What are your favorite colorful/evocative idioms and aphorisms?
March 13, 2019 4:47 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for more unusual idioms like "all hat, no cattle" or "closing the door after the horse ran out of the barn" and aphorisms like "you can't pour from an empty cup." The more tangible and evocative, the better. Idioms and aphorisms from non-American cultures would be great, but nothing too corporate or clichéd.

I like how idiomatic and aphoristic phrases get their points across in an economical and imagistic fashion. I don't want anything incredibly flippant ("not my monkey, not my circus"), inappropriate ("colder than a witch's teat") or corporate ("closing the loop").
posted by zoomorphic to Writing & Language (129 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
All mouth and no trousers (same meaning as "all hat, no cattle")
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:54 AM on March 13, 2019

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it care.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:55 AM on March 13, 2019

A bunch of years ago a boyfriend and I went through a huge list of American idioms so he could figure out wtf I was taking about. I like idioms and am a nth generation middle America idiom speaker. English was not his first language. I sounded crazy to him.

Anyway, where I'm going with this is that on that whole list of idioms we were looking at, there was only one I had never even heard before: loaded for bear.

I love it. Like you leave your house with your shotgun loaded with enough whatever you load shotguns with to take down a bear, which is very large and notoriously hard to stop. As an idiom if you're loaded for bear you're going into a situation fully prepped and ready to fight. I feel like loaded for bear is my attitude toward lots in my life.

Anyway. Loaded for bear.
posted by phunniemee at 4:57 AM on March 13, 2019 [30 favorites]

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:57 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

"The Lights Are On But Nobody's Home"
posted by ouke at 5:00 AM on March 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

"Like coals to Newcastle" is uncommon for American English speakers at least.

Bembara adage: "Little by little, the bird builds its nest."
posted by solotoro at 5:02 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

"I wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire" for someone you can't stand.
posted by terretu at 5:02 AM on March 13, 2019 [11 favorites]

In Red Dead Redemption 2 one character calls the main character “a big shadow cast by a tiny tree.” It’s likely paraphrased from a piece of literature but I love it because in this case the sun is setting on this person and his way of life.

I think it’s pretty relevant in the year of our lord 2019.
posted by kimberussell at 5:08 AM on March 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

I trust him about as far as I can throw him.

Good enough for government work.

More than one way to skin a cat.
posted by sockymcpuppeterson at 5:09 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

The juice isn't worth the squeeze.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 5:12 AM on March 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

A woman I worked with used to describe our more idiosyncratic customers as "cuckoo for cocoa puffs." She did not mean they loved cereal.
posted by Crystal Fox at 5:14 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Good, fast, cheap. Pick two.
posted by sockymcpuppeterson at 5:15 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

A friend's dad once told another friend who was hanging out with us at the friend's house "it doesn't take you an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes, does it?"
posted by kevinbelt at 5:15 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

猿も木から落ちる (さるもきからおちる・saru mo ki kara ochiru)

even monkeys fall out of trees
posted by emmling at 5:16 AM on March 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

You can’t un-ring a bell.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:17 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

That’s dog don’t hunt (that person doesn’t do what their supposed do in some way- could be saying a man doesn’t date/have sex or it could mean something along the lines of “they’re stupid”)
posted by raccoon409 at 5:22 AM on March 13, 2019

Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends.
posted by XtineHutch at 5:25 AM on March 13, 2019

“I haven’t read that book since God was a boy.” (A very long time ago.)

Going around Robin Hood’s barn (something is more complicated or took longer than it should have)
posted by PussKillian at 5:26 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

My Louisiana grandparents had many! A few:

“Too much sugar for a dime”,

“Hell ain’t half full”,

“Keep it between the ditches”
posted by Bourbonesque at 5:34 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

He/she looks rode hard and put away wet.

Tumbling ass over tea kettle.

Between you, me and the fence post...

Someone's got a bee in their bonnet...
posted by JenMarie at 5:35 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Let's run that up the flagpole and see who salutes...
posted by JenMarie at 5:37 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

“If I never see you again, it’ll be too soon.”

Treating someone “like a red-headed stepchild.”
posted by STFUDonnie at 5:37 AM on March 13, 2019

He's ten pounds of sausage in a five pound skin (someone wearing clothes that are too tight).

