pick up

Idioms & Phrases

pick up

  1. Lift, take up by hand, as in Please pick up that book from the floor. [Early 1300s]

  2. Collect or gather, as in First they had to pick up the pieces of broken glass.

  3. Tidy, put in order, as in Let's pick up the bedroom, or I'm always picking up after Pat. [Mid-1800s]

  4. Take on passengers or freight, as in The bus picks up commuters at three stops.

  5. Acquire casually, get without great effort or by accident. For example, I picked up a nice coat at the sale, or She had no trouble picking up French. This usage is even extended to contracting diseases, as in I think I picked up the baby's cold. [Early 1500s]

  6. Claim, as in He picked up his laundry every Friday.

  7. Buy, as in Please pick up some wine at the store on your way home.

  8. pick up the bill or check or tab. Accept a charge in order to pay it, as in They always wait for us to pick up the tab. [Colloquial; mid-1900s]

  9. Increase speed or rate, as in The plane picked up speed, or The conductor told the strings to pick up the tempo.

  10. Gain, as in They picked up five yards on that pass play.

  11. Take into custody, apprehend, as in The police picked him up for burglary. [Colloquial; second half of 1800s]

  12. Make a casual acquaintance with, especially in anticipation of sexual relations, as in A stranger tried to pick her up at the bus station. [Slang; late 1800s]

  13. Come upon, find, detect, as in The dog picked up the scent, or They picked up two submarines on sonar, or I can't pick up that station on the car radio.

  14. Resume, as in Let's pick up the conversation after lunch.

  15. Improve or cause to improve in condition or activity, as in Sales picked up last fall, or He picked up quickly after he got home from the hospital, or A cup of coffee will pick you up. [1700s]

  16. Gather one's belongings, as in She just picked up and left him.

  17. pick oneself up. Recover from a fall or other mishap, as in Jim picked himself up and stood there waiting. [Mid-1800s] Also see the subsequent entries beginning with pick up.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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