53 Old Idioms: Useful Idioms From The Past

Some idioms have endured the test of time, still as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. Their ability to succinctly convey complex ideas with a few choice words is unmatched, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the minds and lives of our ancestors. Encountering old idioms is like finding treasures in the attic; each one has a story to tell, a lesson to impart, or a chuckle to share.

By journeying into the world of these expressions, we not only pay homage to their legacy but also enrich our own mastery of the English language.

What Are Old Idioms?

Old idioms are phrases that have been passed down through generations, typically originating hundreds of years ago. These expressions encapsulate wisdom, cultural norms, or observations in a figurative manner, which means their meanings are not immediately clear from the words themselves.

53 Old Idioms: Useful Idioms From The Past Pin

Examples of Old Idioms

  • “A stitch in time saves nine” implies that dealing with a problem promptly prevents it from worsening.
  • “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” warns against planning based on assumptions.


  1. Figurative Meaning: Their meanings are not literal but convey deeper insights.
  2. Cultural Significance: They often reflect the values and beliefs of the society they originated from.
  3. Historical Persistence: They remain in use despite changes in language and society.
  4. Linguistic Color: They add vividness to our conversations.

These idioms not only survive the test of time but also connect us with our history, culture, and shared experiences. While language evolves, these sayings remind us of the past and continue to be relevant in our modern communication.

List of Old Idioms

Idioms Meaning and Example Sentence
A penny for your thoughts A way of asking what someone is thinking.

Example: A penny for your thoughts, John. You’ve been unusually quiet today.

An arm and a leg Very expensive or costly.

Example: That car cost me an arm and a leg.

At the drop of a hat Without any hesitation; instantly.

Example: She’s always ready to help at the drop of a hat.

The ball is in your court It is up to you to make the next decision or step.

Example: Now that I’ve offered the deal, the ball is in your court.

Barking up the wrong tree Looking in the wrong place or accusing the wrong person.

Example: I think you’re barking up the wrong tree with your theory.

Bite the bullet To endure a painful or unpleasant situation that is unavoidable.

Example: I hate going to the dentist, but I’ll just have to bite the bullet.

Break the ice To initiate a social conversation or interaction.

Example: At the party, I told a joke to break the ice.

Burn the midnight oil To work late into the night, alluding to the time before electric lighting.

Example: I have to burn the midnight oil to finish this project.

Caught between two stools When someone finds it difficult to choose between two alternatives.

Example: I was caught between two stools when I had to pick one of the job offers.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch Don’t rely on it until you’re sure of it.

Example: We might get a bonus at Christmas, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Every cloud has a silver lining Every difficult or sad situation has a comforting or more hopeful aspect, even though this may not be immediately apparent.

Example: After the team lost the game, their coach told them to remember that every cloud has a silver lining.

Hit the nail on the head Describe exactly what is causing a situation or problem.

Example: You hit the nail on the head when you said the problem was the lack of communication.

Kick the bucket To die.

Example: I hope it’s many years before I kick the bucket.

Let the cat out of the bag To reveal a secret, usually unintentionally.

Example: I was trying to keep the party a secret, but Jane let the cat out of the bag.

Make a long story short Tell something briefly.

Example: To make a long story short, we got lost, missed the movie, and ended up eating fast food instead.

Miss the boat To miss an opportunity.

Example: I was too slow to invest in the startup, and now that it’s successful, I feel like I’ve missed the boat.

Once in a blue moon Something that happens very rarely.

Example: I only see him once in a blue moon; he rarely comes to our events.

Out of the frying pan into the fire To go from a difficult situation to a worse one.

Example: After he broke up with Sue, he dated Marie and went out of the frying pan into the fire.

Spill the beans To disclose a secret.

Example: After much coaxing, he finally spilled the beans about their surprise party.

Take the bull by the horns To confront a problem head-on.

Example: When the negotiations were failing, she took the bull by the horns and made a new proposal.

The whole nine yards Everything is possible or available.

Example: For my 30th birthday, I want the party to have the whole nine yards, a DJ, a buffet, and a photo booth!

You can’t judge a book by its cover Not to judge someone or something based solely on appearance.

Example: I thought this no-brand bread would be stale, but you really can’t judge a book by its cover; it’s delicious!

A stitch in time saves nine Taking care of problems before they become worse will save time and resources.

Example: A stitch in time saves nine, so I repaired the small hole in my shirt immediately.

