10 Less Common English Idioms

Hi! I’m Mr Joshua, a teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. In one of my earlier posts, we looked at some obscure words in the English language. If you are keen to find out what they are, you can take a look at the post here. This time, I thought we’d take a little dive into the wonderful world of idioms! Idioms are great! They convey so much meaning and subtext without having to say too much.

However, the idioms that we are familiar with, we tend to use far too often – for instance, raining cats and dogs, better late than never, break a leg – that they have become overused and clichéd. Let’s spice things up a little by learning some new idioms to give our writing a little more flavour, and maybe even make our teachers go, “Whoa! I’ve never heard of such an expression before. How wonderful!”

So, let’s get cracking! Here are some of the English language’s more obscure idioms:

1. Bob’s your uncle

This is one of my favourites! It’s so uncommonly used, but it’s such a funny expression. Who’s Bob and how did he become my uncle? I have so many questions!

Definition: used to say that something is easy to do or use (Like the English version of ‘et voila!’, meaning ‘and there you have it!’)
Sentence example: After ladling the stew into the bowl, top it with some garnish and Bob’s your uncle!

2. All mouth and no trousers

We all know someone who’s all mouth and no trousers, don’t we? It’s like the drunk uncle at a wedding – everyone seems to have one!

Definition: to talk boastfully without any intention of acting on one’s words
Sentence example: Mr Jones is all mouth and no trousers; he’s promised to take us to the zoo for the last five years and we still haven’t gone!

3. Chew the fat

Definition: to talk to someone in an informal and friendly way
Sentence example: I haven’t seen you in ages! Let’s sit down and chew the fat.

4. The tail wagging the dog

Definition: used to describe a situation in which an important or powerful person, organisation etc. is being controlled by someone or something that is much less powerful or important.
Sentence example: Ever since the wealthy man’s son transferred to our school, it seems like the principal and teachers are doing everything to please him. It’s like the tail wagging the dog.

5. Pie in the sky

Who wouldn’t be keen on pies appearing in the sky? I’m imagining the gorgeous aroma of fresh pastry already!

Definition: something that you hope will happen but is very unlikely to happen
Sentence example: The news that my favourite actor was going to star in a new movie turned out to just be pie in the sky.

6. Buy the farm

Apparently, this idiom has its origins from the war in Europe, when planes that were gunned down would end up crashing into farms, causing the demise of the men who flew the planes.

Definition: to die, particularly in battle or in a plane crash
Sentence example: The mother was worried that if her son signed up for the air force, he would inevitably buy the farm if they ever go to war.

7. (Strictly) for the birds

Definition: meaningless and worthless; not to be taken seriously
Sentence example: Her opinion on art is for the birds; she is certainly no expert on the matter!

8. What’s that got to do with the price of __________?

The fun thing about this one is that you can fill in the blank with just about anything and it’ll still make sense. Onions, fish, tea in China are all common words you can use, for instance, what’s that got to do with the price of fish? This is because this idiom – primarily used in the UK – is used as a retort when someone makes an irrelevant suggestion.

Definition: a rhetorical question used in response to a statement that is not in line with the rest of the conversation
Sentence example: You’re thinking of taking up ballet? What’s that got to do with the price of onions? We were talking about the latest series on Netflix.

9. Throw the baby out with the bathwater

Definition: to lose valuable things or ideas in your attempt to get rid of what is not wanted
Sentence example: Don’t discard the charger of your old laptop, you may be able to use it with your new one. You don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

10. Upset the apple cart

Definition: to cause trouble, especially by spoiling someone’s plans
Sentence example: Mother’s gone through a lot of trouble to plan this surprise for your brother, so don’t upset the apple cart by telling him about this party!

There you have it: 10 idioms that aren’t so common, but still nonetheless wonderful! Just a word of caution – while it is fun to use these idioms in informal writing, such as including them in your dialogue when writing stories, do avoid using them in your formal writing, for example when you are writing a formal letter for a Situational Writing task. This is because in formal writing, you want to be as clear, direct and accurate as possible. Another good thing to remember is to use these idioms sparingly, so that your writing does not sound unoriginal or clichéd.

What other idioms do you know that are not commonly used? Share them with us in the comments section! See you in my next post!

banner toolkit sec

Don’t find yourself at a loss for words again, be Wordstruck!

What you can expect from our FREE Toolkit:

– Comprehensive Guide to all O Level Components

– Quick access to last minute revision tips required to ace the examinations!

– Watch free online pre-recorded videos and read detailed articles on essential topics such as:

Group 48 25 1
Mr. Joshua

Mr Joshua believes that learning does not happen in a vacuum and strives to bring the real world into the classroom. He enjoys telling stories and works hard to ensure his classroom is a welcoming environment in which all students are comfortable to share their thoughts and ideas – It’s fine to make mistakes as long as we learn from them. Mr Joshua has a passion for English Literature and encourages his students to read widely and write earnestly.

