Having Fun with Idioms

Examples of idioms: bit the biscuit, pot calling the kettle black, a few fries short of a Happy Meal

As I get older and depression rots more of my brain, I’ve been having a hard time remembering whether sayings are real or if I’m making them up in my head. I feel particularly uncertain about idioms, and I turn to Google a lot because idioms aren’t logical; you either know them or you don’t.

A few fries short of a Happy Meal

There are a lot of variations on someone being not all there. Some make a bit of sense; for example, bright and sharp are both ways of saying smart, so it’s reasonable that someone might not be the brightest crayon in the box or the sharpest tool in the shed (and other variations using sharpest). Others are a bit more of leap, like a few cards short of a full deck, a few sandwiches short of a picnic, a few slices short of a loaf, the lights are on but nobody’s home, and his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.

A post on Amidst a Tangled Web has a whopping 252 variations of this. Some of my favourites:

  • The gates are down and the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.
  • The driveway doesn’t quite reach the road.
  • A few clowns short of a circus.
  • The cheese slid off his cracker.
  • Her biscuits aren’t quite baked.

Kicked the bucket

There are also various ways to refer to someone having died. There’s kicked the bucket, which may have originally had a literal connection to hanging. Bit the biscuit and bought the farm are more obscure. When someone bit the biscuit and bought the farm all at the same time, they might be dead as a doornail. If someone fell off the toilet, they may have cashed in their chips before they entered the homeland. They may also have popped their clogs to go shake hands with Elvis.

Bob’s your uncle

Bob actually is my uncle, but that’s beside the point. This may come from British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil appointing his nephew as Minister for Ireland in 1887, although who knows if that’s actually true. For those who aren’t familiar with this, it means “there you have it,” with a bit of an “easy-peasy” connotation (not that I know what peasy is other than a rhyme with easy).

Pot calling the kettle black

I have pots. I also have a kettle. Neither are black, but this saying presupposes that they are, and don’t realize that they’re calling the other what they themselves actually are.

Different kettle of fish

The pot may call the kettle black, but in a different kettle of fish, the fish go in the pot (kettle), and it’s a different pot from another pot of fish you had been talking about. I tend to switch this one up to “a whole different can of tuna.” I’m not sure where I picked that up from, but Google tells me I’m not the only one saying it.

All mouth and no trousers

I’m guessing this is British; it seems like something they would say. I would say all talk and no action, and I suppose the action is putting on one’s trousers. Or, perhaps, that person is pants at actually getting things done, which is definitely a British thing to say.

Pardon my French

Why this is said after using profanity, I have no idea. I swear like a fishwife (because apparently they swear a lot), and feel no need to pardon my lack of French or anything else.

My neck of the woods

I use this a fair bit. There’s some literal connection, as a neck can mean a narrow tract of land. I also live close to the woods, and there’s a road that runs through it, so works for me.

Best thing since sliced bread

I think we can all agree that the fresh-baked bread you can get at the bakery is better than the pre-sliced Wonderbread from the grocery store. Having to slice the bread myself isn’t such a big time commitment that it’s earth-shattering. But apparently, pre-sliced makes your life easy-peasy; you just bring it home from the store, and Bob’s your uncle.

Cat got your tongue?

My guinea pigs have cute little pink tongues. They’re not interested in mine. I have a feeling a cat wouldn’t be either.

Foreign idioms

English isn’t the only weird language. Here are a few foreign language idioms:

  • Stop ironing my head (Armenian for stop annoying me)
  • God bless you and may your mustache grow like brushwood (Mongolian, said to someone after they sneeze)
  • You can’t pluck feathers off a bald chicken (Dutch for it’s not gonna happen)
  • There’s no cow on the ice (Swedish for there’s no need to worry)
  • The hen sees the snake’s feet and the snake sees the hen’s boobs. (Thai for two people know each other’s secrets)
  • Balls on a swan (Croatian for something impossible)

Do you have any favourite idioms?

A few sources of inspiration for this post:

50 thoughts on “Having Fun with Idioms”

  1. I love idioms and other assorted slang that are commonly used but no one remembers why or where they came from – I’ve written about this numerous times – So fun! Lately I’ve been wondering why “All that and a bag of chips” went out of vogue…I just looked it up and it is supposed to indicate superiority but in usage it meant someone who thought highly of themselves, not a compliment. Hmmm

  2. Ashley Leia, Once in a blue moon, donkey ears in fact, cat gets my tongue (pardon my french), and a post comes along through thick and thin of my readings, which is the best thing since sliced bread and just a piece of cake in the hilarity department. Hilarious post Thanks for the laughs. 🤣

  3. “The cheese slid off his cracker” < That is just brilliant 😆😆😆 I’m still laughing. If only my crappy memory will retain this one so I can use it in future. It’ll be my new favourite.

    I’m a fan of some idioms, others not so much. They’re so well used and yet we very rarely know how and where they originated. I’d never heard of ‘Bob’s your uncle’ coming from 1887 in politics. My mum comes out with so many bizarre idioms from her childhood, some which her sadly now deceased brother used to say. He had a great sense of humour but I think he was taking the mickey by making a lot of these up and passing them off to his sister as popular idioms.

    All mouth and no trousers is something that’s said here, yes. It’s saying that someone’s ‘fall of hot air’, that they’ll talk the talk but not actually follow through and do anything.

    How would one use the Croation idiom, “Balls on a swan” in a sentence? “This work assignment is totally balls on a swan”? Or "There's balls on a swan if you think a politician will ever be truthful".

    These are great. I love the way language can be used so creatively like this and how certain expressions really take off and get cemented in society as a popular expression. xx

  4. I once had an idea for a comedy skit, which I never wrote, about “kicked the bucket” and other death euphemisms all happening in a literal way.

    All mouth and no trousers is British. “All fur coat and no knickers” sounds similar, but means someone is outwardly respectable, but not deep down.

    I have often wondered what the best thing before sliced bread was. Incidentally, sliced bread was briefly banned in the USA during World War II. No one seems to know why exactly, although it was probably something about wasting resources on slicing machines.

    1. “All fur coat and no knickers” sounds like it could be the start of a cheesy porno scene…

      I’ve wondered about sliced bread as well. Wikipedia says (without citation, so it may well be made up) says that sliced bread “was first sold in 1928, advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” So perhaps wrapped bread was the previous best thing?

  5. English is weird, lol. I use “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” even today…

    This was such a fun post, thank you Ashley! I’m reading this it’s 2:20 a.m. and laughed out loud… I hope I didn’t wake my mom in the next room. 😂

  6. 375ml, that’s rather specific. I’m not sure where taking the mickey came from either, but you’ve heard of “taking the piss”, right? Same idea. I’d personally rather take hard liquor than piss myself.

    1. Me too…

      375 mL is half the size of a 750 ml bottle, which we call a 26er or a 2-6 even though it’s 750 ml rather than exactly 26 oz. Not to be confused with a 2-4, which is a box of 24 beer. Not to be confused with a 2 by 4, which is a piece of lumber.

  7. That was really fun Ashley, I love everything word related! It’s so interesting to think about how these came about.

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