7 Uniquely Odd English Phrases from Old Blighty
Not a lot of people like to be thought of as odd, but there are plenty among us who would happily settle for being called eccentric. And that is no truer than of us English folk, with our turns of phrases that leave many a language learner or non-British English speaker feeling perplexed. Here are some of the best oddities of the English language you will find in our lands. We’ll even do our best to translate them for you as well!
1. Sent to Coventry
The place where nobody wants to be sent to, but quite a few people would like to go! What’s so awful about being sent to this quaint city in the West Midlands? Well. To put it another way, to send someone to Coventry is to give them the cold shoulder, to barely acknowledge their existence when in the same room. Anything can earn you such a punishment, from tantrums in the changing rooms at Primark to making a fuss when they run out of Sunday lunches in Wetherspoons. However you climb your way back into someone’s good books is your business.
2. Three sheets to the wind
No, this isn’t an advert for Lenor (or any other detergent brand). To be three sheets to the wind means to be blissfully, blindly drunk. This expression comes from sailing, whereby each sail on a ship needs to be tied with two ropes. If one fastening comes undone, the ship would be difficult to control and ‘to the wind’. Just like so many of us turning out of pubs into our high streets after football.
3. Have a butchers
No, we’re not suggesting helping yourself to a full joint of pork or stealing half a dozen freshly prepared lamb chops. No, to have a butchers is to have a look at something, which could be a meat product or just about anything besides. Don’t get the butchers thing? Don’t worry! In Cockney a butcher’s hook means look, and since we do love to abbreviate even our own inventions, well. Let’s have a butchers indeed.
4. Happy as a sand boy
There is another version of this that some of you might be aware of, which is happy as a pig in… you get the gist. To be either of these things is to be very happy indeed. Inebriation might be the route you’ve taken to getting this happy, or perhaps you’ve just had a great day at work.
5. Dog’s dinner
No, we’re not suggesting anyone samples Pedigree Chum. Though if you want to that’s your prerogative! A dog’s dinner in this particular meaning says that you’ve made a mess of something. A red sock in a load of white laundry, or putting your foot in it during a tactless conversation about relationships when one of your friends just split up with their partner. We’ve all done it, and we’ll keep doing it, time and time again.
6. Couldn’t stop a pig in a passage
This delightful phrase heralds from the beautiful Yorkshire, where bluntness is often the only way to speak your mind. If you couldn’t stop a pig in a passage, it’s a general sign of being incompetent. However, the original meaning comes more from a comment on someone’s appearance, so use it with caution! Dating from Victorian times when it was common to keep a pig in your backyard, the best way to catch an escaping pig was to get it between your legs and squeeze. Those who were bandy or bow-legged didn’t stand a chance, hence the coining of this particular phrase meant to mean a person is useless for not being able to do such a menial task.
7. It’s brass monkeys outside
Another offering that can be tied to boats. A ship’s cannon balls used to be stacked on a structure made of brass that was coined a ‘monkey’. In arctic temperatures, this brass would contract, and the cannon balls would fall off. So if it’s brass monkeys outside, the weather is very, very cold. The full phrase is ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’. Make of that what you will!
So there you have it. A few choice phrases from England that we’re sure have left several people scratching their heads. Come visit us! We have hundreds of these in every county that makes up our home. We might even explain what a few of them mean over a pint!