Idiom Dictionary/Index P

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Packed like sardines

If a place is extremely crowded, people are packed like sardines, or packed in like sardines.

Paddle your own canoe

(USA) If you paddle your own canoe, you do things for yourself without outside help.

Pain in the neck

If someone is very annoying and always disturbing you, they are a pain in the neck. Pain in the butt, or pain in the ass (USA), and Pain in the arse (UK) are less polite alternative forms.

Paint the town red

If you go out for a night out with lots of fun and drinking, you paint the town red.

Paint yourself into a corner

(USA) If someone paints themselves into a corner, they get themselves into a mess.

Painted Jezebel

A painted Jezebel is a scheming woman.

Pandora's box

If you open a Pandora's box, something you do causes all sorts of trouble that you hadn't anticipated.

Paper tiger

A paper tiger is a person, country, institution, etc, that looks powerful, but is actually weak.

Par for the course

If something is par for the course, it is what you expected it would be. If it is above par, it is better, and if it is below par, it is worse.

Parrot fashion

If you learn something parrot fashion, you learn it word for word. A parrot is a bird from South America that can talk.

Part and parcel

If something is part and parcel of your job, say, it is an essential and unavoidable part that has to be accepted.

Pass muster

If something passes muster, it meets the required standard.

Pass the buck

If you pass the buck, you avoid taking responsibility by saying that someone else is responsible.

Pass the time of day

If you pass the time of day with somebody, you stop and say hello, enquire how they are and other such acts of social politeness.

Patience of Job

If something requires the patience of Job, it requires great patience.

Pay on the nail

If you pay on the nail, you pay promptly in cash.

Pay the piper

When you pay the piper, you have to accept the consequences of something that you have done wrong or badly.

Pay through the nose

If you pay through the nose for something, you pay a very high price for it.

Pecking order

The pecking order is the order of importance or rank.

Pen is mightier than the sword

The idiom 'the pen is mightier than the sword' means that words and communication are more powerful than wars and fighting.

Penny ante

(USA) Something that is very unimportant is penny ante.

Penny wise, pound foolish

Someone who is penny wise, pound foolish can be very careful or mean with small amounts of money, yet wasteful and extravagant with large sums.

Perfidious Albion

England is known to some as perfidious Albion, implying that it is not trustworthy in its dealings with foreigners.

Perish the thought

Perish the thought is an expression meaning that you really hope something will not happen.

Pick up the tab

A person who pays for everyone picks up the tab.

Pick-up game

(USA) A pick-up game is something unplanned where people respond to events as they happen.

Pie in the sky

If an idea or scheme is pie in the sky, it is utterly impractical.

Piece of cake

If something is a piece of cake, it is really easy.

Pieces of the same cake

Pieces of the same cake are things that have the same characteristics or qualities.

Pig in a poke

If someone buys a pig in a poke, they buy something without checking the condition it was in, usually finding out later that it was defective.

Pigs might fly

If you think something will never happen or succeed, you can say that 'pigs might fly' (or 'pigs can fly' and 'pigs will fly'- the idiom is used in many forms)

Pin money

(UK) If you work for pin money, you work not because you need to but because it gives you money for extra little luxuries and treats.

Pinch of salt

If what someone says should be taken with a pinch of salt, then they exaggerate and distort things, so what they say shouldn't be believed unquestioningly. ('with a grain of salt' is an alternative.)

Pink pound

(UK) In the UK, the pink pound is an idiom for the economic power of gay people.

Pink slip

If someone receives a pink slip, they receive a letter telling them they have lost their job.

Pipe dream

A pipe dream is an unrealistic, impractical idea or scheme.

Piping hot

If food is piping hot, it is very hot indeed.

Plain as a pikestaff

(UK) If something is as plain as a pikestaff, it is very clear.

Plain as the nose on your face

If something is as plain as the nose on your face, it is very clear and obvious.

Plain Jane

A plain Jane is a woman who isn't particularly attractive.

Plain sailing

If something is relatively easy and there are no problems doing it, it is plain sailing.

Plastic smile

When someone is wearing a plastic smile, they are appear to be happier with a situation or events than they actually are. This is actually a description of the forced smile you might see in many photographs.

Play fast and loose

If people play fast and loose, they behave in an irresponsible way and don't respect rules, etc.

Play hardball

If someone plays hardball, they are very aggressive in trying to achieve their aim.

Play havoc

Playing havoc with something is creating disorder and confusion; computer viruses can play havoc with your programs.

Play hooky

If people play hooky, they don't attend school when they should and don't have a valid reason for their absence.

Play into someone's hands

If you play into someone's hands, you do what they were expecting you to do and take advantage of this.

Play it by ear

If you play it by ear, you don't have a plan of action, but decide what to do as events take shape.

Play out of your skin

If someone plays out of their skin, they give an outstanding performance.

Play second fiddle

If you play second fiddle, you take a subordinate role behind someone more important.

Play the field

Someone who plays the field has sexual relationships with many people.

