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In this video from Idioms Online, I go over 25 Body Part Idioms to help you sound like a native English speaker. There are many English idioms related to parts of the human body, like the head, the eyes, mouth, the hands, the arms, legs, feet, the heart, and even the teeth. I’m always adding more body-part idioms to Idioms.Online and I never seem to run out. It may be that more of the core metaphors of the English language relate to the body than any other thing.
So, if you master many of these body-part idioms, many of which are also very common expressions, you will have come a long way toward sounding like a native English speaker, or, in the case of this video lesson, and American English speaker.
Watch the video above to learn the meaning of these English body-part idioms along with sentence examples for each. If you would like to see more idioms videos from Idioms.Online, subscribe to our YouTube channel!
The following is a written transcript from the video (some of the language is informal). Each idiom will be linked to a more indepth explanation here on Idioms.Online with more examples of use, proper usage, and the origin of the idiom. Also, you can consult the body-part idiom playlist below to watch videos with more information about some of these idioms as well as other body-part idioms.
A mouthful refers to words or names that are long and difficult to say or pronounce.
For example: “Your name is a real mouthful. Can I just call you Al?” “Uh, no.”
Don’t confuse this idiom with say a mouthful. To say a mouthful refers to agreement or an important statement as in ‘you said a mouthful.’
To be all ears means to be listening closely; to be eager to hear something; to pay close attention when being told something or to be willing to pay close attention.
“You have news about Sarah? I’m all ears.”
So, in this example, you really want to know what’s going on with Sara so if somebody has information to give you about Sara you’re saying that you’re really gonna listen closely because you really wanna hear it.
To be all thumbs means to be physically awkward and clumsy, especially with one’s hands. So, someone who is all thumbs, they don’t have a lot of manual dexterity; they tend to drop things and they have trouble working with
Example: “I dropped an expensive vase yesterday and had to pay for it. I’m all thumbs.”
The idiom phrase ‘an army marches on its stomach’ means that soldiers, workers, or anyone else expected to perform a task cannot function effectively unless they are well fed.
“Cutting the workers lunch time is not going to increase production. An army marches on its stomach!”
An arm and a leg is a very large amount of money. It’s a very high price.
When we say something “costs an arm and a leg” we mean that it is much too expensive and overpriced. You can also use other variations such as ‘give an arm and a leg’ or ‘pay an arm and a leg,’ such as in the example, “I’m not going to pay an arm and a leg to fix a car with this many miles on it.”
To keep someone or something at arm’s length is to maintain an emotional distance as to avoid familiarity or intimacy; to dissociate yourself from someone or something and to avoid coming into close contact.
Example: “He was a fair boss, but he kept his employees at arm’s length and avoided casual banter.”
To be at hand means to be nearby; within easy reach and ready to use. A more formal usage In reference to time means ‘soon to occur.’
For example, although this may sound ominous, “a new regime is at hand.” That means that a new regime is soon to occur.
And here is an example of the less formal and more common usage: “The first step to any project is to make sure all your tools are close at hand.”
When something is at your or one’s fingertips it is in a convenient place, is easy to find or is readily available or accessible. It’s easy to get and to use immediately.
“I can’t believe you live in such a small apartment, said Vicky.” “I like it, replied Richard.
“Everything I need is at my fingertips.”
This idiom is related to a number of other idioms pertaining to being ‘on one’s feet.’ To be back on your feet is to have made a full recovery from an illness or injury or to have become fully adjusted to a new situation, such as a move, a new job, a divorce, or any other type of disruptive change. “I’m sure glad to see you back on your feet
after your injury.”
To bang one’s head against a brick wall means to stubbornly continue trying to achieve an objective that is almost impossible. So if you keep trying over and over again to do something with no result, you’re banging your head against a wall.
The word ‘brick’ can be omitted from this idiom.
Example: “Melissa finally left her husband. She said she was tired of banging her head against a wall trying to get him to change.”
To have a big mouth means to be talkative and prone to revealing secrets or to be verbally tactless; to talk too much and too loudly, often in an obnoxious or boastful way.
To be a bigmouth means the same thing: To be a person who talks too much and reveals secret or private information to anyone listening.
“Do not tell Chris about the surprise party. He has a big mouth.”
Now, I should note that usually, when you say someone has a big mouth or they are a bigmouth, you’re talking about something that is ongoing [and that] this is part of their personality but it is possible to be deemed a bigmouth after just one incident.
To bite one’s nails is to show signs of nervousness, anxiety, impatience, etc. Although this idiom refers to the actual nervous habit of biting one’s nails, a person does not have to actually be biting their nails for the expression to apply as it is often figurative.
If I say, “boy, I’m biting my nails hoping this video turns out well,” you might think, ‘gross, he’s biting his nails,’ but I don’t mean that I’m actually biting my nails. I’m just saying I’m really nervous.
“Mary is due today and we’ll all be biting our nails until the baby is born.”
Mary is due today is an idiom too!
You know, when you’re trying to come up with multiple example sentences for idioms it’s difficult to come up with these without using more idiomatic language [to come up with is also idiomatic]. That’s how common idioms are.
So, when we say a female is ‘due,’ we mean she is pregnant and is expected to give birth today or at any time.
To bite someone’s head off means to reply or speak to someone in a very sharp and angry way; to scold harshly.
“I know you had a bad day but you don’t have to bite my head off. All I said was hello!”
Bless your or someone’s heart is a spoken expression of good wishes, endearment, affection, fondness, or sympathy.
It can also be a way of saying someone is a good person or did a good thing.
In the Southern United States, where I’m from and where it’s used most often, it can mean all of these things.