He can get glad in the same pants he got mad in (when someone is upset about something and you don't care).
posted by cilantro at 5:41 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hoisted by his/her own petard
posted by JenMarie at 5:41 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

put that in your pipe and smoke it
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:46 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

In Japanese when you want to say "(if such-and-such happens) there won't be any question of X" or "X won't even be on the table" or similar, you can say "there's no X and no squash" or, depending on company "there's no X and no shit."
An (American) one I heard a long time ago, along the lines of "whatever floats your boat": "Whatever makes your duck quack."
posted by huimangm at 5:49 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

"talking broken biscuits" (ie talking bollocks)
posted by JonB at 5:58 AM on March 13, 2019

Knee high to a grasshopper.

An empty wagon makes a lot of noise.
posted by effluvia at 6:01 AM on March 13, 2019

About as much use as tits on a bull (rural southern NZ)

'tis the squeaky wheel that gets oiled
posted by unearthed at 6:04 AM on March 13, 2019

When asked how you are: "Fine as frog hair", or "Any better and I'd be twins"
posted by SinAesthetic at 6:07 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Referring to a doctor or vet you don't think much of, "I wouldn't take him a sick snake."
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:16 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

[A few deleted. Reminder: Op has asked for examples that are not incredibly flippant, inappropriate, or corporate.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:21 AM on March 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
posted by AugustWest at 6:24 AM on March 13, 2019 [10 favorites]

I've always heard "that dog won't hunt" as meaning "that explanation is implausible".
Idioms for being not very smart or slightly odd mentally:
A few fries short of a Happy Meal
Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier
Elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor
Sharp as a bowling ball
posted by Daily Alice at 6:27 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Once bread is toast it can be bread again.
posted by bilabial at 6:33 AM on March 13, 2019

I really like “that’s a winner in a slow race” for something that has won in a weak field.
posted by Orlop at 6:35 AM on March 13, 2019

Keep the shiney side up and the greasy side down.

He couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with instructions printed on the bottom.

The lazy man does more work. (More in the “aphorism” category, but I’ve heard it since I was a boy).
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:49 AM on March 13, 2019

There's a lid for every pot.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 6:59 AM on March 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

All fur coat and nae knickers = posh on the surface, no underwear
She's nearly got a dress on = like the lasses in the Bigg Market on a Saturday night, especially in winter
A man on a galloping horse wouldn't notice (the size of a person's member)
A whistling maid and a crowing hen brings Old Nick out of his den
A fart on (object of scorn)!
(The bus goes) all around the houses = the long way round

North East England 50 years ago
posted by glasseyes at 7:01 AM on March 13, 2019

From Glasgow, where I'm from:—
  • face like a bulldog chewing a wasp → to have a disagreeable look
  • he wouldn't pee on you if you were burning → he is an unhelpful person
  • couldn't hear him behind a caur (= tram/streetcar) ticket → he is remarkably quietly-spoken
  • a run round the kitchen and a kick at the cat → the response from an exasperated parent to petulant children asking for too many things, and the limited extent of what they might expect to get
  • away and run up my humph (= shoulder, back) → please stop bothering me/go away/I don't believe you
  • one clean shirt and that'll be me → I have felt better (with the implication that I might die within the next laundry cycle)
  • ma heid's aw mince (= my head is all minced meat) → I am somewhat muddle-headed today
These and many more are in Michael Munro's The Complete Patter, a dialect book written by a real lexicographer.

Not local to me but an inexplicable favourite is the dated English schoolkid's “chinny reckon” made while stroking one's chin and indicating utter disbelief. The stress is very much on the last syllable of reckon. No idea where it came from, but I love it still.
posted by scruss at 7:05 AM on March 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

I don't know if it's apocryphal but when Eric Morecambe was being rushed to hospital after a heart attack he's supposed to have said "He's not going to sell much ice-cream going at that speed, is he?"
posted by glasseyes at 7:08 AM on March 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

Slower than molasses in January, when someone is taking FOREVER with something or is frequently late
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

In Chile, if one has lost the plot, you say their pigs have run up the hill. In Finland we say all your cereal isn't in the bowl or all the moomins aren't in the valley.
posted by speakeasy at 7:10 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

An Igbo (Nigerian ethnic group) aphorism portrayed in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: “If one finger brought oil it soiled the others,” conveying the collective shame brought on a family or community by the misdeed of one person.
posted by XMLicious at 7:12 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