Play the fool

If someone plays the fool, they behave in a silly way to make people laugh. ('Act the fool' is and alternative form.)

Play with fire

If people take foolish risks, they are playing with fire.

Playing to the gallery

If someone plays to the gallery, they say or do things that will make them popular, but which are not the right things to do.

Poetry in motion

Something that is poetry in motion is beautiful to watch.


Pointy-heads are supposed intellectuals or experts, but who don't really know that much.

Poison pill

A poison pill is a strategy designed to prevent a company from being take over.

Pop the question

When someone pops the question, they ask someone to marry them.

Pop your clogs

When someone pops their clogs, they die.

Pork barrel

Pork barrel politics involves investing money in an area to get political support rather than using the money for the common good.

Pot calling the kettle black

If someone hypocritically criticises a person for something that they themselves do, then it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.


If you take pot-luck, you take whatever happens to be available at the time.

Pound of flesh

If someone wants their pound of flesh, the force someone to pay or give back something owed, even though they don't need it and it will cause the other person a lot of difficulty.

Pour oil on troubled waters

If someone pours oil on troubled waters, they try to calm things down.

Powder your nose

If somebody goes to powder your nose, it is a euphemism for going to the lavatory (toilet).

Powers that be

The powers that be are the people who are in charge of something.

Preaching to the choir

If someone preaches to the choir, they talking about a subject or issue with which their audience already agrees. ('Preaching to the converted' is an alternative form.)

Presence of mind

If someone behaves calmly and rationally in difficult circumstances, they show presence of mind.

Primrose path

The primrose path is an easy and pleasurable lifestyle, but one that ends in unpleasantness and problems.

Proclaim it from the rooftops

If something is proclaimed from the rooftops, it is made as widely known and as public as possible.

Prodigal son

A prodigal son is a young man who wastes a lot on money on a lavish lifestyle. If the prodigal son returns, they return to a better way of living.

Pull in the reins

When you pull in the reins, you slow down or stop something that has been a bit out of control.

Pull no punches

If you pull no punches, you hold nothing back.

Pull out all the stops

If you pull out all the stops, you do everything you possibly can to achieve the result you want.

Pull someone's leg

If you pull someone's leg, you tease them, but not maliciously.

Pull strings

If you pull strings, you use contacts you have got to help you get what you want.

Pull the fat from the fire

If you pull the fat from the fire, you help someone in a difficult situation.

Pull the other one, it's got brass bells on

This idiom is way of telling somebody that you don't believe them. The word 'brass' is optional.

Pull the trigger

The person who pulls the trigger is the one who does the action that closes or finishes something.

Pull the wool over someone's eyes

If you pull the wool over someone's eyes, you deceive or cheat them.

Pull up your socks

If you aren't satisfied with someone and want them to do better, you can tell them to pull up their socks.

Pull your chain

(USA) If someone pulls your chain, they take advantage of you in an unfair way or do something to annoy you.

Pull your finger out!

If someone tells you to do this, they want you to hurry up.

Pull your punches

If you pull your punches, you do not use all the power or authority at your disposal.

Pull your weight

If someone is not pulling their weight, they aren't making enough effort, especially in group work.

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps

If you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you make the effort to improve things for yourself.

Punching bag

A punching bag (or punch bag) is a person who gets a lot of unfair criticism.

Pup's chance

A pup's chance is no chance.

Push comes to shove

If or when push comes to shove, the situation has become some bad that you are forced to do something: If push comes to shove, we'll just have to use our savings.

Push the envelope

This means to go to the limits, to do something to the maximum possible.

Pushing up the daisies

If someone is said to be pushing up the daisies, they are dead.

Put all your eggs in one basket

If you put all your eggs in one basket, you risk everything on a single opportunity which, like eggs breaking, could go wrong.

Put or get someone's back up

If you put or get someone's back up, you annoy them.

Put somebody's nose out of joint

If you put someone's nose out of joint, you irritate them or make them angry with you.

Put someone out to pasture

If someone is put out to pasture, they are forced to resign or give up some responsibilities.

Put two and two together

If someone puts two and two together, they reach a correct conclusion from the evidence.

Put you in mind

If something suggests something to you, it puts you in mind of that thing.

Put you in the picture

If you put someone in the picture, you tell them the information they need to know about something.

Put your foot down

When someone puts their foot down, they make a firm stand and establish their authority on an issue.

Put your foot in it

If you put your foot in it, you do or say something embarrassing and tactless or get yourself into trouble.

Put your foot in your mouth

If you put your foot in your mouth, you say something stupid or embarrassing.

Put your hand on your heart

If you can out your hand on your heart, then you can say something knowing it to be true.

Put your heads together

If people put their head together, they exchange ideas about something.

Put your money where your mouth is

If someone puts their money where their mouth is, they back up their words with action.

Putting the cart before the horse

When you put the cart before the horse, you are doing something the wrong way round.

Pyrrhic victory

A Pyrrhic victory is one that causes the victor to suffer so much to achieve it that it isn't worth winning.

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