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Cut the mustard

To cut the mustard is to meet a set of expectations either of a person or organization. The idiom is listed in most dictionaries under the verb cut. The verb can be conjugated through all its forms, and the article is always the. Cut the mustard has been around for a long time in the Unites States. By the 1890s it was used with this definition in rural newspapers. While the origins of the idiom are unknown, there are plenty of guesses. It is highly unlikely it stems from literally attempting … [Read more...]

Kerfuffle vs brouhaha

A kerfuffle is something that causes disruption or change in atmosphere, especially in public. Notice only one l, the word is not kerfluffle. It originated outside the United States, but is understood within. The plural is kerfuffles. The word comes from the Scot term carfuffle. A brouhaha, pronounced (brew ha ha), is the emotion or reaction of excitement surrounding an event or issue. Good synonyms are uproar and hubbub. The plural is brouhahas. The word comes directly from French. It … [Read more...]

Thong or flip-flop

A thong can be a piece of leather used as a lash of a whip or underwear for women that does not cover their behind. In the United States and some other English-speaking countries, it can also be a shoe that is held on by two straps that go between the big toe. This is normally used in the plural, thongs, when referring to the shoe. Another name for this type of sandal is a flip-flop. Notice the hyphen in the spelling of flip-flop. A flip-flop can also be a reversal of an opinion. A person … [Read more...]

The penny dropped

The penny dropped is a casual idiom outside the United States used to mean a person has belatedly put two and two together or understood something. The verb drop may be conjugated through all its forms. The phrase was coined in the 1930s in the British publication of The Daily Mirror. The allusion was made to machines that required a penny to operate. Sometimes the coin would be stuck and someone would wait for the penny to drop for the machine to work. When the coin did drop, the phone or … [Read more...]

Serviette or napkin

A serviette is a piece of cloth or paper used to clean one's hands and face while eating. It is pronounced (sir vee ette) and is used outside of the United States. Usually it is listed as a Canadian term, but is used and understood in other countries as well. Inside the United States, the same item is called a napkin, which is understood in other countries, though sometimes they designate the difference between a table napkin and a sanitary napkin. A sanitary napkin is used by women in … [Read more...]

Knock up

This is one of those words that has very different meanings inside and outside the United States. Inside the United States, a man can knock up a woman by making her pregnant. A woman can be knocked up. Outside the United States, anyone can knock up someone else by doing something to wake him or her up. It can also mean to excite someone who is tired, to make or create something, or ask someone to come to a certain place. Caution should be used with this term and a synonym is suggested … [Read more...]

As crook as Rookwood

As crook as Rookwood is an Australian idiom for being very sick and almost ready to die. Crook is Australian slang for being chronically sick. Sometimes the phrase is used for deep corruption, but not in the sense that the corruption is led by crooks, people who are dishonest. The term crook is meant in the sense that the corrupt organization has been sick for a long time. Rookwood is capitalized as it is the name of the biggest cemetery in Australia. This phrase is informal, and when used … [Read more...]

Aw or awe

Aw is an interjection used when someone thinks what they see is adorable, or when he or she is disappointed. Some dictionaries list a variant spelling if aww, but this is vastly less popular than the one w spelling. Awe is a noun for the feeling of wonderment after seeing something spectacular. One can also be in awe if he or she is afraid of someone or respects someone greatly. As a verb it means to cause someone else to be in awe. The adjective awe-inspiring uses the latter of the two … [Read more...]

Work in progress vs work in process

A work in progress is a project that is not yet finished or polished. One might say this about a work assignment, a home renovation, or about one's relationship with another person. No hyphens are necessary. The plural form is works in progress. Be careful when distinguishing between a group's work in progress and their works in progress, the former is one project belonging to multiple people and the latter speaks of multiple projects. Sometimes this is used as an adjective and then should be … [Read more...]

Underlie or underline

To underline something can be to literally mark a line under it, or it can be used figuratively as a way to stress or emphasize a point. To underlie something is to literally be under it, or the term can be used figuratively as the cause of something or the source of it. This is most commonly found in the present participle form of underlying, as in the underlying cause. Side note: The past tense of underlie is underlay and the past participle is underlain. Examples "If you underlined … [Read more...]

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