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babe a babe in arms

You can describe someone as a babe in arms to

emphasize that they are very young, [mainly BRITISH] ^ & . 7

O Cycling hero Chris Boardman was on a bike almost before be could walk. His mother Carol said last night: 'All the family have always cycled and Chris has been going to races since he was a babe in arms.' l~) Battered children who have never known anything other than violence begin their life sentence as a babe in arms.

I NOTE I 'Babe' is an old-fashioned word for a baby or small child.


babes in the wood babes in the woods

You refer to people as babes in the wood or babes in the woods when they are innocent and inexperienced, and they are involved in a complex situation where they are likely to be exploited or have problems.

O They come from a country that is monolingual and monocultural and has been for thousands of years. They're like babes in the woods when it comes to trying to deal with this multi-ethnic society that we all just take for granted. 0 By this time I wasn't such a babe in the woods, and one thing I insisted on was that they commit themselves contractually to a ten-week promotional tour.

I NOTE] 'Babe' is an old-fashioned word for a baby or small child. An old story tells of two young orphans who were left in the care of their uncle. If the children died, the uncle would inherit the family fortune. The uncle ordered a servant to take them into a wood where they died and their bodies were covered with leaves by the birds. There is a pantomime based on this story.


, leave someone holding the baby

If you are left holding the baby, you are made responsible for a problem that nobody else wants to deal with. This expression is used only in British English; the usual American expression is leave someone holding the bag. I") If anything goes wrong on this, Agnes, it's you and I who 'II be left holding the baby, not our clever friend. 0 More often than he liked, Taylor was left holding the baby.

throw the baby out with the bath water

If you warn someone not to throw the baby out with the bath water, you are warning them not to reject something completely just because parts of it are bad, as you think that other parts of it are good.

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0 Even if we don't necessarily like that, we're not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. O By excluding the only member of the squad with any real experience of Olympic tensions and strains, the selection committee have thrown the baby out with the bath water.


0 be glad to see the back of someone

'-' If you say that you are glad to see the back of

someone or something, you mean that you are glad that they have gone because you do not like them. Adjectives such as 'pleased' or 'happy' are sometimes used instead of 'glad', [mainly BRITISH] l") Nick said last night that Court was a 'vile man'. He added: 'We are glad to see the back of him.' 0 Most Tory backbenchers will be as pleased to see the back of him as will the people whose jobs and businesses his policies have destroyed. • You can also say that you want to see the back of someone wlien you want them to go away. 0 Two out of three voters want to see the back of the Chancellor and the President of the Board of Trade.

0 behind your back

If someone says something about you behind your back, they say unkind and unpleasant things about you to other people. If someone does something behind your back, they do it secretly in order to harm you. Compare go behind someone's back.

0 / knew behind his back his friends were saying, 'How can he possibly put up with that awful woman?' 0 5o we put up with him when he tried to convert us to his right-wing beliefs. And, I'm ashamed to say, we laughed at him behind his back. 0 He had discovered that it was safer to have the Press on his side than to have correspondents sneaking around behind his back asking embarrassing questions.

break the back of something (1)

If you break the back of a task, you deal with the

most difficult parts of it or the main part of it.

0 The new government hopes to have broken the

back of the economic crisis by the middle of this


break the back of something (2)

To break the back of something means to do something which will weaken it and lead to its eventual destruction.

a Arms cuts should not be implemented too quickly or they'll break the back of his country's armed forces, n The government made a big effort late last year to break the back of the black market.

break your back

If you say that you are breaking your back to do something, you are emphasizing that you are working extremely hard to try to do it. O When you're breaking your back to make an enterprise work, it's going to cut into your time with family. H 'I had been travelling on buses between

Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide trying to put myself out there and breaking my back lust to get a /ob, she says.

get off someone's back

If you tell someone to get off your back, you are

telling them angrily to stop criticizing you and leave you alone. Compare on someone's back [INFORMAL]

0 He kept on at me to such an extent that

occasionally I wished he would get off my back.

0 For once in their money-grabbing little lives, why

don't they get off our backs?

• If you get someone off your back, you make

them stop criticizing you.

0 / vowed then that I would get them off my back

and out of my life if it was the last thing I did.

get someone's back up put someone's back up

If you say that someone or something gets your back up, you mean that they annoy you. In British English, you can also say that someone or something puts your back up. 0 What does get my back up is a girlfriend who gets too jealous if someone else finds me attractive. O / thought before I spoke again. The wrong question was going to get her back up. f~] The appointment took the whole office by surprise and at first seemed to put people's backs up.

[NOTE1 This expression may refer to the way cats arch their backs when they are angry.

0 get your own back

If someone gets their own back on you, they take revenge on you because of something that you have done to them. [BRITISH] I") All you 're interested in is in getting your own back on Terence. 0 A disgruntled worker got his own back after rowing with his boss by locking the whole firm out of the computer system. 0 / was bullied at school and I want to get my own back.

go behind someone's back

If you say that someone goes behind your back, you mean that they do something secretly or without getting your permission, often in order to deliberately upset you. Compare behind your back.

