NTC’s American Idioms Dictionary
To the User
All languages have phrases or sentences that cannot be understood literally. Even if you know the meaning of all the words in a phrase and understand all the grammar of the phrase completely, the meaning of the phrase may still be confusing. Many proverbs,informal phrases, and common sayings offer this kind of problem. A phrase or sentence of this type is said to be idiomatic.
This dictionary is a collection of the idiomatic phrases and sentences that occur frequently in American English.
The third edition contains more than one thousand idiomatic expressions not listed in the second edition and a number of new features that provide additional convenience and simplicity.
Using of the Dictionary
- Start by looking up the complete phrase that you are seeking in the dictionary. Each expression is alphabetized under the first word of the phrase, except the words a, an, and the. After the first word, entry heads are alphabetized letter by letter. For example, in so many words will be found in the section dealing with the letter i. Entry phrases are never inverted or reordered like so many words, in; words, in so many; or many words, in so. Initial articles—a, an, and the—are not alpha- betized and appear in a different typeface in the entry. In the entry heads, the words someone or one stand for persons, and something stands for things. These and other generic expressions appear in a different typeface.
- If you do not find the phrase you want, or if you cannot decide exactly
what the phrase is, look up any major word in the phrase in the Phrase- Finder Index, which begins on page 447. There you will find all the phrases that contain the key word you have looked up. Pick out the phrase you want and look it up in the dictionary.
- An entry head may have one or more alternate forms. The entry head and its alternates are printed in boldface type, and the alternate forms are preceded by “and.” Two or more alternate forms are separated by a semicolon (;).
- Many of the entry phrases have more than one major sense. These senses are numbered with boldface numerals.
- Individual numbered senses may have additional forms that appear in boldface type, in which case the and and the additional form(s) follow the numeral.
- The boldface entry head (together with any alternate forms) is usu- ally followed by a definition or explanation. Explanations are enclosed in angle brackets (< and >), and explain or describe the entry head rather than define it. Definitions take the form of words, phrases, or sentences that are semantic equivalents of the entry head. Alternate definitions and restatements of the definitions are separated by a semicolon (;). These additional definitions are usually given to show slight differences in meaning or interpretation. Sometimes an alternate definition is given when the vocabulary of the first definition is difficult.
- Some entries include instructions to look up some other phrase. For
scarcer than hen’s teeth Go to (as) scarce as hen’s teeth.
- A definition or explanation may be followed by comments parenting- theses. These comments tell about some of the variations of the phrase, explain what it refers to, give other useful information, or indicate cross-referencing.
- Some definitions are preceded by additional information in square brackets. This information makes the definition clearer by supplying information about the typical grammatical context in which the phrase is found.
- Sometimes the numbered senses refer only to people or things, but not both, even though the entry head indicates both someone or some- thing. In such cases,the numeral is followed by “[with someone]” or “[with something].”
- Examples are introduced by a ☐ or a T and are in italic type. The T introduces an example containing two elements that have been trans- posed, such as a particle and the object of a verb. This is typically found with phrasal verbs.
- Some entry heads stand for two or more idiomatic expressions. Paten- theses are used to show which parts of the phrase may or may not be present. For example: (all) set to do something stands for all set to do something and set to do something.