Idioms (L)

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landslide victory
victory by a very large margin (usually in votes and elections)

– examples

Three months ago the election looked like it would be neck-and-neck; the scandal, however, changed all that, and in the end Dave won with a landslide victory.

lap dog
a person who will do anything in order to keep a good position with an important person

– examples

“You’re pathetic, just a lap dog to the bosses. Why don’t you say what you really feel? Or are you too afraid?”

last hurrah
the last happy or good thing before someone (or something) dies

– examples

He has had a good career, and in many ways this final season has been a wonderful last hurrah before he finally retires.

on (its) last legs
about to die soon

– examples

“Sorry, I think your rabbit is on its last legs. It is pretty old, and sick. I’m not sure how much longer it can last.”

“I’m afraid this shop is on its last legs. Once the bank asks for its money back, there will be nothing left to do but close.”

(in the) lap of the gods
fate (not human control) will see how something finishes

– examples

“We have done all that we can. It is in the lap of the gods now.”

(have) the last laugh
have the final say; despite difficulties or competition, have the final advantage

– examples

At school the children were always very cruel to Anna, but she had the last laugh: she is now a successful businesswoman, and they are all envious of her success.

the last straw
after so many bad/annoying things, this latest one is one too many (now I’m angry!)

– examples

“I have cleaned for you, cooked for you, and I have even washed your clothes; but borrowing money from me is the last straw. I quit!”

(a) late bloomer
a person who grows up or succeeds later in life than is normal.

– examples

Anna was something of a late bloomer, only really becoming a success once into her mid-forties.

“Don’t worry about being 30 and still not knowing what you want, or feeling you haven’t done anything interesting; lots of people are late bloomers.”

laughing stock
the object or person everyone laughs at; embarrassingly bad

– examples

Dave’s car was the laughing stock of the group: second-hand, old, and falling apart, it looked like it would break down, or the wheels would fall off.

“Please mum, don’t come to the party; if you do I’ll be the laughing stock of the whole school.”

law unto (yourself)
not abiding by the rules other people live by; a unique person who can’t be controlled by normal means

– examples

He is a good guy, but when it comes to expressing his opinion he is a law unto himself. The bosses wish he would hold his tongue sometimes but, at the same time, know his ideas make them money.

lay down the law
strictly tell people the rules, and what they can and cannot do


The first thing the new boss did was lay down the law to the workers he felt were wasting company time and money. They have one month to improve, otherwise they are gone.

lay it on thick
(also ‘pile it on thick’)
To overstate, or exaggerate, or keep saying something (usually flattery)

– examples

(trying to impress a girl)
“You’re great. You’re the best. I think you have the most beautiful eyes in the world.”
(friend)”I think you’re laying it on a bit thick.”

At the job interview he has a simple tactic: flatter the interviewer. Tell him his company is great; compliment his shoes, his suit, and his tie. Just don’t lay it on too thick.

(the) lay of the land
how things work around here

– examples

“Come with me and I’ll show you the lay of the land. Really, it isn’t very difficult, and I think you’ll settle quickly.”

lead (someone) up the garden path
to keep giving someone hope, when you already know there is not going to be a good result

– examples

“You can’t keep leading her up the garden path. She thinks you love her, and maybe you’ll get married. The longer you don’t tell her you want out, the worse it is going to get.”

learn the ropes
to learn the skills, usually in a new job

It took Phil a few months to learn the ropes, but he is an excellent employee now.

“Dave, this is Anna. She will help you learn the ropes.”

leave no stone unturned
look everywhere for something/ the answer

– examples

Dave promised his bosses he would leave no stone unturned in his search for a quality replacement.

“I want this criminal caught. Get out there and find him. Leave no stone unturned. I want answers!”

leave well alone
do not touch; do not talk about that

– examples

“I know you want to talk to her about her split up with her boyfriend, but I think you should leave that well alone, at least for a week or two.”

left in the dark
(also: ‘be totally in the dark’)
to not be told what is happening; to have no knowledge of what is happening

– examples

Dave decided he needed a new job. He was tired of being overlooked for promotion, and being left in the dark about big decisions.

“They haven’t told me anything about what is going to happen. I’m totally in the dark.”

leave (you) to (your) own devices
leave you to do it by yourself; leave you to spend time how you want

– examples

After a week of meetings at the conference, it was good to be left to his own devices for a while. He decided to go to the museum.

