Category Archives: Idioms

English Idioms: Pardon my French


Pardon my French: Please excuse me for swearing. Used as a way to apologize for using profanity (bad words) or for saying something that may offend another person.

Pardon my French, but that dress does NOT look good on you. 

An early example of the phrase was in The Lady’s Magazine from 1830, in which the speaker used a French word to insult someone:

Bless me, how fat you are grown! – absolutely as round as a ball: – you will soon be as enbon-point (excuse my French) as your poor dear father, the major.

“Enbon-point” is a French word for plump (fat). The phrase was later popularized in the 20th century in Michael Harrison’s All Trees were Green, 1936.


English Idioms: A Toss-Up


A Toss-Up: A result that is unclear, could go very good or very bad

The Blazers were ahead by 4 points, but it was still a toss-up who was going to win.

The phrase “it’s a toss-up” originated in the 1740’s. It uses the chance outcome of a coin toss as a metaphor for any result with an unclear outcome.

English Idioms: A Blessing in Disguise


Blessing in Disguise: Unfortunate event that has an unexpectedly positive outcome.

Missing the train was a blessing in disguise, because that is when I met my wife. 

This idiom has its origins in China, originally part of the longer phrase, “misfortune may be a blessing in disguise.” This saying originally comes from a story in “Lessons from the Human World” of Hua Nan Zi compiled by Liu An in the West Han Dynasty.


Proverbs: The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword


The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword: Using communication to ease conflict instead of violence can bring about a more desirable outcome.

This famous proverb has been relayed in many different iterations throughout the world. References range from Assyrian sage  Ahiqar in the 7th century to Greek playwright Euripides, from the Old Testament of the Bible to the prophet Muhammad. Many thought leaders and religious individuals have pointed out the strength and success of winning a “war” with words instead of physical violence. What makes this seemingly universal concept appealing to so many cultures and throughout so many generations?

English Idioms: My Bad


My Bad: It is my fault, my mistake

It was my bad that the car door was left unlocked. 

From “My bad” is American in origin and was popularized by basketball players in the 1970s and 1980s. It circulated in urban street language until it gained widespread popularity. It picked up speed in the mid to late-1990s in the USA via the 1995 movie “Clueless”. This starred Alicia Silverstone and contains what seems to have been the first use of the phrase in the mainstream media. The 1994 ‘Green revision pages’ for the movie script has a scene with Alicia Silverstone’s character learning to drive:

“Cher swerves – to avoid killing a person on a bicycle. Cher: Whoops, my bad.”

English Idioms: Lose Your Marbles


Lose Your Marbles: Go crazy, lose your wits.

I believe that man has completely lost his marbles. 

From It’s … likely that ‘marbles’ was coined as a slang term meaning ‘wits/common sense’, as a reference to the marbles that youngsters play with. The notion of ‘losing something that is important to you’ appears to have migrated from the image of a forlorn child having lost his prized playthings. An early citation of this figurative usage is found in an August 1886 copy of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat:

He has roamed the block all morning like a boy who had lost his marbles.

Idioms: Beat around the Bush


Beat around the Bush: To avoid a topic of conversation or to not speak directly about the issue.

Henry beat around the bush, but he never asked his boss for a raise directly.

From Yahoo Voices: “The phrase beat around the bush is derived from early hunting techniques in which unarmed men would walk around the forest beating tree branches and making noise, so as to flush the game from the bush. This allowed the hunters to avoid directly approaching the animals.”