Weird Things We Say

We English speakers say some strange things. Which of our expressions are most likely to get lost in translation?


As we prattle on, it’s easy to forget how many baffling idioms we use in our complicated language. What must those new to English think when we drop off-topic, nonsense words into otherwise sensible sentences?

It’s when we try to learn other languages and run into their word wonders – grief bacon? Did she say grief bacon? – that we better understand how confusing our own idioms can be.



The Bee’s Knees
That’s excellent. Top-notch.

Bite the bullet
Get yourself ready for a nasty undertaking.

Bob’s your uncle
And that’s that. That was easy.

Butter someone up
Use flattery to manipulate someone into doing what we want.

Cats pajamas
Also excellent, also top notch.

Chew the fat
Leisurely gossiping.

Couch potato
Sooo lazy.

Cut off his nose to spite his face
Ill-advised rash behaviour that will end up hurting him.

Don’t have a cow
Don’t freak out. Don’t get mad.



Eat crow
Admit you lost or made a mistake. Forced humility.

Elephant in the room
Something glaring that we’re not talking about.

Fat chance
Not likely.

Get down to brass tacks
Time to focus on key facts and important details.

Gets my goat
Makes me mad.

Goody two-shoes
Suspiciously prim. Annoyingly well-behaved.

Head over heels
Madly in love.

A horse of a different colour
Well that’s something just completely different.

I’ll be a monkey’s uncle
Surprise. Disbelief

In the black

Kick the bucket
Dying. Dead.

Knock ‘em dead
Have a great performance!



Let the cat out of the bag
Reveal a secret.

On cloud nine
Euphoric. Blissfully happy

Pay through the nose
Paying too much money for something.

A piece of cake
Laughably easy.

Quit cold turkey
Stop doing something addictive all at once.

Spin a yarn
Tell a story.

Stick in the mud
Dull. No fun.

Throw in the towel
Give up.

* There is much debate over where some of these phrases originated; we’ll explore some of the more traceable options in the future.


Header Photo: M. Storey
Photo 2: Jonas Koel
Photo 3: Nick Fewings





Making Mannequin Heads

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton