February 22, 2013

hat tip

Posted in Idioms at 12:04 am by Feng

hat tip – used as an acknowledgement that someone has brought a piece of information to the writer’s attention, or provided the inspiration for a piece of writing [oxforddict], also see [urbandict]

On the Big Band Theory, Shelton decided to play revenge to Kripke, a colleague of his who had humiliated Shelton publicly over a radio show. He discreetly put a large amount of chemicals above the tiles of the ceiling in Kripke’s lab and also installed web cameras to capture how the prank would work. He then invited Raj and Leonard to watch the webcam at home.

“Here comes Kripke,” Raj pointed at the webcam with excitement. However, he also found that Kripke was accompanied by the president of the university and the research directors in a guided tour. However, it was too late to stop the prank. The university president and directors, together with Kripke, were humiliated by encountering a sudden downpour of chemical foams dropping from the ceiling. Leonard was shocked and scared. He however tried to comfort Shelton: “At least they don’t know it’s you”. However, the prank didn’t finish yet. After the downpour of chemicals, there sounded a pre-recording of Shelton’s voice as if he were speaking to Kripke: “What you have seen is a classic prank from the malevalent mind of Shelton Cooper.” The voice continued: “Also a hat tip to Raj and Leonard for their encouragement and support in this enterprise.” Raj and Leonard were embarrassed but found no where to hide.


February 5, 2013

go bananas

Posted in Idioms at 12:14 am by Feng

go bananas – to go crazy; to become very angry or emotional [freedict]

I learned this phrase from an instructor in a training course that I attended today. I wondered why the expression “going bananas” has anything to do with craziness. It seems some else also asked the same question. One possible explanation is related to how monkeys can become super-excited when they are given bananas.

January 31, 2013

straw man argument

Posted in Idioms at 12:34 am by Feng

straw man argument – is a type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position [wiki]

In an academic debate, I pointed out the insecurity of a newly proposed cryptographic protocol. To support my argument, I compared the protocol with a similar but well-known scheme. However, the protocol designer was not happy and criticized me of making a “straw man argument“. I found it an interesting expression – one creates a straw man as a superficial replacement of a real target and attacks it instead to claim an easy victory. That’s interesting. But after learning what this phrase means, I am sure I was not making a straw man argument.

January 24, 2013

flight risk

Posted in Idioms at 12:52 am by Feng

flight risk – A person who appears ready to leave a job or relationship, presumably for a better opportunity elsewhere [urbandict]

On the Big Bang Theory, Bernadette asked Amy if she and Sheldon would get married someday. “Yes, of course”, Amy replied affirmatively, but then she whispered to Bernadette, “But don’t tell Sheldon. He is still a flight risk.” I also found a good explanation of this phrase here.

January 23, 2013

third wheel

Posted in Idioms at 1:19 am by Feng

third wheel – someone who is in a situation where they are not really needed or are ignored by other people [thefreedict]

When you are hanging out with two other people who are a couple, you may sometimes feel awkward and extra. In Chinese, we usually use the phrase “a light bulb” to refer to the third person, implying that he/she does nothing but to serve to shine the other two. An equivalent English expression is “a third wheel”. On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon invited Raj to come along for a date he had with Amy. Halfway through the dinner, Raj left. He later said to Leonard: “I didn’t want to be a third wheel.” If you image a bicycle, you can see that having a third wheel will probably do more messing up than any good.

January 17, 2013

cat burglar

Posted in Idioms at 12:58 am by Feng

cat burglar – A burglar who is especially skilled at stealthy or undetected entry of a premises [thefreedict]

In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, Raj and Howard found that Shelton always disappeared at 2:45 pm, so they decided to find out where did Shelton go. They secretly followed Shelton to a quiet corner and saw he locked himself in a room. Later at night, Raj and Howard came back with lock-picking tools; they were curious to know what was in the room. Raj was excited about this secretive operation. “Look at us,” he said to Howard, “Sneaking around in the middle of the night, like a couple of cat burglars.” But Howard disagreed: “I think we are more like Ninjas.”

January 9, 2013

catch a break

Posted in Idioms at 12:47 am by Feng

catch a break – get lucky [idiomQuest]

On The Big Bang Theory, Leonard finally got a chance to kiss Penny. While the two were kissing, Raj and Howard rushed to find Leonard and tell him that Sheldon had disappeared and that they should set off to look for him. “Boy, you can’t catch a break, can you?” Leonard said to himself before being dragged away by Raj and Howard.

January 8, 2013

reek of

Posted in Idioms at 12:42 am by Feng

reek of  – to have the stench or smell of something [thefreedict]

On Big Bang Theory, Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard returned home from a scientific excursion to the South Pole. Leonard went to the next door say hi to Penny. Raj and Howard started to confess to Sheldon that they tampered with data to make Sheldon believe that the experiment was successful so he could stop. Sheldon went angry: “You tampered with my experiment!” He asked: “Did Leonard know about this? He is my best friend. Surely he didn’t.” “Actually it was his idea”, replied Howard. “Of course it was”, Sheldon shouted, “The whole plan reeks of Leonard.” Note that the idiom “reek of” usually expresses a negative feeling; be careful to only use it in the correct context.

January 4, 2013


Posted in Idioms at 11:45 pm by Feng

kick-ass: really fine; excellent; cool [dictionary]. Sometimes, it is also spelt as kickass (see [urbandictionary])

This year, two lecturers created a new undergraduate module on cryptography. The student feedback has been generally positive. One (anonymous) student wrote a comment in the module evaluation: “Overall I would say both lecturers were kickass...” At first, I thought it must be a negative word, but I realized I was wrong as the student went on to write: “They took a subject I knew almost nothing about to start with, and not only nurtured my interest, but made the process of learning fun and challenging through the courseworks.”A good compliment and a very cool idiom!

