A Case For Action

In English, a case is an idiom used to refer to any respectable argument that can be made for a given position. So long as an argument will not be simply laughed at as too ridiculous, it constitutes a case; therefore, an argument.

When the economy darkens, the outlook worsens.


When economic prospects brighten, they improve.

Salvaging Victory

Figuratively, to salvage something is to save it from disaster. Thus, to salvage victory is to obtain a narrow victory after having been facing defeat.

Political Battlegrounds

Elections are not properly fought with muskets and cannon, but figuratively speaking, any area where there is a fierce political campaign, with the final outcome in serious doubt, can be referred to as a political battleground.

Pumping Money

pump is a device for pushing air, water or other fluids through tubes or pipes. To pump is to perform this pushing. Therefore, to pump money somewhere is to put money into that place for some kind of purpose.

This is easy to demonstrate with an example from politics.

A Wave Of Ads

When we figuratively refer to a wave of something, we mean a large series, with one coming after another. Thus, the effect is like a large wave washing ashore, with sustained (but finite) force.

Thus, a wave of advertisements (ads for short) is a series of one advertisement after another.

Ramping Up Spending

ramp is a flat walkway raised to rest at an angle, performing the same function as stairs (but far more suitable for anything wheeled, such as wheelchairs for the disabled).

When raising a level of spending, a graph would show a series of points, one rising after another. If you connect the dots, the resulting image looks like a ramp. Therefore, toramp up is to increase the level of something measurable, particularly in relation to money or effort.

Smooth Sailing

The opposite of rough sailing, smooth sailing implies particularly easy progress with little effort required.

Smooth sailing would be sailing in calm waters.

Rough Sailing

Rough sailing is an abbreviation for rough weather sailing or sailing in rough waters. This gives the impression of very difficult progress requiring much greater effort than normal progress.

Sailing To Victory

Figuratively, to sail to victory is to achieve victory easily, with little effort. 

As a sailboat seems to move gracefully and with little effort - certainly less effort than rowing -sailing has become an idiom, in general, for success with minimal effort. 

Going Solar

To go solar is to convert a house so that it will collect solar energy through the use of solar energy panels (or some kind of equivalent). It does not imply powering a house by electrical power alone, but suggests a great effort to maximize the percentage of power drawn from solar energy. The most reliable use of this energy is often to heat water.

Zombie Banks

A "zombie" is a fictional undead creature, usually the animated corpse of a human being. A zombie is among "the living dead," something that is neither fully dead, nor alive in any normal sense.

Thus, a "zombie bank" is a bank which is technically "alive" (i.e. not in bankruptcy) but which is incapable of meaningful, productive, or new financial activity. Such a bank may exist, but it does not truly live.

Taking The Temperature (of a group)

To "take the temperature" of a group is to obtain opinions from various members and determine the level of support, or opposition, in the group for a particular action or policy.

A group can be warm or cold to an action or policy.

Buck Up

To buck up is to behave like a buck - in the sense of, a male deer - that is rutting, that is, in the midst of its mating cycle. This would be similar to a cat in heat, except it applies exclusively to males and represents aggressive male behavior, such as butting heads with other bucks (figuratively and very much literally), displays of antlers to female deer, and so forth.

Show Some Backbone

The backbone is really just another word for spine. The form of this idiom is to "show" or "demonstrate" some backbone, meaning, to demonstrate to others that you are not a chicken (coward), but rather, a brave and vigorous person.

Have / Grow A Spine

The spine is the set of bones that is the body's pillar of support. The human body's muscles use the spine as the foundation for all firm, aggressive motion. Therefore, having a spine has become idiomatic for behaving in a courageous or vigorous manner, the opposite of behaving like a "chicken" (a coward).

To grow a spine is to begin behaving in a courageous or vigorous manner, while having a spine is to continue to behave in such a manner.

Breathing Down Someone's Neck
In politics, as in horse races, to be breathing down someone's neck is to be very close behind that person in a race. 

Front Runner Status

One of a variety of "horse race" political idioms, front runner status means the state of being in the lead.

The "race" is the campaign for political office.

Staring Down The Barrel Of....

When you are staring down the barrel of something, you are faced with an imminent danger (one which happens soon). 

In Line (To Succeed)
When you are "in line" to succeed someone, you are part of a line of succession determining who, and in what order, will replace a leader if he/ she cannot continue to serve due to death, disability or other causes.

Up For Grabs

When something is up for grabs, it is available; it can be obtained freely without stealing from someone else. 

This is often used in electoral politics, but has other applications.

Band-Aid Solution
A band-aid is a small covering placed over small cuts to protect an injured area, limit bleeding, and speed healing. Properly speaking, Band-Aid is a brand name, but is so widely known that it has become an idiom in itself.

