Have you ever followed a recipe for a cake…
…and ended up with more of a pudding?
Or followed a map and ended up somewhere far from your destination?
Not everything works the way it’s supposed to.
That’s part of why learning English can be stressful.
Because words don’t always mean what you think they do.
When this happens, it’s likely because of idioms.
As you might already know, idioms are certain phrases in English that have their own special meanings.
They mean something different from their most literal or obvious definitions. To make things even more complicated, they can change depending on where in the world you are.
But while these phrases can be frustrating for learners, they can also be a learner’s best friend.
This is because they have fixed meanings, just like individual words.
Learn them once, and you’ll always know exactly what they mean. Then you can easily use them in conversations yourself.
So get ready to laugh as we take a look look at some funny English sayings, and prepare to build your vocabulary along the way.
Where to Find Funny English Sayings
But first, here are a few resources for finding the funnier kinds of English phrases (like the ones we’re about to learn).
You won’t only find funny phrases and expressions here, but many idioms are funny. One of the best things about this site is that you can search for a single word and see all of the idioms that word appears in. For example, I can type in the word “apple” and get a huge list of phrases with “apple” in them, like “Big Apple” (a nickname for New York City) and “upset the applecart” (ruin someone’s plans).
FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. When you learn with the same entertaining videos English speakers watch, you naturally learn funny idiomatic phrases. You can also search for phrases to find examples and videos that use certain words.
This is a big collection of phrases that you can browse in a few different ways. If you want to explore a certain word or phrase, you can search for it or find it in a list. You can also look at newly added phrases, pull up a random phrase or see “nearby phrases” (ones that are similar to the phrase you’re looking at). It’s easy to spend time learning on this site even if you aren’t looking for anything in particular.
42 Funny English Sayings for Learners to Laugh At
Ready to learn some funny English phrases? The ones below are very common and useful. Let’s look at what their meanings are and how you can use them in conversation.
The elephant in the room
This might be one of the weirdest English phrases in existence. If you say that something is the elephant in the room, you mean that thing is very obvious, but no one’s talking about it. Usually, “the elephant in the room” is something that makes people uncomfortable, which is why no one’s talking about it.
The truth is, we aren’t reaching a wider audience because our writing team isn’t diverse* enough. I didn’t want to have to say it, but this is becoming the elephant in the room.
*When people use the word “diverse” or “diversity,” they’re often talking about racial diversity. This word is used in conversations about how to include people of color (a term for non-white people that’s often used in an American setting) or other groups in areas where they haven’t been made to feel welcome in the past.
The short film “The Elephant in the Room” plays with this saying in a funny way.
In the film, James, whose girlfriend has just moved in with him, needs to tell his roommate, Phil, to move out, but he keeps avoiding it because the situation makes him uncomfortable. What makes this funny is that Phil is actually an elephant and he keeps getting bigger and bigger as James avoids talking to him.
Keep your eyes peeled
Who would want to peel their own eyes, like they were fruits or vegetables? If your eyes are already peeled, how do you keep them that way?
Of course, you don’t have to use this phrase yourself if it feels too disgusting, but at some point, you’ll probably hear someone say it to mean “watch out [for something].”
Okay, the street you need to turn on is up here, so keep your eyes peeled.
Go down a rabbit hole
The idea of going down a rabbit hole (or going down the rabbit hole) comes from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
In the book, a girl named Alice falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in a strange, magical place called Wonderland.
Going down the/a rabbit hole can mean getting into a situation that’s overwhelming and unpredictable.
However, it’s also used these days to talk about becoming deeply interested in a particular topic. No matter which meaning is being used, going down a rabbit hole might take you to unexpected places.
I went down a rabbit hole looking at muffin recipes, and now I’m thinking about opening my own bakery.
Put a pin in it
This is something people say to suggest coming back to a subject and discussing it later. This phrase is used a lot in workplace settings. It can sometimes sound like an excuse to avoid something and might be used that way, but it can also be said completely honestly and sincerely.
– So I had an idea for how we could make our team more diverse.
– That sounds great, but we’re out of time right now. Let’s put a pin in it.
