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Wag the dog

To ‘wag the dog’ means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue.The expression comes from the saying that ‘a dog is smarter than its tail’, but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would ‘wag the dog’. The expression ‘wag the dog’ was elaborately used as theme of the movie. ‘Wag the Dog’, a 1997 film starring Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman, produced and directed by Barry Levinson.

Wait for a raindrop in the drought

When someone is waiting for a raindrop in the drought, they are waiting or hoping for something that is extremely unlikely to happen.

Waiting in the wings

If someone is waiting in the wings, or in the wings, they are in the background, but nearby, ready to act on short notice.

Wake up and smell the coffee

When someone doesn’t realise what is really happening or is not paying enough attention to events around them, you can tell them to wake up and smell the coffee.

Wake-up call

A wake-up call is a warning of a threat or a challenge, especially when it means that people will have to change their behaviour to meet it.

Walk a fine line

If you have to walk a fine line, you have to be very careful not to annoy or anger people or groups that are competing. (‘Walk a thin line’ is an alternative.)

Walk a mile in my shoes

This idiom means that you should try to understand someone before criticising them.

Walk a tightrope

If you walk a tightrope, you have to be very careful not to annoy or anger people who could become enemies.

Walk in the park

An undertaking that is easy is a walk in the park. The opposite is also true – “no walk in the park”.

Walk on eggshells

If you have to walk on eggshells when with someone, you have to be very careful because they get angry or offended very easily.(‘Walk on eggs’ is also used.) 

Walk the green mile

Someone or something that is walking the green mile is heading towards the inevitable.

Walk the plank

If someone walks the plank, they are going toward their own destruction or downfall

Walking encyclopedia

A very knowledgeable person is a walking encyclopedia.

Walking on air

If you are walking on  air, you are so happy that you feel as if you could float.

Walking on broken glass

When a person is punished for something. e.g. ‘She had me walking on broken glass.’

Walking time-bomb

A person whose behaviour is erratic and totally unpredictable is a walking time-bomb.

Wallflower

(UK) A woman politician given an unimportant government position so that the government can pretend it takes women seriously is a wallflower.

War chest

A war chest is a fund that can be used to finance a campaign like and election or for use in emergencies or unexpected times of difficulty.

War of words

A war of words is a bitter argument between people or organisations, etc.

Warm and fuzzy

Meaning the feeling evoked as though you were enclosed in a warm and fuzzy blanket.

Warm the cockles of your heart

If something warms the cockles of your heart, it makes you feel happy.

Warpath

If someone is on the warpath, they are very angry about something and will do anything to get things sorted the way they want.

Warts and all

If you like someone warts and all, you like them with all their faults.

Wash your hands of something

If you wash your hands of something, you disassociate yourself and accept no responsibility for what will happen.

Waste not, want not

If you don’t waste things, you are less likely to end up lacking.

Waste of skin

If a person is referred to as a ‘waste of skin’, it means he is not worth very much.

Watch grass grow

If something is like watching grass grow, it is really boring.

Watch your six

(USA) This idiom means that you should look behind you for dangers coming that you can’t see.

Watching paint dry

If something is like watching paint dry, it is really boring.

Water off a duck’s back

If criticism or something similar is like water off a duck’s back to somebody, they aren’t affected by it in the slightest.

Water over the dam

(USA) If something has happened and cannot be changed, it is water over the dam.

Water under the bridge

If something belongs to the past and isn’t important or troubling any more, it is water under the bridge.

Watering hole

(UK) A watering hole is a pub.

Watery grave

If someone has gone to a watery grave, they have drowned.

Weak at the knees

If people go weak at the knees, they have a powerful emotional reaction to something and feel that they might fall over.

Wear sackcloth and ashes

If someone displays their grief or contrition publicly, they wear sackcloth and ashes.

Wear your heart on your sleeve

Someone who wears their heart on their sleeve shows their emotions and feelings publicly.

Weather a storm

If you weather a storm, you get through a crisis or hard times.

Wedge politics

(USA) In wedge politics, one party uses an issue that they hope will divide members of a different party to create conflict and weaken it.

Weight off your shoulders

If something is a weight off your shoulders, you have relieved yourself of a burden, normally a something that has been troubling you or worrying you.

Well-heeled

Someone who is well-heeled is rich.

Well-oiled

If someone is well-oiled, they have drunk a lot.

Well-oiled machine

Something that functions very well is a well-oiled machine.

Were you born in a barn?

If someone asks you this, it means that you forgot to close the door when you came in.

Wet behind the ears

Someone who is wet behind the ears is either very young or inexperienced.

Wet blanket

A wet blanket is someone who tries to spoil other people’s fun.

Wet your whistle

If you are thirsty and have an alcoholic drink, you wet your whistle. “Whet your whistle” is also used.

