the person who is left out; the person who doesn’t fit in
The expression probably originates from the idea of choosing
up two sides for a game in which both teams need an even
number of players. If there were an uneven number of people
wanting to play, the last (odd) person was left out.
The expression has broadened in its meaning to describe
anyone who is not included or made to feel part of a group.
When the expression is used to describe a woman, the word
“man” does not become “woman”.
1. An uneven number of boys wanted to play the game, so that
when both teams had chosen the same number of players, one
boy was left standing in the middle. John was the odd man
2. I felt as though I didn’t belong with the group of people
at the party. I was odd man out.
small items that are left over, don’t match, or are missing
1. The repair shop is full of odds and ends that Mr. Bell
collects and keeps just in case he can use them to fix
2. I keep all my odds and ends in this drawer, but it’s
becoming so full of junk that I can’t find anything anymore.
||old enough for certain
||When he became
of age we had a big party for him to celebrate.
||Cars became of
age many years ago.
you can use my car if you want to.
|off again, on
||The plans for the party
were off again, on again.
|off and on
||It has been raining
off and on since this morning.
||He was really
off base on his estimate of the budget.
||The movie was very
||The picture looks good
on that wall but it's a little off center.
||He likes to tell
off color jokes at work.
||The police officer was
off duty when the incident occurred.
||The request caught her a
little off guard.
|off one's back
||away and not bother me
||I wish he would stay
off my back.
|off one's chest
||stated and discussed
||She was able to get the
problem off her chest.
|off one's hands
||out of his possession
||He was able to get that
car off his hands.
out of one’s mind; slightly crazy
Compare to: bats in (one’s) belfry; out to lunch; screw
All of these expressions, including off one’s rocker, are
used in a light-hearted, slightly humorous sense.
1. Mrs. Crowell is convinced she sees ghosts in the halls,
and that they talk to her. I think she’s off her rocker.
2. You must be off your rocker to think that the boss will
give you such a big pay raise. He hasn’t given anyone else a
raise like that.
|off the beam
||His comment about the
business plan is off the beam.
off the road or way that is most often chosen by other
The expression can be used either literally (as in sentence
1) or figuratively (as in sentence 2).
1. Jennifer likes to take her vacations in the major resorts
where everyone goes. She likes the big and noisy crowds
instead of places that are off the beaten track.
2. Alex has never followed the crowd or done things just to
please others. His way in life has been off the beaten path.
|off the beaten
||not well known
||This restaurant is
certainly off the beaten track.
without much advance preparation; spontaneously
Synonym: off the top of (one’s) head
Compare to: on the spur of the moment
Off the cuff is usually applied to speaking or writing. On
the spur of the moment means that one makes a decision to do
something suddenly and therefore without much preparation.
1. Holly is a great speaker. Most people like to plan their
speeches carefully in advance, but Holly prefers to speak
off the cuff. Even so, her speeches are always a great
2. I can’t give you an exact figure for the number of
students we have at the university, but off the cuff I’d say
the deep end
|off the hook
||out of trouble
||He is off the
hook now that they realized it was not his mistake.
|off the record
||He told the reporters to
keep the information off the record.
THE TOP OF (ONE’S) HEAD
to say something without much advance preparation
Synonym: off the cuff
1. Melissa didn’t know how many people had called, but
guessing off the top of her head, she said about a hundred.
2. Richard was unsure what kind of advertising campaign the
company wanted, but he made a suggestion off the top of his
head and they liked it.
|off the wagon
||drinking alcohol again
after stopping for awhile
||He is off the
Antonym: run of the mill
1. Most of Kevin’s suggestions are sound and practical but a
few of them are really off the wall. I wonder how he comes
up with them.
2. Some dress designers today are designing fashionable
clothes that are off the wall. I prefer classic designs, and
I can’t imagine wearing some of those bizarre fashions.
the male connections that a man acquires, usually while in
college or the military, later used to disseminate jobs and
An old boy network serves as a way to get jobs and spread
information, sometimes to the exclusion of others who are
outside the network.
1. Mr. Turner got his job through the old boy network, which
consisted of the friends he knew when he was at the
2. Sometimes it can be very hard to get hired by certain
companies because they depend so heavily on hiring through
an old-boy network. If you aren’t a part of it, you don’t
have a chance.
a person who is old-fashioned and not open to new technology
Similar to: stuffed shirt
Describing someone as an old fuddy-duddy is usually seen as
harmless and humorous, whereas calling someone a stuffed
shirt can be rude. The expression can refer to either a
woman or a man.