Pick your brain
Here’s another saying that sounds pretty gross. Why would you pick someone’s brain?
Well, if you think someone’s ideas or intelligence could be useful to you, it might make perfect sense. To pick someone’s brain just means to see what they think or know about a particular subject.
Hey, can I pick your brain about this new project? I’d love to ask you some questions about it.
Rise and shine
If someone tells you to rise and shine, you might think, “Isn’t that the sun’s job?” And that’s a fair point!
“Rise and shine” is a phrase you can use to wake someone up in the morning. Sometimes parents say it to their children. But if you’re not a morning person, you might hate to hear it.
– Hey there, sleepyhead, rise and shine!
– No, go away! Let me sleep a little longer.
In 2019, a video of celebrity Kylie Jenner singing the words “Rise and shine” to her daughter went viral (became popular very quickly) on social media. People began to make videos of themselves singing the words and the moment became a meme.
Put out feelers
To put out feelers means to see what people think or feel about something, often before taking some kind of action.
We’re not sure if people are interested in a bakery that only sells muffins. So we’re just putting out feelers right now to see if it’s a good idea.
Best thing since sliced bread
If you say something is the best thing since sliced bread, you’re saying it’s great.
Have you seen how much he loves that video game? He thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
“Sliced bread” by itself can also be used to refer to something that’s great or amazing. This fun video about a burrito calls it “the sliced bread of food that’s not sliced bread” when describing its history.
This video is also available on FluentU with interactive captions.
Pardon my French
Why would someone excuse themselves for speaking French?
Well, as it turns out, this is something English speakers say to apologize for swearing or using “bad language.” It’s possible that this expression came from a time when English speakers really would excuse themselves for speaking French in front of someone who didn’t know the language.
Why the f**k is this game so hard to win? Pardon my French.
Pour your heart out/into (something)
This may not be as gross as keeping your eyes peeled, but it still sounds weird, right? To pour your heart out is to confess a deep feeling, or to be very honest about what you’re feeling.
To pour your heart into something is to try your absolute best or put all of your effort into it.
I poured my heart into this bakery, and it just isn’t working out. I’m so disappointed.
Keep your shirt on
This is simply a way of telling someone to calm down.
– I don’t get it! Why doesn’t anyone want to buy my muffins!?
– Hey, keep your shirt on. Maybe you just need a better business plan.
I’ll show myself out
To “show [someone] out” is to guide or escort someone out of a location, like a building. If someone says, “I’ll show myself out,” this might mean “It’s all right, I can find my way out by myself.”
However, this is also something someone might say after telling a joke that’s bad because it’s so cheesy (embarrassingly obvious) or just not very funny. It’s like saying, “It’s okay, you don’t have to make me leave. I’ll leave by myself.”
When used in this way, “I’ll show myself out” itself is meant to be a joke. So you wouldn’t actually leave after saying it.
– Why was six afraid of seven?
– I don’t know, why?
– Because seven *ate nine. I’ll show myself out.
*”Ate” is the past tense of the verb “to eat,” but is pronounced exactly the same as the number eight. This is a very bad/cheesy joke!
This is another expression often used in the workplace. When someone is swamped, it means they have so much work to do that they don’t have time for anything else. Or at least that’s what they want you to think!
– Hey, can you help me with something for a minute?
– Sorry, I can’t. I’m totally swamped.
Take a chill pill
This is like “keep your shirt on.” You might say it to someone who’s arguing with you to suggest that they’re acting rudely or inappropriately.
– Banana muffins are the BEST kind of muffins in the entire world! I could go on and on about them forever!
– Whoa, calm down, dude. Take a chill pill.
Do you want a cookie?
This expression usually isn’t used in a very nice way. “Do you want a cookie?” is kind of like “So what?”
You might say this to someone who’s bragging about something and seems to think they deserve some kind of special prize.
– Some people just aren’t willing to work hard. But not me. I keep going no matter what. I never quit.
– Uh, okay, whatever. Do you want a cookie or something?
Move it or lose it
The meaning of the first two words is pretty obvious. “Move it or lose it” just means “move.”