A band-aid solution is a quick fix incapable of dealing with problems of a large scale, providing temporary relief only, and usually, inadequate temporary relief at that.

A Blip
Unlike a wave, "a blip" is a reference to a signal given off by radar (originally an acronym, now treated as a noun) indicating the presence of a real object at a given moment in time.

In trends, a figurative "blip" means a temporary event that is not, or is not yet known to be, part of a larger trend.

A Wave

In idioms, "a wave" is any significant, sustained change. This can be positive, but is often used in a negative manner.

A Tsunami/ A Tidal Wave

In nature, a tsunami (Japanese term) is a giant wave. Properly speaking, "a tidal wave," used as the equivalent of tsunami, is incorrect; a wave created by a tide can be very, very tiny.

In politics, as well as other settings, "a tsunami" or "a tidal wave" (such as a tidal wave of support) means a powerful trend that, temporarily at least, changes the proverbial landscape.

A Method To One's Madness
Proverbially, when there is said to be a method to someone's madness, this expresses thatwhat at first appears to be madness, that is, random, illogical behavior, has a real purpose. It is in fact a method to achieve a tangible goal, with actual thought behind it. 

Crowning Achievement
A "crowning achievement" is a great success worthy of much praise and respect.

Easier Said Than Done
Something that is "easier said than done" - in other words, this idiom used as an adjective - means, something that is more difficult to actually do in reality, than to promise, pledge, or vow to do it. 

In Store
Idiomatically speaking, "in store"  means something that is lying in wait for a person to encounter.

For Starters

When I use the phrase, "for starters," I mean, as a starting/ beginning point, the first of a series.

Jumping The Shark
The phrase "jumping the shark"means began a permanent decline away from its peak until the moment it ended. 

Heading Downhill

When something is figuratively heading downhill (that is, going downhill), it is in declineit is past its peak and deteriorating.

In All Seriousness

When I write the phrase, "in all seriousness," I mean, as a completely serious, literal point, without sarcasm, irony, or humor.

Digging It
An idiom popularized in the 70's, to "dig something" is to like that something very much.

Giving A Damn

A "damn" (a damnation/ condemnation) directed at something is not a positive thing, but at least it means the person "giving a damn" cares about the subject in one way or another. 

A.M. and P.M.
Abbreviated from Latin. A.M. means Ante Meridiem and P.M. means Post Meridiem.

Meridiem = Meridian, the dividing line between the early day and the late day, otherwise known as noon.

Keep Up The Good Work
If someone tells you to keep up the good work, that person is telling you to continue what you are doing. In addition, this statement is complimenting your efforts as good work.

To Keep Something Coming

If someone says, keep X coming, this is an invitation to bring more of that thing.

"Make My Day"
Doubling as a famous quote, "Make my day" is urging someone else to provide an excuse for a violent confrontation, which will provide pleasure to the speaker. This may or may not be used as a bluff.

More broadly, if something makes your day, it has made the day a good one.

Forcing Something

Literally, to force something into a suitcase (for example) would be to push and push to squeeze clothing into the suitcase. This is despite the clothing not being properly packed to fit inside the suitcase's size.

Figuratively, to force something is to attempt to succeed by effort where an action is not appropriate, suitable, or comfortable.

Turning The Page
Figuratively speaking, to "turn the page" on something is to leave an event or series of events behind and continue on with life. 

Mission Accomplished

Originating from the military, "mission accomplished" simply means that a mission's goals have been successfully fulfilled.

The trick is defining the mission properly. Technically, a mission is a single complex task within larger operations, battles, and wars. Idiomatically, politicians often use the wordmission to refer to any major sustained effort. These two meanings can come into conflict.

I Can't Thank You Enough

When someone says, "I can't thank you enough," this is saying that words alone are insufficient to represent the deep gratitude the other person has for you.

Words Fail Me

When words fail you, you are unable to find the proper words to fit a situation, often because the situation is so abnormal.

At A Loss For Words

When a person is at a loss for words, that person is speechless.

Speechless does not mean unable to speak (i.e. a person who is mute); it means someone who is too overwhelmed to speak, or at the very least, unable to say anything profound enough to suit (fit) the occasion.

"I Can't Hear You!"
An idiom used by military drill sergeants in an aggressive, provocative way. When a drill sergeant yells this at a new recruit at a distance of two inches, the message being conveyed is this: "Speak louder!"

To Snatch Away

To snatch away something is to a) grab onto something, b) take possession of it, c) take it out of reach of the original possessor.

This idiom is often split.

At The Top Of Your Lungs

To say something at the top of one's lungs is to say it very loudly, probably by SHOUTING.

