The university of birmingham harperCollins Publishers


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someone's bag of tricks

If you refer to someone's bag of tricks, you mean

that they have a set of special techniques or

methods to use in their work.

0 'Unpretentious Delights'by johnny Griffin is

perfectly titled. Recorded live in Warsaw in 1978, it

is a delightful offering with Griffin going through his

bag of tricks to great effect. 0 Audiences seemed

disconcerted by Welles' unconventional camera

techniques, the jarring cuts between scenes, the

shock effects that Welles pulled out of his bag of


fNOTE] This expression refers to the bag in which

conjurers carry the equipment they need for their



0 pack your bags

If someone packs their bags, they suddenly leave

where they live or work, or they withdraw from an agreement, usually because of a disagreement. 0 But it was a stormy romance, jesse's wayward attitude prompted Gwyneth to pack her bags on several occasions, d If things go wrong and our conditions are not met, we will simply pack our bags and leave.


fish or cut bait

You can tell someone to fish or cut bait when you

want them to stop wasting time and make a

decision to do something. [AMERICAN]

0 Morale and stamina were said to be low after

seven weeks of stalemate-the time had come to

fish or cut bait.

[NOTE] The literal meaning behind this expression

seems to be that it is time for someone to make a

definite decision either to start fishing, or else to

prepare the bait so that other people can fish.

take the bait rise to the bait

If you take the bait or rise to the bait, you react

to something that someone has said or done in exactly the way that they wanted you to react. 0 When the talk turned to horses, she told him how she had fallen off as a child and lost her nerve. Hewitt immediately took the bait, offering to teach her to ride. 0 It's important not to rise to the bait and get cross.

I NOTE] In fly-fishing, the fish rise to the surface of the water to take the bait, and so they get caught.


a baker's dozen

If you have a baker's dozen of things, you have thirteen of them. [OLD-FASHIONED]


0 It's the idea ofAlan Else, series co-ordinator, who has picked out a baker's dozen of top events between April and September.

enote] Bakers in medieval England had a bad reputation for cheating their customers by selling underweight loaves. After regulations were introduced to fix the standard weight of loaves, bakers began to add a thirteenth loaf to each dozen to make sure they were not breaking the law.


0 in the balance

If you say that a situation is in the balance or hangs or remains in the balance, you mean that it is not clear what is going to happen. O / heard that one of the judges had died unexpectedly and that the choice of his successor was in the balance, with Holroyd and a couple of others as the most likely candidates. 0 Mankind today faces unprecedented problems and the future will hang in the balance if joint solutions are not found. D The survival of Municipal Mutual Insurance, Britain's leading insurer of local authorities, remained in the balance, as hopes for a European rescue of the group turned away from Paris towards Belgium and Germany. I NOTE I A balance is a set of scales which consists of two dishes suspended from a horizontal bar.

0 throw off balance

If you arc thrown off balance by something, you are confused or surprised by it. Verbs such as 'knock' and 'catch' are sometimes used instead of


0 She was trying to behave as if his visit hadn't

thrown her off-balance. D His directness ssemed

designed to throw Michael off balance. 0 Mullins

knocked me off balance with his abrupt change of



a ball and chain

If you describe someone or something as a ball and chain, you mean that they restrict your freedom to do what you want. 0 If you listen to members of the same sex talking to each other, you're likely to hear a man describe his wife as a ball and chain. 0 Our national debt is an economic ball and chain dragging us down, keeping longer term interest rates high.

[NOTE I In the past, prisoners were sometimes chained by the leg to a heavy metal ball to prevent them from escaping.

0 the ball is in your court

If you tell someone that the ball is in their court, you are pointing out that it is their responsibility to decide what to do next in a particular situation. O The ball's now in your court. You have to decide what you're going to do to get the most from your money, given the level of risk you feel you can tolerate. 0 The ball is now in his court. I, and indeed others, have told him quite clearly what we think. He has to decide.

