25 Idioms with Clean

By Mark Nichol

The adjective clean has many senses: “free from dirt, contamination or disease, or pollution,” “fair” or “pure,” “clear” or “legible,” “smooth,” “empty,” “complete” or “thorough,” “skillful,” “free of a claim or impediment,” and “free from corruption or from lasciviousness or obscenity”; it also refers to freedom from drug addiction or lack of possession of contraband such as drugs or weapons.

A variety of idioms that include the word have evolved:

1. clean (one’s) plate: eat all the food served

2. clean (someone’s) clock: beat or defeat soundly

3. clean as a whistle: pure or free of involvement in illegal activities

4. a clean bill of health: notification that a person or other entity is in good health or operating condition (from a report from a health official that all crew and passengers on a ship arriving in a port are free of illness)

5. clean break: abrupt and complete disassociation

6. clean code: well-written computer-programming code

7. clean conscience: absence of guilt or remorse (also “clear conscience”)

8. clean cut: tidy and well groomed

9. clean getaway: uninterrupted escape

10. clean house: rid an organization of corruption or inefficiency

11. clean (someone or something) out of: remove people or things

12. clean sheet: variant of “clean slate” (mostly used in British English); alternatively, said of an athlete or team that allows no goals (British English)

13. clean slate: a fresh chance or start (from the now-outmoded use of chalk on slate to record one’s debt at a tavern)

14. clean sweep: the winning of all competitions or prizes

15. clean the floor up (with someone): beat someone up

16. clean up: make something clean or proper, earn or win a lot of money, reform, or defeat

17. clean up (one’s) act: improve or reform

18. clean out: leave bare or empty, or take or deplete

19. come clean: be honest

20–21. have clean hands/keep (one’s) hands clean: be without guilt

22. keep (one’s) nose clean: stay out of trouble

23. make a clean breast of it: admit the truth

24. squeaky clean: completely clean or incorruptible

25. wipe the slate clean: give someone a fresh chance or start (see “clean slate”)

Also, the proverb “A new broom sweeps clean” means that someone new to a situation (such as a job) will make a concerted effort to impress others.

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4 Responses to “25 Idioms with Clean”

  • Jake Marek

    I’m sure it was a momentary lapse of attention, but the phrase “concerted effort” was misused in your last sentence:

    “…someone new to a situation (such as a job) will make a concerted effort to impress others.”

    A concerted effort requires the efforts of two or more parties working in concert, that is, together. It cannot be performed by one person only.

  • ApK

    Jake, sources disagree:

    http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2011/04/concerted.html

  • mister furkles

    concerted -> concentrated

    An automatic spell checker may autocorrect a typo of ‘concentrated’ to ‘concerted’. Aren’t they wonderful. I once mistyped inconvenience and wound up hoping my action hadn’t caused my second level any incontinence.

  • venqax

    I would bet that the phrase paraphrased as, “I will make a concerted effort” originates from a false equation with “concentrated”. But, grammatically it does pass, really, because of the notion of an individual “concerting”, as in arranging orchestration for a concert, his varied and multiple “efforts” and abilities to perform a task. IOW, the requirement of being plural is met by the plurality of things being “concerted” as opposed to multiple people doing the concerting. You can’t “conspire” by yourself, though, as some would have it. You have to draw the line somewhere. Or at least make a concerted effort to do so.

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