Did you know there’s approximately 25,000 idioms in the English language?
That’s a lot of phrases to learn, right? Well, don’t worry, even English natives don’t know them all. So you’re off the hook*.
Saying that, idioms are a very important aspect of any language. They add colour and character to the language, rooting it in historical, cultural and geographical relevance.
Therefore, if you want to get closer to British English, becoming familiar with local idioms is a great place to start.
I’ve picked out my favourite quintessential British idioms for you to learn.
Top 5 favourite British idioms
1. Everything but the kitchen sink – almost everything has been included.
“When we went on holiday, Sarah took everything but the kitchen sink.”
Origin: According to Eric Partridge in Dictionary of Forces' Slang, this expression was first used in a military context, describing a violent bombardment where everything is fired at the enemy "except the kitchen sink" or "including the kitchen sink." It’s first usage dates back to 1918, in printed form, in a newspaper called The Syracuse Herald.
2. Once in a blue moon – something that happens very rarely.
“I exercise once in a blue moon.”
Origin: This expression has been in usage since the 1800s. It’s a development from an earlier expression, once in a moon, meaning once a month (occasionally). It first showed up in The Breviary of Health (1547), by the physician and author Andrew Borde (circa 1490 – 1549).
3. Bob’s your uncle – meaning there you are, as simple as that.
“Just turn the key all the way left and bob’s your uncle: the door is open.”
Origin: In 1887, British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil appointed his nephew Arthur James Balfour as Minister for Ireland. The phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ was coined as it was believed it’s easy to become a minister when Bob is your uncle. Although this is not origin is confirmed, it is widely regarded as correct.
4. Costs a bomb – something is expensive.
“Wow your watch is so nice – it must have cost a bomb.”
Origin: It’s believed the term came around during the WW1
5. Give a bell – to call someone or notify someone
“I’ll give you a bell when I arrive home.”
*off the hook is an idiom meaning not to blame or no longer in trouble.