The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 6, Number 2, Pages 2-9
Spring, 1981

Colloquial Expressions Overheard by a Northwesterner

by Nate Grossman

Nate Grossman, President of United Paint and Coatings in Spokane, is a language watcher. For several years he has made notes of colloquial expressions used by his friends and acquaintances in the Northwest. This is not a list of purely regional expressions - in fact, we can hear many of them on the national media, suggesting that our region may not have any idiomatic phrases all its own.

But we aren't certain. If you have heard expressions that may be unique to the Northwest, please let us know. (Write: The Editors, Pacific Northwest Forum, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, Washington 99004.)

Grossman's list of colloquialisms is arranged in twelve categories corresponding to key words in each expression.

 

Animals

That's the cat's meow
I don't give a hoot
I have to see a man about a dog (horse)
I got it straight from the horse's mouth
Horse feathers!
It's raining cats and dogs
He drives like a bat out of hell
I'm mad as a wet hen
He's lower than a snake's belly in a wagon track
I'll be there in three shakes of a lamb's tail
In a pig's eye
Once in a coon's age
He's got the bit in his teeth
The early bird catches the worm
That's more fun than a barrel of monkeys
Birds of a feather flock together
You can lead a horse to water,
but you can't make him drink
Don't let the bed bugs bite
That's a horse of a different color
She's loose as a goose
We're off, like a herd of turtles
You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear
That depends on whose ox is being gored
Like a fish out of water
She's got a bee in her bonnet
What's good for the goose is also good for the gander
That's cutting a big fat hog
She's living high off the hog
What we need in this country is a chicken in every pot
I think it's for the birds
This has been a real rat race
It rolls off like water off a duck's back
There's a fly in the ointment
Let's put a bug in her ear
It's time to talk turkey
It's time to fish or cut bait
It's scarcer then hen's teeth
It's just a one horse town
You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth
You can't beat (flog) a dead horse
That's a new can of worms

 

Food

That's a fine kettle of fish
He can't cut the mustard
Let's not cry over spilt milk
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
What do you want, an egg in you beer?
Don't put all your eggs in one basket
I'm pleased as punch
They're not worth their salt
That's water under the bridge

 

Arts and Crafts and Games

Get your act together
I don't give a tinker's dam
Break a leg
Let's make beautiful music together
Too many cooks spoil the broth
A stitch in time saves nine
Put it on the back burner
If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen
He's not playing with a full deck

 

Measurements

The whole nine yards Your number's up
You've got six of one and half a dozen of the other
That's just a drop in the bucket
First crack out of the box
Third time's a charm
A miss is as good as a mile
Let's try it out for size

 

History

23 skidoo
I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole
Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes
It's a flash in the pan
Now's the time to bite the bullet
Get the lead out
Don't burn your bridges behind you
His name is mud
The whole kit and kaboodle
That's the real McCoy
I did it according to Hoyle
The die is cast
Read 'em the riot act
We're going to hit them with both barrels
You're just whistlin' Dixie

 

Farms

It's time to hit the hay
Like looking for a needle in a haystack
Everything's gone haywire
If they do it one more time, I'll cut their water off
And that ain't hay
It ain't no use to lock the barn door after the horse is stolen

 

Industry and Business

Easy as falling off a log
It's close enough for government work
All that glitters is not gold
Don't blow it
Strictly off the record
That's like carrying coals to Newcastle
That's highway robbery
Your conclusion doesn't hold water
She believed the whole story - lock, stock and barrel
Let's get down to brass tacks
It's just a flash in the pan
When that bunch gets together, it'll be like a Chinese fire drill
Back to the salt mines

 

General Living

The pot calling the kettle black
Now you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel
Don't cross your bridges before you come to them
We're barely scratching the surface
More than you can shake a stick at
It went to pot
Don't get caught with your pants down
It's time to hit the road
She's always a day late and a dollar short
She goes like a house on fire
You're just adding fuel to the fire
Let it slide
Let's bury the hatchet
They're off and running

 

Religion, Philosophy, Education

The road to hell is paved with good intentions
God only knows
It's out of this world
That's one for the books
From now till doomsday
They think they have the keys to the kingdom
He has the patience of Job
They're just a bunch of doubting Thomases
It's all Greek to me

 

Personal - The Body

He's still wet behind the ears
Let's put on our thinking caps
You're just pulling my leg
He's deader than a doornail
Here's mud in your eye
Let's step on it
He bit on it
You shot your wad
You've got bats in your belfry
Love is blind
Let it all hang out
I'll be waiting with baited breath
Shake a leg
I'm too pooped to pop
Get yourself in gear
Let me put a bug in your ear
He swept her off her feet
Don't put your foot in your mouth
That's putting your best foot forward
He's not up to snuff
She's always looking at the world through rose-colored glasses
If the shoe fits, wear it
The silence is deafening

 

Sports

That's the way the ball bounces
Close is only good in horseshoes
There goes the whole shootin' match
That's par for the course
You're under the gun
Don't jump the gun
He won it fair and square
He believed the whole story - hook, line and sinker
Let's see how the ball bounces
Let's blow it up and see if it floats

 

Nature

I'm turning over a new leaf
Between a rock and a hard place
Come hell or high water, I'm going to do it
Up at the crack of dawn
That takes the rag off the bush
We're not building a bed of roses
That's just the tip of the iceberg
It never rains, but it pours
That's as easy as falling off a log