Phrases, Clichés, Expressions & Sayings
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Face the music
Meaning: To accept the truth.
Example: It's time to face the music on your donut addiction.
Origin: Comes from the British military. When someone was court marshaled, there would be a military drum squad playing, hence face the music. The term drummed out of the military came from this practice.


Fair game
Meaning: Somebody or something that may be legitimately pursued and assaulted.
Example: Hunting of rats during The Plague in Europe was considered fair game for anyone foolish enough to attempt the act.
Origin: In the 1700s, King George III introduced 32 new hunting laws in a bid to reduce poaching and protect landowners (such as himself) from the theft of livestock. The idea was to keep hunting the privilege of the aristocracy, but was closed in the notion that without controls, game stock would be severely depleted. By the beginning of the following Century, it was illegal for anyone to remove game from any land - apart from the squire and his eldest son. Anybody taking even a single pheasant could be transported to Australia for seven years. But some small animals and birds (mainly vermin) were not included in the legislation and these were listed in the regulations as “fair game”.


Fair to middling
Meaning: Mediocre, pretty good, so-so.
Example: When asked how his new job at Accenture was going, Barry answered, "fair to middling."
Origin: This mid-1800s phrase, often a reply to an inquiry about one's health or business, is redundant, since fair and middling both mean "moderately good."


Fat city
Meaning: To have luxuries.
Example: When I land my movie contract we will be in fat city.
Origin: This is a type of slang that adds city to a word to indicate a "location" of some condition - "if you do that you'll end up in trouble city." And of course "fat" has been used for centuries as a synonym for rich and well-to-do people. From the fact that only the rich had the money to buy the food and the servants to do the work - both things adding to their size.

The idea that gout is a rich-man's disease is from the rich foods of the wealthy contributing to the medical condition.


Feather in your cap
Meaning: A great achievement or special honor; an accomplishment to be proud of.
Example: You put a feather in your cap when you bought lunch for the boss's admin assistant.
Origin: It was once a common practice to award a feather to a soldier who had killed an enemy. These feathers were worn on the helmet, or other headgear and were considered symbols of social status much as modern soldiers receive and display medals.

Alternative: A custom of many different groups of people all over the world, including American Indians, is to put a feather in the headgear of a warrior for each enemy defeated in battle. The more feathers in your headdress (cap), the greater you number of victories - the better the warrior.


Fifth Beatle
Meaning: Someone who missed out on an opportunity for success.
Example: He had a chance to buy Microsoft stock at 50 cents a share in 1980... he's been the fifth beatle his whole life.
Origin: The original "Fifth Beatle" was Brian Epstein (1934-67), the manager of the Beatles, so dubbed, much to his annoyance, by Murray the K, an American disc jockey, in 1964.

More fitting of the title is Pete Best, an original member of the band who was replaced by Ringo Starr shortly before the band's arrival in the US. The Beatles of course went on to be fabulously successful, and Pete Best a footnote in history.

Some think Pete Best was pretty badly treated as he was dumped from the group. The Beatles and their publishers hid this fact as they managed their press like no previous musical group in history. He was apparently very talented.


Fight fire with fire
Meaning: To respond in like manner; a desperate measure.
Origin: In order to extinguish huge prairie and forest fires in the early West, desperate American settlers would sometimes set fire to a strip of land in the path of the advancing fire and then extinguish it, leaving a barren strip with nothing for the approaching fire to feed on. Although effective, this tactic was (and is) extremely dangerous, as the backfire itself can get out of control.


Find the pony
Meaning: To find value or good where none is evident.
Example: Okay, so we are out of work, have a big mortgage, and no job prospects in site. Things don't look good but what we need to do find the pony in all this.
Origin: From an old joe-k about two brothers, one an optimist, the other a pessimist. One Christmas the boy's parents set out to get presents. Knowing the pessimist son was hard to please the parents first tried to find him a present, but each idea considered was rejected because the parents were sure the boy would be dissatisfied. Finally they decided to get the boy a shiny new bicycle.

Unfortunately they spent so much time trying to pick the present for the pessimist son that they had little time left for the optimist son. Not to worry they reasoned, he is easy to please. So they collected some horse droppings from the barn, put them in a box, and gift wrapped the package.

On Christmas day the pessimistic son opened his present first. Predictably he was unhappy with the bicycle being certain he would fall and injure himself.

