|pad the bill
||add false expenses
||He always tries to
pad the bill when he goes on a business
|pain in the ass
||My girlfriend's best
friend is a pain in the ass.
|pain in the ass
||Dealing with my neighbor
is always a pain in the ass.
|pain in the neck
||My girlfriend's best
friend is a pain in the neck.
in the neck
oneself into a corner
(SOMEONE) A PICTURE
to explain something in very great detail
The expression conveys the idea that the explanation is as
good and as thorough as if one had painted a picture.
1. Mary is one of those people to whom you have to explain
everything in great detail. You always have to paint her a
2. I’ve explained as much as I should have to. Do I have to
paint you a picture?
|paint the town
||have a good time
||We decided to go out and
paint the town red after work.
||lie about and dispose of
||He tried to palm
off his old television set as new and reliable.
a situation that contains many unexpected and unwanted
problems and consequences
Synonym: can of worms, open a
The expression originates from the Greek mythological
character Pandora, who was given a box containing all the
evils that could befall mankind. She opened it, unleashing
all mankind’s ills.
1. Be careful. If you try to find out more than you should
about her past, you might be opening Pandora’s box.
2. Larry thought the sale of his mother’s house was a
Pandora’s box. There were too many people to please and too
many people who might be offended.
||I hope that your plans
to go back to school pan out.
usual or to be expected; typicalCompare to: rule of thumb
The expression originates from the game of golf, in which
par is the expected or usual number of strokes a player
should take to get the ball from the tee into the hole on
that particular course.
The expression is usually used in a negative context, i.e.
one couldn’t expect anything better.
1. Robert is late as usual. It’s par for the course.
2. I asked for five different kinds of sandwiches at the
cafeteria, and they didn’t have any of them. But that’s par
for the course; they never have half the items listed on the
|part and parcel
||an important part
||The house he bought was
part and parcel of a much larger piece of
||The old leader is
expected to pass away soon.
||Tell me if you think the
report will pass muster.
||The salesperson tried to
pass off that the diamond was real.
||She tries to
pass on her old clothes to her younger sister.
||The old leader is
expected to pass on soon.
||She is going to
pass out if she drinks any more sake.
to redirect the blame or responsibility for something
(usually a decision) to someone else
In poker games during the 1800s, a shotgun pellet (called
buck) or a pocketknife (often made from buckhorn) was passed
to the next person responsible for dealing the cards. By the
20th century, pass the buck came to mean shifting
responsibility to someone else. In 1949, U.S. President
Harry Truman placed a sign on his desk that read ‘the buck
stops here,’ meaning that he took responsibility for
government actions and would not try to place the
responsibility on anybody else.
1. Sharon suggested we go to see a movie, which turned out
to be awful. Then she tried to pass the buck and pretend
that it hadn’t been her choice.
2. Carol never tries to pass the buck. She is always willing
to make hard decisions and stand behind them, even if they
aren’t always the best ones.
too old to be of much value
Synonym: over the hill
1. As an athlete, he’s past his prime. He just can’t run as
fast as he could five years ago.
2. Nancy isn’t past her prime yet. She still has a lot of
|pat on the back
||Try to do good work
without expecting a pat on the back.
||We have been trying to
patch up this relationship.
PATIENCE OF JOB
unlimited patience; the willingness to endure hardship
The word Job is a name (it rhymes with robe).
The expression originates from the Biblical story of Job, a
man who was able to keep his faith despite the hardships God
inflicted on him during a contest with the devil.
1. Your twins are so mischievous, but you never lose your
temper. You have the patience of Job.
2. That teacher must have the patience of Job—he answers all
of the students’ questions and waits for them to be quiet
before he continues.
||focus on and listen
||You should pay
attention to what the teacher is saying.
||reduce the balance owed
to zero on
||The homeowner was able
to pay off the loan early.
||The business plan began
to pay off and the profits of the company
||The company tried to
pay off the politician.
||The company is expecting
a big pay-off from this new product.
to respond to somebody’s behavior with similar behavior
The expression is often, but not always, used in reference
to negative situations.
