a court set up outside the regular legal system; staged
trial where the outcome is set from the beginning
1. The rancher and his friends tried and convicted the horse
thieves in a kangaroo court rather than let the sheriff take
them to jail for a trial according to the law.
2. The political protesters had been tried and found guilty
in a court of law, and when the verdict was read, they
claimed that the jury and judge had not been impartial, and
that they had been tried in a kangaroo court.
||faint and fall over
||He thought that he was
going to keel over because of the heat.
||The boat looked like it
was going to keel over.
|keep a secret
||not tell others
||You should keep
a secret about your new job.
|keep a stiff
||face the situation with
||The team could
keep a stiff upper lip even though they were
||You should keep
after her to do her homework.
|keep an eye on
||Keep an eye on
my bicycle while I order some coffee.
||He has decided to
keep at his studies at the university.
|keep body and
||It was very cold during
the winter but somehow she was able to keep body and
||keep records of money
gained and spent
||She used to keep
books for a small company.
||The students were told
to keep down the noise.
||I could not keep
from eating all that cake.
|keep good time
||accurately report the
||My watch does not been
keep good time lately.
||look after household
||She likes to
keep house more than working for a company.
|keep in touch
||stay in contact
||I have always tried to
keep in touch with my friends.
||She will keep on
making the same mistakes.
|keep one's chin
||continue and not quit
||Try and keep
your chin up.
to stay calm under stress; not to become angry
Synonym: hold/lose (one’s) temper
Antonym: lose (one’s) cool, hot under the collar; see red
1. I know you’re angry, but you’ve got to try to control
yourself. Keep your cool and don’t lose your temper.
2. It’s particularly important to keep your cool in a
traffic jam. It’s so easy to get angry and have an accident.
|keep one's eye
on the ball
||be watchful and ready
||You should keep
your eye on the ball or you will make a mistake.
(ONE’S) EYES PEELED
to be alert and watchful; to look very carefully for
something or someone
The expression suggests that one’s eyelids are pulled back
in order to not miss seeing anything.
1. I’m looking for a special edition of a book, and I
haven’t found it anywhere. When you’re in the bookstore,
please keep your eyes peeled for it, will you?
2. They planned to meet Joe on a crowded corner at
lunchtime. He hadn’t arrived yet, but as people walked
toward the corner, they kept their eyes peeled for him.
(ONE’S) FINGERS CROSSED
to hope for something; to wish for luck
The expression probably originates from a superstition that
bad luck can be prevented by crossing one’s fingers. The
expression refers to crossing one’s middle finger over the
knuckle of the index finger.
1. Jane wasn’t sure that she had passed the test, but she
was keeping her fingers crossed.
2. They are keeping their fingers crossed that the rain
holds off and doesn’t spoil the picnic they have planned.
|keep one's head
||stay calm when there is
trouble or danger
||He is a very good leader
and is always able to keep his head.
(ONE’S) HEAD ABOVE WATER
to just barely manage to stay ahead, financially (sentence
1) or with one’s work or responsibilities (sentence 2)
Antonym: in over (one’s) head
Compare to: make ends meet; get by
Keep one’s head above water and make ends meet mean having
just enough money but no extra, although the former conveys
a greater feeling of desperation. Keep one’s head above
water can mean survival in a financial or other sense,
whereas make ends meet always refers to a financial
1. Mrs. Robinson has three children to support and she
doesn’t make very much money at her job. She is barely
keeping her head above water.
2. Peter is having a difficult time at the university
because he wasn’t very well prepared academically, but he is
somehow managing to keep his head above water.
|keep one's mouth
||She was very angry and
told him to keep his mouth shut.
|keep one's nose
||stay out of trouble
||He has been managing to
keep his nose clean since he moved to the
(ONE’S) NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE
to work hard without rest
The expression usually refers to monotonous work.
1. You will succeed if you keep working hard, but you have
to keep your nose to the grindstone.
2. Kim is studying constantly now because she has final
exams next week. She’s in her room keeping her nose to the
|keep one's own
||keep ideas and plans to
||He always seems to
keep his own counsel.
