7 famous idioms that relate to celebrities - from household name to one hit wonder

There are a few phrases which are often used to discuss famous faces - and not all are positive

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There are some phrases that are so well-used that, although on face value they do not make any sense, people know exactly what they mean. These are idioms. There are countless idioms which are used in the English language on a daily basis, many are themed around animals and food and drink, and some are just funny or even have sinister meanings.

There are, however, also a number of idioms which are used to describe celebrities, which highlights how much society loves to talk about famous faces, although not all of them are positive. Here are seven of the best examples of such phrases. Take a read and see how many you use yourself.

For even more interesting articles relating to language, be sure to check out our dedicated words and meanings page

A household name

Meaning: Someone who is well-known by the public. It’s another way of saying that someone is famous. A variation of this is “household word” which refers to a particular brand or company name rather than an individual.

Origin: Shakespeare used the term ‘household words’ in his 1958 play Henry V and used it to refer to familiar things. A line from the play is “Familiar in his mouth as household words”. The idiom made its way into general use in the 1850s thanks to a weekly magazine called Household Words which was edited by Charles Dickens.

A wearer of many hats

Meaning: A person who has many jobs, roles or skills. In the context of famous people, this is often used to refer to people who have more than one talent. For example, many people are actors and singers.

Origin: The expression dates back to the mid-19th century. Some believe it comes from a time when hats were given to certain professional people, and those who had different jobs literally wore different hats for different circumstances.

There are a few idioms which are often used to discuss famous faces - including thrust in to the limelight and golden girl or golden boy.There are a few idioms which are often used to discuss famous faces - including thrust in to the limelight and golden girl or golden boy.
There are a few idioms which are often used to discuss famous faces - including thrust in to the limelight and golden girl or golden boy.

One-hit wonder

Meaning: The phrase one-hit wonder can be used to refer to a person who is famous for one role, product, or piece of work, but hasn’t had any other roles, products or works of note in terms of the public attention it has received. The phrase can also refer to a viral piece of work which gains momentous success for the creator, often a song, but then any additional work from the artist is not as popular.

Origin: The phrase has been in use since the 20th century.  The earliest known use of the term one-hit wonder came in the American newspaper the Winnipeg paper in 1977, when the hugely successful group ABBA were described as not being a one hit wonder.

All washed up

Meaning: This idiom is used to refer to a famous person who is no longer successful, has become unpopular with the public and has little or no chance of any success in the future. Sometimes, this is related specifically to a person’s age, but this is not always the case.

Origin: The expression has been used from the 1920s, when it was used to describe actors who would wash their make-up off their face when they had finished performing. In time, it came to mean that someone had finished performing for all time and their career was over.

Thrust into the limelight or stepped away from the limelight

Meaning: Someone who is thrust into the limelight suddenly find themselves with lots of public attention, almost overnight, usually because of the high praise they have received for one role, product or piece of work. These people gain fame very quickly. At the opposite end of the scale, someone who has stepped away from the limelight is a famous person who has actively taken steps to keep out of the public eye. This may mean that they do not accept any more roles or release any new material.

Origin: The expression was first used in the 19th century, at a time when limelight was used to illuminate actors on the stage. This was an intense illumination which was created when a flame fed by oxygen and hydrogen was directed at a cylinder of quicklime (calcium oxide). If an actor literally stepped out of the limelight they could not be seen by the audience.

Mover and shaker

Meaning: A person who has a lot of power and influence. These people are not always celebrities but they often are.

Origin: The expression was coined by British poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy in his 1874 poem, Ode, hailing the work of musicians and poets. He wrote: “Yet we are the movers and shakers, Of the world for ever, it seems.” It gained popularity and became used more widely in the 1960s.

Golden boy or golden girl

Meaning: A golden boy or girl is someone who has a lot of success and popularity, often favoured and highly admired in their field of work, but this success is often short-lived. 

Origin: The origin of this phrase is unclear, but it is thought to have originated in the 20th century.

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