abbreviated piece of nothing

This slang expression refers to someone who is considered to be insignificant or worthless.
“Bob doesn’t think much of his new colleague. He calls him an abbreviated piece of nothing.”

all brawn and no brain

Someone who is physically very strong but not very intelligent is said to be all brawn and no brain.
“He’s an impressive player to watch, but he’s all brawn and no brain.”

all sizzle and no steak

Someone who turns out to be disappointing, after a promotional campaign which led us to expect something better, is called all sizzle and no steak.
“Because of the electoral promises he made, which so far he has failed to keep, many people call the new president ‘all sizzle and no steak‘.”

all things to all people

If you are all things to all people, you please or satisfy everyone.
“She’s exhausted tying to be a good wife, a good mother and a good teacher, but she can’t be all things to all people.”

apple of your eye

A person, usually a child, who is the apple of your eye is one for whom you have great affection.
“My grandson is the apple of my eye.”

armchair critic

An armchair critic is someone who gives advice based on theory rather than practice.
“That guy is such an armchair critic – no experience but plenty of advice.”

armchair traveller

Someone who reads books or watches TV programmes about other places and countries, but doesn’t actually travel anywhere, is called an armchair traveller.
“A surprising number of adventure books are bought by armchair travellers.”

bad egg

Someone who is a bad egg is an untrustworthy person often involved in trouble whose company should be avoided.
“I don’t want my son to be friends with Bobby Smith. Bobby’s a bad egg.”

behind the times

A person who is behind the times has old-fashioned ideas and does not keep up with modern life in general.
“Jane doesn’t have a mobile phone.She’s completely behind the times.”

big cheese

The expression big cheese refers to a person who has a lot of power and influence in an organisation.
“Tom’s father is a big cheese in the oil industry.”

big fish in a small pond

The term big fish in a small pond refers to an important or highly-ranked person in a small group or organisation.
“He could get a job with a big company but he enjoys being a big fish in a small pond.”

a bookworm

Someone who loves books and spends a lot of time reading is called a bookworm.
“A book would be the ideal gift. My mother has always been a bookworm.”

born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth

A person who is born with a silver spoon in their mouth is born into a very rich family.
“She never has to worry about money; she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.”

butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth

If you say that someone looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth, you mean that they look completely innocent, but that they are capable of doing unpleasant things.
“The boy who stole the purse looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.”

call a spade a spade

A person who calls a spade a spade speaks openly and truthfully about something, especially difficult matters.
“What I like about the new manager is that he calls a spade a spade – it makes things so much easier for everyone.”

fat cat

The term ‘fat cat’ is used to refer to a rich, powerful, self-satisfied person who uses their money and power in a way that you disapprove of.
“The place was full of fat cats on their big yachts.”

cat’s whiskers (or cat’s pyjamas)

This expression refers to someone who considers themselves
to be better than others in a particular area : beauty, competence, intelligence, sport, etc.
“Ever since she got a promotion, she thinks she’s the cat’s whiskers!”

chip off the old block

A person who is a chip off the old block resembles one of their parents in appearance, character or behaviour.
“James is a chip off the old block– he reacts the same way as his father.”

class act

To say that someone, for example an athlete or entertainer, is a class act means that they are very good at what they do.
“The dancer’s career is just beginning but she’s already a class act.

cog in the machine

If you say that someone is a cog in the machine, you mean that, while they are necessary, they only play a small part in an organisation or plan.
“The police quickly realised that the suspect was just a cog in the machine.”

couch potato

If you refer to someone as a couch potato, you criticize them for spending a lot of time sitting and watching television.
“Don’t be such a couch potato. There are better ways of spending your time than in front of the TV.”

not cut out for something

If you are not cut out for something, you are not the sort of person to succeed or be happy in a particular activity.
“I started studying medicine but I quickly realised that I wasn’t cut out for it.

dark horse

A dark horse is secretive person who keeps hidden a surprising ability or skill.
“He is such a dark horse. I never knew he was a playwright!”

dead loss

Someone described as a dead loss is absolutely useless or a complete failure.
“When it comes to gardening, my brother is a dead loss.”

dead man walking

A dead man walking is someone who will inevitably be in great trouble very soon, especially a person who is about to lose their job or position.
“Because of the way he handled the recent riots, the minister is a dead man walking.”