Bite off more than you can chew To take on a task that is way too big.

Example: He bit off more than he could chew when he agreed to manage three projects at the same time.

Cross that bridge when you come to it Deal with a problem if and when it becomes necessary, not before.

Example: Let’s not worry about that issue now; we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Cry over spilt milk To be upset about things that have already happened and cannot be changed.

Example: There’s no use crying over spilt milk; what’s done is done.

Cut to the chase To get to the point without wasting time.

Example: I’m in a hurry, so could you cut to the chase and tell me what you want?

Hit the hay To go to bed.

Example: It’s been a long day, so I’m going to hit the hay.

It’s raining cats and dogs It’s raining very hard.

Example: You should wait to leave until the storm lets up; it’s raining cats and dogs out there!

Jump on the bandwagon To join a popular activity or trend.

Example: When I saw how much fun everyone was having, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and try skiing too.

Let sleeping dogs lie To avoid bringing up an old problem.

Example: It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie and not bring up our past disagreements.

More than meets the eye There is more to something than it first appears.

Example: This case seems simple, but there is more than meets the eye.

Not playing with a full deck Someone who lacks intelligence.

Example: He says such strange things; I sometimes wonder if he’s not playing with a full deck.

Old Idioms by Topics

Weather Idioms

Save for a rainy day

  • To reserve something, usually money, for a time when it might be needed unexpectedly.
  • Even though he loves to spend money on gadgets, he makes sure to save for a rainy day.

Under the weather

  • Feeling ill or sick.
  • I won’t be coming to work today; I’m feeling a bit under the weather.

Chase rainbows

  • To pursue unrealistic or fanciful goals.
  • He’s always coming up with new schemes to get rich quickly, but I think he’s just chasing rainbows.

Every cloud has a silver lining

  • There is something good in every bad situation.
  • Even though I broke my leg, I got to read all the books I had on my shelf. I guess every cloud has a silver lining.

When it rains, it pours

  • Problems or difficulties tend to follow each other in rapid succession or to arrive all at the same time.
  • First, the car broke down, and then I lost my keys. It’s true what they say: when it rains, it pours.

Learn more: Weather Idioms

Time Idioms

In the nick of time

  • Just in time; at the last possible moment.
  • She submitted her assignment right in the nick of time.

Kill two birds with one stone

  • To accomplish two different tasks in a single action.
  • By studying on the treadmill, he managed to kill two birds with one stone.

Once in a blue moon

  • Something that happens very rarely.
  • I don’t usually eat out, but once in a blue moon, I’ll visit a nice restaurant.

Time flies when you’re having fun

  • Time seems to pass quickly when one is enjoying oneself.
  • I can’t believe the party is over already, time flies when you’re having fun!

Against the clock

  • Rushed and short on time to complete something.
  • We were working against the clock to finish the project before the deadline.

Discover more: Time Idioms

Money Idioms

Break the bank

  • To be very expensive or costly.
  • I’d love to buy a new car, but it might break the bank.

Put your money where your mouth is

  • To back up one’s words with action, often involving spending money.
  • If you really believe in this charity, you should put your money where your mouth is and make a donation.

A penny for your thoughts

  • A way of asking someone what they are thinking about.
  • You’ve been quiet all evening—a penny for your thoughts?

Money doesn’t grow on trees

  • Used to tell someone to be careful how much money they spend because there is only a limited amount.
  • I can’t afford to buy a new phone right now—money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.

Pay through the nose:

  • To pay a very high price for something, often more than it’s worth.
  • Since it was a last-minute ticket, I had to pay through the nose for it.

Explore more: Money Idioms

Love and Relationships Idioms

Wear your heart on your sleeve

  • To openly and freely express your emotions.
  • He’s always shared his feelings openly, happy to wear his heart on his sleeve.

Tie the knot

  • To get married.
  • After dating for five years, they finally decided to tie the knot.

A match made in heaven

  • A relationship in which the two people are great together or suit each other perfectly.
  • The way they look at each other, you can tell they’re a match made in heaven.

Mend fences

  • To improve or repair a relationship that has been damaged by an argument or disagreement.
  • I need to mend fences with my sister after our disagreement last week.

Kiss and make up

  • To reconcile and become friendly again after a fight or argument.
  • They argue frequently, but they always kiss and makeup quickly.

Find more: Love Idioms