Idioms - N

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nailing jelly to the wall

Defined: To say that something is like nailing jelly to the wall means that it is extremely difficult to do, if not impossible.
Example: Keeping track of his movements is like nailing jelly to the wall.

name is mud

Defined: To say that a person's name is mud means that they have acquired a bad reputation because of something they have done or said.
Example: His name is mud now after the revelations in the newspaper.

name (written) on it

Defined: If something has somenoe's name (written) on it, it is intended for that person or it is ideally suited to them.
Example: That dress would be perfect for you - it's got your name on it!

necessary evil

Defined: If you say that something is a necessary evil, you don't like it but you understand that it has to exist and be accepted.
Example: Vaccinations are a necessary evil if you want to travel.

neck and neck

Defined: In a contest or competition, when two competitors reach the same level, they are neck and neck, so it is impossible to say who will win.
Example: At the moment the two teams are neck and neck for the Word Cup.

needs must (when the devil drives)

Defined: The expression 'needs must (when the devil drives)' means that you are sometimes forced by circumstances to do something that you do not want to do.
Example: I'd rather stay with you than attend the conference, but needs must ...!

needle in haystack

Defined: To refer to something as a needle in a haystack means that it is very difficult or impossible to find.
Example: Finding a pub in Dublin without knowing its name is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

neither fish nor fowl

Defined: People or things that are difficult to classify because they are neither one thing nor another are 'neither fish nor fowl'.
Example: Interns are neither fish nor fowl. They are neither students nor fully qualified practitioners.

neither here nor there

Defined: Something which is neither here nor there is unimportant or irrelevant.
Example: Why the problem wasn't discovered earlier is neither here nor there. What's important now is to find a solution.

nerves of steel

Defined: Someone who has nerves of steel is not afraid in difficult or dangerous situations.
Example: Fire-fighters need to have nerves of steel.

nest egg

Defined: If you have a nest egg, you have a reserve of money which you put aside for future needs.
Example: Our parents consider the money from the sale of their house as a nest egg for their old age.

never a dull moment

Defined: When there is never a dull moment, something is always changing or happening.
Example: With four teenagers at home, there's never a dull moment!

never looked back

Defined: If you say that you never looked back, you mean that after an event which changed your life for the better, you continue to be happy with the situation.
Example: Since the day she decided to work from home, she has never looked back.

never in a million years

Defined: This expression means 'absolutely never' or 'at no time in my life'.
Example: I will never in a million years understand why Anne married Bob.

never mind

Defined: When you 'never mind' to someone, you are telling them not to worry, that it is not important.
Example: When the child broke the cup Susan said 'never mind - it was an old cup'.

never miss a trick

Defined: If a person never misses a trick, they are very alert and aware of everything that is happening around them.
Example: The old lady next door will know if Bill is there or not - she never misses a trick!

never rains but it pours

Defined: This expression is used to comment on the fact that when something bad happens, other bad things often happen too, and make the situation even worse.
Example: First he forgot his briefcase, then he lost his wallet, and when he reached the car park, his car had been stolen - it never rains but it pours!

never say die

Defined: You can say 'never say die' to encourage someone to persevere in their efforts and not give up or abandon their project.
Example: Keep going - it's too soon to give up. Never say die!

new to this game

Defined: To say that you are new to this game means that you have never been involved in this sort of activity before.
Example: I want to join Facebook but I don't know how to start. I'm new to this game.

new lease of life

Defined: A person who has a new lease of life has a chance to live longer or with greater enjoyment or satisfaction.
Example: Moving closer to his children has given him a new lease of life.

next best thing

Defined: If you can't have exactly what you want, the next best thing is the best alternative possible.
Example: The camera I wanted was far too expensive so I opted for a cheaper one that was the next best thing.

next to nothing

Defined: The term 'next to nothing' means a very small amount or almost nothing.
Example: My boots didn't cost much. I bought them for next to nothing in the sales.

nice as pie

Defined: If a person is as nice as pie, they are surprisingly kind and friendly.
Example: After our argument, she was as nice as pie!

night owl

Defined: Someone who is lively and active at night and goes to bed very late is called night owl.
Example: I work better in the evenings than in the morning. My friends say I'm a night owl.

nine-day wonder

Defined: An event which is a nine-day wonder causes interest, surprise or excitement for a short time, but it doesn't last.
Example: His sudden departure was a niine-day wonder but he was soon forgotten.

nine times out of ten

Defined: When something happens nine times out of ten, it is what usually happens.
Example: The public transport system is very bad. Trains arrive late nine times out of ten.