Have something to share? Drop us a comment below!

Leave a Reply


Other related posts

Creative Writing | 3 Easy Steps to Write Your Own Haiku!
Verbs: More than Just Action Words! | Part 3: Changes in Verb Forms
Ketchup on English! – is, are, was and were!
Audience In Visual Text | Visual Text Comprehension
Exploring Points of View (POV) in Composition Writing
Metaphors For? | Part II – Implied Metaphors
10 Beautiful Vivid Verbs to Boost Your Writing and Oral! | Primary School English
Metaphors For? | Part I – An Introduction to Metaphors
3 Family-Friendly Shows on Netflix (Educational & Entertaining)!
Verbs: More than Just Action Words! | Part 2: Tenses
2021 Father’s Day Contest Winners
Verbs: More than Just Action Words! | Part 1: Subject-Verb Agreement
10 Beautiful Words You Can Use in Narrative / Descriptive Writing | Secondary School
Ways To Create A Well-Rounded Character | Creative Writing
Understanding Purpose-Related Questions in Visual Text Comprehension
How Playing Video Games Can Improve Our English (With Practical Tips for Parents!)
Primary School Composition | Onomatopoeia – What’s That?
2021 Mother’s Day Contest Winners + Our Founder’s Journey (Mother’s Day Special)!
Composition Revision: Using Your 5 Senses in Your Writing
How to Create A Dynamic Piece of Writing Using Idioms
Ketchup on English! – Subject-Verb Agreement
Punctuation Marks: Colon Vs. Semicolon
4 steps to Create Suspense
That Simile Though 2 | Using Stronger Similes
How to Avoid Plot Holes in Your Story!
PSLE ORAL | Compiled Prelim 2021 Oral Topics + Questions!
If you’re looking at getting recent PSLE Prelim Oral topics and practice questions, this will be an excellent resource for you!
5 Steps to Convert a Newspaper Article into a Cloze Passage
I would like to share with you 5 steps on how authentic articles can be transformed into cloze passages easily. Read on here!
PSLE English | Oral Conversation: Free SG50 Sample Practice + Model Answers
In this blogpost we will be touching on the oral stimulus-based conversation topic of National Day and SG50! Read on here!
PSLE English | Oral Conversation: Filling your Story with Details Easily + Free Revision Cards
By simply using the 5W1H, your children will be able to lengthen their stories (hence, the conversation!). Read on here!
PSLE English | Situational Writing: Q&A + Formal vs Informal Writing Comparison Chart
To aid you in your situational writing revision, here is a comparison chart that shows the differences between formal and informal writing!
PSLE English Tips | Oral: Stimulus-Based Conversation Checklist
To help my children handle the Stimulus-Based Conversation examination, here are some instructions again about using the checklist!
A Little Encouragement | DIY Motivational Bookmark (Easy to personalise too!)
A bookmark with a quote to motivate is also a chance for them to see the power of words and how words can mean more than what they seem.
Situational Writing: Step-by-Step Guide + Free Revision Card
I believe a walkthrough on the process of doing situational writing is in order. Here are the requirements for content and language!
I Love Reading | 5 Ways to Motivate Reluctant Readers
One of the most important ingredients necessary for a child or anyone learning English is the habit of reading. Get motivated to read now!
PSLE English | Printable Ultimate Grammar & Synthesis Summary
Today, we are sharing two lists of essentials in our Ultimate Grammar and Synthesis Summary Printable. Download them free here!
How Well Do You Know Your Past Participles?
While we are familiar with the past, present and future tenses, the little less known but equally important tense is the past participles.
Primary Composition Writing | Starting Sentences with Introductory Clauses
Today, we'll be revising the use of sentence starters to help you create variety in your sentence structures. Read on here!
The Sentence Train | Lower Primary English
Today, we are going to learn what makes up a sentence. It will come in handy when you do the word order activity in school! Read on here!
PSLE English Tips | Oral: Reading Checklist
This Oral Reading Checklist can be used by children when they practise reading on their own. Download it now!
Language of COVID | 10 Words Added to the Dictionary
Using Personification to Show, Not Tell!
Expressing Character Feelings Too! | Using Show-Not-Tell (Part 2)
How to Choose a Book to Read: 8 Ways
How to Dress Up A Boring Paragraph | Creative Writing
Ketchup on English! – Halloween Special: Prepositions of Time!
Ketchup on English! – Verbs Are Not Just Action Words!
Expressing Character Feelings | Using Show-Not-Tell
Which Picture Should I Use? | Choosing the Best Picture to Use for Composition!
Oral: Reading Passage | Long Vowels – Have You Been Reading Your Vowels Correctly?

Like what you are reading?

Subscribe now to receive news and tips hot off the press!

shape icon 06
shape icon 05