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Idioms had phrasing that had figurative meaning often unrelated to the actual phrasing. By studying the etymology of an idiom, one could determine how it came to be used. (TNG: "All Good Things...")

The Leyron were known to communicate using gestural idioms. (VOY: "Macrocosm")

Artistic, economic, military, and nautical terms, as well as sports idioms often contained idioms.

Popular idioms Edit

Bad taste in (someone's) mouth Edit

Something that tastes so bad that it may cause nausea. (TOS: "The Naked Time"; DS9: "Field of Fire")

Between a rock and a hard place Edit

Referred to someone who was in a situation where they could choose between two alternatives, and neither of them were acceptable.

In 1986, Bob Briggs told Gillian Taylor, they were in such a position regarding the fate of George and Gracie, explaining "If we can't keep them here without risking their lives. We can't let them go without a taking the same chance." (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

Bird in a gilded cage Edit

To be a bird in a gilded cage was to live in luxury without freedom.

In 2268, Kirk described the crew of the USS Enterprise on the planet Mudd as birds in a gilded cage and asked how they could escape, to which Pavel Chekov replied that he had no ideas but that it was a very nice gilded cage. Kirk reminded everyone that despite it containing their deepest desires, it was a cage nonetheless and that they belonged back on the Enterprise. (TOS: "I, Mudd")

Black and white Edit

To be "black and white" was for something to be either one thing or another, with no in between. The term was also related to another idiom, "cut and dry", and was the opposite of "a shade of gray".

(A) black cloud hanging over your head Edit

A black cloud or dark cloud was an indication of a gloomy day, and anyone associated with a black cloud, especially one hanging over someone's head, was said to be having a bad day.

"It's like this big, black cloud with lots of thunder and lightning all around us."

"Just follow the black cloud"

"The only dark cloud I see around here is you."

"A black cloud hanging over (your) head"

Break the ice Edit

To "break the ice" meant to introduce conversation or small talk into an awkward situation.

  • In 2151, Captain Jonathan Archer called a planned dinner with Vulcan Captain Vanik, he described the event as a "good way to break the ice." (ENT: "Breaking the Ice")
  • In 2171, The Doctor changed his program so that he would no longer say "Please state the nature of the medical emergency" when activated. When Kes discovered that he changed it back, and asked why, The Doctor explained that "I became so uncomfortable trying to find new ways to break the ice, as it were, that I restored it. Let's just say it works for me." (VOY: "Tattoo")

Burning the midnight oil Edit

Referred to what one did when they stayed up late at night to work or study. (VOY: "Waking Moments", "Pathfinder")

In 2143, A.G. Robinson, who got to be the first Human to test the NX-Alpha test vehicle, told Jonathan Archer that he didn't get this assignment because he tried too hard, "burning the midnight oil" in the simulator eighteen to twenty hours a day. (ENT: "First Flight")

In 2376, Captain Kathryn Janeway, who was working very late one night in the mess hall, told Neelix that she was "just burning the midnight oil", to which Neelix replied that it was way past midnight. (VOY: "Fair Haven")

In an alternate timeline in 2364, Captain Jean-Luc Picard ordered Miles O'Brien to bypass the secondary plasma inducer, which required O'Brien to realign the entire power grid, stating "we're all going to be burning the midnight oil on this one." Data, who overheard O'Brien, told him that that would be inadvisable because any "attempt to ignite a petroleum product on this ship at 0:00 hours [would] activate the fire suppression system." (TNG: "All Good Things...")

Can't see the forest for the trees Edit

Referred to one was so caught up in small details that they were not able to see the bigger picture.

In 2373, Miles O'Brien felt he hadn't been able to see the forest for the trees when it was Rom who explained to him that the modifications that he had been making to equipment on Deep Space 9 on the orders of a Pah-wraith that had possessed his wife were designed to turn the station into a chroniton array aimed at the Bajoran wormhole, one which could kill the Prophets. (DS9: "The Assignment")

Cat and mouse Edit

In 2267, Spock described Trelane's repositioning of the planet Gothos so that it was always in front of the USS Enterprise's flight path as a "cat-and-mouse game," Kirk adding that they were the mouse. (TOS: "The Squire of Gothos") / (TOS: "Friday's Child"; TAS: "Once Upon a Planet"; VOY: "Equinox, Part II")

Caught with one's pants downEdit

Referring to being found in the act of doing something which left one in an embarrassing position.

