1. It’s brass monkeys outsideLearn English, English phrases

Meaning: Freezing cold weather.

Origin:Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’. A ship’s cannon balls used to be stacked on a brass structure called a ‘monkey’ – the brass would contract in cold weather and the cannon balls would fall off.

2. Go doolallygo doolally, english phrases, learn English

Meaning: To go mad.

Origin: After the Indian garrison town of Deolali where British soldiers waited, sometimes for months, to be taken back to Britain after their tour of duty. There was nothing to do and many may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

3. Sweet Fanny Adamssweet fanny adams, learn English

Meaning: Emphatically ‘nothing at all‘.

Origin: Fanny Adams was the eight-year-old victim of a murder in 1867. Her body was cut into pieces and thrown into the River Wey in Surrey. A ballad about the killing referred to her as ‘sweet’ and it later became a term in British Naval slang – or jackspeak – to refer to an unpalatable stew.

4. Haven’t seen you in donkey’s yearsdonkey's years, learn English, English phrases

Meaning: In a long time.

Origin: Donkeys’ longevity – some die in their 60s. Or Cockney rhyming slang, ‘donkey’s ears’ meaning years.

5. Bob’s your Unclebob's your uncle, English phrases, learn English

Meaning: To achieve something with great ease.

Origin: In 1886 Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (Lord Salisbury) made Arthur Balfour Chief Secretary of Ireland, to the surprise of observers at the time. Arthur Balfour was ‘Bob’s’ nephew.

6. Fly by the seat of your pantslearn English, fly by the seat of your pants, English phrases

Meaning: To do something without a clear plan, to improvise.

Origin: A 1938 headline describing Douglas Corrigan’s 29-hour flight from Brooklyn to Dublin. Corrigan had filed for a transatlantic flight two days earlier but was rejected because his plane was considered unfit. On landing, he claimed his compass had broken.

7. Skeleton in the cupboardskeleton in the cupboard

Meaning: Something embarrassing to hide.

Origin: Until the 1830s it was illegal to dissect human bodies, so medical schools and doctors had to buy them from grave-robbers and hide them in case of raids. William Thackeray, writer of Vanity Fair, used the phrase for the first time in print in 1845.

8. Bite the bulletbite the bullet, learn English, English phrases

Meaning: To have to do something very unpleasant.

Origin: Soldiers operated on without anaesthetic bit bullets to help with the pain.

9. Mad as a hattermad as a hatter, learn English, English phrases

Meaning: To be completely insane.

Origin: In the 18th and 19th centuries mercury was used by hat makers, who were poisoned by the chemical.

10. Eat Humble Pie

eat humble pie, English, learn English, English phrases

Meaning: To submit to something below one’s dignity, to admit error.

Origin: Umbles, from Middle English, comes from Old French nombles meaning loin. It refers to offal, a meal for the poor.

Image source


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


This blog is Zoe's way to spread the joy of finding and learning interesting bits about English. Join her and learn something new every time.


  1. Alan J. Blaustein says :

    This is the cat’s pajamas!

I would love to hear from you

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: