Idioms - Letter U
 
 
 
 
American English Idioms - Letter U

In this lesson you will learn American English idioms beginning with the letter U. You will learn the definition and study the usage of each idiom.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
BLUE UPPER CASE LETTERS = video and detailed written definition and usage
blue lower case letters = video definition and usage
BLACK UPPER CASE LETTERS = detailed written definition and usage
black lower case letters = brief written definition and usage
Idiom Definition Usage
ugly duckling unattractive She was an ugly duckling when she was a child.
UNDER A CLOUD less than entirely trustworthy; suspected of some wrongdoing

The lack of trust implied in the expression may or may not be justified.
1. The bank manager discovered that there was money missing from Mr. Jenkins’ money drawer, and the manager suspected that Mr. Jenkins took it himself. Mr. Jenkins has been under a cloud ever since.

2. This administration has been marked by widespread corruption. Even if they manage to clean it up, the politicians will always be under a cloud of suspicion.
under a cloud depressed He has been under a cloud since he lost his job.
under cover in disguise The detective went under cover to look for the drug dealers.
under fire being scrutinized The owner is under fire for poor working conditions at the factory.
under one's belt completed He already has enough experience as a manager under his belt.
under one's belt in his stomach After he has a big breakfast under his belt, he is ready for work.
under one's breath quietly He was talking under his breath in the library.
under one's nose in an obvious place He found his wallet under his nose.
under one's own steam without assistance He completed the project under his own steam.
under one's wing under his care He took the new employee under his wing.
UNDER (SOMEONE’S) THUMB under someone’s control

Compare to: tied to (one’s) mother’s apron strings

The expression suggests a dramatic difference between the person in control and the person who is controlled, the latter being so small or so weak as to be held down by a thumb.
1. Don’t ask Margie to make a change in our work schedule; she won’t do anything without Larry’s permission. She’s under Larry’s thumb.

2. Those two young people will never be allowed to make their own decisions or lead their own lives. Their mother will always control them. They will always be under their mother’s thumb.
under the counter secretly The drugs are being sold under the counter.
under the hammer up for sale at an auction The painting went under the hammer and sold for a very high price.
UNDER THE TABLE/COUNTER secretly or illegally 1. It is illegal for storekeepers to sell cigarettes or liquor to children, but some will sell them to children under the counter.

2. As a private investigator, I sometimes have to slip someone some money under the table in order to get information.
UNDER THE WEATHER

unwell; ill

Antonym: in the pink

Whereas in the pink can be applied to people, animals, or machines, under the weather is applied only to people or animals.
1. John has not been looking very well these days. He’s under the weather.

2. The children and I have had so many colds this winter. The whole family has been under the weather for weeks.
UNDER THE WIRE just in time before a deadline

Similar to: in the nick of time; down to the wire
1. The newspaper article was due no later than 4 o’clock and the editor got it in at exactly 3:59. He got it in right under the wire.

2. The deadline for applying to the university was the last day of March. Rachel procrastinated until it was almost too late, but then she stayed up all night filling out the application and got it in just under the wire.
under wraps not allowed to be seen The new car was still under wraps when the auto show started.
unearthly hour absurdly early We got up at an unearthly hour this morning so we could get ready to go camping.
until hell freezes over for an eternity He said that he would not talk to his friend again until hell freezes over.
UNTIL THE COWS COME HOME until the end of the day; for a long time

The expression relates to herds of cows that graze outdoors during the day and then are brought inside for the night. It means “all day long.”
1. When the young boy’s mother refused to give him some candy, he started to cry. His mother told him he could cry until the cows come home, but he was not going to get any candy.

2. I will never be any good at giving speeches. I could practice until the cows come home, but I’ll never get over being nervous when I have to stand up in front of a crowd.
up against in contact with The ladder was standing up against the tree in the yard.
up for grabs available This is a good sale. Everything is up for grabs.
up against confronted with He was up against a lot of problems when he went to university.
up and about recovered She is now up and about after her injury.
up front honest He was up front about the condition of the car.
UP IN ARMS angry or upset

The expression is often used to describe groups of people rather than individuals. Arms refers to weapons. Thus the people are so angry that they are ready to take up weapons (at least figuratively).
1. When the government raised the price of flour and sugar to the point where people could no longer afford them, the population was up in arms. Much of the population stopped work and gathered in the streets to protest.

