Idioms and Phrases

These idioms are compiled from the Cambridge International Dictionary.The Cambridge International Dictionary explains over 7,000 idioms current in British, American and other English speaking countries, helping learners to understand them and use them with confidence. The Cambridge Dictionary, based on the 200 million words of English text in the Cambridge International Corpus, unlocks the meaning of more than 5,000 idiomatic phrases used in contemporary English. Full-sentence examples show how idioms are really used.

The Cambridge University Press is respected worldwide for its commitment to advancing knowledge, education, learning and research. It was founded on a Royal Charter granted to the University by Henry VIII in 1534 and has been operating continuously as a printer and publisher since the first Press book was printed in 1584.

Here is the list of idioms beginning with

Daft as a brush: (UK) someone who is daft as a brush is rather stupid.

Damp squib: (UK) If something is expected to have a great effect or impact but doesn't, it is a damp squib.

Dancing on someone's grave: If you will dance on someone's grave, you will outlive or outlast them and will celebrate their demise.

Dark horse: If someone is a dark horse, they are a bit of a mystery.

Davey Jones' locker: Davey Jones' locker is the bottom of the sea or resting place of drowned sailors.('Davy Jones' locker' is an alternative spelling.)

Day in the sun: If you have your day in the sun, you get attention and are appreciated.

Daylight robbery: If you are overcharged or underpaid, it is a daylight robbery; open, unfair and hard to prevent. Rip-off has a similar meaning.

Dead air: When there is a period of total silence, there is dead air.

Dead and buried: If something is dead and buried, it has all long been settled and is not going to be reconsidered.

Dead as a dodo: If something's dead as a dodo, it is lifeless and dull. The dodo was a bird that lived the island of Mauritius. It couldn't fly and was hunted to extinction.

Dead as a doornail: This is used to indicate that something is lifeless.

Dead duck: If something is a dead duck, it is a failure.

Dead from the neck up: Someone who's dead from the neck up is very stupid indeed.

Dead heat: If a race ends in a dead heat, two or more finish with exactly the same result.

Dead in the water: If something is dead in the water, it isn't going anywhere or making any progress.

Dead man walking: A dead man walking is someone who is in great trouble and will certainly get punished; lose their job or position, etc, soon.

Dead meat: This is used as a way of threatening someone: You'll be dead meat if you don't go along.

Dead men's shoes: If promotion or success requires replacing somebody, then it can only be reached by dead men's shoes' by getting rid of them.

Dead to the world: If somebody's fast asleep and completely unaware of what if happening around them, he or she's dead to the world.

Deaf as a post: Someone who is as deaf as a post is unable to hear at all.

Dear John letter: A letter written by a partner explaining why they are ending the relationship is a Dear John letter.

Death of a thousand cuts: If something is suffering the death of a thousand cuts, or death by a thousand cuts, lots of small bad things are happening, none of which are fatal in themselves, but which add up to a slow and painful demise.

Death warmed up: (UK) If someone looks like death warmed up, they look very ill indeed. ('death warmed over' is the American form)

Deep pockets: If someone has deep pockets, they are wealthy.

Deliver the goods: Do what is required, come up to expectations. For example, Kate delivered the goods and got us the five votes we needed. This phrase alludes to delivering an order of groceries or other items. [Colloquial; second half of 1800s]

Demon weed: Tobacco is the demon weed.

Derring-do: If a person shows derring-do, they show great courage.

Devil finds work for idle hands: When people say that the devil finds work for idle hands, they mean that if people don't have anything to do with their time, they are more likely to get involved in trouble and criminality.

Devil is in the detail: When people say that the devil in the detail, they mean that small things in plans and schemes that are often overlooked can cause serious problems later on

Devil may care: If you live a devil-may-care life it means you are willing to take more risks than most people.

Devil's advocate: If someone plays Devil's advocate in an argument, they adopt a position they don't believe in just for the sake of the argument

Diamond in the rough: A diamond in the rough is someone or something that has great potential, but isn't not refined and polished.

Die is cast: If the die is cast, a decision has been made that cannot be altered and fate will decide the consequences.

Different kettle of fish: If something is a different kettle of fish, it is very different from the other things referenced.

Different ropes for different folks: (USA) This idiom means that different people do things in different ways that suit them.

Different strokes for different folks: (USA) This idiom means that different people do things in different ways that suit them.

Dig way down deep: When someone digs way down deep, they look into their inner feelings to see how they feel about it.

Dig your heels in: If you dig your heels in, you start to resist something.

Dime a dozen: (USA) If something is a dime a dozen, it is extremely common, possibly too common.

Dine on ashes: I someone is dining on ashes he or she is excessively focusing attention on failures or regrets for past actions.

Dip your toes in the water: If you dip your toes in the water, you try something tentatively because you are not sure whether it will work or not.

Dirty dog: A dirty dog is an untrustworthy person.

Discerning eye: If a person has a discerning eye, they are particularly good at judging the quality of something.

Discretion is the better part of valour: This idiom means that it is often better to think carefully and not act than to do something that may cause problems.