September 14, 2012

shy bairns get nowt

Posted in Idioms at 10:54 pm by Feng

shy bairns get nowt – shy babies get nothing. [wikitionary]

If you’re too  shy or don’t ask, you will not get what you want. This is a popular phrase used in Newcastle and nearby areas in the UK. I learned it today from a local PhD student and liked it very much. The phrase is intuitive to understand and speaks a lot of common sense. With some practice, it will make you sound like a native Georidie!

June 23, 2012

set the cat among the pigeons

Posted in Idioms at 10:54 pm by Feng

put/set the cat among the pigeons – to do or say something that causes trouble and makes a lot of people angry or worried [thefreedictionary]

This is an interesting expression that I learned from Scheneier’s blog. Prince Philip once made some remark over a radio interview against banning guns. He said to the interviewer off-air afterwards: “That will really set the cat among the pigeons, won’t it?” It is mainly a British idiom.

September 8, 2011

the sharpest pencil in the pack

Posted in Idioms at 11:03 am by Feng

the sharpest pencil in the pack — the smartest

In a seminar, the speaker wasn’t impressed by the programming capability of some developers. He referred to them as “not the sharpest pencil the pack“.

June 7, 2011

have ducks in a row

Posted in Idioms at 11:55 pm by Feng

have ducks in a row — to organize things well [thefreedict]

On a romantic comedy movie “A Lot Like Love”, Oliver (played by Aston Kutcher) bumped into a pretty girl Emily (by Amanda Peet) on the airplane to New York. When asked about his future plan, Oliver said: “I’m trying to have my ducks in a row — job, house, car, and a beautiful wife …”

March 8, 2011

buckle down

Posted in Idioms at 9:13 pm by Feng

buckle down – to set to work with vigor; concentrate on one’s work [dict]

On the “Big bang theory”, Raj starts to work for Sheldon. To spice up a conversation, Raj tries to make some jokes. But Sheldon doesn’t like it and thinks that’s a waste of time. Raj rubs his hands and says: “OK. Let’s buckle down and work”.

March 6, 2011

drown one’s sorrows

Posted in Idioms at 10:13 pm by Feng

drown one’s sorrows — Drink liquor to escape one’s unhappiness [dict]

A guy was disappointed by the Manchester United defeat to Liverpool today. He said: “I’m going home now to drown my sorrows“.

January 29, 2011

bust someone’s hump

Posted in Idioms at 11:17 am by Feng

bust someone’s hump – to work very hard on something [urbandict]

On the Armoured, one guy speaks of how his parents worked hard to support the family: “They busted their humps to make a living.”

January 8, 2011

Let the cat out of the bag

Posted in Idioms at 2:38 pm by Feng

Let the cat out of bag – to disclose a secret [thefreedict]

Armoured (2009) is a rather boring movie. It is about a group of security guards conspiring to jack a shield-armoured trunk loaded with 42 million dollars cash. But the plan goes wrong from moment one guard kills a homeless who witnesses the robbery. The rest movie is about them trying to cover it up and the whole thing getting more messed. After the homeless is killed, one guard shouts: “There is no way turning back. The cat’s out of the bag now.” By comparison, Takers (2010) is a much more entertaining movie on the similar theme of trunk robbery.

January 4, 2011

make one’s skin crawl

Posted in Idioms at 8:09 pm by Feng

make one’s skin crawl – to cause goose bumps on the skin as response to fear or frightening [thefreedict]

On Two and a Half Men, Alan accidentally burned down his girlfriend Lindsay’s house . He tried to comfort her: “It’s not that bad. At least people are safe. And we still have each other”. Lindsay turned face and said: “You make my skin crawl.” This is another expression of giving someone “goose bumps“.

December 29, 2010

play chicken

Posted in Idioms at 11:12 am by Feng

play chicken – If children or young people play chicken, they do something that is dangerous in order to see who is frightened first. [Americanidioms]

On a TV program, an international affair expert commented on the current tense situation between North and South Korea: “They are playing chicken.”  This is dangerous as playing chicken will eventually escalate to war! As I searched for this phrase, I found a related phrase called “play chicken in traffic“, which refers to several dangerous games on the road to test who is the most courageous. In one game, two cars speed toward each other and the one who first swerves is the looser. See this for more detail.

September 6, 2010

mumbo jumbo

Posted in Idioms at 9:23 am by Feng

mumbo jumbo (or mumbo-jumbo) – meaningless or unnecessarily complicated language [dict][wiki]

A guy wasn’t impressed by the lengthy presentation by the Human Resource department. “It has over fifty slides”, he complained, “of which fifty percent repeat the same HR mumbo-jumbo.”

May 17, 2010

pass muster

Posted in Idioms at 10:48 pm by Feng

pass muster – to meet the required standard [UseEnglish]

From the book Cryptography Engineering, “In short, DES does not pass muster any more.”  The DES is an out-dated encryption standard that had been serving the security world for nearly 20 years. Its design is simple and elegant, but the security strength is considered weak from today’s standard. The original meaning of “muster” refers to an assembly of troops ready for inspection. Naturally, “not passing muster” means failing to pass the inspection. We often say “muster the courage”, the use of the word “muster” can be  traced to the same military root.

May 10, 2010

belt and braces

Posted in Idioms at 10:45 pm by Feng

belt and braces – using more than one method to make sure that something is safe or sure to happen [thefreedict]

In the security industry, we learn to become paranoid. Several colleagues were discussing a software vulnerability and some countermeasures. They decided to implement all of them just to be safe. “Belt-and-braces may look silly”, as one of them explained, “It makes very sure that your trousers will not fall onto the floor.”

This is chiefly a British idiom. The American version is “belt and suspenders” (see [urbandict]). Look at these Google images, and you will know that if someone wear both belt and suspenders (or braces), that will look silly indeed.

