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The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms (4,000+ Idioms) (Penguin Reference Books) [Paperback]

David Hinds-Howell , Daphne M Gulland
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
RRP: £9.99
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Book Description

1 Jan 2002

To 'put the cart before the horse', have 'the cheek of the devil' or be 'a pillar of society' - these are just some of the thousands of idioms that have become an integral part of the English language. The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms looks at a vast range of examples, providing concise definitions and explaining how they should be used. This practical guide is arranged by theme, making it possible to compare all the idioms in that subject area and find the right one for the occasion, whether in writing or speech.

The numerical mistakes mentioned by the author have been corrected, making this, as mentioned, one of the great reference classics.

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The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms (4,000+ Idioms) (Penguin Reference Books) + The Penguin Dictionary of English Synonyms & Antonyms (Penguin reference) + The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary (Dictionary, Penguin)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 2nd Revised & Corrected edition (1 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140514813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140514810
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 12.9 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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From the Publisher

Some sample entries:


To be naïve, inexperienced. `He will be no match for them; he is still wet behind the ears.' The phrase has its origin in children's neglect to dry themselves behind the ears.


To stay at one's post until the bitter end. There was a tradition that the captain should go down with his ship. When the Titanic sank (1912), both the captain and designer went down with the ship, although they were offered places in the life-boats. In modern times, the rule has been relaxed, and the captain is expected to be the last to leave the ship.


Someone who looks respectable and harmless but whose behaviour is quite the opposite. `Young children have to be aware of strangers who are kind and generous but could turn out to be wolves in sheep's clothing, such as paedophiles.' Also used with reference to trees, plants, food, etc. `Golden Rain is a magnificent-looking tree but it is like a wolf in sheep's clothing - the seeds are extremely poisonous.'

From the Author

I`m sorry to say that the first print of the second edition has an enormous number of numerical mistakes in the last 50 pages of the Index. Penguin deeply regrets this mishap and I hope very much that no more of these copies are being sold. The index has in the meantime been corrected. Therefore, please be sure to buy only the second edition where it says: Reprinted with amended index 2002. This amended second edition has been highly recommended by the Good Book Guide in the October 2002 magazine as one of those great classic reference works ....

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good buy 5 Jan 2010
I bought this for my son's Russian girlfriend- her English is excellent but she is often baffled by idioms - now the cat is really out of the bag for her and she loves it.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most useful and entertaining as well 2 Nov 2003
By A Customer
I find this new edition most useful and entertaining as well. The examples used are very helpful, carefully researched and documented. I book worth to be recommended to native speakers as well as to foreigners.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Entertaining! 1 Feb 2008
By Sartika
This book is recommendable to everyone who is interested in the Englsih language as well as to those which want to polish their english skills. The organisation of the idioms in categories instead of in alphabetical order is what makes this book very special in comarision to the other books on the market. Idioms are easy to find and once found you can inspire yourself while reading the other idioms in this particular category.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative and a fascinating read but ... 27 April 2012
By Doc Barbara TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
True to its name, this book gives plenty of English idioms with definitions, examples of use in a sentence and a clue as to their tone where necessary. Under "dry as a bone" it defines normal use and suggests the humorous application when someone wants an alcoholic drink very badly but, if you forget where this idiom is, it is hard to find it again in the index because it appears under "bone" but not under "dry." The index is necessary because the editor/authors have decided to group the idioms in sections rather than merely alphabetically: colours, weather, time, life and death etc. The index needed to find a particular idiom takes several pages and is incomplete, as I have suggested. I am not sure which reader would require this arrangement: a writer on a certain topic would not need a list of cliches and a student of English would want the most direct route to an expression. There are bound to be omissions but I was surprised that, with four definitions of 'hot spot' (not listed in the index so I couldn't find it to check that I am right), it didn't give the wi-fi meaning, surely now very common. I think this is more a book to read, savour and enjoy rather than a reference tool.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dictionary of English Idioms 7 April 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am fascinated by languages and the use of idioms and colloquiums, and in particular how they came about. To that end, this book was a disappointment, as the origins of many idioms have not been explained, for example: "Pig in a poke". This saying was born in medieval times, where some "fly-by-night" market traders would display healthy little piglets, which could be purchased and carried home in a bag (poke) "kindly" provided by the vendor. However, whilst the customer was distracted, the wily trader would stuff a worthless cat into the bag. The tort was not discovered until such time as the unfortunate purchaser returned home; when the cat was let out of the bag! The book does go some way towards explaining the origin of pig in a poke, but for some reason fails link it with letting the cat out of the bag.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In my job as a copywriter, this has turned out to be a pretty useful book. It's packed full of the sayings or 'Idioms' you've been hearing all your life, and is organised in a way that's intuitive and easy to use. It'll save you time wracking your brains for ideas when you write, as well as explain to you exactly what sayings like 'give a dog a bad name and hang him' (for example) mean.