The reason Internet writers are encouraged not to use "all caps" (all capital letters) is because it is understood by the native English speaker as equivalent to shouting, which is far too loud for a conversational tone.

Hanging Your Head (In Shame)
To "hang your head" is not to commit suicide; it is to lower your head in shame or embarrassment.

You hang your head by tilting your head forward, eyes looking down. This is body language associated with shame, defeat, and humiliation


A Lame Duck

In politics, and sometimes business, someone in a powerful position who everyone knows will be leaving office at a particular time, but who is still in office, is called a lame duck. This is "lame" not in the sense of uncool, but in the sense of powerless due to injury.

In other words, the lame duck is unable to exert power over others because the knowledge he or she will be departing - and therefore, has less and less power to punish others for defiance with each day that passes - reduces the psychological and leadership power of that person.

We Have A Situation

A  common line in dramas, this cannot be taken literally because everything is a situation. The implication is that we have a bad situation.

This phrase is used as understatement, meant to be said in a way that is not alarming, "loaded" (with panic), or more specific as to the type of situation (accident, incident, crisis). The idea is to instantly get the full and serious attention of the listener while remaining as calm as possible.

Picking Up Some Chinese (Food)

Americans will use "Chinese" as an abbreviation for "Chinese food," which is food considered to be particular to Chinese restaurants and so forth. (Thus, "Chinese" from an American perspective.)

What's Your Beef?

If "Where's the beef?" is asking for substance relating to an issue, "What's your beef?" is asking what substantive issue to have with someone or something.

Related: "Having a beef" with someone or something.

Not Quite So Simple

While the meaning of "something simple" is, well, simple, "not quite so simple" means, in reality, something requiring a detailed explanation. This expression is used to alter the flow of a conversation or, more usually, an article, shifting to an explanation which explainswhy a question cannot be answered simply and reflexively.

A Big Freeze

Usually, putting "big" in front of a noun is to turn that noun into something larger and less literal. In this case, a big freeze indicates a large cold weather storm bringing much snow and ice. Thus, a vast area is "frozen"

To Be In, Or Not In

To "be in" is, figuratively speaking, to be present inside a building. This usually applies to a place of occupation or employment, but can be stretched without problems.

Conversely, to "not be in" is to be absent.


Physically twisting someone's arm can be used as a means of intimidation or coercion. Due to this, figurative arm-twisting is a term used to include all non-physical coercion (also known as "pressure") to compel a person to do, or not do, something specific.

Pain At The Pump

Pain at the pump refers to the gas pump, as it is known in America. In other parts of the world, the gas pump is known as a fuel dispenser. There is no difference in meaning. Also, gas = gasoline. Idiomatically, even non-gasoline fuel is "the gas pump" (including diesel!).

To experience pain at the gas pump is to be in a state of paying a painful level of money when obtaining fuel for one's vehicle.

Slogging One's Way

To slog one's way(or variations thereof) means to make difficult progress forward against significant resistance. To use this as an idiom is simply to apply it to things that are not physical.

Being Outdoors

Literally, outdoors is beyond the doors of your residential home. Figuratively speaking, the outdoors is the wilderness.

Being outdoors is an expression for being in the wilderness, or at absolute minimum, being outside the house in a natural environment .

A park is considered natural for these purposes.

A Number Of Something

A number of is a very unspecific expression for some, a portion, a fraction of something larger. 

A Product Line

In business, a line is used to describe a series of heavily related products.

Related: a lineup of products (such as merchandise for display, either in real life or in a catalog). 

To Kill A Product Line

When used figurativelyto kill means to bring a thing to an end. 

Thus, to kill a product line is to end that product line. 

Won Over

If someone has been won over, that person has been convinced.

In negotiations, someone who has been won over has been convinced to approve the deal.

Since this can only be truly explained in context, let's review today's earlier idioms with the passage below.


In food, a sweetener is something added to food to make it sweeter, like sugar or a sugar substitute. In politics and business, a sweetener for a deal is something added to make a deal more tolerable to individuals who must approve it.

A related term is palatable. This is a fancy word for "something you can eat without suffering," so you add a sweetener to a deal to make it palatable (not easier to eat, buteasier to approve). Often, we say more palatable here (indicating the deal is more acceptable, rather than less).


When used as an adjective, last-minute suggests occurring at the last minute, an expression for occurring very near to a deadline; very late in a process.

"At the last minute" is another form this takes as an expression, but remember, last-minute is an adjective.

Propelled By

When applied to politics, we speak of something propelled by X when we mean, somethingpushed forward by X. Synonyms:  driven by and driven forward by.

Squeaking By

When something squeaks by, it is narrowly passing between obstacles. There are objects that will literally squeak when they are squeezed between two objects, such as a simple child's balloon. From this arises the expression, to squeak by.