In 2285, James T. Kirk characterized his having been trapped by Khan Noonien Singh as having been caught with his britches down, a fact he attributed to his own supposed senility. (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

In 2366, Geordi La Forge opined that Romulan defector Alidar Jarok was correct about Romulan activity at Nelvana III, and that the Romulans would indeed be caught with their pants down. Data, unfamiliar with the phrase, questioned what he meant, and La Forge explained. (TNG: "The Defector")

Caught with one's hand in the cookie jarEdit

Referring to being e accessing something that was not one's own.

In 2151, Trip Tucker had Hoshi Sato decrypt a message from the Vulcans and found it was a personal letter meant for T'Pol. When expressing his embarrassment at having inadvertently snooped on her private business, he said that he felt as though he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. (ENT: "Breaking the Ice")

Clean their chronometersEdit

Colonel West, while proposing Operation Retrieve, assured the Federation President that should the operation precipitate a full-scale war with the Klingon Empire, Starfleet could quite frankly "clean their chronometers." (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

Cold-blooded Edit

The term cold-blooded, in addition to its informal scientific meaning, was also applied to an individual who lacked emotion or was deliberately callous.

When Captain Jean-Luc Picard sheepishly approached Doctor Beverly Crusher following her arrival onboard the USS Enterprise-D to apologize for his conduct on the bridge when welcoming her aboard, he emphasized that "I didn't want you thinking me harsh. Cold-blooded." When asked why she would ever think that, he explained that, "I didn't welcome you aboard personally, professionally. I made you come to me on the bridge. I yelled at your son. Who, as you pointed out, was quite correct." (TNG: "Encounter at Farpoint")

When the USS Enterprise-D struck a quantum filament in 2368, and the ship was under the threat of a containment breach, Ensign Ro Laren suggested that should separate the saucer and get as far as they could from the drive section. Chief Miles O'Brien, however, felt that her suggestion was "damn cold-blooded," leaving all of those people in that section behind. Ro argued that ""there's no evidence that anyone is still alive in the drive section," but O'Brien argued back that, there was "no evidence they're dead, either. If you were trapped down there, would you like us to just cut you loose and leave?" (TNG: "Disaster")

During Gul Dukat's questioning of Captain Benjamin Sisko if he was among those that supported the post-Bajoran Occupation vilification, Sisko diplomatically replied, "I wasn't there during the occupation. I didn't see all the things you had to struggle with day after day. I don't think I can pass judgement." However, a hallucination of Kira Nerys told Dukat that, "he's just doesn't want to anger you. He really thinks you're a vicious, cold-blooded killer, Dukat, and so do I." (DS9: "Waltz")

Dining on ashesEdit

"Dining on ashes" was to excessively focus on past personal failures.

James Kirk asked if Spock was dining on ashes after finding him seemingly reflecting on the betrayal of Valeris. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

Dry spell Edit

A "dry spell" was a prolonged period without sexual activity.

After learning that Vulcans only mated once in seven years, Trip Tucker remarked that that was "a hell of a dry spell." (ENT: "Fallen Hero")

Everything but the kitchen sink Edit

"Everything but the kitchen sink", meant that almost everything possible was being used to make something work, or likewise present in a single location.

When the USS Enterprise was caught in Vaal's tractor beam, Montgomery Scott was "putting everything but the kitchen sink into impulse power" just to keep the ship from being pulled out of orbit. (TOS: "The Apple")

While trapped inside a graviton ellipse, Commander Chakotay took note of the variety of debris contained within, describing "asteroid fragments, pieces of vessels, matter from every quadrant of the galaxy. Next time I lose something I'll know where to look. Instead of a graviton ellipse we should call it the "kitchen sink" anomaly." (VOY: "One Small Step")

Falling on deaf earsEdit

"Falling on deaf ears" meant something that some believe should be heeded was not.