Each entry gives an explanation and example of use, and all entries are organised in categories for extra easy reference - which are: Colours, Elements, Weather, Time, Life & Death, Trees & Plants, Animals, Birds, Fish, Insects, Body, Mind, Illness & Ailments, Relations, Town & Around, The House, Furniture & Household Articles, Food, Clothes, Ships, The World And Its Places, Languages & Nationalities, Names, Monarchy & Parliament, War & Peace, Weapons, Tools, Numbers, School & Education, Work & Occupations, Money & Valuables, Games & Sports, Music & Theatre, Word & Words.

So, if you're writing a piece on a certain subject (for instance I was writing something the other based on colours) you can simply flick to that section a find all the sayings and idioms you could ever want to on the subject. Also, there is an index so you can look up individual words - this too is laid out in a way that is very quick and easy to use. For example, let's suppose you need a saying that uses the word 'String'. A quick glance in the index and you will see:

String, a second string to one's bow 258/1; harp on the same s.315/10; have someone on a s.
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4.0 out of 5 stars More formal less fun 25 Mar 2014
By Immyl
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very formal dictionary of idioms rather than origins (i was seeking the latter). Nevertheless, i bought it as a gift and one for myself - cant say i read it a lot but it was fun for the parts i did but then i realised it is more of a dictionary than an "origin of words"

Good gift though for those Countdown viewer
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not really what I expected 29 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The English idioms are very basic and would be more suited for a non-English speaking reader. I was hoping for some idioms to enhance my use of the English language.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Too basic
Unless you are studying English as a foreign language you will find this far too basic. Indeed many of the entries are hardly idioms at all because they logically mean what they... Read more
Published 6 months ago by M. J. New
5.0 out of 5 stars Good buy
Packed full of sayings and their meanings, but would have preferred it to have explained more origins of the sayings. Howevera very interesting book.
Published 9 months ago by Susan Jane Sims
5.0 out of 5 stars Present
This is a present for my daughter in law. Time will tell if she likes it - but what's not to like. A fascinating tome, which I wish I had bought for myself!
Published 10 months ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for an Italian learner
This is ideal to explain some of our odd English expressions. The format is clear and easily understandable - and on its way to Italy!
Published 10 months ago by Carole A. Atkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars :D
It is the best dictionary I have purchased for a long time! It is definitely worth an addition to one's dictionary collection.
Published 12 months ago by Michelle H. Lindberg
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Reference
Very Good and informative, although overlooking some i.e., "splicing the mainbrace" to name a few..
Would recommend though, very good layout.
Published 15 months ago by Den
5.0 out of 5 stars Yay!
This is great and comes in really handy when translating. It's been really helpful, and is really interesting. Thanks for the business!
Published 16 months ago by Elena
3.0 out of 5 stars English Idioms
It does what it says on the cover, that its a dictionary of idioms.
I would have preferred a book which gave me more background to the idiom, rather than just a... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Shoe Lady
5.0 out of 5 stars perfect
Good collection of sayings, It was just what my mum was looking for and it was well worth the price.
Published 20 months ago by Charlotte
5.0 out of 5 stars INTERESTING
Published 21 months ago by paddymccarty-uk
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