My favorite Samoan proverb is "Moa moa lulu, niu, niu pulu" -- literally, "Chicken, owl, coconut, coconut husk". Metaphorically, it means roughly "what goes around, comes around" -- if someone asks you for a chicken and you give them a useless owl instead, don't be surprised when you ask them for a coconut and just get an empty husk. (I'm not expecting you to get much use out of this, but I do love it.)
posted by LizardBreath at 7:13 AM on March 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm remembering 2000 election night, and Dan Rather losing his mind a bit and going all folksy Texan. I may have conflated both of these from somewhere else, but I remember him saying both "If a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass when he jumped" and "If a frog had pockets, he'd have someplace to keep a pistol."
posted by LizardBreath at 7:16 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Two literal translations from Spanish:

—Starting the house with the roof (= doing something backwards)
—Throwing water into the sea (= doing something pointless)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:21 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

"It will be the camel's nose under the tent." Meaning, pretty soon the whole camel will be in the tent -- your problem will grow larger and get out of control.

"It's the blind men and elephant. " Refers to this parable.

"Don't tell your Grandma how to knit." I think this basically means "don't be a mainsplainer."

"The person who sticks to their plan becomes who they used to want to be." Meaning that if you maintain a plan at all costs, you allow nothing to change.

"Always cut the cards." Refers to card games, where one person shuffles, then offers the deck to another to cut (meaning divide the cards into two stacks, then restack them in a different order), then the first person deals. This means that both people have had an influence over the order of the cards and cards against cheating. The aphorism means to always take care of yourself and don't be too trusting.

"Let's circle the wagons." Means getting everyone on "your team" or "your side" together to defend against something. Refers to wagon trains literally putting their wagons in a circle at night as a defensive strategy.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:21 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

That salsa's so hot, it will make your babies be born naked.

If it's worth doing, it's worth over-doing.

The smoke doesn't reach the top of his chimney.

It was so cold out, I saw a lawyer with her hands in her own pockets.

Similar to what OrangeDisk mentioned, I've always heard it as, "Don't teach your Grandma how to suck eggs."
posted by blob at 7:25 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger with fleas
posted by blob at 7:27 AM on March 13, 2019

This site has some good Spanish idioms
posted by blob at 7:29 AM on March 13, 2019

is there a difference between aphorisms and proverbs or is there just lots of crossover?
Anyhow, Fingers are not equal = you can't expect everybody to act the same
An angry man is a hungry man = rationalisation for bad behaviour

Aiye l'oja, Oroun n'ile = this world is a market, heaven is home. Said when slightly passive-aggressively expressing disappointment in some outcome.
posted by glasseyes at 7:29 AM on March 13, 2019

Chinese has a whole school of idiom called 成语 (chéngyǔ) that consists of mostly four-character phrases, mostly from classical literature.

There are a bunch of great examples on that Wikipedia page, but my favorite from class loosely translates to "playing lute to cattle" - meaning "talking above someone's head" (which I guess is itself idiomatic and literally means using concepts or language too difficult for the audience).
posted by aspersioncast at 7:29 AM on March 13, 2019

I had a boss once who was from somewhere in the rural American South and had a lot of these! The ones I remember are all insults:

- if someone was disconnected from reality she’d say “He’s out there where the buses don’t run.”

- “she doesn’t have the sense that God gave a billy goat.”

- “he couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the sole”

I wish I could remember the rest, she had fantastic turns of phrase.
posted by centrifugal at 7:43 AM on March 13, 2019

In our family, a common phrase for something that you should have noticed, but didn't is "If it was a snake, it would have bit me."Which has been shortened to just "Damn. Snakes."

Also common in the Davis household growing up:

Slower than Christ himself.
She's gonna trip on that lower lip (someone was pouting excessively.)
Slicker than goose shit through a tin horn.
Like Lazarus of old, licked by a bunch of dogs. (I misheard this throughout my childhood as "Lazer Sovole"
Dumber than a bag of wet hammers.
Shoot 'em and tell God they died.
Day late and a dollar short.
He's as sorry as a deaf mule. (He's not worth much)

My dad had a thousand of them and I wish I'd recorded them.
posted by teleri025 at 7:57 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

From my years in rural NE Missouri here are two I've always liked:

"Tight as the bark on a tree" -- used to describe a parsimonious person.

