Vocabulary in English

75 Body Idioms in English

75 Body Idioms in English

OK. Look at yourself!

I guess you can probably name most of the parts of your body that you can see (and some of the ones you can’t see).

But how many idioms can you make from your body parts?

In English, there are LOTS of idioms that use parts of the body.

Here are 75 of the most common body idioms in English.

How many did you already know?

Body idioms: Parts of the head

Body idioms with parts of the head

Body idioms with “head”

To head off

This means “to start a journey.”

Maybe you’re going on a short trip:

“I’m just heading off to the shops. Do you want anything?”

Or maybe it’s the biggest journey of your life!

“We’re walking around the world! We’re heading off on Tuesday!”

Off the top of my head

This one’s very useful for politicians when they’re being asked difficult questions in interviews.

We usually use it in sentences like:

“That’s an interesting question, but I can’t tell you off the top of my head.”

Or

“I don’t know off the top of my head, but I think that sales went up 20% in June and down 40% in August. But you’ll have to check.”

What does it mean?

It basically means “without checking.”

Have your head in the clouds

You know this feeling.

When you’re walking down the street, daydreaming and thinking about what you might do if you won the lottery … you could travel the world and eat carrot cake whenever you wanted and maybe you could raise awareness for charity by swimming on each continent …

While you’re having these thoughts, you don’t notice the lamp post in front of you and then, all of a sudden … bang! You walk right into it!

So what does it mean?

When you have your head in the clouds, it means that you’re not paying attention to the world around you, or the important issues, because you’re daydreaming.

Head over heels

There are two meanings for this one. The literal one and the more idiomatic one.

If you think about where your head is (at the top of your body) and where your heels are (at the bottom of your body — click here for more body vocab), when you go head over heels, you turn over in a forward motion — like a somersault:

Silhouette of a man doing a somersault on a hill against a blue sky with puffy white clouds

But when we say someone’s head over heels (or that they’ve fallen head over heels for someone), it means they’ve fallen madly in love.

In over your head

This is when you’re stuck in a difficult situation — a situation that you don’t have the ability or the resources to escape.

In short, it’s very bad news.

Examples? Sure!

“It was only after he’d started to borrow money from the local mafia that he realised he was in over his head.”

“I don’t think I can do this job! I’ve been here a week, and I have no idea what’s going on. I think I’m in over my head.”

Body idioms with “brain”

No-brainer

Some decisions are difficult to make.

Like what to eat for dinner.

I find that a nightmare. Every. Single. Time.

But some decisions are really easy.

Like “Would you prefer to travel the world or work in a shoe factory for a week?”

Easy — travel the world, right?

Or “You have to choose a superpower: A lifetime of being able to fly or the ability to turn pages in a book without touching them.”

Easy! The book thing!

No, just kidding. It’s the flying. It’s always the flying.

These easy decisions?

They’re not usually called easy decisions but no-brainers.

So when someone asks you to choose between a thousand euros and a box of matches, all you need to say is, “That’s a no-brainer!”

To pick your brain

Some people know more about stuff than other people.

For example, I’m pretty good at language stuff.

So, when a friend of mine has some tricky questions about language, they ask me.

On the other hand, I’m absolutely terrible when it comes to choosing a bike to buy.

I love bikes, but I know nothing about them.

That’s when I ask my friend Martin about types of bikes and which ones are best for off-road and which ones look best in Instagram photos and so on …

In short, I pick his brains.

But not in a zombie kind of way.

More of an “I want to learn about this particular topic” kind of way.

A classic example?

OK, then:

“Can I buy you a coffee and pick your brain about Bitcoin investment?”

Body idioms with “hair”

Out of your hair

Sometimes it’s just good to get out of people’s way, right?

If you’ve got young kids, this one will be familiar to you.

When you’ve got work to do, it’s good to have the kids out of the house (or at least out of wherever you’re working).

Maybe someone nice can take them out to the park and get them out of your hair.

And sometimes, we realise we’re kind of in other people’s way.

That’s a good time to say, “Sorry — I’ll get out of your hair in a minute. I just need to make some tea.”