March 30, 2010

take stock of

Posted in Idioms at 8:36 am by Feng

take stock of – To make an estimate or appraisal, as of resources or of oneself [theefreedict]

To take stock of is to think about something carefully before making a decision. If you find your work boring, it’s perhaps the time to stand back and take stock of your career.

March 19, 2010

double talk

Posted in Idioms at 6:56 pm by Feng

double talk – Deliberately ambiguous and evasive language [dict]

Sometimes, you ask someone a specific question, but he avoids to give you a straight answer. For example, he may say “well, yes and no …” In that case, he gives you double-talk. Considering “yes” and “no” as double answers can help memorize this phrase.

March 18, 2010

full of hot air

Posted in Idioms at 8:51 pm by Feng

full of hot air – full of non-sense [dict]

Although he seems eloquent, he is full of hot air. This phrase reminds me of the steamer – it spouts hot air, but has nothing concrete in it.

March 17, 2010

power nap

Posted in Idioms at 8:56 pm by Feng

power nap – a brief refreshing sleep, often during the workday [dict][wiki]

This is a short nap (typically 15 -30 min) before entering the deep sleep. Sometimes, people might think the longer it takes to nap at noon, the more refreshing one would feel when he wakes up. This is actually not true. If you enter the deep sleep and wake up in the middle, you may feel even more tired.

While I’m looking up this phrase on wikipedia, I learned another phrase “caffeine nap”.  A study shows that one gets the best rest if he takes a cup of coffee, then followed by a power nap. Well, I am not sure that is true – never tried.

March 15, 2010

the ball is in your court

Posted in Idioms at 8:48 pm by Feng

the ball is in your court – it’s up to you to decide or take the next step [UseEnglish]

If you play tennis with someone, and the ball is in your court, then it’s your turn to hit it back. That is of course the literary meaning of the idiom. If someone tells you “the ball is in your court“, it’s time for you to take action now.

in cahoots with

Posted in Idioms at 12:21 am by Feng

in cahoots with — Questionable collaboration; secret partnership [answers]

From the news, after gaining a moral high ground in defying search censorship against Chinese government, Google is now working in cahoots with the America’s spooks: National Security Agency.

August 27, 2009

spruce up

Posted in Idioms at 2:07 pm by Feng

spruce up – to make neat and trime [dict]

From BBC, Shanghai finally decides to “spruce up its image”. It’s long been an international amusement to see many obscure English translations in China. I recall there was a newly opened shop painting “service not found” as the English translation for its Chinese name. Presumably, someone typed the Chinese characters into an on-line tanslation service and it happend that the webiste was down.

August 24, 2009

dry run

Posted in Idioms at 9:57 pm by Feng

dry run – A trial exercise or rehearsal [dict]

On “two and a half men”, Alan was depressed after his wife Kandi deserted him. He curled up on bed, not speaking to anyone. When his son, Jake, came in, Alan mumbled that he was taking a nap. “I’m getting old, Jake,” Alan said, “Old people nap. It’s like a dry run for death.”

August 17, 2009

pull the wool over someone’s eyes

Posted in Idioms at 2:30 pm by Feng

pull the wool over someone’s eyes – to deceive someone [answers]

It is difficult to pull the wool over his eyes” is a jocular way to say “it is difficult to cheat him”. The word “wool” relates to the wig that the judge wears in court. Pulling the wool blinds the judge’s eyes so that he is unable to see the facts in a trial.

May 20, 2009

sink in

Posted in Idioms at 8:55 am by Feng

sink in – to penetrate the mind [dict]

This is an entertaining news from BBC. A woman didn’t feel well, but she went to see a doctor and was told she had been 20 weeks pregrant. Thirteen days later, she gave birth to twins. Of course, this is all good news (though surprising) to the family. “It took a while to sink in that I was pregnant in the first place”, she said during an interview, “and took a bit longer to sink in there was (were) two of them.”

April 21, 2009

too many chiefs and not enough Indians

Posted in Idioms at 1:52 pm by Feng

too many chiefs and not enough Indians – too many bosses, and not enough people to do the work [thefreedict]

“In the old days,” someone said, “The HR recuritment policy in my company was flexible. I once hired a guy who didn’t even have a degree, but he was really good at programming. And he never complained doing the chore. Now, the company enforces a strict recruitment policy to ensure only recruiting very good people. But, the problem is that we end up with too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

April 15, 2009

can’t have one’s cake and eat it

Posted in Idioms at 5:11 pm by Feng

can’t have one’s cake and eat it – can’t have things both ways [thefreedict]

I discovered some useful shortcuts in Visual Studio and told a colleague. Unfortunately, the shortcuts didn’t work for him because they conflicted with the emacs program that he was using. “That’s pity,” he said, “But you can’t have butter and the money of the butter”.  He is French so he was literally translating a French idiom. The English eqivalent is: You can’t have your cake and eat it.

There is also a similar saying in Chinese: you can’t have the fish and the bear palm paw at the same time (see here and here).

April 9, 2009


Posted in Idioms at 11:35 am by Feng

namby-pamby – lacking in character, directness, or moral or emotional strength [dict]

Someone brought in some computer hardware that he used nearly 30 years ago. The hardware looks very bulky, by today’s standard. The memory controller is heavy enough to knock a person out. “It is real hardware,” he says, ” Very solid-built, not like the the namby-pamby stuff you guys are using today.”

April 7, 2009

that ship has sailed

Posted in Idioms at 9:18 am by Feng

that ship has sailed – A particular opportunity has passed you by [UsingEnglish]

On the ‘two and a half men’, Alan is splitting up with Kandi. It seems Kandi has a better lawyer and will get everything, but Alan still fights to get at least the dog. Charlie, his brother, tries to enlighten him: “Just give her everything. When all of this is settled down, you get one thing that you value most and that you cannot put a price on…” “Dignity?” Alan asks. “Oh, stop it,” Charlies continues, “That ship has sailed… The thing you get is freedom!”

