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run foul of (someone or something)

To be in severe disagreement, trouble, or difficulty with someone or something; to be at odds with someone or something, especially due to disobeying rules or laws. Always look into the laws of any place you visit, or you may end up unwittingly running foul of the local police. Ms. Banks has run foul of this university for the last time. She is no longer welcome here!
See also: foul, of, run

cry foul

To protest against something that has happened. A: "How could you go through my things without asking?" B: "Oh, don't cry foul—I was just looking for my sweater and I found it. It's not a big deal." Dad cried foul when I forgot to put gas in his car after borrowing it.
See also: cry, foul

fall (a)foul

To become disliked or to come in conflict with due to one's actions, often resulting in further trouble or conflict. Used in the phrase "fall (a)foul of (someone or something)." Since you're new here, be careful not to fall afoul of Bill—he'll keep you off of every case if he's mad at you. I fell foul of the committee, and now, I'm not sure how to improve my reputation.
See also: fall

foul ball

In baseball, a ball that is hit past the foul line (and thus outside the playing field). I started to run as soon as I heard the bat hit the ball, but it turned out to be a foul ball, so I had to go back to second base.
See also: ball, foul

party foul

A jocular term for behavior that is inappropriate, irritating, or unacceptable at a party or other social event. Stop it! Taking handfuls of hors d'oeuvres is definitely a party foul. I can't believe I just spilled wine on the carpet—total party foul!
See also: foul, party

by fair means or foul

By any means necessary—moral or not. A: "But we're not allowed to submit more than one entry per person." B: "Oh, forget that—we are winning this contest by fair means or foul!"
See also: fair, foul, mean

fall (a)foul of someone or something

 and run (a)foul of someone or something
to get into a situation where one is opposed to someone or something; to get into trouble with someone or something. Dan fell afoul of the law at an early age. I hope that you will avoid falling afoul of the district manager. She can be a formidable enemy. I hope I don't run afoul of your sister. She doesn't like me.
See also: fall, foul, of

foul one's own nest

Fig. to harm one's own interests; to bring disadvantage upon oneself. (Alludes to a bird excreting into its own nest. See also It's an ill bird that fouls its own nest.) He tried to discredit a fellow senator with the president, but just succeeded in fouling his own nest. The boss really dislikes Mary. She certainly fouled her own nest when she spread those rumors about him.
See also: foul, nest, own

foul out (of something)

[for a basketball player] to be forced out of a game because of having too many fouls. The center fouled out in the first fifteen minutes. Two other players fouled out soon after.
See also: foul, out

foul play

illegal activity; bad practices. The police investigating the death suspect foul play. Each student got an A on the test, and the teacher imagined it was the result of foul play.
See also: foul, play

foul someone or something up

to cause disorder and confusion for someone or something; to tangle up someone or something; to mess someone or something up. Go away! Don't foul me up any more. You've fouled up my whole day. Watch out! You're going to foul up my kite strings.
See also: foul, up

foul up

to blunder; to mess up. Please don't foul up this time. The quarterback fouled up in the first quarter, and that lost us the game.
See also: foul, up

fouled up

messed up; ruined; tangled up. (Usually as fouled-up when attributive.) This is sure a fouled-up mess. You sure are fouled up, you know.
See also: foul, up

It's an ill bird that fouls its own nest.

Prov. Only a foolish or dishonorable person would bring dishonor to his or her self or his or her surroundings.; Only a bad person would ruin the place where he or she lives. (See also foul one's own nest.) I don't like my new neighbor. Not only does he never mow his lawn, he covers it with all kinds of trash. It's an ill bird that fouls its own nest.
See also: bird, foul, ill, nest, own

use foul language

Euph. to swear. There's no need to use foul language. When she gets angry, she tends to use foul language.
See also: foul, language, use

foul up

to make a mistake I'm sorry, I fouled up - I meant to send the last message just to Frank, not the whole group.
See also: foul, up

foul up something

also foul something up
1. to spoil something by making a mistake or doing something stupid It takes the same amount of time to do things right as to foul them up.
2. to damage a machine or system Too much aspirin can really foul up your stomach.
See also: foul, up

no harm, no foul

there is no problem if no serious damage was done In his excitement, he deleted all the files, but they were restored later from a backup copy - no harm, no foul.
Etymology: from the use of this phrase in basketball (a sport) to say that if an action that is against the rules has no effect on the results of the game, there should be no foul (punishment)
See also: foul

run afoul of somebody/something

(slightly formal)
to act in a way not allowed by rules or the law fall afoul of somebody/something Rodman ran afoul of the team's rules and was kept out of the next game. He ran afoul of his supervisor, who complained to the mayor about his work.
See also: afoul, of, run

by fair means or foul

if you try to achieve something by fair means or foul, you use any method you can to achieve it, even if it is not honest or fair He was determined to become senator, by fair means or foul.
See also: fair, foul, mean

fall foul of somebody

to upset someone, so that they do not like you and try to harm you Officials who fall foul of the mayor find themselves exiled to the most boring departments.
See also: fall, foul, of

fall foul of something

  (slightly formal)
to break a law or a rule, and often be punished If their market share grows too large, they will fall foul of anti-monopoly laws.
See also: fall, foul, of

foul play

1. actions which are not fair or honest A virus wiped out all our computer-held records. We suspect foul play on the part of an ex-employee.
2. murder It's not clear why the man drowned, but the police haven't ruled out foul play.
See fall foul of, fall foul of
See also: foul, play


someone who is foul-mouthed swears a lot He was foul-mouthed and violent.