! NOTE I This expression refers to the game of tennis.

behind the eight ball

If you say that someone or something is behind the eight ball, you mean that they are in trouble or in a difficult position, [mainly AMERICAN] O For one thing, you don't need a secondary school education to work out that if a child doesn't get the basics in primary school they are way behind the eight ball.

[NOTE] In the game of pool, the 'eight ball' is a ball with a number 8 on it, which players have to pot last. If the eight ball is between the cue ball and the ball which the player is trying to hit, the player is likely to hit the eight ball first, which is a foul shot.

0 a crystal ball

If you say that someone is looking into a crystal ball, you mean that they are trying to predict the future.

0 So why look in the crystal ball for next year, when we can look at the record of what has happened? n What you really need to help you select your new car is a crystal ball to tell you how much it will be worth two, three or four years down the road. • You can refer to someone who does this as a crystal ball gazer, and describe their behaviour as crystal ball gazing.

0 He was showing off, although in this case it hardly required a crystal ball gazer to predict the result. 0 Can I ask you now to do a bit of crystal ball gazing? How high do you think the price of oil could go?

I NOTE I A crystal ball is a glass ball used by some traditional fortune-tellers to predict the future. They say that they can see visions of future events within the ball.

drop the ball

If you say that someone has dropped the ball,

you are criticizing them for something foolish or incompetent that they have done. [mainly AMERICAN]

[") Lafferty, instead of really being helpful, had tried to pass off the new arrival's sponsorship duties to his staff, and the staff dropped the ball. 0 There are people who 'a like to see me fall, I know that. But I'm not afraid. I won't drop the ball.

0 have a ball

If you have a ball, you enjoy yourself and have a

really good time.

0 The boys were sitting happily on the ground. The

burner was blazing, the kettle was on and, going by

the gales of laughter, they were having a ball.

0 Why not go out and see if there's some place we

can dance? Let's go and have a ball. l~) / 've enjoyed

every minute of politics. I've had a ball.

| NOTE I In this expression, a 'ball' is a formal


a new ball game

a different ball game

If you describe a situation as a new ball game or

a different ball game, you mean that it has

changed so much that people will have to change

the way they deal with it or consider it.

l~l 'What happens if you find out, as seems

probable, that we have a case of sabotage on our

hands?' 'Then it's a new ball game, Bruce. We'll

have to trace the crime itself back to its authors.'

O Politically, we're not yet there and we don't know

The symbol 0 shows key idioms




the timetable of the crisis. But in the end of it, it will be a whole new ball game. 0 If military force were to be used, then that could be a completely different ballgame.

fNOTEl 'Gall game' is often used in American English to refer to a game of baseball.

on the ball

If you describe someone as on the ball, you mean that they are alert and deal with things in an intelligent way.

0 Some clubs struggle in their attempts to raise money. A few are on the ball and make a thoroughly professional job of it. 0 You can't bumble along in this business. You have to be on the ball.

I NOTE I In football, the player who is on the ball has the ball at their feet and is in control of it.

0 play ball

If you agree to play ball with someone, you agree to do what they have asked you to do, or you agree to work with them in order to achieve something that you both want. Compare play hardball; see hardball

0 The Association of British Insurers has threatened to withdraw its support if the banks and building societies refuse to play ball. O The indirect message to japan's foreign minister appeared to he that, if japan would not play ball with Russia on economic co-operation, Russia would look for friends elsewhere. 0 'Boys, I want to say that I appreciate the way you've played ball with me,' she declared, 'and in return you can be sure that I aim to play ball right back.'

Q set the ball rolling start the ball rolling

If you set the ball rolling or start the ball

rolling, you start an activity or you do something which other people will join in with later. You can also get the ball rolling and keep the ball rolling.

0 A fierce price war is now underway with all the big supermarket rivals cutting prices. Sainsbury set the ball rolling last week with 30 per cent discounts on a wide range of brands. D Lord Mackay started the ball rolling on judicial openness when he abolished rules barring judges from speaking in public, 0 Once you get the ball rolling, everyone wants to be involved.

take the ball and run with it pick up the ball and run

If you take the ball and run with it, you take an idea or plan that someone else has started and you develop it in order to see if it will be successful or useful.