0 Leonard, you haven't been completely open with me. You think I wouldn 't know when you go behind my back? r! They go behind our backs, they withhold information, they talk down to us like idiots.

0 have your back to the wall

If you say that someone has their back to the wall or has their back against the wall, you

mean that they have very serious problems or are in a very difficult situation, which will be hard to deal with.

0 The European Union has its back to the wall: it must choose between a reform of its working methods or its dilution into a large free trade area. 0 But why is it that when you have your back to the wall, you only seem capable of hearing advice when it's couched in aggressive terms? O / think there will be demonstrations. I think that the regime really has its back against the wall and that we are seeing the beginnings of a revolution.

• You can also say when your back is to the wait

or with your back to the wall.

0 Although traditionally held to be less bloodthirsty than men, when their backs are against the wall women fight as hard as anyone. 0 With my back against the wall, I agreed to a hard bargain.

off the back of a lorry

If someone says that something has fallen off the back of a lorry, or that they got something off the back of a lorry, they mean that they have bought something that was stolen. [BRITISH] O We bought some really excellent wine from a woman who clearly caught the bottles as they fell off the back of a lorry. D The only evidence of any criminal tendencies is that Pete once bought the boys a bicycle cheap off the back of a lorry.

on someone's back

If you say that someone is on your back, you are

complaining that they are annoying you by criticizing you and putting a lot of pressure on you. Compare get off someone's back. H The crowd aren't forgiving, they can be a bit fickle, and as soon as you make a mistake they are on your back. CJ You can't go to a guy and talk about your deep feelings because if everyone else knows you're weak, they're on your back straight away.

on the back of an envelope

If you say that a plan or idea was written on the back of an envelope, you are emphasizing that it is still unfinished and that it needs much more work and thought before it is ready.

0 He has made decisions sketched out on the back of an envelope without proper consultation again.

لقد ترك قرارته كالعادة غير محسومة، ولم يلجأ إلى استشارة أحد.
0 But the screenplay sounds as if it has been written on the back of an envelope and the whole thing has an improvised air about it.

A back-of-an-envelope calculation or account is a rough estimate rather than an accurate figure. 0 According to a back-of-an-envelope calculation by Mr Kirshner, a solar square of mirrors, 30 miles long by 30 miles wide, would provide enough energy to supply the whole state.

on the back of a postage stamp

If you say that all that someone knows about something could be written on the back of a postage stamp, you are emphasizing that they know very little about it.

O What she knew about children would have fitted on the back of a postage stamp.

put your back into something

^If you put your back into something, you work very hard to do it successfully. 0 Eighty miles across the mountains could be done in six days walking, if she put her back into it. O The garden is stunning and a marvellous example of what can be achieved when people are prepared to commit themselves and put their backs into something.

0 stab someone in the back

a stab in the back

If you say that someone that you trusted has stabbed you in the back, you mean that they have done something which hurts and betrays you.

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0 She seemed to be incredibly disloyal. She would be your friend to your face, and then stab you in the

back. 0 I'm really surrounded by a very hypocritical bunch of people, who want to kiss me every time they see me and then they stab me in the back. 0 She felt betrayed, as though her daughter had stabbed her in the back, deliberately chosen the worst way to hurt her.

A stab in the back is an action which hurts and

betrays someone.

0 The Labour MP described the minister's comments, last Thursday, as 'disgraceful' and demanded he apologise. It's a stab in the back for all the people who have been fighting to remove racism from school books and the classroom.

Back-stabbing is talk or gossip which is intended to harm someone. You can also talk about back-stabbing remarks. 0 People begin to avoid one another, take sides, be drawn into gossip and back-stabbing. H To sum up, please Mr Stanton, contribute something useful or keep your back-stabbing remarks to yourself.

0 turn your back on someone (1)

If you say that someone has turned their back on you, you mean that they have ignored you and refused to help you.

0 We appeal to this conference-do not turn your back on the poor. Do not turn your back on the unemployed. 0 We can't just turn our back on them because otherwise we join a whole list of other organizations who say they're there to protect children, but really are not. D When I first got sick, people really turned their backs on me.

0 turn your back on something (2)

If you turn your back on something, you stop thinking about it and paying attention to it, or you reject it. Compare when your back is turned.

It One good thing about moving jobs - you can turn your back on your mistakes. I") He intends to turn his back on his Communist past and form a completely new party with which to challenge for power, n The annual review of the marriage guidance organisation Relate has found that thousands of young people are turning their backs on marriage.

when your back is turned

If something happens when your back is turned,

it happens when you are away or involved with something else. You can also say that it happens as soon as you turn your back. Compare turn your back on something.