But what will you lose if you don’t move? A shoe? Your wallet? Your pride? No one really knows.
The truth is, it’s hard to use this phrase completely seriously. It’s something you might say if you need to get through a crowded space or to warn someone of danger (for example, if you’re carrying a pot of hot water), but it usually isn’t meant as an actual threat.
Hey everyone, I’m coming through! Move it or lose it!
“Dibs!” is a way of claiming something, or saying “That’s mine!”
This is an expression that young children use, but adults might use it, too, either jokingly or seriously. Even if they use it seriously, they’re probably still acting a little silly. They might also say, “I call dibs on that” or just “I call [something].”
– So here are the muffins I just baked…
– Ooh! I call dibs on blueberry!
Have a heart
Why would you order someone to have a heart? Everyone already has one, right?
You might already know that in English-speaking cultures (and others) the heart is thought of as having to do with caring and love, and with emotions and feelings in a more general way.
If you tell someone to have a heart, you’re expressing that you think they should be nicer or care about others more.
– I don’t care whether young people have opportunities or not. It’s not my problem.
– Oh, come on, have a heart!
The Bonnie Raitt song “Have a Heart” is about a selfish man who isn’t good at dealing with another person’s feelings in a relationship:
Hey, hey, have a heart, hey, have a heart
If you don’t love me, why don’t you let me go?
Have a heart, please, oh don’t you have a heart?
Little by little you fade while I fall apart, oh, oh
This is another expression often used by children, but that adults might use when they’re being silly. It’s a way of trying to be extra convincing when you’re asking for something.
It’s like saying, “See how nice and polite I can be? Now give me what I want!”
– Can I have the rest of your muffin?
– Hmm, I don’t know.
– Pretty please?
Throw (someone) a bone
If you throw someone a bone, you do them a favor or help them out in some way. Often, the thing that’s given or being asked for is something small.
– Hey, can I have a job at your new bakery?
– No, sorry, we aren’t hiring right now.
– Then can I at least have a free muffin?
– Come on, throw me a bone!
A bone to pick with (someone)
If you have a bone to pick with someone, it means you have a problem with them that needs to be resolved or talked about.
– Listen, I have a bone to pick with you.
– You do?
– Yeah, you really hurt my feelings when you wouldn’t give me a job. I thought we were friends.
Have/throw a pity party
Here’s another expression that can sound very mean. If you talk about people having or throwing a pity party, you’re saying they’re spending time feeling sorry for themselves over something that isn’t worth it.
– You didn’t give Tim the job, did you?
– No, and he’s having a pity party about it right now.
Where do you get off…
Using this expression is kind of like saying, “How dare you?”
You can also think of it as meaning, “How exactly do you justify…”
Where do you get off telling me (a woman) what it’s like for women in the working world?
Jump on the bandwagon
If you jump on the bandwagon, you go along with whatever the latest trend, fashion or popular thing is.
Well, now everyone is selling muffins. Should we jump on the bandwagon and do it, too?
Up to (one’s) eyeballs
If you’re up to your eyeballs in something, it means you have a lot of it. Usually, whatever you’re up to your eyeballs in is something you don’t want.
I’m up to my eyeballs in work this week! I’m swamped!
Stuffed to the gills
This one’s somewhat similar to the last expression, but only a little. If you’re stuffed to the gills (the parts fish use to breathe), you’ve eaten a lot!
You might use this expression to refuse more food, meaning that you couldn’t possibly eat any more. It can also be a nice way of complimenting someone’s cooking because it suggests that the food was so good that you ate more than you meant to.
– More potatoes?
– Oh, no thank you! I’m stuffed to the gills. What a delicious meal!
Bend over backwards
When you bend over backwards, you put all your effort into something. This expression is often used to say that someone puts a lot of energy into pleasing someone else.
You always bend over backwards to help her, but would she do the same for you?
Keep a cool head
If you get angry enough, your head might actually feel hot! Keeping a cool head means staying calm, even when something makes you angry or upset.
I know that they’re not being very nice right now, but it’s important to keep a cool head.