To let your hair down

Work, work, work, work.

Boring isn’t it?

Sometimes you just want to do something crazy, like bungee jumping, spending the evening at the fairground or maybe going clubbing.

It’s time to let your hair down!

We all deserve to let our hair down every now and again.

To tear your hair out

You tear your hair out when you’re going a bit crazy from frustration.

It might just be because you’ve got a tight deadline, and you’re tearing your hair out trying to complete the work on time.

You might also be tearing your hair out trying to finish that last page of the novel you’ve been working on for three years.

You can also use the phrase “tear your hair out with worry”:

“I’d better get home before dark. Otherwise, my parents will be tearing their hair out with worry.”

To split hairs

When you split hairs, you discuss tiny, tiny differences between things — differences so small that they don’t really matter.

Like when the bill comes to 12.84 and the waiter gives you change for 12.85.

If you complain about that, then you’re splitting hairs.

Or when you say it’s time to leave because it’s five o’clock, but then Barry tells you that it’s actually three minutes to five.

What’s Barry doing?

That’s right. He’s splitting hairs!

So that’s when you can say, “Don’t split hairs, Barry.”

Body idioms with “eyebrows”

To raise eyebrows

Back in the past, it was much easier to shock people.

Things that are pretty normal these days would still raise a few eyebrows.

Perhaps a woman becoming CEO of a company would raise eyebrows.

Or wearing jeans and a T-shirt for a dinner party would raise eyebrows.

When something raises eyebrows, it slightly shocks people or catches their attention. It wouldn’t be anything too extreme — just enough to make people stop reading their newspaper and look up in surprise.

Body idioms with “eye”

An eye for detail

So you want to become a journalist? Or a copy editor? Or an interior designer? Or a bomb disposal expert?

Then you’ll definitely need an eye for detail — you’ll need to be able to notice the small things.

Eye on the ball

So you’re running a political campaign to become president of the world?

Well, good luck!

But there’s a lot of competition. You’ll need to be organised — very, very organised.

You’ll need to make sure you’re up-to-date with everything that’s happening. All the time.

You won’t be able to take a break or make a mistake. Not a single one. Not even a short break with coffee and no biscuits.

You’ll need to be focused every single second of the campaign.

In short, you’ll need to keep your eye on the ball.

Stay focused!

See eye to eye

Have you been online in the last, say, 10 years?

It’s crazy out there!

Everyone seems to have a different opinion about everything. Everyone seems to be arguing and fighting and well … it’s not very pleasant sometimes.

People just don’t seem to be able to see eye to eye.

So what does it mean?

Well, it means to agree with each other.

We usually use this idiom when we’re talking about a particular topic.

So you could say:

“Oh yeah — Diara and I don’t see eye to eye on this. I just don’t think we should be spending the budget on a horizontal elevator. We only have four offices in the building.”

We also generally use this in the negative. It’s kind of a diplomatic way of saying you don’t agree.

Eyes bigger than your stomach

When I was a kid, we went to Las Vegas and stayed in the second-biggest hotel in the world. (The biggest one was across the road — we could see it from our window.)

Las Vegas is a crazy place — the whole city seems to revolve around gambling. There are gambling machines everywhere.

Everyone wants you to spend your time (and money) in their hotels/restaurants/bars/diners, etc., so you’ll spend money on their machines.

As a result, the food was really, really cheap in our hotel.

We got lunch one day from an “all-you-can-eat” buffet — all you can eat for $3.50. Crazy cheap!

Of course, I put a small mountain of food on my tray, including a whole pineapple (until my mother placed it back on the buffet).

And of course, I didn’t eat everything — in fact, I only ate about a quarter of what I’d taken.

Why?

Because my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Because I thought I could eat more than I really could.

To keep an eye on someone

This means to watch or take care of something or somebody to prevent damage or trouble.

“I’m just going to the toilet — could you keep an eye on my bag?”

Keep an eye on him — I don’t trust him.”

Keep an eye on the kids while they’re on the climbing frame.”

Body idioms with “ear”

To be all ears

“Hey! You’re not really interested in this, are you?”
“What are you talking about? I’m all ears! I love hearing you describe the last furniture conference.”
“OK. You just looked bored.”

