11 Corny Phrases and Words That Are Common in English
Why should you learn “corny” and silly words? Well, for one thing, it is incredibly fun! You can use them to lighten the mood (make things less serious) in a conversation and to joke around with native speakers.
It helps your conversational skills to understand that these words and phrases are often not used seriously. Also, they are likely to be understood and used by people of all ages.
Finally, these corny words and phrases let you look closer at English-language culture and see what makes it fun and unique!
- 1. Corny
- 2. Cheesy
- 3. Chatty Cathy / Debbie Downer / Negative Nancy
- 4. Couch potato
- 5. Bump on a log
- 6. Party pooper
- 7. Drama queen
- 8. Cowabunga!
- 9. YOLO
- 10. That’s the way the cookie crumbles
- 11. Pullin’ your leg
- And One More Thing...
Before we dive into the other “corny” words and phrases in this list, it is best to start by looking at what this word actually means.
“Corny” is another way of saying that something is “cheesy” (see below) or embarrassing.
These phrases below are “corny” because they might sound strange when used in conversations.
This word can also be used to describe something that has been said too many times and, as a result, is not very unique.
“He always uses such corny chat-up lines at the bar and wonders why no one’s ever interested.”
This word is not so obvious in its meaning and if you have ever heard someone say it, you may have been very confused unless it was explained.
“Cheesy” is used to mean something that is very obviously joking or over-the-top. It can be funny, annoying or even uncomfortable and embarrassing to hear someone say something super cheesy. It can be even worse if someone does something cheesy.
To help you understand, here are a few examples of when someone would use the word “cheesy”:
- Valentine’s Day is often considered a very cheesy holiday because of the tradition of giving flowers and a heart-shaped box of chocolates to your significant other (boyfriend or girlfriend). This tradition is seen as cheesy because it is very cliché (overdone).
- “Cheesy” is most often used to refer to a really over-the-top bad joke. Here are some examples of cheesy jokes:
“Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road? Because he had no guts.”
(“Guts” can refer to either the stomach and intestines or to having the bravery and determination to do something.)
“Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.”
(To get this joke, you have to remember that the number “eight” sounds exactly like the verb “ate.”)
And finally, my personal favorite:
“Why should you never play poker in the jungle? Because there are too many cheetahs.”
(“Cheetahs” plays with the word “cheater,” or someone who breaks the rules in a competition so they can win.)
- As already mentioned, any of the other words and phrases on this list could be considered cheesy. Even the word “cheesy” is itself a little cheesy.
Similar words to “cheesy” include “corny” (see above) and “tacky.” “Corny” is a synonym (a word that means the same thing) of cheesy. However, “tacky” sounds more negative and generally is used to refer to something that is cheap or in bad taste.
For example, around Christmas time, “tacky sweater parties” (also known as “ugly sweater parties” ) are very common in the United States. The idea is that everyone comes to the party wearing a very ugly sweater, one your grandmother might knit you as a present.
3. Chatty Cathy / Debbie Downer / Negative Nancy
Together, these three phrases are the cheesiest of all cheesy phrases. Luckily, there is no hidden meaning behind these English phrases and they are easy to learn.
Nowadays, anytime someone uses these phrases, they are using them in a very joking way. They are not to be taken too seriously.
“Chatty Cathy” refers to someone (not necessarily a girl) who is very talkative and never seems to be quiet. This can be a good or a bad thing.
“Gosh John, you’re such a Chatty Cathy, always talking, talking, talking.”
“Debbie Downer” refers to someone who is in a sad mood most of the time. By being sad, they tend to “bring down” others around them, making them feel sad, too.
“Sally is always being such a Debbie Downer. She’s never happy.”
“Negative Nancy” refers to someone who, you guessed it, is always negative. This is someone who never seems to have anything nice to say. The difference between a Debbie Downer and a Negative Nancy is that a Negative Nancy is not necessarily sad about something. They are just in a bad mood all the time.
“Wow Tom, way to be a Negative Nancy. Your bad mood is rubbing off on everyone around you.”
4. Couch potato
Everyone knows someone who is super lazy. All this person wants to do is sit around and watch TV or be on the computer. This type of person is called a “couch potato.” Couch potatoes are the laziest of the lazy. They usually don’t have the motivation to do anything.
“Jack is such a couch potato; all he wants to do is watch TV.”
5. Bump on a log
“Bump on a log” is an interesting corny phrase. It can mean the same thing as “couch potato.” But it also has another meaning: Someone who is always there but never seems to participate in social activities or contribute to conversation is a bump on a log.
“Jack is basically a bump on a log. I forget he is even there sometimes.”
6. Party pooper
This phrase is especially funny and should not be taken literally. Technically, someone who poops at a party would indeed be a party pooper, but that is not the way this phrase is used in everyday conversation.
A party pooper is the Debbie Downer of a social gathering or a happy event. This is a person who doesn’t seem to stop complaining, even when everyone else is having a good time. They are often being very self-centered.
“Don’t be such a party pooper, we’re all actually having fun.”
7. Drama queen
Just like with couch potatoes, everyone knows a drama queen. This is someone (male or female) who never seems to stop worrying about themselves and what is going on in their life.
A drama queen takes something that is not a big deal, and turns it into a huge deal, as if the world is going to end. Probably the most annoying thing about a drama queen is their ability to complain about nothing. Drama queens love to blow things out of proportion (overreact).
“All Jennifer does is complain. She’s such a drama queen.”
Often yelled before jumping off of a diving board, “cowabunga” is a wonderfully cheesy word used to show your happiness before doing something.
Unfortunately, “cowabunga” is only used to express delight (happiness) about doing something fun. This is sad because “cowabunga” is a great corny word that should be used more often.
“Cowabunga baby! I’m going swimming!”
“Cowabunga” has been around for a while. One place it has shown up is in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoon and movies, which were very popular in the ’80s and ’90s.
YOLO stands for “You Only Live Once” and is the newest word on this list. It has only been around since 2011 when it was coined by the famous rapper Drake. These days, it is often a word that is used before doing something you know is dumb.
Almost immediately after this word made it into the mainstream (general public), it was turned into a joke and almost completely used sarcastically (not seriously). Nowadays, when someone says YOLO, you can be pretty sure they don’t actually mean it and are just being cheesy or sarcastic.
“I’m gonna pull an all-nighter tonight, YOLO.”
( “All-nighter” is a noun that refers to staying up all night.)
10. That’s the way the cookie crumbles
When something you don’t want to happen happens anyway, use this phrase. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles” is a very corny way to say “that’s just the way it is.” This phrase is perfect for reacting to how something has turned out, especially when it has not turned out the way you wanted it to.
“We lost the game, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
11. Pullin’ your leg
Whenever someone is teasing (making fun of) you or they are making something up in a joking manner, they are pulling your leg. This phrase is sort of confusing because it really doesn’t have anything to do with its literal meaning.
However, it is a funny phrase, with “pulling” often said as “pullin’,” which means it should be easy to remember. Or am I just pulling your leg?
“Stop pullin’ my leg. I know you’re only kidding.”
Learn how phrases like these are used by native speakers by watching an English-language movie or TV show, and maybe using a virtual immersion platform like FluentU to watch short videos with interactive captions.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Try listening for the words above in conversation, or maybe even using them yourself.
Just remember, don’t take any of it too seriously!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
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