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1. The act or process of bringing or being brought into being; a start: the beginning of the universe.
a. The time when something begins or is begun: the beginning of June.
b. The place where something begins or is begun: at the beginning of the road.
a. The first part: The front matter is at the beginning of the book.
b. often beginnings An early stage or phase: the beginnings of human life on this planet.
c. The source or cause: What was the beginning of the dispute?
Synonyms: beginning, birth, dawn, genesis, nascence, rise
These nouns denote the initial stage of a developmental process: the beginning of a new era in technology; the birth of the industrial economy; the dawn of civilization; the genesis of quantum mechanics; the nascence of classical sculpture; the rise and decline of an ancient city-state.
Antonym: end
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.




  1. Breaking off with a hard dry finality, like a human relationship —Lawrence Durrell
  2. [A distressing event] came like a door banging on to a silent room —Hugh Walpole
  3. Comes and goes like a cyclone —Marianne Hauser
  4. Comes and goes like a fever —George Garrett
  5. (My urge to gamble) comes and goes like hot flashes —Tallulah Bankhead
  6. Come to a final end like a step climbed or a text memorized —John Cheever
  7. [The ecstacies and tears of youth] die like the winds that blew the clouds from overhead —Noël Coward, lyrics for Light Is the Heart
  8. Ebbing then flowing in again, like mud tides around a mollusc —Julia O’Faolain
  9. Finished, like the flipped page of a book (this day was finished …) —Isaac Bashevis Singer
  10. The first springs of great events, like those of great rivers, are often mean and little —Jonathan Swift
  11. It was over, gone like a furious gust of black wind —William Faulkner
  12. Leaving [a place to which one has become accustomed] is like tearing off skin —Larry McMurtry

    See Also: HABITS

  13. Like a horse breaking from the gate, my life had begun —Scott Spencer
  14. Like some low and mournful spell, we whisper that sad word, “farewell”—Park Benjamin
  15. Parted [husband and wife] as an arrow from the bowstring —Amy Lowell
  16. Parting is inevitably painful … like an amputation —Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  17. (You and that money are going to be) separated like yolks and whites —Saul Bellow
  18. Spent is my passion like a river dried up by the sun’s fierce rays —W. Somerset Maugham
  19. Things [like, popularity] come and go, like the business cycle —William Brammer
Similes Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1988 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.




at first blush At first sight; apparently, at first appearances; on the first impression. The blush of this expression is from the Middle English blusche ‘glance, glimpse’ Thus, given a brief exposure to something, one might qualify an evaluation by using this expression.

At the first blush, it would seem that little difficulties could be experienced. (Benjamin Disraeli, Coningsby; or the New Generation, 1844)

back to the drawing board See FAILURE.

a clean slateTabula rasa, a blank record; a fresh start, a new beginning; often in the phrase to wipe the slate clean, meaning to forget the past and make a fresh start.

I can conceive nothing more desirable in the interests of these embarrassed tenants than that they should have a clean slate. (The Pall Mall Gazette, September, 1888)

Literally a slab of slate rock for writing, slate is used figuratively to represent the record or history of a person’s life. A clean slate, then, is one from which the past has been erased and which is ready to be written on again. The equivalent Latin term, now a part of the English language, means ‘scraped tablet.’

a foot in the door An in, a start, an opportunity or chance; usually in the phrase to get one’s foot in the door. Although the exact origin of this expression is unknown, it may be an expansion of the phrase to get one s foot in, dating from the early 19th century. Putting one’s foot in a doorway prevents it from being closed completely. In this expression foot is synecdochic for the body as a whole, the point being that once one’s foot is inside the door, the rest of the body will follow.

from scratch From the very beginning; without building on a pre-existing product or structure; without using prepared ingredients. Scratch is a line or mark indicating the starting point in a race. Figurative use of from scratch stresses the idea of a true beginning which allows for no head start or short cuts, as implied in William DuBois’ reference to “the task of organizing a major institution of learning almost from scratch” cited in Webster’s Third. The expression is frequently heard in regard to cooking without using a “mix” or other ready-made ingredients.

