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 W.

Wag the dog: To 'wag the dog' means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue. The expression comes from the saying that 'a dog is smarter than its tail', but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would 'wag the dog'. The expression 'wag the dog' was elaborately used as theme of the movie. 'Wag the Dog', a 1997 film starring Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman, produced and directed by Barry Levinson.

Waiting in the wings: If someone is waiting in the wings, or in the wings, they are in the background, but nearby, ready to act on short notice.

Wake-up call: A wake-up call is a warning of a threat or a challenge, especially when it means that people will have to change their behavior to meet it.

Walk a fine line: If you have to walk a fine line, you have to be very careful not to annoy or anger people or groups that are competing. ('Walk a thin line' is an alternative.)

Walk a mile in my shoes: This idiom means that you should try to understand someone before criticizing them.

Walk a tightrope: If you walk a tightrope, you have to be very careful not to annoy or anger people who could become enemies.

Walk in the park: An undertaking that is easy is a walk in the park. The opposite is also true - "no walk in the park".

Walk on eggshells: If you have to walk on eggshells when with someone, you have to be very careful because they get angry or offended very easily.('Walk on eggs' is also used.)

Walk the green mile: Someone or something that is walking the green mile is heading towards the inevitable.

Walk the plank: If someone walks the plank, they are going toward their own destruction or downfall

Walking on air: If you are walking on air, you are so happy that you feel as if you could float.

Walking on broken glass: When a person is punished for something. e.g. 'She had me walking on broken glass.'

Wallflower: A woman politician given an unimportant government position so that the government can pretend it takes women seriously is a wallflower.

War chest: A war chest is a fund that can be used to finance a campaign like and election or for use in emergencies or unexpected times of difficulty.

War of words: A war of words is a bitter argument between people or organizations, etc.

Warm and fuzzy: Meaning the feeling evoked as though you were enclosed in a warm and fuzzy blanket.

Warm the cockles of your heart: If something warms the cockles of your heart, it makes you feel happy.

Warpath: If someone is on the warpath, they are very angry about something and will do anything to get things sorted the way they want.

Warts and all: If you like someone warts and all, you like them with all their faults.

Wash your hands of something: If you wash your hands of something, you disassociate yourself and accept no responsibility for what will happen.

Waste not, want not: If you don't waste things, you are less likely to end up lacking.

Waste of skin: If a person is referred to as a 'waste of skin', it means he is not worth very much.

Watch grass grow: If something is like watching grass grow, it is really boring.

Watch your six: (USA) This idiom means that you should look behind you for dangers coming that you can't see.

Watching paint dry: If something is like watching paint dry, it is really boring.

Water off a duck's back: If criticism or something similar is like water off a duck's back to somebody, they aren't affected by it in the slightest.

Water over the dam: (USA) If something has happened and cannot be changed, it is water over the dam.

Water under the bridge: If something belongs to the past and isn't important or troubling any more, it is water under the bridge.

Watering hole: (UK) A watering hole is a pub.

Watery grave: If someone has gone to a watery grave, they have drowned.

Weak at the knees: If people go weak at the knees, they have a powerful emotional reaction to something and feel that they might fall over.

Wear sackcloth and ashes: If someone displays their grief or contrition publicly, they wear sackcloth and ashes.

Wear your heart on your sleeve: Someone who wears their heart on their sleeve shows their emotions and feelings publicly.

Weather a storm: If you weather a storm, you get through a crisis or hard times.

Wedge politics: (USA) In wedge politics, one party uses an issue that they hope will divide members of a different party to create conflict and weaken it.

Weight off your shoulders: If something is a weight off your shoulders, you have relieved yourself of a burden, normally a something that has been troubling you or worrying you.

Well-heeled: Someone who is well-heeled is rich.

Well-oiled: If someone is well-oiled, they have drunk a lot.

Well-oiled machine: Something that functions very well is a well-oiled machine.

Were you born in a barn? : If someone asks you this, it means that you forgot to close the door when you came in.

Wet behind the ears: Someone who is wet behind the ears is either very young or inexperienced.

Wet blanket: A wet blanket is someone who tries to spoil other people's fun.

Wet your whistle: If you are thirsty and have an alcoholic drink, you wet your whistle. "Whet your whistle" is also used.

What can you expect from a hog but a grunt? : (USA) This means that you can't expect people to behave in a way that is not in their character- a 'hog' is a 'pig', so an unrefined person can't be expected to behave in a refined way.