Whale of a time

If you have a whale of a time, you really enjoy yourself.

What can sorry do?

This means that it is not enough to apologise.

What can you expect from a hog but a grunt?

(USA) This means that you can’t expect people to behave in a way that is not in their character- a ‘hog’ is a ‘pig’, so an unrefined person can’t be expected to behave in a refined way.

What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

This idiom is often used when someone says something irrelevant to the topic being discussed.

What goes around comes around

This saying means that of people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them.

What goes around, comes around

The good or bad you do to others is requited.

What will be will be

The expression what will be will be is used to describe the notion that fate will decide the outcome of a course of events, even if action is taken to try to alter it.

What’s cooking?

When you ask what’s cooking it means you want to know what’s happening.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander

This idiom means that the sexes should be treated the same way and not be subjected to different standards.

What’s up?

This can be used to ask ‘What’s wrong?’ or ‘How are you?’.

What’s your poison?

This is a way of asking someone what they would like to drink, especially alcohol.

What’s your take on that?

This idiom is way of asking someone for their opinion and ideas.

Whatever floats your boat

When people say this, they mean that you should do whatever makes you happy.

Wheels fall off

When the wheels fall off something, it goes wrong or fails. (‘Wheels come off’ is an alternative.)

When hell freezes over

An impossible or very unlikely situation or event

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

This idiom means that when you are visiting a different place or culture, you should try to follow their customs and practices.

When it rains, it pours

This idiom means that when things go wrong, a lot of things go wrong at the same time.

When pigs fly

Meaning you will not get something when you want it or someone doesn’t want something for you. say you are selling an item and some one doesn’t want it. they might say ‘I’ll buy it when pigs fly’. it just means you will never get someone to say yes to you when you ask for something.

When the chickens come home to roost

When a person pays dearly for something bad he or she did in the past, the chickens come home to roost.

Where the rubber meets the road

(USA) Where the rubber meets the road is the most important point for something, the moment of truth. An athlete can train all day, but the race is where the rubber meets the road and they’ll know how good they really are.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

This idiom means that if people really want to do something, they will manage to find a way of doing it.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass

You can make money doing dirty jobs nobody else wants to do. “Where there’s muck, there’s money” is also used.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

When there is an indication or sign of something bad, usually the indication is correct.

Whet your appetite

If something whets your appetite, it interests you and makes you want more of it.

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

This idiomatic expression is used when it is not clear who or what caused something.

While the cat’s away, the mouse will play

People whose behaviour is strictly controlled go over the top when the authority is not around, which is why most teenagers have parties when their parents have gone on holiday. The parents are the scary authority figures, but the cat’s away and the kids are the mice partying and enjoying their freedom.

Whistle for it

If someone says that you can whistle for something, they are determined to ensure that you don’t get it.

Whistle-stop tour

A whistle-stop tour is when someone visits a number of places quickly, not stopping for long.

Whistling Dixie

(USA) If someone is whistling Dixie, they talk about things in a more positive way than the reality.

Whistling in the dark

If someone is whistling in the dark, they believe in a positive result, even though everybody else is sure it will not happen.

Whistling past the graveyard

(USA) If someone is whistling past the graveyard, they are trying to remain cheerful in difficult circumstances. (‘Whistling past the cemetery’ is also used.)

White as a sheet

A bad shock can make somebody go as white as a sheet.

White as snow

If something or someone is as white as snow, they are perfect or completely uncorrupted and honest.

White elephant

A white elephant is an expensive burden; something that costs far too much money to run, like the Millennium Dome in the UK.

White feather

If someone shows a white feather, they are cowards.

White lie

If you tell a white lie, you lie in order not to hurt someone’s feelings.

White-bread

If something is white-bread, it is very ordinary, safe and boring.

Who wears the pants?

(USA) The person who wears the pants in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.

Who wears the trousers?

(UK) The person who wears the trousers in a relationship is the dominant person who controls things.

Who will ring the bell?

‘Who will ring the bell?’ asks who will assume the responsibility to help us out of a difficult situation. 

Whole ball of wax

(USA) The whole ball of wax is everything.

Whole kit and caboodle

The whole kit and caboodle means ‘everything’ required or involved in something. (‘Kaboodle’ is an alternative spelling.)

Whole new ball game

If something’s a whole new ball game, it is completely new or different.

Whole nine yards

The whole nine yards means means everything that is necessary or required for something.

Whole shebang

The whole shebang includes every aspect of something.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free

This idiom is usually used to refer to men who don’t want to get married, when they can get all the benefits of marriage without getting married.

Why keep a dog and bark yourself?

There’s no need to do something yourself when you have somebody to do it for you, usually trivial matters.

Wide berth

If you give someone a wide berth, you keep yourself well away from them because they are dangerous.

