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Idioms starting with letter B

What are idioms?

Idioms are phrases or expressions which are commonly used in everyday conversation, mostly by native speakers of English. The meaning of the idioms might not be that straight forward for new English speaker, however having good command of it will certainly helps to make your English sound more fluent.

The metaphorical nature of idioms makes conversation more interesting and flows in certain situation. You've probably heard some of them even though you don't fully understand the words. Let us help you increase your idioms knowledge by browsing through our extensive collection of idioms alphabetically.

  • babe in arms
    an innocent or naive person. (Informal.)
    He’s a babe in arms when it comes to taking girls out.
    Mary has no idea how to fight the election. Politically, she’s a babe in arms.
  • back of beyond
    the most remote place; somewhere very remote. (Informal.)
    John hardly ever comes to the city. He lives at the back of beyond.
    Mary likes lively entertainment, but her husband likes to holiday in the back of beyond.
  • back to the drawing-board
    [it is] time to start over again; [it is] time to plan something over again, especially if it has gone wrong. (Also with old as in the examples.)
    The scheme didn’t work. Back to the drawing-board.
    I failed English this term. Well, back to the old drawing-board.
  • bag and baggage
    with one’s luggage; with all one’s possessions. (Informal.)
    Sally showed up at our door bag and baggage one Sunday morning.
    All right, if you won’t pay the rent, out with you, bag and baggage!
  • baptism of fire
    a first experience of something, usually something difficult or unpleasant.
    My son’s just had his first visit to the dentist. He stood up to the baptism of fire very well.
    Mary’s had her baptism of fire as a teacher. She had to take the worst class in the school.
  • beard the lion in his den
    to face an adversary on the adversary’s home ground.
    I went to the solicitor’s office to beard the lion in his den.
    He said he hadn’t wanted to come to my home, but it was better to beard the lion in his den.
  • beat about the bush
    to avoid answering a question or discussing a subject directly; to stall; to waste time.
    Let’s stop beating about the bush and discuss this matter.
    Stop beating about the bush and answer my question.
  • beat a (hasty) retreat
    to retreat or withdraw very quickly.
    We went out into the cold weather, but beat a retreat to the warmth of our fire.
    The cat beat a hasty retreat to its own garden when it saw the dog.
  • be a thorn in someone’s side
    to be a constant source of annoyance to someone.
    This problem is a thorn in my side. I wish I had a solution to it.
    John was a thorn in my side for years before I finally got rid of him.
  • bed of roses
    a situation or way of life that is always happy and comfortable.
    Living with Pat can’t be a bed of roses, but her husband is always smiling.
    Being the boss isn’t exactly a bed of roses. There are so many problems to sort out.
  • before you can say Jack Robinson
    almost immediately.
    And before you could say Jack Robinson, the bird flew away.
    I’ll catch a plane and be there before you can say Jack Robinson.
  • be getting on for something
    to be close to something; to be nearly at something, such as a time, date, age, etc. (Informal.)
    It’s getting on for midnight.
    He must be getting on for fifty.
  • beggar description
    to be impossible to describe well enough to give an accurate picture; to be impossible to do justice to in words.
    Her cruelty to her child beggars description.
    The soprano’s voice beggars description.
  • beg off
    to ask to be released from something; to refuse an invitation.
    I have an important meeting, so I’ll have to beg off.
    I wanted to go to the affair, but I had to beg off.
  • believe it or not
    to choose to believe something or not.
    Believe it or not, I just got home from work.
    I’m over fifty years old, believe it or not.
  • bend someone’s ear
    to talk to someone at length, perhaps annoyingly. (Informal.)
    Tom is over there bending Jane’s ear about something.
    I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bend your ear for an hour, but I’m upset.
  • be old hat
    to be old-fashioned; to be outmoded. (Informal.)
    That’s a silly idea. It’s old hat.
    Nobody does that any more. That’s just old hat.
