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Idioms starting with letter S

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.

  • suspense. (Also with have. See the examples.)
    --- Please tell me now. Don’t keep me on tenterhooks any longer!
    Now that we have her on tenterhooks, shall we let her worry, or shall we tell her?
  • sacred cow
    something that is regarded by some people with such respect and veneration that they don’t like it being criticized by anyone in any way. (From the fact that the cow is regarded as sacred in India.)
    University education is a sacred cow in the Smith family. Fred is regarded as a failure because he left school at sixteen.
    Don’t talk about eating meat to Pam. Vegetarianism is one of her sacred cows.
  • safe and sound
    safe and whole or healthy.
    It was a rough trip, but we got there safe and sound.
    I’m glad to see you here safe and sound.
  • sail through something
    to finish something quickly and easily. (Informal.)
    The test was not difficult. I sailed through it.
    Bob sailed through his homework in a short amount of time.
  • sail under false colours
    to pretend to be something that one is not. (Originally nautical, referring to a pirate ship disguised as a merchant ship.)
    John has been sailing under false colours. He’s really a spy.
    I thought you were wearing that uniform because you worked here. You are sailing under false colours.
  • salt of the earth
    the most worthy of people; a very good or worthy person. (A biblical reference.)
    Mrs. Jones is the salt of the earth. She is the first to help anyone in trouble.
    Frank’s mother is the salt of the earth. She has five children of her own and yet fosters three others.
  • same old story
    something that occurs or has occurred in the same way often.
    Jim’s got no money. It’s the same old story. He’s spent it all on clothing.
    The firm are getting rid of staff. It’s the same old story—a shortage of orders.
  • saved by the bell
    rescued from a difficult or dangerous situation just in time by something which brings the situation to a sudden end. (From the sounding of a bell marking the end of a round in a boxing match.)
    James didn’t know the answer to the question, but he was saved by the bell when the teacher was called away from the room.
    I couldn’t think of anything to say to the woman at the busstop, but I was saved by the bell by my bus arriving.
  • save one’s breath
    to refrain from talking, explaining, or arguing. (Informal.)
    There is no sense in trying to convince her. Save your breath.
    Tell her to save her breath. He won’t listen to her.
  • save someone’s skin
    to save someone from injury, embarrassment, or punishment. (Informal.)
    I saved my skin by getting the job done on time.
    Thanks for saving my skin. If you hadn’t given me an alibi, the police would have arrested me.
  • save something for a rainy day
    to reserve something—usually money—for some future need. (Save something can be replaced with put something aside, hold something back, keep something, etc.)
    I’ve saved a little money for a rainy day.
    Keep some sweets for a rainy day.
  • say something under one’s breath
    to say something so softly that hardly anyone can hear it.
    John was saying something under his breath, and I don’t think it was very pleasant.
    I’m glad he said it under his breath. If he had said it out loud, it would have caused an argument.
  • say the word to give a signal
    to begin; to say yes or okay as a signal to begin. (Informal.)
    I’m ready to start anytime you say the word.
    We’ll all shout “Happy birthday!” when I say the word.
  • scare someone stiff
    to scare someone severely; to make someone very frightened.
    That loud noise scared me stiff.
    The robber jumped out and scared us stiff.
  • scrape the bottom of the barrel
    to select from among the worst; to choose from what is left over.
    You’ve bought a dreadful old car. You really scraped the bottom of the barrel to get that one.
    The worker you sent over was the worst I’ve ever seen. Send me another—and don’t scrape the bottom of the barrel.
  • scratch someone’s back
    to do a favour for someone in return for a favour done for you. (Informal.)
    You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.
    We believe that the manager has been scratching the treasurer’s back.
  • scratch the surface
    just to begin to find out about something; to examine only the superficial aspects of something.
    The investigation of the firm’s books showed some inaccuracies. It is thought that the investigators have just scratched the surface.
    We don’t know how bad the problem is. We’ve only scratched the surface.
  • screw up one’s courage
    to get one’s courage together; to force oneself to be brave.
    I suppose I have to screw up my courage and go to the dentist.
    I spent all morning screwing up my courage to take my driver’s test.
  • scrimp and save
    to be very thrifty; to live on very little money, often to save up for something.
    We had to scrimp and save to send the children to college.
    The Smiths scrimp and save all year to go on a foreign holiday.
  • second nature to someone
    easy and natural for someone.