"Hard as the hubs of hell" -- to describe an unsplittable or impossible-to-nail piece of wood.
posted by Agave at 8:24 AM on March 13, 2019

-A personal favorite: Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining
- to say someone "just does mouth bets" means they are all talk/promise but no do
-pop your corn (get it out there, say what you have to say)
-shit or get off the pot
-to just give it "a lick and a promise" (not do a very good job)
-beat the devil around the stump (when someone is putting off something)
-he's nothing but [or] he's just a mail-order cowboy (another way of saying all hat, no cattle, or a greenhorn)
-two whoops and a holler (not far away)
-woke up the wrong passenger
-neck of the woods (an area)
-worse than a cat in a room full of rockers (someone is nervous)
-grab the wrong pig by the tail
-you can ride the river with her/him (they're dependable)
-he squeezed the biscuit (originally meant to grab the saddlehorn, but kind of means to get the job done but not in the proper way)
-ugly as a mud fence
-the whole kit and kaboodle
-get your back up
-barking at a knot (wasting time trying to do something or doing something useless)
-there's a hair in the butter (when a situation needs to be handled with care or is delicate)
-go the long way around the barn
-In the neck of the woods where I grew up, the phrase "it's a fire skunking around" was often applied to when something seemed to be small but could blow up to something big, but I've never heard it in that sense anywhere else. "Skunking around" is actually a very common wildfire terminology.
-My very very very favorite: [He's] a big turd in a little bowl (usually when someone is being overdramatic or acting like they have more importance than they have, but heckfire, it applies to all kinds of situations)

-I briefly dated a croatian who told me about a slavic idiom that roughly translates to "the sound that wolves make when they come out of the forest" but though I've searched and searched for it I've never found it again, so he may have been pulling my leg. Or I mis-remembered it. But I've always liked it and use it so now it exists if it didn't before!

My German mother in law has a slew of german sayings, and there's some translations of some of them on this website, but my favorites:
-ask for extra sausage (to desire special treatment)
-sleep like a marmot
-everything has an end, only the sausage has two
-where the foxes say goodnight (middle of nowhere)
posted by barchan at 8:25 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Heh. “He’s out there where the buses don’t run.” = Away with the fairies.
posted by glasseyes at 8:28 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

My AP French language teacher used to make us memorize French idioms and then give us extra credit if we used them in practice AP essays. Then the next year, my AP French lit teacher, who happened to be one of the graders for the AP language exam, was horrified to learn that all the badly written essays chock-full of random idioms were coming from her own school.

The only ones I remember now are "Il pleut des cordes" (it's raining ropes = raining cats and dogs) and "coup de foudre" (lightning strike = love at first sight). Oh yes, and "Tu parles francais comme une vache espagnole!" (you speak French like a Spanish cow) which I never had the chance to use in an essay -- or in real life, for that matter.
posted by basalganglia at 8:30 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

A few roos loose in the top paddock. An Australian slang expression mean someone is crazy.

I'm not here to fuck spiders. Which means let's just shut up & get the job done.
posted by wwax at 8:43 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Remembered one more "Jumalan kukkarossa" = "In God's wallet" = somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
posted by speakeasy at 8:46 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I liked an intensification of the horse/barn one referring to a supposed secret that everybody knew which I heard on the radio the other day: 'that horse is out of the barn and ran in the Kentucky Derby!'
posted by jamjam at 8:49 AM on March 13, 2019

...and Bob's your uncle! = see how easy that was?
posted by sarajane at 9:07 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's like herding cats. (Impossible)

Not my circus, not my monkeys (the drama isn't mine)

Stone the bloody crow (something weird has happened or is really irriating)

No crying in baseball or suck it up buttercup
posted by Ftsqg at 9:17 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

- Heavier than a dead horse
- As dark as the back of a hat (think tophat)
My mother made up one that I still use (and love): I'm not sure I understand all I know about that.
- a variant on one above - Hotter than the hobs of hell (really, really hot!)
- Been around since Christ was Colonel in the Army
- Don't put all your eggs in one basket
- Dumber than a box of hammers
- One sandwich shy of a picnic (another of the many ways to say someone is stupid)
posted by dbmcd at 9:19 AM on March 13, 2019

He who laughs last, laughs best (You may think you've prevailed, but it's really too early to tell yet)

Six of one, half a dozen of the other (doesn't matter which one you choose, as they're the same thing)

In the dark, all cats are grey
posted by holborne at 9:27 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I like browsing In a Pig's Eye: The Dictionary of Country Jawing for this sort of thing.

It's raining pitchforks and hammer handles!

...since the hog et Grandma.

It's so dry that the trees are chasing the dogs.

