripper.|
The novel is a bodice-ripper set in the French revolution.
|broad strokes||If something is described or defined with/in broad strokes, it is outlined in a very general way, without any details.|
In a few broad strokes he summed up the situation.
|clean as a whistle||Something as clean as a whistle is extremely clean.|
This can also mean that a person’s criminal record is clean.
Bob spent the afternoon washing and shining his car until it was as clean as a whistle.
|collecting dust||If something is collecting dust, it hasn’t been touched or used for a long period of time.|
My dad doesn’t play golf any more. His clubs are collecting dust now.
|come in handy||To say that something may come in handy means that it may be useful some time or other.|
Don’t throw away those old shelves; they may come in handy one day.
|copper-bottomed||To describe something such as a plan, a contract or a financial arrangement as copper-bottomed means that it is completely safe or reliable.|
He signed a coper-bottomed agreement with a distributor.
|creature comforts||This expression refers to modern conveniences (such as hot water or central heating) that make life comfortable and pleasant.|
I need my creature comforts. I don’t know how I’d survive without air-conditioning in this climate!
|(a) cut above||Something which is a cut above everything else is better or of higher quality.|
The articles in this magazine are a cut above the others.
|cut and dried||If you refer to a situation, problem or solution as cut and dried, you mean that it is clear and straightforward with no likely complications.|
When the new manager arrived, he didn’t find the situation as cut and dried as he had expected.
|dead as a dodo||To say that something is (as) dead as a dodo means that it is unquestionably dead or obsolete, or has gone out of fashion.|
(A dodo is a bird that is now extinct.)
The floppy disk is an invention that is now (as) dead as a dodo.
|dead as a doornail||This expression is used to stress that something is very definitely dead or no longer exists.|
They’ve started fighting again, so the peace agreement is now as dead as
|dog and pony show||A dog and pony show is a marketing event or presentation which has plenty of style but not much content.|
|dog’s breakfast||To describe something as a dog’s breakfast means that it is a complete mess.|
The new secretary made a dog’s breakfast out of the filing system.
|doggie bag||A bag provided by a restaurant so that you can take the leftover food home with you is called a doggie (or doggy) bag.|
The portions were so big that I decided to ask for a doggie bag
|fait accompli||This French expression refers to something that has been done and cannot be changed.|
He used his savings to buy a motorbike and then presented his parents with a fait accompli.
|falls between two stools||If something falls between two stools, it is neither totally one thing nor another, and is therefore unsatisfactory.|
The book didn’t sell because it fell between two stools. It appealed neither to historians nor to the general public.
|few and far between||Items, places or events which are few and far between are rarely found or do not happen very often.|
Restaurants in this part of the country are few and far between.
|(of the) first water||Something that is of the first water is of the finest or most exceptional quality (like being compared to a diamond).|
The violinist gave a performance that was of the first water.
|fit the bill||If someone or something fits the bill, they are exactly right for a particular situation.|
They wanted a quiet place to stay and the country inn fitted the bill.
|fit for purpose||Something that is suitable for a particular function and is fully operational is said to be fit for purpose.|
The mayor promised that the new leisure centre would be ready on time and fit for purpose.
|flag of convenience||If a ship, boat or yacht sails under a flag of convenience, it is registered in a foreign country in order to avoid regulations and taxes, and reduce operating costs.|
|fly-by-night||A fly-by-night person, business or venture is considered untrustworthy because they operate briefly and disappear overnight|
I bought it in one of those fly-by-night stores and now I can’t exchange it. The place has closed down.
|for the birds||If you describe something as for the birds, you consider it to be uninteresting, useless or not to be taken seriously.|
As far as I’m concerned, his theory is for the birds.
|free-for-all||This term refers to an uncontrolled situation such as a discussion, argument or fight where everyone present can do or say whatever they like.|
It started as a serious debate but turned into a free-for-all.
|freudian slip||A Freudian slip is a mistake made by a speaker which is considered to reveal their true thoughts or feelings.|
So you got the job – I’m so sad … Sorry, I mean ‘glad’!
|gizmo||The term ‘gizmo’ refers to a gadget or any small technological item which is unusual or novel, and for which the proper term is unknown or forgotten.|
|going downhill||When something goes downhill, it deteriorates or gets worse little by little.|
His health has been going downhill since the last operation.
|going to hell in a handcart||If something is going to hell in a handcart, it is in a bad state and continues to deteriorate.|
This used to be a nice place to live but now the area is going to hell in a haandcart.