    Being polite is second nature to Jane.
    Driving is no problem for Bob. It’s second nature to him.
  • second to none
    better than anyone or anything else.
    This is an excellent car—second to none.
    Mary is an excellent teacher—second to none.
  • see double
    to see two of everything instead of one.
    When I was driving, I saw two people on the road instead of one. I’m seeing double. There’s something wrong with my eyes.
    Mike thought he was seeing double when he saw Mary with her sister. He didn’t know she had a twin.
  • see eye to eye (about something) and see eye to eye (on something)
    to view something in the same way (as someone else). (Usually negative.)
    John and Ann never see eye to eye about anything. They always disagree.
    James and Jean rarely see eye to eye either.
  • seeing is believing one must believe something that one sees.
    --- I never would have thought that a cow could swim, but seeing is believing.
    I can hardly believe we are in Paris, but there’s the Eiffel Tower, and seeing is believing.
  • see red
    to be angry. (Informal.)
    Whenever I think of the needless destruction of trees, I see red.
    Bill really saw red when the tax bill arrived.
  • see someone home
    to accompany someone home.
    Bill agreed to see his aunt home after the film.
    You don’t need to see me home. It’s perfectly safe, and I can get there on my own.
  • see something with half an eye
    to see or understand very easily.
    You could see with half an eye that the children were very tired.
    Anyone could see with half an eye that the work was badly done.
  • see stars
    to see flashing lights after receiving a blow to the head.
    I saw stars when I bumped my head on the attic ceiling.
    The little boy saw stars when he fell head first on to the concrete.
  • see the light
    to understand something clearly at last.
    After a lot of studying and asking many questions, I finally saw the light.
    I know that geometry is difficult. Keep working at it. You’ll see the light pretty soon.
  • see the light at the end of the tunnel
    to foresee an end to one’s problems after a long period of time.
    I had been horribly ill for two months before I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
    We were in debt for years, but then we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • see the light of day
    [for something] to be finished or produced. (Often negative.)
    The product will never see the light of day.
    His inventions will never see the light of day. They are too impractical.
  • see the writing on the wall
    to know that something unpleasant or disastrous is certain to happen. (From a biblical reference.)
    If you don’t improve your performance, they’ll sack you. Can’t you see the writing on the wall?
    Jack saw the writing on the wall when the firm reduced his salary.
  • sell someone a pup
    to cheat someone by selling the person something that is inferior or worthless. (Informal.)
    Jack sold me a pup when I bought a bike from him. It broke down in two days.
    The salesman sold Jane a pup when he persuaded her to buy the second-hand washing-machine. Water pours out of it.
  • sell someone or something short
    to underestimate someone or something; to fail to see the good qualities of someone or something.
    This is a very good restaurant. Don’t sell it short.
    When you say that John isn’t interested in music, you’re selling him short. Did you know he plays the violin quite well?
  • send someone or something up
    to ridicule or make fun of someone or something; to satirize someone or something. (Informal.)
    John is always sending Jane up by mocking the way she walks.
    The drama group sent their lecturers up.
  • send someone packing
    to send someone away; to dismiss someone, possibly rudely. (Informal.)
    I couldn’t stand him any more, so I sent him packing.
    The maid proved to be so incompetent that I had to send her packing.
  • send someone to Coventry
    to refuse to speak to or associate with someone or a group of people as a punishment.
    The other children sent Tom to Coventry for telling tales to the teacher.
    Fred was sent to Coventry by his fellow workers for breaking the strike.
  • separate the men from the boys and sort the men from the boys
    to separate the competent ones from those who are less competent; to separate the brave or strong ones from those who are less brave or strong.
    This is the kind of task that sorts the men from the boys.
    This project is very complex. It’ll separate the men from the boys.
  • separate the sheep from the goats
    to divide people into two groups in order to distinguish the good from the bad, etc.
    Working in a place like this really separates the sheep from the goats.
    We can’t go on with the game until we separate the sheep from the goats.
  • separate the wheat from the chaff
    to separate what is of value from what is useless.
    Could you have a look at this furniture and separate the wheat from the chaff?
    The difficult exam will separate the wheat from the chaff among the pupils.
  • serve as a guinea pig
    [for someone or something] to be experimented on.
    Try it on someone else! I don’t want to serve as a guinea pig!
    Jane agreed to serve as a guinea pig. She’ll be the one to try out the new flavour of icecream.
