English is a language rich with colorful expressions and phrases that often leave non-native speakers scratching their heads in bewilderment. These weird idioms, born out of historical contexts, cultural references, and the natural evolution of language, add a layer of complexity and charm to the art of English communication.
Idioms especially have a way of injecting personality into our conversations, often with a twist of humor or unexpected logic. We use these phrases to convey more than just their literal meaning, and they can be a delightful puzzle for language learners.
What Are Weird Idioms?
We often use idiomatic expressions in our daily conversations without a second thought. These phrases, dubbed “weird idioms,” can seem nonsensical or humorous when taken literally. Yet, they carry meanings that have crystallized into the fabric of our language over time. Let’s look at a snapshot of what makes an idiom “weird” and share some fascinating examples.
- Bucket List: It has nothing to do with actual buckets but refers to a list of things we want to do before we “kick the bucket,” which is another idiom for dying.
- Spill the Beans: This doesn’t involve any actual beans; instead, it means to reveal a secret.
- Bite the Bullet: This idiom talks about enduring a painful experience, not literally biting on a piece of ammunition.
- Cat Got Your Tongue: It evokes the image of a cat catching a tongue, but it’s simply a playful way to ask someone why they’re silent.
Idioms are the quirks of languages that native speakers find endearing but can befuddle language learners. They emerge from historical events, cultural practices, or common experiences shared by a community and evolve into phrases that pack a punch of meaning in a few choice words.
List of Weird Idioms with Meanings and Examples
|Meaning and Example Sentence
|Cat got your tongue?
|Why are you not speaking?
Example: Why so silent? Has the cat got your tongue?
|Break a leg
|Good luck (often said to actors before they go on stage).
Example: You have your big performance tonight? Break a leg!
|Kick the bucket
Example: I was so shocked to hear that the old ranch horse finally kicked the bucket.
|Let the cat out of the bag
|To reveal a secret.
Example: He let the cat out of the bag about the surprise party.
|More holes than Swiss cheese
|Full of problems or flaws.
Example: Their plan has more holes than Swiss cheese.
|Not my cup of tea
|Not something one enjoys or prefers.
Example: Skydiving is not my cup of tea.
|Spill the beans
|To disclose a secret.
Example: Come on, spill the beans! What’s the big news?
|Bite the bullet
|To endure a painful experience.
Example: I hate going to the dentist, but I’ll just have to bite the bullet.
|Barking up the wrong tree
|To be mistaken or misguided.
Example: If you think I’m the one who broke the vase, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
|A different kettle of fish
|A completely different matter or issue.
Example: I can ride a bike, but a motorcycle is a different kettle of fish.
|Hit the nail on the head
|To describe exactly what is causing a situation.
Example: You hit the nail on the head when you said it’s about pride.
|When pigs fly
|Something that will never happen.
Example: He’ll clean his room when pigs fly.
|Go down the rabbit hole
|To enter into a situation or begin a process that is complex or chaotic.
Example: Researching this topic is like going down the rabbit hole.
|Burn the midnight oil
|To work late into the night.
Example: I have to burn the midnight oil to get this project done on time.
|Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
|Don’t make plans based on future events that might not happen.
Example: We might get a bonus this Christmas, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
|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.
|Pull someone’s leg
|To joke or tease someone.
Example: I was only pulling your leg; I’m not really moving to Mars.
|The pot calling the kettle black
|Accusing someone of a fault one has oneself.
Example: He’s accusing me of being lazy? That’s the pot calling the kettle black!
|A watched pot never boils
|Time feels longer when you’re waiting for something to happen.
Example: Stop checking your phone every minute—a watched pot never boils.
|Beat around the bush
|To avoid getting to the point.
Example: Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want.
|At the drop of a hat
|Without any hesitation; instantly.
Example: She’s always ready to travel at the drop of a hat.
|To have a cow
|To become extremely upset or angry.
