Can You Finish These Common Phrases?


By: Olivia Cantor

6 Min Quiz

Image: Francesco Carta fotografo/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

It's interesting to encounter many common phrases used in our everyday language and then learn of their unique origins. Are you familiar with such phrases?

Part of the development of human culture is to have certain words or phrases evolve through time and usage. That's the reason why we can determine if a certain word or phrase came from a certain era or period. For instance, we always use "the green-eyed-monster" to refer to jealousy, but did you know that the phrase originated centuries ago, during Shakespeare's time? The Bard wrote variations of this concept in his two plays: one as "green-eyed jealousy" in "The Merchant of Venice," and the other as "green-eyed monster" in "Othello."

There are also phrases from specific cultures, and intercultural exchanges through the centuries made it possible for nuances in language to be shared from culture to culture. A good example of this is how we use "Achilles' heel" to refer to a weakness of any kind in a given system. If you're familiar with Greek mythology, you know this phrase refers to the hero Achilles and his only unprotected body part: his heel.

Usually, many of these phrases started with a literal meaning. That means the situation they're describing happened on a literal level, then someone fashioned the literal phrase into a kind of "lesson learned" phrasing, which evolved into "words of wisdom." Such wisdom eventually became common. These words are still wise, but now more widely used.

Do you think you can identify the missing words in these common phrases? Figure them out, then!

Something that "rings a __" means it's very familiar.

When something "rings a bell," that means it's familiar to you. This common phrase is applicable in most situations or encounters, or if you're trying to jog your memory about any particular information. But its usage during introductions has to be tactful enough so as not to offend anyone.


In your "neck of the __" refers to your area or locality.

The phrase "neck of the woods" pertains to a specific area, locality, or a general place of reference. The scope of the area referred to largely depends on the nuance of the conversation and the details being discussed.


To be a "__ of all trades" means you are skilled in many areas.

To be a "jack of all trades" is to be skilled in many areas. It means the person is knowledgable enough in a variety of areas to be able to accomplish a certain project. However, this phrase also implies that the person is not necessarily a topnotch expert in any of the areas in which they are skilled.


When you "read __ the lines," you're looking for hidden meanings.

To "read between the lines" means to look for hidden meanings or other implied concepts within a written piece or spoken lines. There are times when these hidden meanings were intentionally woven in, and times when the reader merely "over-reads" for meanings.


For several persons to be considered as "__ in a pod," they should exhibit similar traits.

Two or three persons (or even more) are considered as "peas in a pod" when they all exhibit the same uncanny traits, share many favorite things or generally agree upon specific topics or themes. It's like they all came from the same pea pod. That's why they're very much alike.


If you "let your __ down," you're definitely relaxing, at last!

When someone "lets their hair down," it means to relax and enjoy, take a break or pause from doing hard work to engage in a leisurely activity for a change. The use of this phrase also implies that the person doesn't regularly or normally take time out to relax, hence this suggestion.


Suddenly losing one's temper shows that the person can "__ off the handle" from time to time.

To "fly off the handle" means a person has the penchant for going a bit berserk during unexpected moments. This sudden outburst can be a "seasonal display," meaning it rarely happens, or it can also pertain to a person who has such a bad temper, they can get mad easily.


When something "__ in the family," character traits of relatives appear the same.

When something "runs in the family," it means a certain physical trait, personality characteristic or behavior manifests in members of a particular clan. It can also refer to diseases or sicknesses evident in one clan. This phrase pertains to both negative and positive characteristics.


You are "as fit as a __" when you can demonstrate that you're in good health.

To be "as fit as a fiddle" means to be in good health, and ideally to be in great physical shape as well. It can also refer to someone who feels strong and energetic. Its exact origins are unknown, but experts speculate that it may allude to how musical instruments need to be kept "fit" for playing.


A person "eats like a __" whenever they eat in small bites.

When you know someone who "eats like a bird," chances are, that person eats in very small bites, or eats very little. It may be a conscious decision to do so, or that person is just not built to have a huge appetite.


Someone who "__ humble pie" owes up to committing mistakes.

A person who admits their own wrongdoing is "eating humble pie" since they became modest enough to admit they were wrong or committed mistakes. It suggests that a person displayed accountability, if that is the case.


If you "go off the __ end," you're exhibiting unusual behavior that may lead to an outburst or breakdown.

To "go off the deep end" suggests that a person is in a state of near breakdown, whether of the seriously debilitating kind, or the person is just about ready to get mad and have an emotional outburst. This is the idiom that relates to the concept of "flying off the handle."


Let's "play it by __" and adjust plans according to what happens later.

When someone suggests to "play it by ear," it means things are still "up in the air," and plans could change later, depending on the circumstances. You use this idiom if you don't want to fully commit to an engagement or plan. That way people can't hold you accountable if you bail out later.


To "__ your Ps and Qs" is to check your behavior or manners.

When someone reminds you to "mind your Ps and Qs," it means you should check your behavior, or simply mind your manners. This phrase is given as a gentle reminder to someone before engaging with specific people (usually VIPs) or before entering a formal event.


When two parties "__ the hatchet," they're coming to a truce.

