20 Book Idioms in English with Meanings and Examples

In English, book-related idioms have turned the act of reading into a source of inventive expressions that color our everyday conversations. When we explore book idioms, we’re not just learning about language, we’re also uncovering the stories and traditions that have made books such an enduring part of our lives.

What Are Book Idioms?

We often encounter phrases that don’t seem to make literal sense. These are idioms—expressions where the meanings are not predictable from the usual meanings of their constituent elements. When we talk about book idioms, we’re referring to a special subset of these expressions that use the word ‘book’ as a central metaphor.

20 Book Idioms in English (with Meanings) Pin

Idioms related to books often draw on our common experiences with reading and literature. Here’s a brief guide to some of these idioms and what they mean:

  • An open book: a person who is easy to understand or know about.
  • A closed book: someone or something that is difficult to know or understand.
  • Book smart: having knowledge that comes from reading and studying rather than from practical experiences.
  • Bookworm: a person who loves to read and spends a lot of their time doing so.

List of Book Idioms With Meanings and Example Sentences

Idioms Meanings and Example Sentences
Hit the books To begin studying intensely.

Example: “I have to hit the books tonight; I have an exam tomorrow.”

Book smart Having knowledge obtained from reading and studying rather than practical experience.

Example: “She’s very book smart but lacks common sense.”

Cook the books To alter financial records with fraudulent intent.

Example: “The accountant was fired for cooking the books.

By the book To do things according to the rules or the law.

Example: “The new manager does everything by the book.”

Don’t judge a book by its cover To not judge something or someone based solely on appearance.

Example: “He may not look like a runner, but don’t judge a book by its cover; he’s actually very fast.”

Read someone like a book To understand someone’s thoughts and motives easily.

Example: “I can read him like a book; he’s going to fold his hand.”

Close the book on To stop doing something or considering it as an option.

Example: “It’s time to close the book on this project and move on.”

An open book A person who is easy to understand or has no secrets.

Example: “Her life is an open book; she has nothing to hide.”

In someone’s good books To be in favor with someone.

Example: “Ever since I helped her with the report, I’ve been in her good books.”

In my book In my opinion.

Example: “She may not be the most sociable person, but she’s very talented in my book.”

Throw the book at someone To punish or reprimand severely.

Example: “They caught him shoplifting, and the judge threw the book at him.”

Bookworm A person who enjoys reading and reads a lot.

Example: “He’s such a bookworm; you can always find him at the library.”

Balance the books To ensure that all money spent is accounted for.

Example: “It took me all night, but I finally managed to balance the books.

Every trick in the book Every possible deceitful or cunning strategy.

Example: “He’s used every trick in the book to get what he wants.”

A closed book A topic or person about which very little is known.

Example: “His past is a closed book to us; he never talks about it.”

Bring someone to book To punish someone or make them explain their actions because they have done something wrong.

Example: “The company was brought to book after the financial discrepancies were uncovered.”

Take a leaf out of someone’s book To imitate or follow the example of someone.

Example: “You should take a leaf out of his book and start arriving on time.”

The oldest trick in the book A well-known and often used tactic, especially to deceive someone.

Example: “Pretending to be sick to avoid work is the oldest trick in the book.

A book with seven seals Something completely incomprehensible or mysterious.

Example: “Quantum physics is a book with seven seals to me.”

Not be in someone’s book To be out of favor with someone.

Example: “After the argument, I’m not in his book anymore.”

One for the books An extraordinary event worth remembering.

Example: “That game was one for the books—what a comeback!”

Run by the book To operate according to the rules or a set of standards.

Example: “This school is run by the book.”

A turn-up for the books An unexpected event or surprise.

Example: “Her sudden resignation was a turn-up for the books.”

To speak volumes To provide a lot of information, often in an indirect way.

Example: “His silence on the matter speaks volumes.

