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.

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Here is the list of idioms beginning with

Labor of love: A labor of love is a project or task undertaking for the interest or pleasure in doing it rather than the reward, financial or otherwise.

Labour of love: A labour of love is a project or task undertaking for the interest or pleasure in doing it rather than the reward, financial or otherwise.

Lame duck: If something or someone is a lame duck, they are in trouble.

Land of nod: If someone has gone to the land of nod, they have fallen asleep or gone to bed.

Landslide victory: A landslide victory is a victory in an election by a very large margin.

Lap dog: A lap dog is a person who is eager to please another at the expense of his or her own needs in order to maintain a position of privilege or favor.

Lap of the gods: If something is in the lap of the gods, it is beyond our control and fate will decide the outcome.

Larger than life: If something is excessive or exaggerated, it is larger than life.

Last hurrah: If an elderly person does something special before they die, it is a last hurrah.

Last laugh: The person who has the last laugh ends up with the advantage in a situation after some setbacks.

Last straw: The last straw is the final problem that makes someone loses their temper or the problem that finally brought about the collapse of something. It comes from an Arabic story, where a camel was loaded with straw until a single straw placed on the rest of the load broke its back.

Last-ditch: A last-ditch attempt is a desperate attempt that will probably fail anyway.

Laugh a minute: Someone who is a laugh a minute is very funny.

Laugh to see a pudding crawl: (UK) someone who would laugh to see a pudding crawl is easily amused and will laugh at anything.

Laugh up your sleeve: If you laugh up your sleeve, you laugh at someone secretly.

Laughing stock: If someone becomes a laughing stock they do something so stupid or wrong that no one can take them seriously and people scorn and laugh at them.

Laughter is the best medicine: Laughing is often helpful for healing, especially emotional healing.

Law unto yourself: If somebody's a law unto themselves, they do what they believe is right regardless of what is generally accepted as correct.

Lay down the law: If someone lays down the law, they tell people what to do and are authoritarian.

Lead someone up the garden path: If someone leads you up the garden path, they deceive you, or give you false information that causes you to waste your time. 'Lead someone down the garden path' is also used.

Lead with the chin: If someone leads with their chin, they speak or behave without fear of the consequences.

Learn the ropes: If you are learning the ropes, you are learning how to do something.

Leave no stone unturned: If you look everywhere to find something, or try everything to achieve something, you leave no stone unturned.

Leave well alone: If you leave something well alone, you keep a safe distance from it, either physically or metaphorically.

Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing: If the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, then communication within a company, organization, group, etc, is so bad that people don't know what the others are doing.

Left in the dark: If you are left in the dark about something, you aren't given the information that you should have.

Left to your own devices: If someone is left to their own devices, they are not controlled and can do what they want.

Left-handed compliment: A left-handed compliment is one that sounds like praise but has an insulting meaning. ('Backhanded compliment' is an alternative form.)

Legend in your own lunchtime: Somebody who becomes a legend in their own lifetime acquires fame, but often only to a select or specialist audience, while they are still alive.

Lend an ear: If you lend an ear, you listen to what someone has to say. ('Lend your ear' is an alternative form.)

Leopard can't change its spots: This idiom means that people cannot change basic aspects of their character, especially negative ones. ("A leopard doesn't change its spots" is also used.)

Lesser of two evils: Something that is the lesser of two evils is an unpleasant option, but not as bad as the other.

Let alone: This is used to emphasize how extreme something could be: 'We hadn't got the money to phone home, let alone stay in a hotel.' This emphasizes the utter impossibility of staying in a hotel.

Let bygones be bygones: If people decide to let bygones be bygones, they decide to forget old problems or grievances they have with each other.

Let sleeping dogs lie: If someone is told to let sleeping dogs lie, it means that they shouldn't disturb a situation as it would result in trouble or complications.

Let the best be the enemy of the good: If the desire for an unattainable perfection stops someone from choosing good possibilities, they let the best be the enemy of the good.

Let the cat out of the bag: If you accidentally reveal a secret, you let the cat out of the bag.

Let the chips fall where they may: This means that we shouldn't try to control events, because destiny controls them.

Let the devil take the hindmost: This idiom means that you should think of yourself and not be concerned about other people; look after yourself and let the devil take the hindmost.