  • serve notice
    to announce something.
    John served notice that he was leaving the company.
    I’m serving notice that I’ll resign as secretary next month.
  • set foot somewhere
    to go or enter somewhere. (Often in the negative.)
    If I were you, I wouldn’t set foot in that town.
    I wouldn’t set foot in her house! Not after the way she spoke to me.
  • set great store by someone or something
    to have positive expectations for someone or something; to have high hopes for someone or something.
    I set great store by my computer and its ability to help me in my work.
    We set great store by John because of his quick mind.
  • set one back on one’s heels
    to surprise, shock, or overwhelm someone.
    Her sudden announcement set us all back on our heels.
    The manager scolded me, and that really set me back on my heels.
  • set someone’s teeth on edge 1.
    [for a sour or bitter taste] to irritate one’s mouth.
    Have you ever eaten a lemon? It’ll set your teeth on edge.
    Vinegar sets my teeth on edge. 2. [for a person or a noise] to be irritating or get on one’s nerves.
    Please don’t scrape your finger-nails on the blackboard! It sets my teeth on edge!
    Here comes Bob. He’s so annoying. He really sets my teeth on edge.
  • set someone straight
    to explain something to someone.
    I don’t think you understand about taxation. Let me set you straight.
    Ann was confused, so I set her straight.
  • set the record straight
    to put right a mistake or misunderstanding; to make sure that an account, etc., is correct.
    The manager thought Jean was to blame, but she soon set the record straight.
    Jane’s mother heard that Tom is a married man, but he set the record straight. He’s divorced.
  • set the table and lay the table
    to place plates, glasses, napkins, etc., on the table before a meal.
    Jane, would you please lay the table?
    I’m tired of setting the table. Ask someone else to do it.
  • set the world on fire
    to do exciting things that bring fame and glory. (Frequently negative.)
    I’m not very ambitious. I don’t want to set the world on fire.
    You don’t have to set the world on fire. Just do a good job.
  • set upon someone or something
    to attack someone or something violently.
    The dogs set upon the bear and chased it up a tree.
    Bill set upon Tom and struck him hard in the face.
  • set up shop somewhere
    to establish one’s place of work somewhere. (Informal.)
    Mary set up shop in a small office building in Oak Street.
    The police officer said, “You can’t set up shop right here on the pavement!”
  • shades of someone or something
    reminders of someone or something; reminiscent of someone or something.
    When I met Jim’s mother, I thought “shades of Aunt Mary.”
    “Shades of school,” said Jack as the university lecturer rebuked him for being late.
  • shaggy-dog
    story a kind of funny story which relies for its humour on its length and its sudden ridiculous ending.
    Don’t let John tell a shaggy-dog story. It’ll go on for hours.
    Mary didn’t get the point of Fred’s shaggy-dog story.
  • shake in one’s shoes and quake in one’s shoes
    to be afraid; to shake from fear.
    I was shaking in my shoes because I had to go and see the manager.
    Stop quaking in your shoes, Bob. I’m not going to sack you.
  • share and share alike
    with equal shares.
    I kept five and gave the other five to Mary—share and share alike.
    The two room-mates agreed that they would divide expenses—share and share alike.
  • sharp practice
    dishonest or illegal methods or behaviour.
    I’m sure that Jim’s firm was guilty of sharp practice in getting that export order.
    The Smith brothers accused their competitors of sharp practice, but they couldn’t prove it.
  • shift one’s ground
    to change one’s opinions or arguments, often without being challenged or opposed.
    At first Jack and I were on opposite sides, but he suddenly shifted his ground and started agreeing with me.
    Jim has very fixed views. You won’t find him shifting his ground.
  • shipshape (and Bristol fashion)
    in good order; neat and tidy. (A nautical term. Bristol was a major British port.)
    You had better get this room shipshape before your mother gets home.
    Mr. Jones always keeps his garden shipshape and Bristol fashion.
  • ships that pass in the night
    people who meet each other briefly by chance and are unlikely to meet again.
    Mary would have liked to see Jim again, but to him, they were ships that passed in the night.
    When you travel a lot on business, your encounters are just so many ships that pass in the night.
  • shirk one’s duty
    to neglect one’s job or task.
    The guard was sacked for shirking his duty.
    You cannot expect to continue shirking your duty without someone noticing.