1. Desmond was rude to you on the playground, but you can be
nice to him anyway. You don’t have to pay him back by
2. Shelly appreciated Tim’s kind words, and tried to pay him
back by encouraging him the next time they met.
to pay for one’s mistakes; to live with the consequences of
one’s (wrong) actions
A piper is a musician who plays on a pipe.
1. Catherine thought she could play her way through school,
and now she has to stay after class to make up her failed
grades. She should have known she would have to pay the
2. I cheated people out of their money. I got caught, and
now I’m in prison, paying the piper for what I did.
THROUGH THE NOSE
to pay a great amount; to pay too much
Compare to: cost (someone) a mint; cost (someone) an arm and
The expression usually refers to paying money (sentence 1),
but it can also refer to exacting other kinds of payment
such as trading work, making someone feel very guilty, etc.
1. Carissa wanted tickets to the concert so badly that she
was willing to pay double for them. She paid through the
nose, but she made it to the concert.
2. Peter‘s parents said he couldn’t go out until he finished
his chores, so Peter promised to do his sister’s chores for
a whole week if she would do his for a day. He had to pay
through the nose, but it was worth it to him.
an office worker; a bureaucrat who routinely does his or her
paperwork job without any desire to advance
The expression is derogatory. It is often used to describe
someone who ought to be more ambitious.
1. Charlene wanted to get ahead in her job. Although she was
a clerk now, she had no intention of being a pencil pusher
all her life.
2. Most of the employees here are just paper pushers. They
sit behind their desks, do their jobs, and they don’t expect
to be anywhere else in ten years.
a person that doesn’t like to spend money
1. My mother won’t spend money on new clothes until her old
ones are nearly falling apart. She’s a penny pincher.
2. When Joe decided to save money for a house, he became a
penny pincher—he stopped eating at restaurants, went to the
library instead of buying books, and walked to work instead
of taking the train.
to disappear gradually
The expression does not mean to disappear gradually as in
fade, but to disappear slowly in terms of quantity or size.
1. We followed the river upstream as it got smaller and
smaller until it finally petered out.
2. The members of the club got together every week until
they began to lose interest. At first, just a few people
stopped coming, but eventually they all petered out.
|pick someone up
||come and get you
||What time do you want me
to pick you up?
to get information from someone, usually by questioning the
person carefully and in great detail
The expression suggests that a person’s brain contains bits
of information that can be “picked” like fruit from a tree
or like meat off of a bone.
1. I was exhausted after spending hours with the
investigators while they picked my brain. Unfortunately, I
wasn’t able to give them any useful information.
2. You know a lot about the latest in jet engine design,
don’t you? We want to pick your brain about the new design
before we start to build our engine.
OF CAKE, A
something that is easy to do
1. When the children accidentally threw the ball on top of
the roof, the gym teacher asked me to climb up and get it
down. I told her it would be easy for me. It was a piece of
2. When Roger studied Spanish, it was a piece of cake, but
he found that learning Japanese was very hard.
|piece of the
||share in the activity
||The investors knew the
company would make money and they all wanted a piece
of the action.
something that is unrealistic or that cannot be achieved
1. Don’t believe those pie-in-the-sky advertisements you see
on television selling large plots of land for pennies.
They’re too good to be true.
2. The salesman promised Amy that the wrinkle cream would
make her skin as soft as a baby’s, but she knew not to
believe him. It was pie in the sky.
to be very careful with one’s money; to be concerned about
how one spends every penny
The expression is slightly disparaging. A penny is a coin
worth one cent in the U.S. This is the smallest denomination
in the American monetary system.
1. Joe shops at discount supermarkets and watches for items
on sale. He’s a real penny pincher.
2. They waste gasoline driving an extra ten miles to a store
that has something on sale so they can save a dollar. They
squander dollars to pinch pennies.
notice that one has been fired from one’s job
The expression probably originates from the color of the
form used to notify people that they had been fired. Such
forms often came in multiple carbon copies. Each copy was a
different color and was designated for a different
recipient, e.g., the pay office got one particular color,
while the fired person always got the pink copy.