1. Tom is a bit of an old fuddy-duddy. He refuses to get a
mobile phone or a computer.
2. My music teacher is pretty cool, but my history teacher
is an old fuddy-duddy.
habits die hard
routine to the point of boredom (sentence 1); old-fashioned
and outmoded (sentence 2)
Synonyms: in a rut; on a treadmill
1. Every New Year’s Eve, we go to the same restaurant for
dinner and the same hotel for dancing. It’s getting to be
old hat and I’m tired of it. Let’s do something different
2. I’ve heard that idea a thousand times before. It’s old
hat. Can’t you think of anything new and different that we
|on a diet
||trying to lose weight
||Are you on a
diet or something?
|on a shoestring
||with very little money
||He started the new
company on a shoestring.
looking for a fight; very angry and upset with someone or
The expression originally referred to American Indians, who
were described as on the warpath (literally on the way to
war) when they were preparing for a fight.
1. I decided to get out of the house until my father calms
down. He was really on the warpath when he saw that I had
damaged his new car.
2. The manager is on a rampage because he found out that the
company management doesn’t plan on keeping him when they
close his department. He’s really angry.
in a dull and boring routine
Synonym: in a rut
Compare to: old hat
A treadmill is a machine consisting of a continuous belt or
moving steps that circle around and around and to which
there is no end. The expression is often used to describe
one’s job or daily life.
1. Mr. Jones goes to work and does the same old job every
day, and he never does anything different. He’s on a
2. Everyone thinks I’m so predictable, but some day I’m
going to get off the treadmill and do something adventurous.
3. They’ve been on the treadmill their whole lives. They
would feel very uncomfortable doing anything spontaneous, so
it would be impossible for them to get off and do something
|on again, off
||The plans for the party
were on again, off again.
|on and off
||It has been raining
on and off since this morning.
|on and on
||The meeting continued
on and on until the evening.
|on an even keel
||The department is
finally on an even keel.
|on behalf of
||The lawyer went to the
meeting on behalf of his client.
||ready and available to
||The technician was
on call the entire night.
IN A BLUE MOON
1. Jean’s parents encouraged her to accept the job with the
prestigious company in New York. They told her that a job
offer like that comes along only once in a blue moon.
2. Roger and Sandy like to stay at home. They rarely travel
and they almost never go out to dinner, though they go to
the movies once in a blue moon.
Synonym: seventh heaven, in
1. Sharon loved horses, and when she finally took her first
riding lesson, she was on cloud nine.
2. Seth might be angry if you interrupt his video game—it’s
new, and he’s on cloud nine.
||using a credit card
||She decided to buy the
table on credit.
|on easy street
||He has been on
easy street since he sold his business.
||nervous and irritable
||He has really been
on edge because of his new job.
||We worked for hours
on end last night.
one quick, sweeping action
1. The army surrounded the enemy soldiers without their
knowledge, and in one fell swoop were able to cut them off
from their supplies.
2. Dianne swept in with her presentation, and in one fell
swoop she garnered the support of every member of the board
||She took his excuse
on faith and decided to stay with him.
||He is staying on
guard for any possible security problems.
||The coffee shop had
extra pastries on hand.
||Please keep your
dictionary on hand in case you need it.
||The speaker will be
on hand after the lecture if you have
HOLD, PUT (SOMETHING)
to postpone something; to wait until later (sentences 1 and
2); to ask somebody to wait without hanging up the telephone
Synonyms: on the back burner; on ice
On hold specifically refers to postponing some action,
whereas put something on ice means to store or reserve some
item for later use. Something that is on the back burner has
a lower priority or is less important than something else.
1. We had planned to start building the new shopping center
next month, but the company’s profits are down so the
project has been put on hold for a while.
2. Lorraine was having second thoughts about marrying Phil
before both of them finished college. She told him she
thought they should put the wedding on hold for a few years.
3. I’ve been trying to call the doctor, but his secretary
keeps putting me on hold. I don’t have time to wait for the
doctor to come to the phone, so I guess I’ll try to call him
to put something (an excess of some item) in reserve for
Synonyms: salt (something) away; save (something) for a
rainy day; on the back burner; on hold
1. We didn’t need all the money we had raised, so we decided
to put some of it on ice until our funds were low.
2. I’m glad we found enough supplies to do the job, but I
wish we had enough to put some on ice. We will need some
next year too, and we may not be able to find any then.
(ONE’S) LAST LEGS
about to die, fail, or collapse
The expression suggests a person who is about to collapse
for the last time because his or her legs no longer have the
strength to carry him forward or hold him upright.
