10 funniest idioms in the English language plus meanings and origins - from donkey's years to pardon my French

These common phrases have some humorous links

The English language is full of many idioms, phrases which have an overall meaning which can not be taken from the individual meanings of the individual words. Many of these idioms are linked to food and drink, while even more are linked to animals. Some have sinister meanings and others have a meaning you wouldn’t expect. Some are just so strange they’re funny. Keep reading to find out the meanings and origins of 10 of the most hilarious idioms.

To learn even more about the language and etymology, check out our dedicated words and meanings page and also articles such as 15 famous film phrases and what they mean - from ‘hasta la vista’ to 'nobody puts Baby in a corner’ and 12 best Wordle starting words: good five-letter words to start Wordle with.

When pigs fly

Meaning: A phrase used ironically or sarcastically to express someone’s complete disbelief that something will happen.

Origin: It’s unclear where this phrase comes from, but many many believe that it may have originated from Scotland. One thing language experts can agree on is that it’s been around for centuries.

Everything but the kitchen sink

Meaning: This saying is expressed when someone has got a lot of luggage with them, including every imaginable item. It’s often said in jest to lightly tease someone who has a lot of things with them.

Origin: The expression is said to have originated in the early 1900s, but gained popularity during World War Two, where it was said that everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at the enemy. This is because many household items were contributed to the war effort, but the sinks - which were then cast iron - stayed in place because they were too heavy to be moved.

Bob’s your uncle

Meaning: This saying is used to express how easy it will be to do something or use something.

Origin: The phrase apparently came out in 1887 when UK Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil appointed his nephew Arthur James Balfour as Minister for Ireland. The phrase was coined when Balfour referred to the Prime Minister as Uncle Bob. People thought that it was easy for Balfour to get his role because of his family connection.

Raining cats and dogs

Meaning: This idiom simply means that it’s raining very heavily.

Origin: There is great confusion about the origin of this phrase. Cats were apparently thought to have influence over storms in Nordic times, and people also believed that dogs were symbols of storms. There are images of both creatures alongside descriptions of the Norse storm god Odin. There are also those who believe it comes from Tudor times when cats and dogs were housed in the rafters of the house, but during times of heavy wind the pets would fall down into the main house. Other people think it came from the 17th century, when there were a large number of stray dogs and cats on the streets. During times of heavy rain people would retreat to their houses but stray animals would be left outside and sadly perish. When the rain passed and people came back out of their houses they would be confronted by the animal’s bodies and it would appear as if it actually had been raining cats and dogs.

10 funniest idioms in the English language - from donkey's years to pardon my French.10 funniest idioms in the English language - from donkey's years to pardon my French.
10 funniest idioms in the English language - from donkey's years to pardon my French.

Pardon my French

Meaning: People use this phrase to excuse themselves when they have said a profanity or a word which may be considered offensive.

Origin: This idiom apparently once had a very literal meaning, and people in England would say it if they spoke a French word and then realised the person they were speaking to didn’t understand French. But, conflict between England and France led to the phrase being used when speaking about anything rude or unsavoury.

Put a sock in it

Meaning: This phrase is said when asking someone to be quiet and stop talking.

Origin: The earliest known mention of this phrase is in a letter published by the London literary magazine The Athenæum in August 1919 when someone wrote about the expression “Put a sock in it,” meaning “Leave off talking, singing or shouting”. 

Donkey’s years

Meaning: If you say something has lasted for donkey’s years you mean it has lasted for an extremely long time.

Origin:  The phrase was first used in the 20th century, and was created in reference to donkey’s having particularly long ears.

All talk and no trousers

Meaning: This idiom is used to describe someone who talks a lot but doesn’t follow through with actions. Another version of this is ‘no mouth and all trousers’.

Origin: It’s not clear exactly where the phrase comes from, but it was thought to have started in Northern Ireland.

More holes than Swiss cheese

Meaning: This saying is used when talking about something which has so many flaws in it so it can’t be trusted or used correctly. Swiss cheese does literally have lots of holes in it.

Origin: The origin of the phrase is unclear, but is thought to have been around for some time.

Eager beaver

Meaning: Someone who is described as an eager beaver is extremely enthusiastic and passionate about something and works very hard.

Origin: This idiom dates back to the 20th century when people noticed how hard beavers worked to build and perfect their homes. It was said to be particularly popular during the 1940s and 1950s.

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