get the lead out


  1. Chemistry. a heavy, comparatively soft, malleable, bluish-gray metal, sometimes found in its natural state but usually combined as a sulfide, especially in galena. Symbol: Pb; atomic weight: 207.19; atomic number: 82; specific gravity: 11.34 at 20°C.
  2. something made of this metal or of one of its alloys.
  3. a plummet or mass of lead suspended by a line, as for taking soundings.
  4. bullets collectively; shot.
  5. black lead or graphite.
  6. a small stick of graphite, as used in pencils.
  7. Also leading. Printing. a thin strip of type metal or brass less than type-high, used for increasing the space between lines of type.
  8. a grooved bar of lead or came in which sections of glass are set, as in stained-glass windows.
  9. leads, British. a roof, especially one that is shallow or flat, covered with lead.
  10. white lead.

verb (used with object)

  1. to cover, line, weight, treat, or impregnate with lead or one of its compounds.
  2. Printing. to insert leads between the lines of.
  3. to fix (window glass) in position with leads.


  1. made of or containing lead: a lead pipe; a lead compound.
  1. get the lead out, Slang. to move or work faster; hurry up.
  2. heave the lead, Nautical. to take a sounding with a lead.
  3. go over like a lead balloon, Slang. to fail to arouse interest, enthusiasm, or support.

verb leads, leading or led (lɛd)

  1. to show the way to (an individual or a group) by going with or aheadlead the party into the garden
  2. to guide or be guided by holding, pulling, etche led the horse by its reins
  3. (tr) to cause to act, feel, think, or behave in a certain way; induce; influencehe led me to believe that he would go
  4. (tr) to phrase a question to (a witness) that tends to suggest the desired answer
  5. (when intr, foll by to) (of a road, route, etc) to serve as the means of reaching a place
  6. (tr) to go ahead so as to indicate (esp in the phrase lead the way)
  7. to guide, control, or directto lead an army
  8. (tr) to direct the course of or conduct (water, a rope or wire, etc) along or as if along a channel
  9. to initiate the action of (something); have the principal part in (something)to lead a discussion
  10. to go at the head of or have the top position in (something)he leads his class in geography
  11. (intr foll by with) to have as the first or principal itemthe newspaper led with the royal birth
  12. music
    1. Britishto play first violin in (an orchestra)
    2. (intr)(of an instrument or voice) to be assigned an important entry in a piece of music
  13. to direct and guide (one’s partner) in a dance
  14. (tr)
    1. to pass or spendI lead a miserable life
    2. to cause to pass a life of a particular kindto lead a person a dog’s life
  15. (intr foll by to) to tend (to) or result (in)this will only lead to misery
  16. to initiate a round of cards by putting down (the first card) or to have the right to do thisshe led a diamond
  17. (tr) to aim at a point in front of (a moving target) in shooting, etc, in order to allow for the time of flight
  18. (intr) boxing to make an offensive blow, esp as one’s habitual attacking punchsouthpaws lead with their right
  19. lead astray to mislead so as to cause error or wrongdoing
  20. lead by the nose See nose (def. 12)


    1. the first, foremost, or most prominent place
    2. (as modifier)lead singer
  1. example, precedence, or leadershipthe class followed the teacher’s lead
  2. an advance or advantage held over othersthe runner had a lead of twenty yards
  3. anything that guides or directs; indication; clue
  4. another name for leash
  5. the act or prerogative of playing the first card in a round of cards or the card so played
  6. the principal role in a play, film, etc, or the person playing such a role
    1. the principal news story in a newspaperthe scandal was the lead in the papers
    2. the opening paragraph of a news story
    3. (as modifier)lead story
  7. music an important entry assigned to one part usually at the beginning of a movement or section
  8. a wire, cable, or other conductor for making an electrical connection
  9. boxing
    1. one’s habitual attacking punch
    2. a blow made with this
  10. nautical the direction in which a rope runs
  11. a deposit of metal or ore; lode
  12. the firing of a gun, missile, etc, ahead of a moving target to correct for the time of flight of the projectile