April 6, 2009

break wind

Posted in Idioms at 9:06 am by Feng

break wind – to expel intestinal gas (an euphemism for fart) [dict]

This is hilarious. A football player was given a yellow card for breaking wind while another player was taking the penalty (see BBC news). The referee explained that was “an ungentlemanly conduct”.

March 27, 2009

the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Posted in Idioms at 9:35 am by Feng

the applet doesn’t fall far from the tree – children are like their parents [idiom][wikiAnswer]

On the “Two and a half men”, Judith is Alan’s ex-wife. On Christmas eve, Judith and her boyfriend dropped by at Charlie’s house. The moment Judith saw newly made eggnog, she instantly falled for the alcohol. Alan said to Judith’s boyfriend: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?” A similar idiom is “Like father, like son.”

March 24, 2009

someone’s ass is on the line

Posted in Idioms at 11:39 pm by Feng

someone’s ass is on the line – if someone’s ass in on the line, they will be blamed if things go wrong [freedict]

On “The X files”, Mulder was following a lead to investigate a chemical pollution. He pressed an old man, who was an old friend of Mulder’s father, for more information. The man yelled: “I cannot tell you more. My ass is on the line.”

March 17, 2009

live in sin

Posted in Idioms at 3:01 pm by Feng

live in sin – Cohabit outside marriage [dict]

During a chitchat, someone mentioned that his mother died when he was young and his father was now living in sin with his girlfriend. Of course, it shouldn’t be interpreted as he hates his dad; this phrase is used in a jocular fashion here. Sometimes the same phrase could be used to mean something serious. The context is important. It also depends on how literal the local customs and views are.

March 11, 2009

catch some z’s

Posted in Idioms at 9:14 pm by Feng

catch some z’s – Take a nap; go to sleep [dict]

In comic strips, “zzz” is often used to say someone is sleeping or snoring. Here is one example:

A: Excuse me. I’ve to catch some z’s.

B: I thought you just woke up. You sleepy head.

There are alternative expressions: catch some Zs, cop some Zs and cut some Zs. (see thefreedict)

December 26, 2008

spill the beans

Posted in Idioms at 11:38 pm by Feng

spill the beans – Disclose a secret or reveal something prematurely [dict]

A basic principle in the cryptographic research is that unconditionally trusted third parties do not exist. In other words, no one is absolutely trustworthy – not even the law-enforcement authority.  Here is an example from BBC. The UK police maintain a central criminal database which contains valuable information. However, one cop wanted to make money out of it. He abused his trusted role by contacting the convicted offenders and threatening to spill the beans on their crimes unless he was given “hush money“. Of course, he got what he derserved.

December 17, 2008


Posted in Idioms at 9:07 pm by Feng

willy-nilly – whether one wishes to or not; willingly or unwillingly [dict]

Modern computers have abundant memory such that programmers often write codes in whatever liked style without worrying about the memory usage. However, the case is different with programming smart cards where the available memory is extremely constrained. “When programming for the (Java) smart card,” someone warned, “Don’t create new objects willy-nilly.”

get feet wet

Posted in Idioms at 12:32 am by Feng

get feet wet – to experience something for the first time, especially something that involves taking a risk. [thefreedict]

This is a commonly used idiom. If you have never invested money in the stock market, you can get your feet wet by just buying a few shares.

December 16, 2008

fools rush in where angels fear to tread

Posted in Idioms at 1:59 pm by Feng

fools rush in while where angels fear to tread – This idiom is used where people who are inexperienced or lack knowledge do something that more informed people would avoid. [UsingEnglish][wikipedia]

By the US federal law, a website cannot keep private data of users who are under 13 years old unless with the explicit consent from their parents. This creates a number of technical difficulities in the practical implmentation. (Sony was fined 1 million dollars for not doing it properly). To avoid the trouble, Facebook simply limits memberships to users who are older than 13.

According to Regsiter, there is this new social network website – dubbed Facebook for Kids – due to lauch in a few weeks time. This webiste targets users who are between 7 and 12.  It might start off as a useful idea to create a network that brings together children and parents. But the design of the website is terrible with little regard to security and privacy protection. Security researchers found that anyone could can view the children’s private data on that website. Disappointed by the slack security design, they concuded their finding by a saying: “fools rush in while where angels fear to tread“.

December 3, 2008

monkey see monkey do

Posted in Idioms at 10:35 pm by Feng

monkey see monkey do – It refers to the learning of a process without an understanding of why it works [wiki]

Our team uses a fairly complex software build system, which often gives strange and confusing error messages. A new comer was assigned to investigate why a particular software package couldn’t be compiled. After struggling for a long time, he finally passed the compiling without errors. His manager, however, was not very impressed. “It works now,” he says, “but I suspect it’s the case of monkey see monkey do.”

August 27, 2008

What is good for goose is good for gander

Posted in Idioms at 11:06 pm by Feng

What is good for goose is good for gander — The original meaning is that different sexes should be treated the same. The extended meaning is that there should be no doube-standard [UsingEnglish]

It comes from an earlier proverb (nowadays less commonly used): what is source for goose is source for gander [bartleby]. Here is an example (from BBC).

The news says that the current situation in South Ossetia sparks deep worries among western countries for a new cold war with Russia. While almost all western leaders have been condemning Russia, there is a different voice from the former British ambassador to Yugoslavia, Sir Iva Roberts.

He said: “Moscow has acted brutally in Georgia. But when the United States and Britain backed the independence of Kosovo without UN approval, they paved the way for Russia’s ‘defence’ of South Ossetia, and for the current Western humiliation.

