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!
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