Know Your English, Volume 1 (Second Edition)
S Upendran
120 x 180 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Universities Press

This is the first of our four-volume series based on Know Your English, the popular weekly column published in The Hindu since 1982. Teachers, students and those who are keen on honing their speaking and writing skills will find the series useful. This enlarged and updated second edition contains a selection of 570 idioms. Each entry gives the meaning of the idiom, provides examples of its use and, wherever possible, traces its origins.

S Upendran was a Professor in the Department of Materials Development at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He has been writing the column, Know Your English, since 1992. The selections in this book are from those that featured between 1992 and 2018.

A lick and a promise
Above boar
Achilles’ heel
Across the boar
Adam’s ale
Adam’s apple
Add insult to injury
Albatross around the neck
All ears
All thumbs
Always a bridesmaid and never a bride
American dream
(the) Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
Apple of discord
Apple of one’s eye
Apple-pie order
Argus-eyed, 12
Armchair critic, 13
Arms of Morpheus, 14
Ask for the moon, 14
Asleep at the switch, 14
At the helm, 15
Axe to grind, 16
Back to square one
Bad egg
Badger someone
Baker’s dozen
Bald as a coot
Banana republic
Band-aid solution
Bark up the wrong tree
Barkis is willing
Bat an eyelid
Be on one’s high horse
Be-all and end-all
Beat around the bush
Beck and call
Bells and whistles
Belly up
Best (greatest) thing since sliced bread
Better half
Between Scylla and Charybdis
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
Beyond his ken
Beyond the pale
Big Apple
Big fish in a small pond
Bite the bullet
Bite the dust
Bite your tongue
Bitter end
Blaze a trail
Blow one’s own trumpet/horn
Blue blood
Blue-eyed boy/girl
Bolt from the blue
Bone of contention
Boot is on the other foot
Born in the purple
Born with a silver spoon in the mouth
Boxing Day
Bread and butter
Bread-and-butter letter
Break a leg
Break the ice
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
Bring home the bacon
Brown noser
Bull in a china shop
Bum’s rush
Burn one’s boats
Burn the candle at both ends
Burn the midnight oil
Bury the hatchet
Bury your head in the sand
Busman’s holiday
Buttonhole someone
(in) Cahoots with
Call a spade a spade
Call the shots
Called on the carpet
Can’t hold a candle to someone
Can’t see the wood for the trees
Canary in a coal mine
Carrot and stick approach
Carry coals to Newcastle
Catch a few rays
Catch as catch can
Cat’s whiskers
Caught in the crossfire
Chalk and cheese
Chasing rainbows
Cheek by jowl
Chew the fat
Chickens have come home to roost
Chink in the armour
Chip off the old block
Chip off one’s shoulder
Chips are down
Chomp at the bit
Clarion call
Clean bill of health
Cleanse the Augean stables
Closed book
(on) Cloud nine
(in) Clover
Cock a snook at
Cock-and-bull story
Cold feet
Cold storage
Cook someone’s goose
Cost an arm and a leg
Cross the bridge when you come to it
Cross the Rubicon
Curate’s egg
Curl one’s hair
Curry favour
Cut a caper
Cut and dried
Cut and run
Cut loose
Cut no ice
Cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face
Cut to the quick/bone
Cut your eye teeth on something
Damp squib
Dark horse
Davy Jones’s locker
Dead in the water
Deep pockets
Devil’s advocate
Ding-dong battle
Dog days
Dog in the manger
Dog’s breakfast
Done and dusted
Donkey’s years
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
Dot the i’s and cross the t’s
Doubting Thomas
Draw first blood
Dress (up) to the nines
Drink like a fish
Drop like a hot potato
Drop of a hat
Dry as dust
Dry run
Dutch act/cure
Dutch courage
Dyed in the wool
Ear to the ground
Ears are burning
Eat crow
Eat humble pie
Eat out of one’s hand
Egg on one’s face
Elephant in the room
Err on the side of caution
Even Homer nods/Homer sometimes nods
Everything but the kitchen sink
Excuse/Pardon my French
Eyes in the back of the head
Face in the crowd
Face the music
Fag end
Fall like ninepins
Fall on stony ground
Faustian bargain
Feather in one’s cap
Feeling blue
