10 English phrases and idioms we should bring back - from on your jollies to a storm in teacup
These expressions have fallen out of popular use, but we really wish they hadn’t
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New words and expressions are added to the English language every year, and as these new words come into common use it isn’t surprising that at the same time some fall out of use. This could possibly be because they are no longer relevant, and sometimes it is because they are replaced by an alternative, but it could also simply be because they are not as popular as they once were.
But just like fashion, language can come back around again. So, we’ve decided to take a look at 10 of the best old-fashioned phrases and idioms which we think still apply to modern life in the hope that they might come back into everyday use.
Enjoy looking through our list, and see how many of them you already know - and if you like what you read see if you can start using them again. To learn about even more idioms check out our specific words and meanings page where you’ll find articles such as the 10 funniest idioms, along with 12 idioms and phrases that young people and kids may not understand and 5 common idioms that mean the opposite of what you think.
A sight for sore eyes
Meaning: A person that someone is extremely pleased or relieved to see.
Origin: The first recorded use of this phrase was in a book called A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, also known simply as Polite Conversation, which was written by Jonathan Swift in 1738.
To go on your jollies
Meaning: To go on holiday.
Origin: It’s not clear exactly where this phrase originated from, but it used to be a widely used expression by people who were looking forward to going away.
There’s no accounting for taste
Meaning: This phrase is used by a person who wants to acknowledge that while everyone’s choices are different, they can not understand the choice someone else has made and disapproves of it.
Origin: This expression comes from an older Latin expression, “de gustibus non est disputandum” which means “"in matters of taste, there can be no disputes" which was widely used in the 16th century.
A fly in the ointment
Meaning: A minor thing which spoils the overall look of something, or affects the feeling of joy someone feels about it.
Origin: This idiom was first written in the biblical book Ecclesiastes. The saying is “dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour”. It has, therefore, been around for centuries.
A legend in one’s own lifetime
Meaning: A living person who is so famous and highly admired that they are extremely well-known.
Origin: The original use of this phrase was 'a legend in her lifetime', and it was written about pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale by Giles Lytton Strachey in his 1918 book Eminent Victorians.
A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse
Meaning: A small hint is enough to let someone know what you want and convey your true feelings. It is not always necessary to say what you want outright.
Origin: This idiom was first used back in the 16th century, but it’s since fallen out of everyday use.
Eat humble pie
Meaning: To accept that you are wrong and give an apology.
Origin: Although the meaning is unrelated, the expression comes from ‘umble’ pie which was a popular dish served in the 15th century and was made of offal and game. It’s not clear where the idiom got its meaning from.
Storm in a teacup
Meaning: An overreaction to a small incident, usually said when the scale of a person’s upset is not thought to reflect what has actually happened.
Origin: The first recorded use of this idiom is in a book by a novelist Catherine Sinclair, called Modern Accomplishments, or the March of Intellect, which was written in 1838.
Fell off the back of a lorry
Meaning: If someone says they suspect something fell off the back of the lorry they mean they think that something has been stolen.
Origin: The expression was first used around the second half of the 20th century. In an article in The Times in 1968 a writer said: "The suggestion of the finder, a casual motorist, that the records 'must have fallen off the back of a lorry'.
I’ll go to the foot of our stairs
Meaning: This is an expression used to express extreme shock or astonishment.
Origin: The phrase originated in northern England and was particularly well used in Yorkshire as well as the English Midlands during the mid-20th century.