|going to rack and ruin||If something is going to rack and ruin, it is falling into very bad condition because of lack of care.|
When the factory closed down, the building went to rack and ruin.
|gutter press||This term refers to newspapers that print a lot of sensational stories about people’s private lives.|
Of course the gutter press was quick to print a sensational version of the incident!
|hard and fast||Something which is hard and fast is inflexible or cannot be altered.|
Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules related to English spelling.
|hard to come by||Something that is hard to come by is rare or difficult to find.|
Experienced carpenters are hard to come by these days.
|hard to swallow||When something is difficult to accept or believe, it is hard to swallow.|
She invented an excuse that the teacher found hard to swallow.
|here today, gone tomorrow||This is said of something which appears and disappears very quickly, or does not last long,|
The shops in this area change very often – here today, gone tomorrow.
|hive of activity||A place where there are lots of things happening, and everyone is very busy, is called a hive of activity.|
When I went to offer help, the kitchen was already a hive of activity.
|hollow victory||A victory obtained in unsatisfactory conditions, which as a result seems worthless or without significance for the winner, is called ahollow victory.|
Won in the absence of the major ski champions, his gold medal was a hollow victory.
|household name||When the name of something becomes very familiar because it is so often used, it is called a household name or word.|
The product was so successful that its name became a household word
in no time.
|hustle and bustle||This term refers to busy energetic activity in an atmosphere of general excitement.|
I prefer to live in the country. I hate the hustle and bustle of city life.
|icing on the cake||If something is referred to as icing on the cake, it is an extra benefit that makes a good situation even better.|
Good news! I get the job … and the icing on the cake is that I get a company car too!
|idiot box||Some people consider television to lack educational value and refer to it as the idiot box.|
He spends all his free time in front of the idiot box.
|in keeping with||If something is in keeping with, for example, a style or tradition, it is suitable or appropriate in a particular situation.|
We exchange presents at Christmas in keeping with tradition.
|in mint condition||Something that is in mint condition is in such perfect condition that it looks new or as good as new.|
The car is 10 years old but according to Tom it’s in mint condition.
|in tatters||Something that is badly torn, in very poor condition or damaged beyond repair is in tatters.|
His reputation is in tatters after the latest scandal.
|in inverted commas||When describing something, if you use a word which you say is|
‘in inverted commas’, you indicate that the word is not quite true or appropriate.
We were served a ‘meal’, in inverted commas, but we were too hungry to complain.
|industrial strength||This is a humorous way of referring to something which is very strong, powerful or concentrated.|
I’ve got an industrial-strength headache this morning!
|just the ticket||If something is just the ticket, it is exactly right, or just what you need.|
I’m not hungry enough for a meal. A bowl of soup would be just the ticket.
|last word||Something described as the last word is the most recent or most fashionable in its category.|
Steve’s new computer is the last word in technology.
|less is more||This expression, used particularly in architecture and design, conveys the idea that things that are simple in style and smaller in size are better.|
Simplicity is fashionable today. Less is more.
|light years ahead||If something is light years ahead, it is far more advanced in tems of development or progress.|
We’ve got to invest more in research – our competitors’ new product is light years ahead!
|lives up to reputation||If something lives up to its reputation, it is as good, or as bad, as people say.|
The guesthouse lived up to its reputation; the owners were as friendly and hospitable as we had been told.
|middle of nowhere||If a place is in the middle of nowhere, it is in a remote area, far from towns, villages or houses.|
The campside was in the middle of nowhere so I couldn’t send you a postcard.
|middle of the road (MOR)||This term refers to anything moderate, unadventurous or inoffensive that avoids extremes and appeals to the majority of people.|
It’s a middle-of-the-road restaurant that’s ideal for families.
|mixed blessing||Something pleasant which also has disadvantages is called a mixed blessing.|
He inherited as 18th century mansion but the maintenance costs make it a mixed blessing.
|name written on it||If something has somenoe’s name (written) on it, it is intended for that person or it is ideally suited to them.|
That dress would be perfect for you – it’s got your name on it!
|next best thing||If you can’t have exactly what you want, the next best thing is the best alternative possible.|
The camera I wanted was far too expensive so I opted for a cheaper one that was the next best thing.
|not a patch on||If something or someone is not a patch on an other, they are not nearly as good.|
His second conference wasn’t a patch on the first one.