So what does it mean?

Simple! If you say that you’re all ears, it means that you’re listening – listening carefully and giving the other person your full attention.

To play something by ear

Do you ever start planning a holiday, and then you realise that too much depends on different things?

Like, you plan a picnic on the town hill for lunch, but it might rain that day.

And you really wanted to go to the giraffe museum on the edge of town, but the public transport might be unreliable.

So, with all these things that are out of your control, you might just want to improvise.

You’ll decide on the day whether you have enough time for the giraffe museum.

And when the time comes for the picnic, you’ll look at the sky and decide then whether you think it’ll rain or not.

You’ll improvise!

In other words, you’ll play it by ear.

Body idioms with “nose”

Nosy

We all have one, right?

A nosy neighbour.

Someone who keeps stopping you in the stairwell and asking about your job, your relationship, your family …

No? OK. It’s just me, then.

A nosy person is someone who just keeps asking you personal questions that are none of their business.

I actually included this idiom in my book, 102 Little Drawings That Will Help You Remember English Rules FOREVER (Probably).

Nosy stick figure with huge nose pointed towards an annoyed-looking couple

To stick your nose in / To keep your nose out

And what do you say to a nosy person?

Keep your nose out of my business!”

Or

“Stop sticking your nose into my life!”

But be careful. This is actually quite rude, and you’ll only want to use it if you’re in friendly company or the other person is really, really annoying you.

Body idioms with “lips”

My lips are sealed

What’s that? You’ve got a secret?

Don’t worry — you can tell me. I won’t tell anyone.

You did what?! Seriously?! With four tomatoes?

Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. My lips are sealed.

So what does it mean?

Well, it means what I just said: “I won’t tell anyone.”

To pay lip service

You know when some people pretend to be in support of something, but they aren’t really?

Like when politicians pretend to be interested in getting more people to visit museums by visiting a museum and talking about how much they love museums and how everyone should go to museums.

Then the next day they cut all the funding for the museums.

Or when your boss keeps saying that your idea to do the meetings in the park every Friday is great, but whenever you try to get him to make it official, he disappears.

These people are paying lip service — they’re saying they agree with something, but that’s it. They don’t do anything to actually support it.

Body idioms with “teeth”

To sink your teeth into

Some work is boring. It’s slow, it takes ages, and it’s unsatisfying.

Stuff like data entry or washing-up.

You just do it and it happens, but nothing in the world really changes.

However, some work is fun and satisfying to do.

Not because it’s easy — but because it’s satisfying.

Like transforming your back garden from a big mess into a beautiful Japanese garden.

Sure, it’s hard work, but it’s something you can do, see the progress and enjoy.

It’s a job you can really sink your teeth into.

“I’m looking forward to getting my teeth sunk into the new project.”

Teething problems

When something’s new, you get certain kinds of problems.

Like when a new business is starting, and you still need to design efficient processes before everything’s running smoothly.

These are teething problems — little problems that happen when something is starting out.

Sweet tooth

She’s really into candy and chocolate and cake and eats a plate of sugar for breakfast every day?

She’s really got a sweet tooth!

It means she likes sweet things.

Body idioms with “tongue”

On the tip of my tongue

“Oh, you have a problem with your horse? I know who you need to talk to! What’s her name … Oh — I usually know it. It’s on the tip of my tongue! Cerry? Cirra? Something like that.”

When something’s on the tip of your tongue, you’re so close to remembering it, but it’s just not coming.

You know this feeling, right?

It happens with people’s names, phrases and some words (especially if they’re not in your first language).

A tongue twister

Tongue twisters are fun.

Let’s try some!

Try saying these words again and again really fast:

“Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry, …”

Difficult, right?

What about this one?

“She sells seashells on the seashore. The seashells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.”

Also difficult, isn’t it?

These are tongue twisters.

Do you have any tongue twisters in your first language? Let me know in the comments.

Tongue in cheek

What if I told you that I really liked it when things go badly?

Would you think I was mad?

Or would you think I was just being funny … but in an ironic way?

