A-Z Database

A-Z Database

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Ask and you shall receive

This expression has an unmistakeable New Testament feel about it and is indeed mentioned almost verbatim in the gospels of Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9 and...

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Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country

This famous quotation is from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech as US President 20 January 1961 but another famous American used it before him. Olive...

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Askew

Askew means to one side, awry, not straight, and dates from the late 1500s. It is a synonym for the older word skew, which dates from the late 1400s.


Ass

In the sense of a stupid, ignorant person dates from the late 16th century, from the allusion to an ass or donkey being regarded as a rather dull, stu...

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Ass in a sling

An American slang metaphor for being incompetent and disorganised as if one literally had that particular part of one’s anatomy in a sling, dates from...

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Ass over tea cup/kettle

Despite the allusion to tea, this is American slang from the early 20th century meaning to fall head over heels or fall clumsily and comprehensively....

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Assassin

We know the word as a synonym for a treacherous killer or murderer. Assassination has also acquired a figurative meaning as in character assassination...

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At a canter

Easily, without effort, derives from horse riding where a canter is an easy, effortless pace. The metaphorical usage of the expression dates from the...

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At a loose end

Not knowing what to be at; not having anything in particular to do. The expression has been in the language since the mid-16th century and derives fro...

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At a pinch

In an emergency or in extreme circumstances, this figurative use from the literal act of pinching, a firm compression between finger and thumb, dates...

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At daggers drawn

see Daggers/daggers drawn


At death’s door

The notion of death as a portal to another place is very ancient although this particular expression of it dates from the 1500s. The phrase is frequen...

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At each other’s throats

This expression from the 16th century conjures up a picture of two adversaries trying to strangle one another and that indeed is its literal meaning....

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At full tilt

Means at full speed and derives from the ancient sport of jousting. From the early 16th century, tilting was an alternative term for jousting. Opposin...

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At large

An idiomatic phrase that means at liberty or free. It can have a negative or positive connotation in that a criminal or escaped convict can be at larg...

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