English Idioms and Expressions Featuring Domestic Imagery


Something I have come to suspect over the past few years is that domestic imagery features in the idioms and expressions of most languages spoken in the world today. Our home, whether it consists of a house, apartment, caravan or even tent (as is commonly the case in Bedouin cultures, for instance) is our fortress, the place to which we return after carrying out the necessary activities of each day. It is a place that we come to inhabit (i.e. feel comfortable in) and in this sense it becomes a part of us. Perhaps it is also due to the fact that the homestead is where we entertain guests - hosting dinner parties at weekends during which stories (sometimes extravagant, exaggerated ones!) are told - that our language brims with references to domestic life... As human beings, we tend to create expressions and idioms out of simple concepts that we are familiar with...and yet from these uncomplicated elements can spring a great many colourful turns of phrase.

Without further ado, I'm going to explain the meanings behind certain expressions that will surely be of use to you at any dinner party, helping you entertain your guests (or your host, as the case may be)! Have you heard of any English phrase involving the word 'roof,' for example? If you heard the expression through the roof and with the sample sentence of sales went through the roof, would you know what it meant? It actually refers to the idea of rapid increase or improvement, hence the reference to a high part of a building. The meaning of the next phrase is a bit harder to decipher: a glass ceiling. If I put the phrase in context (again giving a sample sentence), perhaps it will make is easier... Women in some first world countries still find themselves faced with a glass ceiling in terms of access to many senior management positions in companies. Maybe the meaning is becoming clearer at this point... The expression refers to the concept of a figurative barrier through an allusion to a physical barrier. 

Glass Ceiling

If someone feels that they are being treated like a piece of furniture by others when they walk into a room, what sensation do you think they are feeling (a positive or negative one)? Clearly, the answer is the latter. Furniture is, of course, utilitarian for the most part (although some people do admire the aesthetic beauty of certain furniture) and once individuals have left a room it is quickly forgotten. Thus, the meaning behind this phrase is that the person in question is either being ignored or being treated in such a way that makes them feel that they are of lesser importance compared to others.

If somebody has skeletons in the closet, what do you think is being implied about him or her? That he or she is a murderer perhaps? Generally not the case! The phrase simply indicates that a person has got something to hide and is not among the most honest individuals to be found.


If a pair of individuals that work together or collaborate in some way are described as making strange bedfellows, they are viewed as being unlikely people to want to cooperate with one another (hence the strangeness of the scenario). On the other hand, if two people get on together like a house on fire, this means that they feel completely at ease in one another's company from the outset!

Strange bedfellows

The final expression I'd like to impart in this month's domestic-themed blog is one that relates to advice that is generally given to those who can't cope in a particular situation: if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen! The connotation here is that someone who is unable to perform a particular task for whatever reason should leave the job to someone who can. The inclusion of the word 'heat' in the expression could very well be an allusion to the concept of pressure, by the way.

I hope you enjoyed and benefitted from this blog on domestic imagery. Join me in my next blog (for the month of July) where I will be talking about the incorporation of colours into everyday English language phrases and the associations that English speakers make between specific concepts or emotions and certain colours. Until next time!




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