all thumbs

- clumsy, have difficulty fixing things or working with one’s hands

The janitor is all thumbs and can never fix things without making them worse.

arm and a leg

- pay a very high price for something that isn’t worth it

My father paid an arm and a leg for his car but he really enjoys driving it.

at hand

- easy to reach, nearby

I couldn’t find any tools near at hand so I was unable to fix the stove.

at/on one`s heels

- close behind, as a constant follower or companion

The large car was on my heels during my drive into town.

bite the hand that feeds one

- turn against or hurt a helper or supporter, repay kindness with wrong

My niece is biting the hand that feeds her if she keeps abusing the help that her parents are giving her.

burn one`s fingers

- learn caution through an umpleasant experience

My father burned his fingers on the stock market and doesn’t want to invest money there again.

cold feet

- a loss of courage or nerve

I planned to go to Europe with my cousin but he got cold feet and decided not to go.

cool one`s heels

- be forced to wait by someone in power or authority

I was forced to cool my heels in the lobby for an hour while I waited for the job interview.

cross one`s fingers

- cross two fingers of one hand to hope or wish for good luck

I crossed my fingers that I would be able to get the job that I had applied for.

dirty one`s hands

- hurt one’s character or good name, do a bad or shameful thing

The politician dirtied his hands when he became involved in the questionable land deals.

drag one`s feet/heels

- act slowly or reluctantly

Our company is dragging their feet in making a decision to hire new workers.

feet of clay

- a hidden fault or weakness in a respected person

The new Prime Minister has feet of clay and may not last very long in his new position.

feet on the ground

- an understanding of what can be done, sensible ideas

The new manager seems to have his feet on the ground and will probably be able to come up with a sensible solution to our problems.

get off on the wrong foot

- make a bad start, begin with a mistake

Unfortunately my relationship with my new teacher got off on the wrong foot.

get one`s feet wet

- begin, do something for the first time

We won’t have time to finish this job today but at least we can get our feet wet and start.

give one`s right arm

- give something of great value

I would give my right arm to be able to go to Florida with my friend next month.

give someone a hand

- help someone with something

I gave my friend a hand moving into his new apartment.

glad hand

- a friendly handshake, a warm greeting

The politician spent all day glad handing the crowd at the shopping center.

grease one`s palm

- pay a person for something done or given – especially dishonestly, bribe someone

We had to grease the palm of the customs agent at the border to get our goods into the country.

green thumb

- a talent for gardening, ability to make things grow

My sister’s husband has a green thumb and has a very beautiful garden.

hand over fist

- fast and in large amounts

We have been making money hand over fist in our new store.


- easy, unopposed

I won the election hands-down for the position of president of our class.

hands off

- leave something alone, do not interfere with something

I was told to take a hands-off approach while dealing with the new employees.


- depending on force rather than what is right, bossy

He took a high-handed approach to the negotiations and in the end he was not successful.

in hand

- under control

After several hours the riot police had the problems with the crowd in hand.

in hand

- in one’s possession

He arrived at the border crossing with thousands of dollars of cash in hand.

itching palm

- greed, a wish for money

The police officer had an itching palm and took much money from criminals before he was arrested.

keep one’s finger’s crossed

- wish for good luck

I will keep my fingers crossed that you are able to get the new job that you have applied for.

kick up one`s heels

- have a good time, celebrate

We kicked up our heels last night and had a great time at the party.

knock someone off their feet

- surprise or shock someone so much that they don’t know what to do

The singer’s voice was so beautiful that I was nearly knocked off my feet.

land on one’s feet

- come out of a bad situation successfully

I was able to land on my feet even though our company had recently gone bankrupt.

lay a finger on

- touch or bother someone

I was told not to lay a finger on the son of the boss when he comes to work for us.

lay one’s hands on

- get hold of, find, catch

If I can lay my hands on a barbecue I will barbecue some chicken for dinner.

let the grass grow under one`s feet

- be idle, be lazy, waste time

That man is never content to let the grass grow under his feet. He is always busy.

lift/raise a finger

- do something, do one’s share, help

Her daughter will never lift a finger to help anyone.

live from hand to mouth

- live on very little money

My friend has been living from hand to mouth since he lost his job.

near at hand

- easy to reach, nearby

If there is a grocery store near at hand I will buy some milk.

off one`s hands

- no longer in one’s care or possession

I would like to get my old refridgerator off my hands so that I can buy a new one.

