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HOME > AMERICAN IDIOMS > Idioms starting with B

Common American Idioms for ESL students


Back to square one:
Also: Back to the drawing board; Said when you fail to make something work, and have to start over again from the beginning. ex: "Well, that didn't work. Back to square one."

Backhanded compliment (n.)
Something that is supposed to sound like a compliment, but is really an insult. ex: "She has a nice smile for someone who's so ugly."

Back-seat driver (n.)
A somewhat derogatory term for a passenger who (excessively) comments on what the driver is doing wrong.

Bad blood (n.)
Also see: "History"; ill feeling, grudges, etc., between two people, usually due to something that happened in the past. ex. "There was some bad blood between the two candidates."

(a) ball-park figure:
A rough estimate. ex: "Can you give me a ball-park figure of what this project will cost?"

(To get/jump on the) bandwagon:
To begin to like something/start doing something because it's popular, "hip", or everyone else is doing it. ex. "Everyone's jumping on the tablet bandwagon."

(To) bank on something:
To count or rely on something.

(To) bark up the wrong tree:
To ask the wrong person; to make the wrong choice. ex. "The gangster told the cops they were barking up the wrong tree in thinking he was responsible for the robbery."

(A) basket-case:
A very nervous person; someone at the verge of being neurotic. ex. "All the stress from the divorce turned John into a basket case."

(To) be a fan of someone/ something:
To like, idolize, admire someone/ or something. ex. "I'm not a big fan of heavy metal music."

(To) be in one's element:
To be completely comfortable doing something; to do something that comes very naturally to someone. ex. "When it comes to speaking in public, the Senator is in his element."

(To) be up to no good:
To be planning something bad, mischievous, etc. ex. "I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was up to no good."

(To) beat around the bush:
To avoid getting to the point. ex. "Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you really think."

(To) beat (someone) to the punch:
To do something before someone else has a chance to. ex. "I was going to ask her out, but John beat me to the punch." ( = John asked her out before I had a chance to do so.)

(To) beg to differ:
A polite way of saying "to disagree", most often heard in the phrase "I beg to differ!"

Behind (someone)
In the past. ex. "I used to smoke, drink, and take drugs, but all that is behind me now."

Believe it or not:
Used at the beginning sentence to state that something is true whether one chooses to believe it or not. ex. "Believe it or not, I still care for her." (To be) below the belt; (to hit someone) below the belt:
To say or do something to someone that is not fair and/or hurtful. ex. "Bringing up my divorce was really below the belt, even for him."

(To be) beside oneself:
To be really upset, emotional. ex. "My mom was really beside herself when she found out I had failed my English test."

(To be) beside the point:
Irrelevant (to the issue at hand). ex. "P1: But you didn't even take mom to see the doctor. P2: That's beside the point. We're talking about you now, not mom."

Big fish in a little sea:
A person who's famous/ well-known but only in an unimportant place (city or area).

(To have a) big mouth:
To not be able to keep a secret. ex. "Don't tell her anything. She's got a really big mouth."

Big-shot (noun/adjective):
An important person. ex. "All the big-shots at headquarters never listen to what we have to say."; "A big-shot reporter."

(A) Bimbo:
A foolish/empty girl. The term "male bimbo" is also used. ex. "John only talks about his car and his clothes. He's a real male bimbo."

(A) bird's eye view:
A panoramic view. ex. "The property, situated high above the city, offered a bird's eye view of the surrounding countryside."

(The) birds and the bees:
Sex; human reproduction. ex. "It's about time I talked to my son about the birds and the bees."

(To) bite off more than (you) can chew:
To try to do something that is too hard to do for you to do, finish, etc. ex. "He started to run the marathon, but after about 10 miles he realized that he had bitten off a bit more than he could chew."

(A) bite to eat:
A snack, some food. ex. "Let's go grab a bite to eat before we go to the game."

(To) bite the hand that feeds you:
To do harm to someone who helps you.

(To) bite one's tongue:
To struggle not to say something that you want to say. ex. "I wanted to tell her everything, but I had to bite my tongue because I had promised Bill I would not (tell her)." (To) bite the bullet:
To accept a difficult situation, or the consequences thereof. ex. "He didn't want to get divorced, but he had to bite the bullet after his wife moved out of the house."

Black sheep (of the family):
The worst, least accepted member of a family. ex. "Peter is the black sheep of his family."

(A) blast:
A great time; a fun time. ex. "We had a blast at the party last night."

(To) blow someone's cover:
To reveal someone's secret, or true identity. ex. "The spy was very careful not to blow her cover."

(To) blow your own horn:
To speak very highly of oneself, one's accomplishments, etc. ex. "Don't blow your own horn. No one likes arrogant people."

(To not be) born yesterday:
To not be naive or gullible. ex. "You expect me to believe that? C'mon, I wasn't born yesterday."

(To scrape the) bottom of the barrel:
To get stuck with the worst thing (in a series of things). ex. "We arrived at the yard sale really late, so we ended up scraping the bottom of the barrel."

(To) break even:
To neither win nor lose. ex. "Michael thought he would lose $200, but he ended up breaking even."

(To) break new ground:
To do something that hasn't been done before; to innovate. ex. "Dr. Davis was breaking new ground in cancer research."

(To) break someone's heart:
To cause someone (strong) emotional pain. ex. "Fiona broke James' heart when she refused to marry him."

(To) break the news to someone/ to break "it" to someone:
To tell someone some important news, usually bad news. ex. "I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your wife has been cheating on you."

(To) bring down the house:
To have a very successful performance. ex. "Their performance brought down the house. Everyone was really impressed."

(To) burst into tears:
To start crying suddenly. ex. "She burst into tears when she heard the news."

(To do something) by the book:
To do something legally, without breaking any laws. ex. "The new sheriff made sure that everything was done by the book."

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