C Idioms

Idioms Index | A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

calculated risk

- an action that may fail but has a good chance to succeed

They took a calculated risk when they opened the new store but it has been very successful.

call a spade a spade

- speak bluntly

He was calling a spade a spade when he began to criticize his employee for being lazy.

call for someone

- come and get someone

Could you please come and call on me before you go to the game.

call it quits

- stop, finish

He called it quits and went home for the day.

call of nature

- the need to go to the toilet

He is answering the call of nature and can't talk to you for a few minutes.

call off

- cancel

The game was called off because of the rain.

call on

- visit someone

I plan to call on my brother when I am on my holidays.

call on

- ask someone to participate or contribute something

The teacher called on me three times to answer questions in the class.

call on to the carpet

- call someone before an authority to be scolded or reprimanded

He was called on to the carpet by his boss for losing the major sale.

call someone's bluff

- challenge someone to prove what they say is true

I decided to call his bluff and asked him to show me the evidence.

call the shots

- be in charge, give orders

He is now calling the shots and is in control of the company.

call up

- telephone

He said that he would call up his parents tomorrow night.

calm down

- relax

She finally calmed down after the accident.

cancel out

- destroy the effect of something

The benefits of her exercise were cancelled out by her always overeating.

can of worms

- a complicated situation or problem

The lawsuit opened up a can of worms for the company.

can't see the forest for the trees

- unable to judge or understand the whole picture because you are looking at the small parts of it

He has no real understanding of most problems as he always fails to see the forest for the trees.

card up one's sleeve

- a plan or argument kept back to be produced if needed

I think that he has a card up his sleeve and will be able to help us later.

(in) care of someone

- send something to one person at the address of another person

I sent the parcel to her in care of her friend at the university.

carrot and stick

- the promise of reward and threat of punishment at the same time

The trade negotiators took a carrot and stick approach to the automobile talks.

(get) carried away

- lose control or judgement due to strong feelings

I got a carrried away and began to yell at her for losing my textbook.

carry on

- continue, keep doing as before

We were permitted to carry on with the party after we had talked to the landlord.

carry (something) out

- put into action, accomplish

The move to the new headquarters was carried out with a minimum of problems.

carry over

- save for another time

We plan to carry over the summer swimwear until next year.

carry the ball

- take the most important or difficult part in an action or business

The vice-president was forced to carry the ball while the president was away.

carry the day

- win or be successful

His fine performance in our company carried the day for us.

carry the torch

- show loyalty to a cause or a person

He has been carrying the torch for the candidate for a long time.

carry through

- put a plan into action

The company carried through with their plan to layoff 300 workers.

(a) case in point

- an example that proves something or helps to make something clear

What he just said was a case in point about what I have been saying all year.

cash cow

- a good source of money

His new business is a great cash cow. I think that he is really making a lot of money.

cash in

- exchange something for money

We decided to cash in the coupons because we needed some money.

cash in on

- see and profit by a chance

The small town cashed in on their success with the winter Olympics.

cash on the barrelhead

- money paid when something is bought

It was a cash deal and we were forced to pay cash on the barrelhead.

cast pearls before swine

- waste something valuable on someone who doesn't appreciate it

Giving her the gold earrings was casting pearls before swine.

cast the first stone

- be the first to blame someone

He was the one to cast the first stone and now he is having a major fight with his neighbor.

castles in the air

- daydreams

She is always building castles in the air and is very unrealistic.

cat burglar

- a burglar who enters a building by climbing a wall etc.

We lost our stereo when a cat burglar entered our apartment.

cat gets one's tongue

- can't talk

I think that the cat has got her tongue. She hasn't said anything at all since the meeting started.


- a situation where whatever you do the outcome will be bad, a no-win situation

It was a catch-22 situation where if I went to work there would be problems but if I didn't go to work there would be more problems.

catch a cold

- become sick with a cold

I caught a cold because of the rain and the cold weather.


- in any way possible

We are in the middle of moving house so the meals when you visit will be catch-as-catch-can.

catch on

- understand, learn about

It was difficult to catch on at first but finally I was able to understand the math problem.

catch on

- become popular

Recently ballroom dancing has begun to catch on among many people.

catch one's breath

- stop to rest and regain one's normal breathing

After running from the station it took a moment to catch my breath.

catch one's eye

- attract one's attention

I tried to catch her eye but she didn't notice me.

catch (someone) red-handed

- find someone in the middle of doing something wrong

He caught the boy red-handed when he was stealing the candy.

catch up with (someone or something)

- become even with someone (in a race or in schoolwork etc.)

