Most of these expressions have their roots in a religious text but have now entered the English language and are often used in everyday conversation.
- to act proud and powerful (this idiom is usually used in a negative way)Our boss always acts high-and-mighty when he is at a meeting.
Our friend always acts high-and-mighty when we meet her. We do not like it.
- money which can be worshipped as a god, money is thought to be more important and powerful than anything elseMy neighbor does not think of anything except the almighty dollar.
am I my brother's keeper?
- am I responsible for how I treat my fellow man? - this expression symbolizes the unwillingness of people to accept responsibility for the welfare of others or for their behavior (in this case brother means everyone) - in the Bible when Cain murdered Abel, God asked Cain where his brother was and he answered, "Am I my brother's keeper?"The man asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" when his friend asked him to help the other man.
I cannot accept responsibility for the bad behavior of my friend. I am not my brother's keeper.
an act of faith
- an act or deed that demonstrates religious faith, an act or a deed that shows trust in someone or somethingIt was an act of faith when the man decided to quit his job and do something different.
an act of God
- something (an accident) for which no human is responsible, an act of nature such as a storm/earthquake/hurricaneThe accident was an act of God when the rocks came onto the highway.
as hot as hell
- very hotIt was as hot as hell in the movie theater.
as patient as Job
- very patient (Job was a person in the Bible)The man was as patient as Job as he waited at the government office.
as poor as a church mouse
- very poorThe woman was as poor as a church mouse and had no money.
as ugly as sin
- very uglyOur dog is as ugly as sin but we love him.
as wise as Solomon
- very wise (Solomon is a character in the Bible)Our neighbor is as wise as Solomon and knows many things.
baptism by fire
- a first experience of something that is difficult or unpleasant, a difficult first experience in a new job or activityMy new job was a baptism by fire and I had to learn it very quickly.
bear one's cross
- to endure one's difficulties, to bear one's burdenMy job is terrible but I must bear my cross and continue to do it.
beat swords into ploughshares/plowshares
- to turn away from military activity in order to pursue peace (this is from Isaiah II in the Bible)Many people would like to beat swords into ploughshares and have a more peaceful world.
bell, book, and candle
- symbols of witchcraft"I cannot do miracles. Do you expect me to bring bell, book, and candle?"
better to be a live dog than a dead lion
- it is better to be a live coward than a dead hero (this is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible)It is better to be a live dog than a dead lion so I walked away and did not try and fight with the man.
beyond the pale
- unacceptable, outside of commonly agreed standards of decency or acceptable behaviorThe woman's behavior at the wedding was beyond the pale.
a blessing in disguise
- something that seems terrible but actually produces good results, some bad luck or misfortune which ultimately results in something positiveThe man was very sick and it was a blessing in disguise when he passed away.
It was a blessing in disguise when the man lost his old job. He now has a new and more interesting job.
blind leading the blind
- uninformed and incompetent people leading other people who are similarly incapable, someone who does not understand something but tries to explain it to othersIt was like the blind leading the blind when the new employee tried to explain the company system to the other new employees.
The computer teacher did not know much about computers. It was like the blind leading the blind when he tried to teach the students.
one's brother's keeper
- the responsiblity for how you treat your fellow man - this symbolizes the unwillingness of people to accept responsibility for the welfare of others (in this case brother means everyone) - in the Bible when Cain murdered Abel, God asked Cain where his brother was and he answered, "Am I my brother's keeper?"The man did not believe that he was his brother's keeper and he would never help anyone.
by guess and by golly
- by luck, with the help of God (Golly has the meaning of God)By guess and by golly I was able to arrive at the airport on time.
carry one's cross
- to endure one's difficulties, to carry one's burdenThe woman must carry her cross. She has many problems with her family.
cast pearls before swine
- to waste something good on someone who does not care about it (as you would if you put some pearls or something valuable before a pig)The man felt that he was casting pearls before swine when he gave the beautiful dress to his daughter who did not care about it.
cast the first stone
- to be the first to attack someone, to be quick to blame or criticize or punish othersI told my friend that she should look at herself and her bad points rather than cast the first stone and criticize her friend.
cast your bread upon the waters
- to do good without expecting that you will get something back in the immediate futureThe woman cast her bread upon the waters and worked very hard helping the poor people in her city.