  • short and sweet
    brief (and pleasant because of briefness).
    That was a good sermon—short and sweet.
    I don’t care what you say, as long as you keep it short and sweet.
  • shot across the bows
    something acting as a warning. (A naval term.)
    The student was sent a letter warning him to attend lectures, but he ignored the shot across the bows.
    Fred’s solicitor sent Bob a letter as a shot across the bows to get him to pay the money he owed Fred.
  • shot-gun wedding
    a forced wedding. (Informal. From the bride’s father having threatened the bridegroom with a shot-gun to force him to marry.)
    Mary was six months pregnant when she married Bill. It was a real shot-gun wedding.
    Bob would never have married Jane if she hadn’t been pregnant. Jane’s father saw to it that there was a shot-gun wedding.
  • shot in the arm
    a boost; something that gives someone energy. (Informal.)
    Thank you for cheering me up. Your visit was a real shot in the arm.
    Your friendly greeting card was just what I needed—a real shot in the arm.
  • shot in the dark
    a random or wild guess or try. (Informal.)
    I don’t know how I guessed the right answer. It was just a shot in the dark.
    I was lucky to take on such a good worker as Sally. When I employed her, it was just a shot in the dark.
  • show of hands
    a vote expressed by people raising their hands.
    We were asked to vote for the candidates for captain by a show of hands.
    Jack wanted us to vote on paper, not by a show of hands, so that we could have a secret ballot.
  • show oneself in one’s true colours
    to show what one is really like or what one is really thinking.
    Jane always pretends to be sweet and gentle, but she showed herself in her true colours when she lost the match.
    Mary’s drunken husband didn’t show himself in his true colours until after they were married.
  • show one’s hand
    to reveal one’s intentions to someone. (From card-games.)
    I don’t know whether Jim’s intending to marry Jane or not. He’s not one to show his hand.
    If you want to get a rise, don’t show the boss your hand too soon.
  • show one’s paces
    to show what one can do; to demonstrate one’s abilities. (From horses demonstrating their skill and speed.)
    The runners had to show their paces for a place in the relay team.
    All the singers had to show their paces to be selected for the choir.
  • show one’s teeth
    to act in an angry or threatening manner.
    We thought Bob was meek and mild, but he really showed his teeth when Jack insulted his girlfriend.
    The enemy forces didn’t expect the country they invaded to show its teeth.
  • show the flag
    to be present at a gathering just so that the organization to which one belongs will be represented, or just to show others that one has attended. (From a ship flying its country’s flag.)
    The firm wants all the salesmen to attend the international conference in order to show the flag.
    As many as possible of the family should attend the wedding. We must show the flag.
  • show the white feather
    to reveal fear or cowardice. (From the fact that a white tail-feather was a sign of inferior breeding in a fighting cock.)
    Jim showed the white feather by refusing to fight with Jack.
    The enemy army showed the white feather by running away.
  • shut up shop
    to stop working or operating, for the day or forever. (Informal.)
    It’s five o’clock. Time to shut up shop.
    I can’t make any money in this town. The time has come to shut up shop and move to another town.
  • signed, sealed, and delivered
    formally and officially signed; [for a formal document to be] executed. (Informal.)
    Here is the deed to the property—signed, sealed, and delivered.
    I can’t begin work on this project until I have the contract signed, sealed, and delivered.
  • sign one’s own death-warrant
    to do something that will lead to one’s ruin, downfall, or death. (As if one were signing a paper which called for one’s own death.)
    I wouldn’t ever gamble a large sum of money. That would be signing my own death-warrant.
    The killer signed his own death-warrant when he walked into the police station and gave himself up.
  • silly season
    the time of year, usually in the summer, when there is a lack of important news, and newspapers contain articles about unimportant or trivial things instead.
    It must be the silly season. There’s a story here about peculiarly shaped potatoes.
    There’s a piece on the front page about people with big feet. Talk about the silly season.
  • sing someone’s praises
    to praise someone highly and enthusiastically.
    The boss is singing the praises of his new secretary.
    The theatre critics are singing the praises of the young actor.
  • sink or swim
    fail or succeed.
    After I’ve studied and learned all I can, I have to take the test and sink or swim.
    It’s too late to help John now. It’s sink or swim for him.
  • sink our differences
    to forget or to agree to set aside disagreements of opinion, attitude, etc. (Also with their or your, as in the examples.)