“Ok, I have to go to work so I’m going to leave you to your own devices. If you get hungry, there is some food in the fridge.”

lend an ear
to listen to someone’s problems; to let somebody tell you what their problems are (such as a friend)

– examples

Phil was a good friend: always with a kind word, and always happy to lend an ear whenever someone needed to talk.

“If you’re having problems, I’d be happy to lend an ear.”

a leopard can't change it's spots
a person is always the same, and always acts the same

– examples

Anna didn’t trust him. Yes, he was being nice now, but she knew it would not be long until he started being cruel. She knew a leopard doesn’t change its spots.

“I see from your pictures you spent a lot of time in the bar on this trip. I guess a leopard can’t change his spots.”

the lesser of two evils
the ‘less bad’ of two bad choices

– examples

Dave didn’t want to work with Phil, but he was the lesser of two evils; if he didn’t choose Phil, he would have to work with Anna, his ex-girlfriend.

let your hair down
to relax; to forget about work and go out and have fun

– examples

“It has been a hard week at work. Tonight I’m just going to go out and let my hair down.”

let your guard down
1. to be unaware; to stop looking for danger
2. to let people into your emotions or heart

– examples

“The moment he lets his guard down I am going to crush him.”

He would be a great guy if he would let his guard down. I think he is afraid of being hurt and so doesn’t want to trust anyone.

(do your) level best
try your hardest

– examples

Arriving half way through the course, Anna tried her level best, but she was too far behind and finally had to drop out.

“Just go out and try your level best. That is all I am asking.”

a licence to print money
a hugely profitable venture

– examples

The boss thought an English school was going to be a licence to print money because there were so many students wanting to learn. However, there were also a lot of other schools, and within three months his school had closed.

Selling sandwiches to expats is a licence to print money: they don’t care how much they spend, and the ingredients are so cheap.

lie low
to try to avoid attention, and be normal, especially after doing something bad

– examples

After robbing the bank, the thieves decided to lie low for a while. Then, when the police had forgotten about them, they would rob another one.

“Oh god, last night I got drunk and made an idiot of myself. I think I’m going to lie low for a while: stay in for a week or two.”

a level playing field
everyone has the same chance of winning or succeeding

– examples

“This department is killing me. Every time I start, the boss gives me loads of extra work. She does nothing, and gets rewards. I don’t mind working hard, but I do want a level playing field.”

lie through (your) teeth
to tell a big and obvious lie

– examples

“He said he wanted me to win, but he was lying through his teeth. I know he hates me.”

light a fire under (someone)
to get someone motivated or working, especially if they are lazy, usually by giving them warnings about what will happen if they don’t

– examples

“This is the laziest group of staff I have ever seen. Someone needs to light a fire under them, or start getting rid of some of them.”

light at the end of the tunnel
a positive event after a long time of misfortune or hard work

– examples

It had been a hard year, with lots of overtime and often working weekends, but now, finally, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. The project would start and they could relax.

light on (your) feet
to be quick, agile, or quiet in moving your feet

– examples

The best boxers are, despite being big, actually very light on their feet.

light years ahead
far ahead / more advanced than others

– examples

Mobile phones now are light years ahead of what they used to be.

When it comes to games consoles, the new Xbox is light years ahead of the competition.

like a bat out of hell
very very fast (possibly out of control or a bit crazy)

– examples

He had only just arrived when she told him the news. Suddenly, he ran out of the restuarant, like a bat out of hell, leaving her alone again.The rest of the customer looked at her.

like father, like son
for a boy or man to act the same as his father

– examples

“I see you like fishing too. Well, like father, like son. I just hope you catch more than your dad ever did.”

like it, or lump it
deal with it; either don’t complain, or leave

– examples:

“I am the new boss. I am tough, but like it, or lump it, we are working together.”


– examples

All his life Dave had worried he was a coward, as lily-livered as a man could be; yet when the house caught fire he found bravery he never knew he had.

“I don’t want any lily-livered idiots in my team. If they start kicking, or cheating, then you kick and cheat. You go out there and you beat them.”

the lion's share
the majority; the biggest part

– examples

The lion’s share of the crowd enjoyed the concert, but a few people were disappointed.

