Popular Expressions Used in the U.S.
packed in like sardines: to be very crowded (sardines often come in a small can).
The concert was fun, but there were so many people we were packed in like sardines.
(a) pain in the neck: a problem; something that causes a concern.
Rick’s car gives him trouble at least once a month. It’s a pain in the neck to get it fixed all the time.
pandora’s box: a situation that gets out of control soon after it begins.
The state of Californial might open a Pandora’s box if it ever legalizes the use of marijuana for all of its citizens.
par for the course: okay; a normal result; expectations are met.
The amount of money our company made last month was about par for the course. The results for the same month last year were good, too.
(the) party’s over: a good situation is finished; someting good comes to an end.
The real estate market in the United States was pretty good until about 2008. Now the party’s over.
pass away: die
Our neighbor passed away a few months ago.
(Note: This is a polite way of saying that someone has died.)
pass the buck: to give responsibility to someone else; to unfairly transfer work to someone else.
Everyone says that the governor of our state wants to pass the buck to the next governor rather than take care of some important problems right now.
pass the hat: ask for money from people; collect money because someone has died, is sick, needs help, etc.
Leroy’s son is really sick, so we passed the hat around the office to help collect money for hospital bills.
pass with flying colors: to do well on a test or examination.
He passed his English test with flying colors.
pay someone a compliment: to say something nice about a person.
Roger paid Niki a compliment upon seeing some pictures she had taken by a professional photographer.
"Wow, these are great pictures of you!"
pay through the nose: to pay a lot of money for something.
Jeff is going to have to pay through the nose to get his car fixed. There goes his paycheck!
pay one’s own way: a person makes his or her own money in order to advance through school or through society.
She’s trying to pay her own way through college by waiting on tables.
penny wise and pound foolish: smart when saving small amounts of money but this may result in a loss of a large amount of money.
He saves money by eating a diet of potatoes and rice, but a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables might cause him to experience physical illness later. Sometimes eating cheap food is a penny wise and pound foolish strategy.
(a) person of color: a person who is African American (or black), Latino, Indian, Asian; non-white.
People of color are doing much better in the United States now than they did before the 1960s when the Civil Rights Act was finally passed.
(the) pick of the litter: the opportunity to make the first choice from among many in a group; first pick
There were a lot of beautiful girls at that party, and Bruce could have had the pick of the litter because he’s a good-looking guy, but he already has a girlfriend, so he went home alone.
(a) picture is worth a thousand words: visual communication in the form of a picture or a photo is often easier to understand.
This website provides a lot of pictures with the definitions because a picture is worth a thousand words.
piece of cake: easy; not difficult.
That English test we took today was a piece of cake.
(a) piece of the action: to participate in something–making money, sexual activity, war.
They’re happy to finally get a piece of the action soon.
pinch pennies: save money in small amounts; to be careful with one’s money.
After pinching pennies for several years, he was able to save over $100,000.
(as) plain as the nose on your face: something is obvious; easy to see.
Destroying natural habitats for birds and animals is wrong. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.
play it by ear: to do something without practice; to adapt solutions quickly.
He doesn’t have any experience taking care of a baby. He’ll just have to play it by ear.
play fast and loose with the facts: to lie; to say something that isn’t really true in order to gain an advantage.
He plays fast and loose with the facts, so most people are suspicious of what he has to say.
play into the hands of someone: to behave in a manner that someone else expects; to do something according to another person’s plans.
If Carol goes to Orlando with Bill this weekend, she’ll be playing right into his hands.
play it safe: to be cautious; to make a careful decision.
It’s a good idea to play it safe and always wear a seatbelt when you are in a car.
(a) play on words: to choose and use words to produce more than one meaning; play with the langugage.
A dog wears a coat and pants.
The word "pants" is a play on words. There are two meanings for "pant."
1. pants: clothing worn to cover the legs.
2. pant: the heavy breathing of a dog. Dogs cool themselves by panting.
play the market: to buy and sell stocks.