What is sauce for the Kosovo goose is sauce for the South Ossetian gander.”

April 7, 2008

worth one’s salt

Posted in Idioms at 10:05 pm by Feng

worth one’s salt – deserving of one’s wages or salary [dict]

On last night’s BBC TV program, The Real Hustle, Alexis demonstrated a scam in which he conned an unsuspecting girl into becoming an accomplice in a jewelery store robbery. Pretending not sure what jewelery to buy for his wife, Alexis asked a girl sitting outside a jewelery store for a big favor – to try on a necklace. Ready to help, the girl agreed and stepped into the store together with Alexis. Alexis asked for a $5000 necklace, and quickly switched it with a $5 one when no one was watching. He then set off the mobile phone ring, and excused to go outside the shop for better signal. The jeweler assumed the two were together, so she didn’t stop him. Once outside the shop, Alexis quickly drove off. “Any jewelers worth their salt will realize the switch straightway”, he explained in the program, “So you got to get out quickly”. This scam worked as the hustler exploited the dual relationship he had with a newly-met girl, and made the jeweler think they were together.

January 13, 2008

part and parcel

Posted in Idioms at 12:48 am by Feng

part and parcel of something — a necessary part which cannot be avoided [dict]

A lecturer must assume teaching responsibilities even though his real interests lie in doing research. Someone was assigned to teach two courses for the new semester. He said to me with a sigh: “That’s part and parcel of the job”.

October 18, 2007

crank it up a notch

Posted in Idioms at 11:11 pm by Feng

crank it up a notch — increase or intensify a bit (See [crank up] and [notch])

On Friends, Joey envied Chandler and Monica being together. He thought that the two got along because they were friends first. So Joey attempted to hit on Rachel. He said to her: “Since we are friends, maybe you and I can crank it up a notch“. This phrase seems to come from a song called “crank it“.

October 10, 2007

rake in something

Posted in Idioms at 8:03 pm by Feng

rake in — earn large sums of money [dict]

This article explains a fast way to become rich in Turkey — get married! It says that as a custom in Turkey, if one is invited to a wedding, he/she should usually give $200 to the newlyweds. The president and prime minister of Turkey had taken advantage of this custom by inviting nearly 5000 people to their children’s weddings, “raking in literally $millions from distinguished and wealthy guests”.

September 26, 2007

vote with one’s feet

Posted in Idioms at 4:19 pm by Feng

vote with one’s feet — to show that you do not support something, especially an organization or a product, by not using or not buying it any more [thefreedict]

In the area of security research, there are some standard security solutions that are secure in theory, but suffer from poor usability in practice. Someone commented: “De facto standards often emerge because people vote with their feet rather than following standards”. That is an interesting view.

September 12, 2007

have it out with someone

Posted in Idioms at 10:46 am by Feng

have it out with someone — settle or discuss something with someone angrily [idiomconnect]

If you organize a debate and call for participation, you may like to have an announcement starting with: “Burning to have it out with someone? Here is your chance … “

August 24, 2007

bear out

Posted in Idioms at 3:47 pm by Feng

bear out — To prove right or justified; confirm [thefreedict]

This is another way to say “confirm” — for example, the results bears out our claims.

August 22, 2007

not bat an eyelid

Posted in Idioms at 11:54 am by Feng

not bat an eyelid — not show any shock or surprise [thefreedict]

When talking about a new model of phone with a rich set of features, someone said: “I hardly bat an eyelid“. While technologies are advancing fast, so are people’s expectations — today we are no longer easily impressed by claimed “new” things.

June 18, 2007

shoot the breeze

Posted in Idioms at 10:58 am by Feng

shoot the breeze — to have a relaxed conversation [thefreedict] [answers]

On ‘Frasier’, Roz tells Frasier that she has been dumped by Roger. Pouring her a glass of wine, Frasier tries to comfort her: “Let’s sit down, and shoot the breeze for a while”.

June 12, 2007

buy off

Posted in Idioms at 10:26 am by Feng

buy off — to bribe [dict]

On “Frasier”, Frasier’s father ask Frasier and Niles to walk his dog since he has to go to work. Frasier hates dogs, so he asks Roz: “If you can walk the dog for me, I will pay you 100 dollars”. His brother, Niles, also says to Daphne: “If you do that, I will give you 100 dollars too. Wow, that’s 200 dollars!” Roz immediately slaps Frasier in his face: “I cannot believe you try to buy me off.” And Daphne also slaps Niles: “Me too”.

June 11, 2007

shoot off one’s mouth

Posted in Idioms at 11:10 am by Feng

shoot off one’s mouth — Speak indiscreetly; also, brag or boast [answers]

A guy doesn’t know much about computer security, but he tends to talk a lot to show off his knowledge on the subject. Someone commented: “He is always shooting off his mouth about it.”

June 6, 2007

a dizzy spell

Posted in Idioms at 10:14 am by Feng

a dizzy spell — A period of physical or mental disorder or distress [answers]

On “Frasier”, Roz set Frasier up on a blind date. After introducing Frasier to a lovely lady, Roz excused herself: “Sorry. I have a dizzy spell. Let me take some rest in the room.”

May 31, 2007

throw someone in at the deep end

Posted in Idioms at 10:31 am by Feng

throw someone in at the deep end — to make someone do something difficult, especially a job, without preparing them for it or giving them any help [thefreedict]

My driving instructor is a nice and brave English old man. Though today was only the second session, he let me take the full control of the wheel on a busy road, and kept giving me instructions: “More gas please! Much faster!”. I dare not speed up as I could not help worrying we might hit someone. My body muscles tense, I tried to follow his instructions, fumbling for the clutch, brake, gas pedal, handbrake, and signal lights. Thanks, God. The instructor finally called for a break.