Example: My mother is going to have a cow when she sees the broken vase.
|To put all your eggs in one basket
|To risk everything on a single venture.
Example: Investing all your money in one company is like putting all your eggs in one basket.
|To throw in the towel
|To give up; to quit.
Example: After several attempts to fix the leak, he threw in the towel and called a plumber.
|To have ants in one’s pants
|To be restless or unable to sit still.
Example: The kids have ants in their pants today; they just can’t seem to sit still.
|To kick the can down the road
|To postpone or avoid dealing with a problem.
Example: We can’t keep kicking the can down the road; we need to face this issue now.
|To let sleeping dogs lie
|To avoid bringing up an old problem or conflict.
Example: It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie and not bring up past arguments.
|To make a mountain out of a molehill
|To exaggerate a minor issue.
Example: She’s making a mountain out of a molehill; it was just a small mistake.
Weird Idioms by Topics
Wild goose chase
- Meaning: A futile search or pursuit.
- Example: Looking for a water source in the desert turned out to be a wild goose chase.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
- Meaning: Someone who pretends to be friendly or harmless but is actually hostile or dangerous.
- Example: Be wary of Dan—he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The elephant in the room
- Meaning: An obvious problem or difficult situation that people avoid discussing or acknowledging.
- Example: We need to address the elephant in the room: our declining sales figures.
The lion’s share
- Meaning: The largest part or most of something.
- Example: She did the lion’s share of the work on the project, so she deserves most of the credit.
To kill two birds with one stone
- Meaning: To achieve two aims with a single effort.
- Example: By studying on the train, I can enjoy the scenery and prepare for my exam—killing two birds with one stone.
Search more: Animal Idioms
Piece of cake
- Meaning: Something very easy to accomplish.
- Example: The math test was a piece of cake for Rachel, as she had studied hard.
Bite off more than you can chew
- Meaning: To take on a task that is too big or beyond one’s ability.
- Example: By accepting too many freelance jobs at once, he bit off more than he could chew.
- Meaning: To have a lot of tasks or responsibilities at a particular time.
- Example: I can’t take on another project right now; I’ve got a full plate.
In a pickle
- Meaning: To be in a difficult or tricky situation.
- Example: I’m in a pickle now because I accidentally double-booked my appointments.
Bread and butter
- Meaning: A person’s main source of income or livelihood; something that is routinely relied upon.
- Example: Graphic design is my bread and butter; it’s what I do best and what pays the bills.
Learn more: Food Idioms
Cost an arm and a leg
- Meaning: Extremely expensive.
- Example: The designer dress she wanted for prom cost an arm and a leg.
Pull someone’s leg
- Meaning: To joke or tease someone.
- Example: Don’t take him seriously; he’s just pulling your leg.
Give someone the cold shoulder
- Meaning: To intentionally ignore someone or treat them unfriendly.
- Example: After the argument, she gave him the cold shoulder for a week.
Keep your chin up
- Meaning: To stay positive and not to despair in a difficult situation.
- Example: I know times are tough right now, but keep your chin up; it’ll get better.
I’m all ears
- Meaning: You have my full attention; I’m listening intently.
- Example: You have a plan to save money? I’m all ears.
Discover more: Body Idioms
Keep it under your hat
- Meaning: To keep something secret.
- Example: I’ll tell you about my new invention, but you must keep it under your hat until I file the patent.
Wear your heart on your sleeve
- Meaning: To openly display or express your emotions.
- Example: She wears her heart on her sleeve, so you always know how she’s feeling.
Dressed to the nines
- Meaning: To be dressed very elegantly or formally.
- Example: They were dressed to the nines for the gala dinner.
Fit like a glove
- Meaning: To fit perfectly.
- Example: I love this dress; it fits like a glove.
Tighten your belt
- Meaning: To live on a smaller budget; to spend less money.
- Example: Since he lost his job, he’s had to tighten his belt.
Continue your search: Clothes Idioms
Last Updated on December 5, 2023
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