I think it's too late to catch up with the rest of the class now.

caught short

- not having enough of something when you need it (usually money)

I was caught short last week and couldn't pay the weekly food bill.

cave in

- to weaken and be forced to give up

The company finally caved in to the union's demand for more money.

chalk up

- record

The stock prices of the company chalked up a big gain last week.

change horses in midstream

- make new plans or choose a new leader in the middle of an important activity

They decided to change horses in midstream and that is probably why they lost the election.

change of heart

- change the way one feels about something

She had a change of heart and decided to let her child go to the circus.

change (one's) mind

- change one's decision

He changed his mind and said that he would not go to the movie tonight.

change (one's) tune

- make a change in one's story,statement or opinions

He has begun to change his tune recently and is beginning to agree that we need to do things a little differently.

(in) charge of something

- be responsible for an activity or group of people

He is in charge of selling tickets for the school dance.

cheat on (someone)

- be unfaithful to someone

He recently began cheating on his wife which was the main cause of their divorce.

(have the) cheek to do something

- rudeness, impudence

She had the cheek to tell me that she was sick and couldn't come to work today.

cheek by jowl

- side by side, in close intimacy

They were walking down the stairs cheek by jowl when the alarm sounded.

chew the fat

- chat

The two men were chewing the fat on the porch of the house.

chew out (someone)

- scold roughly

The teacher chewed out the student for talking in class.

chicken feed

- a small amount of money

What he sold his car for was chicken feed compared to the amount of money that he has in the bank.

chicken out

- stop doing something because of fear

He chickened out of jumping into the lake from the high diving board.

chickens come home to roost

- words or acts come back to cause trouble for a person

Her chickens have finally come home to roost and she must now take responsibility for what she has done.

chime in

- join in (a song or conversation)

We were having a nice conversation until she chimed in and started complaining about everything.

chip in

- contribute or pay jointly

We all chipped in and bought our father a present.

chip off the old block

- person who looks or acts like one of his parents

His son is a chip off the old block and acts exactly like his father.

(when the) chips are down

- the time when one faces the greatest obstacles

When the chips were down he went to his father for advice and received his encouragement.

clam up

- stop talking

She clammed up as soon as her boyfriend entered the room.

clean bill of health

- the assurance that an animal or person is healthy

The astronaut was given a clean bill of health before he began training.

clean slate

- having no errors, past acts that are all good

He started off with a clean slate and has never caused any problems for the company.

clear the air

- calm down and remove a misunderstanding

We had a big argument so I think it is time to clear the air.

clear the decks

- clear away things and prepare for action

Let's clear the decks and get everyone out of the house so we can begin work.

clear up

- solve or explain (a problem etc.)

They finally cleared up the problem that I was having with my salary at work.


- sports event or movie where the outcome is uncertain until the very end

The playoff game was a cliffhanger and one of the most enjoyable games of the year.

climb the wall

- be so bored that you become anxious and frustrated

She began to climb the wall after only a few days at her new job.

clip joint

- a low-class business where people are cheated

They went into a clip joint near the bus station and had to pay a lot of money.

clip someone's wings

- limit one's activities or possibilities

They decided to clip his wings and took away his expense account.

close call/shave

- an accident almost happens (but doesn't happen)

I had a close call this morning when the truck almost hit me.

close ranks

- come together for fighting, unite and work together

They decided to close ranks and stop arguing among themselves

close to home

- near to someone's personal feelings, wishes or interests

What I said about her work habits must have hit close to home as she seemed to become very quiet suddenly.

coast is clear

- no danger is in sight, no one can see you

When the coast was clear we decided to enter the building.

(bring) coals to Newcastle

- bring something of which there is plenty

Bringing extra food to the farmer's picnic was like bringing coals to Newcastle.

cog in the machine

- you are not important but only a small part of a large organization

The employees felt like they were only cogs in a machine so the atmosphere at the company was not very good.

cold spell or cold snap

- a sudden short period of cold weather (usually in winter)

The cold snap lasted for five days.

cold turkey

- stop using drugs (heroin etc.) abruptly and without medical aid

Although she was able to stop using drugs cold turkey she was very sick for awhile.

come a cropper

- fail

I think that he has come a cropper in the horse competition and that is why he is sad.

come across

- find something or meet someone by chance

I came across an interesting story in the newspaper the other day.

