Idioms, sayings and proverbs are phrases or expressions that typically present a figurative, non-literal meaning attached to the phrase; but some phrases become figurative idioms while retaining the literal meaning of the phrase. Categorized as formulaic language, an idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. 

Though, they tend to regional or even generational, we are going to look at the most common American and British idioms. For more of colloquialism go here.

American Idioms Related to Animals

  • ants in your pants – can’t sit still
  • barking up the wrong tree – having the wrong impression of a person or situation
  • bats in the belfry  indicates that someone is behaving in an eccentric or less than sane manner
  • beef up – to strengthen something
  • eager beaver – someone who is very eager or excited to do something
  • earworm – thinking about a song or lyrics from a song over and over
  • elephant in the room – something that everyone in the room is aware of that probably needs to be addressed
  • for the birds – something that is silly, ridiculous or ludicrous
  • get your ducks in a row – make proper plans; get things in order
  • gets my goat – something that really bothers or annoys someone
  • hair of the dog that bit you – whatever caused you to be in the situation you’re in, go get more of that
  • hold your horses – slow down; stop and think about what you’re doing
  • on a fishing expedition – trying to get information out of someone without being fully aware of what you’re looking for
  • monkey business – silliness or goofing off; breaking the rules
  • plenty of fish in the sea – there are plenty of other dating prospects out there
  • put lipstick on a pig – if you dress up ugly, there’s still ugly underneath
  • quit cold turkey – to give up something all at once rather than gradually weaning off it
  • running around like a chicken with your head cut off – being confused, disorganized, or unsure of where to get started or what to do next
  • smell a rat – to get a sense that there is a problem with something
  • straight from the horse’s mouth – got information directly from the most knowledgeable source
  • to be a fly on the wall – to wish to witness what is going on without anyone being aware that you are there
  • zebras don’t change their stripes – don’t expect anyone to be anything other than who they really are

American Sports Idioms

Sports are massively popular in America, so it shouldn’t be surprising to find out that there are a ton of cool sports-related idioms.

  • behind the eight ball – in a difficult position
  • call the shots – to make the decisions; to decide what will be done
  • cheap shot – to take advantage of someone when they are down
  • dead ringer – a duplicate or double, something that looks just like another
  • down to the wire – completing or finishing something with no extra time remaining
  • drop the ball – to make a basic mistake
  • game plan – to put a plan in place; to decide how things should be handled
  • get the ball rolling – to begin or get started; to put things into motion
  • get ahead of the game – to have an advantage over others
  • get a kick out of it – to be amused by something
  • give it your best shot – try as hard as you possibly can; put forth your best effort
  • hit the mark – to find the perfect or ideal solution; to be in exactly the right place
  • hit below the belt – to capitalize on an opponent’s vulnerabilities in an unfair way
  • in the ballpark – close to a suitable amount or suggestion
  • know the score – be aware of all relevant factors and variables
  • make the cut – to be chosen, selected or included in something
  • Monday morning quarterback – someone who tries to call the shots after the action is already over
  • move the goalposts – to set your sights or standards even higher; to make something more challenging
  • out of your league – above or beyond what one is capable of attaining
  • political football – an issue that politicians argue in circles about or seek to use for their own political gain
  • skin in the game – having a vested interest in how something turns out
  • the ball is in your court – it’s your turn to act or respond
  • to go to bat – to speak out positively about someone or something with the intent of helping
  • to run interference – to try to remove obstacles that are in someone’s way; clearing the way for someone else
  • to take sides – to choose a team
  • toe the line – to stay within the acceptable boundary or limits

American Idioms About Body Parts

It’s a bit more surprising to learn that a lot of American idioms reference body parts than it is to find out just how many focus on sports terminology. Many of the most commonly used idioms reference anatomy in some way. Several options are listed below, and you’ll find even more in this list of common idioms using body parts.

