Idioms

Idioms

Airhead

Americanism for a silly, light-headed person dates from the 1970s.

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Airs and graces

To put on airs and graces is to behave in a false, affected manner, making pretensions to high social standing, sometimes shortened to ‘put on airs’....

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Airy fairy

Now means fanciful, vague or unrealistic and in this construction was coined by Tennyson (1809-1892) in his poem Lilian (1830) in which he describes L...

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Akimbo

Arms akimbo, means placing one’s hands on one’s hips with the elbows pointing outwards. The expression has been around from The Middle Ages. It derive...

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Alan Whickers/Alans

Rhyming slang for knickers, Alan Whickers/knickers, dates from the 1970s, after Alan Whicker (1921-2013), the well-known journalist and TV personality...

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Alas

This exclamation of dismay dates from the 15th century. Etymologically, it derives from a combination of the exclamation ah and the Latin lassus, whic...

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Albatross around the neck

An omnipresent, burdensome problem, especially as punishment for some past wrongdoing; the figurative use dates only from the 1930s. The literary allu...

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Alcatraz

The famous prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay takes its name from the pelicans that roost there. The Spanish named the island Alcatraz c.1...

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All and sundry

This phrase dates from the 1300s and meant ‘one and all’, in the sense of both collectively and individually. The word ‘sundry’ derives from the Old E...

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All around the houses

see Around the houses

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All at sea

At sea has been a common phrase for being lost or out of control since the early days of sailing, from at least The Middle Ages. In those days, naviga...

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All beer and skittles

A British metaphor from the mid-19th century that denotes an easy, frivolous way of doing something, as if one was drinking beer and playing skittles...

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All comes out in the wash

The truth of everything will be revealed in time dates from the early 1600s from the allusion to washing dirt or stains from fabric or clothing.

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All for one, one for all

The motto made famous by the three musketeers in Alexandre Dumas The Three Musketeers (1842), “All for one, one for all that is our device.” Shakespea...

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All gas and gaiters

This expression was coined by Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby (1839). The words were deliberately nonsensical, but in the Dickensian context, mea...

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