Another example could be with films. There are some films that are quite bad, but it’s because they’re trying to be bad — it’s like a big joke.

Extreme examples of this include films like Airplane and Hot Shots!, which are just ridiculous and fun.

They’re not just being weird — they’re being tongue in cheek.

They’re ironic, but at the same time, you know it’s a joke and you’re in on the joke.

You might hear “tongue in cheek” in a sentence like this:

“Oh, you’re not supposed to take it seriously! It’s all tongue in cheek.”

Body idioms with “face”

To face something

“I can’t face another two weeks with those horrible kids! When are their parents coming back?”

“I think he has to face the fact that he won’t make pure gold out of chocolate.”

When you face something, it means you have to deal with something you don’t want to.

Because of this, we usually use the phrase in the negative or with phrases like “have to.”

“You have to face the truth!”

“I just can’t face another morning working in that weird room.”

Two-faced

Some people like gossiping.

And sometimes it’s just harmless fun.

But sometimes it gets messy. Usually when someone’s being two-faced: They behave nicely to someone, but as soon as that person isn’t there any more, they start saying negative things about them.

We’ve all seen it — especially back in school, right?

People who do this — who say one thing to one person and a different thing to another — are two-faced.

Poker face

Apart from a massively popular song by the awesomely weird Lady Gaga, a poker face is a face that gives away no emotion.

You look at a poker face, and you have no idea what that person is thinking or feeling.

Which is a good thing when you’re playing poker.

Body idioms with “chin”

Keep your chin up! / Chin up!

Life can be tough sometimes, especially as a teenager or during Covid and lockdowns … and definitely as a teenager during lockdown.

It’s easy to get a little sad and lose motivation.

If someone needs a bit of a positivity boost, it could be nice to cheer them up by reminding them of something nice, like the fact their hair looks great or that they’ve just won a large house in Scotland.

Chin up! You can move to Edinburgh as soon as the borders open again!”

“I know it’s tough, but you just need to do it for one more week. Keep your chin up!

“Chin up” means “Cheer up!”

Take it on the chin

Have you seen the classic ’80s film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?

Such a great film! If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend that you do!

But if you won’t, then here’s a spoiler.

It’s basically about a group of friends (Ferris, Sloane and Cameron) who skip school, “borrow” Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari and have a great day hanging out in town.

At the end of the film, they accidentally crash and destroy Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari.

Big trouble, right!

Ferris, being the hero of the film, volunteers to take the blame and tell Cameron’s dad it was all his fault. “He hates me anyway.”

But Cameron says no.

Cameron decides to face his dad and take it on the chin. He decides to accept the bad things that are going to happen to him without complaining and with bravery.

Body idioms: Upper body

Body idioms with parts of the upper body
Human Heart by InjuryMap | CC BY 4.0

Body idioms with “neck”

To stick your neck out

“Well, someone has to tell the boss that he’s making a big mistake. But who’s it going to be? Who’s going to stick their neck out?”

If you stick your neck out, you’re doing something that might get you in trouble — you’re taking a risk.

Body idioms with “shoulder”

Shoulder to shoulder

A lot of the time, especially in politics, people are not united.

You get lots of different opinions about how to do things and how to run the world.

But sometimes, there’s something that brings people together.

During times of crisis, like pandemics and wars and natural disasters, you see people working together who wouldn’t normally work together — people working shoulder to shoulder.

So what does it mean?

“Standing shoulder to shoulder” or “working shoulder to shoulder” means that people are united — usually working together to reach the same goal.

To shoulder the burden/blame/responsibility/cost

“He was such a nightmare when he was young. He spent his whole three years at university just hanging out with his mates while we had to shoulder the cost of tuition. Oh, he drove me mad!”

If you shoulder a cost or a burden or the blame, you take responsibility for it.

We usually use this idiom when it shouldn’t really be your responsibility, but you take it anyway.

Someone might shoulder the blame for a friend (like in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when Ferris offers to shoulder the blame for Cameron’s dad’s smashed-up Ferrari).

To rub shoulders with

Do you know anyone successful?