Come again.

- please repeat, please say that again

Come again. I didn't hear you the first time.

come alive

- brighten up and become active

She finally came alive and began to enjoy the party.

come along

- make progress, thrive

The work on our new house is coming along very well at the moment.

come a long way

- make great progress

He has come a long way and has learned many things about his new company.

come back

- return to the place you are now

She came back from her holidays last week.

come back

- return to one's memory

I can't remember clearly the events of last year but slowly everything is coming back to me.

come back

- become popular again

Recently bell-bottom pants have come back into fashion.

come between

- disrupt the relationship between (two people)

His constant interfering finally came between his brother and his wife.

come by

- get, obtain, acquire

She came by a lot of money recently and is now enjoying her life.

come clean

- tell the truth

The president of the company was forced to come clean and tell what really happened to the business.

(a) come-down

- a lowering in status, income, influence or energy

Her new job was a real come-down from her last one so she was not very happy.

come down hard on

- scold or punish severely

The police have been coming down very hard on drunk drivers recently.

come down to earth

- stop imagining or dreaming, think and behave as usual

He has finally come down to earth and is preparing seriously to look for a job.

come down with

- become sick with or catch a cold etc.

Her mother came down with a cold so was unable to attend the dinner.

come from

- be a native of a place

Several of the students in the class come from Mexico.

come full circle

- completely opposite from one's starting point

They have come full circle since the new president started at the university.

come hell or high water

- no matter what happens

Come hell or high water I plan to go to the concert next week.

come in handy

- prove to be useful

I think that the small hammer will come in handy to fix the desk.

come into

- receive, get possession of

They came into a lot of money which they donated to charity.

come into fashion

- become fashionable

She says that although bell-bottom pants have come into fashion again she will never wear them.

come into one's own

- become to perform or work well because of good circumstances

He has really come into his own as a basketball player since he changed positions.

come off

- be successful

The party came off without any problems so everyone was very happy.

come on strong

- overwhelm with excessively strong language or personality

He came on too strong during the job interview and was unable to get the job.

come out with

- say, make known

The child has recently come out with many strange and funny expressions.

come to

- begin or learn to do or feel something

At first I disliked her a lot but recently I have come to accept her.

come to

- regain consciousness

She came to a couple of hours after the accident.

come to blows

- begin to fight

They almost came to blows when they were trying to fix the car.

come to grief

- have a bad accident or disappointment

He has recently come to much grief because of his son's problems with the police.

come to grips with

- struggle (successfully) with an idea or problem

She has finally been able to come to grips with her husband's drinking.

come to light

- be discovered, become known

It has recently come to light that the company has lost millions of dollars.

come to nothing

- end in failure

All his efforts to help his sister find a job came to nothing.

come to one's senses

- begin to think clearly or act sensibly

He finally came to his senses and decided to buy a cheaper car rather than borrow a lot of money for an expensive one.

come to pass

- to happen, occur

It came to pass that the company was never able to recover from their financial problems.

come to terms

- reach an agreement

We came to terms with the bank and were able to buy the house.

come to the point

- be direct

His speech was interesting but he never really came to the point.

come up with

- produce or find a thought, idea or answer

Please try to come up with a name for the new magazine.

common touch

- a friendly manner with everyone

He has a nice common touch and everyone likes him a lot.

conk out

- fall asleep quickly with great fatigue

As soon as we returned from the hike I conked out in front of the TV.

cook one's goose

- ruin one's chances

She really cooked her own goose and has no chance of getting the new job.

cook up

- invent, plan and put something together

I don't know what kind of plan she is cooking up now but it should be quite interesting.

cool as a cucumber

- very calm and brave, not worried or anxious

She was as cool as a cucumber when her canoe turned over in the river.

cool one's heels

- be kept waiting because of another's rudeness

He was forced to cool his heels for an hour in the waiting room before his boss would talk to him.

cop a plea

- plead guilty to a crime in order to get a lesser penalty

He was forced to cop a plea when the evidence against him became too strong to dispute.

cop out

- avoid doing something that you were planning to do

He copped out from our plan to go to to the beach for the day.