  • apply some elbow grease – put some physical effort into what you’re doing
  • armed to the teeth – in possession of a lot of weapons
  • bare bones – a very basic model or version, with no extras or add-ons
  • bundle of nerves – very nervous or anxious about something
  • by the skin of your teeth – just barely
  • get it off your chest – share information about something that has been bothering you
  • give me a hand – please help or assist me with something
  • go behind one’s back – to sneak and do something without telling someone who should be aware
  • go belly up – go out of business; to lose everything
  • green thumb – to be good at gardening; having good skills or luck with growing flowers or vegetables
  • I’m all ears – the person is prepared and ready to listen to what you have to say
  • it’s like pulling teeth – something that requires a lot of effort
  • itchy feet – someone is getting restless; being ready to move on to the next activity
  • joined at the hip – people who seem to be together all the time
  • keep at arm’s length – to deliberately not let someone get too close
  • long in the tooth – old; of advanced years
  • need elbow room – to prefer to have plenty of space between you and other people
  • no skin off my nose – something isn’t going to affect you, so you don’t really care
  • pick your brain – to ask questions to find out someone’s thoughts or opinions on a topic
  • play it by ear – to move forward without a specific plan; to figure things out along the way
  • slap on the wrist – a minor caution against doing something rather than an actual punishment
  • stick your neck out – to take a chance on another person in a way that could impact your reputation
  • wet behind the ears – doesn’t have very much experience; isn’t very skilled
  • your neck of the woods – the general area where someone lives