1. Yesterday the company fired a dozen people. They all got
pink slips in their pay packets.
2. Gordon came home early from work looking worried. He had
just gotten a pink slip, and now he would have to find
|plays a mean
||performs well on
||He plays a mean
to work or act aggressively, competitively, or ruthlessly,
as in business or politics
The expression originates from the game of baseball, which
uses a hard ball, as opposed to the similar game of
1. You have to be willing to play hardball in the business
world today. If you aren’t aggressive, you’ll be taken over
by the competition.
2. Mr. Norton had been mayor of a small town for many years,
but when he decided to run for Congress his friends told him
he would have to be prepared to play hardball. National
politics can be much more aggressive than local politics.
IT BY EAR
to go along with a situation as it develops before deciding
what to do; to do something without prior planning
Compare to: wing it; by the seat of (one’s) pants
The expression probably originates from the idea of playing
a piece of music by ear, i.e., not reading the music as one
plays but simply listening to the piece, picking out the
notes by ear and then playing it.
1. Let’s get in the car and go for a drive. We don’t have to
decide before we start where we’re going; let’s just play it
2. I’m going to watch to see how the situation develops and
decide what to do as I go along. I want to play it by ear
and see what happens.
(ONE’S) CARDS RIGHT
to do all the right things and make all the right moves in
order to achieve some end
The expression often suggests something slightly
conspiratorial and dishonest. It probably originates from a
card game like bridge, in which the players have any number
of ways to play their cards, but playing them in just the
right way will result in winning.
1. I can’t promise anything, but if you listen carefully and
play your cards right, I might be able to include you in
2. The bank guard caught the thief with the money. The thief
told the guard that if he played his cards right and let the
thief go free, he could get half the money.
to be in a subordinate position; to have a lower rank or
standing than someone else
The expression probably originates from the fact that in an
orchestra the first violin, or “fiddle,” gets most of the
attention and plays the leading part, while the second
fiddle is less noticed.
1. Jim wasn’t very happy when he was made assistant manager
while Frank was promoted to manager. Jim didn’t want to play
second fiddle to Frank.
2. Both Ron and Sam liked Julie, but Julie preferred Sam.
Ron played second fiddle to Sam.
to invite disaster by doing something foolish, dangerous, or
1. Don’t get involved with people who use drugs. Don’t play
2. How can Becky go out with that man? He has such a bad
reputation. Doesn’t she know she’s playing with fire?
an expressionless face; a face that reveals nothing of one’s
feelings or thoughts
The expression originates from the game of poker, in which
the players avoid showing any pleasure or displeasure in the
cards they have been dealt by keeping an expressionless
1. Kay isn’t very good at hiding her feelings. She just
doesn’t have a poker face.
2. The businessman kept a poker face while he carried out
the negotiations. He didn’t want to let anyone know how
pleased he was with the deal.
||It is my turn to
pop for the doughnuts.
to ask someone to get married
The question in the expression is “Will you marry me?”
Presumably it is popped because it is supposed to come as a
1. Jane was hoping Mike would pop the question before long.
After all, they had been dating each other for more than two
years and Jane thought it was time they got married.
2. It came as a complete surprise to Marsha when Bill popped
the question and asked her to marry him.
a (figuratively) painful payment of a debt
The expression originates from Shakespeare’s play The
Merchant of Venice in which Antonio borrows money from
Shylock, the Jewish money lender, promising to pay it back
when his ships arrive. When Antonio learns that his ships
have sunk at sea, Shylock demands payment in the form of one
pound of Antonio’s flesh.
1. When we fell behind in our mortgage and asked the bank to
work out a different payment schedule, they refused and took
possession of our house. They got their pound of flesh.
2. You’ve been annoying me for days about the ten dollars I
owe you, but I’m afraid I don’t have the money right now.
You’ll have to wait for your pound of flesh.
||The players are really
psyched up for the game on Friday.