Not super famous or powerful or anything — but someone who knows super famous and powerful people.

They sometimes get invited to elite parties with politicians and film stars.

They’re not friends, but they meet them from time to time. They might even have a phone number or two.

Well, that person is rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

They’re not in the inner circle, but they’re kind of close — like a satellite in orbit.

By the way, in U.S. English, this idiom is “rub elbows.”

Body idioms with “arm”

To cost an arm and a leg

Some things are reasonably priced.

I mean — have you seen the price of DVDs these days? Amazing!

But some things are crazy expensive.

Like a house in Malibu, a holiday in Monaco or getting yourself cryogenically frozen.

These things are just too expensive. They cost an arm and a leg.

Body idioms with “elbow”

To elbow somebody out

Sometimes business is like war!

You’re constantly in competition with the other people for the top job.

Some people get really aggressive and fight dirty to get someone’s job.

If the worst finally happens, and you lose your job because someone managed to replace you — maybe they took the boss out for dinner or something — then you got elbowed out.

This happens in politics a lot.

In fact, sometimes you see politicians quitting their jobs before they get elbowed out.

Body idioms with “wrist”

Slap on the wrist

Wow!

He stole a car, crashed it into the police chief’s house, stole his dog, drove for hours chased by half the police force, blew up a MacDonald’s AND made a horrible joke about the Queen of Sweden in court?

And he just got a $10 fine? That’s just a slap on the wrist!

So what does it mean?

If you get a slap on the wrist, you get a much, much smaller punishment than you deserve.

Body idioms with “hand”

To give someone a hand

“Hey! That looks heavy! Can I give you a hand?”

When you’re carrying too much, or you’re doing all the cooking, or you have a really difficult piece of paperwork to do, then you might want someone to help you out a little.

Or in other words, you might want someone to give you a hand.

Blood on your hands

OK. Time for a dark one.

Some people kill.

Sometimes it’s an accident, like a car crash.

And sometimes it’s deliberate, like when politicians start wars.

Either way, if someone is responsible for someone’s death, then we say that they have blood on their hands.

This idiom is often used as a way of accusing someone.

To have a hand in something

At one school I went to (I went to eight!), every year the whole school took a week off lessons, got together and made something big.

The year that I was there, we all built a massive BMX track — with jumps and stuff.

The year before I was there, the whole school managed to make a lake — a proper big lake with reeds and ducks and everything.

When I think about that BMX track, it always makes me feel good that I had a hand in it — that I was involved in something productive.

It’s great to be part of a team, right?

By the way, this can be used negatively, too:

“Barry! I knew you’d had a hand in creating this mess!”

To wash your hands of something

We’ve just been talking a bit about responsibility — like the responsibility of being part of a big project.

But sometimes things go wrong … and you don’t want to be responsible for something any more.

Maybe you start off setting up a reading group, but it grows and grows and before you know it you’re part of a group full of cabbage farmers who want to burn all the carrot farms in your neighbourhood.

That’s when you decide to wash your hands of the reading group.

You cut your connection to it so you’re no longer responsible for all those burned carrots.

Body idioms with “finger”

Green fingers

Do you like gardening?

You know — planting flowers and trees and grass and stuff?

Some people, like me, are really terrible at this.

We let things die. We plant things at the wrong time of year. We forget to feed and water them. We plant the wrong things next to each other so they eat each other or beat each other up or whatever it is that plants do when they don’t get on with each other.

But other people are really good at it.

Everything grows and grows and blooms and all the plants are happy, and they end up with the best gardens.

These people have green fingers — they’re good at gardening.

By the way, in the U.S. and Australia, they use “a green thumb” instead of “green fingers.”

Body idioms with “chest”

To get something off your chest

Humans worry too much.

We walk around stressing about things that we have no control over, or we stay up all night, anxious about all sorts of things.

One way to stop worrying about something?

Talk to someone about it!

Get it off your chest!

As soon as you start talking about things, they become more manageable.

It’s like you’re removing some of the problem just by talking about it.

So what does it mean?

Well, “get something off your chest” means to talk about something so that you don’t stress so much about it.