0 Whatever he does in that hour is up to him. If he studies, fine. If he stares at the walls, well there's nothing we can do. He's the one who has to take the ball and run with it.

• This expression is very variable. For example,

you can also say that you pick up the ball and


0 In a couple of months all our efforts will be

forgotten unless other people pick up the ball and


• Other nouns and pronouns are often used instead of 'ball'.

o political theorists picked up the idea of liberty and

ran with it down now; and experimental constitutional paths. 0 Any competent programmer could do it on a home computer and I'm hoping that someone else will take this and run with it because I haven't had the time.

eote] The game referred to here is American football.

the whole ball of wax

If you refer to the whole ball of wax, you are

referring to the whole of something or to a number of different things which form a whole. This expression is used mainly in American English; the usual British expression is the whole caboodle. 0 Perry wanted it all, the whole ball of wax. He wanted the Society for himself. 0 Let's just say that without you and him, there's nothing at all. You two are the whole ball of wax. And your uncle sure as hell knows that.


go ballistic

If someone goes ballistic, they get extremely angry and start behaving in a very forceful or irrational way as a result. Co nuclear means the same.

O They claim the singer went ballistic after one member of bis band allegedly failed to show for a sound check on the recent American tour.

قيل إن المغني في جولته الأمريكية المؤخرة، قد جن جنونه بعد أن تخلف أحد أعضاء الفرقة عن الحضور للتأكد من جاهزية تقنيات الصوت.

0 Can you imagine what the atmosphere will be like at breakfast if these pictures are as bad as they sound? The Queen will, quite simply, go ballistic. [ NOTE I This expression uses the image of a ballistic missile, and the powerful explosion which it causes.


the balloon goes up

If you say that the balloon has gone up, you

mean that a situation has become very serious or

something bad has just happened, [mainly


0 On the Saturday the balloon went up. Henry said

he would be going out to a conference and not

returning until the Sunday afternoon. Sara told him

to take all his things and not to return at all. 0 On

the line was his solicitor warning that the balloon

was about to go up.

[NOTE I In the First World War, balloons were used

both to protect targets from air raids and to

observe the enemy. The fact that a balloon had

gone up therefore indicated that trouble was



|M)TEI A ballpark is a park or stadium where baseball is played.

a ballpark figure a ballpark estimate

A ballpark figure or a ballpark estimate is an

approximate figure or quantity. 0 But what are we talking about here-a few thousand, millions, two bucks? Give me a ballpark figure, d I think just in a ballpark estimate-about

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60-40. Sixty would support, 40 percent would be opposed.

in the ballpark

If you say that someone or something is in the ballpark, you mean that their ideas, actions, or estimates are approximately right, although they may not be exactly right.

0 -4s one recovering gambler puts it, as long as you stay honest with yourself, you're somewhere in the ballpark. 0 Doctor Adams pointed out that as a piece of subtle surgical equipment it cost about £5 -an underestimate, maybe, but in the right ballpark.

in the same ballpark

If you say that one person or thing is in the same ballpark as another, you mean that the first person or thing is comparable to the second, or is as good or important as the second.

0 As a general investigative agency, they're not in the same ballpark as the FBI. 0 'We're not very nervous.'Mr. Gruber, Blockbuster's chief marketing officer, predicts that Super Club's outlets won't be 'in the same ballpark'as Blockbuster's larger superstores.


break someone's balls

If you say that someone breaks your balls, you mean that they seem to take pleasure in creating a great deal of unnecessary trouble for you. This expression is often used to refer critically to women who seem to enjoy destroying the sexual confidence of men. You can replace 'break' with 'bust'. [INFORMAL, VERY RUDE] 0 You learned that the guy who writes the ads for the bank isn't the guy who loans the money. They break your balls. I") Men prefer a twitchy little eye-flutterer even if she is breaking their balls behind the scenes.