dog in the manger

A person referred to as a dog in the manger is someone who stops others from enjoying something he/she cannot use or doesn’t want.
“Lisa hates the guitar so she won’t allow her son to learn to play it – a real dog in the manger!”

doubting Thomas

A ‘doubting Thomas’ is a person who will not believe something without proof, or without seeing it for themselves.
“I had to show him my membership card. What a doubting Thomas!”

down at heel

A person who is down-at-heel is someone whose appearance is untidy or neglected because of lack of money.
“The down-at-heel student I first met became a successful writer.”

down to earth

Someone who is down to earth is not a dreamer but a realistic and practical person who has sensible reactions and expectations.
“Don’t ask Suzy for help. She’s fun, but not very down to earth.”

dressed to kill

When someone, especially a woman, is dressed to kill, they are wearing very fashionable or glamorous clothes intended to attract attention.
“She arrived at the reception dressed to kill.”

dressed up to the nines

Someone dressed up to the nines is wearing very smart or glamorous clothes.
“Caroline must be going to a party – she’s dressed up to the nines.”


This expression is used to describe a person who has fixed, uncompromising, deep-felt beliefs to which they are committed.
“Bob and Jane are dyed-in-the-wool ecologists who use only biodegradable products.”

eager beaver

The term eager beaver refers to a person who is hardworking and enthusiastic, sometimes considered overzealous.
“The new accountant works all the time – first to arrive and last to leave. He’s a real eager beaver!”

even stevens

Two or more people who are are equal to each other. None of them has more than the others; none is owed anything or has anything due.
“The two boys shared equally the money they made delivering pizzas so now they’re even stevens.”

face like a bulldog chewing a wasp

To say that someone has a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp means that you find them very unattractive because they have a screwed-up ugly expression on their face.
“Not only was he rude but he had a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp!”

face like thunder

If someone has a face like thunder, they look very angry.
“When Dad is really angry, he has a face like thunder!”

face like a wet week-end

If someone has a face like a wet week-end, they look sad and miserable.
“What’s wrong with Pete? He’s got a face like a wet week-end!”

face only a mother could love

This is a humoristic way of saying that someone is ugly or unattractive.
“The poor guy has a face only a mother could love.”

face that would stop a clock

Someone who has a face that would stop a clock has a shockingly unattractive face.
“You’ll recognize him – he’s tall and thin, with a face that would stop a clock!”

fast talker

A person who speaks quickly and easily but cannot always be trusted is called a fast talker.
“The salesman was a fast talker who persuaded the old lady to buy a new washing machine.”

fat cat

To refer to a rich and powerful person as a fat cat means that you disapprove of the way they use their money or power.
“The place was full of fat cats on their big yachts.”

to a fault

To say that someone has a good quality to a fault means that they have a lot, or even too much, of that quality.
“My aunt is generous to a fault, always ready to help anyone who claims to be in need.”

feet of clay

If someone who is admired is found to have a weakness, fault or defect of character, they are said to have feet of clay.
“No one is perfect. Many successful people have feet of clay

fifth wheel

The expression ‘fifth wheel’ refers to a person who find themselves in a situation where their presence is unnecessary and as a result they feel useless.
“Everyone seemed to have a specific role except me. I felt like a fifth wheel.”

fixed in our ways

People who are fixed in their ways do not want to change their normal way of doing things.
“My grandparents are very fixed in their ways and dislike any changes.”

fresh as a daisy

Someone who is (as) fresh as a daisy is lively and attractive, in a clean and fresh way.
“I met Molly the other day. She looked as fresh as a daisy.”

full of beans

A person who is full of beans is lively, active and healthy.
“He may be getting old but he’s still full of beans.”

full of hot air

Someone who is full of hot air is full of nonsense and talks a lot without saying anything worthwhile.
“Don’t listen to Alex – he’s full of hot air!”

full of piss and vinegar

People who are full of piss and vinegar are very lively, boisterous or full of youthful vitality.
“I had to look after a group of kids full of piss and vinegar.”

full of the milk of human kindness

Someone who is full of the milk of human kindness, is naturally kind and compassionate to others.
“She’s a wonderful person – full of the milk of human kindness.”

full as a tick

If someone is (as) full as a tick, they have eaten or drunk too much.
“The little boy ate biscuits and drank lemonade until he was as full as a tick.”

fur coat and no knickers

A person who tries to appear distinguished but has no real class is referred to as ‘fur coat and no knickers‘.
“Don’t let her impress you. She’s what we call ‘fur coat and no knickers’!”

going places

To say that someone is going places means that they show talent and ability that will no doubt lead to a successful future.
“Even at college it was obvious that Paul was going places.”

hairy at the heel

A person who is hairy at the heel is thought to be untrustworthy or even dangerous.
“Rumour has it that the owner of the club is a bit hairy at the heel.”

hale and hearty

Someone, especially an old person, who is hale and hearty is in excellent health.
“My grandmother is still hale and hearty at the age of ninety.”