1. This car is practically worthless. It’s in the repair
shop more than it’s on the road. I think it’s on its last
2. The company is selling its assets and is about to declare
bankruptcy. It’s on its last legs.
|on one's back
||She has been on
his back all week to get a new job.
|on one's feet
||She was on her
feet after a long illness.
||The mistakes made in the
department were on his shoulders.
|on one's toes
||The students were
expected to stay on their toes.
pins and needles
||I think that she spilled
the drink on purpose.
|on shaky ground
||His position at the
company is on shaky ground.
|on the air
||That television program
has been on the air for awhile.
BACK BURNER, PUT (SOMETHING)
to decrease the amount of energy spent on some activity; to
delay or postpone action on some activity
Compare to: on hold; on ice
The expression on the back burner comes from cooking on a
standard stove, which has four burners, two in front and two
in back. The burners in front are used for immediate
cooking, while the ones in back are often used for simmering
or keeping things warm. To move something to the front
burner means to make some project highest priority.
1. The boss isn’t sure he wants to pursue that new project
right now. I think it’s on the back burner until the current
project is finished.
2. Because of the country’s debt problems, the government
has had to put its plans to expand the national medical
program on the back burner.
mentally sharp or alert; well-prepared; efficient
Antonym: out to lunch
1. You’ve been making too many mistakes these days. You’d
better get on the ball if you want to keep your job.
2. I can’t seem to concentrate today. I’m just not on the
|on the ball
||He is really on
not working correctly
Synonym: on the fritz
The expression is usually used with electronic devices. It
is not used with more mechanical devices such as cars or
1. We can’t watch the football game at my house. My
television is on the blink.
2. The clock in the office has been on the blink for months.
I don’t think they’ll ever get it fixed.
|on the block
||The office building is
on the block.
|on the bandwagon
||participating in the
same thing because of the actions of others
||Now everyone is
on the bandwagon.
|on the beam
||What she said was
on the beam.
|on the blink
||The television is
on the blink.
|on the button
||exactly on time
||She usually arrives at
work on the button.
|on the coat
||because of the previous
||The actor got the part
on the coat tails of his famous brother.
|on the dole
||The area is very poor
and there are many people on the dole.
|on the dot
||exactly on time
||She usually arrives at
work on the dot.
edge of your seat
not working correctly
Synonym: on the blink
1. This television works for a few minutes and then the
picture fades out. It’s on the fritz.
2. We’d better think about getting a new refrigerator,
because this one has a puddle of water under it every few
days. It seems to be on the fritz.
constantly busy; very active
1. My neighbor has four young children, and she is always
driving them somewhere: to school, to dance lessons, to
visit friends, to the doctor’s. She’s always on the go.
2. Some food companies now make ready-to-eat breakfast food
for people on the go. They can just put the food in the
microwave oven or toaster and take it with them in the car.
|on the house
||The room at the hotel
was on the house.
honest and without deception
Compare to: on the up and up
1. I know you don’t believe me, but what I’m telling you is
on the level.
2. The car dealer offered Robert a chance to buy a fancy car
at a big discount. Robert was suspicious because he didn’t
know if the deal was really on the level.
|on the loose
||Some of the animals at
the zoo were on the loose.
|on the make
||trying to take advantage
||He is on the
make and will attempt to take your money.
|on the mend
||She is on the
mend after the car accident last week.
|on the move
||going to many places
||She is traveling and has
been on the move for many months.
Compare to: hit the nail on the head
1. Their parents tried not to tell them where they were
going, but the children were too clever for them. They
guessed it on the nose.
2. The children’s father told them each to think of a number
between one and ten. The child who chose the closest number
to the one he was thinking of would get the larger piece of
candy. His youngest daughter picked the number on the nose.
|on the other
||She is intelligent but
on the other hand she is very lazy.
|on the road
||Some truck drivers are
almost always on the road.
unstable; likely to collapse. When referring to alcoholic
beverages, it means with ice cubes
The expression is often used to describe a long-term
relationship or a marriage (sentence 1), but it can also
describe a non-romantic relationship (sentence 2).
The expression originates with the image of a ship that has
been cast against the rocks and is about to break up. When
the expression means “with ice” (as in sentence 3), the ice
cubes in the glass are being compared to rocks.
1. I read in the tabloids that those celebrities’
relationship is on the rocks. I wonder if it can be saved?