However, it often is a way of forgiving or excusing someone’s perceived shortcomings, often mental, or of forgiving a mistake.
We might say, ‘Oh, Wesley was fixing grandma’s roof and he fell off again. Bless his heart. He’s clumsy but he means well.”
For a more conventional example: “Uncle Bob is down with the flu so I brought him some groceries and cleaned his house.” Well, bless your heart! What a nice thing to do.”
To brown nose is to obsequiously and shamelessly try to gain someone’s favor by being sycophantic
and affecting a subservient attitude being overly agreeable, flattering, etc.
I won’t go into the specific allusion here but it involves bringing one’s nose into close proximity with somebody’s rear end.
One who engages in brownnosing is called a brown-noser. “Oh, that Kevin! He’s such a brown-noser!”
Another example: “The boss seems to hate me. I wonder if its because I’m the only one not brownnosing him all the time.”
What could be more confusing than someone telling you they have butterflies in their stomach?
This is an interesting idiom because it really does describe an actual physical sensation. It reminds me of funny bone. The funny bone is an actual location of the human body on the back of your elbow and this location is associated with a physical sensation and it’s become idiomatic.
When we feel nervous or anxious we can have a queasy or fluttery feeling in our gut, so you might say it feels like butterflies are flying around in there. So why butterflies, right? Well, butterflies flutter. This especially happens because of nervous anticipation, such as before going on stage to perform or speak. So, to have butterflies in your stomach means to feel nervous or anxious and have a queasy or ‘fluttering’ feeling in your gut.
But, you can use this in an entirely figurative way just to say you’re really nervous. You can also say “I have butterflies” or “a case of butterflies.”
This is probably my favorite body-part idiom because it seems so nonsensical, making it the perfect example of an idiom.
There is obviously no skin on our teeth and that is exactly what this idiom is about, in a way.
By the skin of one’s teeth means barely, narrowly or by the thinnest of margins.
Do you get the idea? If you escape death by the skin of your teeth it’s an exaggerated way of saying how close
your brush with death was because there is actually no skin at all on your teeth, meaning the margin was so close as to be almost nonexistent.
“I missed having a car accident today by the skin of my teeth. Whew, so close.”
This is usually expressed as a question to someone who is being unusually quiet or refusing to speak, as in “Has the cat got your tongue?”
“I know you broke the vase,” said Mom to Billy. “Don’t you have anything to say for yourself? Has the cat got your tongue?”
Cross my heart is an emphatic pledge that one is telling the truth, sometimes said while using one hand to make an imaginary X over the heart.
The full version of this idiom is ‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’
This one is mostly used by children, and they will sometimes, but not always, make that imaginary cross-shape over their chest while saying it.
“I won’t tell the teacher I helped do your homework,” said Sally. “Cross your heart?” said Billy. “Cross my heart and hope to die,” replied Sally.
You can’t get any more idiomatic than this! To eat your heart out is to feel jealous or envious of someone else’s achievements or good fortune. Occasionally, it means to feel other strong emotions, especially grief, bitterness, or
worry over something.
The idiom is most often used in an exaggerated and gloating but humorous way, although sometimes it is boastful and rude.
When someone tells you to “eat your heart out” they are saying “you are going to be jealous or envious.”
A famous person is often included as a joke such as in this example: “My nephew just got a record deal. He’s a triple threat, too! Justin Timberlake, eat your heart out!”
When your hands are tied it means that you are prevented from doing something because some other authority prevents you from acting. This idiom can be applied to people or to organizations. The implication is that the situation is out of one’s control.
“They have back orders for the new soda, but due to a shortfall in the sugar supply, the company’s hands are tied.”
To have no stomach for something means to find it unacceptable, intolerable, or unpleasant.
When we have no stomach for something, it means we are determined not to do it, experience it, etc.
This expression is often used in regards to something obviously unpleasant or distasteful, but it can be used for almost anything a person doesn’t want to do.
Personally, I have no stomach for reality TV.
Another example: “Donny has no stomach for horror movies. They give him nightmares.”
This is similar to ‘bite someone’s head off.’ To jump down someone’s throat is to suddenly, with little provocation, speak to them in an angry, critical and aggressive way, usually in response to something they said or something that happened; to attack someone verbally over something they did before giving them a chance to explain.
You can also jump on someone or jump all over someone.
“Hey, don’t jump down Peter’s throat just because you’re having a bad day.”
This is the quintessential British stereotype. We say the British are known for keeping a stiff upper lip, but what does this mean? To keep a stiff upper lip means to appear calm and to not show your emotions, especially during
upsetting or painful situations; to be steadfast and courageous.
“Growing up, we had many bad times, but we were taught to keep a stiff upper lip.”
This is a well-meaning sentiment that we’ve turned on its head. My heart bleeds for you and various versions
of the sentiment such as “my heart bleeds tears” were used since the 1300s to express severe anguish and sympathy. Since the late 1940s or so, we’ve been using it mockingly to express just the opposite. It’s a sarcastic way to suggest that the person doesn’t really deserve any sympathy.
It’s so darned rude and negative I almost avoided using it as the last idiom in this list, but it’s so fascinating, as well because it started out as such a sincere expression. And, even today it is sometimes genuine.
Usually, the sarcastic version is spoken directly to a person whereas when its used in the past tense about a person, it tends to be sincere. However, in the latter case, we tend to say something more like ‘my heart goes out to him.’
To say my heart bleeds for him in a sincere way would sound very archaic.
Here is an example of the more common, sarcastic version: “You only got a $5000 Christmas bonus? My heart bleeds for you.”
Obviously not sincere.
Imagine a person complaining to you about only getting a small Christmas bonus at work which turns out to be 5000 dollars.