Dick got rich very quickly by playing the market in the 1990s.
play with fire: to do something that’s risky or dangerous.
If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.
politically correct (P.C.): wording that avoids offending someone who belongs to a minority group.
That "Blind Person" sign doesn’t seeem to be very politically correct. It should say "Visually Impaired Person."
pop the question: to propose marriage.
He popped the question to his girlfriend last night and she agreed to marry him.
(the) powers that be: the people who are in decision-making positions; managers, supervisors, owners, political leaders, government officials.
Whether or not the employees of the company lose their jobs will be left up to the powers that be.
practice what you preach: to do the things or not do the things that a person recommends; to follow one’s own advice.
Edgar tells other people that gambling is evil, but he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He goes to Las Vegas to gamble at least two or three times a year.
preach to the converted: to make a point to those who already believe; to debate an issue in front of people who agree with the speaker.
She enjoys her job as a minister, but preaching to the converted is a little too easy.
(a) pretty penny: a lot of money
The vacation we went on last month cost us a pretty penny.
(the) proof is in the pudding: the evidence for the truth is in the final result;
Edwin claims that his barbeque chicken is the best. The proof will be in the pudding.
proud as a peacock: very proud and happy about onself; full of pride.
Sarah was as proud as a peacock when she first got her new car. Now that it’s a few months old, she doesn’t care about it as much.
pull a fast one: to try to cheat someone; to trick or fool another person.
The guy who sold me his condo pulled a fast one. A lot of the appliances don’t work and there are a few leaks in the ceiling.
pull out all the stops: do everything possible; to use all of your resources to accomplish a goal.
Her family is pulling out all the stops to make sure that she has a successful wedding.
pull someone’s leg: to lie to someone; to play a joke.
Jerry told me that a nail will dissolve in a bottle of Coca-Cola if it’s in there over night, but I think he’s just pulling my leg.
pull the rug out from under someone: withdraw support; to stop helping a person which results in problems.
When Joe lost his job, it felt like someone pulled the rug out from under him.
pull the wool over someone’s eyes: to fool someone; to deceive.
If you try to pull the wool over Daryl’s eyes, he’s going to be really mad.
pump iron: lift weights to increase strength.
Ted pumps iron to increase the size of his biceps.
push the envelope: test the limits of what is possible.
It’s in the nature of human beings to push the envelope with science and technology.
push the panic button: to overreact to a situation; to repond to quickly to a potentially bad situation.
Don’t push the panic button just yet. We’ll figure out how to take care of this problem.
put all of one’s eggs in one basket: to put all of your money, resources, effort in one place.
It’s not a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket when investing money. It’s much better to spread your money out among stocks, real estate, and mutual funds.
put money on it: bet money; gamble on a result.
A: If you think you’re such a great pool player, how about putting some money on this game?
B: No, I don’t like to gamble.
put one’s best foot forward: to try very hard to do something well.
When Marvin begins the new school year in September, he’s going to put his best food forward.
put our heads together: to work with other people to find a solution to a problem.
If they put their heads together, they should be able to figure out what to do.
put someone in one’s place: to say something to a person which makes him or her feel bad; to remind a person of his or her status.
The sargeant put the young private in his place after he made an inappropriate comment.
put the fear of God into someone: to cause someone to fear death, sometimes related to one’s bad behavior.
put the lid on something: prevent information from spreading.
The U.S. government tried to put the lid on military activities inside Afghanistan, but eventually journalists found out what was really happening and the American public found out soon after that.
a yellow box with a blue lid
put something to good use: to use something properly.
After years of refusing to wear a helmet while on his bike, he has finally decided to put one to good use.
put two and two together: to understand something by looking at the facts.
put yourself in another person’s shoes: to see another person’s point of view; to try to understand another person from his or her perspective.
Students sometimes get angry at the teacher who is just trying to do his job. They should try to put themselves in his shoes.