C

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Cake’s not worth the candle

If someone says that the cake’s not worth the candle, they mean that the result will not be worth the effort put in to achieve it.

Calf lick

A calf lick is the weird parting in your fringe where your hair grows in a different direction, usually to one side.

Call a spade a spade

A person who calls a spade a spade is one speaks frankly and makes little or no attempt to conceal their opinions or to spare the feelings of their audience.

Call it a day

If you call it a day, you stop doing something for a while, normally at least until the following day.

Call on the carpet

If you are called on the carpet, you are summoned for a reprimand by superiors or others in power.

Call the dogs off

If someone calls off their dogs, they stop attacking or criticising someone.

Call the shots

If you call the shots, you are in charge and tell people what to do.

Call the tune

The person who calls the tune makes the important decisions about something.

Calm before the storm

A calm time immediately before period of violent activity or argument is the calm before the storm.

Can of worms

If an action can create serious problems, it is opening a can of worms.

Can’t dance and it’s too wet to plow

(USA) When you can’t dance and it’s too wet to plow, you may as well do something because you can’t or don’t have the opportunity to do anything else.

Can’t do it for toffee

If you can’t so something for toffee, you are incapable of doing something properly or to any sort of standard.

Can’t hack it

Unable to perform an act, duty, job etc. (example: I have to quit my job as a computer technician; I just can’t hack it.)

Can’t hold a candle

If something can’t hold a candle to something else, it is much worse.

Can’t see the forest for its trees

If someone can’t see the forest for its trees, they are too focused on specific details to see the picture as a whole.

Canary in a coal mine

(UK) A canary in a coal mine is an early warning of danger.

Card up your sleeve

If you have a card up your sleeve, you have a surprise plan or idea that you are keeping back until the time is right.

Carpetbagger

A carpetbagger is an opportunist without any scruples or ethics, or a politican who wants to represent a place they have no connection with.

Carrot and stick

If someone offers a carrot and stick, they offer an incentive to do something combined with the threat of punishment.

Carry the can

If you carry the can, you take the blame for something, even though you didn’t do it or are only partly at fault.

Carry the day

If something carries the day, it wins a battle (the sense is that the battle has been long and could have gone either way) or competition for supremacy.

Case by case

If things are done case by case, each situation or issue is handled separately on its own merits and demerits.

Case in point

Meaning an instance of something has just occurred that was previously discussed. For instance, a person may have told another that something always happens. Later that day, they see it happening, and the informer might say, ‘case in point’.

Cash cow

A product, business, etc, that generates a continuous flow of money or a high proportion of overall profits is a cash cow.

Cash in your chips

If you cash in your chips, you sell something to get what profit you can because you think its value is going to fall. It can also mean ‘to die’.

Cast a long shadow

Something or someone that casts a long shadow has considerable influence on other people or events.

Cast aspersion

If you cast aspersion, you try to blacken someone’s name and make people think badly of them.

Cast doubt on

If you make other people not sure about a matter, then you have cast doubt on it.

Cast iron stomach

A person with a cast iron stomach can eat or drink anything without any ill effects.

Cast pearls before swine

If you cast pearls before swine, you offer something of value to someone who doesn’t appreciate it- ‘swine’ are ‘pigs’.

Cast sheep’s eyes at

If you cast sheep’s eyes at at someone, you look lovingly or with longing at them.

Cast your mind back

If somebody tells you to cast your mind back on something, they want you to think about something that happened in the past, but which you might not remember very well, and to try to remember as much as possible.

Cast your net widely

If you cast your net widely, you use a wide range of sources when trying to find something.

Casting vote

The casting vote is a vote given to a chairman or president that is used when there is a deadlock.

Castles in the air

Plans that are impractical and will never work out are castles in the air.

Cat among the pigeons

If something or someone puts, or sets or lets, the cat among the pigeons, they create a disturbance and cause trouble.

Cat and dog life

If people lead a cat and dog life, they are always arguing.

Cat burglar

A cat burglar is a skillful thief who breaks into places without disturbing people or setting off alarms.

Cat fur and kitty britches

(USA) When I used to ask my grandma what was for dinner, she would say ‘cat fur and kitty britches’. This was her Ozark way of telling me that I would get what she cooked. (Ozark is a region in the center of the United States)

Cat got your tongue?

If someone asks if the cat has got your tongue, they want to know why you are not speaking when they think you should.

