Show Off Your Knowledge With This Common Phrases Quiz!


By: Brian Whitney

6 Min Quiz

Image: Christina Reichl Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The English language is amazing with all of our different words and what they mean.  Of course, we have the regular old language with words that we all understand, but then there are also tons of common phrases that we all use or at least know what they mean, even if we don't really know where the phrase comes from.

How about you? Are you an expert when it comes to common phrases?  Maybe your parents, were too,. After all, the apple doesn't usually fall far from the tree. Hopefully, you do well on this quiz, and if you don't we hope that you won't have a chip on your shoulder.  You might think that this quiz is a total piece of cake and that quizzes like this are a dime a dozen, but if you don't do well on this quiz you'll soon be back to square one. We hate to burst your bubble, but this quiz is not easy, at some points you're going to feel like you're between a rock and a hard place.

Are you really to show off your knowledge of common phrases? We hope so, because it's time to stop beating around the bush and take this quiz. 

What does it mean if someone has a "chip on their shoulder"?

This phrase means someone spoiling for a fight. When it comes to the origin of the phrase, if you're walking around with a chip on your shoulder, you're challenging someone to knock it off.


If you're "all bark and no bite" what are you?

If your bark is worse than your bite, you're one of those kinds of people who talks a big game but you don't back it up. Think of a dog who barks a lot but in actuality is really sweet.


If someone is "barking up the wrong tree" what are they doing?

Dogs are known to look up in trees and bark when they think there is potential prey in it. If someone is "Barking up the wrong tree," they think they have figured something out when they haven't.


If you're a "bull in a china shop" what could you be described as?

This is one of the most easily explained phrases around. If you happen to be a bull and you happen to be in a china shop, can you imagine the damage that you could cause? It isn't pretty to think about.


Someone quitting something "cold turkey" is doing what?

One symptom of opioid withdrawal is goose bumps on the surface of the skin. When someone discontinued opioids abruptly, at times they would exhibit that symptom and their skin looked pale, like a cold turkey.


If a friend is "crying wolf," can they be trusted?

In one of Aesop's Fables, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," a young shepherd amuses himself by calling for help over and over again saying a wolf is threatening his flock when nothing is really happening.


What are you having if you have a "cup of Joe"?

The secretary of the US Navy, Admiral “Joe” Daniels, abolished alcohol on Navy ships in 1914. This left sailors to drink coffee instead, which they called a "cup of Joe" named after the admiral.


If a person you know is "down to Earth," what are they like?

The word "grounded" means someone that is humble and isn't prone to flights of fantasy. When you think of it, what could be more grounded than someone who is said to be "down to Earth"?


A student is asked a question, but is "drawing a blank". What is the student doing?

When you're trying to think of an answer to a question and forgot what it was or if you can't remember a fact that you know, you're "drawing a blank" which means that your thoughts are empty.


If there is an"elephant in the room," but it isn't at a circus, what does that imply ?

Wouldn't you notice an elephant in the room? If there is an "elephant in the room" that means there is a problem of some sort that is so big it is impossible to ignore.


If you think "every cloud has a silver lining" what is your attitude?

If a cloud suddenly blocks out the sun on a gorgeous day, that isn't thought of as a good thing. But this phrase tells you that there is nothing that can come in life that doesn't have something positive about it.


What kind of shape is someone in who is "fit as a fiddle"?

When one hears the common phrase "Fit as a Fiddle," it means that someone is in good shape and in great health. This phrase has been around forever, going back to at least the 17th century.


How much is"Fool's gold" worth?

There is a mineral that looks quite a bit like gold, but it isn't, and it fools a lot of people. "Fools Gold" is usually thought of as a mineral called Iron pyrite that is worth virtually nothing.


What speed is someone going if they're moving at the speed of "greased lightning"?

Lightning is known for being really quick, and grease tends to lubricate things and make them run better. Therefore if you greased up some lightning it would be even faster than before.


If something is a "hard pill to swallow," what is it?

Some of us swallow pills with no issue, while others have a really hard time getting them down. Something that is a "hard pill to swallow" is a thought or an issue that is hard to accept.