Let the genie out of the bottle: If people let the genie out of the bottle, they let something bad happen that cannot be put right or controlled.

Let the grass grow round your feet: If you let the grass grow round your feet, you delay doing things instead of taking action.

Let your hair down: If someone lets their hair down, they relax and stop feeling inhibited or shy.

Letter of the law: If people interpret laws and regulations strictly, ignoring the ideas behind them, they follow the letter of the law.

Level playing field: If there's a level playing field everybody is treated equally.

Lie like a rug: If someone lies like a rug, they lie to the point where it becomes obvious that they're lying.

Lie low: If someone lies low, they try not to be found or caught.

Lie through your teeth: Someone who is always lying, regardless of what people know, lies through their teeth.

Life and limb: When people risk life and limb, they could be killed or suffer serious injuries.

Life is just a bowl of cherries: This idiom means that life is simple and pleasant.

Light at the end of the tunnel: If you can see light at the end of the tunnel, then you can see some signs of hope in the future, though things are difficult at the moment.

Light bulb moment: A light bulb moment is when you have a sudden realization about something, like the light bulbs used to indicate an idea in cartoons.

Light on your feet: If someone is light on their feet, they can move quickly and are agile.

Light years ahead: If you are light years ahead of others, you are a long way in front of them in terms of development, success, etc.

Lightning rod: Someone or something that attracts a lot of negative comment, often diverting attention from other problems, is a lightning rod.

Like a bat out of hell: This expression means extremely quickly.

Like a beached whale: Once a whale is on a beach, it cannot get back into the easily, so if you are completely stuck somewhere and can't get away, you are stranded like a beached whale.

Like a bear with a sore head: (UK) If someone's like a bear with a sore head, they complain a lot and are unhappy about something.

Like a bull at a gate: If you tackle a job very quickly, without any real thought about what you are doing, you are going at it like a bull at a gate.

Like a cat on hot bricks: If someone is like a cat on hot bricks, they are very nervous or excited.

Like a cat that got the cream: If someone looks very pleased with themselves and happy, they look like a cat that got the cream.

Like a duck to water: If someone has a natural talent for something and enjoys it, they take to it like a duck to water.

Like a fish needs a bicycle: If someone needs something like a Fish Needs a Bicycle, they do not need it at all, originally a feminist slogan: A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

Like a fish out of water: If someone feels like a fish out of water, they are very uncomfortable in the situation they are in.

Like a hawk: If you watch something or someone like a hawk, you observe very closely and carefully.

Like a headless chicken: If someone rushes about like a headless chicken, they move very fast all over the place, usually without thinking.

Like a kid in a candy store: If someone is like a kid in a candy store, they are very excited about something.

Like a moth to a flame: Something that is like a moth to a flame is attracted to something that is deadly or dangerous.

Like a rat deserting a sinking ship: If people leave a company because they know that it's about to have serious problems, or turn their back on a person about to be in a similar situation, they are said to be like rats deserting a sinking ship.

Like Chinese arithmetic: If something is complicated and hard to understand, it's like Chinese arithmetic.

Like clockwork: If something happens like clockwork, it happens at very regular times or intervals.

Like father, like son: This idiom is used when different generations of a family behave in the same way or have the same talents of defects.

Like giving a donkey strawberries: (UK) If something is like giving a donkey strawberries, people fail to appreciate its value.

Like lambs to the slaughter: If somebody does something unpleasant without any resistance, they go like lambs to the slaughter.

Like no one's business: If I say my children are growing like no one's business, it means they're growing very quickly. See also 'Like the clappers' and 'Like there's no tomorrow'.

Like peas in a pod: If people or things are like peas in a pod, they look identical.

Like pulling teeth: If something if like pulling teeth, it is very difficult, especially if trying to extract information or to get a straight answer from someone.

Like taking candy from a baby: (USA) If something is like taking candy from a baby, it is very easy to do.

Like the back of your hand: If you know something like the back of your hand, you know it very well indeed.

Like the clappers: If something is going like the clappers, it is going very fast.

Like there's no tomorrow: If you do something like there's no tomorrow, you do it fast or energetically.

Like there's no tomorrow: If someone does something like there's no tomorrow, they do it to an extreme level.

