Also found in: Thesaurus.
above-board In full view, in open sight; honestly, unsurreptitiously. The most widely held theory claims the phrase for card playing; gamblers were wont to engage in chicanery when their hands were out of sight and under the table (or board). Another source also attributes the term to the practice of gamesters, but to those who controlled wheels of fortune by means of a treadle hidden beneath a counter.
call a spade a spade To speak plainly or bluntly; to be straightforward and candid, sometimes to the point of rudeness; to call something by its real name. The ultimate source of this expression is Erasmus’ translation of Plutarch’s Apophthegmata. According to the OED, the phrase in question was mistranslated from the original Greek. The expression has been popular in English since Nicholas Udall’s 1542 translation of the Erasmus version. An early example is in Humfrey Gifford’s A Posie of Gilloflowers (1580):
I cannot say the crow is white, But needs must call a spade a spade.
flat-footed Direct, to the point; firmly resolved, uncompromising; often heard in the phrase come out flat-footed ‘to make a direct and firm statement of one’s opinion or preference.’ This American colloquial expression most likely derives from body language—a firm stance with legs slightly apart and both feet flat on the ground as a sign of determination and will. Both flat-footed and come out flat-footed have been in use since the mid-19th century.
Mr. Pickens … has come out flat-footed for the Administration, a real red-hot Democrat, dyed in the wool. (New York Herald, June 30, 1846)
lay it on the line See RISK.
let one’s hair down To relax; to act or speak informally; to speak candidly or intimately; to behave in an uninhibited, unrestrained manner, particularly in a situation requiring dignity and reserve. This figurative expression alludes to the fact that until fairly recently, a woman was expected to maintain a very staid and formal public image, and as a result, often wore her hair pinned up on the top of her head. In the privacy and relative comfort of her own home, however, such a woman usually felt free to relax and would let her hair down. It was in these informal moments that her true personality would be revealed.
You can let your hair down in front of me. (Jerome Weidman, I Can Get It For You Wholesale!, 1937)
A related expression is hairdown ‘an intimate conversation’ In recent years, let one’s hair down has largely been replaced by, and may in fact have given rise to, expressions such as hang loose, loosen up, and let it all hang out.
make no bones about To be outspoken, to deal with someone directly and openly; to go along with, to acquiesce without raising any objections. Variants of this expression appeared in print as early as the 15th century. A number of theories have been suggested to explain its origin, the most plausible being that it grew out of the literal find bones in, referring to the bones in soup which are an obstacle to its being safely swallowed. Thus find bones in became make bones about, meaning ‘to scruple, to raise objections, or to offer opposition’
Do you think that the Government or the Opposition would make any bones about accepting the seat if he offered it to them? (William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Pendennis, 1850)
Currently the expression is heard almost exclusively in the negative.
On the other hand, Dr. Libby makes no bones about the catastrophe of a nuclear war. (Bulletin Atomic Science, September, 1955)
naked truth Plain, unadorned truth; unvarnished truth. According to an ancient fable, two goddesses, Truth and Falsehood, were bathing. Falsehood came out of the water first and adorned herself in Truth’s clothes. Truth, not wishing to wear the trappings of Falsehood, decided to go naked. Thus the expression.
point blank Direct, straightforward, explicit; blunt, frank, unmincing. In ballistics, a weapon fired point-blank is one whose sights are aimed directly at a nearby target so that the projectile travels in a flat trajectory to its destination. By extension, then, a point-blank comment, question, accusation, etc., is one which is direct and to the point, one which does not mince words.
This is point-blank treason against my sovereign authority. (Samuel Foote, The Lame Lover, 1770)
skin the bear at once To come straight to the point, to waste no time getting down to brass tacks.
But now, to skin the bar at once, can you give me and five other gentlemen employment? (The New Orleans Picayune, September, 1844)
This U.S. colloquialism, the opposite of to beat around the bush, refers to the skinning of an animal immediately after it is slain because the hide is more easily removed then.
speak by the card To express one-self in a clear and concise manner; to carefully select one’s words; to speak honestly. This expression appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us. (V, i)
This phrase refers to a compass card, on which every point has its own precise and unambiguous designation.
I speak by the card in order to avoid entanglement of words. (Benjamin Jowett, Plato, 1875)
straight from the shoulder Frankly; candidly; truthfully; directly. This expression originated as a boxing term for the delivering of a direct, full-force punch. Today, the phrase retains its figurative meaning of the voicing of a forthright, unembellished comment.
A man that talks old-fashioned American Democracy straight from the shoulder. (R. D. Saunders, Colonel Todhunter, 1911)
talk turkey To speak frankly or plainly, to talk seriously and straightforwardly, to get to the point.
Let’s talk turkey about this threat to your welfare. (Florida Grower, February, 1950)
Legend has it that an American Indian and a white man out hunting together bagged a turkey and a crow. When the time came to split the catch, the white man said, “You may have your choice, you take the crow and I’ll take the turkey, or if you’d rather, I’ll take the turkey and you take the crow”; whereupon the Indian replied “Ugh! you no talk turkey to me a bit.” Although this bit of etymological folklore should be taken with a massive dose of salt, it does serve to point out the importance of the turkey as food and therefore as serious business, a fact which may have given rise to the expression as it is used today.
warts and all With no attempt to conceal blemishes, weaknesses, failings, vices, foibles, etc. Portrait painters, particularly those commissioned by the powerful and prideful, were wont to depict their subjects in a favorable and flattering light. In doing so, they frequently completed canvases bearing but slight resemblance to the original, their artist’s scalpel having excised warts, moles, scars, and other such blemishes; they also smoothed wrinkles, straightened bones, and otherwise played the plastic surgeon. The phrase warts and all has come to describe a visual or verbal portrait which aims at a realistic picture of its subject by presenting his “ugly” as well as his commendable side. According to William Safire’s Political Dictionary (1978), the British statesman Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) is reputed to have directed his portraitist:
Use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not to flatter me … remark all those roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me; otherwise I will never pay one farthing for it.
Occasionally the phrase is extended to intangibles such as plans, intentions, etc., when liabilities as well as assets are clearly communicated.