The optimistic son then opened his package. With great enthusiasm he began to empty the horse droppings from the box as he exclaimed "I know there is a pony in here somewhere".

The phrase "find the pony" was popularized by President Ronald Reagan who used it in a press conference.

Interestingly this phrase has a very different meaning to Brits. The problem of horse droppings accumulating in the streets in the days of horse and buggy prompted the use of a trap. The trap is a bag suspended behind the horse to catch the droppings. The phrase "Trap and pony" came to mean horse droppings. In time the phrase has been shortened to just pony".

Hence in England "Find the pony" would mean to find the horse droppings.


First rate
Meaning: The very best.
Example: The Joe-kster got his MBA at a first rate university - the University of Western Ontario.
Origin: In the 1600s, the British rated naval ships according to their size and strength. From 6 ratings, a warship of the first rate was the largest and most heavily armed, while the sixth rate ship was considerably smaller and had far fewer guns. The general public used the phrase to indicate anything topnotch.


Fish or cut bait
Meaning: Focus on what you are doing or stop doing it altogether.
Example: You've been sliding along getting "F"s in school for 2 years. It's time to fish or cut bait.
Origin: The phrase can be confusing if one thinks of bait that requires cutting up. In fact fisherman often use cut up pieces of fish as bait.

Fisherman also use live bait. Cutting bait in this case means to cut loose your bait allowing it to swim free. If you are done fishing, you let the bait go free.

"Fish or cut bait" is a phrase that one fisherman might say to another who is spending too much time talking and not enough time fishing.


Fit as a fiddle
Meaning: To be in good health; 'fit' as being suited to a purpose,
Origin: The earliest recorded form of this phrase (1595) is 'as right as a fiddle', perhaps because it was a piece of skilled craftsmanship and therefore to be admired, or because its playing required dexterity. It used to be said that a person who was well-liked had a face 'made of a fiddle', meaning that it was always wreathed in smiles, as a fiddle has a much-curled shape.


Fit to be tied
Meaning: To be very angry, livid.
Example: When his wife saw the car he'd bought she was fit to be tied.
Origin: "Tied" in this case refers to being bound as in a straight jacket. The need for being tied is to control ones actions to prevent from acting on the anger.


Flag something down
Meaning: To stop a moving vehicle.
Example: The executive tried desperately to flag down a taxi in the congested New York traffic.
Origin: Railroad employees used to literally flag trains down - they stopped them by waving flags at the engineers.


Flash in the pan
Meaning: Something that shows great promise, then disappoints by being over too quickly.
Example: Joe Clark's political career turned out to be a flash in the pan.
Origin: Flintlock muskets have small pans to hold the gunpowder fuse. Sometimes the gunpowder in the pan would flare up without firing the gun. That would be a "flash in the pan".

Alternative: Derives from the early gold prospectors who would literally see a flash of light as they panned for gold, but who would often fail to find the nuggets on closer inspection.

Related phrase: "Pan out".


Flotsam and jetsam
Meaning: Discarded odds and ends; destitute, homeless individuals.
Example: The politicians were concerned about the flotsam and jetsam of the downtown city core.
Origin: These two terms originated from 17th-century sailing terminology. 'Flotsam' meant "wreckage or cargo that remains afloat after a ship has sunk."

'Jetsam' meant "goods thrown overboard from a ship in danger of sinking - in order to give it more buoyancy." Both literal meanings remain current, although the distinction between them is often forgotten.


Fly in the face of
Meaning: To go against accepted belief; to respond actively against danger.
Example: The U.S. invasion of Iraq flew in the face of intelligence reports that stated Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
Origin: This expression alludes to that of the hen that flies in the face of the dog or fox that attacks her.


Fly off the handle
Meaning: To go into a rage.
Example: John McEnroe would often fly off the handle at the tennis judges for any close calls.
Origin: The origin for this expression comes from U.S. frontier settlers. While repairing something, their axe head would sometimes come loose and fly off the handle. This was not only dangerous, but also held up work for others until it was fixed - much to the annoyance of all.


Flying by the seat of your pants
Meaning: To do something without planning, to change course midstream, to figure things out as you go.
Example: Most stock investors don't make educated decisions, they're just flying by the seat of their pants.
Origin: Before airplanes had sophisticated instruments and flight control systems, and even today, planes are piloted by feel. Pilots can feel the reactions of the plane in response to their actions at the controls.

