Popular Expressions Used in the U.S.
call it a day: stop working; to decide to quit working and go home.
David called it a day and snuck out of the office a little after 3:00.
call someone’s bluff: to suspect that someone is lying and put that suspicion to a test. (This expression comes from the game of poker)
I think you’re lying, so I’m going to call your bluff.
can’t make heads or tails of something: unable to see something clearly; something is indistinguishable from something else.
The uniforms worn by the athletes on the field were so similar, we couldn’t make heads or tails of the players during the game.
can’t see the forest for the trees: you can’t see the entire forest because the trees are in the way. Something small prevents the view or understanding of something large.
Maritza gets too distracted by small problems at work. If she can’t see the forest for the trees, she’ll never get ahead in the company.
carrot and stick approach: a method of providing incentive for work; the carrot is a reward; the stick is a punishment.
The teacher uses a carrot and stick approach to make students turn work in on time.
carry the ball forward: take responsibility; take charge. (This is a sports metaphor.)
We need someone who is going to carry the ball forward and make sure this project gets finished.
cast in the same mold: made in the same way; resembling someone, usually a family member.
All the men in this family are cast in the same mold.
cast the first stone: to be quick to punish or criticize someone. (This is a biblical reference.)
Don’t be too quick to cast the first stone. She might have a good explanation for why the house is such a mess.
caught with (one’s) pants down: found in an embarrassing situation.
Vincent tried to steal money from his own company, but one day he was caught with his pants down and promptly lost his job. Later he was sent to jail.
change horses in midstream: make a change in the middle of a situation, sometimes a bad situation.
It’s not a good idea for our company to change horses in midstream with a new project manager. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of months with the guy who’s working for us now.
charity begins at home: Rather than give money to needy people you don’t know, it might be better to give the money to friends, family, or oneself.
(the) chickens come home to roost: a problem or a person has returned to place where the problem may have started.
If troubled young people don’t get a good education in preparation for the future, the chickens will surely come home to roost.
(a) chicken with its head cut off: when a live chicken has its head cut off, it runs around wildly for a brief time as if it were still alive because the nervous system is still active.
After losing her purse, she ran around like a chicken with its head cut off looking in all the stores and other places that she had visited that day.
chief cook and bottle washer: an owner of a business who does all the various jobs within his or her company.
As chief cook and bottle washer, Edmund doesn’t mind taking out the garbage at the restaurant that he owns.
chip off the old block: a son or a daughter who behaves in the same manner as a parent.
Matt could tell his son was a chip off the old block by the way the baby laughed and smiled.
chip on (one’s) shoulder: to feel insecure about a situation or oneself; to be in a defensive mood.
Because of all her tattoos, she has a big chip on her shoulder and thinks she’s discriminated against at work.
clean as a whistle: very clean.
The engine on this car is as clean as a whistle.
cleanliness is next to godliness: to be neat and clean is to be close to God.
Believing that cleanliness is next to godliness, Bruce makes sure that his apartment is spotless.
close but no cigar: very close, but not completely to the goal for a reward.
Wow! Close but no cigar. It looks like you lost the match.
(the) coast is clear: there’s no one around; it’s safe to make an escape.
If the coast is clear, try to leave your hotel room and meet me in the lobby.
come again?: What did you say? Repeat that, please.
Come again? I’m sorry, we have a bad connection. I can’t really hear what you said.
come in from the cold: return to a previous position; to come back.
David decided to come in from the cold after living in the mountains by himself for over ten years.
come out of nowhere: to suddenly appear; to make a surprise appearance.
Ted thought he was going to win the race, but suddenly John came out of nowhere and pulled ahead.
come out of the closet: to admit that one belongs to a group; often used when someone admits to being homosexual.
It’s a little easier now for a gay person to come out of the closet, but it still makes some people uncomfortable.
come to a screeching halt: to come to a quick stop.
Production of the machines came to a screeching halt when a manager found a defect causing safety concerns.
come with the territory: to be a natural or expected part or outcome of something.
Learning how to point and shoot a gun comes with the territory when you join the army.
cream of the crop: the best of something or a group. (crop = a plant grown for harvest, such as wheat.)
Only the cream of the crop will have an opportunity to attend school at Harvard.
cross someone’s path: to meet someone unexpectedly; to run into someone.
Earlier today I crossed the path of a teacher I had in high school. I saw her in the park and we talked for a few minutes.
cross that bridge when you come to it: to take care of a problem when it happens.
A: What will we do about retirement?
B: Well, we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
cry over spilled milk: to get upset about something relatively minor; to get upset about something that has already happened and can’t be changed.
There’s no need to cry over spilled milk. If you ripped your jacket, you can get it fixed.
curiosity killed the cat: curiosity will get someone in trouble; don’t be too curious about something.
cut off one’s nose to spite the face: to hurt oneself in order to get revenge or hurt another person.
You can cut off your nose to spite your face, but if you and Andrea don’t make up and settle your differences, you might lose a really great friend.
cut to the chase: to say what one really means; to get to the main point.
Please just cut to the chase! I don’t have time for a lot of empty rhetoric.