get off on the right foot To begin propitiously, to have an auspicious start. The phrase’s origin probably lies in the now less frequently heard right foot foremost, an expression related to the Roman superstition that one should always enter and leave a room or dwelling right foot first. Thus the current right ‘correct’ figurative meaning was originally right ‘right side’ contrasted with left ‘left side’ and its attendant sinister, evil connotations. See also get up on the wrong side of the bed, ILL TEMPER.

get to first base To complete the initial step of a task; to finish the preliminaries of a project or undertaking. This expression originated in baseball, where a batter’s initial task is to reach first base. The phrase’s figurative meaning of making a preliminary breakthrough is commonly heard, though most often in a context of failure to do so.

I thought I’d read Italian to read Dante and didn’t get to first base. (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Letters, 1938)

The expression is frequently used by men to describe a minor victory in the seduction of a woman.

She gives you the feeling that you’ll never get to first base with her. (P. G. Wodehouse, Service with a Smile, 1962)

hang out one’s shingle To advertise one’s professional status; to open an office; to begin one’s career. This colloquial Americanism derives from the practice of displaying a shingle, or sign, to advertise the names and services of professionals. Today the expression is used in referring to the beginning of a practice or career, regardless of whether an actual sign is involved.

Jobless, Metcalf put out his shingle as a food consultant. (Newsweek, August 22, 1949)

pick up the pieces To rebuild one’s shattered life; to put the past behind one and make a fresh start. Though this common expression is most often heard in a context of personal, emotional crisis, it is also possible to “pick up the pieces” of any project or undertaking that has been left in shambles and carry it forward to fruition.

pick up the threads To resume an undertaking after a period of absence or inactivity; to pick up where one left off. The allusion is to weaving.

stick one’s spoon in the wall To move into new quarters; to establish residence. In former times, one of the first things a person did upon acquiring a new domicile was to hang a leather pouch on a wall by the fireplace for the placement of spoons, scissors, and other sundry items. The expression is rarely heard nowadays.

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
There is surely no greater wisdom, than well to time the beginnings, and onsets, of things.
But the entire range of heroic legend was open to these poets, and other clusters of epics grew up dealing particularly with the famous story of Thebes, while others dealt with the beginnings of the world and the wars of heaven.
I lived here about a year, and completed my studies in divinity; in which time some letters were received from the fathers in Aethiopia, with an account that Sultan Segued, Emperor of Abyssinia, was converted to the Church of Rome, that many of his subjects had followed his example, and that there was a great want of missionaries to improve these prosperous beginnings. Everybody was very desirous of seconding the zeal of our fathers, and of sending them the assistance they requested; to which we were the more encouraged, because the emperor's letters informed our provincial that we might easily enter his dominions by the way of Dancala, but unhappily, the secretary wrote Zeila for Dancala, which cost two of our fathers their lives.
In this chapter I am going to talk about these beginnings of the English theater and of its literature.
A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,--the light which, showing the way, forbids it.
[1304a] a quarrel about a wedding was the beginning of all the seditions that afterwards arose amongst them; for the bridegroom, being terrified by some unlucky omen upon waiting upon the bride, went away without marrying her; which her relations resenting, contrived secretly to convey some sacred money into his pocket while he was sacrificing, and then killed him as an impious person.
The sun was beginning to set and sending deep gold-colored rays slanting under the trees when they parted.
Loscombe's momentary absence, to satisfy his curiosity by looking at the beginning of the document and at the end.
At the beginning of the battle they stood blocking the way to Moscow and they still did so at the end of the battle as at the beginning.
A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
One of the chief difficulties was that the process of cultivating the land was in full swing, that it was impossible to stop everything and begin it all again from the beginning, and the machine had to be mended while in motion.
The curate thanked him, and opening them he saw at the beginning of the manuscript the words, "Novel of Rinconete and Cortadillo," by which he perceived that it was a novel, and as that of "The Ill-advised Curiosity" had been good he concluded this would be so too, as they were both probably by the same author; so he kept it, intending to read it when he had an opportunity.