Being the largest point of contact between pilot and plane, most of the feel or feedback comes through the seat of the pants.

If you are "flying by the seat of your pants" your are responding to the feedback received.

Related phrase: "On the fly".


Flying colours
Meaning: To successfully achieve a difficult objective.
Example: JJ passed his Electrical TQ exam with flying colours.
Origin: A victorious fleet sailing into harbour with their flags still flying at their mastheads.


Fob off
Meaning: To offer someone an inadequate explanation or reward; give them less than they deserve; cheat them out of something; to sell or dispose of goods by fraud or deception.
Example: Scrooge would always fob off Bob Cratchet, depriving him of the true value of his employment.
Origin: This phrase is from the German word "Foppen" (to hoax or to jeer) (c. 1600).


Foot the bill
Meaning: You will pay for an item.
Origin: When a bill is presented to a customer the total sum is placed at its foot. The customer then checks the bill's accuracy and that of the 'foot' - hence the saying.


For the birds
Meaning: Something that is worthless.
Example: His apology, after his deliberate and harmful actions, was for the birds in everyone else's eyes.
Origin: Before the advent of cars, one could see and smell the emissions of horse-drawn wagons in New York. Since there was no way of controlling these emissions, they - or the undigested oats in them - served to nourish a large population of English sparrows. If you said that something was for the birds, you're politely saying that it's horse crap.


For the love of Pete
Meaning: I am frustrated with this situation.
Example: For the love of Pete, can we just pick a restaurant and stop searching? I am hungry.
Origin: This phrase and phrases like "for Pete's sake" are euphemisms for the phrases "for the love of God/Christ" or "for God's/ Christ's sake" and hail from a time when those phrases were considered blasphemous. Nowadays phrases like "for the love of god" are commonly used, but the euphemisms are still used.

Why Pete? Most likely it is a reference to the catholic Saint Peter. 

Other phrases with similar origins are: "Zounds!" (archaic British slang), is a contraction of "christ's wounds", "oh my goodness" and "oh my gosh" for "oh my God", and "gosh darn it".




Frog in one's throat
Meaning: A choking sensation in the throat.
Example: It was just before the Toastmaster's Final Selection and Stan, being quite nervous, felt he had a frog in his throat.
Origin: In the past, it was feared that a frog was present when this sensation occurred. In olden times people often drank from ponds and streams; there was always the possibility of swallowing a whole animal or, worse, its eggs. If the eggs were taken in, then they were said to hatch inside and, when ready to come out, would cause a choking feeling.

Alternative: In the Middle Ages, throat infections were sometimes treated by putting a live frog head into the patient's mouth. By inhaling, the frog was believed to draw out the patient's infection into its own body. Hence the 19th century expression "frog in one's throat."


From soup to nuts
Meaning: The full course of an elaborate meal, beginning with soup, through the various courses, and ending, at least in this case, with nuts.
Origin: As a metaphor for "from beginning to end" or "the whole range of things," this phrase is used in all sorts of contexts.

This phrase dates back to the mid-20th century, while similar sayings have been in use since the 16th century. The only difference in the various incarnations of this metaphor seems to be in what was considered to constitute a full meal in each historical period - in the 17th century, it was "from eggs to apples.

Unless Americans wean themselves from junk food pretty quickly, future generations will probably be hearing a new version of the phrase - "From Whoppers to Haagen-Dazs."


From stem to stern
Meaning: Thorough, complete.
Example: I searched the house from stem to stern for that cat, then found him sleeping on a shelf right in front of me.
Origin: The very front of a ship is called the stem, the rear is called the stern. From stem to stern includes the entire ship.


Full as a tick
Meaning: Full of food, stuffed, ready to pop.
Example: Barry had so much turkey at Thanksgiving that he felt full as a tick.
Origin: Thanks to Barry Barnes.


Full gamut
Meaning: A complete range or extent; passing through an entire spectrum of emotions or circumstances.
Example: Her operatic voice expressed a gamut of emotions, from rage to peace.
Origin: Since 1626 this term has figuratively meant that you've run the full range of possibilities of anything. However, 'gamut' literally means “the entire range of recognized notes on a musical scale.”

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