- someone who copies another person's work or their actions

The little boy was accused of being a copycat by the other children.

cough up

- give unwillingly

He finally coughed up enough money to pay for the accident.

count on

- depend on

You can never count on him to do anything right.

count one's chickens before they're hatched

- assume that something will be successful before it is certain

Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. You're spending your money and you don't even have a job yet.

count out

- leave something out of a plan, exclude

Please count me out of your plans to go skiing for the weekend.

cover one's tracks

- hide or not say where one has been or what one has done

He was trying to cover his tracks but it was easy to see where he had recently been.

cover up

- hide something wrong or bad

They tried to cover up the facts regarding the illegal election campaign funds.

cozy up to (someone)

- try to be friendly to someone

I don't know what he wants but recently he has been trying to cozy up to me.

crack a joke

- tell a joke

He was a lot of fun at the party because he was always cracking jokes.

crack a smile

- let a smile show on one's face

He never cracked a smile during the whole meeting.

crack down on

- enforce laws or rules strictly

The school principal decided to crack down on people running in the halls.

crack of dawn

- daybreak, early in the morning

We got up at the crack of dawn to go fishing.


- an eccentric person with ideas that don't make sense to others

He is a total crackpot and you never know what he will do next.

crack the whip

- try to make someone work hard or obey you by threatening them

We had to crack the whip in order to get the job finished by the weekend.

(buy something) on credit

- pay for something not in cash

He decided to buy the stereo on credit.

crack up

- burst into laughter

I cracked up when he started talking about the incident with the taxi driver.

cramp one's style

- limit one's talk or action

Working in the new section is beginning to cramp my style a little.

crash the gate

- enter without a ticket or without paying or with no invitation

Many people didn't have a ticket for the concert so they decided to crash the gate.

cream of the crop

- the top choice

When they hire new employees they always look for the cream of the crop.

(the) creeps

- a strong feeling of fear or disgust

I get the creeps every time that I see a dead animal.

creep up on

- crawl quietly towards

The thief crept up on the elderly women at the supermarket.

crocodile tears

- a show of sorrow that is not really felt

He said that he was very sorry but his tears were just crocodile tears.

crop up

- appear or happen unexpectedly

I will meet you early next week unless something crops up that keeps me busy.

cross a bridge before one comes to it

- think and worry about future events or problems before they happen

We shouldn't worry about that problem now. We can cross that bridge when we come to it.

cross one's heart and hope to die

- promise that what you are saying is true

I promise that I will pay you back the money next week. Cross my heart and hope to die.

cross one's mind

- think of, occur to someone

It just crossed my mind that I would probably see him in the evening so I didn't phone him.

cross (something) out

- eliminate by drawing a line through something

Please cross out that amount and put in the correct amount.

cross to bear/carry

- something you must do or continue with even though you are suffering

Looking after my sister's children every day is my cross to bear.

cry out for

- need something badly, be lacking

The new room that he built cries out for a new set of furniture.

cry over spilt milk

- cry or complain about something that has already happened

Don't cry over spilt milk. You can never change the past.

cry uncle

- admit defeat or that one has lost

He finally had to cry uncle when the other wrestler pinned him to the mat.

cry wolf

- warn of danger that is not there

He has been crying wolf for years about various things and now nobody believes him.

(not one's) cup of tea

- something one enjoys, special interest

It's not really my cup of tea so I think I will stay home and not go to the art gallery.

curiosity killed the cat

- being too nosy and interested in other peoples business may lead a person into trouble

Don't keep asking so many questions. Remember curiosity killed the cat.

curry favor

- flatter someone to get his help or friendship

He has been working hard to curry favor with the other members of the committee.

cut across

- cross or go through something instead of going around

We decided to cut across the field because we were in a hurry to get to school.

cut and dried

- completely decided, prearranged

The decision was cut and dried and nobody asked for our opinion.

cut back

- use fewer or use less

We were forced to cut back on the number of people who were invited to the party.

cut both ways

- serve both sides of an argument

What he said cuts both ways and we should carefully think about it.

cut corners

- economize

We will have to cut corners in order to save some money for our holiday.

cut down on

- use less of something

Recently he has cut down on his drinking in order to start his new health program.

cut down to size

- prove that someone is not as good as he thinks

I was able to cut him down to size when I criticized what he said at the meeting.

cut (someone) off

- stop someone from saying something, disconnect someone on the phone

I tried to tell him about the accident but he cut me off before I had a chance.

cut off one's nose to spite one's face

- make things worse for oneself because one is angry at someone else

He is cutting off his nose to spite his face. Taking revenge on his neighbor will only cause more problems for himself.

cut out

- eliminate

She decided to cut out chocolate in order to lose weight.

cut the mustard

- reach the required standard

He doesn't cut the mustard and will never be able to work here.