Body idioms with “heart”

I haven’t got the heart

OK. This one’s usually used in the negative.

“She really wanted me to get her a pony. She looked so sad, and I didn’t have the heart to say no. Now I’m paying about 50,000 euros a year for that thing.”

Or

“I was going to tell Barry that his car had been stolen, but I just didn’t have the heart to.”

So what does it mean?

Well, if you don’t have the heart to do something, it means that you just can’t do something that requires you to hurt someone or to be unkind.

To cry your heart out / sing your heart out

We’ve all seen Wayne’s World, right?

So we all know that classic scene.

If you haven’t, then watch this:

If you can’t watch it, then let me very quickly describe what’s going on.

It’s five guys in a car singing their hearts out to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

That’s it.

Somehow, that became one of the most iconic scenes of ’90s cinema.

So what does it mean?

“Sing your heart out” means to sing with ALL the passion!

You can also cry your heart out or cry your eyes out, meaning “to cry passionately.”

To learn by heart

Here’s something that I find a little annoying.

When you go to a bar or a café (remember those?) and there’s a rock band.

OK — so far, so good.

But then you notice that the band hasn’t bothered to learn any of the songs — they’re using a book and are reading the music as they play the songs.

Classical music? No problem — sheet music is fine.

Jazz music? Also fine — read the notes. No problem!

But rock? Come on! It’s supposed to be raw!

It’s also quite easy to play — so it’s not difficult to learn the songs by heart.

So what does it mean?

“To learn by heart” means to memorise.

Body idioms with “stomach”

I don’t have the stomach for …

This one is quite similar to “I haven’t got the heart.”

But instead of not being able to do something because it might affect other people negatively, this one’s more personal.

We use it when we can’t do something because it’s either disgusting or painful or just generally horrible.

Some people can’t stomach horror films.

Some people can’t stomach getting a tattoo (because of the pain).

And some people just can’t stomach my weird humour. It’s OK. I forgive you.

And if you can stomach something, then you’ve got the stomach for it.

Butterflies in the stomach

That feeling just before an exam or before a first date, or when you’re sitting on a roller coaster just before it’s about to start …

That nervous feeling in your stomach?

That feeling that feels like there are butterflies flying around down there?

That’s butterflies in your stomach.

Basically, it means that you’re nervous — but maybe also kind of excited.

Body idioms with “guts”

Have a gut feeling

Do you ever get that feeling when your body tells you something before your brain does?

Some people just call it intuition.

Like when you have to interview someone, and you just know they’re going to be the right person for the job before they’ve even said much.

Or when you know something bad’s going to happen … but you don’t know what or why.

You’re working on a very basic feeling.

That’s when you have a gut feeling.

There’s also the phrase “I’m going to go with my gut,” meaning I’m going to make the decision that feels right (and not necessarily the rational or logical one).

Please don’t do this when you’re voting.

To have the guts

The very scary man has some pasta stuck in his beard. Who’s got the guts to tell him?

Would you?

Would you tell a scary man that he’s got food in his beard?

He’s scary — maybe he’ll shout at you. Or worse!

But if you have the guts to do that, then well done!

So what does it mean?

Well, “have the guts to do something” means “have the courage to do something scary.”

That’s it! Just being brave enough for a specific thing.

Body idioms: Back and lower body

Body idioms with "back" and parts of the lower body

Body idioms with “back”

Get off my back!

When someone is always telling you what to do or constantly asking you whether you’ve finished that project yet or just not leaving you alone for some reason or another, then that person is on your back.

And you need to tell them to get off your back!

In other words, to leave you alone.

Pat on the back

When you do something helpful or useful, it’s nice to get a bit of recognition, right?

Something like a “Well done!” or a “Hey, good work!” or just someone to smile and point at you.

Like this:

via GIPHY

Whenever you get a bit of recognition like this, someone’s giving you a pat on the back.

It’s like a small “congratulations.”

To go behind someone’s back

Imagine the coffee machine at your office is awful and old and doesn’t even offer cappuccinos. Everyone hates it, and you all want to get a new one.

So you ask your manager, who immediately says no.

