45 Idioms with “Roll”

By Mark Nichol

Roll, ultimately derived from the Latin noun rota, meaning “wheel,” is the basis of numerous idioms about movement, many of which are listed and defined below.

1. a rolling stone gathers no moss: a proverb meaning that one who remains active will not become complacent or hidebound

2–4. get rolling or get/start the ball rolling: get started

5. heads will roll: said in reference to a reckoning, such as a mass firing at a business, alluding to decapitations such as those that occurred during executions by guillotine after the French Revolution

6. let it roll: an exhortation to make something move or allow it to move

7. let the good times roll: an expression perhaps originating with (and directly translated from) the Cajun French saying “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” associated with Mardi Gras

8–9. let’s rock and roll/roll: slang exhorting others to join in starting an endeavor

10. on a roll: a reference to being on a lucky streak

11. ready to roll: prepared

12. roll along: a reference to smooth operation

13. roll around: slang for “arrive or occur again,” as in the case of an anniversary

14–15. roll back/rollback: return to a previous state; an act of returning to a previous state

16–17. roll back the clock/years: a reference to going back in time

18. roll by: move past, as in a reference to the passage of years

19. roll call: reading of a roster of names to determine who is present in a group

20. roll (one’s) eyes: a reference to the expression one makes to signal annoyance, derision, or disbelief

21. roll in: appear or arrive, especially in large amounts or numbers

22. roll in the hay: a euphemism for sex, from the notion of a pile of hay in a barn being used in lieu of a bed

23. roll off the tongue: a reference to how easily or awkwardly a word, phrase, or expression can be spoken depending on the juxtaposition of consonants and vowels

24–25. roll out/rollout: introduce something, such as a product; an act of introducing something

26. roll out the red carpet: a reference to providing an elegant experience, from the association with red carpets set out at the entrance to an exclusive event

27. roll out the welcome mat: show friendliness and hospitality

28–29. roll over/rollover: reinvest; a reinvestment

30. roll over and play dead: idiom related to surrendering or to feigning death

31. roll over in (one’s) grave: a reference to how a revered deceased person would be agitated if he or she were to become reanimated and be aware of how something associated with that person has supposedly become degraded (spin is sometimes used as an intensifier of “roll over”)

32. roll the bones/dice: a reference specifically to casting dice in the gambling game of craps or in general to taking one’s chances

33. roll up (one’s) sleeves: a reference to preparing to work hard, from the notion of protecting shirtsleeves from materials that may damage or soil them or of ensuring that they do not get caught in machinery

34. roll up in: slang referring to someone approaching in a distinctive vehicle (one that is described subsequent to the phrase) and coming to a stop

35. roll up the sidewalks: a jocular reference to the lack of nightlife in small towns, with the notion that sidewalks are put away at a certain time each night because there is no longer any foot traffic

36. roll with it: said as advice to someone to accept, and perhaps take advantage of, a situation

37. roll with the punches: adjust to difficulties, from boxing slang for moving as a punch is delivered toward one to minimize the impact

38. rolled into one: a reference to something having multiple purposes or uses

39–41. rolling in dough/it/money: said of someone wealthy

42. rolling in the aisles: said in reference to something extremely amusing, from the notion that audience members at a performance are laughing to the extent that they fall out of their seats and tumble into the aisles

43–44. rolling on the floor/rolling on the floor laughing my ass off: a reference, usually abbreviated ROTFL/ROTFLMAO, to one being so amused that one falls to the floor and rolls around, laughing helplessly; the latter phrase is an intensifier

45. rolling stone: a restless or itinerant person

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12 Responses to “45 Idioms with “Roll””

  • Steve Campbell

    I believe the origin of “rollout” (24-25) is the introduction of a new aircraft, when it is literally rolled out of the hanger for the first time.

  • ApK

    Sometimes I don’t realize how often a word turns up until I see one of theses lists.

    For “On a roll” I would suggest that the streak does not need to be one of luck. It could be one of skill and and competence as well.
    “We’ve knocked out seven of our ten assignments already, we’re on a roll! Let finish it!”
    I actually prefer the connotation of being in the driver’s seat of that roll, rather than passenger in the hands of fortune.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree with “rollout” coming from the aeronautical industry.

    If it existed earlier than that, it might have been in railroading or in the automobile industry. A brand-new, shiny design of a locomotive could have been rolled out of the roundhouse for public display!

    Somehow it escapes you that these expressions usually began with literal meanings. “I’m on the rack today!” Maybe this one got started in the time of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, or in the time of Atilla the Hun.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I was imagining some kind of discussion such as the difference between a bedroll and a roll-bed. Also, there should be some mention of the fact that a “roll” is a item of food.
    There is also the odd confusion between “roll” and “row”.
    “We have a tough roll to hoe today,” versus the correct, “We have a tough row to hoe today,” and there are “We have a tough roll to whoe,” and “We have tough whoe to roll, today.”
    So many people have NO IDEA what it is all about to grow some plants to have something to eat. No idea!
    “Where do potatoes come from?” “From the supermarket!”
    “Where do bananas come from?” “From the supermarket!”, instead of “From Costa Rico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua!”

