kangaroo court
an unfair ‘court’ that decides not for justice, but for its own interests (the decision is often made before the trial even begins)

– examples

“That trial was a disgrace! I expected a fair and honest trial, and instead we have a kangaroo court who chose not to listen, but to convict to ‘send a message’.”

The lesson here is to not commit a crime in a foreign country: one kangaroo court is all that is needed to ruin you, and appealing is almost impossible.


keep abreast
keep up-to-date on events

– examples

The manager asked them to keep him abreast of any developments in the merger talks.

“I find that if I do not keep abreast of the news, I feel I am getting stupider.”


keep at bay
keep a problem away / keep it from hurting you

– examples

By working two jobs and borrowing from friends he has managed to keep the debt-collectors at bay, but this can’t last forever.

So far United have managed to keep City at bay, but there are still thirty minutes to go. I’m not sure they will manage to the end of the game.


keep it under your hat
keep it a secret / don’t tell others

– examples

“We got married last week, but keep it under your hat for now: I want to make an official announcement at the party this week.”


keep mum
don’t say anything about this to anyone

– examples

“I’m sorry, I can’t keep mum about this any longer. She is ruining your life!”


keep (me) posted
keep (me) informed of any changes, or how things are going

– examples

The boss asked Anna to keep him posted of any changes in the negotiations; so far, however, there has been no movement.


keep (someone) at arm's length
keep (someone) at a safe distance, where they won’t trouble you

– examples

“She seems nice, but I would keep her at arm’s length until you have you have decided what you want to do: you shouldn’t start a relationship if you have no interest in keeping it.”


keep (you) on (your) toes
keep you alert, ready for action / not let you get lazy

– examples

The key to being a good badminton player is to keep on your toes, even after you think you have hit a winning shot.

“I like the new boss: he keeps the staff on their toes, which has made the company far more profitable, and as a result everyone is happier.”

Some people become slow and not very fun after they get into a relationship, but Anna keeps Dave on his toes. He seems more active than before, as if he is scared of losing her.


keep (your) cool
don’t get angry

– examples

To be a good paramedic you need to know how to keep your cool in an emergency.

Anna can never keep her cool when he says nice things about his ex-wife.


keep (your) chin up
Don’t get disheartend. Keep believing you can do it.

– examples

“I know breaking up with her has been hard, but keep your chin up. Things will be better in the future.”


keep the wolf from the door
keep major problems (usually a lack of money) away

– examples

Times are tough, and the only way they have been able to keep the wolf from the door is by borrowing money from her parents. They are both looking for new jobs, but if things stay like this they might leave the country.


keep up with the Joneses
to try to live as well as your neighbour; to try (often by spending money) to not lose face in front of neighbours or friends

– examples

He is terrible at saving money; it seems each week he spends a small fortune trying to keep up with the Joneses, which is a shame. He needs to accept he isn’t a rich man.

“You bought a new sofa? Why, so your friends will think we’re rich? Look, if we waste all our money trying to keep up with the Joneses then we will never have enough to go on the round-the-world trip we want to.”


keep (your) ear to the ground
keep listening for something; keep listening for news

– examples

Dave always keeps his ear to the ground for new job opportunities and customers. This is why his business has done so well.

“Keep your ear to the ground for any news about redundancies. I’ve heard the new management are planning to cut costs.”


keep (your) eyes peeled
keep looking for something; don’t forget to look for something

– examples

The station was very crowded. Their dad told the kids to keep their eyes peeled for their mother.

“Alright, keep your eyes peeled for the sign for exit 10. I don’t want to miss it.”


keep (your) pants on
(spoken to others) keep calm; don’t get angry

– examples

Alright, keep your pants on. I know the flight is cancelled, but we’ll just get a later flight. We won’t miss the party, don’t worry.


keep (your) shirt on
(spoken to other people) don’t get overly angry; keep calm

– examples

“Ok, ok, keep your shirt on! I’ll bring your book back later today.”


a different kettle of fish
a totally different subject, not the same as this

– examples

“Going with you to the basketball was one thing, but the ballet? Thats a different kettle of fish. I’m afraid you’re on your own.”

Beating City was a good result, but United are a different kettle of fish; I think they will be lucky to get a draw.


a kick in the teeth
bad or hurtful event

– examples

Being dumped was bad, but her taking the dog too was a real kick in the teeth.


kick the bucket
(colloquial) die

– examples

He has been a lot happier since his father kicked the bucket; they never liked each other.


kick (something) into touch
to reject an argument; to decide an idea is not worth continuing

– examples

Dave proposed a few changes, but his boss quickly kicked them into touch. Dave thinks it is because his boss doesn’t like him.


(handle with) kid gloves
to deal with very softly so it doesn’t get hurt, or broken

– examples

“This project is very important to us, so treat the clients with kid gloves. Keep them happy until they sign.

The principal said young students need to be handled with kid gloves: even if they are misbehaving, a teacher can’t get too angry with them. Anna, however, disagrees. She thinks discipline should be done early.


kill two birds with one stone
one action solves two problems

– examples

Dave thought that he would hire a person who could speak French as well as run the office, therefore killing two birds with one stone.

“I’ll bring you your money tomorrow.”
“How about you bring that fan over at the same time; that way we can kill two birds with one stone.”


keep (your) head
keep calm, especially in a difficult situation

– examples

It is important that a police officer can keep his head in a difficult situation, especially if they are carrying guns: we don’t want cops shooting people.

“They are going to try to annoy you, so just keep your head and keep playing.”


keep (your) head above water
surviving (especially when talking about money)

– examples

Since losing his job, Philip has found it difficult to keep his head above water.

The company has only just managed to keep its head above water this year. Next year, hopefully, things will improve.