But fortunately, you’re on very good terms with the CEO, so next time you’re hanging out and playing golf, you just ask her.

She says, “Yes! Of course!”

And you get the new coffee machine the next day.

Now, was this a good idea?

I guess you could say it was a good idea from one point of view. I mean, you got the new coffee machine, right?

But on the other hand, your relationship with your manager isn’t going to be great now, right?

And why?

Because you went behind his back. You got something done without his permission.

To put your back into something

“Come on! Come on! Work harder! Put your back into it!

I’m imagining this is what people were saying when the pyramids were being built:

Image of pyramids being constructed. A man is pointing towards the workers with a speech bubble saying "Come on! Put your back into it!"

What does it mean?

It means “Work harder! Make an effort!”

You know — all the sorts of things that ancient Egyptian pyramid constructing people would probably say.

Body idioms with “arse”

Hooray! It’s that point when we talk about a rude part of the body.

Now, normally at Clark and Miller HQ, we don’t like using words that aren’t safe for work.

But here’s the good news. Unlike its American cousin, the word “arse” isn’t that rude. You can even hear it on UK television before 9 p.m.

And, another reason to include this very Anglo Saxon word is that there are lots of great idioms with it.

Don’t know your arse from your elbow

If you want to call someone stupid, you could just say “He’s stupid.”

But that’s not much fun, is it?

And what’s more, it doesn’t contain the word “arse.”

So you could say “He doesn’t know his arse from his elbow.”

Which means “He’s really, really stupid.”

To work your arse off

These days people work too much.

We’re using our phone to work over breakfast, and we’re still at it when we go to bed at night.

In short, we all work our arses off, meaning, we work SO much.

Here’s my advice — don’t work your arse off, and try to get some work-life balance going.

Pain in the arse

Kids are great and everything, but sometimes …

Well, sometimes they can be a pain in the arse, right?

Why?

Well, they keep asking questions all the time … and I mean ALL the time.

Then, the next minute they’re using pots and pans for their makeshift drum kit.

At 3 a.m.

And I get it — they need to. It’s how they learn about the world around them.

But they can really be a pain in the arse, meaning that they can really be annoying.

Sometimes we use this idiom to talk about people:

“I had to sit next to Barry at the work dinner. He’s such a pain in the arse!”

And sometimes we use this idiom to talk about work and tasks:

“I missed out a sentence and had to print out the whole document again — such a pain in the arse!”

Body idioms with “leg”

Leg it!

“Quick! The police are coming! Time to stop spray painting this bank and run away! Come on! Let’s leg it!”

OK. That’s probably not how graffiti artists usually talk. I mean — why would they say what they’re doing when they’re already doing it?

But you get the meaning, right?

“Leg it” means “Run away!”

To pull your leg

When I lived in Istanbul, I had a friend called Russel who was an excellent practical joker — he loved playing tricks on people.

Once he had a friend visiting him from Scotland. The guy hadn’t really travelled much and had never been to a Muslim country.

Before they got in the taxi from the airport, Russel told him that you have to take your shoes off whenever you enter someone’s house AND when you enter their car. Including taxis.

So as soon as they got in the taxi, his friend started taking off his shoes. The taxi driver thought he was mad, and when Russel told his friend it was just a joke, he felt like a total fool.

But that’s Russel for you — always pulling your leg.

Or in other words, always playing tricks on you.

If you pull someone’s leg, it could be a really elaborate trick, like Russel’s, or it could just be something small, like telling someone that you’re going to quit your job and walk around the world. Or that you like the film Titanic when you don’t. (Such a terrible film.)

If you think someone’s lying to you, or if you just want to express surprise at what they’re telling you, you can say, “Are you pulling my leg?”

Body idioms with “foot”

To foot the bill

I’m not a big fan of pubs where you don’t pay for your drinks when you get them, but instead you pay the bill when you leave.

If you’re in a small group, that’s fine. But if you’re in a large group of people, and you’re the last one to leave, you always end up footing the bill.

What does it mean?

When you foot the bill, you have to pay a large bill — probably one that you shouldn’t have to pay.