Weyoun once told Major Kira that her pleas to have Rom not executed for terrorism would fall on deaf ears. (DS9: "Favor the Bold")

In 2372, Neelix believed diplomatic negotiation with the Botha might fall on deaf ears. (VOY: "Persistence of Vision"

In 2374, The Doctor complained that his requests for a larger sickbay were falling on deaf ears. 'VOY: "Waking Moments")

For all the tea in China Edit

"For all the tea in China" meant something was so important to a person, he or she wouldn't exchange it for even the most precious things in the world.

In 1986, Gillian Taylor told time traveler Admiral James Kirk, when he explained to her that they wanted to bring George and Gracie to the 23rd century, and asked her if she was curious about the details, she said, "I wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China." (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

A genie from the bottle Edit

Have the hide of Edit

To have the hide of someone was to chastise someone severely.

In 2269, according to Dickerson, Captain Kirk promised to have the hide of the first man to smile or otherwise react with amusement to the appearance of President Abraham Lincoln on the Enterprise. (TOS: "The Savage Curtain")

Home sweet home Edit

I am who I am Edit

According to Tuvok, along with this saying, "It is impossible for me to be more or less like myself." (VOY: "Tuvix")

Also referenced in DS9: "Civil Defense", "Fascination".

I couldn't fill your shoes Edit

"I couldn't fill your shoes" was a Human idiom, describing one being in a bad situation, which the other person couldn't bear.

In 2286, Leonard McCoy told Spock, when he suffered from memory loss after being resurrected, "What I mean is I may have carried your soul, but I sure couldn't fill your shoes," to which Spock replied, "My shoes?" (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

IotaEdit

An indication of a very small, indefinite measurement. (DS9: "Melora"; VOY: "Twisted", "Sacred Ground")

Joined at the hip Edit

This term referred to people being so close to one another as to appear inseparable (physically or emotionally)

In 2369, Q described himself and Vash as "A team, joined together at the hip." (DS9: "Q-Less")

After being temporarily telepathically linked with Jean-Luc Picard on Kesprytt III in 2370, Beverly Crusher remarked that she was happy not to be joined to Picard's hip anymore. (TNG: "Attached")

In an alternate 2390, Harry Kim called Chakotay and his girlfriend Tessa Omond as close as to be joined at the hip. (VOY: "Timeless")

Keep it under your hat Edit

May God have mercy upon your soul Edit

"May God have mercy upon your soul" was a phrase used in some ancient Earth cultures upon sentencing a person to execution. It was used in that capacity during Worf's 2371 promotion ceremony, which included holodeck roleplaying on an sea vessel and involved him walking the plank. (Star Trek Generations)

A variant of the phrase, "May God have mercy on our souls," was used by Malcolm Reed to end his final log entry when stranded in Shuttlepod 1 and he believed there was no chance of rescue. (ENT: "Shuttlepod One")

Media circus Edit

"Media circus" was a Human idiom which described a news event where the coverage was out of proportion to the event itself.

In 1986, Gillian Taylor described to James T. Kirk the farewell ceremony for George and Gracie as a potential media circus. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

My mind's turned to clay Edit

This expression was used by Geordi La Forge in the running up to the battle of Wolf 359. (TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds")

Needle in a haystack Edit

"Needle in a haystack" was a Human idiom which described the long-lasting search for something in a large variety of possibilities.

In 2267, when searching for the Galileo, James Kirk remarked to High Commissioner Ferris, "Finding a needle in a haystack would be child's play." (TOS: " The Galileo Seven")

Later in the episode's script, just after Kirk decides to search Taurus II for the Galileo, Ferris disapprovingly commented, "You said something about a needle in a haystack. Useless..." and Kirk replied, "Not if you want your needle back."