Two warring parties who "bury the hatchet" decided to come to a truce and stop their bickering or disagreement. When they end their quarreling or conflict, no matter if it's longstanding or fairly recent, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are at peace with this decision, though.


Someone's "on cloud __" when they're feeling very happy and excited.

To be "on cloud nine" means you're like floating around and about, feeling light and happy, or even giddy and excited. It's also like saying your "head is in the clouds" or you're in "seventh heaven," which all mean the same thing.


You're a "__ for sore eyes" when someone is happy to see you.

To be "a sight for sore eyes" means someone is truly glad to see you. It means your presence gives them relief, or they have missed you so much prior to that moment.


Adding a "feather in one's __" means getting another achievement or award.

To have a "feather in your cap" means you won an award, accolade or honor, and it's usually a prestigious one. It can also apply to a great achievement where winning something specific is not necessarily included in the equation, such as being the lucky representative to an important event.


When we all go "back to __ one," we need to go back to the first step.

When you need to go "back to square one," it implies that a project or a plan of action is not doing well, and it's futile to go on with the next steps. To become more successful in the next effort, you can go back to the very first step, and proceed from there.


Theater people always say "break a __" when wishing someone good luck.

It became customary for people to say "break a leg" to a performer before they start with their scheduled show. This greeting is often used in theatrical performances, but it can be said to any kind of performer, like a musician.


Something is "a __ a dozen" when it's very, very common.

For an object to be labeled as "a dime a dozen" can imply a negative thought, since this term means "to be very common." When something is that common, it loses its value, and is considered cheap and easily available for anyone to buy.


To "race against __" is to do something big immediately.

People can "race against time" by working on a huge task at hand, and finishing the task in a relatively short period of time. This is similar to what they call "crunch time" or "beating the deadline" in work circles.


You are "__ as a tack" when you are clever and bright.

As "sharp as a tack" is a phrase that means someone is very bright, clever, or astute. It's a North American phrase that experts say dates back to the early 1900s. The tack in this phrase refers to a small kind of pin, like a thumbtack.


When you "can't see the forest for the __," you're missing out on the big picture.

When someone "can't see the forest for the trees," it means the person has been focusing too much on the details and missing out on seeing the bigger picture. It's like when you're lost inside a forest; you really can't see the entire forest, since individual trees are immediately more visible.


In an office, "heads will __" when lay-offs are forthcoming.

"Heads will roll" implies that people will be laid off or get fired in the near future. This phrase is used in a negative sense, since it also implies that the people who will get fired did something wrong or committed grave mistakes that caused the company many problems.


When someone "gives their __ cents," they are sharing their insights on a particular matter.

To "give their two cents" means someone is sharing their thoughts on specific topics, and they want to weigh in on things. It's like saying "giving you a piece of my mind" but that phrase often has a more negative meaning or implication.


To "learn the _____," a newbie should practice and know how to do something well.

A newcomer has to "learn the ropes" in order to gain enough experience and expertise on a specific job, task or position at hand. It refers to learning things on your own, but one can also have a mentor to coach them on learning the ropes.


If an item is "selling like ______," it's being bought a lot!

When you own a business and your items are "selling like hotcakes" it means business is doing great. Your items are fast-moving, and they are being bought by many consumers. This common phrase usually applies to physically sold items.


We're "on the same __" when we're both in agreement over something.

It's good to be "on the same page" with someone since it implies that you see eye to eye on a specific issue or you agree on a certain aspect of life. The phrase can also pertain to having the same goals and objectives with someone, whether they are friends, colleagues, or even lovers.


To find something "in the __line" means you need to look for it in the development phase.

Something deemed "in the pipeline" suggests that this particular plan, idea, concept, or project is already in the development phase, and will be worked on soon enough. It can mean it's already next in line to be tackled or it will be dealt with in the near future.


"Start with a __ slate" suggests beginning with a clear record.

Records show that the phrase "start with a clean slate" refers back to the days when schools only used chalk and small boards to write on, and they needed to erase the boards to start over. These boards were referred to as slates.


When certain things "raise __ flags," beware of pending trouble.

When something becomes a cause for concern, it is said to be "raising red flags" as a sign of warning or caution. These red flags can symbolize real or perceived threats or problems, depending on the situation at hand.


You "drive a __ bargain" when you show you're determined to get what you want.

To "drive a hard bargain" means you're determined to get what you want, and you won't budge when a counteroffer is presented to you. The concept is parallel to the act of bargain hunting wherein you are steadfast in convincing the seller to sell you an item for a lower price.


It's dangerous to "burn the __ at both ends" because it's too stressful to do that.

The modern meaning of "burn the candle at both ends" refers to living with a hectic schedule or pace. One starts working early and continues late into the night, leaving little time for rest or sleep. Its origins literally referred to burning a candle at both ends, which was considered wasteful.


When someone is not updated on current information, they are automatically "__ of the loop."

To be "out of the loop" means you are not up-to-date on something on which you need to be updated, such as specific details or plans in your work setting. It can also refer to not being up-to-date on current events or news in any arena, like pop culture, world politics, or other similar topics.


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