0 Sometimes, a child is actually frightened to go to school-not because of what goes on there, but because of what she fears might happen at home when her back is turned. O They are quite happy to question you, though, and are not averse to having a look through your personal items when your back is turned. 0 / don't know what it is, but Asian girls are fanatical about boy groups. They stand there, very quiet and polite, but as soon as you turn your back, they go crazy. European fans, on the other hand, are crazy all the time!

you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours

People say 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' to mean that one person helps another on condition that the second person helps them in

return. People also say 'I'll scratch your back if

you'll scratch mine'.

0 The chemist knew his business and, willing to play the game of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours', charged Eve for only the ingredients he used. 0 For men, commitments are based on common interest: I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine.

• This expression is very variable. For example, you can talk about people scratching each other's backs, or say that something happens on an I'll scratch your back basis.

O When French and German ministers scratch each other's backs, their British counterpart often looks awkward. O But with out-of-reach nanny rates and playcentre space scarce, she makes do with friends, neighbours and 'I'll scratch your back' support.

Back-scratching is helping someone so that they will help you in return. 0 And they know that a bit of helpful back-scratching when the state needs their services can be amply repaid one day.


live off the backs of someone

If you say that one group of people is living off the backs of another group, you are criticizing the first group because it is using the money and resources of the second group to survive, and it gives nothing in return.

H For too long the fat and decadent rich have lived off the backs of the working-class. 0 It is a parasitic organisation. It has lived off the backs of the people. Its members have stolen and extorted money to sustain themselves and their activities.


0 bend over backwards bend over backward

If you bend over backwards or bend over

backward to do something, you try very hard to do it and to help or please someone, even if it causes you trouble or difficulties. 'Lean' is sometimes used instead of 'bend'. 0 UN officials have so far found no evidence to support the rebels' claims, but they are bending over backwards to accommodate their concerns in order to get the peace process moving again, d We are bending over backwards to ensure that the safeguards are kept in place. D But I tell you, Mr. Dorkins, you've done your duty. You've leaned over backward. She has nothing to complain about.

know something backwards know something backwards and forwards

If you say that someone knows something backwards, you are emphasizing that they know it very well. This form of the expression is used mainly in British English; in American English, the usual form is know something backwards and forwards.

D / thoroughly enjoy lecturing and know my subject backwards. 0 He will be very much in demand. He knows the business backwards. 0 See that they know company personnel policy backwards and

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forwards, for ft is the 'law' governing company courts and adjudicators.


save someone's bacon

If someone or something saves your bacon, they get you out of a dangerous or difficult situation. [mainly BRITISH]

I") Your mother once saved my bacon, did you know that? She lent me money when I needed it. CJ Insect spray really saves my bacon because I react quite badly to mosquito bites.

[NOTE] One explanation for this expression is that 'bacon' is related to an old word for 'back', so to save your bacon meant to save your back from a beating. Another is that in the past, bacon stored during the winter had to be guarded from hungry dogs. A third explanation is that the expression was formerly thieves' slang meaning 'to escape'.


be someone's bag

If you say that something is not your bag, you mean that you are not very interested in it or are not very good at it. [INFORMAL] 0 'Being an umpire is not my bag,' Mr. Anders says. 'I'd rather be a player.' 0 The Crowes ain 't my bag, but they gain my respect. They love what they do. ft If sentimental, feel-good, life-affirming movies are your bag, this is for you.

[NOTE] This expression may have originated in the slang spoken by American jazz musicians. They sometimes referred to the type of jazz they played, or to their own distinctive style of jazz, as their 'bag'.

0 in the bag

If you say that something is in the bag, you mean that you feel certain that you will get it or achieve it.

0 Between you and me, laddie, it's in the bag.

Unofficially, the job's yours. l~) After being 23-16 up

at the break, it seemed victory was in the bag for


[NOTE] The bag referred to here is a hunting bag,

in which hunters carry home the animals and

birds they have shot.

leave someone holding the bag

If you are left holding the bag, you are made responsible for a problem that nobody else wants to deal with. This expression is used mainly in American English; the usual British expression is leave someone holding the baby. 0 If a project goes bust, investors are left holding the bag. 0 And then he made another deal, and they were left holding the bag. 0 He was worried about leaving Mom to hold the bag financially.

Q a mixed bag

If you describe something as a mixed bag, you

mean that it contains things that are of very different kinds or qualities. 0 Gateway has a mixed bag of items on special offer. Dessert plums are down to 50p per Ib. Mild garlic sausage drops to just £1.39 and several Somerfield dairy products are down. i~l The papers carry a mixed bag of stories on their front pages.

0 The anthology of short stories by Scottish writers

IS a rather mixed bag. This unevenness of quality may be an inevitable consequence of selecting writers on the grounds of nationality, rather than simply on literary merit.

B^JOTE'J The bag referred to here is a hunting bag containing the different kinds of animals and birds that the hunter has shot.

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