Fifth column
Final nail in the coffin
Find one’s feet
Fine-tooth comb
Firing on all cylinders
Fish in troubled waters
Fits and starts
Flog a dead horse
Flotsam and jetsam
Fly-by-night operators
Fly off the handle
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
Foot the bill
Get down to brass tacks
Get in someone’s hair
Get it in the neck
Get on the soapbox
Get one’s head out of the clouds
Get someone’s goat
Get the walking papers
Get to the bottom of something
Get up on the wrong side of the bed
Get wind of something
Get your act together
Ghost walks
Give a dog a bad/ill name and hang him
Give someone an even break
Give someone the bird
Give someone the cold shoulder
Give someone the runaround
Give someone the third degree
Give your eye teeth for something
Go bananas
Go fly a kite
Go in one ear and out the other
Go off the deep end
Go south
Go to pot
Go to someone’s head
Go/Come under the hammer
Good as it gets
Greased lightning
Green room
Green with envy
Grinning like a Cheshire cat
Grow on someone
Hair of the dog that bit someone
Hammer and tongs
Hand in glove
Handsome is as handsome does
Hang up one’s boots
Hangdog expression
Happy as a clam
Hard to swallow
Hat trick
Hats off to someone
Haul someone over the coals
Have a field day
Have/Got the runs
He who pays the piper calls the tune
High and dry
Hightail it
Hit below the belt
Hit the ground running
Hit the sack/hay
Hobson’s choice
Hoist with one’s own petard
Home away from home
Homeric laughter
Hook, line and sinker
(by) Hook or by crook
Horns of a dilemma
Horse sense
Horses for courses
Hot on the heels of
Hot potato
Hot under the collar
I’m a Dutchman
Icing on the cake
In Dutch
In one’s crosshairs
In one’s good books
In the doghouse
In the doldrums
In the groove
In the swim
In the wake of something
Inside track
Iron out the wrinkles
Jack Robinson
Joined at the hip
Joker in the pack
Kangaroo court
Keep a straight face
Keep a tight/short leash on someone
Keep it under your hat
Keep one’s chin up
Keep one’s eyes peeled
Keep one’s fingers crossed
Keep tabs on someone
Keep under wraps
Keep your powder dry
Keep your shirt on
Kick the bucket
Kitchen cabinet
Knee high to a grasshopper
Knee-jerk response/reaction
Knock the socks off
Know one’s onions
Know which side the bread is buttered
Last but not least
Laugh up your sleeve
Lay someone out in lavender
Lead someone down/up the garden path
Learn the ropes
Leave no stone unturned
Leave someone cold
Leave someone holding the bag
Left-handed compliment
Left holding the baby
Let one’s hair down
Let someone cool their heels
Let the cat out of the bag
Let the chips fall where they may
Let the grass grow under one’s feet
Level best
Lick into shape
Like a cat on a hot tin roof
Like pulling teeth
Line one’s pockets
Lion’s share
Live high off the hog
Live the life of Riley
Live up to its billing
Lock horns with
Long face
Long in the tooth
Look like death warmed over
Look like something the cat dragged in
Look the other way
Loose cannon
Lose face
Lost in the shuffle
Lotus eater
Love me, love my dog
Make a good fist of something
Make a practice of
Make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
Make a splash
Make heavy weather of something
Make no bones about it
Make one’s hair stand on end
Make sheep eyes at
Make the fur fly
Make waves
Man Friday
Many a slip between the cup and the lip
Millstone around one’s neck
Mind your p’s and q’s
Molotov cocktail
Monday morning blues
Monkey business
Monkey’s allowance
Month of Sundays
More fun than a barrel of monkeys
More than one way to skin a cat
Much of a muchness
Murder someone in cold blood
Naked truth
Neck and crop
Neck and neck
Nine days’ wonder
Nip and tuck
No love lost between them
Nook and cranny
Nose in the air
Not care a hoot
Not enough room to swing a cat
Not to put too fine a point on it
Nuts and bolts
Off the cuff
Old chestnut
On the back burner
On the wagon
Once bitten twice shy
Once in a blue moon
One swallow does not make a summer
One-trick pony
Open a can of worms
Out of kilter
Out of my hair
Out of sorts
Paddle one’s own canoe
Paint the town red
Pandora’s box
Paper tiger
Par for the course
Pass the buck
Pay through one’s nose