Dish the dirt: If you dish the dirt on something or someone, you make unpleasant or shocking information public.

Do a Devon Loch: (UK) If someone does a Devon Loch, they fail when they were very close to winning. Devon Loch was a horse that collapsed just short of the winning line of the Grand National race.

Do a runner: (UK) If people leave a restaurant without paying, they do a runner.

Do as you would be done by: Treat and respect others as you would hope to be respected and treated by them.

Do the needful: (India) If you do the needful, you do what is necessary.

Do the running: (UK) The person who has to do the running has to make sure that things get done. ('Make the running' is also used.)

Do their dirty work: Someone who does someone's dirty work carries out the unpleasant jobs that the first person doesn't want to do. Someone who seems to enjoy doing this is sometimes known as a 'henchman'.

Do's and don’ts: The do's and don’ts are what is acceptable or allowed or not within an area or issue, etc.

Dodge the bullet: If someone has dodged a bullet, they have successfully avoided a very serious problem.

Dog and pony show: (USA) A dog and pony show is a presentation or some marketing that has lots of style, but no real content.

Dog days: Dog days are very hot summer days.

Dog eat dog: In a dog eat dog world, there is intense competition and rivalry, where everybody thinks only of himself or herself.

Dog in the manger: (UK) If someone acts like a dog in the manger, they don't want other people to have or enjoy things that are useless to them.

Dog tired: If you are dog tired, you are exhausted.

Dog's dinner: Something that is a dog's dinner is a real mess.

Dog's life: If some has a dog's life, they have a very unfortunate and wretched life.

Dog-eared: If a book is dog-eared, it is in bad condition, with torn pages, etc.

Dog-whistle politics: (AU) when political parties have policies that will appeal to racists while not being overtly racist, they are indulging in dog-whistle politics.

Doggy bag: If you ask for a doggy bag in a restaurant, they will pack the food you haven't eaten for you to take home.

Doldrums: If a person is in the doldrums, they are depressed. If a project or something similar is in the doldrums, it isn't making any progress.

Dollars for doughnuts: (USA) If something is dollars for doughnuts; it is a sure bet or certainty.

Don't bite the hand that feeds: When someone says this to you, they are trying to tell you not to act against those on whom you depend.

Don't catch your chickens before they're hatched: This means that you should wait until you know whether something has produced the results you desire, rather than acting beforehand. ('Don't count your chickens until they've hatched' is an alternative.)

Don't cry over spilt milk: When something bad happens and nothing can be done to help it people say, 'Don't cry over spilt milk'.

Don't give up the day job: This idiom is used a way of telling something that they do something badly.

Don't hold your breath: If you are told not to hold your breath, it means that you shouldn't have high expectations about something.

Don't judge a book by the cover: This idiom means that you should not judge something or someone by appearances, but should look deeper at what is inside and more important.

Don't know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon: If you don't know what to do, you don't know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon.

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth: This means that if you are given something, a present or a chance, you should not waste it by being too critical or examining it too closely.

Don't mention the war: This means that you shouldn't speak about things that could cause an argument or tension. This idiom was used in a classic episode of the much-loved British comedy series Fawlty Towers. As a consequence if you use this phrase in Britain, listeners will understand you to be referring to Germans, or just start laughing.

Don't push my buttons! : This can be said to someone who is starting to annoy you.

Don't stand there with curlers in your hair: This means 'don't keep me waiting'. It's said to someone who is taking too long to get moving.

Don't sweat the small stuff: (USA) This is used to tell people not to worry about trivial or unimportant issues.

Don't take any wooden nickels: (USA) This idiom is used to advise people not to be cheated or ripped off.

Don't take any wooden nickels: (USA) This is a warning that you should not allow yourself to be cheated or fooled.

Don't throw bricks when you live in a glass house: Don't call others out on actions that you, yourself do. Don't be a hypocrite.

Don't upset the applecart: If you are advised not to upset the applecart, you are being told not to disturb the way things are done because it might ruin things.

Don't wash your dirty laundry in public: (UK) People, especially couples, who argue in front of others or involve others in their personal problems and crises, are said to be washing their dirty laundry in public; making public things that are best left private. (In American English, 'don't air your dirty laundry in public' is used.)

Done to death: If a joke or story has been done to death, it has been told so often that it has stopped being funny.

Donkey's years: This idiom means 'a very long time'.

Doormat: A person who doesn't stand up for themselves and gets treated badly is a doormat.

Dot all the i's and cross all the t's: If you dot all the i's and cross all the t's, you do something very carefully and thoroughly.

Double Dutch: (UK) If something is double Dutch, it is completely incomprehensible.

Double take: If someone does a double take, they react very slowly to something to show how shocked or surprised they are.

Double whammy: A double whammy is when something causes two problems at the same time, or when two setbacks occur at the same time.

Double-edged sword: If someone uses an argument that could both help them and harm them, then they are using a double-edged sword; it cuts both ways.

