Idioms in Depth: English Pig Idioms

pigA number of English pig idioms exist in no small part due to their colorful characters. As a result, these expressions are as varied as the creatures themselves but if you pay close attention you will be able to mind your p(ig)s and q’s!

As fat as a pig – fat, obese, or otherwise overweight

  • Henry VIII was as fat as a pig but had six wives in his lifetime – it’s cleary very good to be the king!

To (be like) cast(ing) pearls before swine – the squander or otherwise waste resources on an unappreciative person

* Going the extra mile for Jamie would be like casting pearls before swine – he won’t notice, much less appreciate it.

Note: This expression is variously rendered as a verb or a comparison (as above).

To go hog-wild – to behave in a savage or uncivilized way

  • Spring Break is a time when many college students go hog-wild while on vacation.

To go whole hog – to do everything possibility or to indulge in every luxury

  • We need secure this contract so we plan to go whole hog in our proposal.

OR

  • Since this is our only vacation this year we plan to go whole hog and try everything!

Note: The second definition has a meaning similar to another hog idiom: to live high on the hog. Both invoke the idea of extravagant indulgence.

In a pig`s eye – never

  • You want me to apologize for something I didn’t do? In a pig’s eye!

Note: The small size of a pig’s eye explains both the origin of this idiom and its meaning.

Piggy bank – a small container that (primarily) children use to hold money

  • My daughter heard that I needed to buy a new car so she brought me her piggy bank. It couldn’t have had more than a few dollars but it was absolutely adorable!

Note: Not all vessels that hold money are piggy banks; the stereotypical form is made of clay and shaped like its namesake.

(To Ride) piggyback– to be transported on someone’s back and shoulders.

  • When I was a little boy there was nothing I liked more than riding piggyback on my father`s shoulders.

If you haven’t had enough of our idioms series you can always find more on our dedicated idioms homepage.


Speak English Like an Australian: Common Australian Idioms

australiaIdioms are unique, fixed expressions that are natural for native speakers  but devilishly difficult to translate from one culture to another. In fact, in English many idioms are often unique to a country and following list of Common Australian Idioms should give you some insight into some of the most common idioms used Down Under.

To talk the legs off an iron pot
Someone who talks a lot or excessively.

  • My grandpa can talk the legs of an iron pot.

Note: ‘Talk the legs off an iron chair’ is also used and means that same thing.

To pull somone’s leg
To trick or to fool someone.

  • I don’t believe what you are saying. You’re pulling my leg!

Note: this is also a way of saying to someone that they are joking.

Piece of cake
Something that is easy to do.

  • That maths test was a piece of cake.

To spit the dummy
To throw a tantrum and lose one’s temper. Often accompanied with an outburst of anger. The phrase to ‘have a hissy fit’ is similar.

To feel under the weather
To say that someone is tired, weak, sick or unwell.

  • I am feeling under the weather. I cannot be bothered going to the gym to workout today.

To hit the nail on the head
To get something right or to do something very effectively and efficiently.

To speak of the devil
This phrase is said when someone appears just after you have been talking or speaking about the same person.

To hit the road
To leave, depart or to begin a journey.

  • We will be waking up early tomorrow, as we need to hit the road before sunrise.

Note: In Australia, it is common to say this as you depart on a journey, adventure or road trip.

Beat around the bush
When someone is talking and doesn’t get straight to the point.

  • Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want!

Note: The opposite expression is ‘to cut to the chase.’

Visit our Different Englishes page for extra practice!


Idioms in Depth: English Mouse Idioms

mouseRodents may not be the most popular creatures in the real world but they are definite VIPs in the world of common English expressions. Be they mice or rats (and lets be honest, there’s not much of a difference between the two), as the following examples prove, there are a lot of common English mouse idioms.

As quiet as a mouse – very quiet or introverted

  • Don’t worry, I’ll be as quiet as a mouse when I leave tomorrow. You won’t hear a thing.

To play cat and mouse with someone – to tease or manipulate someone

* Oh that Judy can be such a monster. She pretends to love Raymond but really she’s just playing cat and mouse with his heart.

Note: This idiom relates to the idea that cats like to play with their food (and thereby draw out the suffering).

To rat out (someone) – to betray (someone)

  • You can’t trust him! He would rat out his own mother!

Rat race – an expression used to describe a hectic lifestyle or situation

  • After years of the rat race on Wall Street my brother retired to a quiet farm upstate.