2. Mr. Smith was afraid that after the stormy meeting, his
relationship with his client was on the rocks. He decided to
call his client later in the day and try to straighten
3. When Judy goes to a bar, she always orders a drink on the
|on the same
||thinking the same way
||We have been on
the same wavelength for months.
|on the sly
||We went to the
restaurant on the sly.
in an awkward social situation (sentence 1) or immediately
and nearby (sentence 2)
1. I’m sorry to ask you these questions without giving you a
chance to prepare—I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.
2. Sherry thought that the doctor would make a future
appointment to give her the shot, but he wanted to do it
that day. “We can do it here, on the spot,” he said.
|on the spur of
||They decided to go to
Los Angeles on the spur of the moment.
TIP OF (ONE’S) TONGUE
almost remembered; about to be said
The expression is used when one is trying very hard to
recall something such as a name, date, word, or fact and
feels that he or she is just about to remember it.
The expression suggests that the information is so close to
being recalled that it is at the front of one’s mouth.
1. Chris knew the woman, but he couldn’t remember her name.
It was on the tip of his tongue, but it just wouldn’t come.
2. Martha was trying to recall the name of the restaurant
where they had eaten. It was on the tip of her tongue when
someone interrupted her thoughts.
UP AND UP
honest; ethical; fair
Compare to: on the level
1. The salesman offered us an unbelievable price on computer
equipment. Do you think his offer is on the up and up?
2. Governor Russell is a very honest politician. He would
never do anything that was not on the up and up.
to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages because one
cannot control oneself
Antonym: fall off the wagon
Similar to: cold turkey
The expression on the wagon usually describes someone who is
unable to handle alcohol or who is an alcoholic rather than
a person who chooses to abstain for religious or other
personal reasons. On the wagon refers to alcoholic drinks
whereas cold turkey refers to abruptly stopping the intake
of drugs, cigarettes, and other habits.
1. Peter used to drink alcohol to excess, but now he doesn’t
drink anymore. He’s on the wagon.
2. I realized I was an alcoholic some years ago. I finally
got help and I’ve been on the wagon ever since.
|on the whole
||On the whole
I think it is a good idea.
in an unsafe or risky position
The expression suggests how dangerous it is to tread (walk)
or skate on ice that, although frozen, is not thick enough
to support one’s weight.
1. Steve is going to run into trouble if he continues to
arrive late at work. He’s on thin ice with the boss already
because he spends more time talking on the phone than
2. Anita is in serious trouble at the university. Her grades
are poor and unless she does well on her final exams, she
may be skating on thin ice.
3. The children’s mother couldn’t stand many more of their
demands. She told them that they were treading on thin ice
because they were about to make her lose her temper.
||at the scheduled time
||Our train arrived right
||in the lead
||The home team was
on top for most of the game.
|on top of
||in addition to
||On top of
everything else she wants more jewelry.
|on top of
||We are able to keep
on top of our work.
|on top of
||She is usually
on top of the latest fashion trends.
|once and for all
||She told him
once and for all that she would not take the new
|once in a blue
||She only goes to that
restaurant once in a blue moon.
|once in a while
||We go to that restaurant
once in a while to eat Japanese food.
|once or twice
||a few times
||We went to that
restaurant once or twice.
||She gave the book a
once-over before deciding to buy it.
a person who doesn’t hide anything about himself or herself;
a person’s life (sentence 1) or mind in which nothing is
The expression suggests that a person who is an open book is
easy to “read” or understand.
1. Cindy hides nothing about how she spends her time. Her
life is an open book.
2. James and John are as different as night and day. James
is an open book, but John is very secretive.
MIND, (KEEP) AN
be willing to listen to and consider all sides of an issue;
not to have made up one’s mind in advance
Antonym: closed minded
Open minded and closed minded generally refer to a person’s
overall outlook or approach, whereas keep an open mind is
used to describe one’s approach to one particular situation
1. Julie’s father’s mind was made up not to let her have her
own car. She said that he didn’t have an open mind about the
matter, and that he had not given her a fair chance to
2. I have almost decided to vote for the conservative
candidate, but I’m still willing to listen to what the other
candidates have to say. I’m trying to keep an open mind
about all the candidates until election day.
willing to consider new ideas
Antonym: closed minded
Similar to: open mind, keep an
1. As a new employee, it’s important to be open minded and
enthusiastic. You aren’t expected to know everything about
your job yet, but you should be open to learning new things.
2. Kim is definitely an open minded person. She is very
tolerant of different attitudes, cultures, and religions.
A CLEAR BLUE SKY
Synonym: out of the blue
1. Erica didn’t expect James to propose marriage so quickly.
For her, the proposal came out of a clear blue sky.