List of common Idioms in English

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bushWhat you have is worth more than what you might have later
A blessing in disguisea good thing that seemed bad at first
A dime a dozenSomething common
A little learning is a dangerous thingPeople who don’t understand something fully are dangerous
A penny for your thoughtsTell me what you’re thinking
A penny saved is a penny earnedMoney you save today you can spend later
A perfect stormthe worst possible situation
A picture is worth 1000 wordsBetter to show than tell
A snowball effectEvents have momentum and build upon each other
A snowball’s chance in hellNo chance at all
A stitch in time saves nineFix the problem now because it will get worse later
A storm in a teacupA big fuss about a small problem
Actions speak louder than wordsBelieve what people do and not what they say
Add insult to injuryTo make a bad situation worse
An apple a day keeps the doctor awayApples are good for you
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cureYou can prevent a problem with little effort. Fixing it later is harder.
As right as rainPerfect
Barking up the wrong treeTo be mistaken, to be looking for solutions in the wrong place
Beat around the bushAvoid saying what you mean, usually because it is uncomfortable
Better late than neverBetter to arrive late than not to come at all
Birds of a feather flock togetherPeople who are alike are often friends (usually used negatively)
Bite off more than you can chewTake on a project that you cannot finish
Bite the bulletTo get something over with because it is inevitable
Bolt from the blueSomething that happened without warning
Break a legGood luck
Break the iceMake people feel more comfortable
Burn bridgesDestroy relationships
By the skin of your teethJust barely
Call it a dayStop working on something
Calm before the stormSomething bad is coming, but right now it’s calm
Come rain or shineNo matter what
Comparing apples to orangesComparing two things that cannot be compared
Costs an arm and a legVery expensive
Curiosity killed the catStop asking questions
Cut somebody some slackDon’t be so critical
Cut the mustardDo a good job
Cutting cornersDoing something poorly in order to save time or money
Do something at the drop of a hatDo something without having planned beforehand
Do unto others as you would have them do unto youTreat people fairly. Also known as “The Golden Rule”
Don’t beat a dead horseMove on, this subject is over
Don’t count your chickens before they hatchDon’t count on something good happening until it’s happened.
Don’t cry over spilt milkThere’s no reason to complain about something that can’t be fixed
Don’t give up your day jobYou’re not very good at this
Don’t put all your eggs in one basketWhat you’re doing is too risky
Easy does itSlow down
Every cloud has a silver liningGood things come after bad things
Every dog has his dayEveryone gets a chance at least once
Familiarity breeds contemptThe better you know someone the less you like him
Fit as a fiddleIn good health
Fortune favors the boldTake risks
Get a second windHave more energy after having been tired
Get a taste of your own medicineGet treated the way you’ve been treating others (negative)
Get out of handGet out of control
Get something out of your systemDo the thing you’ve been wanting to do so you can move on
Get wind of somethingHear news of something secret
Get your act togetherWork better or leave
Give someone the benefit of the doubtTrust what someone says
Give someone the cold shoulderIgnore someone
Go back to the drawing boardStart over
Go down in flamesFail spectacularly
Go on a wild goose chaseTo do something pointless
Good things come to those who waitBe patient
Hang in thereDon’t give up
Haste makes wasteYou’ll make mistakes if you rush through something
Have your head in the cloudsNot be concentrating
He has bigger fish to fryHe has bigger things to take care of than what we are talking about now
He who laughs last laughs loudestI’ll get you back for what you did
He’s a chip off the old blockThe son is like the father
He’s not playing with a full deckHe’s dumb
He’s off his rockerHe’s crazy
He’s sitting on the fenceHe can’t make up his mind
Hear something straight from the horse’s mouthHear something from the person involved
Hit the nail on the headGet something exactly right
Hit the sackGo to sleep
Ignorance is blissYou’re better off not knowing
It ain’t over till the fat lady singsThis isn’t over yet
It is a poor workman who blames his toolsIf you can’t do the job, don’t blame it on others
It is always darkest before the dawnThings are going to get better
It takes one to know oneYou’re just as bad as I am
It takes two to tangoOne person alone isn’t responsible. Both people are involved.
It’s a piece of cakeIt’s easy
It’s not rocket scienceIt’s not complicated
It’s raining cats and dogsIt’s raining hard
Jump on the bandwagonFollow a trend, do what everyone else is doing
Kill two birds with one stoneGet two things done with a single action
Know which way the wind is blowingUnderstand the situation (usually negative)
Leave no stone unturnedLook everywhere
Let sleeping dogs lieStop discussing an issue
Let someone off the hookTo not hold someone responsible for something
Let the cat out of the bagGive away a secret
Like riding a bicycleSomething you never forget how to do
Like two peas in a podThey’re always together
Live and learnI made a mistake
Look before you leapTake only calculated risks
Make a long story shortTell something briefly
Make hay while the sun shinesTake advantage of a good situation
Miss the boatIt’s too late
No pain, no gainYou have to work for what you want
On cloud nineVery happy
On the ballDoing a good job
On thin iceOn probation. If you make another mistake, there will be trouble.
Once bitten, twice shyYou’re more cautious when you’ve been hurt before
Once in a blue moonRarely
Out of the frying pan and into the fireThings are going from bad to worse
Play devil’s advocateTo argue the opposite, just for the sake of argument
Pull someone’s legTo joke with someone
Pull yourself togetherCalm down
Put something on icePut a project on hold
Rain on someone’s paradeTo spoil something
Run like the windRun fast
Saving for a rainy daySaving money for later
Shape up or ship outWork better or leave
Slow and steady wins the raceReliability is more important than speed
Snowed underBusy
So far so goodThings are going well so far
Speak of the devilThe person we were just talking about showed up!
Spill the beansGive away a secret
Take a rain checkPostpone a plan
Take it with a grain of saltDon’t take it too seriously
That ship has sailedIt’s too late
That’s the last strawMy patience has run out
The ball is in your courtIt’s your decision
The best of both worldsAn ideal situation
The best thing since sliced breadA really good invention
The devil is in the detailsIt looks good from a distance, but when you look closer, there are problems
The early bird gets the wormThe first people who arrive will get the best stuff
The elephant in the roomThe big issue, the problem people are avoiding
The pot calling the kettle blackSomeone criticizing someone else he is just as bad
The whole nine yardsEverything, all the way.
There are clouds on the horizonTrouble is coming
There are other fish in the seaIt’s ok to miss this opportunity. Others will arise.
There’s a method to his madnessHe seems crazy but actually he’s clever
There’s no such thing as a free lunchNothing is entirely free
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stonesPeople who are morally questionable shouldn’t criticize others
Through thick and thinIn good times and in bad times
Throw caution to the windTake a risk
Time flies when you’re having funYou don’t notice how long something lasts when it’s fun
Time is moneyWork quickly
To get bent out of shapeTo get upset
To make matters worseMake a problem worse
Under the weatherSick
Waste not, want notDon’t waste things and you’ll always have enough
We see eye to eyeWe agree
We’ll cross that bridge when we come to itLet’s not talk about that problem right now
Weather the stormGo through something difficult
Well begun is half doneGetting a good start is important
When it rains it poursEverything is going wrong at once
Wrap your head around somethingUnderstand something complicated
You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegarYou’ll get what you want by being nice
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drinkYou can’t force someone to make the right decision
You can say that againThat’s true, I agree
You can’t have your cake and eat it tooYou can’t have everything
You can’t judge a book by its coverThis person or thing may look bad, but it’s good inside
You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggsThere’s always a cost to doing something
You snooze you loseif you do not pay attention and do something quickly, someone else will do it instead of you:
Your guess is as good as mineI have no idea