2. The students were up in arms and began to protest against the school administration’s policies. They marched on the administration building, carried signs calling for the president’s resignation, and listened to speeches by the student leaders.
UP IN THE AIR

unsettled or undecided
1. Jack wasn’t sure whether to go to the university or get a job. His plans were up in the air.

2. I’m up in the air about remodeling my house or selling it and moving into a bigger one.
up one's alley  
up one's sleeve something kept secret He probably has something up his sleeve.
UPPER CRUST the highest level of society, i.e. people who are separated from ordinary people as being elite either by economic or social position, or both

The expression can be used either as an adjective (sentence 1) or as a noun (sentence 2). Dating to the mid-19th century, this expression comes from the belief that the upper crust of bread was the best or most desirable part.
1. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and the other members of the English royal family, are members of high society. They are upper crust.

2. Only people with lots of money and the right social connections go to that university. It’s a school for the upper crust.
upper hand advantage The union members have the upper hand in the negotiations.
ups and downs moments of good and bad fortune He is having a few ups and downs but generally he is doing well.
UPSET THE APPLE CART to disturb the status quo; to shake up the existing situation

Similar to: rock the boat

Whereas rock the boat usually describes a situation in which the people involved do not want a change, upset the apple cart can be used to describe any situation.

The expression dates back to the Roman Empire and was originally ‘upset the cart.’ ‘Apple’ was added by the late 1700s.
1. Everyone is happy with the situation as it is. If you try to change it, you’ll be upsetting the apple cart.

2. The new president was installed and immediately upset the apple cart by appointing his own people to various positions in the administration.
up the creek in trouble She is up the creek now that she has lost her homework.
UP THE CREEK (WITHOUT A PADDLE)

in a bad situation and unable to proceed; in an awkward position with no easy way out

Synonyms: high and dry; leave (someone) in the lurch

The expression suggests a situation where one is in a canoe on a small river without the means to navigate. It describes a situation in which one wants or needs to proceed but lacks the means.
1. Charles agreed to finish the report for his study group, but then discovered that the books he needed were only available in the library, and the library was closed. He was up the creek.

2. The city administrators expected to pay for street repairs from their existing budget but that money ran out when they had to pay for damages caused by unexpected storms. They were up the creek without a paddle.
up the river without a paddle in trouble and unable to do anything about it She is up the river without a paddle now that she failed the class.
up to as high as The snow was up to her waist.
up to secretly planning She was trying to figure out what he was up to.
up to the decision of It is up to his wife whether or not they purchase the house.
up to until She had not been to Japan up to this year.
up to it able to do it They were not sure if he was up to it or not.
UP TO SNUFF meeting the minimum standard requirements; as good as is required

Synonym: make the grade

Compare to: cut the mustard
1. The orchestra didn’t reach its usual high standard last year but with lots of extra practice this year, it’s finally up to snuff.

2. I wasn’t very happy with the last batch of dresses that came off the assembly line. The buttons fell off easily, the seams were not straight and the quality of the fabric was poor. The dresses really weren’t up to snuff.
up to the job able to do it They were not sure if he was up to the job or not.
up till until She had not been to Japan up till this year.
up until until She had not been to Japan up until this year.
up to one's ears very busy She is up to her ears with the project.
up to par at the usual level His work was not up to par and he was asked to quit his job.
up to scratch at the usual level His work was not up to scratch and he was asked to quit his job.
up to snuff at the usual level His work was not up to snuff and he was asked to quit his job.
up to the mark at the usual level His work was not up to the mark and he was asked to quit his job.
up to someone her decision It is up to her when it is time to leave.
up to the chin deeply involved He has been up to the chin in the project.
used to accustomed to She is not used to living in such a big city.
use one's head think You should use your head a little more.
use one's bean think You should use your bean a little more.
use one's noodle think You should use your noodle a little more.
use one's noggin think You should use your noggin a little more.
USE (ONE’S) WITS to use one’s intelligence, knowledge, or wisdom 1. Her problem is that she always reacts before considering what she should do first. She needs to learn to use her wits more.

2. Use your wits, boy! The answer is clear when you think about it.
use up completely use They had to use up the paper before ordering more.
American English Idiom Challenge - Letter U

Hey do you know any English idioms beginning with the letter U not listed on this page?

Then post a comment below and add your idioms to Fun Easy English.

Thanks.
 
 
 
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