  • be poles apart
    to be very different, especially in opinions or attitudes; to be far from coming to an agreement.
    Mr. and Mrs. Jones don’t get along well. They are poles apart.
    They’ll never sign the contract because they are poles apart.
  • best bib and tucker
    one’s best clothing. (Informal.)
    I always put on my best bib and tucker on Sundays.
    Put on your best bib and tucker, and let’s go to the city.
  • be thankful for small mercies
    to be grateful for any small benefits or advantages one has, especially in a generally difficult situation.
    We have very little money, but we must be grateful for small mercies. At least we have enough food.
    Bob was badly injured in the accident, but at least he’s still alive. Let’s be grateful for small mercies.
  • beyond one’s ken
    outside the extent of one’s knowledge or understanding.
    Why she married him is beyond our ken.
    His attitude to others is quite beyond my ken.
  • beyond the pale
    unacceptable; outlawed. (The Pale historically was the area of English government around Dublin. The people who lived outside this area were regarded as uncivilized.)
    Your behaviour is simply beyond the pale.
    Because of Tom’s rudeness, he’s considered beyond the pale and is never asked to parties any more.
  • beyond the shadow of a doubt and beyond any shadow of doubt
    completely without doubt. (Said of a fact, not a person.)
    We accepted her story as true beyond the shadow of a doubt.
    Please assure us that you are certain of the facts beyond any shadow of doubt.
  • beyond words
    more than one can say. (Especially with grateful and thankful.)
    Sally was thankful beyond words at being released.
    I don’t know how to thank you. I’m grateful beyond words.
  • bide one’s time
    to wait patiently.
    I’ve been biding my time for years, just waiting for a chance like this.
    He’s not the type to just sit there and bide his time. He wants some action.
  • bite someone’s head off
    to speak sharply and angrily to someone. (Informal.)
    There was no need to bite Mary’s head off just because she was five minutes late.
    The boss has been biting everybody’s head off since his wife left him.
  • bite the hand that feeds one
    to do harm to someone who does good things for you.
    I’m your mother! How can you bite the hand
  • bitter pill to swallow
    an unpleasant fact that has to be accepted.
    It was a bitter pill for her brother to swallow when she married his enemy.
    We found his deception a bitter pill to swallow.
  • black sheep (of the family)
    a member of a family or group who is unsatisfactory or not up to the standard of the rest; the worst member of the family.
    Mary is the black sheep of the family. She’s always in trouble with the police.
    The others are all in well-paid jobs, but John is unemployed. He’s the black sheep of the family.
  • blank cheque
    freedom or permission to act as one wishes or thinks necessary. (From a signed bank cheque with the amount left blank.)
    He’s been given a blank cheque with regard to reorganizing the workforce.
    The manager has been given no instructions about how to train the staff. He’s just been given a blank cheque.
  • blow hot and cold
    to be changeable or uncertain (about something). (Informal.)
    He keeps blowing hot and cold on the question of moving to the country.
    He blows hot and cold about this. I wish he’d make up his mind.
  • blow one’s own trumpet
    to boast; to praise oneself.
    Tom is always blowing his own trumpet. Is he really as good as he says he is?
    I find it hard to blow my own trumpet, so no one takes any notice of me.
  • blow the lid off (something)
    to reveal something, especially wrongdoing; to make wrongdoing public. (Informal.)
    The police blew the lid off the smuggling ring.
    The journalists blew the lid off the group’s illegal activities.
  • blow up in someone’s face
    [for something] suddenly to get ruined or destroyed while seeming to go well.
    All my plans blew up in my face when she broke off the engagement.
    It is terrible for your hopes of promotion to blow up in your face.
  • blue blood
    the blood [heredity] of a noble family; aristocratic ancestry.
    The earl refuses to allow anyone who is not of blue blood to marry his son.
    Although Mary’s family are poor, she has blue blood in her veins.
  • bone of contention
    the subject or point of an argument; an unsettled point of disagreement.