    We decided to sink our differences and try to be friends for Mary’s sake.
    Individual members of the team must sink their differences and work for the success of the team.
    You two must sink your differences, or your marriage will fail.
  • sit at someone’s feet
    to admire someone greatly; to be influenced by someone’s teaching; to be taught by someone.
    Jack sat at the feet of Picasso when he was studying in Europe.
    Tom would love to sit at the feet of the musician Yehudi Menuhin.
  • sit (idly) by
    to remain inactive when other people are doing something; to ignore a situation which calls for help.
    Bob sat idly by even though everyone else was hard at work.
    I can’t sit by while all those people need food.
  • sit on one’s hands
    to do nothing; to fail to help.
    When we needed help from Mary, she just sat on her hands.
    We need the co-operation of everyone. You can’t sit on your hands!
  • sitting on a powder keg
    in a risky or explosive situation; in a situation where something serious or dangerous may happen at any time.
    Things are very tense at work. The whole office is sitting on a powder keg.
    The fire at the oilfield seems to be under control for now, but all the workers there are sitting on a powder keg.
    Wow, I feel on top of the world.
    Since he got a new job, he’s on top of the world.
    I’ve been sitting on top of the world all week because I passed my exams.
  • sitting pretty
    living in comfort or luxury; in a good situation. (Informal.)
    My uncle died and left enough money for me to be sitting pretty for the rest of my life.
    Now that I have a good job, I’m sitting pretty.
  • six of one and half a dozen of the other
    about the same one way or another.
    It doesn’t matter to me which way you do it. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.
    What difference does it make? They’re both the same—six of one and half a dozen of the other.
  • sixth sense
    a supposed power to know or feel things that are not perceptible by the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
    My sixth sense told me to avoid going home by my usual route. Later I discovered there had been a fatal accident on it.
    Meg’s sixth sense told her not to trust Tom, even though he seemed honest enough.
  • skate over something
    to pass lightly over something, trying to avoid drawing attention or avoid taking something into consideration.
    Sally prefers to skate over her reasons for leaving her job.
    Meg skated over the reason for her quarrel with Dick.
    If you try that you’ll really be on thin ice. That’s too risky.
    You’re skating on thin ice if you criticize the lecturer. He has a hot temper.
  • skeleton in the cupboard
    a hidden and shocking secret. (Often in the plural.)
    You can ask anyone about how reliable I am. I don’t mind. I don’t have any skeletons in the cupboard.
    My uncle was in jail for a day once. That’s our family’s only skeleton in the cupboard.
  • slate something
    to criticize something severely.
    The critics slated the place.
    The teacher slated the pupil’s performance.
  • slice of the cake
    a share of something.
    There’s not much work around and so everyone must get a slice of the cake.
    The firm makes huge profits, and the workers want a slice of the cake.
  • slip of the tongue
    an error in speaking where a word is pronounced incorrectly, or where something is said which the speaker did not mean to say.
    I didn’t mean to tell her that. It was a slip of the tongue.
    I failed to understand the instructions because the speaker made a slip of the tongue at an important point.
  • small hours
    the hours immediately after midnight.
    The dance went on to the small hours.
    Jim goes to bed in the small hours and gets up at lunch-time.
  • smell of the lamp
    [for a book] to show signs of being revised and researched carefully and to lack spontaneity.
    I preferred her earlier spontaneous novels. The later ones smell of the lamp.
    The student has done a lot of research, but has few original ideas. His essay smells of the lamp.
  • snake in the grass
    a low and deceitful person.
    Sally said that Bob couldn’t be trusted because he was a snake in the grass.
    “You snake in the grass!” cried Sally. “You cheated me.”
  • something sticks in one’s craw
    something bothers one.
    Her criticism stuck in my craw.
    I knew that everything I said would stick in his craw and upset him.
  • speak of the devil
    said when someone whose name has just been mentioned appears or is heard from.
    Well, speak of the devil! Hello, Tom. We were just talking about you.
    I had just mentioned Sally when—speak of the devil—she walked in the door.
  • speak one’s mind
    to say frankly what one thinks (about something).
    Please let me speak my mind, and then you can do whatever you wish.
    You can always depend on John to speak his mind. He’ll let you know what he really thinks.
  • speak out of turn
    to say something unwise or imprudent; to say something at the wrong time.
    Excuse me if I’m speaking out of turn, but what you are proposing is quite wrong.
