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To kill a mockingbird - Idioms

1. He said he was trying to get Miss Maudie’s goat, that he had been trying unsuccessfully for forty
years, that he was the last person in the world Miss Maudie would think about marrying but the first
person she thought about teasing, and the best defense to her was spirited offense, all of which we
understood clearly. (Harper, p.87)
To get one's goat: to make a person disgusted or angry.

2. True enough, she had an acid tongue in her head, and she did not go about the neighborhood doing
good, as did Miss Stephanie Crawford. But while no one with a grain of sense trusted Miss Stephanie,
Jem and I had considerable faith in Miss Maudie. (Harper, p.90)
Acid tongue in someone's head: someone who tends to speak bitterly or sharply.

3. But while no one with a grain of sense trusted Miss Stephanie, Jem and I had considerable faith in
Miss Maudie. She had never told on us, had never played cat-and-mouse with us, she was not at all
interested in our private lives. She was our friend. (Harper, p.90)
Play cat and mouse: to try to defeat someone by tricking that person into making a mistake so that you
have an advantage over them.

4. Atticus let him carry once a week if Jem were careful with it. On the days he carried the watch, Jem
walked on eggs. (Harper, p.122)
Walk on eggs: To walk on eggs is to walk very carefully

5. “You gotta make me first!” he yelled. “My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an‘ that nigger
oughta hang from the water-tank!”

I drew a bead on him, remembered what Atticus had said, then dropped my fists and walked away,
“Scout’s a cow—ward!” ringing in my ears. It was the first time I ever walked away from a fight.
(Harper, p. 152)

Draw a bead: to aim a gun at someone or something

6. “Don’t point them in the house,” said Atticus, when Jem aimed at a picture on the wall.

“You’ll have to teach ‘em to shoot,” said Uncle Jack.


“That’s your job,” said Atticus. “I merely bowed to the inevitable.” (Harper, p. 157)

bow to the inevitable: to agree to do what someone wants you to do, although you do not want to

7. She hurt my feelings and set my teeth permanently on edge. (Harper, p. 161)
set someone's teeth permanently on edge: To set one's teeth on edge is to annoy someone or make
them feel nervous

8. When stalking one’s prey, it is best to take one’s time. Say nothing, and as sure as eggs he will
become curious and emerge. (Harper, p. 165)
as sure as eggs: Something that is as sure as eggs is a sure thing; it's bound to happen.

9. “I know. Your daughter gave me my first lessons this afternoon. She said I didn’t understand
children much and told me why. She was quite right. Atticus, she told me how I should have treated
her—oh dear, I’m so sorry I romped on her.”

Atticus chuckled. “She earned it, so don’t feel too remorseful.”

I waited, on tenterhooks, for Uncle Jack to tell Atticus my side of it. But he didn’t. (Harper, p. 172)

On tenterhooks: anxiously waiting for news about someone or something

10. This was not entirely correct: I wouldn’t fight publicly for Atticus, but the family was private
ground. I would fight anyone from a third cousin upwards tooth and nail. (Harper, p. 178)
Tooth and nail: to fight with the intensity and ferocity of a wild animal

11. When Atticus returned he told me to break camp. “Don’t you ever let me catch you pointing that
gun at anybody again,” he said. (Harper, p. 180)
break camp: Take down a tent and pack up other gear; also, leave a place, move out.

12. Jem had probably stood as much guff about Atticus lawing for niggers as had I, and I took it for
granted that he kept his temper—he had a naturally tranquil disposition and a slow fuse. (Harper, p.
203)
A slow fuse: Someone with a slow fuse is someone who is not easily upset or angered.
13. “Scout,” said Atticus, “when summer comes you’ll have to keep your head about far worse
things . . . it’s not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things,
and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down—well, all I can say is, when you and Jem
are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you
down. (Harper, p. 206)
When the chips are down: when you are in a difficult or dangerous situation, especially one which
tests whether you can trust people or which shows people's true opinions.

14. In the interval between Sunday School and Church when the congregation stretched its legs, I saw
Atticus standing in the yard with another knot of men. Mr. Heck Tate was present, and I wondered if he
had seen the light. (Harper, p. 284)
See the light: to start believing in a religion, often suddenly.

15. Atticus placed his fork beside his knife and pushed his plate aside. “Mr. Cunningham’s basically a
good man,” he said, “he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us.”

Jem spoke. “Don’t call that a blind spot. He’da killed you last night when he first went there.”
(Harper, p. 303)

Blind spots: a subject that you find very difficult to understand at all, sometimes because you are not
willing to try.

16. But Tom Robinson could easily be left-handed, too. Like Mr. Heck Tate, I imagined a person
facing me, went through a swift mental pantomime, and concluded that he might have held her with his
right hand and pounded her with his left. I looked down at him. His back was to us, but I could see his
broad shoulders and bull-thick neck. He could easily have done it. I thought Jem was counting his
chickens. (Harper, p. 343)
Counting someone's chickens: something that you say in order to warn someone to wait until a good
thing they are expecting has really happened before they make any plans about it

17. Judge Taylor looked daggers at Atticus, as if daring him to speak, but Atticus had ducked his head
and was laughing into his lap. (Harper, p. 378)
Look daggers at: To glare at angrily or hatefully.
18. Miss Stephanie and Miss Rachel were waving wildly at us, in a way that did not give the lie to
Dill’s observation. (Harper, p. 419)
Give the lie to: to show that something is not true

19. Today Aunt Alexandra and her missionary circle were fighting the good fight all over the house.
(Harper, p. 440)
Fight the good fight: to fight a noble and well-intentioned battle.

20. “S-s-s Grace,” she said, “it’s just like I was telling Brother Hutson the other day. ‘S-s-s Brother
Hutson,’ I said, ‘looks like we’re fighting a losing battle, a losing battle.’ I said, ‘S-s-s it doesn’t matter
to ’em one bit. We can educate ‘em till we’re blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make
Christians out of ’em, but there’s no lady safe in her bed these nights.‘ (Harper, p. 449)
Until you are blue in the face: If you say or do something until you are blue in the face, you are
wasting your efforts because you will get no results:

21. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service
an‘ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight—to me, that’s a sin. (Harper, p. 531)
Be in the limelight: to receive attention and interest from the public

But there came a day when Atticus told us he’d wear us out if we made any noise in the yard and
commissioned Calpurnia to serve in his absence if she heard a sound out of us. Mr. Radley was dying.

He took his time about it. Wooden sawhorses blocked the road at each end of the
Radley lot, straw was put down on the sidewalk, traffic was diverted to the back street.
(Harper, p. 27)

We turned off the road and entered the schoolyard. It was pitch black. (Harper, p. 492)

Once, when Aunty assured us that Miss Stephanie Crawford’s tendency to mind other
people’s business was hereditary (Harper, p. 250)