A companion to "I see," "You see" is often used as a rhetorical statement. That is, even though its true figurative meaning is, you (the other party) see (figuratively) what is being discussed, many people use it to urge the other person to "see" the logic, even if they do not do so at present.

Blowing A Gasket

Figuratively, to blow a gasket is to become suddenly angered. The surge of energy and anger is compared to the popping (blowing) of an automotive gasket, which is a mechanical seal to prevent the leakage of fluid.

When a gasket "blows," there is a burst of fluid. When a person's gasket blows, there is a burst, or an outpouring, of anger for which there was no visible prior warning. Thus, it usually refers to spontaneous anger (without prior planning).

Lost In Translation

When words are carried across the so-called language barrier, subtle differences in meaning can be lost in translation. That is, the translation omits information that helps to clarify the meaning of the original.

Nothing To Lose

A person with "nothing to lose" is someone who does not stand to suffer significant harm by taking particular risks. 

Literally, we all have something to lose - unless we're dead, we can lose our lives. However, as a figure of speech, this phrase has quite a few uses.

It Can't Hurt

If used literally, this phrase would mean that a particular action will not cause you physical pain or injury. When used figuratively, however, this means that a particular action will not cause you harm, whatever form that harm might take.

A Babe In The Woods

The expression "a babe in the woods" is used to represent someone who is innocent and vulnerable and in great danger of being victimized, figuratively. 

Neck Of The Woods

Your neck of the woods is your figurative location; your locale; your area. 

Big As All Outdoors

This means, on a large scale.

A Loudmouth

In English, a loudmouth is someone who is routinely loud, annoying, and a nuisance to others. 

An Odyssey

The Odyssey was one of Western civilization's first masterpieces of literature, composed by Homer, about the ten year voyage of Odysseus, a king who fought in the Trojan War. Suffice to say he offended a Greek god and was forced to take the long way home.

Borrowing from this original meaning, an odyssey is any long foreign trip.


The first step in entering a lake or other body of water is to get one's feet wet. Therefore, this is an idiom for taking the first tangible step towards some kind of goal. This is always action of some sort, rather than simply an exchange of words or ideas.

Having Something To Say

To have something to say is to have a message or opinion to speak. It is not so much the phrase itself that is idiomatic, but how it is used...

Through and Through

This is an expression acting as a colloquial substitute for thoroughly.

A Crying Shame

This idiom is simply an idiomatic strengthening of the expression, a shame. That is, a disappointing fact.

Tell Us How You Really Feel

The expression "tell us how you really feel" is said in sarcasm and irony after someone has said an anger or hate-filled statement, drawing attention to the anger and hatred (and implicitly mocking it).

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

When a dog being used to hunt raccoons, a dog will bark up at a tree ("up a tree") to indicate that a raccoon is within the tree's branches.

If a dog is barking up the wrong tree, the dog is making a serious mistake.

A Voice In The Wilderness

A voice in the wilderness is someone who expresses an unpopular opinion.

In The Wilderness

American politics uses "the wilderness" as a Biblical reference. Someone who is in the wilderness is an outcast, a nomad, someone without a seat in a place of power.

In practice, it is used to mean a politician or party lacking the power or influence normally due.

Begging On Hands And Knees

Usually, to be on hands and knees is to have both hands and knees on the ground; that is, to be on all fours in a crawling position. However, the expression to beg on hands and kneesis meant as begging very strenuously and earnestly.

The Front Burner & The Back Burner

An ordinary oven has two sets of burners on the top. The two in front are the front burners, and the two in back are the back burners.

To place something on the front burner is to make it a high priority requiring careful observation. To place something on the back burner is to reduce its priority.

Surging and Ebbing

In politics, and other areas, to surge is to accelerate forward rapidly, while to ebb is to decelerate backward rapidly.

You can surge to make relative progress without making absolute progress, and vice versa.

Playing Your Cards Right

To play your cards right is to skillfully exploit an opportunity.

Positive and Negative Advertisements

In English-language countries, positive ads (advertisements) and negative ads describe ads that are either a) ads that are positive about the candidate the advertisement is meant to support, or b) ads that are negative about the candidate's opponent, tearing the opponent down with insults and attacks.

Enthusiasm Gap

An enthusiasm gap is an idiom that has been created in American media and politics to describe a difference in the enthusiasm between supporters of two rival factions, mainly political parties.

Through The Barrel Of A Gun

In politics, using English, the expression through the barrel of a gun means only one thing: through the use of armed violence; the opposite of peaceful, lawful politics.

Man Up

A phrase entering greater popularity is man up, an idiom urging the other party to behave in a less submissive manner.


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