(ONE’S) SHIRT ON
to stay calm or be patient when someone wants to hurry
Synonym: hold (one’s) horses
Antonyms: shake a leg; step on it
The expression is generally used in the imperative. It is
used by an adult to children, a superior to a subordinate,
or between two equals on friendly or intimate terms.
1. Will you keep your shirt on, Bob? You won’t get there any
faster if you drive too fast and cause a car accident.
2. I know you’re hungry, but dinner won’t be ready for
another ten minutes. Just keep your shirt on!
(ONE’S) WITS ABOUT (ONE)
to pay attention and be ready to react
Compare to: at (one’s) wits’ end, scared out of (one’s) wits
1. If she wants to do well in her job interview, she can’t
daydream—she’ll have to keep her wits about her.
2. When I travel, I’m always careful to keep my things with
me in crowded places. I keep my wits about me.
|keep one's word
||fulfill her promise
||She never can
keep her word.
|keep pace with
||go as fast as
||It was difficult to
keep pace with the other students.
quiet and listen to the instructor.
(SOMEONE) AT ARM’S LENGTH
to keep someone at a distance emotionally
1. You can’t expect people to be very friendly to you when
you always keep them at arm’s length.
2. Craig thinks that if he keeps everyone at arm’s length,
he won’t fall in love and get hurt.
(SOMETHING) UNDER (ONE’S) HAT
to keep something secret
Antonyms: spill the beans; let the cat out of the bag
This phrase originates from the 1800s, when many men and
women wore hats. The idea is to keep a secret in your head,
underneath a hat.
1. Don’t tell Richard anything you don’t want everyone else
to know. It’s impossible for him to keep anything under his
2. I’m not telling anyone yet, but Tom and I are getting
married. Keep it under your hat, okay?
THE BALL ROLLING
to maintain momentum; to keep some process going
1. The principal has done so much and worked so hard to
improve this school. Who’s going to keep the ball rolling
when she retires?
2. Mr. Preston had managed to motivate his employees to
higher production levels, and he wanted to keep them going.
He wondered how he could keep the ball rolling.
|keep the books
||keep records of money
gained and spent
||The head of the
accounting department will keep the books
|keep track of
||The company will
keep track of the money spent on paper this month.
WITH THE JONESES
to have the same standard of living as one’s friends and
The expression implies that one strains one’s financial
resources when one tries to match or exceed the purchases or
actions made by a neighbor. Jones is a common family name.
1. My wife seems to think that we should buy our children
cars of their own just because most of our friends do. She
seems to think we have to keep up with the Joneses.
2. Keeping up with the Joneses can be very expensive. Every
time your neighbor improves his home or buys a new car, you
feel you have to, too.
you on your toes
your chin up
your eye on the ball
full of nervous anticipation; anxious; tense
1. Stop pacing the floor. Relax. Why are you so keyed up?
2. Charles was so keyed up waiting for the wedding to begin
that when it finally did, he dropped the wedding ring.
|kick out of
||I get a kick out
of watching him paint.
The expression can be either disparaging or light-hearted
when used about oneself or one’s relatives (sentences 1 and
2), or disrespectful and impolite when used about someone
else (sentence 3).
1. I plan on spending all my money before I kick the bucket.
I’m not going to leave a penny of it to my relatives.
2. Your father hasn’t yet made a will. He doesn’t plan on
kicking the bucket anytime soon.
3. The old woman was a person everyone in the neighborhood
disliked. There were not too many mourners when she kicked
the can down the road
to have a lively and fun time, usually at a party or dance.
The expression is commonly used to describe someone who is
ordinarily quiet and reserved and for whom having a lively
time is unusual.
1. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are certainly having a good time at
the party. They haven’t kicked up their heels like this for
2. Put down your work, get out of the house, and come to the
dance. Why don’t you kick up your heels for a change?
TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE
to accomplish two objectives with one action
1. I have to go to New York on business this Friday, and
I’ve needed to get some new suits for some time. Maybe I can
kill two birds with one stone: I’ll attend to my business in
New York on Friday and Monday and do some shopping over the
2. I need to get rid of all the old baby clothes I had for
my children when they were small. Since you are about to
have your first baby, why don’t I give the clothes to you?
We’ll kill two birds with one stone.
KNEE-HIGH TO A GRASSHOPPER
The expression suggests that the person is only as tall as a
grasshopper’s knee and is therefore very young. It is often
used with a facedown, open hand to indicate the young
person’s height at the time.
1. I was just knee-high to a grasshopper when I first went
fishing with my father. I couldn’t have been more than five
2. Look how small these pants are! I must have been
knee-high to a grasshopper the last time I wore them.
KNOCK/THROW (SOMEONE) FOR A LOOP [KNOCKED/THROWN FOR A LOOP]
to shock, surprise, or astound someone
Compare to: pull the rug out from under (someone); spring
something on (someone)
1. The teacher threw me for a loop when she told me I had
failed the exam. I thought I had done so well.
2. Alan was knocked for a loop when he found out he had won
$5,000 in the lottery.
||My dog gets
knocked up once a year.
your socks off
BEANS ABOUT SOMETHING, NOT
to know very little about something; to speak without
authority on some topic
Similar to: talk through one’s hat
1. Rita’s interpretation of that artist is completely wrong.
Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know beans about it.
2. Sometimes you go on and on as though you’re an expert. I
bet you don’t know beans about half the things you think you
(ONE) IS COMING OR GOING, NOT
to be confused and disoriented.
Antonyms: on the ball; get/have (one’s) act together Compare
to: out to lunch
1. Nancy thought yesterday was Wednesday and now she thinks
today is Sunday. She doesn’t know if she’s coming or going
2. First I packed all the wrong clothes, then left the bag
behind, and waited for the taxi until I realized I had
forgotten to call one. When it came, I couldn’t remember
where I wanted to go. I don’t know if I’m coming or going.
(SOMEONE) FROM ADAM, NOT
to be unable to recognize someone because the person is a
1. Who is that speaking at the podium? Is it the chairman? I
don’t know him from Adam.
2. A strange woman approached us at the train station. I
assumed that she was Mrs. Smith, whom we were supposed to
meet, but it was hard to tell since we didn’t know Mrs.
Smith from Adam.
THE INS AND OUTS
to be familiar with the details and hidden meanings of an
activity or situation
Compare to: know the ropes
Know the ropes is more frequently used to describe knowing
the procedures to follow in a situation (knowing how to do
something), whereas know the ins and outs more often
describes the complex and hidden details of a situation.
1. When you travel to a foreign country, it is wise to hire
a guide if you don’t know the ins and outs of the place.
2. American businesses often hire host country nationals to
help them do business in foreign countries because the host
country nationals know the ins and outs of doing business
with their own countrymen.
to be familiar with a task or situationAntonym: wet behind
Compare to: learn the ropes; know the ins and outs
Know the ropes is more frequently used to describe knowing
the procedures to follow in a given situation (how to do
something), whereas ins and outs more often describes the
complex and hidden details of a situation.
1. Let Marilyn help you get the manuscript published the
first time. She knows the ropes and she’ll save you a lot of
time and effort.
2. You have to know the ropes if you want to get hired in
this city. Employers are looking for people with connections
and know-how, not untried youngsters fresh out of college.
to do one’s work seriously; to apply oneself fully; to get
1. The young man hadn’t been studying very much and now he
was failing his courses. The student advisor told him he
would have to knuckle down if he wanted to avoid being
2. Mary frequently complains that she doesn’t have enough
time to finish her work. But if she would spend less time
chatting and just knuckle down, she would get it done.
to submit or give in to pressure
Antonyms: stand (one’s) ground; stick to (one’s) guns
1. Don’t let society beat you down or make you be the way
everyone else is. Don’t knuckle under.
2. The mob leader promised that they would never make him
reveal his partners in crime, no matter how badly they
treated him. He swore he would never knuckle under.