In 2364, William Riker described searching Starfleet records for an instance of someone showering in their clothes as "like looking for a needle in a haystack." (TNG: "The Naked Now")

In 2369 while searching for the crash landed runabout USS Yangtzee Kiang in the Gamma Quadrant, Miles O'Brien compared the search with searching for a "bloody needle in a haystack." O'Brien and Jadzia Dax had to search several planets, two dozen moons, and an asteroid belt. (DS9: "Battle Lines")

In 2370, a Paradan replicant of O'Brien commented "Needle in a haystack wouldn't do this job justice" when searching for a fault in Deep Space 9's upper pylons. (DS9: "Whispers")

In 2373, Jadzia Dax said to Benjamin Sisko "Do the words 'needle in a haystack' mean anything to you," after the USS Defiant had spent two days unsuccessfully searching the Badlands for cloaked missiles appropriated by the Maquis for a strike against Cardassia. (DS9: "Blaze of Glory")

On a silver platterEdit

Referring to something that was offered to someone in a rather obvious manner.

  • In 2375, Neelix offered B'Elanna Torres the chance to insult his cooking by telling her to name her poison. After she missed that chance, he seemed disappointed, claiming he'd handed it to her on a silver platter. (VOY: "Extreme Risk")

One-way street Edit

Meaning: The term referred to an agreement made by two parties, but only one party benefits from.

When Captain James T. Kirk was explaining romantic relationships to Charlie Evans, he told him to take it slow, that it wasn't a "one-way street." (TOS: "Charlie X")

Over (my) dead bodyEdit

Meaning: "You'll have to kill me to make that happen." Used to emphasize that a person's deep desire that something not occur.

Penny for your thoughts Edit

"A penny for your thoughts" was a Human idiom, meaning that someone was curious about what the other person was thinking.

In 2368, Doctor Beverly Crusher used the expression when she wanted to get Jean-Luc Picard to talk to her during a conversation. When Picard asked her if she has one, she told him that the replicator probably has it on file. (TNG: "The Perfect Mate")

In 2369, when Q brought back Picard to the incident at Starbase Earhart in 2327, he told him (acting as a bartender): "Penny for your thoughts? You never told me you were such a lady's man," also jokingly referring to Picard's unsuccessful date with Penny Muroc. (TNG: "Tapestry")

In 2370, Crusher used the expression again, dining with Picard, after they shared thoughts for a time via the psi-wave device on Kesprytt III. (TNG: "Attached")

In 2257, Amanda Grayson spoke of a similar idiom, "Isik for your thoughts," which she described as a Vulcan, but was later revealed as something she heard her mother say. (DIS: "Despite Yourself", "Will You Take My Hand?")

Play our cards rightEdit

Referring to "if things go well."

Play possumEdit

Meaning: To feign death when an enemy approached.

  • In 2377, when Chakotay suggested the Hirogen might be laying a trap for Voyager, Kathryn Janeway dismissed the idea, saying that the Hirogen "aren't the type to play possum." (VOY: "Flesh and Blood")
Janeway uses the term incorrectly here, as it refers to an (o)possum's tendency to play dead in the hopes that an enemy will go away, rather than lying in wait to attack. [1]

Playing twenty questions Edit

Rather than playing an actual guessing game, this meant to make somebody ask questions rather than telling them directly what a problem or the answer was.

When Harry Kim claimed to be an American during the Hirogen simulation of World War II in 2374, Tom Paris became annoyed at the man's refusal to answer him, saying he didn't have time to play twenty questions. (VOY: "The Killing Game")

Kathryn Janeway told Neelix the same thing when he was less than forthcoming about the delicate issue of non-functioning lavatories on USS Voyager in 2375. (VOY: "Bride of Chaotica!")

The powers that be Edit

"The powers that be" was a phrase referring to a decision made by those in power, or the decision makers, without going into detail who those decision makers were (as it was not relevant to the story.)

In 2143, when Jonathan Archer and A.G. Robinson were attempting to take NX Alpha on a test flight, Archer informed A.G. of the good news that he had just gotten word from "the powers that be" that he was good to go for launch. (ENT: "First Flight")

In 2256, Saru explained that he had been assigned to the USS Discovery as first officer by "the powers that be" after the destruction of the USS Shenzhou. (DIS: "Context Is for Kings")

Preaching to the choir Edit

"Preaching to the choir" was a phrase used to describe someone who was trying to convince another who was already a believer.