What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? : This idiom is often used when someone says something irrelevant to the topic being discussed.

What goes around comes around: This saying means that of people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them.

What goes around, comes around: The good or bad you do to others is requited.

What will be will be: The expression what will be will be is used to describe the notion that fate will decide the outcome of a course of events, even if action is taken to try to alter it.

What's cooking? : When you ask what's cooking it means you want to know what's happening.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander: This idiom means that the sexes should be treated the same way and not be subjected to different standards.

What's up? : This can be used to ask 'What's wrong?' or 'How are you?'.

What's your poison? : This is a way of asking someone what they would like to drink, especially alcohol.

What's your take on that? : This idiom is way of asking someone for their opinion and ideas.

Whatever floats your boat: When people say this, they mean that you should do whatever makes you happy.

Wheels fall off: When the wheels fall off something, it goes wrong or fails. ('Wheels come off' is an alternative.)

When hell freezes over: An impossible or very unlikely situation or event

When in Rome, do as the Romans: This idiom means that when you are visiting a different place or culture, you should try to follow their customs and practices.

When it rains, it pours: This idiom means that when things go wrong, a lot of things go wrong at the same time.

When pigs fly: Meaning you will not get something when you want it or someone doesn't want something for you. say you are selling an item and some one doesn't want it. they might say 'I'll buy it when pigs fly'. it just means you will never get someone to say yes to you when you ask for something.

Where the rubber meets the road: (USA) Where the rubber meets the road is the most important point for something, the moment of truth. An athlete can train all day, but the race is where the rubber meets the road and they'll know how good they really are.

Where there's a will, there's a way: This idiom means that if people really want to do something, they will manage to find a way of doing it.

Where there's smoke, there's fire: When there is an indication or sign of something bad, usually the indication is correct.

Whet your appetite: If something whets your appetite, it interests you and makes you want more of it.

Which came first the chicken or the egg? : This idiomatic expression is used when it is not clear who or what caused something.

While the cat's away, the mouse will play: People whose behavior is strictly controlled go over the top when the authority is not around, which is why most teenagers have parties when their parents have gone on holiday. The parents are the scary authority figures, but the cat's away and the kids are the mice partying and enjoying their freedom.

Whistle for it: If someone says that you can whistle for something, they are determined to ensure that you don't get it.

Whistle-stop tour: A whistle-stop tour is when someone visits a number of places quickly, not stopping for long.

Whistling Dixie: (USA) If someone is whistling Dixie, they talk about things in a more positive way than the reality.

Whistling in the dark: If someone is whistling in the dark, they believe in a positive result, even though everybody else is sure it will not happen.

Whistling past the graveyard: (USA) If someone is whistling past the graveyard, they are trying to remain cheerful in difficult circumstances. ('Whistling past the cemetery' is also used.)

White as a sheet: A bad shock can make somebody go as white as a sheet.

White as snow: If something or someone is as white as snow, they are perfect or completely uncorrupted and honest.

White elephant: A white elephant is an expensive burden; something that costs far too much money to run, like the Millennium Dome in the UK.

White feather: If someone shows a white feather, they are cowards.

White lie: If you tell a white lie, you lie in order not to hurt someone's feelings.

White-bread: If something is white-bread, it is very ordinary, safe and boring.

Who wears the pants? : (USA) The person who wears the pants in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.

Who wears the trousers? : (UK) The person who wears the trousers in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.

Who will ring the bell? : 'Who will ring the bell?' asks who will assume the responsibility to help us out of a difficult situation.

Whole ball of wax: (USA) The whole ball of wax is everything.

Whole kit and caboodle: The whole kit and caboodle means 'everything' required or involved in something. ('Kaboodle' is an alternative spelling.)

Whole new ball game: If something's a whole new ball game, it is completely new or different.

Whole nine yards: The whole nine yards means everything that is necessary or required for something.

Whole shebang: The whole shebang includes every aspect of something.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free: This idiom is usually used to refer to men who don't want to get married, when they can get all the benefits of marriage without getting married.

Why keep a dog and bark yourself? : There's no need to do something yourself when you have somebody to do it for you, usually trivial matters.

Wide berth: If you give someone a wide berth, you keep yourself well away from them because they are dangerous.

Wide of the mark: If something is wide of the mark, it is inaccurate or incorrect.