    What Bob said about the boss was true, even though he was speaking out of turn.
  • speak the same language
    [for people] to have similar ideas, tastes, etc.
    Jane and Jack get along very well. They really speak the same language about almost everything.
    Bob and his father don’t speak the same language when it comes to politics.
  • spend a penny
    to urinate. (Informal. From the former cost of admission to the cubicles in public lavatories.)
    Stop the car. The little girl needs to spend a penny.
    The station toilets are closed and I have to spend a penny.
  • spick and span
    very clean. (Informal.)
    I have to clean up the house and get it spick and span for the party on Friday night.
    I love to have everything around me spick and span.
  • spike someone’s guns
    to spoil someone’s plans; to make it impossible for someone to carry out a course of action. (From driving a metal spike into the touch-hole of an enemy gun to render it useless.)
    The boss was going to sack Sally publicly, but she spiked his guns by resigning.
    Jack intended borrowing his father’s car when he was away, but his father spiked his guns by locking it in the garage.
  • splash out on something
    to spend a lot of money on something in an extravagant way. (Informal.)
    Jack splashed out on a new car that he couldn’t afford.
    Let’s splash out on a really good meal out.
  • split hairs
    to quibble; to try to make petty distinctions.
    They don’t have any serious differences. They are just splitting hairs.
    Don’t waste time splitting hairs. Accept it the way it is.
  • split the difference
    to divide the difference (with someone else).
    You want to sell for £120, and I want to buy for £100. Let’s split the difference and close the deal at £110.
    I don’t want to split the difference. I want £120.
  • spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar
    to risk ruining something valuable by not buying something relatively inexpensive but essential for it. (Ha’porth is a halfpenny’s worth. From the use of tar to make boats watertight.)
    Meg spent a lot of money on a new dress but refused to buy shoes. She certainly spoilt the ship for a ha’porth of tar.
    Bob bought a new car but doesn’t get it serviced because it’s too expensive. He’ll spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar.
  • spoon-feed
    to treat someone with too much care or help; to teach someone with methods that are too easy and do not stimulate the learner to independent thinking.
    The teacher spoon-feeds the pupils by dictation notes on the novel instead of getting the children to read the books themselves.
    You mustn’t spoon-feed the new recruits by telling them what to do all the time. They must use their initiative.
  • sporting chance
    a reasonably good chance.
    If you hurry, you have a sporting chance of catching the bus.
    The firm has only a sporting chance of getting the export order.
  • spot on
    exactly right or accurate. (Informal.)
    Jack’s assessment of the state of the firm was spot on.
    Mary’s description of the stolen car was spot on.
  • spread oneself too thin
    to do too many things, so that one can do none of them well.
    It’s a good idea to get involved in a lot of activities, but don’t spread yourself too thin.
    I’m too busy these days. I’m afraid I’ve spread myself too thin.
  • square deal
    a fair and honest transaction; fair treatment. (Informal.)
    All the workers want is a square deal, but their boss underpays them.
    You always get a square deal with that travel firm.
  • square meal
    a nourishing, filling meal. (Informal.)
    All you’ve eaten today is junk food. You should sit down to a square meal.
    The tramp hadn’t had a square meal in weeks.
  • square peg in a round hole
    a misfit; one who is poorly adapted to one’s surroundings.
    John just can’t seem to get along with the people he works with. He’s just a square peg in a round hole.
    I’m not a square peg in a round hole. It’s just that no one understands me.
  • stack the cards (against someone or something)
    to arrange things against someone or something; to make it difficult for someone to succeed. (Informal. Originally from card-playing. Usually in the passive.)
    I can’t make any progress at my office. The cards are stacked against me.
    The cards seem to be stacked against me. I am having very bad luck.
  • stand a chance
    to have a chance.
    Do you think I stand a chance of winning first place?
    Everyone stands a chance of catching the disease.
  • stand corrected
    to admit that one has been wrong.
    I realize that I accused him wrongly. I stand corrected.
    We appreciate now that our conclusions were wrong. We stand corrected.
  • stand down
    to withdraw from a competition or a position.
    John has stood down from the election for president of the club.
    It is time our chairman stood down and made room for a younger person.
  • standing joke
    a subject that regularly and over a period of time causes amusement whenever it is mentioned.
    Uncle Jim’s driving was a standing joke. He used to drive incredibly slowly.
