touch and go

The literal and original meaning of this phrase is to briefly touch on something and then go on to something else. But these days we usually take “touch and go” to describe a risky, precarious, or delicate state of things, where the slightest change could prove disastrous. We might say of a heart operation that it was touch and go…

a fly in the ointment

A “fly in the ointment” is a minor flaw or irritation that spoils the success or enjoyment of something, especially one that wasn’t at first apparent. Example: “We had a cookstove, beans, and plates; the fly in the ointment was the lack of a can opener.” In my opinion, that was more than a fly; that was a great bumbling…

a sight for sore eyes

“A sight for sore eyes” is a person or thing that you are extremely pleased or relieved to see. It’s similar to saying that a welcome sound is music to your ears. It can also be a way of expressing that you think someone is good-looking or saying that some object makes you are happy when you look at it.…

get with the program

“Get with the program” (get with it, get a clue) means to do what is expected of one, to adopt the prevailing viewpoint, to keep up. This American idiom can also mean to become organized, or up to date on the latest findings or fashions. I know this phrase from experience. I never used a phone until I was seventeen,…

acid test

An “acid test” is a foolproof, conclusive test of success or value, or which proves a hypothesis or the validity of an idea. Examples are: The product looks great, but will people buy it? That’s the acid test. He played that game well, but the acid test will come when he plays a stronger opponent. The acid test for the…

pinky finger

The “pinky finger” is the smallest finger of the human hand, opposite the thumb, and next to the ring finger. And no, it’s not called “pinky” because it’s little and pink and therefore cute. The word is derived from the Dutch word pinkje, meaning “little finger.” In some places “pinky” is also a traditional name for the youngest child in…

short takes

Knock into the middle of next week — hit extremely hard Floats my boat — makes me happy Bits and pieces — odds and ends Bits and bobs — the English version of bits and pieces Death warmed over — you look only slightly better than if you were dead True grit — perseverance and passion for long-term goals Hophead…