If you are a happy-go-lucky person, you are cheerful and carefree all the time.
“Charlie’s a happy-go-lucky sort of guy – always in good humour.”

hard as nails

A person who is (as) hard as nails is unsentimental and shows no sympathy.
“Don’t expect any sympathy from him. He’s as hard as nails.”

have the makings of

A person who has the makings of something has qualities and potential that could be developed.
“The teacher says Sarah has the makings of an excellent journalist.”

head and shoulders above

To say that one person is head and shoulders above the others means that they are much better than the rest of them.
The award winner was head and shoulders above the others.”

old head on young shoulders

This expression refers to a child or young person who thinks and expresses themselves like an older more-experienced person.
“When she heard Emily warning her brother to stay out of trouble, her mother thought : ‘That’s an old head on young shoulders.'”

high and mighty

Someone who is high and mighty behaves in a haughty manner as though they were superior to others.
“Don’t get all high and mighty!” said my grandmother to my cousin. “Everyone helps with the housework in this house.”


The attitude of people who consider themselves to be more virtuous or morally superior to others can be called ‘holier-than-thou’.
“I can’t stand the holier-than-thou attitude of some political candidates”

horse of a different colour

To describe a person or a problem as a horse of a different colour means either that the person does things differently from others, or that the nature of the problem is entirely different.
“I expected to negotiate with the sales manager, but the chairman turned up – now he’s a horse of a different colour!”

dark horse

If you refer to someone as a dark horse you mean that they are secretive or that little is known about them.
“I can’t say I know my neighbour. He’s a bit of a dark horse.”

in a class of one’s own

If someone is in a class of their own, they are unequalled and considered better than anyone else of their kind.
“As a singer, Maria Callas was in a class of her own.”

jack of all trades

A jack of all trades is a person who can do many different things but is not very good at any one of them.
“I’m looking for a skilled worker, not a jack-of-all-trades.”

just off the boat

A person who is just off the boat is naive and lacks experience.
“How do you expect me to work with a trainee who’s just off the boat!”

larger than life

A person who is larger than life attracts special attention because they are very impressive or unusually remarkable in their appearance, behaviour or personality.
“He was a larger-then-life character, both onstage and behind the scene.”

laughing stock

A person who does something stupid or ridiculous which causes others to laugh becomes a laughing stock.
” If you wear that to school you’ll be the laughing stock of the class!”

life and soul of the party

The life and soul of the party is the most lively and amusing person present at an event.
“I’m so glad we invited Emily. She was the life and soul of the party.”

live wire

Someone who is highly vivacious, energetic and full of enthusiasm is a live wire.
“Things have brightened up since Charlie arrived.  He’s a real live wire! “

long in the tooth

A person who is long in the tooth is a bit too old to do something.
“She’s a bit long in the tooth for a cabaret dancer, isn’t she?”

look the part

If you look the part, your appearance makes you ideally suited for a particular job or role.
“It was a mistake to choose a pretty young girl to play the witch. She didn’t look the part at all”

look the picture

If someone looks the picture, they look very pretty.
“The little girl looked the picture in her new dress.”

look the picture of health

To look the picture of health means to look extremely healthy.
“Nice to see you again Mr. Brown. I must say you look the picture of health.”

look a sight

If a person looks a sight, their appearance is awful, unsuitable or very untidy.
“Chloe looks a sight in that dress!”

loose cannon

Someone who is referred to as a loose cannon cannot be completely trusted because of unpredictable and irresponsible behaviour which can cause trouble.
“Keep an eye on Jamie. He tends to turn into a loose cannon when he has a few drinks.”

lower than a snake’s belly

To say that someone is lower than a snake’s belly means that they are bad, dishonest or have very low moral standards.
“Anyone who is capable of taking advantage of young vulnerable children is lower than a snake’s belly.”

mouse potato

The term mouse potato refers to a person who spends a lot of time in front of the computer.
“My son and his friends are all mouse potatoes – constantly glued to the computer!”

