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an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff

Something that is helpful only after one is already injured or in trouble. The idea is that, while an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff can help people who fall off the cliff, a fence at the top would be more beneficial. Services like this, which only help kids once they've gotten into significant trouble, are like an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff. Don't you think we should have preventative measures in place, rather than putting an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff? Sure, you can have an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff, but how much good will that do? Don't you want to stop people from going over the cliff?
See also: ambulance, an, bottom, cliff, of


1. An ending of a piece of fiction (e.g., a television episode, chapter of a book, a film, etc.) characterized by a dramatically suspenseful and uncertain end. A good summer book always has a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter so that you never want to put it down! Judging by that movie's cliffhanger, I'd say we'll be seeing a sequel coming out fairly soon.
2. A serial television or film production characterized by such endings. That show is a cliffhanger—the episodes never really have endings.
3. Any contest, competition, or other such situation in which the outcome is suspenseful and uncertain until the very end. The two teams have been neck and neck for the entire second half, and with two minutes left this match has become a real cliffhanger. This election is looking like a cliffhanger, and we won't be able to truly say who's won until all the votes are counted.

go over a/the cliff

To enter into a catastrophic decline from which someone or something will be unable to recover. Analysts are warning that the economy could go over a cliff if drastic financial measures aren't put in place immediately. The two countries are scrambling to put a trade agreement in place before they pass the December deadline and end up going over the cliff.
See also: cliff, go, over
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.


A situation whose outcome is in extremely suspenseful doubt until the last moment. The term comes from serialized adventure films popular in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, in which, at the end of each installment, the hero or heroine is left in a very dangerous situation, sometimes literally dangling from a cliff. The rationale, of course, was to entice the audience to return for the next installment in order to see what happened. By the 1940s the term was being transferred to other suspenseful states of affairs—for example, “the election was a cliff-hanger.”
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in periodicals archive ?
A collection was taken on the coaches to help pay Cliffy's funeral costs and NUFC fans managed to raise PS316 on their way to the game.
That Portuguese visitors explored High Cliffy Island where they discovered a deposit of chalcedony (white agate) and named the island after the colour of the mineral (pp.309-311).
I note a couple more whole cars hanging off the cliffy banks; I
They use their eyesight and long legs to avoid danger, and they stay on big open mountainsides rather than getting close to cliffy, broken terrain, probably to avoid ambushes by wolves and snow leopards, their principal natural enemies.
Twenty-one-year-old Wilson opens the Stratford attack with overseas player Wycliffe Deacon, commonly known as Cliffy.
A similar disjunction is represented by Scrophularia xylorrhiza, a perennial chasmophyte with a lignified basis, which grows in cliffy section of habitat 2 below peak l [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURES 23 & 24 OMITTED] and in the cliffs of Arbel, by the Sea of Galilee north of Tiberia, 265 km north of Nahal Elot.
(It is presumably not the ground that was consumed but the living things and artefacts on it.) Conversely the word for the precipitous, 'cliffy' coast of Norway is cludig [15.sub.23]; a town in India is set about with precipices cludum [72.sub.7] (not 'rocky' and 'rocks' as Bately translates); and in earthquakes cludas fall off mountains [135.sub.6].
We stopped to dine on an interesting high rocky island, soon after entering Matungamook Lake, securing our canoe to the cliffy shore.
"Cliffy did his best, but it was not good enough on the day."
Speke Argyle recorded a 15-6 win against Cliffy Hols and there was a win for San Marino in the Monday Championship.
MOURNERS attending the funeral of Newcastle United superfan Cliffy Ahmed have been asked to wear the club's colours.
Devoted husband of the late Jan, dearly loved dad of Sharon, Mandy, Paul and Shell, dear father-in-law of Rod, Claire and Cliffy, a very dear brother, brotherin-law and uncle and also a very special grandad and great-grandad who shall be deeply and sorely missed.
Others competing in this, the most competitive Historic category for cars built between 1968 and 1974 include Welsh duo Wayne Bonsor and Rich Aston in their Escort RS1600 and the similar cars of Lancastrians Mark Holmes and Tony Lindsay and Nuneaton's Simon Tysoe partnered by Cliffy Simmons of Coleford.