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28 Classic British Idioms

Published: 22 Feb 17

An idiom is common word or common phrase culturally understood – meaning that what is said differs from what is actually meant. Brits are really well known for this and the logic behind the majority of sayings are unknown but really useful to understand. 

So when you overhear Dave telling Jake ‘Go-karting yesterday was the bee’s knees’, you should now understand that ‘the bee’s knees’ is actually a rather lovely term used to describe someone or something you think the world of. So what Dave is actually telling Jake is that ‘Go-karting yesterday was totally awesome’. 

So here are our most favourite and some of the most well-known British idioms:

  1. A penny for your thoughts
    A way of asking someone to share their thoughts with you. For example: 'I'll give you a penny if you tell me your thoughts' 
     
  2. Actions speak louder than words
    What someone actually does means more than what they say.. So someone actually handing you a bunch of flowers rather than just saying 'ah I’ll get you some flowers tomorrow'.
     
  3. An arm and a leg
    A phrase used to massively over exaggerate when something might be overly priced. For example: 'This pint cost me an arm and a leg!!' When in reality they're just paying an extorniate amount than what they're used to.
     
  4. Back to the drawing board
    Used to indicate that an idea, scheme or proposal has been unsuccesful and that a new one should be devised.
     
  5. The ball is in your court
    when someone says the ball is in your court it means it is up to you to make the next move. 
     
  6. Barking up the wrong tree
    You’re looking in the wrong place – accusing the wrong person or pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought. 
     
  7. Beat around the bush
    A typical British saying meaning you're purposely avoiding the topic in subject, not speaking directly about the issue. 
     
  8. Biting more than you can chew
    A classic idiom meaning you're trying to accomplish something that is too difficult for you. 
     
  9. Best thing since sliced bread
    Basically meaning a good invention or innovation – a good idea or a good plan. Because the best thing to happen to the Brits is sliced bread.  
     
  10. You can’t judge a book by its cover
    A classic saying meaning one should not judge something or someone by how it looks - it's what's on the inside/content that counts most (obviously). 
     
  11. Curiosity killed the cat
    Meaning being too inquisitive can lead you to an unpleasant situation. Finding out an answer may in fact ruin the question for you. 
     
  12. Don’t count your chickens before your eggs have hatched
    Basically don’t make plans for something that might not happen. For example, don't spend all your birthday money before you get it - as you might not get any at all. 
     
  13. Don’t give up your day job
    A saying to imply you are not very good at something, so you shouldn’t try it professionally, or at all.
     
  14. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
    Don’t put all your hope/resources in one possibility, loose the basket and you're left hopeless.
     
  15. Elvis has left the building
    The show has come to end – it’s over
     
  16. Hit the nail on the head
    A saying that simply means you have done or said something exactly right – matching someone’s feelings/point.
     
  17. Hit the sack
    The sack would be your bed - and you hitting it would be you going to bed.  
     
  18. It takes two to tango
    Meaning certain actions need more than one person to work successfully. A tango with one person is not as successful as one with two people involved so therefore, it takes two to tango. 
     
  19. Kill two birds with one stone
    When you accomplish two tasks in one go. So if you need to go to te bank, and you drop your library books off on the way - you'll be killing two birds with one stone. 
     
  20. Method to my madness
    Despite something sounding crazy/absurd there is in fact a structure or reasoning behind it. 
     
  21. Not playing with the full deck
    A saying to suggest someone/something lacks intelligence or common sense.  
     
  22. See eye to eye
    When two or more people agree on something. You see eye to eye because you have the same views. 
     
  23. Speak of the devil
    Used when the person is question arrives right on queue - as if they knew you we're talking about them. 
     
  24. Steal someone’s thunder
    To take credit for someone else’s work or to take limelight where it's not deserved. 
     
  25. Taste of your own medicine
    Tasting your own medicine is when you get treated the way you've been treating others. 
     
  26. Your guess is as good as mine
    Meaning you basically have no idea. You simply know as much as the next person. 
     
  27. Another string to your bow
    A saying used to imply adding another skill to a good set of already acclaimed skills (which they probably don't need).
     
  28. Look after your pennies and the pounds will look after themselves
    Another classic idiom normally coming from your gran - meaning if you take care of small amounts of the money, the capital with quickly accumulate as if by itself. 
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