all mouth and no trousers

This is said of someone who talks a lot about doing something but never actually does it.
“He keeps saying he’s going to resign and travel around the world, but he’s all mouth and no trousers.”

nice as pie

If a person is as nice as pie, they are surprisingly kind and friendly.
“After our argument, she was as nice as pie!”

night owl

Someone who is lively and active at night and goes to bed very late is called a night owl.
“I work well in the evenings and at night. I’m a night owl.”

not a hair out of place

If someone does not have a hair out of place, their appearance is perfect.
“Angela is always impeccably dressed – never a hair out of place.”

not the only pebble on the beach

To say that someone is not the only pebble on the beach means that they are not the only person worth considering.
“He thinks his refusal to join the team will cause problems, but there are other alternatives …he’s not the only pebble on the beach!”

pen pusher

A person who does work that requires little action, just office work, and who lacks operating experience, is called a pen pusher.
“Those pen pushers have no idea what it’s like on a building site. “


Someone who is pie-eyed is completely drunk.
“He had never taken an alcoholic drink so after one beer the boy was pie-eyed.”

plastic smile

A person with a plastic smile is wearing a forced smile which makes them appear happier that they really are.
“A receptionist greeted customers with a plastic smile. “

plum in your mouth

Someone who speaks with an upper-class accent is said to have a plum in their mouth.
“He speaks just like an aristocrat – with a plum in his mouth!”

poker face

Someone who has a poker face has an expressionless face that shows no emotion or reaction at all.
“He sat with a poker face all through the show, revealing nothing of his thoughts.”

proud as a peacock

A person who is as proud as a peacock is extremely proud.
“When his son won first prize, Bill was as proud as a peacock.”

puts pants on one leg at a time

To say that someone puts their pants on one leg at a time means that the person is a human being no different from anyone else.
“Don’t be scared to speak to him. He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us!”

has a quick temper

Someone who has a quick temper gets angry very easily.
“He makes me nervous – he’s got such a quick temper.”

rotten apple

The term rotten apple refers to a person who is considered to be dishonest or immoral and has a bad influence on others in the group.
“It is said that in any profession there is always a rotten apple.”

rough diamond

A person who is good-natured but lacks polished manners and/or education is said to be a rough diamond.
“He’s a great guy but a bit of a rough diamond!”

saving grace

Someone who has a saving grace has a quality that prevents them from being totally bad.
“She’s a horrible person but she has one saving grace, her kindness to animals.”

sea legs

A person who has sea legs is used to walking on a moving ship, or has the ability to adjust to a new situation.
“It takes a while in a new job to find your sea legs.”

sell ice to Eskimos

This expression is used to describe a person who has the ability to persuade someone to accept something totally unnecessary or useless.
“It’s not surprising he was named ‘salesman of the year’. He could sell ice to Eskimos!”

set in one’s ways

A person who is set in their ways is unable or unwilling to change their ideas, habits or methods, often because they are old.
“My grandmother has the same routine every day. She is very set in her ways.”

shrinking violet

A person referred to as a shrinking violet is a timid or shy person.
“The witness was a shrinking violet who had difficulty expressing herself.”

significant other

The term ‘significant other‘ refers to a person, such as a spouse, partner or lover, with whom you have a long-term relationship.
“Harry says he makes no decisions without consulting his significant other.”

silver surfer

A silver surfer is an elderly person who uses the internet.
“After just a few questions my grandmother was ready to join the silver surfers.”


A silver-tongued person is a smooth talker who speaks so convincingly that they manage to persuade others to do what they want.
“A silver-tongued salesman persuaded my mother to buy a new washing machine although the one she had was fine!”

sitting duck

A sitting duck is an easy target, a person who is easy to deceive.
“The young girl was a sitting duck for the photographer.”

sleeping partner

The term sleeping partner refers to a person who invests in a business without taking an active part in its management, and whose association with the enterprise is not public knowledge.
“He works alone but his business is partly financed by a sleeping partner.”

slippery as an eel

To say that someone is as slippery as an eel means that they are difficult to catch and they manage to avoid answering questions.
“The man was as slippery as an eel. He was arrested for theft several times but was never convicted.”

small dog, tall weeds

This expression is used to refer to someone who does not have the ability or the resources necessary to perform a task.
“It may be too difficult for the trainee – small dog, tall weeds!”

