across the board

- applying to all (in horse racing a bet where an equal amount of money is placed on a horse to finish in any top winning position)

The workers received an across the board wage increase and most of them were happy.

arrow in one's quiver

- have a number of resources or strategies that one can follow

His ability with languages was another arrow in his quiver and helped him in his business life.

at this stage of the game

- at some point, at some time during an activity

At this stage of the game I don't think that we should spend more money on the project.

back the wrong horse

- make the wrong choice, support the wrong thing (from horse racing)

The students backed the wrong horse in the election for school president and were very surprised at the winner.

ball is in someone's court

- it is that person's turn to act next (from tennis or a similar game)

We made an offer to buy the business and now the ball is in the owner's court to accept our offer or not.

ballpark estimate/figure

-a guess in a certain area or range

We were given a ballpark estimate as to how much it would cost to buy the business.

bat a thousand

- be successful in everything that you do

The salesman was batting a thousand during his sales trip to Europe.

beat the gun

- do something before the ending signal of a game etc.

We were able to beat the gun and applied before the final deadline to get the free basketball tickets.

behind the eight ball

- at a disadvantage (from the black ball which is numbered eight in the game of pool)

Our friend was behind the eight ball when he discovered that he was last in line to register for his classes.

beyond one's depth

- in water that is too deep, do something that is too difficult

The executives appeared to be beyond their depth when they chose to pick a fight with the unions.

blow the whistle on someone

- reveal information about someone (from sports where the referee blows a whistle when someone does something wrong)

The secretary blew the whistle on her boss for his responsibility in wasting much money in his department.

bounce something (an idea) off someone

- test someone's reaction to an idea

I bounced my idea for the new restaurant off my friend.

call the shots

- control something, make the rules (from calling the shots in billiards/pool)

My friend has been calling the shots in his company for several years now.

carry the ball

- be in charge (from carry the ball in American football)

The director decided to let his assistant carry the ball on the assignment for the new sale's contract.

clear a hurdle

- overcome an obstacle (from a hurdle in a race)

We finally cleared a major hurdle in our effort to get a license to sell our products.

come out of left field

- be completely unexpected

His idea about going to Turkey came right out of left field.

cover all of one's bases

- thoroughly prepare for or deal with a situation

He covered all of his bases before going to the job interview and performed very well.

(be) cricket

- fair play, gentlemanly conduct (usually used in the negative)

The way that the government treated the union leaders was not cricket.

dive right into something

- begin to do something without hesitating

When university started some of the students decided to dive right into their studies.

down/out for the count

- defeated, unconscious (in boxing a boxer who is on the ground must get up before the count of ten or he will lose)

The political candidate seemed to be down for the count when no major figures supported him.

down to the wire

- at the very last minute (from the wire at the end of a horse race)

The election went down to the wire but in the end the President was re-elected to another term in office.

draw first blood

- the first point or advantage gained in a contest (often in boxing or fighting with swords)

The heavyweight champion drew first blood in the boxing match but in the end was defeated by his opponent.

drop the ball

- make an error or mistake, handle things badly

The government dropped the ball on their decision to expand the airport runway without consulting the local residents.

first out of the gate

- be the first person to begin a project

He was first out of the gate in the effort to raise money for the new concert hall.

first past the post

- winning a race by being the first to reach the finishing line (in a horse race)

The young horse was first past the post and won a large amount of money in the race.

get off to a flying start

- have a very successful beginning

The meeting got off to a flying start when the company directors announced that they had won a large contract.

get one's feet wet

- start a new project cautiously

Before getting my feet wet I spent many months studying the plans for the new project.

get the ball rolling

- begin

We got up early to get the ball rolling on our project.

get to (reach) first base with someone or something

- make an advance with someone or in some undertaking (from first base in baseball)

I spent several hours talking about changing my work hours but I wasn't able to get to first base with my boss.

get two/three strikes against someone

- get several things against one, be in a situation where success in unlikely (in baseball a batter is finished after three strikes)