foul one's nest

Also, foul one's own nest. Hurt one's own interests, as in With his constant complaints about his wife, he's only fouling his own nest. This metaphoric expression transfers a bird's soiling of its nest to human behavior. [Mid-1200s]
See also: foul, nest

foul play

Unfair or treacherous action, especially involving violence. For example, The police suspected he had met with foul play. This term originally was and still is applied to unfair conduct in a sport or game and was being used figuratively by the late 1500s. Shakespeare used it in The Tempest (1:2): "What foul play had we, that we came from thence?"
See also: foul, play

foul up

Blunder or cause to blunder; botch, ruin. For example, He's fouled up this report, but I think we can fix it, or Our plans were fouled up by the bad weather. This expression is widely believed to have originated as a euphemism for fuck up. [Colloquial; c. 1940]
See also: foul, up

run afoul of

Also, run foul of. Come into conflict with, as in If you keep parking illegally you'll run afoul of the police. This expression originated in the late 1600s, when it was applied to a vessel colliding or becoming entangled with another vessel, but at the same time it was transferred to non-nautical usage. Both senses remain current.
See also: afoul, of, run

foul out

1. Sports To be put out of a game for exceeding the number of permissible fouls: After committing his fifth foul, the center fouled out and walked off the court.
2. Baseball To strike out by hitting a fly ball that goes foul but is still caught: He fouled out on a pop fly near the dugout on the third base line.
See also: foul, out

foul up

1. To blunder because of mistakes or poor judgment: I've tried many times to pass this test, but this time I really fouled up.
2. To cause someone or something to blunder: The howling dogs distracted me and fouled up my concentration. The pain in my hand fouled me up and I couldn't aim my camera.
3. To clog or became entangled in something: The seaweed fouled up the propeller blades. The dangling cables fouled the machinery up, thereby causing the breakdown.
See also: foul, up

foul mouth

n. a person who uses obscene language habitually. Sally is turning into a real foul mouth.
See also: foul, mouth

foul up

1. in. to blunder; to mess up. The quarterback fouled up in the first quarter, and that lost us the game.
2. n. a blunder; an error. (Usually foul-up.) That was a fine foul-up! Is that your specialty?
See also: foul, up

fouled up

mod. messed up; ruined; tangled up. You sure are fouled up, you know.
See also: foul, up
References in periodicals archive ?
The final lines stress Babylon's solitude rather than her "pride / And foulness and besottedness" that open the poem: "Alas for her
In keeping with the tenets of Neoplatonism common in early modern England, "foul" precisely links Sycorax's physical foulness with her moral/spiritual foulness, in stark opposition to the manner in which Miranda's "external beauty mirror[s] her inward virtue" (Leininger:147-48).
With feet clogged with foulness, he is seen on the spoons, on the forks, on the butter, the sugar, the rim of the drinking vessel, the meat, the edge of the milk pitcher.
Every day the pub on Foulness Island in Essex shakes and rattles as heavy artillery starts blasting shells on to the mud flats in the Thames Estuary.
After a moment there arose to the engineer's nostrils first an intimation, like a new presence in the room, a somebody, then a foulness beyond the compass of smell.
I took this as a good sign at first, but as people started commenting on the foulness of my morning breath, I concluded that a trip to the torture chamber could no longer be avoided.
Lately publications started to appear in mass media [12, 13] about foulness of priorities of state program <<Titanium of Ukraine>> and program of development of ferrous metallurgy of Ukraine for the period up to 2010.
To illustrate the foulness of the sexual activity of which the children are charged, Sister Cote spits on the ground--an odd and uncanny image that suggests symbolic ejaculation.
nowhere is he more at ease, nowhere more sharply observant or more warmly sympathetic, than in scenes whose meanness might have disgusted, or whose moral foulness might have appalled.
Later in the chapter, Perry describes how Jack's putative father, the Scholarly Attorney, responds "foulness," and "All foulness," when Jack asks him whether Judge Irwin was ever broke.
During the night fly-tippers came to visit for a second time and left their foulness in my driveway.
When smokestacks belch foulness that besmirches the rain, when the great forests of the world are incinerated in order to serve up hamburgers, so is our best humanity consumed in a conflagration of triviality, stupidity and greed.
For the crime is aggravated first by reason of the person induced to such a crime; next by reason of the method by which such foulness is procured.
In fact, although the taste of toxins or repellent substances that various foods come packaged with, "is washed away to make the food edible, since their tastes mean foulness or danger, sophisticated preparation often retains some of the noxious substances.
Minging it was, packed with dead mice, piles of rubbish and a bath so disgusting that it rivalled that infamous Trainspotting bog for foulness.