Popular Book Idioms

Judging a Book by Its Cover

When we use the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” we’re tapping into a lesson that’s as relevant today as it was when it first appeared in the 19th century. It’s a reminder not to form a judgment based on superficial appearance. Books, after all, come in all sorts of jackets, but the true value lies within the pages.

What We Mean:

  • To look beyond the surface
  • Understanding depth over appearance
  • Recognizing that appearances can be deceiving

Where It Originated: It’s widely believed that this idiom was popularized by George Eliot‘s “The Mill on the Floss” in 1860. In literature and in life, we’ve seen many examples of how initial impressions can be misleading.

A Closed Book

We often use the expression “a closed book” to convey that there is limited knowledge about a particular subject or individual. It’s intriguing how we frequently resort to metaphors related to books when attempting to articulate our efforts to comprehend the world.

Examples in Use:

  • Referring to a person: “Despite working with him for years, he’s still a closed book to us.”
  • Speaking about a topic: “Quantum physics remains a closed book to most of us without a background in the subject.”

To Read Between the Lines

It’s not about looking at the literal blank spaces in a text; rather, we’re using a clever figure of speech. It means to understand the underlying meaning that isn’t directly stated or is implied.

Imagine a friend writes a cheerful message, but you notice a hint of sadness in their words; you’re reading between the lines to discern their actual emotions. Another common usage is in literature or journalism — authors often convey critical themes subtly, through subtext, which savvy readers detect by reading between the lines.

Examples in Use:

  • “He said he was fine, but he didn’t convince me.” Reading between the lines: He may be hiding his real feelings.
  • “The character kept glancing towards the door every few minutes.” Reading between the lines: The character might be expecting someone or is anxious about something.

An Open Book

Labeling a person as “an open book” suggests that they are remarkably transparent and candid about their emotions and thoughts. Their feelings and behaviors are not concealed, which renders them quite comprehensible. Their life narrative is akin to the content of an open book, readily available and visible to any curious observer.

Common use cases:

  • Describing transparency: When somebody doesn’t have secrets and is honest about their life, we might say, “Ask him any question; he’s an open book.”
  • Expressing surprise at candidness: If someone shares information freely, we often remark, “I thought he had a poker face, but he was truly an open book.”

To Be on the Same Page

When we say we’re “on the same page,” what we mean is that we are in complete agreement with one another, sharing the same understanding or perspective on a particular topic. It’s a wonderful feeling when a group of people, perhaps during a meeting or a discussion, finds common ground.

Common use cases:

  • In workplace settings: “Let’s all review the project plan to ensure we’re on the same page before the client meeting.”
  • Among friends planning an event: “We need to decide on the venue and music, so we’re all on the same page for the party.”
  • During family discussions: “It’s important that we’re on the same page about screen time rules for the kids.”

Take a Leaf out of Someone’s Book

The expression “taking a leaf out of someone’s book” is our way of acknowledging that we’re adopting someone else’s methods or strategies in life, in a metaphorical sense. It’s a complimentary nod, indicating our intention to imitate and absorb lessons from another person’s successful actions.

The phrase originates from the notion of “a leaf” as a page in a book, suggesting that one should metaphorically tear out a page from another person’s book (their way of doing things) and add it to their own, implying the incorporation of their strategies or attitudes into one’s own life.

For example, if a person is admired for their time management skills, a colleague might say, “I need to take a leaf out of John’s book and start organizing my schedule better.” Here, the colleague expresses the desire to learn from John’s approach to managing time more effectively.

The Oldest Trick in The Book

The phrase “the oldest trick in the book” brings to mind a tactic or ruse that is ancient, straightforward, and yet, astoundingly effective. It suggests that the ploy is widely recognized and should be easy to foresee, yet it continues to successfully deceive individuals despite its familiarity.

Common use cases:

  • In a misdirection play in sports.
  • During a negotiation, when one party feigns disinterest to get a better deal.
  • In a magic show, where the magician employs a classic sleight of hand.

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