In 2365, Phillipa Louvois told Bruce Maddox he was preaching to the choir when he attempted to explain the usefulness of having a Data aboard every starship. (TNG: "The Measure Of A Man")

Pull a rabbit out of (a) hat Edit

Pulling a rabbit out of a hat was a type of magic trick. Metaphorically, it referred to performing any amazing feat.

Julian Bashir once said, "Next time I'm going to pull a rabbit out of his ear" (DS9: "Rejoined")

Ezri Dax once said, "Now we get to pull a rabbit out of our hat." (DS9: "The Siege of AR-558")

Miles O'Brien once said, "Julian, it's time to face facts. You're not going to pull a rabbit out of your medkit." (DS9: "Tacking Into the Wind")

Chakotay once said, "What's your next trick, Harry. Pull a shuttlecraft out of a hat?" (VOY: "Favorite Son")

Put me out to pasture Edit

"Put (me) out to pasture" means to be forcibly retired.

In 2285, Captain Kirk lamented that "When they put me out to pasture, I hope I fare better than Korrd." This after learning that the formerly great Klingon General whose military strategies were studies at Starfleet Academy, to being posted at Nimbus III. (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)

The real McCoy Edit

"The real McCoy" described anything which was the genuine article in question, not merely a facsimile thereof.

In 2374, Vic Fontaine revealed to Odo that a new improved version of the "Lola Chrystal" hologram was in fact Kira Nerys, who the hologram's features were based on, and that the Changeling had been dancing with the real McCoy. (DS9: "His Way")

In 2375, "Boothby" classified Chakotay, unlike himself, to be "the real McCoy", (i.e. not a Species 8472 recreation of a Starfleet officer) and recommended "Valerie Archer" perform a genetic extraction in order to figure out a better way for members of Species 8472 to maintain a Human appearance. (VOY: "In the Flesh")

Rich beyond the dreams of avarice Edit

Doctor Leonard McCoy managed to convince Dr. Nichols to accept the formula for transparent aluminum as compensation for his services by saying that once he figured out the dynamics of the matrix (which would take years), he'd be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

Run off at the mouth Edit

An admission by Julian Bashir of something he tended to do that he confessed was "just a nervous habit." (DS9: "The Storyteller")

Sauce for the goose Edit

The Earth idiom "what's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander," was in part spoken by Spock following Saavik's notation that Khan Noonien Singh, aboard the USS Reliant was following the USS Enterprise into the Mutara Nebula. In response, Spock stated stated "sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik." (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

Shade of gray Edit

To have a "shade of gray" meant to not be clear what was right or wrong, or good and evil, but instead existed in a gray area. The term was the opposite of what it mean to be black and white.

  • Following Worf's transfer to Deep Space 9 in 2372, Captain Benjamin Sisko explained that "Starfleet officers often have trouble learning the unofficial rules of the station," as contrary to serving aboard the USS Enterprise-D, Worf "always knew who were my allies and who were my enemies." Sisko reiterated the discussion, adding, "Let's just say DS9 has more shades of gray. And Quark definitely is a shade of gray. He has his own set of rules and he follows them diligently. Once you understand them, you understand Quark. I'd say that's true for everyone here." (DS9: "Hippocratic Oath")
  • After Captain Sisko's time in captivity with Gul Dukat, following the destruction of the USS Honshu, he explained to Jadzia Dax that he always thought "sometimes life seems so complicated. Nothing is truly good or truly evil. Everything seems to be a shade of gray." However, recalling his experience, he continued, "And then you spend some time with a man like Dukat and you realize that there is really such a thing as truly evil." (DS9: "Waltz")

Short-sighted Edit

To be short-sighted described lack of imagination or foresight.

Sight for sore eyes Edit

Meaning: Something that was pleasing to look at.

  • In 2376, Harry Kim remarked that he would not want to bunk with the great explorers of the past. Tom Paris remarked that that would be a sight for sore eyes. (VOY: "Memorial")
  • Shortly thereafter, after making contact with Voyager again, Lyndsay Ballard remarked that Captain Janeway was a sight for sore eyes. (VOY: "Ashes to Ashes")
  • Later that year, the con artist Dala used the expression sarcastically upon seeing Tuvok. (VOY: "Live Fast and Prosper")
Furthermore, Captain Archer used the expression in a deleted scene from "The Expanse".

