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tickle the ivories

Play the piano, as in He went on tickling the ivories until three in the morning. This expression alludes to a piano's keys, traditionally made of ivory. [Colloquial; first half of 1900s]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.