- to receive a severe scoldingThe man caught hell from his wife when he arrived home late.
catch the devil
- to receive a severe scoldingThe little boy will catch the devil if he arrives home late.
chapter and verse
- detailed, in reference to sources of information (this refers to the method of referring to a biblical text)I had to give chapter and verse in my reasons for disputing the company policy.
crux of the matter
- the central point of the matter (crux is an old word that means cross)We spent some time discussing issues that were not important before we began to talk about the crux of the matter.
dammed if I do and dammed if I don't
- there are problems if I do something and problems if I do not do somethingI am dammed if I do and dammed if I don't whenever I try to help my friend.
(one's) days are numbered
- one's life or existence is coming to an end (this is from the Bible)My grandfather is very sick. I believe that his days are numbered.
Our company is having many problems. My days may be numbered with this company.
- a very casual attitude, a worry-free or carefree attitudeThe boy has a devil-may-care attitude about school and rarely does his homework.
a devil of a job
- a very difficult job or taskIt was a devil of a job and I did not finish until very late.
the devil to pay
- much troubleThere will be the devil to pay if I do not phone my boss this evening.
don sackcloth and ashes
- to behave in a way that shows that you are very sorry for something that you have done wrong - in ancient Biblical times people wore very uncomfortable sackcloth (cloth for sacks) for mourning and also to repent for something that they did wrongThe man was asked to don sackcloth and ashes to repent for his terrible mistake.
- a person who insists on proof before he will believe something (in the Bible the apostle Thomas doubted the resurrection of Jesus until he had proof)The man was a doubting Thomas and he usually did not trust anyone.
eye for an eye
- if someone does something wrong than he or she should be punished by having the same thing done to themThe man believes in an eye for an eye and wants the criminal to be punished.
eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
- if someone does something wrong than he or she should be punished by having the same thing done to themThe citizens believe in an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They want the criminal to be punished for killing the girl.
fall from grace
- to stop being held in favor by others - especially because of some wrong or foolish actionThe politician had a fall from grace after he was involved in a scandal.
for the devil of it
- just for fun, because it is a little bit evil but why not do it anyway, for no good reasonThe boys decided to go swimming after the lifeguard had gone just for the devil of it.
for the heck of it
- just for fun, because it is a little bit evil but why not do it anyway, for no good reasonI decided to buy a new sweater just for the heck of it.
for the hell of it
- just for fun, because it is a little bit evil but why not do it anyway, for no good reasonThe two woman decided to go away for the weekend just for the hell of it.
- someone or something that one finds attractive partly because it is illegal or immoral (the fruit in the Garden of Eden was forbidden to Adam by God)The boys wanted to enter the old building. It was forbidden fruit to them.
full of the devil
- always making mischiefThe young boys were full of the devil when they entered the classroom.
- to receive a severe scoldingThe little boy is going to get hell if he does not go home now.
- to develop a strong religious belief, to become serious about somethingThe man got religion while he was going to university.
get the devil
- to receive a severe scoldingThe little girl got the devil when she got her dress dirty.
give (someone) hell
- to scold someone severelyThe man gave the boy hell for walking in his garden.
give (someone) the devil
- to scold someone severelyThe teacher gave the boy the devil for not doing his homework.
give the devil his due
- to give your foe/enemy proper credit for something (used for someone who has done something wrong or bad - just like the devil)We must give the devil his due and remember that although we do not like the man he is very clever.
give up the ghost
- to die, to release one's spiritMy old car gave up the ghost last evening.
go to hell
- to become ruined, to go awayEverything in the small company seems to be going to hell.
go to hell in a handbasket
- to become totally worthless, to become badThe area around our school is going to hell in a handbasket.
go to the devil
- to become ruinedOur company has gone to the devil since the new president arrived.
- the undeniable truthThe boy told the teacher the gospel truth about the accident.
have a close call
- to have a narrow escape from something dangerousThe man had a close call and almost had an accident with his car.
(not) have a snowball's chance in hell
- to have no chance at all (a snowball would melt immediately in hell where it is very hot)The boy does not have a snowball's chance in hell of entering medical school.
have been to hell and back
- to have survived a great deal of troubleMy backpack has been to hell and back but I still like to use it.
have hell to pay
- to have a great deal of troubleI will have hell to pay if I do not finish my homework before tomorrow.
have the devil to pay
- to have a great deal of troubleThe boy will have the devil to pay when his mother arrives home from the store.
have the patience of a saint
- to be very patientThe teacher has the patient of a saint with her young students.
heavy cross to bear or heavy cross for (someone) to bear
- a difficult or heavy burden that someone must endureThe death of the man's son was a very heavy cross for him to bear.