(ONESELF) UP BY (ONE’S) BOOTSTRAPS
to improve oneself (usually economically) without help from
1. Clarence didn’t come from a very promising background and
no one thought he would succeed. However, he pulled himself
up by his bootstraps, got a good education, and became a
2. Don’t expect other people to help you get ahead in life.
If you want to get somewhere, you’ll have to pull yourself
up by your bootstraps and do it for yourself.
OUT ALL THE STOPS
to use everything possible; to spare nothing; to spare no
Compare to: whole hog; whole nine yards; to the hilt; go to
The origin of the expression is that in playing an organ,
the organist gets the maximum sound from the instrument by
pulling out all the stops on the keyboard.
1. They decided to have the best vacation ever, so they flew
first-class, took taxis everywhere, stayed in a four-star
hotel, and ate at the most expensive restaurants. They
pulled out all the stops.
2. Our only daughter is getting married. Since it’s
something that happens only once, we’re going to pull out
all the stops: a big wedding with flowers everywhere and a
sit-down dinner for 500 people.
to take advantage of one’s superior position (one’s rank)
This phrase is based on one of the meanings of the word
pull, specifically ‘to exert control.’
1. Usually the boss lets all the workers take part in making
important decisions, but this time she pulled rank and made
the decision entirely by herself.
2. First the army officer tried to persuade his men politely
to his way of thinking. When they still wouldn’t see matters
his way, he had to pull rank and give them orders.
to tease, fool, or trick someone in a friendly way
1. You can’t believe what John says half the time. I’ll bet
he was just teasing you. He was just pulling your leg.
2. Stop pulling my leg! I want you to tell me the truth.
to accomplish something that had appeared difficult to
finish or achieve
1. The thieves didn’t think they would succeed in stealing
the jewels, but they managed to pull it off.
2. Do you think we can pull the deal off? It’s going to take
a lot of late nights and hard work to do it.
to use one’s influence
The expression originates from the idea of a string puppet
or marionette, which can be controlled by pulling on its
strings. A person who can pull strings can control a
situation and influence others.
1. Can you get me a job in your father’s company? I know you
can do it if you’re willing to pull strings.
2. Jane’s parents were influential in politics, but she
wanted to make her way on her own. She didn’t like pulling
strings to get what she wanted.
THE RUG OUT FROM UNDER (SOMEONE)
to abruptly ruin someone’s plans or expectations
Compare to: knock/throw (someone) for a loop
The expression suggests the feeling of shock a person would
have if a rug was literally pulled out from under him or
1. When Tim went into his supervisor’s office, he thought he
was going to get a raise for a job well done. He had the rug
pulled out from under him when the boss fired him instead.
2. Anne pulled the rug out from under her parents when she
told them that she was not going to medical school and had
decided to get married instead.
THE WOOL OVER (SOMEONE’S) EYES
to deceive or fool someone
Compare to: song and dance; cock-and-bull story; snow job;
fall for (something)
1. The young man was so naive that he believed whatever
anyone told him. It was easy to pull the wool over his eyes.
2. The children told their mother they were going to school
when in fact they planned to go to the movies. They managed
to pull the wool over her eyes.
to collect one’s household belongings and leave one’s house
or property; to move to another place
This expression originated during the 1700s with pioneers
moving westward through the United States seeking land to
settle on. To claim a portion of land for themselves, the
settlers would mark the boundaries of the land with stakes
(wood). If they later decided to move and give up claim to
the land, they would literally pull up the stakes marking
the boundaries. It is often used to describe a sense of
abandonment, of leaving one’s land behind because one has
fallen on hard times.
1. Life in the big cities of the east was often
discouraging, so many families pulled up stakes and moved
west to California.
2. There aren’t many people left in this town. Almost
everyone is pulling up stakes and moving someplace where
they can find a job and make a better living.
||excited and ready
||The players are really
pumped up for the game.
||II am going to
push off now.
