Do You Know Enough to Complete All of These Common Phrases?

Allison Lips

Image: Image Source / Image Source / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Idioms of unknown or rarely mentioned origins dominate our everyday speech. From a young age, we are taught that a watched pot never boils, that few things are a piece of cake, you shouldn't bark up the wrong tree, and that a fool and his money are soon parted. You may occasionally find yourself between a rock and a hard place, that you'll often come close but no cigar, and that sometimes other people will burst your bubble. 

Many times, these phrases make no sense in context, yet for some reason, we all have a general sense of what they mean. Rarely is someone literally talking about getting the short end of the stick or that they killed two birds with one stone. The former seems silly, while the latter sounds like animal cruelty. 

When taking this quiz, don't make a mountain out of a molehill or make a scene. None of these questions are out of left field. If you know that this quiz is about common phrases, then we're on the same page.

Are you ready to swing for the fences or will you throw in the towel? Will you find that you're taking some shots in the dark with your guesses? 

If you see a lot of opportunity for someone, you might tell them that the world is their what?

William Shakespeare coined "the world is someone's oyster." It first appeared in "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The humorous derivation, "the world is one's lobster," was first said on the British TV show, "Minder."

If you have a difficult situation with which you decide to deal directly, you can be said to take the ____________ by the horns.

Etymologists do not know the origins of "take the bull by the horns," which is sometimes said as "grab the bull by the horns." However, there are two theories: it originated with bullfighters or the American Old West. Both theories involve a man controlling a bull by literally "taking it by the horns."

If someone feels you are wasting your time doing something that has already been done, they may say that you are trying to reinvent the __________.

While the concept of reinventing the wheel isn't new, the phrase was coined in the 1970s. At the time, it was popular as a business and advertising metaphor for describing someone wasting time finding a solution for a problem that has already been solved.

An investment banker may tell you that you need money to make ____________.

The idea behind it "takes money to make money" is that you need money to make investments. If you invest wisely, you will see a return on your investment.

If you need help with something, you might say two _________ are better than one.

"Two heads are better than one" was first recorded in 1546. John Heywood used it in "A dialogue conteinyng to nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue."

When you're getting impatient, someone may tell you that all __________ things come to those who wait.

The phrase "good things come to those who wait" has been used in Guinness and Heinz commercials. The gist of the phrase is that patience is a virtue.

If you're getting ahead of yourself, someone may warn don't cross that ___________ until you come to it.

No one knows the origin of "cross a bridge until you come to it." However, the earliest known usage is from Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's "The Golden Legend." In 1951, Longfellow wrote, “Don't cross the bridge till you come to it, is a proverb old and of excellent wit.”

Do you have a habit of procrastinating? Then you should never put off until tomorrow what you can do when?

While the general consensus is that "never put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is about avoiding procrastination, no one knows who coined the phrase. it has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Benjamin Franklin among others. However, there is not enough support that any of these men created the phrase.

While you may feel it's trite, other's feel that with age comes what?

Oscar Wilde said, "With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone." He also said, "I am not young enough to know everything."

Growing up, you were probably told if at first you don't ___________, try, try again.

The origins of "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" are unclear. However, it has been traced to "Teacher's Manual" by Thomas H. Palmer and "The Children of the New Forest" by Frederick Maryat.

If you dislike something before you get to know it, you may be told not to judge a book by its __________.

"Don't judge a book by its cover" originated in the mid-1800s. The first known usage was in a June 1867 issue of the newspaper, Piqua Democrat.

When someone is like their parents, you may say that the ___________ doesn't fall far from the tree.

Variations of the phrase, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," exist in German and Russian. Other phrases with a similar meaning are "chip off the old block" and "like father, like son."

When something isn't as good as something else, you could say it can't hold a _____________ to it.

The phrase, "can't hold a candle," was first used in the 1600s. The earliest known use is from 1641. Sir Edward Dering wrote in "The fower cardinal-vertues of a Carmelite fryar," "Though I be not worthy to hold the candle to Aristotle."

If you're taking a long time to explain a story, you may be told to cut to the _________.

"Cut to the chase" comes from the tendency for early silent films to end in chase scenes. Prior to the invention of film, the phrase was "cut to Hecuba," which is a reference to Hamlet and the practice of cutting long speeches before that scene.

