30 weird American proverbs and expressions you need to know (2023)


30 American proverbs that surprise the rest of the world

October 06, 2020

30 weird American proverbs and expressions you need to know (1)

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There are many American sayings that only make sense to people living in the United States. But as the physical boundaries between different regions are loosening, these sayings take on an increasingly prominent role in a global culture. Tourists, immigrants, students planning to move to the US: all of these people come across at least a few colloquial English phrases and end up confused because many of them sound like complete nonsense. In fact, even if you know English well and converse every day, you may be surprised why it's impossible to learn everything. Let's see which idioms are used most often.

Common American phrases that say one thing but mean another

No matter how many years you've spent learning English, chances are you'll come across something you don't know, at least from time to time. There are millions of catchphrases and idioms. Here are thirty of them that can be seen as common and complicated.

1) Pour the tea

If you hear someone use this phrase, you'll probably think they're complaining about being clumsy and accidentally knocking over their cup of tea. Couldn't be further from the truth. Spilt the tea is basically sharing juicy gossip or a secret with another person. It originated in 1994 within the LGBTQ community, where the initial words were "pour out the T", with "T" standing for "truth". "T" and "tea" sound identical, and thus this language was born.

2) Become Dutch

The true origins of this phrase in American English are vague, but it is believed to have appeared in the 17th century due to frequent conflicts between English and German-speaking countries. In short, it means that if two parties come together to carry out some common activity, they will pay for it independently. For example, when on a date, two people "go Dutch" if they pay for their meals separately.

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3) Monday morning quarterback

Introduced by a sportsman in 1931, this phrase in American English describes a person who berates others for their handling of a problem and offers their own solution, even though the situation is in the past (making their solution be useless).

4) Get straight to the point

This strange American expression originated in the old silent film studios. It has to do with how the information is presented: "getting to the point" means going straight to the point and presenting crucial facts.

5) Period

This is modern slang that emerged in a black community years ago. It is an emphasis placed at the end of a sentence to clarify a point and draw more attention to it. For example, you could say, "I'm going to ground you when I get home, period!" To understand it better, mentally replace it with words like "period!"

6) Tire and breeze

Among common American expressions, this is one of the oldest. It appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and marks an informal and meaningless conversation with someone.

7) Long on the tooth

This American expression has a funny history. It arose about two centuries ago, after people looked at horses and discovered that the older they got, the longer their teeth got. So this implies that someone who is old is old.

8) Rocket Science

This saying is believed to have originated during or after World War II, and its meaning is fairly easy to remember. As you know, rocket science is incredibly complex, and that is exactly what the phrase itself denotes. One notable thing is that it is often used in a negative context, for example, "How can you not understand, it's not rocket science!"

9) Behind the eight ball

There are many sports-related phrases in American English, and this one falls into the same category. It was mentioned in the 1920s in the context of a game of billiards, implying being in a bad situation.

10) Do a rain test

Another old adage based on sports was born in the 1800s. If rain destroyed people's chances of attending a basketball game, despite having bought a ticket, they were given coupons that allowed them to see the game again. party later. These vouchers were also called rain checks. So if you can't find a speaker when you ask, you can offer to do a rain test.

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11) In my alley

This American English phrase was first documented in 1931. If you like something, you can say it's "up your alley."

12) loco

This word appeared in a slang collection in 1948. "To be bonkers" is the same as being crazy.

13) Work the night shift

Of all the famous American proverbs, the history of this phrase is riddled with misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, royal burial grounds have little to do with the idea behind them. In 1895, one of the old newspapers published a story about people working in coal mines late at night. His workplace was as empty as a cemetery usually is, so ever since then, “working the night shift” has meant working nights, usually from midnight to early morning.

14) Green Finger

This saying has been in use since the 1900s, "green thumb" being related to one's talent and experience in growing plants.

15) It has to lie flat

This colloquialism originated in California, although its exact history is unclear. Its implication is simple and can be rephrased as "I have to go to bed." It is applicable if you are tired or not feeling well.

16) Stadium Figure

Like many common American proverbs, the “stadium figure” began with sports, namely baseball, when a commentator determined how many people were in attendance. Denotes an approximate number or costs of something.

17) Jump into the shark

After mainstream TV shows and sitcoms started getting boring and their directors desperately tried to include some big events to surprise the audience, people started calling this phenomenon "jumping the shark". So, this saying denotes a drop in quality of a fictional product.

18) what a nuisance

Originally from Germany, this expression came into use in the United States in the late 1960s. It is related to "boom," which describes an unpleasant or discouraging situation.

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19) Baja

Originally from the Midlands, this expression is among the classic American phrases. People use it when they want someone to back up and free up space.

20) Juan Hancock

The man of that name was among the top leaders of the American Revolution. Since he signed an important document, his signature turned out to be comically large, so now the saying "John Hancock" refers to someone's signature.

21) For the birds

Expression that appeared in 1944 in the United States, with the meaning of something trivial or stupid (inspired by the fact that birds often try to peck at their droppings or those of other animals).

22) Supplication for the Fifth

This American expression is linked to the Fifth Amendment of the American Constitution. It is usually used by people questioned by the police or in court. By saying that they "beg the fifth", they imply their refusal to answer any incriminating questions.

23) 307

This numerical expression is among the strange American proverbs. It's not really clear where or when it came from because people have different versions, but it means something fantastic. If you hear, "He pulled a 307 last night!", you can assume this person has done something amazing.

24) All Gucci

For many people, Gucci means quality. That's why Americans started saying "all Gucci" to show that everything is fine. "Okay" is its close synonym.

25) Drip

On our list, this word has the strangest history because, on the one hand, it is quite new, only becoming popular in 2018, and on the other hand, its meaning is extremely confusing at first glance. The saying was spread by representatives of the music industry and means “clothing”. So don't be misled if you hear someone say, "Her drip from her was great yesterday!"

26) Line up your ducks

This is one of the most used phrases in American English that has an unclear background. It arose from a game of bowling or shooting sessions where artificial ducks were used as training targets. Putting the ducks in order is putting everything right, piece by piece, putting everything in order.

27) Off the Hook

As can be deduced from the expression itself, its context is fishing. When the fish leaves the hook, it is no longer in danger, and the same applies to a person - he is released from some unwanted obligation or annoying attention.

28) As white in rice

The first solid documentation of this expression dates from 1951. It was used as a poetic tool in books and poems, becoming representative of American phrases that confuse foreigners. Rice is white, so whiteness and rice are basically the same thing. As such, "like white on rice" is about being extremely close to someone or being on top of them.

29) Karen

This is a slang term used by many young people in their daily lives. It refers to a middle-aged white woman with a stereotypical, racist, authoritarian mindset who displays hostility and superficiality towards everyone and everything she doesn't understand. As for the origins, it appears to have originated from the black Twitter community, but the related versions differ.

30) Being shaken

It is a form of slang and dialect that began to be applied in the 1800s. "To be shaken" means to experience intense emotions, usually of a startling or shocking nature. If you are angry about something or euphoric, you can describe that state with this phrase.

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Learn even more American expressions and seek translation help

The United States is a country with many cultures, but native speakers will be able to understand each other no matter what English language they use. Although you'll never gain a complete understanding of all the expressions out there, you can still learn their most popular forms. If you need help understanding a message filled with these phrases, you can always seek help on online English forums or contactprofessional document translation services. You can also look up meanings manually – if you love English and are passionate about learning more, you will no doubt find the process of deciphering various idioms exciting.

30 weird American proverbs and expressions you need to know (2)

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