- self-important and arrogantOur boss has a high-and-mighty attitude around the workers.
hold out the olive branch
- to offer to end a dispute and be friendly (the olive branch is a biblical reference and a symbol of peace and reconciliation)We decided to hold out the olive branch and try to stop fighting with our neighbors.
- excessively pious, acting as though one is more virtuous than other peopleMy neighbor has a holier-than-thou attitude and always thinks that she is right.
how in creation
- in creation is used for emphasis after how to express really/indeed/in fact"How in creation did the car get inside the restaurant?"
If the mountain won't come to Muhammed, Muhammed will go to the mountain
- if someone will not come to you then you must go to themMy supervisor would not come to talk to me. So if the mountain won't come to Muhammed, Muhammed will go to the mountain and I went to see my supervisor.
- in a state of bliss or happiness, deadI was in heaven after I got my new job.
My grandfather is in heaven.
- in a region which is on the border of hell (in some Christian religions, there is a limbo set aside for souls that do not go to either heaven or hell), in a state of neglect/oblivion, in an indefinite stateI do not know what is going to happen with my job and I have been in limbo for many weeks now.
in one's Sunday best
- in one's best Sunday clothes, in the clothes that one wears to churchI wore my Sunday best to the job interview
in seventh heaven
- in a very happy stateThe little girl was in seventh heaven when she got the new doll.
in (someone's) prayers
- remembered and called by name when someone praysThe woman was in my prayers after her accident.
in the twinkling of an eye
- very quicklyIn the twinkling of an eye the car was involved in an accident.
Judgement of Solomon
- a metaphor referring to a wise judge and his or her strategy to determine the truth by tricking the parties into revealing their true feelings - this refers to a story from the Bible where Solomon ruled between two women who were both claiming to be the mother of a childThe manager was using the Judgement of Solomon when he tried to solve the problem between the two employees.
keep body and soul together
- to feed and clothe and house oneselfI had to work very hard in order to keep body and soul together.
kill the fatted calf
- to prepare an elaborate banquet in someones's honor (from the Biblical story that tells about the return of the prodigal son)We decided to kill the fatted calf and have a big party for our parents.
land of milk and honey
- an imaginery place where there is more than enough of everythingIt was like entering the land of milk and honey when we arrived in the new city.
land of Nod
- the state of being asleep (this describes the fact that people sometimes nod when they are falling asleep - from Genesis in the Bible)The boy was in the land of Nod when the teacher asked him a question.
let the dead bury the dead
- to forget about past conflicts, to forget about old grievances, to let bygones be bygonesI told my cousin to let the dead bury the dead and not think about her past conflict with her sister.
like a bat out of hell
- with great speed and force, very quicklyThe man left the building like a bat out of hell.
a live dog is better than a dead lion
- it is better to be a live coward than a dead hero (this is from Ecclesiastes in the Bible)A live dog is better than a dead lion and I told my friend not to get into a fight with the angry man in the restaurant.
a Mecca for (someone or something)
- a place that is frequently visited by a particular group of people because it is important to them for some reason (from the city of Mecca which is the religious center of Islam)The park is a Mecca for people who are interested in butterflies.
Money is the root of all evil.
- money is the basic cause of all wrongdoingMoney is the root of all evil and the couple is always fighting about money.
move heaven and earth to (do something)
- to make a major effort to do somethingI will move heaven and earth to try and get my friend a new job.
not know (someone) from Adam
- to not know someone at allI did not know the man from Adam but he seemed to know me.
nothing in creation
- nothing at allNothing in creation will stop me from missing the concert next week.
nowhere in creation
- in creation is used for emphasis after nowhere to express really/indeed/in factThere is nowhere in creation where I can find the new cellphone.
odor of sanctity
- an atmosphere of excessive holiness or pietyThe man always has an odor of sanctity around him but he is not a good person.
a paradise on earth
- a place on earth that is just like paradise which is a wonderful place to go after you die (the Quran/Koran describes paradise as a place containing a garden of delight)The small town where the man lives is like paradise on earth.
pie in the sky
- an idea or plan that is totally impractical, a reward, a special heavenly rewardThe man always has ideas that are pie in the sky and most of them are not very good.
play the devil's advocate
- to argue against or object to a proposition which one may actually agree with - this is done purely to test the validity of the proposition (the devil's advocate was given the role of opposing the making of a saint in the medieval Church in order to prove that the grounds for canonization were sound)I was playing the devil's advocate when I began to ask the man questions.
preach to the choir
- to praise or speak to those who already agree with you, to recommend something to someone who is already in favor of itTelling the conservationists about the need to preserve green space is preaching to the choir.
preach to the converted
- to praise or speak to those who already agree with you, to recommend something to someone who is already in favor of itI was preaching to the converted when I told my friend about the new car.