His absence from work and being late were serious problems. He now had two strikes against him. Any more problems and he would have to be fired.

go to bat for someone

- support or help someone (in baseball you sometines substitute one batter for another)

The young woman's teacher went to bat for her when she was having problems with the school administration.

go to the mat

- argue strongly on behalf of someone or something

The coach would always go to the mat for his players when they were having problems.

hand the torch/baton to someone

- hand over a particular duty or responsibility to someone (from the baton or torch that is passed from one runner to the next in a relay race)

The president of the company handed the torch to his son when he decided to retire.

hard to call

- hard to decide or determine something (referees in sports sometimes have to make difficult decisions)

The election was hard to call and nobody knew who was going to win.

have had a good innings

- have enjoyed a long period of positive action or opportunity (from cricket where an innings is the time that a team spends batting and a good innings is when they score a lot of runs)

The team had a very good innings and won the match easily.

have the inside track

- have an advantage (if you have the inside track in running a race you have an advantage)

I had the inside track when I applied for the job at the bank.

hit someone below the belt

- unfair, not following the rules (from hitting low in boxing)

It was a case of hitting someone below the belt when the girl stole her best friend's boyfriend from her.

hit the bull's-eye

- achieve your goal perfectly

We hit the bull's-eye when our sales target was met for the year.

in full swing

- full capacity, greatest activity

The basketball season was in full swing when we decided to buy season's tickets.

in someone's corner

- on someone's side, supporting someone (in a boxing match each boxer has his own corner)

The young man gained confidence when he realized that there were many people in his corner.

in the ballpark

- in a particular area or range (from a baseball field)

The value of my business was not in the same ballpark as what I had been offered so I decided not to sell it.

in the bullpen

- a baseball player is in a special area getting ready to pitch in a game

The new pitcher practiced in the bullpen while he waited for a chance to enter the game.

in the homestretch

- be close to completion

The project to build the new bridge is now in the homestretch.

in the running

- to be a candidate (from horse racing when two horses are running evenly)

The lawyer is in the running for a job on the city school board.

in the same league as someone

- be at the same level as someone

The boys soccer team was not in the same league at their opponents.

jockey for position

- try to put yourself in a better position at the expense of others (as a jockey would do in a horse race)

The salesmen started to jockey for position as soon as they learned that the sales manager was leaving the company.

jump the gun

- start before the starting signal or before you should start (as in a race)

My friend jumped the gun and applied for the job before applications were being accepted.

keep one's eye on the ball

- remain alert, keep one's attention focused on the ball or the matter at hand

He was told that during the meeting he must keep his eye on the ball and concentrate on the matter at hand.

keep the ball rolling

- maintain the momentum of an activity

My friend is always able to keep the ball rolling when we are gathered for dinner and everyone becomes silent.

kick off

- kick the ball and start the game in American football, begin, start

They kicked off the campaign to raise money for the hospital with a large fund raising event at a restaurant.

know the score

- know the facts about something

The new secretary doesn't really know the score about how the company operates.

level playing field

- a situation where everyone has an equal chance at success

We were able to achieve a level playing field with the other schools when the government made some new rules regarding the competition.

make it to first base

- successfully taking the first step with someone or when doing something

I was not able to make it to first base in my attempt to have my boss change my work schedule.

make the cut

- meet or come up to a required standard (from golf where a player must do equal or better than a certain score to continue)

The young player did not make the cut and was unable to join the team that year.

meet one's match

- encounter one's equal

The boxer finally met his match when he was offered the fight with the other wrestler.

miss the cut

- fail to come up to or meet a required standard (from golf where a player must do equal or better than a certain score to continue)

After several successful tournaments the golfer missed the cut and could not enter the next tournament.

move the goalposts

- unfairly change the conditions or rules of something that you are doing

Although we followed the rules when applying for the license, the government officials moved the goalposts and our application was rejected.