Fly off the handle
If you don’t keep a cool head, you might fly off the handle, or suddenly become very angry.
I tried to stay calm, I really did. But then he said my dog was ugly, and I just flew off the handle.
Be cheesed off
If you’re cheesed off, you might not fly off the handle, but you’re still pretty annoyed.
I’m just cheesed off about these new office rules. I need more than 10 minutes for a snack break!
Be a happy camper
If you’re a happy camper, you’re not cheesed off at all. You’re happy, whether or not you’re camping. You can also say that someone is “not a happy camper” to say that they aren’t happy.
I’m not too hard to please. Just give me a nice, hot cup of coffee and I’ll be a happy camper.
When you pig out, you eat a lot. While this expression can be used to be mean about someone else’s eating habits, people often use it to talk about themselves in a joking way.
I skipped breakfast, so I’m totally going to pig out at lunch today.
Chew the fat / shoot the s**t
These two expressions might be the grossest and funniest on this list. They both refer to having a nice, friendly conversation.
– Hey, come over sometime and we’ll chew the fat.
– Okay, sure. Maybe we can go out for a beer and shoot the s**t.
Tear (one’s) hair out
If you’re tearing your hair out, you’re really stressed out.
I lost my job, so I was tearing my hair out, trying to figure out how to pay rent.
Out of the woodwork
“Woodwork” refers to the wooden parts of a building or room. For example, a window frame made of wood could be called woodwork.
When you say that something came “out of the woodwork,” you mean that it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Now, all of a sudden, you see these new muffin bakeries coming out of the woodwork.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
This phrase can be used to talk about something or someone going from a bad situation to a worse situation.
If you try to start a new business when you’re already in debt, you might be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Eat (someone or something) for breakfast
If you say that you eat someone or something for breakfast, you’re saying that you feel above that person or thing. You’re saying that they can’t stand in your way, because if you wanted to, you could destroy them!
This phrase is often used to comment on the strengths or weaknesses of people who are competing in some way—for example, politicians or sports stars.
He’s going to eat all the other competitors for breakfast.
Have a s**t/hissy/conniption fit
This expression might change depending on the region you’re in, but saying that someone is having a certain kind of fit often means the person is overreacting or being dramatic. They’re probably flying off the handle.
When I told her that we weren’t going to be able to go on vacation this year, she threw a hissy fit.
Wrack (one’s) brains
We already talked about what it means to pick someone else’s brain. Now it’s time to talk about wracking your own brains! But what does “wrack” even mean? And don’t some people spell it “rack”?
The truth is, you can spell it either way, and most people don’t know (or care) exactly what this word means by itself.
(“Wrack” appears in an older English word for “shipwreck” and “rack” can refer to a type of torture used in the Middle Ages.)
But wracking or racking your brains is sort of like picking your own brain with a lot of effort.
I wracked my brains trying to remember her phone number, but I just couldn’t.
Have a frog in (one’s) throat
A frog doesn’t seem like something you would want in your throat! But if you have a sore throat, or if your throat just feels dry and you’re having trouble speaking normally, you might say that you have a frog in your throat.
*cough* *cough* Sorry, I seem to have a frog in my throat.
Like pulling teeth
Wow, pulling teeth doesn’t sound very nice either, does it? Well, that’s kind of the point. If something is like pulling teeth, it’s very difficult. Often, this phrase is used to express a difficulty that you’re having with a particular person.
I’ve tried to talk to him about finding a new job, but it’s like pulling teeth.
Burn the candle at both ends
Burning a candle at both ends sounds silly and also dangerous. If it’s burning at both ends, how do you put it down without setting something on fire? And again, that’s part of the point.
Burning the candle at both ends means going to bed late and get up early, or working long hours, which of course will eventually have bad effects on a person.
He’s been burning the candle at both ends, working in the daytime and going to school at night. I don’t know how much longer he can go on like this.
And there you have it—42 funny English phrases to make you sound like a native. The English language is full of funny phrases, and now you know a lot more!
Elisabeth Cook is a writer who thinks a lot of the English language is gross and weird. You can follow her on Twitter (@CooksChicken).
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