Like two peas in a pod: Things that are like two peas in a pod are very similar or identical,

Like white on rice: (USA) If you do something like white on rice, you do it very closely: When Bob found out I had front row tickets for the concert, he stuck to me like white on rice.

Like wildfire: If something happens or spreads like wildfire, it happens very quickly and intensely.

Lily-livered: Someone who is lily-livered is a coward.

Lines of communication: Lines of communication are the routes used to communicate by people or groups who are in conflict; a government might open lines of communication with terrorists if it wished to negotiate with them.

Lion's share: The lion's share of something is the biggest or best part.

Lip service: When people pay lip service to something, they express their respect, but they don't act on their words, so the respect is hollow and empty.

Little pitchers have big ears: (USA) This means that children hear more and understand the world around them better than many adults realize.

Little strokes fell great oaks: Meaning: even though something may seem impossible, if you break it up into small parts and take one step at a time, you will succeed.

Live high off the hog: If you are living high off the hog, you are living lavishly.

Live wire: A person who is very active, both mentally and physically, is a live wire.

Lo and behold: This phrase is used to express surprise.

Loan shark: A loan shark lends money at very high rates of interest.

Lock horns: When people lock horns, they argue or fight about something.

Lock the stable door after the horse has bolted: If someone takes action too late, they do this; there is no reason to lock an empty stable.

Lock, stock and barrel: This is an expression that means 'everything'; if someone buys a company lock, stock and barrel, they buy absolutely everything to do with the company.

Long face: Someone with a long face is sad or depressed about something.

Long in the tooth: If someone is long in the tooth, they are a bit too old to do something.

Long shot: If something is a long shot, there is only a very small chance of success.

Long time no hear: The speaker could say this when they have not heard from a person, either through phone calls or emails for a long time.

Long time no see: 'Long time no see' means that the speaker has not seen that person for a long time.

Look after number 1: You are number one, so this idiom means that you should think about yourself first, rather than worrying about other people.

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves: (UK) If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves, meaning that if someone takes care not to waste small amounts of money, they will accumulate capital. ('Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves' is an alternative form of this idiom.)

Look before you leap: This idiom means that you should think carefully about the possible results or consequences before doing something.

Look on the bright side: If you look on the bright side, you try to see things in an optimistic way, especially when something has gone wrong.

Look out for number one: If you look out for number one, you take care of yourself and your interests, rather than those of other people.

Look what the cat dragged in: This idiom is used when someone arrives somewhere looking a mess or flustered and bothered.

Loose cannon: A person who is very difficult to control and unpredictable is a loose cannon.

Loose lips sink ships: To have loose lips means to have a big mouth, susceptible to talking about everything and everyone. Sinking ships refers to anything from small acquaintances to long and hearty relationships (with friends or a significant other). So when one says loose lips sink ships, one is basically saying if you can't shut up you are going to end hurting people, usually psychologically or emotionally. Loose lips sink ships comes from World War I and/or WWII, when sailors on leave from their ships might talk about what ship they sailed on or where it had come from, or where it was going. If they talked too much (had 'loose lips') they might accidentally provide the enemy with anecdotal information that might later cause their ship to be tracked, and bombed and sunk, hence 'Loose lips sink ships.' Later, it came to mean any excessive talk might sabotage a project.

Lord love a duck: An exclamation used when nothing else will fit. Often fitting when one is stunned or dismayed.

Lose the plot: If someone loses the plot, they have stopped being rational about something.

Lose your lunch: (UK) If you lose your lunch, you vomit.

Lose your marbles: If someone has lost their marbles, they've gone mad.

Lose your shirt: If someone loses their shirt, they lose all their money through a bad investment, gambling, etc.

Love is blind: If you love someone, it doesn't matter what they look like. You will also overlook faults.

Low-hanging fruit: Low-hanging fruit are things that are easily achieved.

Lower than a snake's belly: Someone or something that is lower than a snake's belly is of a very low moral standing.

Lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut: (USA) If someone or something is lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut, they are of low moral standing because a snake's belly is low and if the snake is in a wagon rut, it is really low.

Lower the bar: If people change the standards required to make things easier, they lower the bar.

Lower your sights: If you lower your sights, you accept something that is less than you were hoping for.

Luck of the draw: To have the 'Luck of the draw' is to win something in a competition where the winner is chosen purely by chance.

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