  • Dale A. Wood

    To “roll in the money”, something that often takes some effort, skill, and knowledge, just a “being on a roll,” as ApK said and I agree!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Correction: just AS “being on a roll,” as ApK said, and I agree!

  • thebluebird11

    @Steve Campbell: Hangar. Jus’ sayin’.
    @ApK: I would like to agree with you but somehow when I picture the phrase in my mind, it involves a pair of dice, which implies luck.

  • ApK

    @thebluebird11,
    That’s funny, I had pictured large, powerful vehicles moving unstoppably down a road. (“The Cassions go rolling along?”)
    Wonder what that says about our worldviews?
    But now I can’t get “Luck Be Lady Tonight” out of my head.

  • Dale A. Wood

    That pair of words is a difficult one: “hanger” & “hanger”. “Hangar” is a word in aeronautics that came from French, as did fuselage, empennage, nacelle. On the other hand, there are others that came from the good old English of the Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtis, Glenn Martin, Donald Douglas, & William Boeing:
    {wing, tail, rudder, cockpit, propeller, jet, motor, landing gear, airfield, airport}
    “Motor” is a perfectly good word in German, too, and in German, writers & speakers often use “Motor” where we would use “engine”. In aviation, they have often been interchangeable, such as in the Fokker Trimotor, the Ford Trimotor, the Douglas DC-3 twin-engined airliner, the Lockheed L-1011 three-engined airliner, and the Boeing-707 and Douglas DC-8 four-engined airliners.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Some dimwitted writer published that the last French contributions to the language of transportation were “garage” and “chauffeur”.
    That writer certainly did not know about the French contribution to aviation in empennage, fuselage, hangar, and nacelle, and in practical accomplishments like building and flying the first airplane to cross the English Channel (“Le Manche”), by Louis Bleriot in his personally designed and built airplane. (Bleriot went on to become a “big wheel” in the French aviation industry for decades after that.)
    By the way, one of the several copies of Bleriot’s monoplane (made from before 1910) is the world’s oldest airplane that is still in flyable condition.
    That is incredible!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Here is another French term in aviation: “parachute”, and by derivation from this one, “paratrooper” and
    “parasailing”
    Other terms from English in aviation {stick, joystick, rudder pedal, throttle, cradle (for steering the aircraft with), windshield, canopy, nose, nose wheel, tailwheel, runway, taxiway, tarmac, apron, turbocharger, jet engine, turbojet, turbofan, horizontal stabilizer, tailplane, flap, rotor (for helicopters), kerosene (called “paraffin” in British English), aviation gasoline or “avgas” (called “petrol” in British English)} .
    Technical words in aviation directly from Latin or Greek roots are sparse {aileron, aeronautics, aerodynamics, aviation, meteorology}.
    Give the French a lot of credit for getting some aviation terms into English!
    It is difficult to find any at all from Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, or Swedish.
    As we know, there are LOTs of words from Dutch in seafaring, and in other fields, scatterings of words in transportation & engineering from German (zeppelin, autobahn, Volkswagen, Porsche, Lufthansa), Italian (grand prix, Ferrari), Japanese (typhoon, tsunami), Russian (sputnik, tokomak, cosmodrome), and Saab – a Swedish acronym for the Swedish corporation that builds airplanes (like the Saab Viggen and Saab Gripon), and incidentally cars, too.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @ApK: “I had pictured large, powerful vehicles moving unstoppably down a road.” Yes! A steamroller! It has the word “roll” in it.
    Some compound words/phrases with the wonderful word “steam” in them have fallen onto hard times nowadays {steam engine, steamer, steam locomotive, steamroller, steamship, steam shovel, steam turbine}. I still love them, though I am not into reading and writing “steampunk” novels.
    Also, keep in mind that all nuclear submarines and nuclear-powered surface ships are really steamships. Their nuclear reactors produce steam, which then drives steam turbines, which then turn the shafts and propellers of the craft, and incidentally produce electricity, too.
    Nowadays, the U.S. Navy, and some other navies, have lots of frigates, destroyers, cruisers, and a few other warships, that are propelled by gas turbines. Those gas turbines are VERY similar to the ones used in the big aircraft: Boeing 747, Boeing 777, DC-10, KC-10, MD-11, C-5, C-17, L-1011, and some versions of Airbuses – gas turbine engines made by General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls Royce.
    I don’t know if anyone makes anything similar to these in France, Germany, or Russia.

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