Note: This idiom is meant to suggest the frantic pace that is characteristic of rats in a maze,

To smell a rat – to be suspicious of, or otherwise sense that, something is wrong

  • I knew you couldn’t be trusted! I smelled a rat from the very beginning.

Note: This expression is very similar in meaning “to smell fishy” as both are related to their negative smell.

When the cat’s away, the mice will play – an expression used to describe a situation where unsupervised people cause problems

  • Of course they caused problems while you were out of town – when the cat’s away the mice will play.

If you have any doubts about these or any other English idioms, be sure to scurry over to our idioms main page!


Idioms in Depth: English Cat Idioms

catThe Egyptians may have treated cats like gods but the English language has granted them a different kind of immortality: idiomatic. Indeed, our feline friends have inspired dozens of English cat idioms over the years and it can be confusing to keep them straight. Hopefully these explanations will help you with your practice.

Cat gets one`s tongue – to be unable to speak (often because of shyness)

  • Mark really wanted to ask Amy to the movies but at the last minute the cat got his tongue and he could barely utter a word!

Note: This one can be hard to conjugate but it most frequently appears with the present perfect (“the cast has got his tongue”) when describing present actions.

A cat nap – a short, daytime sleep

  • Whew, I’m exhausted! I need a cat nap before we head back out.

A copycat – an imitator

  • Marsha is such a copycat! Every time I change my hairstyle she does the same thing within a week!

Curiosity killed the cat – used to describe (or warm someone about) a situation where too much curiousity caused big problems

  • No I don’t think you should ask your boss whether or not she got Botox during her last vacation. Remember, curiousity killed the cat.

Note: This idiom is used more as a reminder than as an active part of a sentence.

To let the cat out of the bag – to expose a secret

  • It was supposed to be a surprise party but Faith let the cat out of the bag and Tim knew all about it the day before.

To look like something the cat dragged in – to look worn out

  • After three days of camping in the rain Sonia and Lou both looked like

Not enough room to swing a cat – cramped

  • Despite the high price tag, Joan’s studio apartment was tiny. The location was great but there was not enough room to swing a cat.

To rain cats and dogs – to rain a lot

  • Normally we don’t get a lot of rain but last week it rained cats and dogs.

Catch up on any idioms you may have missed by visiting our idioms homepage.


Idioms in Depth: English Dog Idioms

dogDogs are known as Man’s best friend and, appropriately enough, they have inspired a fair number of common idioms. Practice with some of our favorite English dog idioms and you’ll be top dog (the best) in no time!

As sick as a dog – very sick

  • Last flu season I got as sick as a dog so this year I’m going to be more careful.

Note: Another, similar, idiom is “dog tired” which means extremely tired.

To bark up the wrong tree – to make a mistake or incorrect assumption

  • You are barking up the wrong tree if you think I am responsible for our big loss last week – I had nothing to do with it.

Dog-eat-dog – used to describe a ruthless or cutthroat environment

  • Their company is famous for the dog-eat-dog mentality it fosters among its employees.

Every dog has his day – everyone gets a chance in the long run

  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. After all, every dog has his day.

Note: It is possible to say its instead of his in this idiom (but hers would be nonstandard).

Fight like cats and dogs – to strongly disagree or otherwise argue with someone

  • My brother and I used to fight like cats and dogs when we were younger but now we’re great friends.

Go to the dogs – to deteriorate or worse

  • The neighborhood I grew up in used to be a great place for families but over the last few years it has really gone to the dogs.

In the doghouse – in trouble or disfavor

  • He was really in the doghouse after he fought with his wife’s family at Thanksgiving.

Note: This idiom suggests that disgraced people are kicked out of the main house and force to seek shelter with the dog.

To work like a dog – to work hard

  • At my last job we had to work like dogs just to make our sales quotas.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – it is hard for older people to adapt to new situations

  • Jim tries his best but he’s used to doing things the old-fashioned way. I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Visit our dedicated idioms homepage to find more idioms and extra practice!


Idioms in Depth: Idioms from Body Parts

body partsHead shoulders knees and toes, may go the nursery rhyme, but idioms cover everything in between. From top to bottom our bodies have inspired a number of common English idioms. Here are a few of our favorite idioms from body parts:

All ears – used to describe someone who is listening carefully

  • That sounds like a wonderful idea! Please go on; I’m all ears.

