Your web-reference
Articles > Idioms feed > English language
8000 American Idioms
English language
ESL Links
Idioms feed
American Idioms
More Idioms
Online Lessons
For Web-masters
English proverbs
Famous expressions
Russian Idioms
About the site
Site search

Follow English as a Second Language on Twitter
Follow ESL on Twitter

Where did all these idioms come from?

There are many different sources of idioms.

And the most important thing about idioms is their meaning. This is why a native speaker does not notice that an idiom is incorrect grammatically. If the source of an idiom is known, it is sometimes easier to imagine its meaning.

Idioms come from all different sources — from the Bible to horse racing, from ancient fables to modern slang. Sometimes famous authors and storytellers such as Homer, Aesop, Geoffrey Chaucer, or William Shakespeare made them up to add spark to their writings.

The authors were popular, so the expressions they created became popular.

Often, however, we don't know the name of the first author or speaker who used a particular expression. Some idioms came from Native-American customs (bury the hatchet) and others from African-American speech (chill out). Many idiomatic phrases come from the every-day life of Englishmen, from home life, e.g. to be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth, to make a clean sweep of something, to hit the nail on the head.

There are many which have to do with food and cooking, e.g. to eat humble pie, out of the frying-pan into the fire, to be in the soup. Agricultural life has given rise to to go to seed, to put one's hand to the plough, to lead someone up the garden path.

Nautical life and military life are the source of when one's ship comes home, to be in the same boat as someone, to be in deep waters, to sail under false colors, to cross swords with someone, to fight a pitched battle, to fight a losing/winning battle.

Many idioms include parts of the body, animals, and colors. Some became popular because the rhyme (snug as a bug in a rug) or have alliteration (spick and span). Some idioms originated as colloquialisms (informal speech) or slang (casual, playful, non-standard language). Some were well-known proverbs and adages (short sayings that express practical, basic truths). Some popular idioms began as folksy saying used in particular regions of the country and spoken in local dialects. Many came from other countries. Some idioms go back in time to the ancient Greeks and Romans, thousands of years ago. Others are more recent.

So idioms come from all over the place

such as famous authors, ancient fables, religious sayings, and modern slang. Word experts who study origins of idiomatic expressions don't always agree on exactly where each one came from.

In this work, I've included the most accepted explanations.


Rel Exact regex  
See also »

Recent updates »
  from way back
[from way back] {adv. phr.} From a previous time; from a long time ago. They have known one another from way back when they  […]

pour cold water on
[pour cold water on] See: [THROW COLD WATER ON].

[pint-size] {adj.}, {informal} Very small. The new pint-size, portable TV sets have a very clear picture. It was funny to  […]


  © 2006—2015