• You can refer to someone who behaves in this way as a ball-breaker, and describe their behaviour as ball-breaking. [INFORMAL, VERY RUDE]

D She thinks there's a misconception of her and fen as ball-breaking, man-hating, unapproachable bitches. O Another professor raised a great laugh by characterizing fane Eyre as a novel written by one sex-starved ball-breaker about another.

I NOTE I In this expression, 'balls' is used to refer to a man's testicles.

keep balls in the air Juggle balls in the air

If you have to keep a lot of balls in the air or juggle a lot of balls in the air, you have to deal with many different things at the same time. O They had trouble keeping all their balls in the air. In management terms, they were trying to do too much and things were starting to break down. 0 / really am juggling a hundred balls in the air at the same time and driving Alan completely potty with my scatterbrained way of doing things.

fnote I This expression uses the image of juggling, where someone has to keep throwing and catching a number of balls at the same time.


0 Slip on a banana skin slip on a banana peel

If an important or famous person slips on a banana skin or slips on a banana peel, they say or do something that makes them look stupid and causes them problems. Other verbs with a similar meaning can be used instead of 'slip'. [BRITISH] 0 Most of the nation would enjoy seeing mighty Liverpool slip on a banana skin in front of millions. 0 You can be walking across Westminster Bridge full of noble thoughts at one moment and slipping on a banana peel the next. 0 He was unaware of the banana skin on which his department's heel was about to skid.

• You can refer to something that causes someone to look stupid or have problems as a banana skin or a banana peel.

0 We are hoping this is a new era for the club, but there have been a few banana skins lying around in the past when people have thought like that. O This is nothing compared with the criticism the president gets from those major insiders who watch in horrified fascination as he lurches from one banana peel to another.

I NOTE I Comedies and cartoons often use the device or image of a character slipping on a banana skin, falling over, and looking foolish.


0 a one-man band a one-woman band

If you describe someone as a one-man band, you

mean that they carry out every part of an activity themselves, without any help from anyone else. D Business was quiet on the night we visited-which was as well, as the chef was a one-man band, taking orders, and cooking and serving at table. O I'm a one-man band, Mr Herold. At present I haven't even got a secretary.

• A woman who is like this is sometimes described as a one-woman band.

O The hens need to be shut up at dusk and the gate of the goose enclosure closed and I am no better at being in two places at once than the next one-woman band.

rNOTE] A one-man band is a street entertainer who plays several different instruments at the same time.


0 jump on the bandwagon

If you say that someone, especially a politician, has jumped on the bandwagon, you disapprove of their involvement in an activity or movement, because you think that they are not sincerely interested in it, but are involved in it because it is likely to succeed or it is fashionable. 'Climb on', 'get on', and 'join' can be used instead of 'jump on'.

0 One of the dangers of following fads is that there are always bound to be inexperienced people ready to jump on the bandwagon and start classes in whatever is fashionable, with little or no training or qualifications of their own. H Why are the 'stars'

The symbol 0 shows key idioms


now jumping on the fashionable green bandwagon? Few people doubt their sincerity, although some people doubt their effectiveness. 0 A lot of people are trying to climb aboard the bandwagon of selling financial services to women, but it's only an enlightened few companies who are making genuine, useful changes.

• You can also say that someone is bandwagon-jumping.

0 We welcome any campaign on domestic violence, but we don't like the bandwagon-jumping of this organization.

• 'Bandwagon' is also used in many other phrases such as someone's bandwagon is rolling, to

mean that an activity or movement is getting increasing support.

0 Substitute Kevin Russell kept Leicester's promotion bandwagon rolling with a vital late winner at Filbert Street last night.

I NOTE I In American elections in the past, political rallies were often publicized by a band playing on a horse-drawn wagon which was driven through the streets. Politicians sat on the wagon and those who wished to show their support climbed on board.

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