The food was delicious, and quickly finished, with Dave eating the lion’s share.

(pay) lip service
to talk about something, pretending to respect it, but actually not doing anything about it

– examples

The boss paid lip service to the staff’s efforts, but offered them none of the profits.

(a) live wire
a very active person

– examples

One of the reasons this rock group is so popular is because the lead singer is a bit of a live wire, running around the stage like a headless chicken.

lo and behold
(spoken): and see, look what happens!
(often used sarcastically, if the outcome was very predictable)

– examples

“The boss suggested that maybe some people might lose their job this year and, lo and behold, everyone started working harder

For the last week people have been saying he is too greedy, so in this game he tried to pass more. Yet, needing to make the final shot to tie, lo and behold, he decided he was the best player to shoot.

lock horns (with somebody)
to argue with someone (usually challenging their opinion)

– examples

His father always told him not to be afraid of people, no matter their position, and it was better to lock horns and fight than sneak away like a coward.

“I don’t think locking horns with the boss was the cleverest thing you have done.”

long in the tooth
old (about people or animals)

– examples:

Some people said he was too long in the tooth to be any good, but he showed them all to be wrong.

look after number one
look after yourself; forget about others, you are the most important person

– examples

“There are times when it is good to be polite; but there are times when you need to look after number one.”

“My father told me I should look after number one, because nobody else is going to.”

look on the bright side
look for the positives

– examples

“Ok, she dumped you. But look on the bright side: now you can ask that pretty waitress out.”

look what the cat dragged in
(spoken) you look terrible / a mess

– examples

“Oh my god, look what the cat dragged in. You look like you need some sleep.”

(a) loose cannon
someone who can’t be controlled; someone who is unpredictable, sometimes doing a good job, sometimes a bad job

– examples

The manager decided to be lenient with him. Yes, he is a loose cannon, but sometimes an unpredictable player is what wins games.

“I think we need to replace Dave: he’s too much of a loose cannon. Nobody knows what he is going to do, and it is making it hard for other people to do their jobs.”

loose ends
small unsolved problems (usually after the main part of the problem has been solved)

– examples

The sergeant told the officers that he didn’t want any loose ends – the job needed to be done completely, because he didn’t want the jury to doubt the evidence.

“The deal is nearly done; we just have to tie up some loose ends, and that will be us finished.”

at a loose end
not knowing what to do with your time

– examples

Since his girlfriend went back to her mother’s for a week, Phil has been at a loose end as to what to do.

lose the plot
lose your mind; go crazy

– examples

“I have never seen anyone lose the plot like that: one minute he is fine, and then somebody mentions his ex-wife and he starts screaming and breaking the furniture!”

lose (your) shirt
lose a lot of money

– examples

Dave lost his shirt in that property deal. It is going to take him a long time to recover.

Anna, unfortunately, didn’t realise how the stock market works until she had already lost her shirt.

“Can we stop playing? I’m losing my shirt here, and if my wife finds out how much money I’ve lost she’ll kill me.”

lower (your) sights
be a little less ambitious; try for something easier; don’t try for that, it is too hard for you

– examples

Five years ago he was very ambitious, but as time has passed he has lowered his sights, and now happiness and peace are all he truly wants.

“Ha, you want to ask her out? I think you need to lower your sights a little: she is way out of your league.”

the luck of the draw
something happens in life by chance, and cannot be controlled

– examples

“I wasn’t born with an attractive face, but that is just the luck of the draw.”

lone wolf
a person who prefers to do things by him/herself, without asking for help

– examples

Phil likes to go to bars to meet women. He always prefers to be a lone wolf too; other people just get in his way.

“You should watch out for Dave in this election. He might be a lone wolf, without the support that other people have, but I think he could still win.”

line of communication
the link/process through which people communicate

– examples

During wartime, keeping a clear line of communication – both to the front line, and amongst officers – is vital.

“We need to improve our lines of communication: too many people aren’t hearing what is happening until it is too late.”

living hand to mouth
being very poor, and only making enough money to cover things needed right away (such as food)

– examples

For four years Philip lived hand to mouth on the streets, doing odd jobs each day to pay for his food and shelter.

“I would rather be a beggar living hand to mouth than accept money from you.”