2. Spencer hadn’t sent his resume out, so when somebody
called him for a job interview, the offer came out of a
clear blue sky.
removed from the public; no longer available for use or
The expression is usually used to describe a social
situation (sentence 2) but probably originated with printed
material (sentence 1).
1. This book is no longer available in the library. It’s out
2. Mrs. Winter took her husband’s sudden death very hard,
and she doesn’t have the will to get out and get on with
life. She’s taken herself out of circulation.
|out of control
||Yeah, but it was
out of control.
beyond one’s capability
Synonyms: bite off more than (one) can chew; in over one’s
1. I once took part in a chess tournament and got the chance
to play a grand master. I lost in just five moves. I was
really out of my league.
2. After I started my new job, I quickly realized that I was
completely out of my depth. Nothing I’d learned in school or
in my previous jobs had prepared me for the new challenges I
had to face.
in a situation that one is unprepared for or unfamiliar with
Synonym: fish out of water
Antonym: in (one’s) element
1. Bob felt out of his element at the crowded party. He does
much better with small groups of people.
2. The beginning of a presentation is sometimes difficult.
You feel out of your element standing in front of an
audience. But if you’ve practiced your talk, it gets easier
once you get started.
suddenly and unexpectedly
Synonym: out of a clear blue sky
1. We were walking down the street when from out of the blue
an old classmate we hadn’t seen for years appeared.
2. Pam was driving down the highway when, out of the blue, a
truck crossed in front of her and she had to slam on her
|out of the book
||directly from the book
||The exams are all
out of the book.
THE FRYING PAN AND INTO THE FIRE
from a bad situation to one that is even worse
1. Edith’s parents were happy when she broke off her
friendship with Ralph, until she started seeing George, who
is an even worse influence on her. She’s jumped out of the
frying pan into the fire.
2. Tim didn’t like the extra responsibility of being an
assistant manager, but now he’s decided to accept the
position of full manager. He’s leaping out of the frying pan
into the fire.
out of danger; out of a very difficult situation
The expression is often used to describe no longer being in
danger of dying (sentence 1). It can also be used to
describe situations equally critical, such as the demise of
a company (sentence 2) or the death of someone’s political
life (sentence 3).
1. The doctor told the boy’s parents that he was no longer
in danger of dying—he had made it through the night and his
high fever had returned to normal. He was out of the woods.
2. The accountant was trying very hard to find a bank that
would loan the company money to stay in business. When he
found a bank, the company president was relieved, but the
accountant told him the company was not out of the woods
3. There was quite a scandal brewing, and it looked like it
would cause the downfall of several high-ranking government
officials. Fred thought he had avoided being touched by the
scandal, but he wouldn’t be completely sure for a few weeks.
He wasn’t out of the woods yet.
absent-minded, unaware or confused (sentence 1); ignorant on
some topic (sentence 2); harmlessly crazy or out of touch
with reality (sentence 3)
Antonym: on the ball
Compare to: know if (one) is coming or going (sentence 1);
know beans about (something); all wet, for the birds
(sentence 2); bats in (one’s) belfry; off (one’s) rocker;
screw loose, have a (sentence 3)
1. I can’t believe I was so absent-minded that I erased my
entire hard drive! I’m really out to lunch.
2. You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re out to
3. That old soldier is a little out to lunch. He wanders
around here telling everyone old war stories as though the
war was just yesterday.
in a difficult situation or position
Similar to: in a bind; in a fix; between a rock and a hard
place; between the devil and the deep blue sea
1. They agreed on the price of the car with the salesman,
but now they can’t borrow enough from the bank. They’re over
a barrel because they’ll lose their deposit if they can’t
come up with the rest of the money.
2. If I look for another job, the companies I interview with
are going to want to check with my current boss. But I don’t
want him to know I’m looking for a new job. I’m over a
3. I had to borrow some money from a colleague at work, and
now he wants me to help him fix his car on Saturday. I
really don’t have time to do it, but he’s got me over a
barrel since I owe him a favor.
|over one's limit
||exceeded your spending
||It appears you are
over your limit.
too old to be of much value
Synonym: past (one’s) prime
The expression is used for people and animals, but not for
1. My dog liked to play when he was young, but now he sleeps
all day. He’s over the hill.
2. Don’t you dare tell me I’m over the hill. I may be old
but I still feel as young as I did thirty years ago.
beyond expectations; outside normal or accepted boundaries;
1. I know my question annoyed him, but his response was over
the top. He really needs to apologize for his rudeness.
2. Your behavior is sometimes a bit over the top. You’ll
really have to act more appropriately if you ever want to do
well in this business.