He handed me a sweet candy. ” You should smile while driving, ” he said to me with a grin, “My training method is to throw you in at the deep end. It’s like throwing you into the deep water so you can learn swimming quickly.” Suddenly, I had the thought: “Why should I be worried? He throws me into this crazy traffic. He should really be one who feels nervous on the seat.” I felt relaxed. Seeing me smile, the old man was excited: “Right! That is what I am talking about.”

May 25, 2007

know of

Posted in Idioms at 10:24 am by Feng

know of someone/something — to have information about someone or something [thefreedict]

On “Frasier”, Niles is chatting with a friend about a legendary connoisseur of wine tasting. When asked whether he knows the person, Niles replies: “I don’t know him. I just know of him.”

May 22, 2007

take the edge off

Posted in Idioms at 10:41 am by Feng

take the edge off — Ease or assuage, make less severe [dict]

On “Frasier”, Frasier is upset with something. His brother, Niles, tries to comfort him: “Have a beer. It really takes the edge off.” Suppose you are sitting just next to a sharp cutting instrument. How will you feel if those pointy edges are blunted or removed?

May 18, 2007

red herring

Posted in Idioms at 10:13 am by Feng

red herring — something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue [dict]

The origin of this phrase comes from this story: a hunted fox throws off a hound by dragging a red herring along a wrong trail. The hound follows the strong smell of the herring, and hence loses the quarry. One use of this phrase is seen below (from Economist):

“The bilateral trade imbalance, the target of so many American politicians’ anger, is an economic red herring.”

May 8, 2007

call of nature

Posted in Idioms at 10:29 pm by Feng

call of nature — A need to urinate or defecate [dict]

Sometimes, people may say someone has left to answer the call of nature — it is just an euphemistic way to say that he went to the toilet.

May 3, 2007

hold with

Posted in Idioms at 10:42 am by Feng

hold with — to approve of [dict]

On “Lord of the rings”, While eating Elvish biscuits, Sam says to Frodo: “I don’t usually hold with foreign food, but this Elvish stuff, it is good.”

May 2, 2007

butt out

Posted in Idioms at 11:32 am by Feng

butt out — to stop meddling in the affairs or intruding in the conversation of others [dict] , also see butt in“.

On “Frasier”, Frasier desperately wants to make up the lost kinship with his son. He asks his son to play games together, but gets indifferent response. Frasier’s father says: “The boy has a life. You better butt out.”

May 1, 2007

give someone the boot

Posted in Idioms at 10:59 am by Feng

Give someone the boot To fire/dump someone by force [idioms]

On Frasier, Niles wants to spend some lone moment with Daphne, but there is a guest in their house. When Daphne is preparing some wine in the kitchen, she asks Niles about the guest, and Niles replies: “I have given him the boot.”

April 27, 2007

skeletons in one’s cupboard

Posted in Idioms at 12:04 pm by Feng

skeletons in one’s cupboard/closet — embarrassing secrets [dict]

On “Four weddings and a Funeral”, Charles is proposing a toast on his friend’s wedding. He starts his speech with: “To my best knowledge, my friend has no skeletons in his cupboard …”

April 25, 2007

ticking bomb

Posted in Idioms at 1:55 pm by Feng

ticking bomb — a problematic situation that will eventually become dangerous if not addressed [dict]

On ‘Dante’s peak’, a long-sleeping volcano is about to erupt. Harry refers to the volcano as a “ticking bomb” and urges immidate evacuation. This is indeed a vivid phrase to describe some situation dangerous. Interestingly, while I was looking up this phrase on Internet, I came across the dilemma of “a ticking time bomb scenario“: Is torture justified in the war on terrorism? Talk to your friends, and it will be a though-provoking debate.

April 19, 2007

cut it out

Posted in Idioms at 11:22 am by Feng

cut it out — to stop doing something [dict]

In a scary movie, the scary thing is usually something invisible. On “when a stranger calls”, a serial killer keeps calling a girl, but not speaking a word. After a few such “silent” calls, the girl is freaked out, and shouts over phone: “Whoever this is, it’s not funny. Cut it out.”

April 16, 2007

TV dinner

Posted in Idioms at 1:18 pm by Feng

TV dinner — a prepackaged and frozen meal that requires little preparation, also known as frozen dinner, microwave meal or ready meal [wiki]

On “Die Hard”, John McClane was creeping in a narrow tunnel to avoid being captured. He complained to himself: “Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.”

April 13, 2007

luck out

Posted in Idioms at 1:55 pm by Feng

luck out — to gain success or something desirable through good fortune [dict]

On ‘Friends’, Joey went to audition for a role in “Mac and Cheese”. When Joey learned that the “Cheese” in the show title was actually an acronym for “Computerized Humanoid Electronically Enhanced Secret Enforcer,” he exclaimed in disbelief: “They really lucked out that the initials spell cheese.”

November 8, 2006

catch out

Posted in Idioms at 5:44 pm by Feng

catch out — trap; especially in an error or in a reprehensible act [dict]

Today, Michael Lynch, the founder and CEO of Autonomy, gave us an entertaining seminar. Near the end of the talk, he asked this question: there are three doors, with a Ferrari behind one and goats the other two. He asked one of the audience to pick up a door. Then he revealed that one of the other two doors had no Ferrari behind, and asked the same guy: “Do you want to stick to the original choice or change?”

To have a higher probability of winning the car, you should change. This problem, as a friend later told me, is called “The Monty Hall problem“. The essence of the problem is teaching people to adapt when there is new information. It took me a while to convince myself this was true; the usual intuition may tell you otherwise. “This is the kind of question you use to catch out people,” someone heard this problem before and said to me with a grin.