one foot in the grave

- near death

The man next door is suffering from cancer and has one foot in the grave.

on hand

- nearby, available, ready, in one’s possession

We had some bread on hand so we made some sandwiches for the hiking trip.

on hand

- present

She is always on hand when we need someone to help us.

on one`s feet

- recovering, getting better from sickness or trouble

Our teacher was back on her feet shortly after she had her accident.

on one`s last legs

- failing, near the end

My car is on its last legs and I will soon have to buy a new one.

on one`s toes

- alert, ready to act

The speaker kept the audience on their toes by asking many interesting questions.

palm off

- sell or give something away by pretending it is something more valuable than it is, sell or give by trickery

I think that the man palmed off a television set that doesn’t work.

play into one`s hands

- be or do something that another person can use against one

If you become angry at his extreme actions it will only play into his hands.

pull one`s leg

- fool someone with a humorous account of something, trick someone

The man was pulling my leg when he told me that I would not be able to enter the movie theater after the movie had started.

put one’s fingers on something

- locate precisely, remember exactly

I was finally able to put my fingers on the problem and find someone to help me fix it.

put one’s foot down

- object strongly, take firm action

My sister finally put her foot down and stopped paying for the gas for her daughter’s car.

put one’s foot in one’s mouth

- say something that is the wrong thing to say in a situation

I put my foot in my mouth and said that I didn’t like fish just before my friends served fish at their dinner party.

raise a hand

- do something, do one’s share, help

I am a little angry at my friend as he didn’t raise a hand to help me clean up the mess in the kitchen.

shake a leg

- go fast, hurry

“Please try and shake a leg. We are already late for the concert.”

shoe is on the other foot

- opposite is true, places are changed

He always criticized me for being late for meetings but now the shoe is on the other foot and he is the one who is late and is being criticized.

shot in the arm

- something inspiring or encouraging

The latest opinion polls were a shot in the arm for the mayor’s campaign to become re-elected.

stand on one’s own two feet

- be independent

My sister needs to do something to make her daughter stand on her own two feet.

step/tread on one`s toes

- do something that embarasses or offends someone else

I don’t want to tread on my supervisor’s toes as he has not been in a good mood lately.

(have) sticky fingers

- the habit of stealing things

Everyone thinks that the new woman at work has sticky fingers as many things have been stolen recently.

sweep off one`s feet

- make someone have feelings of love or happiness too strong to control

The woman was swept off her feet when she met the young man at the party.

tail between one`s legs

- state of feeling beaten, ashamed, or very obedient, as after a scolding or a whipping

The salesman was forced to leave the office with his tail between his legs after he admitted telling a lie about his sales figures.

throw up one`s hands

- give up trying, admit that one cannot succeed

I threw up my hands in frustration when I was unable to complete the telephone call.

try one`s hand

- make an inexperienced attempt at something

I tried my hand at golf last summer but I didn’t really like it.

turn on one`s heel

- turn around suddenly

The dog suddenly turned on his heel and ran away.

turn thumbs down

- disapprove or reject, say no

The building committee turned thumbs down on our plans to make the office larger.

twiddle one`s thumbs

- do nothing, be idle

She has been twiddling her thumbs all year and is now unable to pass her courses at school.

twist/wrap someone around one`s little finger

- have complete control over

My sister has her boss wrapped around her little finger and she is able to do anything that she wants.

twist one`s arm

- force someone, threaten someone to make him do something

I had to twist my friend’s arm to get him to let me borrow his car.

under one`s thumb

- obedient to someone, controlled by someone

She has her husband under her thumb and never gives him any freedom at all.

up in arms

- very angry and wanting to fight, equipped with guns or weapons and ready to fight

The students were up in arms over the school’s plan to make them wear uniforms.

upper hand

- controlling power, advantage

The union had the upper hand in the negotiations with the company.

wait on hand and foot

- serve someone in every possible way, do everything for someone

I always wait hand and foot on my sister when she comes to visit me.

wash one`s hands of

- withdraw from or refuse to be responsible for something

I decided to wash my hands of the problem with the new secretary and let someone else deal with it.

with open arms

- warmly, eagerly, show that one is glad to see someone

The author was welcomed with open arms when he came to visit the city.

work one`s fingers to the bone

- work very hard

The woman who lives next door worked her fingers to the bone in order to make enough money to feed her children.


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