Defined: When people get down to the nitty-gritty, they begin to discuss the most important points or the practical details.
Example: I was interested in the project, but we didn't get down to the nitty-gritty until his partner arrived.

no accounting for taste

Defined: This expression is used to indicate surprise at another person's likes or dislikes.
Example: She fell in love with a guy who's short, fat, bald and poor ... there's no accounting for taste!


Defined: A decision or choice that requires little or no thought, because the best option is so obvious, is called a no-brainer.
Example: The choice was between a cash refund or having the amount credited to my account - it was a no-brainer! I took the cash!

no dice

Defined: If someone asks you for something and you reply 'no dice!', you mean that it is impossible or it can't be done.
Example: "Can you lend me your car?" "Sorry, no dice!"

no end

Defined: This expression is another way of saying 'very much'.
Example: Aunt Bessie was pleased no end to be invited to your wedding.

no fixed abode

Defined: A person of no fixed abode has nowhere permanent to live.
Example: A 30-year-old man of no fixed abode was charged with the burglary.

no-go area

Defined: A no-go area is an area, particularly in a city, where it is dangerous to go.
Example: Tourists have been advised to avoid parts of the city which have become no-go areas.

no great shakes

Defined: To say that someone or something is no great shakes means that they are useless, ineffective or not very good.
Example: He's a good actor but his last film was no great shakes.

no hard feelings

Defined: If you have no hard feelings, you feel no resentment or bitterness about something.
Example: When Alan was promoted instead of Steve, he said to Steve : 'No hard feelings I hope.'

no holds barred

Defined: This expression, which derives from wrestling, is used to describe something done with no restraints, limits or rules of conduct.
Example: It's a live talk show with no holds barred, which is not to everyone's taste.

no picnic

Defined: An activity or task that is no picnic is unpleasant or difficult.
Example: Tom is a bit depressed these days, but then job-hunting is no picnic.

no smoke without fire

Defined: If many people say that something bad is happening, there is possibly some truth in it.
Example: Although no proof was ever found paople continue to say: 'There's no smoke without fire'.

no two ways about it

Defined: To say that there are no two ways about something means that there is only one suitable ay of dealing with something.
Example: There are no two ways about it. You can't accept the money, so you must give it back.

no use crying over spilt milk

Defined: This expression means that it is useless to complain or have regrets about something that is done and cannot be changed.
Example: Sometimes I regret not acccepting the offer, but it's no use crying over spilt milk.

nodding terms

Defined: If you are on nodding terms with someone, you don't know them very well, just well enough to say 'hello' when you meet them.
Example: We haven't made any friends yet but we're on nodding terms with our neighbours.

non sequitur

Defined: This Latin term refers to a statement which does not seem to be a logical follow-up to the previous statement or argument.
Example: After announcing the merger, the chairman began talking about global warming which seemed a complete non sequitur.

none the wiser

Defined: If you do not know more about something after obtaining an explanation, or if you fail to find information on the subject, you are none the wiser.
Example: I tried to understand the voting system but I was none the wiser after Joe's explanation.

use one's noodle

Defined: If you use your noodle, you use your brain or your common sense.
Example: How did I figure that out? I just used my noodle!

nose out of joint

Defined: If something puts your nose out of joint, it offends or annoys you.
Example: When he discovered he wasn't on the invitation list, that really put his nose out of joint!

