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behind the power curve In a very precarious position, in danger of imminent downfall. The expression is of aeronautical origin; the power curve is a graph of velocity versus the power needed to overcome wind resistance or “drag.” To be behind the power curve is to have insufficient power to remain aloft —rather risky for an aviator. Like many phrases from sports and technology, this expression has found widespread application in political contexts, where it describes persons not up to date or not in synchrony with a superior’s decisions and policies, and thus headed for a fall.
by the seat of one’s pants See INTUITION.
by the skin of one’s teeth Just barely; hardly; narrowly. The allusion is to Job 14:20:
I have escaped with the skin of my teeth.
Since teeth have no skin, the implication of this expression is clear.
close shave A narrow escape; a close call; rescue from impending harm or dire trouble; a narrow difference. This informal American expression dating from the mid-19th century is said to be based on the narrow margin between a smooth, closely shaven skin and a serious cut. However, one meaning of shave is ‘a slight or grazing touch’ (OED); therefore, the expressions close or near shave can be taken literally as well. This literal meaning might well have spawned the figurative meanings of close shave common today.
cut it close To succeed, but just barely; to squeak by; to just make it; to come within an ace of failure. This multi-purpose expression can describe just about anything achieved by a narrow margin, whether because of tight, rigid planning or because of a lackadaisical absence of planning. Since the it has an indefinite referent, and the cut and close each have a multitude of relevant meanings, whether taken singly or in combination, pinning down a precise origin for this phrase is impossible. The likelihood is, there is none. But for a possible relationship, see cut corners, EXPEDIENCE.
dicey Uncertain, unpredictable, like a throw of the dice; risky, dangerous, unreliable; touch-and-go. According to the OED, this 20th-century British slang term was originally Air Force lingo. An equivalent but less common English term is dodgy.
The river got a little dicey. I thought we’d wait for the moon. (P. Capon, Amongst those Missing, 1959)
from hand to mouth From day to day, precariously; improvidently; in imminent danger of starvation. This expression is an obvious allusion to someone so poor and starved that whatever food he gets goes immediately from his hand to his mouth. In a more general sense the phrase denotes consumption of one’s resources, food, money, etc., as soon as they are obtained. Use of this expression dates from the early 16th century. William Cowper uses the phrase in his Letters to Newton (1790):
I subsist, as the poor are vulgarly said to do, from hand to mouth.
hang by a thread To be in a very precarious situation or perilous position.
But this hangs only upon the will of the prince—a very weak thread in such a case. (Thomas Starkey, England in the Reign of Henry the Eighth, 1538)
The expression comes from the story of the flatterer Damocles, who was invited by the tyrant Dionysius to experience the luxury he so envied and praised. When Damocles sat down to a sumptuous feast, he discovered a sword suspended over his head by a single hair. Fear that the sword would fall and kill him prevented him from enjoying the banquet. See also sword of Damocles, DANGER.
hang by the eyelids To have a very slight hold on something, to be just barely attached, to be in a dangerous or precarious position. This particularly vivid expression, although rarely heard today, requires no explanation. It dates from the latter half of the 17th century, and appeared in James T. Fields’ Underbrush (1877):
A magic quarto … with one of the covers hanging by the eyelids.
on thin ice In a precarious position, in a risky situation, on shaky ground. This self-evident expression is often used of a person’s arguments or reasoning. The similar skate on thin ice most often refers to one’s behavior, and is indicative of questionable, dangerous, risk-taking conduct. The expression has been used figuratively for more than a century.
The incessant, breathless round of intermingled sport and pleasure danced on the thin ice of debt. (Ouida, Fortnightly Review, 1892)
touch and go Risky, precarious; not to be taken for granted, uncertain; flirting with danger, avoiding disaster by a narrow margin. A ship is said to “touch and go” when its keel scrapes the bottom without stopping the boat or losing a significant amount of speed. Another nautical use refers to the practice of approaching the shore to let off cargo or men without actually stopping, thus avoiding the involved procedure required to stop. It has been speculated that the great risk and uncertainty involved in this maneuver has spawned the current figurative use of touch and go which emphasizes motion—however slow, erratic, or precarious—rather than arrested movement. Examples of this expression used adjectivally date from the 19th century; however, the less common substantive use of touch and go dates from the 17th century, and the verbal use from the 16th century.
walk a tightrope See CAUTIOUSNESS.
|Noun||1.||precariousness - extreme dangerousness|
dangerousness - the quality of not being safe
|2.||precariousness - being unsettled or in doubt or dependent on chance; "the uncertainty of the outcome"; "the precariousness of his income"|
quality - an essential and distinguishing attribute of something or someone; "the quality of mercy is not strained"--Shakespeare
doubt, doubtfulness, dubiousness, question - uncertainty about the truth or factuality or existence of something; "the dubiousness of his claim"; "there is no question about the validity of the enterprise"
indefiniteness, indefinity, indeterminacy, indeterminateness, indetermination - the quality of being vague and poorly defined
unpredictability - lacking predictability
improbability, improbableness - the quality of being improbable; "impossibility should never be confused with improbability"; "the improbability of such rare coincidences"
fortuitousness - the quality of happening accidentally and by lucky chance
speculativeness - the quality of being a conclusion or opinion based on supposition and conjecture rather than on fact or investigation; "her work is highly contentious because of its speculativeness and lack of supporting evidence"