    Their mother’s inability to make a decision was a standing joke in the Smith family all their lives.
  • stand on ceremony
    to hold rigidly to formal manners. (Often in the negative.)
    Please help yourself to more. Don’t stand on ceremony.
    We are very informal around here. Hardly anyone stands on ceremony.
  • stand someone in good stead
    to be useful or beneficial to someone.
    This is a fine overcoat. I’m sure it’ll stand you in good stead for many years.
    I did the managing director a favour which I’m sure will stand me in good stead.
  • stand to reason
    to seem reasonable; [for a fact or conclusion] to survive careful or logical evaluation.
    It stands to reason that it’ll be colder in January than it is in June.
    It stands to reason that Bill left in a hurry, because he didn’t pack his clothes.
  • start (off) with a clean slate
    to start out again afresh; to ignore the past and start over again.
    James started off with a clean slate when he went to a new school.
    When Bob got out of jail, he started off with a clean slate.
  • start the ball rolling and get the ball rolling; set the ball rolling
    to start something; to get some process going; to get a discussion started.
    If I could just get the ball rolling, then other people would help.
    Jack started the ball rolling by asking for volunteers. also: keep the ball rolling
    Tom started the project, and we kept the ball rolling.
  • steal a march on someone
    to get some sort of an advantage over someone without being noticed.
    I got the contract because I was able to steal a march on my competitor.
    You have to be clever and fast to steal a march on anyone.
  • steal someone’s thunder
    to prevent someone from receiving the public recognition expected upon the announcement of an achievement, by making the announcement in public before the intended receiver of the recognition can do so.
    I stole Mary’s thunder by telling her friends about Mary’s engagement to Tom before she could do so herself.
    Someone stole my thunder by leaking my announcement to the press.
  • steal the show
    to give the best or most popular performance in a show, play, or some other event; to get attention for oneself.
    The lead in the play was very good, but the butler stole the show.
    Ann always tries to steal the show when she and I make a presentation.
  • step into dead men’s shoes and fill dead men’s shoes
    to take over the job or position of someone who has died; to gain an advantage by someone’s death.
    The only hope of promotion in that firm is to step into dead men’s shoes.
    Jack and Ben are both going out with rich widows. They hope to fill dead men’s shoes.
  • step in(to the breach)
    to move into a space or vacancy; to fulfil a needed role or function that has been left vacant.
    When Ann resigned as president, I stepped into the breach.
    A number of people asked me to step into the breach and take her place.
  • step on someone’s toes and tread on someone’s toes
    to interfere with or offend someone. (Also used literally. Note example with anyone.)
    When you’re in public office, you have to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes.
    Ann trod on someone’s toes during the last campaign and lost the election.
  • stew in one’s own juice
    to be left alone to suffer one’s anger or disappointment. (Informal.)
    John has such a terrible temper. When he got angry with us, we just let him go away and stew in his own juice.
    After John stewed in his own juice for a while, he decided to come back and apologize to us.
  • stick it out
    to put up with or endure a situation, however difficult. (Informal.)
    This job’s boring, but we’re sticking it out until we find something more interesting.
    I know the children are being annoying, but can you stick it out until their mother returns?
  • stick one’s neck out
    to take a risk. (Informal.)
    Why should I stick my neck out to do something for her? What’s she ever done for me?
    He made a risky investment. He stuck his neck out because he thought he could make some money.
  • stick to one’s guns
    to remain firm in one’s opinions and convictions; to stand up for one’s rights. (Informal.)
    I’ll stick to my guns on this matter. I’m sure I’m right.
    Bob can be persuaded to do it our way. He probably won’t stick to his guns on this point.
  • stir up a hornets’ nest
    to create trouble or difficulties.
    By finding pupils copying from each other, you’ve really stirred up a hornets’ nest.
    Bill stirred up a hornets’ nest when he discovered the theft.
  • storm in a teacup
    an uproar about something trivial or unimportant.
    This isn’t a serious problem—just a storm in a teacup.
    Even a storm in a teacup can take a lot of time to get settled.
  • straight away
    right away; immediately, without thinking or considering.
    We’ll have to go straight away.
    Straight away I knew something was wrong.
  • straight from the shoulder
    sincerely; frankly; holding nothing back.
    Sally always speaks straight from the shoulder. You never have to guess what she really means.
    Bill told the staff the financial facts— straight from the shoulder and brief.