|not in the same league||If something is not in the same league, it is of much lower standard than something else.|
He had a good voice but he wasn’t in the same league as Pavarotti.
|not up to par||If something is not up to par, it does not meet the required standard.|
He didn’t get the job because his English wasn’t up to par.
|not up to scratch||Something which is not up to scratch fails to reach the expected standard.|
The quality of the material is not up to scratch. We’ll have to change our suppliers.
|a notch above||Something that is a notch above something else is a little better in every way.|
His rendering of the song was a notch above the others.
|odds and ends||Odds and ends are small articles, or bits and pieces of all sorts, usually of little value.|
I keep my odds and ends in this drawer.
|over the top (OTT)||Something which is over the top is totally excessive or not suitable for the occasion.|
Her dramatic speech was way over the top.
|pie in the sky||If an idea or project is pie in the sky, it is completely unrealistic or unlikely to be achieved.|
The promise of low-cost housing for everyone turned out to be pie in the sky.
|the pits||If something is referred to as the pits, it is considered to be absolutely the worst.|
That magazine is the pits!
|recipe for disaster||If you refer to a plan or idea as a recipe for disaster, you think it is likely to produce bad results.|
Our two families together for Christmas? Sounds like a recipe for disaster!
|red light district||An area of a town or city where there is a concentration of sex shops, prostitution, strip clubs, etc. is known as the red light district.|
A photograph of the politician taken in a red-light district caused a scandal.
|right up your alley||If something is right up your alley, it is the sort of thing you like or have knowledge about.|
You like cooking do you? This book will be right up your alley.
|a rip-off||To say that something is a rip-off means that it costs much more than it should.|
$10 for an orange juice? That’s a rip-off!
|second to none||Something that is second to none is excellent or much better than any other.|
The service was perfect and the food was second to none.
|seen better days||If something has seen better days, it has aged visibly in comparison with when it was new.|
My much-travelled suitcase has seen better days!
|set in stone||When something is set in stone, it is permanent and cannot be changed in any way.|
The agenda isn’t set in stone; we can add an item if need be.
|(comes in) all shapes and sizes||Something that can be found in many different forms, types or varieties, comes in all shapes and sizes.|
Computers come in all shapes and sizes nowadays.
|small potatoes||Something that is small potatoes is considered unimportant or insignificant.|
Her first publication was considered small potatoes but her new book has lead to a change of opinion.
|snail mail||This term refers to the standard system of mail delivery, or postal service, considered very slow compared to electronic mail.|
More and more people are using e-mail rather than the traditional postal service, snail mail.
|stand the test of time||If something stands the test of time, people continue to find it valuable or useful after many years.|
The teaching method has stood the test of time. It is still used in schools today.
|stick out a mile||If something sticks out a mile, it is very obvious or very easy to see.|
You can see she’s had a facelift – it sticks out a mile!
|stink to high heaven||If something has a very strong unpleasant smell, it stinks to high heaven.|
Take off those socks – they stink to high heaven!
|streets ahead||To say that something is streets ahead of something else means that it is much better or more advanced.|
In measures to preserve the planet, the Scandinavians are streets ahead of us.
|sublime to ridiculous||If something goes from the sublime to the ridiculous, it deteriorates in quality from serious or admirable to absurd or unimportant.|
An opera followed by a Mr.Muscle contest is going from the sublime to the ridiculous!
|ticks all the right boxes||If something ticks all the right boxes, it is perfect for you because it meets all your criteria.|
We’re in luck! We visited an apartment today that ticks all the right boxes!
|top notch||To say that something is top notch means that it is of the highest possible quality or standard.|
The hotel was wonderful and the service was top notch.
|tough as old boots||If something, specially meat, is (as) tough as old boots, it is hard to cut and difficult to chew. (This can also refer to a person who is strong either physically or in character.)|
I was served a steak as tough as old boots.
|up/down one’s alley||If something is (right) up or down your alley, it is exactly the sort of thing that will suit your tastes or abilities.|
Alex loves reading, so a job in a bookshop is right up his alley.
|up-to-the-minute||Something that is up-to-the-minute is the very latest or most recent version available.|
The internet is the best place to find up-to-the-minute news.
|the works||Something that has the works contains everything that is possible, or the full range of options.|
The first thing he did was order a new computer with the works.
|worth its weight in gold||Someone or something that is worth their weight in gold is considered to be of great value.|
We couldn’t run the farm without him. He’s worth his weight in gold.