You meet someone new and try to strike up a conversation. You may be said to be _________ the ice.

While "break the ice" is commonly attributed to 19th century ice breaking ships, it actually predates the practice. In 1678, poet Samuel Butler wrote, "To give himself a first audience, After he had a while look'd wise, At last broken silence, and the ice."

If you want to get on someone's good side, you may decide to ________ them up.

"To butter someone up" means to impress them with flattery. One origin story is that in ancient India people would throw butter balls at statues of their gods. The belief was that, in return, the gods would favor the devout and forgive them.

Are you unable to speak? It's possible that which animal got your tongue?

While some theories on "cat got your tongue" suggest it has origins in sailing and the cat o' nine tails, nothing suggests its true. The first known instance of the phrase in print was in an 1881 issue of "Ballou's Monthly Magazine." However, its appearance in "Ballou's Monthly Magazine" implies that kids were saying it before it entered adult language.

If something bad happened to you, someone may dismiss it by saying that's the way the __________ crumbles.

"That's the way the cookie crumbles" means that you must accept that something bad has happened. It has been used since the 1950s.

Money can buy many things, but it can't buy what?

Another saying says that money can't buy love. The general meaning behind these similar phrases is that money can buy material things, but money has no influence over your feelings.

If you're given a lot of work that no one else wants to do, you may feel like the low man on the ______________.

The low man on the totem pole is the least important person in an organization. If someone is increasing in stature, they are said to be climbing the ladder.

You probably don't want to open a can of ___________.

If you open a can of worms, you create a problem for yourself. When you "open a can of worms," your actions create negative consequences.

When you listen to someone who has no plans to do what they say, you may feel they are all bark and no ___________.

"All bark and no bite" first appeared in print in the newspaper, "The Banner." The newspaper published, "You see he was all bark and no bite. Well, it is the same with men and women, and boys and girls, as it is with dogs."

If you're extremely clumsy and prone to breaking things, you may be called a bull in a __________.

Frederick Marryat was the first person to write "bull in a china shop." It appeared in his novel, "Jacob Faithful." Its origins before there have not been discovered.

If something is unlikely to happen, you may say it will occur when _______ fly.

The phrase "when pigs fly" is sometimes used as "pigs might fly." "When pigs fly" has been in use since the 1600s.

When someone accidentally reveals a secret, they let the ________ out of the bag.

The earliest known usage of "letting the cat out of the bag" is from 1760. It appeared in an issue of "London Magazine."

When you're sick, you may say that you're feeling under the ___________.

"Under the weather" comes from old-time sailors. In "Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expression," Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey say that the full phrase is "under the weather bow." The weather bow is the side of the ship the bad weather affects the most.

When something happens infrequently, it happens once in a blue _____________.

In the 1800s, people started using the phrase, "once in a blue moon." A blue moon is said to be the second appearance of a full moon in a month. This occurs approximately once every 32 months.

When you have to do something you don't want to, you may be told to bite the what?

Rudyard Kipling was the first person to write down the phrase, "bite the bullet." He used it in "The Light that Failed," which was published in 1891.

If something is extremely complicated, you may have trouble wrapping your __________ around it.

Instead of "wrap your head around," you can say "wrap your mind around." If you successfully "wrap your head around" something, it means you understand something that is confusing or challenging.

When you miss the ____________, you're too late for something.

"Miss the boat" can mean to fail to take advantage of an opportunity or to not understand something. Other boat-related idioms are "in the same boat" and "rock the boat."

If you're talking about someone and they walk into the room, you may say, speak of the ___________.

The full form of "speak of the devil" is "speak of the devil and he will appear" or some variations thereof. It has been in use since the 1600s.

If you want someone to do a task they don't want to do, you may ___________ their arm to get it done.

By "twisting one's arm," you are coercing someone to do something. The term first appeared in the mid-1900s.

If someone you trust violates that trust, you may say that they ___________ you in the back.

Someone who stabs you in the back is engaging in backstabbing. Backstabbing entered English in the mid-1800s.

If you're trying to give up an addiction, you may decide to go __________ turkey.

The phrase "cold turkey" first appeared in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, it was specifically associated with quitting something addictive.

If someone has ___________ fingers, you may not want to trust them around your wallet.

Someone with sticky fingers has the tendency to steal. Its origins date to the late 1800s.

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!

Explore More Quizzes