Doubting Thomas: A Doubting Thomas is someone who only believes what they see themselves, not what they are told.

Down and out: If someone is down and out, they are desperately poor and need help.

Down at heel: Someone who is down at heel is short of money. ('Down in heel' is used in American English)

Down for the count: If someone is down for the count, they have lost a struggle, like a boxer who has been knocked out.

Down in the doldrums: If somebody's down in the doldrums, they are depressed and lacking energy.

Down in the dumps: If someone's down in the dumps, they are depressed.

Down in the mouth: If someone is down in the mouth, they look unhappy or depressed.

Down the drain: If something goes down the drain, especially money or work, it is wasted or produces no results.

Down the hatch: This idiom can be said before drinking alcohol in company.

Down the pan: If something has gone down the pan, it has failed or been ruined.

Down the tubes: If something has gone down the tubes, it has failed or been ruined.

Down to the wire: (USA) If something goes down to the wire, like a competition, then it goes to the very last moment before it is clear who has won.

Down-to-earth: Someone who's down-to-earth is practical and realistic. It can also be used for things like ideas.

Drag your feet: If someone is dragging their feet, they are taking too long to do or finish something, usually because they don't want to do it.

Drag your heels: If you drag your heels, you either delay doing something or do it as slowly as possible because you don't want to do it.

Draw a blank: If you try to find something out and draw a blank, you don't get any useful information.

Draw a line in the sand: If you draw a line in the sand, you establish a limit beyond which things will be unacceptable.

Draw a long bow: If someone draws a long bow, they lie or exaggerate.

Draw the line: When you draw the line, you set out limits of what you find acceptable, beyond which you will not go.

Draw the shortest straw: If someone draws the shortest straw, they lose or are chosen to do something unpleasant.

Dress someone down: If you dress someone down, you scold them.

Dress to kill: When someone is dressed to kill, they are dressed very smartly.

Dressed to the nines: If you are in your very best clothes, you're dressed to the nines.

Drink like a fish: If someone drinks like a fish, they drink far too much alcohol.

Drive a wedge: If you drive a wedge between people, you exploit an issue so that people start to disagree.

Drive home: The idiomatic expression 'drive home' means 'reinforce' as in 'The company offered unlimited technical support as a way to drive home the message that customer satisfaction was its highest priority.'

Drive someone up the wall: If something or someone drives you up the wall, they do something that irritates you greatly.

Drive you spare: If someone or something drives you spare, it is extremely annoying.

Driven by a motor: This is used to describe people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder when they talk excessively: 'they act as if driven by a motor.'

Drop a bombshell: If someone drops a bombshell, they announce something that changes a situation drastically and unexpectedly.

Drop in the bucket: (USA) A drop in the bucket is something so small that it won't make any noticeable difference.

Drop in the ocean: A drop in the ocean implies that something will have little effect because it is small and mostly insignificant.

Drop like flies: This means that something is disappearing very quickly. For example, if you said people were dropping like flies, it would mean that they were dying off, quitting or giving up something rapidly.

Drop someone a line: If you drop someone a line, you send a letter to them.

Drop the ball: If someone drops the ball, they are not doing their job or taking their responsibilities seriously enough and let something go wrong.

Drown your sorrows: If someone gets drunk or drinks a lot to try to stop feeling unhappy, they drown their sorrows.

Drunk as a lord: (UK) someone who is very drunk is as drunk as a lord.

Dry as a bone: If your lawn is as dry as a bone, the soil is completely dry.

Dry run: A dry run is a full rehearsal or trial exercise of something to see how it will work before it is launched.

Dry spell: If something or someone is having a dry spell, they aren't being as successful as they normally are.

Duck soup: (USA) If something is duck soup, it is very easy.

Duck to water: If you take to something like a duck to water, you find when you start that you have a natural affinity for it.

Ducks in a row: (USA) If you have your ducks in a row, you are well-organized.

Dull as ditchwater: (UK) If something is as dull as ditchwater, it is incredibly boring. A ditch is a long narrow hole or trench dug to contain water, which is normally a dark, dirty color and stagnant (when water turns a funny color and starts to smell bad). (In American English,’ things are 'dull as dishwater'.)

Dunkirk spirit: (UK) Dunkirk spirit is when people pull together to get through a very difficult time.

Dutch auction: If something is sold by setting a price, then reducing it until someone buys it, it is sold in a Dutch auction. It can also mean that something is changed until it is accepted by everyone.

Dutch courage: Dutch courage is the reckless bravery caused by drinking too much.

Dutch treat: If something like a meal is a Dutch treat, then each person pays their own share of the bill.

Dutch uncle: A Dutch uncle is a person who gives unwelcome advice.

Dutch wife: A Dutch wife is a long pillow or a hot water bottle.

Dwell on the past: Thinking too much about the past, so that it becomes a problem is to dwell on the past.

Dyed-in-the-wool: If someone is a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of a political party, etc, they support them totally, without any questions.

Idioms and Phrases Index

From Idioms and Phrases to HOME PAGE

Additional Info