Peeping Tom
Pencil in
Pete’s sake
Pie in the sky
Pillar to post
Pin money
Pink of health
Pink slip
Pipe dream
Plain sailing
Play into someone’s hands
Play it by ear
Play possum
Play second fiddle
Playing both ends against the middle
Playing to the gallery
Pleased as Punch
Plough a lonely/lone furrow
Plume oneself on something
Pound of flesh
Preach to the choir/converted
Pretty penny
Proof of the pudding is in the eating
Pull out all the stops
Pull someone’s chestnuts out of the fire
Pull someone’s leg
Pull the wool over someone’s eyes
Pull up one’s socks
Purple patch
Push comes to shove
Put a sock in it
Put out to pasture/grass
Put up your dukes
Put your foot in your mouth
Put your money where your mouth is
Put your thinking cap on
Pyrrhic victory
Rain cats and dogs
Raise the bar
Raising Cain
Rap on the knuckles
Read the riot act
Reading between the lines
Red faced
Red herring
Red-letter day
Red tape
Rhyme or reason
Ride one’s hobbyhorse
Riding roughshod over someone
Ringside view/seat
Roll out the red carpet
Roll up one’s sleeves
Rub of the green
Rule of thumb
Rule the roost
Run the gauntlet
Run with the hare and hunt with the hounds
Sail under false colours
Salad days
Saved by the bell
Scarce as hen’s teeth
Scrimp and save
Seamy side of life
Seed money
Separate the sheep from the goats
Set the ball rolling
Set/Put the cat among the pigeons
Set the Thames on fire
Shake/Show a leg
Shape up or ship out
Sheet anchor
Shoot from the hip
Short shrift
Shot in the arm
Shot in the dark
Shot your bolt
Sing for one’s supper
Sink one’s teeth into something
Sit below the salt
Sit on one’s hands
(at) Sixes and sevens
Skeleton in the cupboard/closet
Skin of one’s teeth
Sleep tight
Smell blood
Smoke and mirrors
Snake in the grass
Son of a gun
Spick and span
Square meal
Stalking horse
Stand and deliver
Staring down the barrel
Steal a march on
Steal someone’s thunder
Storm in a teacup
Stormy petrel
Straw in the wind
(the) Straw that broke the camel’s back
Strong-arm tactic
Swan song
Swear like a trooper
Sweat like a pig
Sweep under the carpet
Sword of Damocles
(the) Tail wagging the dog
Take a hike
Take a leaf out of someone’s book
Take potshots at someone/something
Take/Bring someone down a peg or two
Take something with a grain of salt
Take the mickey out of someone
Take the wind out of one’s sails
Take up the cudgels for someone
Takes two to tango
Talk nineteen to the dozen
Talk shop
Talk through one’s hat
Talk to the hand
Testing the waters/water
The devil is in the details
The end justifies the means
Thereby/Therein hangs a tale
Thick and fast
Thick of things
Think on one’s feet
Third degree
Three-dog night
Three-ring circus
Three sheets in the wind
Throw in the sponge/towel
Throw the baby out with the bathwater
Throw the book at someone
Throw/Toss the hat into the ring
Till the cows come home
Till the fat lady sings
Tilt at windmills
Tip of the iceberg
Tip one’s hand
Toe the line
Tongue in cheek
Too clever by half
(have) Too much on my plate
Tooth and nail
Touch wood
(to) Treat someone with kid gloves
Turn a Nelson’s eye
Turn turtle
Twiddle one’s thumbs
Uncharted waters
Uncle Sam
Under a cloud
Under the weather
Up/Raise the ante
(be) Up to par
Up to snuff
Up with the larks
Upset the apple cart
Upstage someone
Wait on someone hand and foot
Waiting in the wings
Wake up and smell the coffee
Walk a thin line
Walk in the park
Walking papers
Wash dirty linen in public
Waste not, want not
Watch grass grow
Water off a duck’s back
Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve
(to be) Well-heeled
Well-versed in
Wet behind the ears/Not dry behind the ears
Wet blanket
Wet one’s whistle
Whale of a time
What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander
What/Who the dickens
Whipping boy
Whistle in the dark
Whistle-stop tour
White Paper
Who is going to bell the cat?
Whole nine yards
Win hands down
Win your spurs
Win-win situation
Window dressing
Wing and a prayer
Wing it
Wither on the vine
Work one’s fingers to the bone
Work like a Trojan
(the) Worm has turned
Writing/Handwriting is on the wall
Wrong end of the stick
Yellow journalism

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