  1. a heavy toxic bluish-white metallic element that is highly malleable: occurs principally as galena and used in alloys, accumulators, cable sheaths, paints, and as a radiation shield. Symbol: Pb; atomic no: 82; atomic wt: 207.2; valency: 2 or 4; relative density: 11.35; melting pt: 327.502°C; boiling pt: 1750°CRelated adjectives: plumbic, plumbeous, plumbous
  2. a lead weight suspended on a line used to take soundings of the depth of water
  3. swing the lead to malinger or make up excuses
  4. lead weights or shot, as used in cartridges, fishing lines, etc
  5. a thin grooved strip of lead for holding small panes of glass or pieces of stained glass
  6. (plural)
    1. thin sheets or strips of lead used as a roof covering
    2. a flat or low-pitched roof covered with such sheets
  7. printing a thin strip of type metal used for spacing between lines of hot-metal typeCompare reglet (def. 2)
    1. graphite or a mixture containing graphite, clay, etc, used for drawing
    2. a thin stick of this material, esp the core of a pencil
  8. (modifier) of, consisting of, relating to, or containing lead
  9. go down like a lead balloon See balloon (def. 9)

verb (tr)

  1. to fill or treat with lead
  2. to surround, cover, or secure with lead or leads
  3. printing to space (type) by use of leads

c.1300, “action of leading,” from lead (v.1). Meaning “the front or leading place” is from 1560s. Johnson stigmatized it as “a low, despicable word.” Sense in card-playing is from 1742; in theater, from 1831; in journalism, from 1912; in jazz bands, from 1934.


early 15c., “to make of lead,” from lead (n.1). Meaning “to cover with lead” is from mid-15c. Related: Leaded (early 13c.); leading.


“to guide,” Old English lædan “cause to go with one, lead, guide, conduct, carry; sprout forth; bring forth, pass (one’s life),” causative of liðan “to travel,” from West Germanic *laidjan (cf. Old Saxon lithan, Old Norse liða “to go,” Old High German ga-lidan “to travel,” Gothic ga-leiþan “to go”), from PIE *leit- “to go forth.”

Meaning “to be in first place” is from late 14c. Sense in card playing is from 1670s. Related: Led; leading. Lead-off “commencement, beginning” attested from 1879; lead-in “introduction, opening” is from 1928.


heavy metal, Old English lead, from West Germanic *loudhom (cf. Old Frisian lad, Middle Dutch loot, Dutch lood “lead,” German Lot “weight, plummet”). The name and the skill in using the metal seem to have been borrowed from the Celts (cf. Old Irish luaide), probably from PIE root *plou(d)- “to flow.”

Figurative of heaviness since at least early 14c. Black lead was an old name for “graphite,” hence lead pencil (1680s) and the colloquial figurative phrase to have lead in one’s pencil “be possessed of (especially male sexual) vigor,” attested by 1902. Lead balloon “a failure,” American English slang, attested by 1957 (as a type of something heavy that can be kept up only with effort, from 1904). Lead-footed “slow” is from 1896; opposite sense of “fast” emerged 1940s in trucker’s jargon, from notion of a foot heavy on the gas pedal.


  1. A soft, ductile, heavy, bluish-gray metallic element that is extracted chiefly from galena. It is very durable and resistant to corrosion and is a poor conductor of electricity. Lead is used to make radiation shielding and containers for corrosive substances. It was once commonly used in pipes, solder, roofing, paint, and antiknock compounds in gasoline, but its use in these products has been curtailed because of its toxicity. Atomic number 82; atomic weight 207.2; melting point 327.5°C; boiling point 1,744°C; specific gravity 11.35; valence 2, 4. See Periodic Table. See Note at element.

Also, get the lead out of one’s feet or pants. Hurry up, move faster. For example, Get the lead out of your pants, kids, or we’ll be late, or, even more figuratively, Arthur is the slowest talker—he can’t seem to get the lead out and make his point. This expression implies that lead, the heaviest of the base metals, is preventing one from moving. [Slang; first half of 1900s]

In addition to the idioms beginning with lead

  • lead a chase
  • lead a dog’s life
  • lead a double life
  • lead by the nose
  • lead down the garden path
  • leading light
  • leading question
  • lead off
  • lead on
  • lead one to
  • lead the way
  • lead up the garden path
  • lead up to
  • lead with one’s chin

also see:

  • all roads lead to Rome
  • blind leading the blind
  • get the lead out of
  • go over (like a lead balloon)
  • put lead in one’s pencil
  • you can lead a horse to water
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