    We’ve fought for so long that we’ve forgotten what the bone of contention is.
    The question of a fence between the houses has become quite a bone of contention.
  • born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth
    born with many advantages; born to a wealthy family; born to have good fortune.
    Sally was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
    It never rains when he goes on holiday. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
  • bow and scrape
    to be very humble and subservient.
    Please don’t bow and scrape. We are all equal here.
    The shop assistant came in, bowing and scraping, and asked if he could help us.
  • Box and Cox
    two people who keep failing to meet. (Although they both sometimes go to the same place, they are never there at the same time. From characters in a nineteenth-century play, one of whom rented a room by day, the other the same room by night.)
    Since her husband started doing night-shifts, they are Box and Cox. She leaves for work in the morning before he gets home.
    The two teachers are Box and Cox. Mr. Smith takes class on Monday and Wednesday, and Mr. Brown on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • break new ground
    to begin to do something which no one else has done; to pioneer (in an enterprise).
    Dr. Anderson was breaking new ground in cancer research.
    They were breaking new ground in consumer electronics.
  • break one’s duck
    to have one’s first success at something. (From a cricketing expression meaning “to begin scoring.”)
    At last Jim’s broken his duck. He’s got a girl to go out with him.
    Jane has failed all her exams up until now, but she’s broken her duck by passing French.
  • break one’s word
    not to do what one said one would; not to keep one’s promise.
    Don’t say you’ll visit your grandmother if you can’t go. She hates for people to break their word.
    If you break your word, she won’t trust you again.
  • break someone’s fall
    to cushion a falling person; to lessen the impact of a falling person.
    When the little boy fell out of the window, the bushes broke his fall.
    The old lady slipped on the ice, but a snowbank broke her fall.
  • break someone’s heart
    to cause someone emotional pain.
    It just broke my heart when Tom ran away from home.
    Sally broke John’s heart when she refused to marry him.
  • break the ice
    to start social communication and conversation.
    Tom is so outgoing. He’s always the first one to break the ice at parties.
    It’s hard to break the ice at formal events.
  • break the news (to someone)
    to tell someone some important news, usually bad news.
    The doctor had to break the news to Jane about her husband’s cancer.
    I hope that the doctor broke the news gently.
  • breathe down someone’s neck
    to keep close watch on someone, causing worry and irritation; to watch someone’s activities, especially to try to hurry something along. (Informal. Refers to standing very close behind a person.)
    I can’t work with you breathing down my neck all the time. Go away.
    I will get through my life without your help. Stop breathing down my neck.
  • breathe one’s last
    to die; to breathe one’s last breath.
    Mrs. Smith breathed her last this morning.
    I’ll keep running every day until I breathe my last.
  • bring home the bacon
    to earn a salary. (Informal.)
    I’ve got to get to work if I’m going to bring home the bacon.
    Go out and get a job so you can bring home the bacon.
  • bring something home to someone
    to cause someone to realize the truth of something.
    Seeing the starving refugees on television really brings home the tragedy of their situation.
    It wasn’t until she failed her exam that the importance of studying was brought home to her.
  • bring something to a head
    to cause something to come to the point when a decision has to be made or action taken.
    The latest disagreement between management and the union has brought matters to a head. There will be an all-out strike now.
    It’s a relief that things have been brought to a head. The disputes have been going on for months.
  • bring something to light
    to make something known; to discover something.
    The scientists brought their findings to light.
    We must bring this new evidence to light.
  • bull in a china shop
    a very clumsy person around breakable things; a thoughtless or tactless person. (China is fine crockery.)
    Look at Bill, as awkward as a bull in a china shop.
    Get that big dog out of my garden. It’s like a bull in a china shop.
    Bob is so rude, a real bull in a china shop.
  • burn one’s boats and burn one’s bridges (behind one)
    to go so far in a course of action that one cannot turn back; to do something which makes it impossible to return to one’s former position.