That would make a cat laugh.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:32 AM on March 13, 2019

"All over hell and half of Georgia" to indicate a very large (and probably unpleasant) area

"Wish in one hand, spit in the other, see which one fills up first"

One I use pretty frequently in my day-to-day life is "God willing and the crick don't rise" as a way to sort of verbally knock wood when talking about something that will hopefully be done.
posted by darchildre at 9:40 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

"not the brightest bulb in the chandelier" (not smart)

"not the sharpest knife in the drawer" (same)

"coupla bunnies short of a hutch" (same, or sometimes more like "crazy")
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:44 AM on March 13, 2019

"Slower than Christmas" (meaning "extremely slow, like waiting for Christmas as a child feels like") is one I learned from my husband, who grew up in the US South.
posted by Hold your seahorses at 9:51 AM on March 13, 2019

A friend of mine used to say "I'd like to buy that guy for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he's worth." I love that it succinctly conveys the double meaning of (a) the guy is crap, and (b) the guy thinks he's awesome.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:55 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

In France they say "mettre du beurre dans les épinards" or "to put some butter in the spinach." It is usually related to money and it means to earn a little something extra on top that makes things more comfortable for you. Like my friend Grant who has a regular job but also sells stuff on Etsy as a side hustle: it's a little butter in the spinach.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:06 AM on March 13, 2019

My dad used to say "It's a long day at black rock." I have no idea what he meant by that.

"If you run with the big dogs, you have to pee on the big trees" is one I've heard about keeping up the pace on a night at the bars.
posted by slogger at 10:10 AM on March 13, 2019

I forgot another Northern one: Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs! = I'm beside myself with surprise.
And a French one: il a l'air con = he is a complete fool. I don't quite know why it's so rude (in a smutty sense) but it's colloquial enough that my French teacher cried with homesickness when she heard another French person mutter it in a meeting.
posted by glasseyes at 10:21 AM on March 13, 2019

A friend once said "She has a face that would make a train take a side road." I think I quoted it here once before and someone else chimed in with a variant, so it wasn't a one-off.

In Treasure Island, someone says of the ship Hispaniola, "She points closer to the wind than a man has the right to expect of his own wife." It takes sailing knowledge to appreciate and probably comes straight from the pen of RLS, but I like it.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:25 AM on March 13, 2019

Some of my favorite Slovak sayings that don’t have close parallels in English:

- Pod lampou je najväčšia tma: The greatest darkness is under the lamp (meaning: the greatest problems occur right under an authority’s nose)

- Ráno je múdrejšie večera: Morning is wiser than evening. (It’s best to sleep on a problem and decide in the morning)

- Ako sa do hory volá, tak sa z hory ozýva: Whatever you call into the woods will echo back at you (you get back what you give or do to others.)

- Akoby hrach na stenu hádzal: Like throwing peas at a wall (a futile effort, especially when attempting to advise or persuade someone without much effect)

- Čo oči nevidia, to srdce nebolí: What the eyes can’t see cannot hurt the heart (often used when justifying some covert and possibly harmful activity)
posted by Atrahasis at 10:34 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

From my mother:
He “hasn’t got the sense that God gave geese. “
I’ll be there tomorrow, ”God willing and the crick don’t rise. “
posted by SLC Mom at 11:10 AM on March 13, 2019

"More messed up than a bag of hangers"

Such a great way to describe it.
posted by jraz at 11:21 AM on March 13, 2019

They couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:42 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

My East Texas hippie boyfriend: Shitfire and save matches!

My mangled version: Eat matches and shitfire!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:57 AM on March 13, 2019

My friend from Kentucky, when ready to have fun, says “It’s on like neckbone!” Even he doesn’t know what it means.
posted by greermahoney at 12:02 PM on March 13, 2019

From my Scottish father in law: “You’d make a better door than a window.”
Which means “Excuse me you are standing in front of the telly that I am watching.”
posted by like_neon at 12:18 PM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

'His mother knitted him' = He is a fool
posted by teaspoon at 12:21 PM on March 13, 2019

When you find something you were looking for unexpectedly close: "If it were a mouse, it would've bit you."
posted by LizardBreath at 12:21 PM on March 13, 2019

"Don't tie your shoes in a melon field" -- avoid situations that could put you under suspicion.
posted by Rora at 12:25 PM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

My dad used to wake me up for school by saying "Daylight in the swamps!" I actually just Googled it out of curiosity, and the source is loggers in Minnesota's Iron Range. (Which makes sense, as my dad's family is from up there.) Basically, "we're losing daylight and you need to get up, kid."