Cat nap

If you have a short sleep during the day, you are cat napping.

Cat’s lick

(Scot) A cat’s lick is a very quick wash.

Cat’s pajamas

(USA) Something that is the cat’s pajamas is excellent.

Cat’s whiskers

Something excellent is the cat’s whiskers.

Catch as catch can

This means that people should try to get something any way they can.

Catch hell

If you catch hell, you get into trouble or get scolded. (‘Catch heck’ is also used.)

Catch some z’s

If you catch some z’s, you get some sleep.

Catch someone red-handed

If someone is caught red-handed, they are found doing something wrong or illegal.

Catch-22

Catch-22 is a situation where conflicting rules make the desired outcome impossible. It comes from a novel by the American author Joseph Heller, in which pilots would not have to fly missions if they were mentally ill, but not wanting to fly dangerous missions was held to be proof of sanity, so they had to fly anyway. (‘Catch 22’, without the hyphen, is also used.)

Caught with your hand in the cookie jar

(USA) If someone is caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar, he or she is caught doing something wrong.

Chalk and cheese

Things, or people, that are like chalk and cheese are very different and have nothing in common.

Champ at the bit

If someone is champing at the bit, they are very eager to accomplish something.  (‘Chomping at the bit’ is also used.)

Champagne taste on a beer budget

Someone who lives above their means and likes things they cannot afford has champagne taste on a beer budget.

Champing at the bit

To betray impatience, as to begin some action. “I’m champing at the bit to tell you” “Chomping at the bit” is also commonly used, though some regard it as an error.

Change horses in midstream

If people change horses in midstream, they change plans or leaders when they are in the middle of something, even though it may be very risky to do so.

Change of heart

If you change the way you think or feel about something, you have a change of heart.

Change tack

If you change tack, you use a different method for dealing with something.

Change your tune

If someone changes their ideas or the way they talk about them, they change their tune.

Chaps my ass

When something/someone really annoys you, it chaps your ass.

Chapter and verse

When you know something very well, and can quote it, you know it chapter and verse.

Charity begins at home

This idiom means that family members are more important than anyone else, and should be the focus of a person’s efforts.

Chase rainbows

If someone chases rainbows, they try to do something that they will never achieve.

Chase your tail

If you are chasing your tail, you are very busy but not being very productive.

Cheap as chips

(UK) If something is very inexpensive, it is as cheap as chips.

Cheap at half the price

If something’s cheap at half the price, it’s very cheap indeed.

Cheap shot

A cheap shot is an unprincipled criticism.

Cheat death

If someone cheats death, they narrowly avoid a major problem or accident.

Cheek by jowl

If things or people are cheek by jowl, they are very close together.

Cherry pick

If people cherry pick, they choose things that support their position, while ignoring things that contradict it.

Chew on a bone

If someone is chewing on a bone, he or she is thinking about something intently.

Chew the cud

If you chew the cud, you think carefully about something.

Chew the fat

If you chew the fat with someone, you talk at leisure with them.

Chickenfeed

If something is small or unimportant, especially money, it is chickenfeed.

Child’s play

If something is child’s play, it is very easy and simple.

Chinese walls

Chinese walls are regulatory information barriers that aim to stop the flow of information that could be misused, especially in financial corporations.

Chinese whispers

(UK) When a story is told from person to person, especially if it is gossip or scandal, it inevitably gets distorted and exaggerated. This process is called Chinese whispers.

Chip off the old block

If someone is a chip off the old block, they closely resemble one or both of the parents in character.

Chip on your shoulder

If someone has a chip on their shoulder, they are resentful about something and feel that they have been treated badly.

Chop and change

If things chop and change, they keep changing, often unexpectedly.

Cigarette paper

If you cannot get or put a cigarette paper between people, they are so closely bonded that nothing will separate them or their positions on issues.

Circle the wagons

(USA) If you circle the wagons, you stop communicating with people who don’t think the same way as you to avoid their ideas.  It can also mean to bring everyone together to defend a group against an attack.

Circling the drain

If someone is circling the drain, they are very near death and have little time to live. The phrase can also describe a project or plan or campaign that that is on the brink of failure.

Class act

Someone who’s a class act is exceptional in what they do.

Clean as a whistle

If something is as clean as a whistle, it is extremely clean, spotless. It can also be used to mean ‘completely’, though this meaning is less common nowadays. If somebody is clean as a whistle, they are not involved in anything illegal.