    I don’t want to emigrate now, but I’ve rather burned my boats by giving up my job and selling my house.
    Mary would now like to marry Peter, but she burned her bridges behind her by breaking off the engagement.
  • burn the candle at both ends
    to exhaust oneself by doing too much, for example by working very hard during the day and also staying up very late at night.
    No wonder Mary is ill. She has been burning the candle at both ends for a long time.
    You can’t keep on burning the candle at both ends.
  • burn the midnight oil
    to stay up working, especially studying, late at night. (Refers to working by the light of an oil-lamp.)
    I have to go home and burn the midnight oil tonight.
    If you burn the midnight oil night after night, you’ll probably become ill.
  • bury the hatchet
    to stop fighting or arguing; to end old resentments.
    All right, you two. Calm down and bury the hatchet.
    I wish Mr. and Mrs. Franklin would bury the hatchet. They argue all the time.
  • bush telegraph
    the informal, usually rapid spreading of news or information by word of mouth.
    The bush telegraph tells me that the manager is leaving.
    How did John know that Kate was divorced? He must have heard it on the bush telegraph.
  • business end of something
    the part or end of something that actually does the work or carries out the procedure.
    Keep away from the business end of the electric drill in case you get hurt.
    Don’t point the business end of that gun at anyone. It might go off.
  • busman’s holiday
    leisure time spent doing something similar to what one does at work.
    Tutoring pupils in the evening is too much of a busman’s holiday for our English teacher.
    It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday to ask her to be wardrobe mistress for our amateur production in the summer. She’s a professional dressmaker.
  • buy a pig in a poke
    to purchase or accept something without having seen or examined it. (Poke means “bag.”)
    Buying a car without test driving it is like buying a pig in a poke.
    He bought a pig in a poke when he ordered a diamond ring by mail order.
  • buy something for a song
    to buy something cheaply.
    No one else wanted it, so I bought it for a song.
    I could buy this house for a song, because it’s so ugly.
  • by fits and starts
    irregularly; unevenly; with much stopping and starting. (Informal.)
    Somehow, they got the job done, by fits and starts.
    By fits and starts, the old car finally got us to town.
  • by leaps and bounds and in leaps and bounds
    rapidly; by large movements forward.
    Our garden is growing by leaps and bounds.
    The profits of my company are increasing in leaps and bounds.
  • by no means
    absolutely not; certainly not.
    I’m by no means angry with you.
    “Did you put this box here?” “By no means. I didn’t do it, I’m sure.”
  • by return post
    by a subsequent immediate posting (back to the sender). (A phrase indicating that an answer is expected soon, by mail.)
    Since this bill is overdue, would you kindly send us your cheque by return post?
    I answered your request by return post over a year ago. Please check your records.
  • by the same token
    in the same way; reciprocally.
    Tom must be good when he comes here, and, by the same token, I expect you to behave properly when you go to his house.
    The mayor votes for his friend’s causes. By the same token, the friend votes for the mayor’s causes.
  • by the seat of one’s pants
    by sheer luck and very little skill. (Informal. Especially with fly.)
    I got through school by the seat of my pants.
    The jungle pilot spent most of his days flying by the seat of his pants.
  • by the skin of one’s teeth
    just barely; by an amount equal to the thickness of the (imaginary) skin on one’s teeth. (Informal.)
    I got through that exam by the skin of my teeth.
    I got to the airport late and caught the plane by the skin of my teeth.
  • by the sweat of one’s brow
    by one’s efforts; by one’s hard work.
    Tom grew these vegetables by the sweat of his brow.
    Sally made her fortune by the sweat of her brow.
  • by virtue of something
    because of something; owing to something.
    She’s permitted to vote by virtue of her age.
    They are members of the club by virtue of their great wealth.
  • by word of mouth
    by speaking rather than writing.
    I learned about it by word of mouth.
    I need it in writing. I don’t trust things I hear about by word of mouth.
20 January, 2021