The English language is a funny one. There are lots of sayings that seem to make absolutely no sense whatsoever, but native English speakers use them in their everyday language. For example: An elephant in the room - what on earth does that mean? What room are we talking about? Plus, it has to be said, there are generally no elephants wandering around the UK. Idioms, or sayings, play a huge part in colloquial English language.
Here, we look at ten of the funniest idioms for people learning the English language.
1. The elephant in the room
Meaning: A huge and obvious problem that everyone avoids talking about.
There's an elephant in the room, but no one appears to notice it. Isn't it awkward?
This idiom came from a fable written in the early 1800s called The Inquisitive Man, where a man went to a museum and saw all the tiny things but did not see the big elephant in the room.
2. Hold your horses
Meaning: A way of telling someone to stop or slow down.
This expression can be found in Homer's The Iliad. Since then, there have been numerous uses, initially meaning to literally hold back your horses (presumably from charging into battle) but subsequently evolving into the figurative meaning quoted above.
3. Get your ducks in a row
Meaning: Get everything organised, straightened up and accounted for before starting an activity or project.
This phrase has a variety of origin legends, ranging from small ducklings following their mother in a neat little line to bowling pins, metal ducks in a shooting arcade, and a variety of other possibilities.
4. Running around like a headless chicken
Meaning: To scurry around doing lots of tasks in an inefficient and disorderly manner.
When a chicken has its head cut off, it runs around in a panic for a few seconds or so before it dies, which is where this rather morbid expression comes from.
5. Like a bull in a china shop
Meaning: Someone who is very careless in the way they move or behave. It is also used to refer to a clumsy manner of dealing with a delicate situation.
Note that here we are talking about fine bone china that is used to make cups, plates etc, rather than the country. In short, these items are referred to as just 'china'.
Think about what would happen when a bull is let loose in a china shop. It would be utter devastation and destruction, wouldn’t it?
6. The best thing since sliced bread
Meaning: Used to show one’s enthusiasm about a person, thing or idea; to hype up a certain thing as a great invention or innovation.
The introduction of a bread slicing machine in the 1920s was hailed as the greatest progressive stride in the baking industry. As a result, this phrase was invented and is now used to promote anything fresh, new and inventive.
7. To have a bone to pick with someone
Meaning: To have a reason to be annoyed with someone and want to talk to them about it.
This idiom, which alludes to dogs chewing on bones, is from the 16th century. Picking or fully cleaning a bone takes time; it involves a lot of biting and gnawing. So, if someone claims to have a bone to pick with you, brace yourself for an uncomfortable talk!
8. Everything but the kitchen sink
Meaning: Packing or taking almost everything imaginable, even things that are not necessary.
When you're not sure what to pack when going on a trip, so you pack almost everything just in case? You have taken everything but the kitchen sink.
9. Get up on the wrong side of the bed
Meaning: To begin the day in a bad mood.
Some days, we can wake up in a bad mood, for no apparent reason. It is said when this happens, you have woken up on the wrong side of the bed.
10. By the skin of your teeth
Meaning: To achieve something, but only just. Often used to describe something that almost failed.
For example - I escaped by the skin of my teeth (I almost didn't escape, but just managed it).
This idiom has origins in the Bible, in the book of Job:
‘My bone cleaveth to my skin and my flesh, and I escaped with the skin of my teeth’ (19:20).
And there you have it - ten of the funniest idioms in use in the English language. We hope you enjoyed finding out the meanings!
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