November 7, 2006

pull it off

Posted in Idioms at 12:58 pm by Feng

pull off to perform successfully, esp. something requiring courage, daring, or shrewdness [dict]

At the beginning of the ‘X Factor’ show, the host introduced the surviving contestants, and then sent her blessing: “Hope you pull it off tonight.”

October 30, 2006

from stem to stern

Posted in Idioms at 4:12 pm by Feng

from stem to stern — from one end of something to the other [thefreedict]

On ‘Amdromeda’, Harper is a genius engineer, working on the warship Amdromeda. When asked how much he knows about the ship, he says: “From stem to stern.”

October 25, 2006

on the ball

Posted in Idioms at 10:56 am by Feng

on the ball — Alert, competent, or efficient [dict]

To praise someone who has done a good job, you could say: “you are really on the ball.

October 24, 2006

brush up

Posted in Idioms at 10:28 am by Feng

brush up (on) — to revive, review, or resume (studies, a skill, etc.) [dict]

A guy is doing a project that requires using JavaScript. “I am now brushing up on JavaScript”, he said, “I learned it a long time ago.”

October 23, 2006

have a voice in

Posted in Idioms at 11:19 am by Feng

have a voice in — Also, have a say in. Have the right or power to influence or make a decision about something [answers]

Over lunch, a guy talked about a UK general criticizing the government’s Iraq policy. He said: “This general has a voice in this matter.”

October 20, 2006

psych up

Posted in Idioms at 11:41 am by Feng

psych up — get excited or stimulated [dict]

I attended a seminar on “how to gain a PhD”. The speaker gave very good advices on doing a PhD study, as well as pursuing a research career. He concluded his talk by urging the audience, many of whom were fresh PhD students: “Psych yourself up in the unique PhD experience.”

October 19, 2006

chuck out

Posted in Idioms at 10:53 am by Feng

chuck out — to expel, eject [dict]

A guy put a pile of personal stuff in his office, turning it into a storage room. Someone reminded him to clean up as soon as possible, otherwise his stuff could possibly be chucked out by the building administrator.

October 16, 2006

dry spell

Posted in Idioms at 12:18 pm by Feng

dry spell — a period of little or no productivity or activity, low income, etc [dict]

After I moved to a new house in the college, I can no longer watch TV programs conveniently. A friend noticed that my blog hadn’t been updated for a while, and said to me: “You’re having a dry spell now.”

September 15, 2006

light bulb moment

Posted in Idioms at 9:54 am by Feng

light bulb moment — A light bulb moment is when you have a sudden realisation about something, like the light bulb used to indicate an idea in cartoons [UsingEnglish] [also see urbandict]

This news reports a potent idea of using natural gas pipes for broadband service. An American friend told me that a company in his hometown had already done something similar — by laying optical fibres within the gas pipes. But the cost is high. The new idea in the article exploits the “negligence” of the US federal regulation on radio signals UNDER the ground, and adopts wireless ultra-wideband (UWB) transmissions. The inventor hatched this idea at the “light bulb on the head moment“, according to the article.

September 12, 2006


Posted in Idioms at 10:04 am by Feng

knock-off — An unauthorized copy or imitation, as of designer clothing [dict]

On ‘Monk’, Monk and his assistant, Natalie, went to a a fashion show to investigate a murder crime. The fashion designer noticed Natalie’s wear, and screamed at her: “That bra … It is a knock-off from one of my designs.”

September 11, 2006

throw a monkey wrench

Posted in Idioms at 10:13 am by Feng

throw a monkey wrench — Sabotage or frustrate a project or plans [answers]

The Poincare Conjecture — the gem of the mathematicians’ crown — has finally been proven after a century of effort. Perelman, a Russian mathematician, is widely recognized for his main contribution in solving this problem. Fairly speaking, the final result bears the efforts of several people, with Perelman’s work based on an earlier breakthrough by Hamilton and later perfected by two Chinese mathematicians, Cao and Zhu.

However, recently, a professor at Peking University openly undermines Cao-Zhu’s work in his blog (Chinese). He accuses the two of “throwing a monkey wrench” and gleaning the credits in proving this conjecture. I feel sad as a professor at one of the most prominent universities in China criticises his peers in this way, not based on scientific facts but citations of several newspapers (he may forget that journalists are often terribly wrong in reporting science news). I have never seen such a thing happened abroad; it will be a long way for Chinese academia to move on in the right direction.

September 7, 2006

dust off

Posted in Idioms at 11:45 am by Feng

dust off — Restore to use. This usage alludes to cleaning and thereby renewing some object. [dict]

Steven Hawking, the renowned astrophysicist, is looking for a graduate student to assist his work. To many his admirers, this is, perhaps, the most tempting job opportunity . “Dust off your CVs”, urged by a guy who spread this news.

September 6, 2006

throw one’s hat into the ring

Posted in Idioms at 9:55 am by Feng

throw one’s hat into the ring — To enter a political race as a candidate for office [dict]

From an ‘economist’ article, Mr Zuma, a potential candidate for the next South African president, is facing another trial on charges of corruption and fraud, not long after he had just been cleared of a rape charge. To his opponents, whether Zuma is really guilty is not important, what really matters is that the trial should drag on. The article reads: “The longer the trial persists, the harder it is for Mr Zuma to throw his hat into the ring.” It’s just another political game.

September 4, 2006

come out of the closet

Posted in Idioms at 9:57 am by Feng

come out of the closet — to admit that one is gay so that it is no longer a secret [thefreedict]

The host Conan O’Brien appeared in a funny film at the opening of the 58th Emmy Awards ceremony. In the film, he locked himself up in a closet, and shouted: “(Tom) Cruise is in the closet too!” The audience bursted into laughter at the line: “Conan O’Brien does not come out of the closet.” It is a good pun.