Clean bill of health

If something or someone has a clean bill of health, then there’s nothing wrong; everything’s fine.

Clean break

If you make a clean break, you break away completely from something.

Clean hands

Someone with clean hands, or who keeps their hands clean, is not involved in illegal or immoral activities.

Clean sheet

When someone has a clean sheet, they have got no criminal record or problems affecting their reputation. In football and other sports, a goalkeeper has a clean sheet when let no goals in.

Clean slate

If you start something with a clean slate, then nothing bad from your past is taken into account.

Clean sweep

If someone makes a clean sweep, they win absolutely everything in a competition or contest.

Clean your clock

If you clean your clock, you beat someone decisively in a contest or fight.

Clear as a bell

If something is as clear as a bell, it is very clear or easy to understand.

Clear as mud

If something is as clear as mud, then it is very confusing and unclear.

Cliffhanger

If something like a sports match or an election is a cliffhanger, then the result is so close that it cannot be predicted and will only be known at the very end.

Climb on the bandwagon

When people climb on the bandwagon they do something because it is popular and everyone else is doing it.

Climb the greasy pole

Advance within an organisation – especially in politics.

Cling to hope

If people cling to hope, they continue to hope though the chances of success are very small.

Close at hand

If something is close at hand, it is nearby or conveniently located.

Close but no cigar

(USA) If you are close but no cigar, you are close to success, but have not got there.

Close call

If the result of something is a close call, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the parties involved and to say who has won or whatever.  It can also mean that you very nearly have a serious accident or get into trouble.

Close shave

If you have a close shave, you very nearly have a serious accident or get into trouble.

Close the stable door after the horse has bolted

If people try to fix something after the problem has occurred, they are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. ‘Close the barn door after the horse has bolted’ is alternative, often used in American English.

Close to your heart

If something is close to your heart, you care a lot about it. (‘Dear to your heart’ is an alternative.)

Closed book to me

If a subject is a closed book to you, it is something that you don’t understand or know anything about.

Cloth ears

If you don’t listen to people, they may suggest you have cloth ears.

Cloud cuckoo land

If someone has ideas or plans that are completely unrealistic, they are living on cloud cuckoo land.

Cloud nine

If you are on cloud nine, you are extremely happy. (‘cloud seven’ is a less common alternative)

Cloud of suspicion

If a cloud of suspicion hangs over an individual, it means that they are not believed or are distrusted.

Cloud on the horizon

If you can see a problem ahead, you can call it a cloud on the horizon.

Clutch at straws

If someone is in serious trouble and tries anything to help them, even though their chances of success are probably nil, they are clutching at straws.

Clutch play

If an activity is referred to as a clutch play, it means that the activity was the key to the success or failure of the venture. For instance, a clutch play in a baseball game may be striking out a batter with the bases loaded.

Coals to Newcastle

(UK) Taking, bringing, or carrying coals to Newcastle is doing something that is completely unnecessary.

Coast is clear

When the coast is clear, the people supposed to be watching you are not there and you are able to move or leave.

Cock a snook

To make a rude gesture by putting one thumb to the nose with the fingers outstretched.

Cock and bull story

A cock and bull story is a lie someone tells that is completely unbelievable.

Cock in the henhouse

This is used to describe a male in an all-female environment.

Cock of the walk

A man who is excessively confident and thinks he’s better than other people is the cock of the walk.

Cold day in hell

This is used as a prediction there is no chance some event or condition will ever happen.’There will be a cold day in hell before he manages it.’

Cold feet

If you get cold feet about something, you lose the courage to do it.

Cold fish

A cold fish is a person who doesn’t show how they feel.

Cold light of day

If you see things in the cold light of day, you see them as they really are, not as you might want them to be.

Cold shoulder

If you give or show someone the cold shoulder, you are deliberately unfriendly and unco-operative towards them.

Cold sweat

If something brings you out in a cold sweat, it frightens you a lot.

Cold turkey

If someone suddenly stops taking drugs, instead of slowly cutting down, they do cold turkey.

Colder than a witches tit

If it is colder than a witches tit, it is extremely cold outside.

Collateral damage

Accidental or unintended damage or casualties are collateral damage.

Collect dust

If something is collecting dust, it isn’t being used any more.

Color bar

Rules that restrict access on the  basis of race or ethnicity are a color bar.