Wild goose chase: A wild goose chase is a waste of time- time spent trying to do something unsuccessfully.

Will never fly: If an idea or project, etc, will never fly, it has no chance of succeeding.

Will-o'-the-wisp: Something that deceives by its appearance is a will-o’-the-wisp; it looks good, but turns out to be a disappointment.

Win by a nose: If somebody wins by a nose, they only just beat the others.

Window dressing: If something is done to pretend to be dealing with an issue or problem, rather than actually dealing with it, it is window dressing.

Window to the soul: Eyes are sometimes referred to as the window to the soul.

Wing and a prayer: If you do something on a wing and a prayer, you try to do something and hope you'll succeed even though you have very little chance of success.

Winner takes all: If everything goes to the winner, as in an election, the winner takes all.

Wipe the floor with: (UK) If you wipe the floor with someone, you destroy the arguments or defeat them easily.

Wipe the smile of someone's face: If you wipe the smile of someone's face, you do something to make someone feel less pleased with themselves.

With a heavy hand: If someone does something with a heavy hand, they do it in a strict way, exerting a lot of control.

With child: (UK) If a woman's with child, she's pregnant.

With flying colours (colors) : If you pass something with flying colours (colors), you pass easily, with a very high mark or grade.

Wither on the vine: If something withers on the vine, it fails to get the intended result, doesn't come to fruition.

Within a whisker: If you come within a whisker of doing something, you very nearly manage to do it but don’t succeed.

Without a hitch: If something happens without a hitch, nothing at all goes wrong.

Woe betide you: This is used to wish that bad things will happen to someone, usually because of their bad behavior.

Woe is me: This means that you are sad or in a difficult situation. It's archaic, but still used.

Wolf in sheep's clothing: A wolf in sheep's clothing is something dangerous that looks quite safe and innocent.

Wood for the trees: (UK) If someone can't see the wood for the trees, they get so caught up in small details that they fail to understand the bigger picture.

Word of mouth: If something becomes known by word of mouth, it is because people are talking about it, not through publicity, etc.

Word of the law: The word of the law means that the law is interpreted in an absolutely literal way which goes against the ideas that the lawmakers had wished to implement.

Words fail me: If words fail you, you can't find the words to express what you are trying to say.

Work like a dog: If you work like a dog, you work very hard.

Work your fingers to the bone: If you work your fingers to the bone, you work extremely hard on something.

Work your socks off: If you work your socks off, you work very hard.

Work your tail off: If you work your tail off, you work extremely hard.

World at your feet: If everything is going well and the future looks full of opportunity, you have the world at your feet.

World is your oyster: When the world is your oyster, you are getting everything you want from life.

Worm information: If you worm information out of somebody, you persuade them to tell you something they wanted to keep from you.

Worm's eye view: A worm's eye view of something is the view from below, either physically or socially.

Worse for wear: If something's worse for wear, it has been used for a long time and, consequently, isn't in very good condition. A person who's worse for wear is drunk or high on drugs and looking rough.

Worse things happen at sea: This idiomatic expression is used as a way of telling someone not to worry so much about their problems.

Worth a shot: If something is worth a shot, it is worth trying as there is some chance of success.

Worth your salt: Someone who is worth their salt deserves respect.

Wouldn't touch it with a bargepole: (UK) If you wouldn't touch something with a bargepole, you would not consider being involved under any circumstances. (In American English, people say they wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole)

Wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole: (USA) If you wouldn't touch something with a ten-foot pole, you would not consider being involved under any circumstances. (In British English, people say they wouldn't touch it with a bargepole)

Wrap yourself in the flag: If someone wraps themselves in the flag, they pretend to be doing something for patriotic reasons or out of loyalty, but their real motives are selfish. ('Drape yourself in the flag' is an alternative form of this idiom)

Wrench in the works: (USA) If someone puts or throws a wrench, or monkey wrench, in the works, they ruin a plan. In British English, 'spanner' is used instead of 'wrench'.

Writ large: If something is writ large, it is emphasized or highlighted.

Writing on the wall: If the writing's on the wall for something, it is doomed to fail.

Written all over your face: If someone has done something wrong or secret, but cannot hide it in their expression, it is written all over their face.

Wrong end of the stick: If someone has got the wrong end of the stick, they have misunderstood what someone has said to them.

Wrong foot: If you start something on the wrong foot, you start badly.

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