small fry

People or organisations that are considered unimportant can be referred to as small fry.
This term can also refer to young children.
“The police seized a large quantity of drugs, and some small fry, but not the organisers they were hoping to catch.”

smart alec

A smart alec is an annoying self-assertive person who tries to show off how clever they are.
“Some smart alec interrupted the game claiming that the answers were incorrect!”

social butterfly

A person who has a lot of friends and acquaintances and likes to flit from one social event to another is called a social butterfly.
“Jessica is constantly out and about; she’s a real social butterfly.”

square peg in a round hole

To say that a person is a square peg in a round hole means that they are not suitable for the job they are doing or the situation they are in.
“He was a bad choice for the job – a square peg in a round hole.”

sterner stuff

If someone is made of sterner stuff, they have a strong character and are better able to deal with difficulties than others.
“I was surprised to see him so upset. I thought he was made of sterner stuff.”

stickler for the rules

Someone who is a stickler for the rules is a disciplinarian who demands strict observance of the rules or procedures.
“Be sure to use the proper form. Mr. Brown is a stickler for the rules.”

(as) straight as an arrow

Someone who is as straight as an arrow is a morally upright person who is extremely honest.
“You can leave the keys with Andy. He’s as straight as an arrow.”

(as) stubborn as a mule

If someone is as stubborn as a mule, they are very obstinate and unwilling to listen to reason or change their mind.
“His friends advised him to accept the offer, but you know Larry – he’s as stubborn as a mule!”

stuffed shirt

A person who is a stuffed shirt behaves in a very formal, pompous or old-fashioned way .
“I had heard he was a stuffed shirt but he actually has a good sense of humour! “

talk the hind leg off a donkey

This expression is used to describe a very talkative person.
“It’s difficult to end a conversation with Betty. She could talk the hind leg off a donkey!”

talk nineteen to the dozen

If someone talks nineteen to the dozen, they speak very quickly.
“He was talking nineteen to the dozen so I didn’t catch the whole story.”

tarred with the same brush

When a person is tarred with the same brush, they are regarded as having the same faults or bad qualities as those they associate with.
“Don’t hang around with those guys or you’ll be tarred with the same brush.”

thin on the top

If someone, usually a man, is thin on the top, they are losing their or going bald.
“Dad’s gone a bit thin on the top in the last few years.”

top dog

To say that a person is top dog means that they are better or more powerful than others.
“She’s top dog in cosmetics today.”

(as) tough as old boots

If something, specially meat, is (as) tough as old boots, it is hard to cut and difficult to chew. (This can also refer to a person who is strong either physically or in character.)
“I was served a steak as tough as old boots.”

tough cookie

A person who is a tough cookie is one who is self-confident and ambitious and will do what is necessary to get what they want.
“I’m not worried about Jason’s future – he’s a tough cookie!”

tower of strength

The term tower of strength is used to describe a person who is very helpful and supportive during difficult times.
“All during my illness, my sister was a tower of strength.”

(as) ugly as sin

The expression as ugly as sin is used to refer to people or things that are considered to be very unattractive.
“Have you seen the new neighbour’s dog? It’s as ugly as sin!”

upper crust

This term refers to the higher levels of society, the upper class or the aristocracy.
“William hides his working-class background and pretends to be from the upper crust.”

vertically challenged

The term vertically challenged is a humoristic way of describing someone who is not very tall.
“High shelves are difficult for vertically challenged shoppers.”

wet blanket

A person who is a wet blanket is so boring or unenthusiastic that they prevent others from enjoying themselves.
“Come on! Relax ! Don’t be such a wet blanket!”

whistle blower

If you report an illegal or socially harmful activity to the authorities, and give information about those responsible for it, you are a whistle blower.
“The poor working conditions were reported by a whistle blower.”

whiz kid

A whiz kid is someone, usually young, who is very talented and successful at doing something.
“Apparently the new engineer knows what he’s doing – a real whiz-kid from what I’ve heard.”

winning ways

A person who has winning ways has a charming or persuasive manner of gaining the affection of others or obtaining what they want.
“My grandson is hard to resist – he’s got such winning ways.”

worth one’s weight in gold

Someone who is worth their weight in gold is considered to be of great value.
“We couldn’t run the farm without him. He’s worth his weight in gold.”


A person who is yellow-bellied is cowardly, or not at all brave.
“The bus was full of yellow-bellied passengers who disappeared when the driver was attacked by two youths.”