Wide of the mark

If something is wide of the mark, it is inaccurate or incorrect.

Wild goose chase

A wild goose chase is a waste of time- time spent trying to do something unsuccessfully.

Will never fly

If an idea or project, etc, will never fly, it has no chance of succeeding.

Will-o’-the-wisp

Something that deceives by its appearance is a will-o’-the-wisp; it looks good, but turns out to be a disappointment.

Win by a nose

If somebody wins by a nose, they only just beat the others.

Window dressing

If something is done to pretend to be dealing with an issue or problem, rather than actually dealing with it, it is window dressing.

Window to the soul

Eyes are sometimes referred to as the window to the soul.

Wing and a prayer

If you do something on a wing and a prayer, you try to do something and hope you’ll succeed even though you have very little chance of success.

Winner takes all

If everything goes to the winner, as in an election, the winner takes all.

Wipe the floor with

(UK) If you wipe the floor with someone, you destroy the arguments or defeat them easily.

Wipe the smile of someone’s face

If you wipe the smile of someone’s face, you do something to make someone feel less pleased with themselves.

With a heavy hand

If someone does something with a heavy hand, they do it in a strict way, exerting a lot of control.

With child

(UK) If a woman’s with child, she’s pregnant.

With flying colours (colors)

If you pass something with flying colours (colors), you pass easily, with a very high mark or grade.

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

This expression is used when people behave badly or treat someone badly that they are supposed to be friends with.

Wither on the vine

If something withers on the vine, it fails to get the intended result, doesn’t come to fruition.

Within a whisker

If you come within a whisker of doing something, you very nearly manage to do it but  don’t succeed.

Without a hitch

If something happens without a hitch, nothing at all goes wrong.

Woe betide you

This is used to wish that bad things will happen to someone, usually because of their bad behaviour.

Woe is me

This means that you are sad or in a difficult situation. It’s archaic, but still used.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is something dangerous that looks quite safe and innocent.

Wood for the trees

(UK) If someone can’t see the wood for the trees, they get so caught up in small details that they fail to understand the bigger picture.

Word of mouth

If something becomes known by word of mouth, it is because people are talking about it, not through publicity, etc.

Word of the law

The word of the law means that the law is interpreted in an absolutely literal way which goes against the ideas that the lawmakers had wished to implement.

Words fail me

If words fail you, you can’t find the words to express what you are trying to say.

Work like a charm

If something works like a charm, it works perfectly.

Work like a dog

If you work like a dog, you work very hard.

Work the system

If people work the system, they exploit the state or similar setup to their advantage.

Work your fingers to the bone

If you work your fingers to the bone, you work extremely hard on something.

Work your socks off

If you work your socks off, you work very hard.

Work your tail off

If you work your tail off, you work extremely hard.

World at your feet

If everything is going well and the future looks full of opportunity, you have the world at your feet.

World is your oyster

When the world is your oyster, you are getting everything you want from life.

Worm information

If you worm information out of somebody, you persuade them to tell you something they wanted to keep from you.

Worm’s eye view

A worm’s eye view of something is the view from below, either physically or socially.

Worse for wear

If something’s worse for wear, it has been used for a long time and, consequently, isn’t in very good condition. A person who’s worse for wear is drunk or high on drugs and looking rough.

Worse things happen at sea

This idiomatic expression is used as a way of telling someone not to worry so much about their problems.

Worth a shot

If something is worth a shot, it is worth trying as there is some chance of success.

Worth your salt

Someone who is worth their salt deserves respect.

Wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole

(UK) If you wouldn’t touch something with a bargepole, you would not consider being involved under any circumstances. (In American English, people say they wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole)

Wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole

(USA) If you wouldn’t touch something with a ten-foot pole, you would not consider being involved under any circumstances. (In British English, people say they wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole)

Wrap yourself in the flag

If someone wraps themselves in the flag, they pretend to be doing something for patriotic reasons or out of loyalty, but their real motives are selfish. (‘Drape yourself in the flag’ is an alternative form of this idiom)

Wrench in the works

(USA) If someone puts or throws a wrench, or monkey wrench, in the works, they ruin a plan. In British English, ‘spanner’ is used instead of ‘wrench’.

Writ large

If something is writ large, it is emphasised or highlighted.

Write your own ticket

If you write your own ticket, you control the terms and conditions for something and have them exactly the way you want.

Writing on the wall

If the writing’s on the wall for something, it is doomed to fail.

Written all over your face

If someone has done something wrong or secret, but cannot hide it in their expression, it is written all over their face.

Written in stone

If something is written in stone, it is permanent and cannot be changed.

Wrong end of the stick

If someone has got the wrong end of the stick, they have misunderstood what someone has said to them.

Wrong foot

If you start something on the wrong foot, you start badly.

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