Back on your feet

“What’s that? Barry’s in the hospital? Is he OK?”
“He’s fine. He just fell in the river and got too cold. He’ll be back on his feet soon.”

What does it mean?

When you’re back on your feet, you’ve recovered from an illness or an accident.

To put your foot in it

Here’s a part of the classic ’90s film Four Weddings and a Funeral:

Charles: How’s your gorgeous girlfriend?
John: She’s no longer my girlfriend.
Charles: Ah, dear. I wouldn’t get too gloomy about it. Rumour has it she never stopped sleeping with Toby de Lisle in case you didn’t work out.
John: She’s now my wife.
Charles: Excellent. Congratulations.

See what happened there?

Charles just put his foot in it: he said something that embarrassed or upset someone by accident.

Cold feet

Sometimes I don’t really think about “future me” enough.

I make decisions now that don’t affect me — they affect future me.

Like when I agreed to go bungee jumping. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But when I was there at the top of the crane looking down at 100 metres of free fall, I got cold feet. I became scared and changed my mind.

By the way, that didn’t actually happen — but it’s exactly the sort of thing I might’ve done.

Another (more classic) example is weddings.

People plan to get married. They spend weeks … months … spending money and making plans.

Then the day comes and one of them decides that he’s absolutely terrified of commitment and changes his mind at the last minute.

In short — he gets cold feet.

And some very angry family members.

Itchy feet

At the time of writing this, we’re in the middle (or hopefully towards the end) of the Covid fiasco.

We’re all stuck at home, and travelling and going on holiday is definitely out of the question.

I’m sure we’re all getting itchy feet — we’re all impatient to start travelling again and get a change of scene.

This idiom can be used for travelling generally, but we can also use it when we’ve been sitting at the café too long and want to move on, for example.

Body idioms with “toes”

On your toes

When I was in my twenties, I decided to live in a famously unsafe part of Istanbul.

Why? Well, the rent was incredibly cheap!

I was only about a two-minute walk from the main road and safety, but whenever I was walking home, I had to be on my toes for that whole two minutes — I had to be alert and ready for anything to happen.

Really, that place was crazy.

Body idioms: “Body” and “blood”

Body idioms with "body" and "blood"

Body idioms with “body”

Body of work

She wrote so many books, mostly about giraffes. She really loved giraffes.

That’s right! Her body of work consists of books about giraffes.

So what does it mean?

“Body of work” means either all or almost all of someone’s creative or academic work.

It can be used to talk about writing, art, academic papers, music or anything that a person produces.

“His body of work spans several decades.”

Over my dead body

What’s that? You plan to take my bike and cycle it to Budapest where you plan on giving it away to the biggest Titanic fan you find?

Over my dead body!

It means “No way!” or “You’ll have to kill me first!”

I really like my bike, and I really don’t like Titanic.

Body idioms with “blood”

Flesh and blood

We use this idiom when we want to emphasise the humanness of someone.

We can also use the phrase “my own flesh and blood” to emphasise how we’re related to someone:

“How can you do this to me? My own flesh and blood!

Which brings us to …

Blood is thicker than water

There’s probably a good reason that all those mad dictators out there like putting members of their family in powerful positions.

OK, they want to give them something to do so they don’t just sit around on their yachts being unpleasant to the staff.

But it’s also because the bonds between family are stronger than the bonds between friends.

Why? Because blood is thicker than water.

Make your blood boil

When the internet was new, we thought that all this information would make us better informed and improve society.

How wrong we were!

Instead, it’s full of cats (awesome!) and links to strange websites talking about things that are designed to make people angry.

And not just angry — the sorts of links that get the most clicks and engagement are things that make people’s blood boil. They make them so angry that they’re ready to explode into a cloud of CAPS LOCK AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!!


Are you still here?

Well done! You made it to the end of what might be the longest Clark and Miller post ever written.

Congratulations!

Before you leave, why not leave a comment and answer these fun questions:

  1. What makes your blood boil?
  2. Can you remember a time when you really put your foot in it?
  3. Do you have any tongue twisters in your language? What are they?
  4. Whose brain would you really like to pick?

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