Come a cropper

(UK) Someone whose actions or lifestyle will inevitably result in trouble is going to come a cropper.

Come clean

If someone comes clean about something, they admit to deceit or wrongdoing.

Come hell or high water

If someone says they’ll do something come hell or high water, they mean that nothing will stop them, no matter what happens.

Come of age

When something comes of age it develops completely and reaches maturity. When someone comes of age, they reach adulthood or fulfill their potential.

Come on hard

If you come on hard, you are aggressive in your dealing with someone.

Come on the heels of

If something comes on the heels of something, it follows very soon after it.

Come out in the wash

If something will come out in the wash, it won’t have any permanent negative effect.

Come out of the woodwork

When things come out of the woodwork, they appear unexpectedly.  (‘Crawl out of the woodwork’ is also used.)

Come out of your shell

If someone comes out of their shell, they stop being shy and withdrawn and become more friendly and sociable.

Come rain or shine

If I say I’ll be at a place come rain or shine, I mean that I can be relied on to turn up; nothing, not even the vagaries of British weather, will deter me or stop me from being there.

Come to a head

If events reach a crisis point, they come to a head.

Come to bear

If something comes to bear on you, you start to feel the pressure or effect of it. 

Come to call

If someone comes to call, they respond to an order or summons directly.

Come to grips

If you come to grips with a problem or issue, you face up to it and deal with it.

Come to heel

If someone comes to heel, they stop behaving in a way that is annoying to someone in authority and start being obedient.

Come up roses

If things come up roses, they produce a positive result, especially when things seemed to be going badly at first.

Come up smelling of roses

(UK) If someone comes up smelling of roses, they emerge from a situation with their reputation undamaged.

Come up trumps

When someone is said to have ‘come up trumps’, they have completed an activity successfully or produced a good result, especially when they were not expected to.

Come what may

If you’re prepared to do something come what may, it means that nothing will stop or distract you, no matter how hard or difficult it becomes.

Come with the territory

If something comes with the territory, it is part of a job or responsibility and just has to be accepted, even if unpleasant.

Comes with the territory

If something comes with the territory, especially when undesirable, it is automatically included with something else, like a job, responsibility, etc.(‘Goes with the territory’ is also used.) 

Comfort zone

It is the temperature range in which the body doesn’t shiver or sweat, but has an idiomatic sense of a place where people feel comfortable, where they can avoid the worries of the world. It can be physical or mental.

Connect the dots

When you connect the dots, you understand the connections and relationships.

Constitution of an ox

If someone has the constitution of an ox, they are less affected than most people by things like tiredness, illness, alcohol, etc.

Cook someone’s goose

If you cook someone’s goose, you ruin their plans.

Cook the books

If people cook the books, they keep false accounts to make money illegally or avoid paying tax.

Cooking with gas

(USA) If you’re cooking with gas, you’re working very efficiently.

Cool as a cat

To act fine when you a actually scared or nervous

Cool your heels

If you leave someone to cool their heels, you make them wait until they have calmed down.

Coon’s age

(USA) A very long time, as in ‘I haven’t seen her in a coon’s age!’

Corner a market

If a business is dominant in an area and unlikely to be challenged by other companies, it has cornered the market.

Couch potato

A couch potato is an extremely idle or lazy person who chooses to spend most of their leisure time horizontal in front of the TV and eats a diet that is mainly junk food.

Could eat a horse

If you are very hungry, you could eat a horse.

Couldn’t give two hoots

If you couldn’t give two hoots about something, you don’t care at all about it.

Count sheep

If people cannot sleep, they are advised to count sheep mentally.

Count your blessings

When people count their blessings, they concentrate on all the good things in their lives instead of the negative ones.

Country mile

(USA) A country mile is used to describe a long distance.

Cover all the bases

If you cover all the bases, you deal with all aspects of a situation or issue, or anticipate all possibilities. (‘Cover all bases’ is also used.)

Crack a nut with a sledgehammer

If you use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, you apply too much force to achieve a result. (‘Jackhammer’ is also used.)

Crack of dawn

The crack of dawn is very early in the morning.

Crash a party

If you crash a party, or are a gatecrasher, you go somewhere you haven’t been invited to.

Cream of the crop

The cream of the crop is the best there is.

Cream rises to the top

A good person or idea cannot go unnoticed for long, just as cream poured in coffee or tea eventually rises to the top.