I also enjoy "long walk for a ham sandwich" or "long walk for a short drink of water." Like, if I spend 15 minutes setting up an absolutely Byzantine joke only to arrive at a lame punchline, a friend might say, "long walk for a ham sandwich, dude."
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 12:26 PM on March 13, 2019

What do you think this is, bush week? - Stop behaving in an incredibly inappropriate manner.
posted by arha at 12:52 PM on March 13, 2019

Vanity Fair has done a series of videos where they have celebrities from different parts of he world explain their local slang, and they're just full of cute expressions.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:10 PM on March 13, 2019

She/he "can't tell a hat from Tuesday". Used to describe someone very confused, unintelligent, or suffering from dementia.
posted by congen at 1:14 PM on March 13, 2019

Oh, there's also one that my (super deep south) middle school grammar teacher used all the time with misbehaving and underperforming students.

I'm going to be on you like white on rice.

I will tell you right now, nothing struck the fear of god into a kid like the threat of that woman following your every move.
posted by phunniemee at 2:21 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

"He can go pound sand"
posted by Caxton1476 at 2:28 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

A Scottish one: S/he has a face that would sour oranges - to have an unpleasant, probably disdainful facial expressions

An Australian one: like lipstick on a pig - for something which brings no added value
posted by EatMyHat at 2:35 PM on March 13, 2019

To add to Martha My dear Prudence - a piss-up is an occasion where people drink a lot of alcohol
posted by EatMyHat at 2:37 PM on March 13, 2019

Another one - German but used in English too: the pot calling the kettle black- for when one person is bitching about qualities in another which they have themselves
posted by EatMyHat at 2:40 PM on March 13, 2019

From Birmingham and the Black Country

Going round the Wrekin => going the long way round. (The Wrekin is a big hill in Shropshire).
Couldn't stop a pig in an entry => someone with bowed legs (An entry is an alleyway between two houses)
That won't get the babby a frock and pinny => that's no good or not going to pay off
It’s a bit black over Bill’s mother’s => the sky has gone dark and rain is coming (from the direction of Stratford-upon-Avon)
posted by plonkee at 2:43 PM on March 13, 2019

I was doing some volunteer recruitment phone banking once in Ohio and a man declined my invitation to volunteer by saying "Honey, my plate's so full there's no room for the fork." and it remains one of my all-time favorite expressions!

My dad loves to point out that something not so great is "better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick" and I have taken to using it too.
posted by brookeb at 2:56 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Spanish idiom meaning "I'm going to sleep on it" is voy a consultar con la almohada, which translates to "I'm going to consult with the pillow."
posted by blazingunicorn at 2:57 PM on March 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

A few cards short of a full deck. (Someone who is a little off)

I've got no horse in this race. (It's not my business/concern)

The darkest hour is just before dawn. (Keep going; don't give up, it'll get better)

Best thing since sliced bread. (Something good!)
posted by annieb at 5:11 PM on March 13, 2019

Here's a fantastic list from Reddit so good

My favorite might be, "You're sodimizing flies."
posted by onebyone at 5:23 PM on March 13, 2019

"Built like a brick shithouse" for a tall, solidly-built fella.
posted by slightlybewildered at 5:41 PM on March 13, 2019

“Well, slap my ass and call me Charlie!”
posted by trillian at 6:21 PM on March 13, 2019

A note, it's clearly specified they're not looking for: inappropriate ("colder than a witch's teat") and many of these are obviously under that umbrella.

My personal favorite, which I stole from an ex-girlfriend, is to exclaim "Guess we bet on the wrong horse!" when I get stuck in slow moving lines at the airport, grocery store, etc. It always really delighted people when she said it and it totally charms people so I use it a lot even though I am not the sort to want to strike up conversations with strangers.