  • straw in the wind
    an indication or sign of what might happen in the future.
    The student’s argument with the lecturer was a straw in the wind in terms of student-teacher relations. The students are planning a strike.
    Two or three people getting the sack represents just a straw in the wind. I think the whole work-force will have to go.
  • stretch one’s legs
    to walk around after sitting down or lying down for a time. (Informal.)
    We wanted to stretch our legs during the theatre interval.
    After sitting in the car all day, the travellers decided to stretch their legs.
  • strike a bargain
    to reach an agreement on a price (for something).
    They argued for a while and finally struck a bargain.
    They were unable to strike a bargain, so they left.
  • strike a chord
    to cause someone to remember [someone or something]; to remind someone of [someone or something]; to be familiar.
    The woman in the portrait struck a chord, and I realized that she was my grandmother.
    His name strikes a chord, but I don’t know why.
  • strike a happy medium
    to find a compromise position; to arrive at a position half-way between two unacceptable extremes.
    Ann likes very spicy food, but Bob doesn’t care for spicy food at all. We are trying to find a restaurant which strikes a happy medium.
    Tom is either very happy or very sad. He can’t seem to strike a happy medium.
  • strike the right note
    to achieve the desired effect; to do something suitable or pleasing. (A musical reference.)
    Meg struck the right note when she wore a dark suit to the interview.
    The politician’s speech failed to strike the right note with the crowd.
  • strike while the iron is hot
    to do something at the best possible time; to do something when the time is ripe.
    He was in a good mood, so I asked for a loan of £200. I thought I’d better strike while the iron was hot.
    Please go to the bank and settle this matter now! They are willing to be reasonable. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.
  • stuff and nonsense
    nonsense. (Informal.)
    Come on! Don’t give me all that stuff and nonsense!
    I don’t understand this book. It’s all stuff and nonsense as far as I am concerned.
  • stumbling-block
    something that prevents or obstructs progress.
    We’d like to buy that house, but the high price is the stumbling-block.
    Jim’s age is a stumbling-block to getting another job. He’s over sixty.
  • sugar the pill and sweeten the pill
    to make something unpleasant more pleasant. (From the sugar coating on some pills to disguise the bitter taste of the medicine.)
    Mary’s parents wouldn’t let her go out and tried to sugar the pill by inviting some of her friends around.
    Tom hated boarding-school and his parents tried to sweeten the pill by giving him a lot of pocket-money.
  • suit someone to a T and suit someone down to the ground
    to be very appropriate for someone.
    This kind of employment suits me to a T.
    This is Sally’s kind of house. It suits her down to the ground.
  • survival of the fittest
    the idea that the most able or fit will survive (while the less able and less fit will perish). (This is used literally as a part of the theory of evolution.)
    In college, it’s the survival of the fittest. You have to keep working in order to survive and graduate.
    I don’t look after my house-plants very well, but the ones I have are really flourishing. It’s the survival of the fittest, I suppose.
  • swallow one’s pride
    to forget one’s pride and accept something humiliating.
    I had to swallow my pride and admit that I was wrong.
    When you’re a pupil, you find yourself swallowing your pride quite often.
  • swallow something hook, line, and sinker
    to believe something completely. (Informal. These terms refer to fishing and fooling a fish into being caught.)
    I made up a story about why I was so late. They all swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
    I feel like a fool. I swallowed the trick hook, line, and sinker.
  • swan around
    to go around in an idle and irresponsible way. (Informal.)
    Mrs. Smith’s swanning around abroad while her husband’s in hospital here.
    Mary’s not looking for a job. She’s just swanning around visiting all her friends.
  • swan-song
    the last work or performance of a playwright, musician, actor, etc., before death or retirement.
    His portrayal of Lear was the actor’s swan-song.
    We didn’t know that her performance last night was the singer’s swan-song.
  • sweep something under the carpet and brush something under the carpet
    to try to hide something unpleasant, shameful, etc., from the attention of others.
    The boss said he couldn’t sweep the theft under the carpet, that he’d have to call in the police.
    The headmaster tried to brush the children’s truancy under the carpet, but the inspector wanted to investigate it.
  • swim against the tide
    to do the opposite of what everyone else does; to go against the trend.
    Bob tends to do what everybody else does. He isn’t likely to swim against the tide.
    Mary always swims against the tide. She’s a very contrary person.
20 January, 2021