Creature comforts

If a person said “I hate camping. I don’t like giving up my creature comforts.” the person would be referring, in particular, to the comfortable things he/she would have at home but not when camping. At home, for example, he/she would have complete shelter from the weather, a television, a nice comfortable warm bed, the ability to take a warm bath or shower, comfortable lounge chairs to relax in and so on. The person doesn’t like giving up the material and psychological benefits of his/her normal life.

Crème de la crème

The crème de la crème is the very best of something.

Crepe hanger

(USA) One who always looks at the bad side of things and is morbid or gloomy. In olden days crepe was hung on the door of a deceased person’s home.

Crocodile tears

If someone cries crocodile tears, they pretend to be upset or affected by something.

Crooked as a dog’s hind leg

Someone who is very dishonest is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

Cross swords

When people cross swords, they argue or dispute. This expression is used when some groups accuse each other for non-adherence to norms. Actually no sword is used but the tempo of the argument is high enough to cause worsening of the already bad situation. It is a tussle (vehement struggle without use of arms) between the parties to establish supremacy.

Cross that bridge when you come to it

If you will cross that bridge when you come to it, you will deal with a problem when it arises, but not until that point

Cross to bear

If someone has a cross to bear, they have a heavy burden of responsibility or a problem that they alone must cope with.

Crossing the Rubicon

When you are crossing the Rubicon, you are passing a point of no return. After you do this thing, there is no way of turning around. The only way left is forward.

Crunch time

When people, companies, etc, have to make an important decision that will have a considerable effect on their future, it is crunch time.

Cry wolf

If someone cries wolf, they raise a false alarm about something.

Cry your eyes out

If you cry your eyes out, you cry uncontrollably.

Cry-baby

A cry-baby is a person who gets emotional and cries too easily.

Cuckoo in the nest

Is an issue or a problem, etc, is a cuckoo in the nest, it grows quickly and crowds out everything else.

Cupboard love

(UK) To show love to gain something from someone

Curate’s egg

(UK) If something is a bit of a curate’s egg, it is only good in parts.

Curiosity killed the cat

As cats are naturally curious animals, we use this expression to suggest to people that excessive curiosity is not necessarily a good thing, especially where it is not their business.

Curry favour

If people try to curry favour, they try to get people to support them. (‘Curry favor’ is the American spelling.)

Curve ball

(USA) If something is a curve ball, it is deceptive.

Cut a long story short

This idiom is used as a way of shortening a story by getting to to the end or the point.

Cut a rug

To cut a rug is to dance.

Cut above

If a person is described as a cut above other people, they are better in some way.

Cut and dried

If something is cut and dried, then everything has already been decided and, in the case of an opinion, might be a little stale and predictable.

Cut and run

If people cut and run, they take what they can get and leave before they lose everything.

Cut corners

If people try to do something as cheaply or as quickly as possible, often sacrificing quality, they are cutting corners.

Cut down the tall poppies

(AU) If people cut down the tall poppies, they criticise people who stand out from the crowd.

Cut it fine

If you cut it fine, you only just manage to do something- at the very last moment. ‘Cut things fine’ is the same. ‘Cut it a bit fine’ is a common variation.

Cut off your nose to spite your face

If you cut off your nose to spite your face, you do something rash or silly that ends up making things worse for you, often because you are angry or upset.

Cut someone some slack

To relax a rule or make an allowance, as in allowing someone more time to finish something.

Cut the Gordian knot

If someone cuts the Gordian knot, they solve a very complex problem in a simple way.

Cut the mustard

If somebody or something doesn’t cut the mustard, they fail or it fails to reach the required standard.

Cut to the chase

If you cut to the chase, you get to the point, or the most interesting or important part of something without delay.

Cut to the quick

If someone’s cut to the quick by something, they are very hurt and upset indeed.

Cut your coat according to your cloth

If you cut your coat according to your cloth, you only buy things that you have sufficient money to pay for.

Cut your losses

If you cut your losses, you avoid losing any more money than you already have by getting out of a situation before matters worsen.

Cut your teeth on

The place where you gain your early experience is where you cut your teeth.

Cute as a bug

(USA) If something is as cute as a bug, it is sweet and endearing.

Cuts no ice

If something cuts no ice, it doesn’t have any effect or influence.

Cutting edge

Something that is cutting edge is at the forefront of progress in its area.

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