From the same ex, whose family clearly included some ranchers: "play with the bull, get the horns," which I often use to chide my cat because he's always shocked the dog doesn't tolerate all his shenanigans.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 6:41 PM on March 13, 2019

From Australia;
A few stubbies short of a six-pack. A few sandwiches short of a picnic. A few kangaroos loose in the top paddock (he’s not very bright.)
Two pot screamer (someone who gets drunk easily).
To spit the dummy (have a tantrum).
To siphon the python (for a man to go to the toilet).
He’s up and down like a bride’s nightie (he changes his mind a lot).
It looks like a dog’s breakfast (it looks like a mess)
posted by Jubey at 6:57 PM on March 13, 2019

Like nailing jello to a tree (said of a person who can't decide / won't commit, or a situation with similar qualities).
posted by inexorably_forward at 7:11 PM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

My dad used to say of a particularly bad smell. That's enough to gag a maggot.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:23 PM on March 13, 2019

emmling, it's "saru de mo ki kara ochiru". You missed a 'de'. Or if I pontificate you misses the 'demo' but I'll totally grant that. Without the 'de' in there it's like "and monkeys fall from trees". The 'de' in the 'demo' is the "even monkeys fall from trees". As 'de' is the ~te continuation of da/desu which brings in the copula and Japanese modifiers are a thing that I graar about.

"saru mo ki kara ochiru" and "saru de mo ki kara ochiru" are different thing because one is just 'mo' and the other is 'demo'. One is just 'also'-ish and one is 'even'-ish.

"saru de mo ki kara ochiru" - 'even monkeys fall out of trees'.
"saru mo ki kara ochiru" - 'monkeys also fall out of trees'.

That's a big -ish and/or I learned the phrase as 'demo' and just plain 'mo' just doesn't seem right.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:17 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

↑ Both versions are in use but "mo" alone is the standard phrase.
posted by huimangm at 9:45 PM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


'demo' - presents an extreme example to make the point that since something applies to such case, it therefore certainly applies to more normal cases.

'mo' - indicates that the subjects are the same or the same kind.

"I'm going home", "me too!" (mo)
"I'm gong home", "even I'm going home too." (demo)

One's equivalent and additive. One's extreme to to cover all cases and to exclude the non-compliant.

It may be the case that the common case is 'saru mo' but that isn't anything special, just another "and monkeys fall out of trees". The 'saru demo' version is the "even tree swinging monkeys (including other tree swinging things) can fall out of the tree" to make the point that even the extreme pinnacle of proficiency still fails.

"saru mo ki kara ochiru" is just weaker than "saru de mo ki kara ochiru" regardless of popularity. One's a "me too" and one's an "even (surprise) me (and if me, then everyone else)".
posted by zengargoyle at 10:22 PM on March 13, 2019

Love these! Personal favorites:

Alles hat sein Ende nur ein Wurst hat zwei -- everything has an end, only a sausage has two.

Drei Käse hoch -- three cheeses high, for a child as big as three stacked wheels of cheese

From Marathi: you came to sweep the floor! When you arrive so early they are still cleaning the venue.

Hinglish: Chaddi buddies are friends from when you were in diapers.
posted by athirstforsalt at 10:25 PM on March 13, 2019

**alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei.

There is also "die Kochen auch nur mit Wasser", they too cook with water, in the sense that they out their pants on one leg at a time, they aren't essentially better than anyone else.
posted by athirstforsalt at 10:33 PM on March 13, 2019

In culo alla balena - in the whale's ass. (italian for 'break a leg' before a performance')

Aqua fresca, vino puro. Figa stretta, cozzo duro. - (the four best things in life.)

gnothi seauton - Know thyself

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. -- Emerson

猿でも木から落ちる -- saru demo ki kara ochiru -- even monkeys fall from trees

This is where I say goodbye because I have a large collection of aphorisms and sayings and quotes that are too specific.

But I'm going to mine this thread and add to my collection. I collect these things.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:02 PM on March 13, 2019

Mom had this one on a key chain: Heaven won't have me and Hell is afraid I'll take over!
posted by TrishaU at 12:04 AM on March 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

From Russian:

Работа не волк, в лес не убежит

"Work isn't a wolf, it won't run off into the woods."

Meaning, don't rush it, take a break, if you don't finish it now it will still be there later.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 5:37 AM on March 14, 2019

Cmdr. Jeffrey Sinclair: Last time I gave an interview, they told me to relax and say what I felt, ten minutes after broadcast I got transferred to an outpost so far off the star maps, you couldn't find it with a hunting dog and a ouija board IE: way out there.

Foo loves Bar like tornadoes love trailer parks. IE: a lot.

40 shirt; 2 hat. Unintelligent and strong.

I'm on it like a corn dog on a stick.

