How Well Do You Know Your Proverbs?

By: Isadora Teich

6 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Proverbs are clever sayings as witty as they are full of advice, but how well do you know them? Test your proverb knowledge with this HowStuffWorks quiz!

To do something "half-cocked" means to act:

Someone who "goes off half-cocked" is speaking or acting impulsively. The phrase appears to relate to old flintlock guns.

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If someone is "flesh and blood" they are:

The most common modern usage of this phrase is to refer to family members as "your own flesh and blood." It can also refer to all mankind and the things all living people are made of.

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Someone who is "keeping up with the Joneses" wants to appear as ______ as their neighbors.

This proverb applies to someone who is trying to appear to match their neighbors in wealth, class and status. It originated in 20th-century America.

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If a person is "as mad as a hatter" they are what?

This phrase refers to a person who is totally crazy. No one is sure exactly where the phrase originated, but some think it may go back to hatters in the old days who, after being exposed to mercury during the hat-making process, often shook and behaved erratically.

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If you "take something someone says with a grain of salt" how are you reacting to it?

To react in this way means to hear someone out, but maintain a healthy skepticism. This phrase has its origins in ancient Greece.

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The proverb "A penny saved is a penny earned" relates to:

This proverb means that it is just as important and useful to save the money you already have, as it is to earn more. This dates back to the 17th century.

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Someone who is "going back to square one" is doing what?

This is a well-known folk proverb, but no one knows where it came from exactly. It means to go back to the beginning or start over.

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The proverb "Charity begins at home" involves putting what first?

The ideas in this proverb have been expressed since biblical times. It means that someone should put their own family first before caring for others.

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If you have to "read between the lines" to get an answer that answer is:

When you "read between the lines" you search for a meaning that is not directly said or obvious. It comes from a form of 19th-century cryptography where people would literally have to read between lines of text to find a hidden message.

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"Davy Jones' locker" refers to the bottom of the:

This phrase refers to the bottom of the sea, where according to myth sailors lost at sea rest. There are several possible explanations as to where this phrase comes from, but it is not a sure thing.

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Someone who is "facing the music" is really facing what?

While no one knows exactly where this phrase comes from, most English speakers know what it means. It means to accept the consequences of your mistakes.

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If someone is "a fish out of water" they are:

Someone in this position is unsuited to their environment. This phrase is so old that a version of it can be found in Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales."

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If you "get off on the wrong foot" how have you started something?

This phrase means to start some kind of venture or relationship badly or to make a bad first impression. Some think the ideas of having a good foot and bad foot might date back to ancient Greece, but no one is really sure.

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What does it mean to "give the devil his due?"

This figurative expression means to return the favors or money you owe. This proverb was used by Shakespeare in "Henry IV Part 1."

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The phrase "close, but no cigar" relates to:

This phrase means that someone has come close to achieving a goal, but has not succeeded. Some think that it might have originated in the U.S. in the 1900s, when fairground stalls gave out cigars as prizes.

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What does "The early bird catches the worm" advise you to do?

This means that those who prepare well and put in the effort will be the most successful. It's first seen written in a book of 17th-century English proverbs.

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Someone who "gives no quarter" shows no __________.

Originally this phrase meant to show no mercy to a vanquished foe and put them to death immediately after they lost in battle. Today it is a little less severe.

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Someone who "wears their heart on their sleeve" is ________ about their feelings.

To "wear your heart on your sleeve" means to be open and honest about everything you feel. This phrase originates from Shakespeare's "Othello."

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When a TV show is "jumping the shark" it has become:

This phrase means that a TV show is so far past its prime that its using ridiculous devices to try and keep viewers. It refers to the 1977 episode of "Happy Days" where The Fonz literally jumps over a shark on a water ski.

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If you "kiss and tell" what are you actually telling people about?

This phrase means to publicly tell people about your sexual experiences, sometimes with bad intentions. It can be to embarrass or get revenge on another person.

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If someone is a "lame duck" they do not:

This often applies to a person that cannot perform their job properly or otherwise function. It is often applied to politicians who are too close to the end of their term to push their agendas anymore.

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The phrase "No man is an island" means that no one is happy when they are:

This expression means that people need each other and that no one does well when totally isolated. It originates with John Donne.

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If someone is "as old as the hills" they are _____ old.

This jibe at the elderly actually comes from the Bible. It can be found in Job 15:7.

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If something occurs "once in a blue moon" it happens how often?

Something that happens once in a blue moon occurs rarely. There are several explanations as to where this phrase originates from.

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What does a "deus ex machina" do?

A "Deus Ex Machina" is a person or thing that conveniently appears to solve a problem at the last second. It comes from ancient Greek theater.

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If something is a "sacred cow" it is:

This phrase refers to something that is so highly revered that it is beyond criticism. It alludes to the Hindu religion's reverence for cows.

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If you are "minding your Ps and Qs" you are being careful about how you:

Grammarians can't agree on how to spell this phrase, and its original meaning is unsure. It means to be on your best behavior and watch the things you say.

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Someone who is "painting the town red" is:

While this phrase used to me more sinister, and often referred to unruly rich people who would spill blood during their sprees, it is not so intense today. In modern language, it usually refers to a wild night on the town.

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Someone who is being "the devil's advocate" is often involved in a:

This phrase is used to describe someone who takes the contrary position in an argument to either test the argument or provoke the other person. This phrase evolved from a Latin expression.

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The phrase "quid pro quo" implies what?

"Quid pro quo" is literally Latin for "This for that" or "Something for something." It implies that an exchange should take place.

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"Red tape" refers to _______ getting in the way.

Red tape applies to bureaucratic rules and regulations, which can complicate things. This refers to the fact that many legal and official documents have been bound with red tape since the 17th century.

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If something is a "rule of thumb" it was decided by:

"Rule of Thumb" applies to rough rules based on practical day-to-day living. While it is thought that it applies to an old English law which allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick as long as it was no wider than his thumb, there is no record of any such law.

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The proverb "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" is about:

This proverb means that it is better to have a smaller guaranteed advantage than a larger one that might not work out. It dates back to the 16th century and warns against taking risks.

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Something that "takes the cake" is:

This phrase means that something is winning, but can also be used to express surprise or disbelief. Many think it comes from the cake-walk strutting competitions which were common in the American South in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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To be "in a pickle" is to be:

Someone who is in a pickle is in a difficult position. The phrase refers to someone being as mixed up as the stewed vegetables that used to make up pickles over the centuries.

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