- to complain angrily about something, to cause a lot of trouble about something (if you are making trouble then you are raising the spirit of Cain who was cursed by God for killing his brother Abel - this is from the Bible and the Quran)The two boys were raising Cain at the back of the classroom.
raise hell with (someone or something)
- to make trouble, to behave wildly, to be very angry, to act in some extreme mannerThe young man began to raise hell in the restaurant.
raise the devil (with someone or something)
- to make trouble, to behave wildly, to be very angry, to act in some extreme mannerThe two girls were raising the devil in their school classroom.
religious about (doing something)
- to be strict about doing something, to be conscientious about doing somethingMy mother is religious about brushing her teeth every day.
rob Peter to pay Paul
- to take from someone or something in order to give to someone or something else, to pay one debt by getting another debtThe man was robbing Peter to pay Paul when he borrowed money to pay for his credit card debt.
- something that is regarded by some people with such respect and veneration that they do not like it being criticized by anyone in any way (from the fact that cows are regarded as sacred in India and are not eaten or mistreated)The education system is a sacred cow and the government will never take money from it.
salt of the earth
- the most worthy of people, a very good or worthy person, a person who is decent and dependable and unpretentious (from the Bible)Our neighbors are the salt of the earth and we like them very much.
- to say a prayer of gratitude before or after a mealThe family always says grace before dinner.
scare the devil out of (someone)
- to frighten someone very badlyThe sound of the bell scared the devil out of the little boy.
scare the dickens out of (someone)
- to frighten someone very badlyThe movie scared the dickens out of the little boy.
scare the hell out of (someone)
- to frighten someone very badlyThe sound of the lightning scared the hell out of the young boy.
separation of church and state
- the constitutional barrier that prevents governments from establishing a state religionThe government must be careful to always recognize that the separation of church and state is very important.
- a metaphor referring to a wise judge and his or her strategy to determine the truth by tricking the parties into revealing their true feelings - this refers to a story from the Bible where Solomon ruled between two women who were both claiming to be the mother of a childThe judge's method of questioning the witness presented a Solomon's choice to the criminals.
sound of one hand clapping
- a famous Zen Buddhist koan (riddle or puzzling statement or story) which is used as an aid to meditation and as a means of gaining spiritual awakeningThe image of the sound of one hand clapping caused the man to think about the situation.
speak of the devil
- to mention someone's name and then have that person appear"Speak of the devil. My friend has just arrived."
- one's best clothesWe were wearing our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes when we went to the dinner.
swear on a stack of Bibles
- to state something very earnestly, to pledge to tell the truth (in court one sometimes swears to tell the truth by placing one's hand on a Bible or other religious book)The man swore on a stack of Bibles that he did not break the computer.
thankful for small blessings
- to be grateful for any small benefits or advantages that one has - especially in a generally difficult situationYou must be thankful for small blessings and try and enjoy every day.
there will be the devil to pay
- there will be much troubleThere will be the devil to pay if I do not finish my homework tonight.
through hell and high water
- through all kinds of severe difficultiesI went through hell and high water to find a good hotel for my parents.
to hell and gone
- a great distanceMy friend was to hell and gone before he remembered his suitcase.
turn the other cheek
- to decide not to do anything to hurt someone who has hurt you, to not become angry or attack or insult someone who has attacked or insulted you (based on Biblical instructions)The man told his son to turn the other cheek if someone tried to fight with him.
until hell freezes over
- neverMy uncle will not leave his apartment until hell freezes over.
wear sackcloth and ashes
- to behave in a way that shows that you are very sorry for something that you have done wrong - in ancient Biblical times people wore very uncomfortable sackcloth (cloth for sacks) for mourning and also to repent for something that they did wrongThe politician was forced to wear sackcloth and ashes as an apology for his wrongdoing.
what in creation
- in creation is used for emphasis after what to express really/indeed/in fact"What in creation is happening next door? It is very noisy."
when hell freezes over
- neverThe woman says that she will wear her old dress when hell freezes over.
when in creation
- in creation is used for emphasis after when to express really/indeed/in fact"When in creation do you plan to begin to clean your room?"
where in creation
- in creation is used for emphasis after where to express really/indeed/in fact"Where in creation did I leave my glasses?"
who in creation
- in creation is used for emphasis after who to express really/indeed/in fact"Who in creation took my notebook?"
with all one's heart and soul
- very sincerelyThe little boy wants a new bicycle with all his heart and soul.