ALL (ONE’S) EGGS IN ONE BASKET
to invest all one’s hopes or plans in only one possible
The expression is usually used in the negative. It suggests
that putting all one’s eggs in one basket is unwise, because
if one drops the basket, all the eggs will break. It would
be better to have the eggs divided among several baskets.
1. We found a house we want to buy, but we haven’t stopped
looking at others because the sellers haven’t agreed to our
price. We don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.
2. Sally concentrated all her hopes on going to one
particular university. Her parents told her it was a mistake
to put all her eggs in one basket—that school might not
accept her, so she should consider some alternatives.
||Yeah, I usually
put off doing homework until the last minute.
||It was an elaborate
put on which I almost believed.
(ONE’S) BEST FOOT FORWARD
to try to make the best possible impression
1. Patrick wanted to make a good impression at his job
interview, so he dressed carefully and put his best foot
2. The teacher asked us to put our best foot forward when we
met the President. It was such an honor for the school; we
wanted the whole school to be proud of us.
(ONE’S) FINGER ON IT
to identify or understand something properly
1. Jim knew there was a problem with the ending of his
story, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He needed
somebody else to point out the problem.
2. Ellie remembered playing the game when she was little,
but when she tried to remember how to play, she couldn’t put
her finger on it.
(ONE’S) FOOT DOWN
to be firm and unyielding about something
Compare to: lay down the law; draw the line (at something);
read (someone) the riot act
In this phrase ‘put’ means to exert control.
The expression is often used to describe parents setting
rules for their children.
The expression is often used in reference to a request,
which is refused, or some form of current (bad) behavior
that is forbidden.
1. The children were watching more and more television.
Finally, their mother put her foot down and told them that
from then on they could only watch one hour of television a
2. I know how much you want a motorcycle, but I just don’t
think it’s safe. I’m going to have to put my foot down on
this and tell you that you can’t have one.
(ONE’S) MONEY WHERE (ONE’S) MOUTH IS
to support what one is saying by risking or spending money
(sentences 1 and 2); to demonstrate in action what one says
one can do (sentence 3)
Compare to: actions speak louder than words
The expression is used to challenge someone who talks a lot
about doing or being able to do something, but who never
actually does anything to demonstrate it.
1. The mayor was always talking about doing something good
for the homeless people in our city. All we had heard so far
was talk, so at the next city council meeting we asked her
to put her money where her mouth was and actually do
2. They talked so much about wanting to help us get a good
start in life that I finally said, “Why don’t you put your
money where your mouth is?”
3. Jeffrey talks a lot about how he can drive faster than
anyone else in his new sports car, but I wonder if he’s
willing to put his money where his mouth is and actually
race against someone.
(something) on hold
(SOMEONE) ON THE SPOT
to put someone in a difficult situation or to present
someone with a difficult choice; to embarrass someone
Compare to: over a barrel
1. I knew John had left work to go to the bank when he
wasn’t supposed to, and the boss put me on the spot when he
asked if I knew where John was. I didn’t want to lie to the
boss, but I didn’t want to get John in trouble either.
2. Their neighbor put them on the spot when she asked to
borrow money from them. They liked their neighbor and wanted
to stay on good terms with her, but they knew that lending
money to a friend frequently leads to disagreement.
CART BEFORE THE HORSE
to reverse the necessary or expected order of two things; to
put a later step first
The expression suggests that one is reversing the natural
order of things. The cart must go after the horse in order
to get anywhere.
1. Christopher is already making plans to join a law firm
next September, but he hasn’t even passed the bar exam yet.
Isn’t he putting the cart before the horse?
2. You can’t illustrate the book before you have written the
text. That’s putting the cart before the horse.
|put the moves on
||You should give up
trying to put the moves on her.
to apply pressure on someone to do something; to force or
1. I have two job offers and I haven’t been able to decide
which one to accept. They are both putting the squeeze on me
to decide soon.
2. The senator wanted his colleagues to vote for his
proposal. They owed him a favor, so he began to put the
3. I’d better pay Jim back soon, or I’m afraid he’s going to
put the screws to me.