Common Idioms – Topic : Authority and Control
1. be breathing down someone’s neck
If someone is breathing down your neck they are closely watching and checking everything that you do.
Most farmers have bank managers breathing down their necks, so have to give an economic reason for everything they do.
2. call the shots
If you call the shots you are the person who makes all the important decisions in an organization or situation. [INFORMAL]
NOTE: This may refer to someone shooting and saying which part of the target they intend to hit. Alternatively, it may refer to a snooker or pool player saying which ball they intend to hit or which pocket they intend to hit it into.
Is the military really the power behind the President now? Who really calls the shots?
3. get out of hand
If a situation gets out of hand it cannot be controlled any longer.
The two men had an argument that got out of hand and the police were called.
4. go over someone’s head
If you go over the head of someone in authority you communicate directly with someone in a higher position to try to get what you want.
He was criticized for trying to go over the heads of senior officers.
5. have someone eating out of your hand or have someone eating out of the palm of your hand
If you have someone eating out of your hand or have them eating out of the palm of your hand, they will do whatever you want because they like or admire you so much.
NOTE: The image here is of a wild animal that is tame enough to take food from a person’s hand.
No one can handle reporters like she can. She usually has them eating out of her hand by the time they leave.
6. in high places
People in high places are people who have power and influence in a group or society.
You do not succeed so quickly without having a few friends in high places.
7. a law unto yourself
If you describe a person or organization as a law unto themselves, you mean that they do what they want, ignoring laws, rules, or usual ways of doing things.
He does his work well but in his own way. He is truly a law unto himself.
8. on top of something
If you are on top of a task or situation you are dealing with it successfully.
The government does not seem on top of the situation.
NOTE: If you are beginning to deal with a task or situation successfully, you can say that you are getting on top of it.
We are getting on top of crime but there is still a lot to be done.
9. pass the buck
If you accuse someone of passing the buck you are accusing them of failing to take responsibility for a problem and of expecting someone else to deal with it instead.
His three commanders-in-chief were arguing and passing the buck to one another.
10. pull strings
If someone pulls strings to get something they want they get it by using their friendships with powerful people, often in a way which is unfair.
They felt that her father was pulling strings to advance her career.
11. put your foot down
If you put your foot down you tell someone forcefully that they must do something or that they must not do something.
Annabel went through a phase of saying: 7 can do my homework and watch TV at the same time’. Naturally I put my foot down.
12. twist someone around your little finger or wrap someone around your little finger
If you can twist someone around your little finger or wrap them around your little finger you can make them do anything you want them to.
Anna may not be the brightest person in the world but she knew exactly how to twist him around her little finger.
NOTE: You can use wind instead of twist or wrap and round instead of around.
I didn’t think there was a man in the world you were afraid of Christabel, or one you couldn’t wind round your finger.
13. twist someone’s arm
If you twist someone’s arm you try hard to persuade them to do something.
I had to twist their arms to get them to start working with me but once they did, it went well.
14. wear the trousers or wear the pants
If one person in a couple wears the trousers [BRITISH] or wears the pants [AMERICAN] they make all the important decisions.
NOTE: This expression is usually used about women who seem to control their husbands or partners.
She may give the impression that she wears the trousers but it’s actually Tim who makes all the big decisions.
My father said he wanted to discuss the investment with my mother, to which the salesman demanded, ‘Who wears the pants in your family?՛