He's so dense, light bends around him.
posted by Mitheral at 6:17 AM on March 14, 2019

Couldn't stop a pig in an entry => someone with bowed legs (An entry is an alleyway between two houses)

I heard this in North Carolina as "So bowlegged she couldn't catch a pig in a corner!" and loved it truly.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:46 AM on March 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Don't ask the barber if you need a haircut."
posted by workerant at 9:44 AM on March 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

A couple of Belfast ones from my grandmother:

"You think I floated down the Lagan in a bubble?" - do you think I'm gullible enough to believe that?

"I'll swing with a smile on Crumlin Road" - if you don't stop doing that, the satisfaction I get from beating you to death will comfort me on the gallows.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

"dollars to donuts"- when betting on something you believe will win

"Knock a buzzard of a shitwagon"-something that smells, well, bad

"Crazier than a shithouse rat"- describes anyone in my family
posted by erattacorrige at 4:39 PM on March 14, 2019

I live for these and have collected a bunch over the years:

If I tell you the moon is made out of cheese you better bring your crackers - I don’t lie

Everything is chicken but the gravy - All is well

It’s your red wagon. You can push it or pull it - it’s your life do what you want

The world is your oyster - You have the freedom to do whatever your want.

It’s not rocket surgery - this should be easy.

Momma might have raised ugly kids but she didn’t raise stupid kids - I’m not that dumb.

Let’s not major in minor things - this isn’t important.

That dog doesn’t like to stay on the porch - he is wild

He didn’t get here on a paved road. - not smart.

She’d make a freight train turn down a dirt road - Ugly

We are in tall cotton - Things are good.

I might have been born yesterday but I stayed up all night. - I’m not that dumb

Let me go where the dogs don’t bark at stranger. - Im going home and I’d like to remind you that I live in a nice part of town.

He went threw the trees last night - got drunk / in trouble

If your gonna be a monkey be a gorilla - Be bold in what you do.
posted by jasondigitized at 8:34 PM on March 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

English poet George Herbert, putative originator of "living well is the best revenge" (doesn't that seem awfully contemporary for something dating back at least to the mid-1600s?) collected proverbs from many sources:
Like many of his literary contemporaries, Herbert was a collector of proverbs. His Outlandish Proverbs[34] was published in 1640, listing over 1000 aphorisms in English, but gathered from many countries (in Herbert's day, 'outlandish' meant foreign). The collection included many sayings repeated to this day, for example, "His bark is worse than his bite" and "Who is so deaf, as he that will not hear?" These and an additional 150 proverbs were included in a later collection entitled Jacula Prudentum (sometimes seen as Jacula Prudentium), dated 1651 and published in 1652 as part of Oley's Herbert's Remains.
But I haven't found an online source for them.
posted by jamjam at 12:41 PM on March 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jamjam, I have some proverbs for you... Herbert's proverbs alongside their translation/application.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:21 PM on March 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

That's wonderful, MonkeyToes, thank you!

So many of those have current formulations that echo in my mind as I read them. For example:

"It 's an ill aire where wee gaine nothing" ==> it's an ill wind that blows nobody good.

Which is an improvement, I would say, though many of Herbert's are the stronger.
posted by jamjam at 2:37 PM on March 15, 2019

Thread still open?
Here's a couple more Northernisms.
"Face like the back of a bus" = the person is rather plain
"She's like a glass o watter" = that woman is drippy as anything
posted by glasseyes at 6:28 PM on March 15, 2019

Oh! Last one - "thick as two short planks" = really stupid (but why?)
posted by glasseyes at 6:32 PM on March 15, 2019

Little pitchers had big ears -- my grandmother said this whenever the adults were talking about something us kids shouldn't be hearing--or using language she didn't like

Also, this one is from a book, but I love it: water will wear away stone but it won't cook supper
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:55 AM on March 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Years ago I read Lin Yutang's (fabulous) The Importance of Living and I am fairly certain that's where I got this (paraphrased) excellent Chinese proveb:

"You will stand on the hill with your mouth open for a very long time before a roast duck flies into it."

I don't get a chance to deploy it nearly as much as I would like, so thank you for this thread.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:09 PM on March 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

look at this fab list someone just posted to my FB today. My pig whistles!
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:10 PM on March 20, 2019

Tim Cope’s travelogue of his time riding horses across the steppes from Mongolia to Hungary On the Trail of Ghengis Khan, (an amazing book) developed as an important personal theme the Kazakh saying ‘If you must rush in life….rush slowly’
posted by honey-barbara at 2:52 AM on March 21, 2019

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