neck and neck

- exactly even (as in a horse race)

The two candidates were running neck and neck in the election until the last ballots were counted late in the evening.

nip and tuck

- almost even or tied

The two horses were running nip and tuck for most of the race but finally the younger horse won the race.

not in the same league

- much inferior to someone

Our soccer team was not in the same league as the Brazilian players who we met at the tournament.

odds are against one

- there is little chance that you will succeed

The odds were against the boy joining the team but he tried very hard anyway.

off and running

- make progress in something from the beginning (from horses who run quickly from the start of a race)

The two candidates were off and running in the race to become mayor of the city.

off base

- wrong, unrealistic

The general was off base with his estimate about how many soldiers were needed for the battle.

off to a running start

- start with a good fast beginning

Everyone was off to a running start when the campaign to collect money for the new hospital began.

on a par with

- equal in importance or quality to something or someone (par is the usual number of strokes that are needed to get around a golf course)

The recent scandal involving steroids in sports was on a par with other major scandals of several decades ago.

on side

- supporting or part of the same team as someone else

We finally got the directors on side in our bid to host the local basketball championships.

on the ropes

- in a desperate situation or near defeat (from boxing where the losing boxer is forced back against the ropes)

The boxer was on the ropes and it seemed impossible for him to win the match.

on your marks

- used to tell runners in a race to get into the correct starting position

The race began as soon as the judge yelled, "on your marks, get set, go."

out in left field

- offbeat, unusual (as in the back and left side of a baseball field)

Our teacher's ideas are usually out in left field and everyone is surprised to hear them.

out of one's league

- not equal to or in the same class as someone (a league is a group of sports teams that compete against each other)

The artist was totally out of his league when he went to Paris and tried to enter the art world.

out of the running

- eliminated from a contest, no longer being considered

Our friend was out of the running for the director's job so she decided to return to school and continue her education.

paddle one's own canoe

- do something alone, be independent

The company director was left to paddle his own canoe when the other members of the company resigned their positions.

par for the course

- what is normal or expected in a given situation (in golf par is the usual number of strokes needed to go around a golf course)

A bad attitude at work is par for the course for that supervisor and it is something that management must deal with.

pass the torch/baton to someone

- hand over a particular duty or responsibility to someone (from the baton or torch that is passed from one runner to the next in a relay race)

The head of the soccer association passed the torch to his director after spending many years in the sport.

play ball (with someone)

- cooperate with someone

The young men refused to play ball with the police and were taken to the police station for questioning.

play by the rules

- follow the generally accepted rules of something

The team members refused to play by the rules so they were asked to leave the tournament.

play fair

- avoid cheating

The boxer was an honorable athlete and always played fair when he was in the boxing ring.

play hardball with someone

- behave in an extremely determined way to get what you want (hardball and softball are from the game of baseball)

The owners of the football club decided to play hardball when they began negotiating with the top player.

pump iron

- exercise with weights

Her brother has been pumping iron for more than two years now.

put in one's oar

- give help, give advice without being asked

We were doing very well until our supervisor came along and put in his oar. We would have done better without him.

rally around someone or something

- join together to support someone or something

The city rallied around the basketball team when they went to the national championships.

rest on one's oars

- relax one's efforts

The negotiating team decided to rest on their oars and wait until their partners had a chance to consider the offer.

right off the bat

- at the very beginning, immediately (like the ball leaving a baseball or cricket bat)

After arriving at the resort, we were told right off the bat that we would have to pay extra to use the pool and the training room.

roll with the punches

- adapt to difficult circumstances (from boxing where a boxer moves away or rolls from a punch to lessen its impact)

My sister is able to roll with the punches and can handle the many problems in her work very well.

run interference

- intervene on behalf of someone to protect them from something (from American football)

They ran interference on their top salesman to protect him from the scandal.

safe bet

- a certainty (a horse that is expected to win a race)

It was a safe bet that we would win the large contract if we bid for it.