August 29, 2006

stand on one’s feet

Posted in Idioms at 10:02 am by Feng

stand on one’s (own) feet — to act or behave independently [answers]

On ‘The Practice’, new evidence suggests that Bob’s client indeed commits the murder. Bob asks his colleague to take over the case, since he has been emotionally involved with the client. He says: “I cannot stand on my feet and do the closing.”

August 25, 2006

lay off

Posted in Idioms at 10:21 am by Feng

lay off — to stop doing or using something [thefreedict]

On ‘The Practice’, the lawyer, Bob, falls in love with his attractive-looking client. This client is accused of the murder charge but claims she kills out of self-defense. Bob goes ballistic for none of his colleagues believing that she is innocent. “Lay off,” one colleague tries to appease him, “We are on your side.”

August 23, 2006

dredge up

Posted in Idioms at 10:28 am by Feng

dredge up — mention something unpleasant from the past [dict]

On ‘Monk’, a film company decided to shoot a film for the great detective Monk. To better act out his part, the “Monk” actor carefully observed the real Monk in life, mimicking his every movement and following his every thought. Eventually he developed an illusion that he himself was Monk, and started desperately looking for the killer who murdered Trudy, Monk’s long deceased wife. This, however, all reminded Monk of the painful memories when Trudy died years ago. Monk complained to his psychiatric doctor: “This guy dredged up all my feelings.”

August 17, 2006

not give a rat’s ass

Posted in Idioms at 10:08 am by Feng

not give a rat’s ass — don’t care at all [thefreedict]

On ‘Two and a half man’, Alan complained to Charlie that his life had been manipulated by Judith, his ex-wife, even after divorce. He was upset with himself being such a soft touch. Then Judith came to pick up Jake. Charlie spurred Alan to take this opportunity to change and stand up to Judith’s face. So when asked to bring Jake, Alan replied to Judith: “No. I won’t. If that makes you unhappy with me, I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

August 16, 2006

low hanging fruit

Posted in Idioms at 10:35 am by Feng

low hanging fruit — a task that is done easily [urban dict]

For a researcher, publishing papers is important. It matters on the paper quality, and the quantity as well. However, it is not always easy to strike a balance between the two. A good paper requires a lot of thoughts and takes a long time to write. On the other hand, working on an easy topic, one can produce a batch of papers in a short time, making their resumes look impressive. A professor advised us to avoid the later, and said: “Those people only pick the low hanging fruit“.

August 15, 2006

push a button

Posted in Idioms at 10:11 am by Feng

push a button — provoke [see push buttons]

On ‘Will and Grace’, during a quarrel, someone called Will “dumbass”. Jack immediately jumped to Will’s defence and shouted: “How dare you call my friend dumb. If you’re looking to push a button, call him chunky.”

August 14, 2006

out of sight, out of mind

Posted in Idioms at 9:54 am by Feng

out of sight, out of mind — you don’t think about it when you can no longer see it [GoEnglish]

On ‘Monk’, Monk came to like the life of being blind. He used to be deeply disturbed by dust, disorder, and filthy things, but now was no longer bothered by those. “Out of sight, out of mind,” he said with contentment.

August 11, 2006

be dealt a bad hand

Posted in Idioms at 12:12 pm by Feng

be dealt a bad hand — receive bad cards in a card game; receive disadvantages in something [Idiom Connect]

On ‘Monk’, someone poured acid liquid onto Monk’s face before running away from the crime scene. Monk was blinded by this surprise attack. Not able to see anything for many days, he became very despondent and felt no hope. His assistant encouraged him: “You cannot give up just because you’d been dealt a bad hand.”

August 10, 2006

know someone in a biblical way

Posted in Idioms at 10:07 am by Feng

know someone in a biblical way — to have sexual intercourse [urbandict]

A guy in my group was amused by the story of “be intimate with“. He told me an equivalent phrase: know someone. “Adding ‘in a biblical way‘ makes the meaning more explicit,” he continued to explain, “This phrase is traced back to the biblical story that Adam had a baby with his wife Eve.”

From the King James version of the Bible: “And Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and bare Cain and said I have gotten a man from the LORD.”

August 9, 2006

beer muscles

Posted in Idioms at 9:51 am by Feng

beer muscles — false bravado; Dutch courage; the powers one imagines one has after one has consumed 19 pints of beer [urbandict]

On ‘Two and a half man’, after drinking at a bar, Alan and Charlie took a taxi home. In the taxi, they kept complaining to the driver that their mother ruined their lives for being draconian in their childhood. “We have to stand up to her,” Alan exclaimed. Charlie was amused and mocked his brother: “Look who has got beer muscles all of the sudden.”

(and then Alan took a violent shit right in the cab, blowing the glass out of the windows and crippling every electronic device … continue)

August 8, 2006

rain check

Posted in Idioms at 10:30 am by Feng

rain check — A promise that an unaccepted offer will be renewed in the future [dict]

A guy declined an invitation to a dinner, because the time was not suitable. He said:” Sorry for that. How about a rain check.”

August 7, 2006

give a toss

Posted in Idioms at 10:01 am by Feng

give/care a toss (often + about) — to not be worried about or interested in someone or something [thefreedict]

In our weekly meeting, someone described the change of thefts over time. “It used to be the case that thieves stole car radios,” he said, “but now nobody gives a toss.”

August 4, 2006

go overboard

Posted in Idioms at 10:18 am by Feng

go overboard — To go to extremes, especially as a result of enthusiasm. [dict]

On ‘Lucky Louie’, Tim controls Louie’s diet, not letting him eat fatty foods. So Louie locks himself up in the toilet to eat a creamy cake. After Tim finds out this, she tells Louie that he can eat whatever he wants, but on one condition: he must eat in front of her. “Maybe if you don’t have to eat in secret any more,” she says to Louie, “you won’t go so overboard.”

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