Professor Wu's Rulebook

Well blow little ducks: 12 bizarre idioms, what they mean and where they come from

Ducks and little ducks
Photography by Petr Kratochvil, via public domain pictures.

Well the carrots are cooked! We hope you’re ready to start swallowing grass snakes, because we’ve got some of the most bizarre idioms – along with some information about their origins and meanings – for you to get excited about. It’s time to pay the duck (unless an elephant has stomped on your ear, of course!).

Enjoy, amigos:


  1. To slide in on a shrimp sandwich

Language of origin: Swedish.

Meaning: It refers to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.

Used in a sentence: “Wow, the CEO’s son really slid in on a shrimp sandwich.”

  1. To blow little ducks

Language of origin: Latvian

Meaning: To talk nonsense or to lie.

Used in a sentence: “Stop blowing little ducks, Monique! I know you stole all the shrimp sandwiches.”

  1. Enough to cobble dogs with

Language of origin: English (UK)

Meaning: Refers to a surplus of something. For instance, if a cobbler has enough leather to cobble an animal that has four feet, then that cobbler definitely has a surplus.

Used in a sentence: “There are enough idioms here to cobble dogs with.”

  1. The carrots are cooked!

Language of origin: French

Meaning: The situation can’t be changed

Used in a sentence: “It’s a shame Jeremiah has sold his cobbling business, but the carrots are cooked!”

  1. It jumped the shark

Language of origin: English (US)

Meaning: The moment a television show or other cultural phenomenon stops being relevant and starts being ridiculous.

Used in a sentence: “The latest episode of Hippos vs octopuses really jumped the shark this week.”

  1. You have tomatoes on your eyes

Language of origin: German

Meaning: When you can’t see what everyone else can (but refers to physical, real objects, rather than abstract meanings).

Used in a sentence: “Oh Eunice, you must have tomatoes on your eyes if you can’t see the large cat on my head.”

  1. To swallow grass snakes

Language of origin: French

Meaning: to be so insulted by something, you are unable to think of a reply or find the right words to say

Used in a sentence: “I can’t believe you’d say such a thing, Candice. I must have swallowed grass snakes!”

  1. The thief has a burning hat

Language of origin: Russian

Meaning: When someone has uneasy conscious that betrays itself.

Used in a sentence: “How did I know it was Mervyn’s fault? Let’s just say the thief has a burning hat.”

  1. Pay the duck

Language of origin: Portuguese

Meaning: To take the blame for something you did not do.

Used in a sentence: “I’ll pay the duck, even if it was actually Prunella who put the cat on Gwenda’s head.”

  1. Did an elephant stomp on your ear?

Language of origin: Polish

Meaning: To have no ear for music

Used in a sentence: “Crikey, Dermot, did an elephant stomp on your ear? That wasn’t music; it was the sound of dog being cobbled in a back alley.”

  1. The pussy cat will come to the tiny door

Language of origin: Croatian

Meaning: What goes around, comes around

Used in a sentence: “At first, it was hard for me to accept being left at the alter by Stefan for his super-secret agent ex-boyfriend, but then I realised: it’s just a matter of time before the pussy cat comes to the tiny door.”

12. There’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football! 

Language of origin: English

Meaning: There’s nothing to stop you: do anything and everything that you can imagine

Used in a sentence: “You should totally set up a collective of creatives, where people can share awesome tips on writing, art, photography and everything else, and maybe even put together a list of a dozen crazy idioms that folk might enjoy. After all, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football!”


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