saved by the bell

- rescued from a bad situation at the last minute (as in the bell at the end of each round in a boxing match)

We were saved by the bell when the meeting ended before we had to deliver our badly prepared presentation.

score points with someone

- gain the favor of someone

The salesman always worked extra hours in order to score points with his boss.

send someone to the showers

- send a player off the field and out of a game

The referee sent the top player to the showers after he refused to stop arguing.

set the pace

- establish the speed or pace of something

The runner set the pace for the other runners during the marathon.

smooth sailing

- something is working out well and has no problems

After we left the city it was smooth sailing on the highway until we got to our destination.

sporting chance

- some possibility of success

The tennis player was not given a sporting chance to win the tournament but still she tried very hard to win.

sport of kings

- horse racing

Horse racing has been the sport of kings for many years.

steal a base

- sneak from one base to another in baseball

The young baseball player won an award for stealing the most bases in one year.

sticky wicket

- an awkward situation (from cricket where rain has made it difficult to bat on the field)

The rain had made a sticky wicket out of the field and neither side was able to play very well.

strike out

- fail

The criminal struck out in his attempt to change the punishment that he had received from the judge.

tackle a problem

- attack a problem with much effort (from American football where one player tackles another player)

All of the members of the sales team gathered to tackle the problem of decreasing sales.

take one's eye off the ball

- fail to keep one's attention focused on the ball or the matter at hand

He took his eye off the ball for only a second and the other team quickly scored a goal.

take the chequered flag

- finish first in a race (from the flag that is used in car racing when the winner finishes the race)

The Brazilian driver took the chequered flag for the third time this year.

take the wind out of one's sails

- become discouraged and lose one's enthusiasm

It took the wind out of his sails when he was told that he was not doing a good job.

team player

- someone who works well with others to achieve some goal

The man is a team player and works well with all of the other members of the staff.

test the water

- check to see if a plan will work before you start

The fruit juice company tested the water before they began to sell the lemon fruit juice.

"That's the way the ball bounces."

- that's life, there is nothing you can do about something

The man replied, "That's the way the ball bounces", when he told his friend about the job that he had lost.

throw in the towel/sponge

- admit defeat, stop fighting (in a boxing match a towel is thrown into the ring to admit defeat)

The candidate threw in the towel early in the evening of the election when it became impossible for her to win.

throw one's hat into the ring

- be willing or decide to enter a contest or take up a challenge

The young woman decided to throw her hat into the ring for the election for school president.

throw/pitch someone a curve

- pitch a curve in baseball, confuse someone by doing something unexpected

My friend threw me a curve when he changed the dates of our plan to go on a holiday together.

too close to call

- so evenly balanced that it is not possible to predict the outcome (in a contest, race, election)

The game was too close to call until the last few minutes of the game.

toe the line

- accept the authority or policies of a particular group (competitors in a race line up with their toes on the starting line)

The worker refused to toe the line and was fired from his job.

touch base with someone

- briefly meet or make contact with someone

I touched base with my uncle before he left on his trip to Mexico.

two strikes against someone

- do two things that are wrong or bad and have only one more to do to cause you serious trouble ( from baseball where a batter is finished after three strikes)

The young boy had two strikes against him when he went to hear the judge's decision about his crime.

up to par

- at an expected or usual level or quality (par in golf is the usual number of strokes used to get around a golf course)

The product was not up to par and was sent back to the factory for further improvement.

whole new ball game

- a new set of circumstances (from a new game of baseball)

The election had become a whole new ball game when the main candidate quit because of a scandal.

win by a neck

- succeed by a small amount (in horse racing a horse may win by the length of its head only)

The race was very close but at the end the young horse pulled ahead and won the race by a neck.

win by a nose

- win by a very small amount (the narrowest margin that a horse can win in a horse race)

There was a dispute as to who won the horse race but the judges settled the matter and declared that one of the horses had won the race by a nose.