Phrases & Idioms etc.

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This page provides detailed information (their correct usage, definitions, usage examples and audio pronunciations) on a range of English idioms and phrases that are currently in popular usage. It also explains the difference between: adages, aphorisms, clichés, slogans, truisms and witticisms etc. Scroll them all: phrases & idioms. Or view them individually:

Some clarity on terminology

It is common to find different words in English that have similar meanings; ‘phrases’ and ‘idioms’ are no exception…


An adage is an aphorism (see below) that has that has gained credit through long use.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire
Out of sight out of mind.


An aphorism is a tersely and memorably phrased statement of a truth or opinion. It comes from the Greek aphorismos; to delimit, define]. — “He’s a fool who cannot conceal his wisdom.”

An overly commonplace, banal or trite saying, expression or idea. Sometimes the terms stereotype or platitude are used as a synonym. Clichés can be defined as preconceived twists, hackneyed and worn out by too frequent use of images, modes of expression, speech and thought patterns. These are often used thoughtlessly and without individual conviction. — “Time heals all wounds” (which ain’t actually true — Ms Black).

a formal pronouncement from an authoritative source. — “The dicta of High Court Judges”

A concise, clever, often paradoxical statement, thought or observation; sometimes expressed as a short, witty poem, e.g.:

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”

A descriptive term (= word or phrase) used to characterize a person or thing, that has become popular is commonly understood. — “The Great Emancipator.”

The term in the narrower sense means oral lore of a group of people. In the broader sense folklore describes the totality of ” demotic” traditions. It often has religious or mythical elements. [From Old English – folk = “people” and lore = “tradition” or “knowledge”]. So, folklore literally means “knowledge of the people” or “tradition of the people”. It is similar to: myth, (urban) legend, (tall) tale.

A pithy saying that expresses a general truth, fundamental principle or an instruction in a compact form (usually taken from ancient literature or poems); an aphorism. [Greek: from gignoskein, to know] This is a clever example: — “Moderation is the best thing” (Cleobulus of Lindos; c. 600 BC).

An expression that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of the words. Quite a few idioms are language specific, and thus difficult to translate. — “A cold day in Hell.”

A figure of speech (or any rhetorical device) in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, mostly beyond credibility. [Greek huperbol, exaggeration, from: huper (= beyond) and ballein (= to throw)]. Such linguistic measures are often used in informal chatter: — “I could sleep for a year” — “This book weighs a ton.”

Originated in the Vedic tradition of India; a mantra is now a religious or mystical sound, syllable or poetic phrase used in prayers and during meditation. This is an example of a faith-based chant (or mantra!) Haro Hara [huh’-roh huh’-ruh] — bestows knowledge of intuitive truth.

Compared with its approximate synonyms: saying, adage, saw, motto, epigram, proverb, aphorism, the term maxim stresses the succinct formulation of a fundamental principle, general truth, or rule of conduct. [Latin: maximus, “greatest”, via the expression maxima propositio, “greatest premise”.] — “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

While both metaphors and similes (see below) are used to make comparisons, the difference between similes and metaphors comes down to a word. Similes use the words “like,” “or” and “as” to compare things — “Life is like a box of chocolates.” In contrast, metaphors directly state a comparison: “Love is a battlefield.”

A brief statement used to express a principle, a motivation, a goal, or an ideal. — “Be Prepared.”

A paradox is a statement that seemingly or actually contains an irresolvable contradiction. Thus it contradicts itself and yet might be true.
— “All Englishmen are liars” (said an Englishman to a Kuwaiti student).

Pearl of wisdom
A wise saying or piece of advice. — “The nation’s media were assembled to hear his pearls of wisdom” (!! May well be being used in an ironic way).

A simple and short saying, widely known, often metaphorical, which expresses a basic truth or practical precept, based on common sense or cultural experience. — “Honesty is the best policy.”

This is a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of words (or of similar-sounding words) for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. — “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

A clever or witty observation or remark, with a tendency to descend into sarcasm, or otherwise is short of point. [Latin: quippe = “indeed” – meaning: smart remark] — “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.”

his is a repetition — literally taken over from another text or speech and explicitly attributed by a citation. Quotes, whose original context is lost and can no longer be reconstructed, are named fragments. Here’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

A short well-known expression; a pithy remark of wisdom and truth or a general advice. — “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g., “As brave as a lion”). While both similes and metaphors (see above) are used to make comparisons, the difference between similes and metaphors comes down to a word. Similes use the words “like,” “or” and “as” to compare things — “Life is like a box of chocolates.” In contrast, metaphors directly state a comparison: “Love is a battlefield.”

This is a memorable motto or phrase used as a repetitive expression of an idea or purpose. Also called tagline or one liner. — “Make learning fun.”

a statement that is obviously true and says nothing new or interesting. — “The truism that you get what you pay for.”

Witty remarks can be intentionally cruel and are more ingenious than funny. Here’s a funny example:

Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” Churchill replied “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”


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Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) was a French writer, philosopher and political activist. She is known for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism.
The Second Sex
Delta of Venus
Delta of Venus
A Room of one's own
A Room of One’s Own
War and Peace is the 1869 novel by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. It is regarded as a classic of world literature. (The novel chronicles the French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families.) Tolstoy said War and Peace is "not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle." Tolstoy regarded Anna Karenina as his first true novel.
War and Peace
The Trial, by Franz Kafka (1914 [1925]) -- A terrifying psychological trip into the life of one Joseph K., an ordinary man who wakes up one day to find himself accused of a crime he did not commit, a crime whose nature is never revealed to him. Once arrested, he is released, but must report to court on a regular basis--an event that proves maddening, as nothing is ever resolved. As he grows more uncertain of his fate, his personal life--including work at a bank and his relations with his landlady and a young woman who lives next door--becomes increasingly unpredictable. As K. tries to gain control, he succeeds only in accelerating his own excruciating downward spiral.
The Trial
Brave New World (1932) is a dystopian novel by English author Aldous Huxley. Set in a futuristic World State, whose citizens are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual: the story's protagonist (one Bernard Marx). In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World at number five on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th c.
Brave New World
Beloved is a 1987 novel by the late American writer Toni Morrison. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and, in a survey of writers and literary critics compiled by The New York Times, it was ranked the best work of American fiction from 1981 to 2006. The work, set after the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865, was inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, an African American who escaped slavery by crossing the Ohio River to Ohio, a free state. Garner was subsequently captured and decided to kill her infant daughter rather than have her taken into slavery.
The Grapes of Wrath

The Prophet is a book of 26 prose poetry fables written in English by the Lebanese-American poet and writer Kahlil Gibran. The Prophet has been translated into over 100 different languages, making it one of the most translated books in history. Moreover, it has never been out of print.The Prophet
“If you love somebody, let them go, if they don’t return, they were never yours.”
The Essential Rumi, by Rumi ~ e.g. ~ 'Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.'The Essential Rumi
“Lovers do not finally meet somewhere. They are in each other all along.”
Ways of Escape, a journey of sorts -- 'I was dead, deader than dead because, I was still alive.'Ways of Escape:
a journey of sorts

A short excerpt from the book: “I was dead, deader than dead because, I was still alive.”
The Significance of Literature, the podcast series.The Significance of

A podcast series that chronologically charts the key works of poetry and prose.
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