Behind someone’s back – without someone’s knowledge or permission

  • Rafael is always doing things behind his mother’s back; sooner or later it will catch up with him!

Break a leg – equivalent to “good luck!”

  • Break a leg at tonight’s big performance!

Note: It may seem counter-intuitive (and, well, it is) but this idiom gained popularity in the theater where superstitious performers were afraid of saying good luck. Fearing that such a wish would cause the opposite, they decided to say the opposite to hope for the best.

(by the) skin of one’s teeth – to succeed by a narrow margin

  • Our layover was only twenty minutes long but, fortunately, we made our connection by the skin of our teeth.

Note: You can’t blame English for this one – it actually comes from the Bible (the Book of Job) and was popularized by Shakespeare.

cold feet – nervous

  • Some grooms get cold feet on their wedding day but Michael was calm, cool, and collected.

Note: It is very uncommon to use this expression without the verbs “have” or “get” as in the example above.

head and shoulders above (something) – far in advance; superior

  • With this new distribution model we’ll be head and shoulders above the competition.

head start – an advantage

  • Because they received the instructions before we did, our rivals have a big head start.


If you are interested in practicing more idioms then you will definitely want to visit our idioms homepage!


Idioms in Depth: Idioms from the Body

human bodyEverything that goes up must come down, as they say, and while our last installment on idioms from the body concentrated on the positive, this one is a little more negative. Worry not, though: every cloud has a silver lining!

To cry your heart out – to sob uncontrollably; to cry a lot

  • Melanie did not get the scholarship she needed and spent the rest of the day crying her heart out.

To make one’s blood boil – to irritate, annoy, or infuriate

  • Our professor’s inconsistent grading style really makes my blood boil.

Note: This is a very figurative idiom which imagines that angry people get hotter (red in the face), thereby increasing their body temperature and making their “boil.”

To pull someone’s leg – to trick or tease someone (usually in a playful, not mean-spirited, way)

  • I was really worried when Mike told me we had an assignment due today in Math class but it turns out he was just pulling my leg.

Note: Playfulness matters here. If someone tricks you with malicious intent they are not pulling your leg!

To shake a leg – to go fast

  • Shake a leg! The movie starts in five minutes and we don’t want to be late.

Note: This expression is commonly (as above) used as an exclamation similar to hurry up, however it is possible to say something like

  • Let’s shake a leg – if we get there early we’ll get better seats.

To stick your neck out –to expose oneself to the possibility of failure; to take a risk

  • It was really brave of you to stick your neck out like that; most people would never consider starting their own business.

To wash one’s hands of something – to remove oneself from involvement or responsibility

  • You asked me for my advice but you don’t want to take it. That’s fine but I’m washing my hands of the whole situation.

If you are interested in more examples and some extra practice make sure to visit our idioms homepage.


Idioms in Depth: Idioms from Parts of Body

sweet toothAs John Mayer had it, “your body is a wonderland” and so it is not wonder than many common English idioms trace their origins to the human body. At the same time, however, you may be wondering what a lot of these expressions mean. Well, wonder no more! The following explanation should give you some insight into some of the most common idioms from parts of body.

To Have A Sweet Tooth – to especially enjoy sweet foods (e.g., cookies, cakes, ice cream)

  • My sister really has a sweet tooth – for her the question is not “should we have dessert?” but rather “what should we have for dessert?”

Note: The opposite idea – a salty (or better, savory) tooth does not exist. If you don’t have a sweet tooth it is best to simply say “you prefer savory foods.”

To let one’s hair down – to relax

  • I am really looking forward to my upcoming vacation to Cancun. It will really give me a chance to let my hair down.
  • to give/lend a hand, lend a hand

To play something by ear – to be able to play music without sheet music (i.e., from memory)

  • My Aunt is a very talented musician. Although she never studied music, she can play many popular songs by ear.

To get something off one’s chest – to speak freely about something that has been troubling you

  • Jane, do you have a minute? I really need to get something off my chest.

Note: While most idioms – as in to play something by ear, above – use the word “something” as a filler for a variety of words (e.g., song, tune, piece [of music]) – in the case of this idiom the “something” is a fixed part of the expression.

To see eye to eye – to agree, to have the same point of view

  • My best friend and I see eye to eye on most major issues.

Note: This idiom is very similar in meaning to the expression “to be on the same wavelength.”

Be sure to check our idioms homepage for more information on these and other idioms!