not all there

Defined: Someone who is not all there behaves strangely at times, or seems a bit odd.
Example: Our new neighbour wears a hat and coat even in summer; he's not all there!

not for all the tea in China

Defined: To say that you would not do something for all the tea in China means that you would not do it under any condiions.
Example: I wouldn't live there for all the tea in China.

not for love or money

Defined: If you say that you cannot or will not do something for love or money, you mean that you will not do it under any circumstances.
Example: I would not try bungee jumping for love or money!

not getting anywhere

Defined: If you are not getting anywhere, you are making no progress at all.
Example: I've spent the whole day looking for a solution but I'm not getting anywhere.

not give a hoot!

Defined: To say that you don't or couldn't give a hoot means that you don't care at all about something.
Example: She wears eccentric clothes but she couldn't give a hoot about what others think.

not give the time of day

Defined: If you dislike someone so strongly that you ignore them and refuse to speak to them, you do not give them the time of day.
Example: Sarah's parents dislike her boyfriend so much they won't even give him the time of day!

not in the same league

Defined: If something is not in the same league, it is of much lower standard than something else.
Example: He had a good voice but he wasn't in the same league as Pavarotti.

not in one's right mind

Defined: Someone who is not in their right mind is not behaving in a logical or sensible way.
Example: Julie wasn't in her right mind the day she bought that outfit. It doesn't suit her at all!

not let grass grow under your feet

Defined: If someone does not let the grass grow under their feet, they do not delay in getting something done.
Example: As soon as he received the permit, he started to build. He never lets the grass grow under his feet!

not a patch on

Defined: If something or someone is not a patch on an other, they are not nearly as good.
Example: His second conference wasn't a patch on the first one.

not have a stitch on

Defined: Someone who does not have a stitch on is wearing no clothes and is therefore completely naked.
Example: When the doorbell rang, he didn't have a stitch on!

not the only pebble on the beach

Defined: To say that someone is not the only pebble on the beach means that they are not the only person worth considering.
Example: He thinks his refusal to join the team will cause problems, but there are other alternatives ...he's not the only pebble on the beach!

not in right mind

Defined: To say that someone is not in their right mind means that they are not behaving in a logical or sensible way.
Example: Emily wasn't in her right mind the day she bought that outfit. It doesn't suit her at all!

not up to scratch

Defined: Something which is not up to scratch fails to reach the expected standard.
Example: The quality of the material is not up to scratch. We'll have to change our suppliers.

a notch above

Defined: Something that is a notch above something else is a little better in every way.
Example: His rendering of the song was a notch above the others.

nothing doing

Defined: This term means that there is no way you would accept to do what is proposed.
Example: Work on Sunday? Nothing doing!

nothing succeeds like success

Defined: This expression means that success often leads to further successes.
Example: The success of my first book encouraged to continue writing. Nothing succeeds like success!

nothing to write home about

Defined: To say that something is nothing to write home about means that it is not of great interest or importance.
Example: Okay, she's written a couple of books, but nothing to write home about.

nothing ventured, nothing gained

Defined: You cannot expect to achieve anything is you risk nothing.
Example: He's going to ask his boss for a promotion even though he has little chance of obtaining satisfaction. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

now you're talking!

Defined: This expression is used to show encouragement or agreement with something that has just been said, for example a good idea.
Example: "If we take the underground we'll avoid the traffic" "Now you're talking!"

nowhere to be found

Defined: If something is nowhere to be found, even after a thorough search, it is impossible to find it.
Example: We looked everywhere for the cat but it was nowhere to be found.

null and void

Defined: Something which is null and void has no legal force or is invalid.
Example: The contract was declared null and void.

number cruncher

Defined: This is a humorous way of referring to someone who is an accountant or who is very good at working with numbers and calculations.
Example: She's a number cruncher who perfectly understands the organization's financial situation.

nuts and bolts

Defined: The nuts and bolts of something are the detailed facts and the practical aspects.
Example: We neeed to discuss the nuts and bolts of the proposal before going any further.

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