If you "hit the nail on the head" what does that mean?

When one is driving a nail with a hammer, if you hit it right on the head it will go in better and easier. This phrase means that you did or said something that was without a doubt correct.


How are things going for your brother in life if he's "in a pickle"?

If you are in a pickle, you are in a difficult position, or have a problem to which no easy answer can be found. No one wants to be in a pickle; it means you're really in a tight spot.


How is a woman in retirement doing financially if she's "in the red"?

Quite often in the old days as well as today, red ink is used to indicate a financial loss. When someone or something is "in the red" it means that money is being lost, and that isn't good.


When are you doing something if you "jump the gun"?

This comes from racing, when the race would be started off when an official fired off a starters pistol. If you "jump the gun," it means that you started before the official start of the race.


What is a friend doing when they are "joshing you"?

To "Josh" means to play a joke on someone or to play a prank on them. People don't seem to be entirely sure where this phrase comes from, but it originated in America in the 19th century.


What is a person doing if they "keep on truckin"?

The phrase "Keep on Truckin' means that you aren't going to stop what you're doing and are going to continue on. This phrase started in the '70s and comes from the world of truck drivers and convoys.


How good is your best friend good at keeping secrets if they "let the cat out of the bag?"

If someone "let the cat out of the bag " it means they revealed a secret. It can also be used to refer to someone who is a blabbermouth. No one knows exactly where this phrase came from.


How old is your father if he's "long in the tooth"?

When a horse gets older its gums tend to recede which makes their teeth look like they're longer. This phrase stands for someone who is getting up in years, whether it be a horse or otherwise.


How good is food that is "mouthwatering"?

Sometimes when you're really hungry, or if something smells or tastes really good, people actually start to salivate a little bit. This is where the phrase "mouthwatering" comes from.


What do you think of something that is "your cup of tea?"

In the late 1800s, the British started using this phrase to describe something they really liked. It can also be used to describe something one doesn't like by saying "not my cup of tea".


If someone is not the "sharpest tool in the shed," what is he?

This is not a compliment. If one is using a tool to get a job done such as a shovel or shears, you want it to be sharp. If the tool isn't sharp, it probably isn't going to work for what you're trying to do.


If something happens to you that is "out of left field," how might you feel?

Out of all the positions in baseball, left field is possibly the one that is considered the least important to field well. When a throw comes from left field, it can sometimes surprise the runner.


If you come across a bear and you "play possum" what are you doing?

Possums aren't the toughest animals in the world so they need to have some tricks to get by and survive.. A possum will often pretend to be dead when confronted by a predator in the wild.


How hard is it coming down if it's "raining cats and dogs"?

While it isn't entirely clear what this phrase actually means, it has been around for a really long time. If it's "raining cats and dogs" that means that it's raining incredibly hard.


Where are you sitting in a car if you're "riding shotgun"?

Back in the days of the old West there were frequently armed robberies out on the road. Someone on a stagecoach who was riding "shotgun" sat armed next to the driver as a guard.


If a restaurant is "run of the mill," how good is it?

Back in the olden days, there was a lot of common material that came from mills. Something that is "run of the mill" is just some average product that has nothing special about it.


Did a person get a good deal on a car if they got the "short end of the stick"?

If you were to get the "short end of the stick," it means that you got the bad end of a bargain. This phrase has been around forever, some say that it has been used since the 1500s.


If someone "sticks a fork in you," what are you?

If one is making a cut of meat for dinner, it is important to make sure that it's cooked correctly. One method of doing that is to stick a fork into the cut of meat to make sure that it's done.


What is a basketball team doing if they "throw in the towel"?

The phrase "throwing in the towel" means to quit or give up. This common phrase has its origins in boxing. If a cornerman thought that his boxer was taking too much punishment, he would throw a towel into the ring to get the ref to stop the fight.


How dangerous is someone who "wouldn't harm a fly"?

Pretty much everyone can agree that flies are totally irritating. This is why if someone wouldn't harm a fly, it means that they probably wouldn't harm anything else either.They're harmless.


Explore More Quizzes

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!