Stone knives and bearskins Edit

"Stone knives and bearskins" was a colorful term employed by Spock to describe the 1930s technology he was forced to use to construct a tricorder interface. Vital information was locked within Spock's tricorder: How had Leonard McCoy changed history? Spock was eventually able to construct an appropriate circuit, but retrieved two separate recordings: one in which Edith Keeler lived, and one in which she died. At that point, the improvised interface erupted in sparks and flame, ruining his chance to learn which of the recordings represented McCoy's alteration, and which the correct timeline. (TOS: "The City on the Edge of Forever")

Kathryn Janeway also used this expression when typing on a late 20th century computer keyboard trying to find out information about Henry Starling. (VOY: "Future's End")

That's life Edit

"C'est la vie" (French: "that's life") was a Human idiom, meaning bad things happen, it was the way of life.

In 2285, when Admiral James Kirk self-destructed the USS Enterprise, killing most of Kruge's Klingon crew on board, he told the commander on the surface of the Genesis Planet: "Sorry about your crew, but as we say on Earth, ...'c'est la vie.'" (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)

Geordi La Forge once explained to Data that for the particular situation he was experiencing, it turned out that way, because "that's life". (TNG: "Inheritance")

Tip of the iceberg Edit

Meaning: the first hint or revelation of something much larger or more complex.

Wash my hands of it Edit

Meaning: to avert a wrong decision, claiming that the person could not be held responsible for it.

The whole kit and caboodle Edit

Referring to the entirety of something.

Wild goose chase Edit

Meaning: an expression used to mean futile pursuit or search after something.

In a deleted scene from "Dramatis Personae", Jadzia Dax begins to recount a wild goose chase on Elanu IV, involving Curzon Dax and Benjamin Sisko.

With one's name on it Edit

Having one's name on something meant that the object in question belonged to or was reserved for them.

In 2372, Julian Bashir assured Odo that there was a Spitfire with his name on it in the hangar if he wanted to join the Battle of Britain holoprogram. Later, Joseph Sisko told his grandson there was a vat of crayfish that needed cleaning with his name on it. (DS9: "Homefront")

In 2375, Miles O'Brien told Janel Tigan he was not looking forward to seeing Captain Sisko again, as he had a boot with O'Brien's name on it. (DS9: "Prodigal Daughter")

In 2377, Reginald Barclay offered Deanna Troi a drink. When she declined, he tried to tempt her, saying he had a chocolate passion punch with her name on it. (VOY: "Inside Man")

Within (arm's) reach Edit

For something to be "within arm's reach," or simply to be "within reach," meant for it to be very close or achievable. (ENT: "Terra Nova", "These Are the Voyages..."; VOY: "Spirit Folk") Contrarily, for something to be "(just) out of reach," meant for it to be very close, but unattainable. (TOS: "Balance of Terror"; DS9: "Change of Heart"; VOY: "Non Sequitur", "One Small Step")

Jean-Luc Picard told Gul Macet that he knew that the Cardassian research station, located within arm's reach of three Federation sectors, was indeed a weapons depot, and that while recent events could have made things much worse than they already were, and that they should consider themselves warned. (TNG: "The Wounded")

Following USS Voyager's discovery of the extremely dangerous, but deuterium-rich, Planet Hell, Ensign Harry Kim reminded the senior staff of the meek alternatives to the ship's low deuterium crisis, offering the idiom rich, "What's the alternative? Resume course? Creep along at quarter impulse hoping we find fuel before we end up dead in the water? We've got deuterium within arm's reach. We can't let the opportunity slip away without at least trying." (VOY: "Demon")

Work (one's) side of the street Edit

To work (one's) side of the street was to take up another's line of work instead of one's own.

In 2266, after Kirk's successful handling of the situation with Harcourt Fenton Mudd, Eve McHuron, and Ben Childress, McCoy surmised Kirk must have talked them into rationality, asking if Kirk had ever thought of selling patent medicine. Kirk then quipped, "Why should I work your side of the street?" (TOS: "Mudd's Women")

See also Edit

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