Traditional phrases sent to the knacker’s yard - the 50 'endangered' sayings

·3-min read
Traditional phrases are at risk of dying out as a survey found younger generations do not use them - Ian Nicholson/PA
Traditional phrases are at risk of dying out as a survey found younger generations do not use them - Ian Nicholson/PA

People who pepper their speech with traditional phrases may find they are casting their pearls before swine, after new research found that dozens of sayings are at risk of dying out.

Phrases such as “nail your colours to the mast” and “know your onions” were among those barely used by modern speakers, according to the survey of 2,000 adults aged between 18 and 50.

Asked if they had ever used dozens of historical phrases, 78 per cent said they had never used the phrase “pearls before swine”, which has its origins in the Bible and was used by both Shakespeare and Dickens.

A further 71 per cent had never used “nail your colours to the mast” and 64 per cent “a stitch in time saves nine”.

At the less endangered end of the spectrum, 51 per cent of respondents said they had never uttered the phrase “see a man about a dog” and 49 per cent said “snug as a bug in a rug” had never crossed their lips.

Not all the at-risk phrases are likely to pass muster among younger generations. Pronouncing the words “knickers in a twist” or “colder than a witch’s t--” might cause a conversation quickly to go pear-shaped.

The English language continually evolves. Jealousy and envy were once very distinct words - one could not be jealous of something one did not already possess.

Nevertheless, those surveyed expressed disappointment at the disappearance of old sayings, even if they would need to Google them first. In the survey, 73 per cent of those asked said that it was a shame when a phrase died out.

Ellie Glason, from Perspectus Global, which commissioned the poll, said: "It's interesting to see from our research, how language evolves and changes over the years.

"It would seem that many of the phrases which were once commonplace in Britain are seldom used nowadays."

Britain's 50 'endangered' sayings

(Percentage of recipients who never use the phrase)

  1. Pearls before swine 78%

  2. Nail your colours to the mast 71%

  3. Colder than a witch's t-- 71%

  4. Pip pip 70%

  5. Know your onions 68%

  6. A nod is as good as a wink 66%

  7. A stitch in time saves nine 64%

  8. Ready for the knackers yard 62%

  9. I've dropped a clanger 60%

  10. A fly in the ointment 59%

  11. Keen as mustard 58%

  12. A flash in the pan 57%

  13. Tickety boo 57%

  14. A load of codswallop 56%

  15. A curtain twitcher 56%

  16. Knickers in a twist 56%

  17. Dead as a doornail 55%

  18. A dog's dinner 55%

  19. It's chock a block 55%

  20. Storm in a teacup 55%

  21. Could not organise a p--- up in a brewery 54%

  22. Not enough room to swing a cat 54%

  23. Flogging a dead horse 54%

  24. Toe the line 54%

  25. Popped her clogs 54%

  26. Drop them a line 53%

  27. Steal my thunder 53%

  28. A few sandwiches short of a picnic 53%

  29. A legend in one's own lifetime 52%

  30. Be there or be square 52%

  31. Fell off the back of a lorry 52%

  32. A bodge job 52%

  33. Eat humble pie 52%

  34. Having a chinwag 52%

  35. Put a sock in it 52%

  36. Mad as a Hatter 51%

  37. Spend a penny 51%

  38. Cool as a cucumber 51%

  39. It's gone pear shaped 51%

  40. It cost a bomb 51%

  41. Raining cats and dogs 51%

  42. See a man about a dog 51%

  43. It takes the biscuit 50%

  44. He's a good egg 50%

  45. Snug as a bug in a rug 49%

  46. Chuffed to bits 49%

  47. Have a gander 49%

  48. Selling like hot cakes 49%

  49. Pardon my French 48%

  50. A Turn up for the books 45%

Which 'endangered' phrases do you still use? Tell us in the comments section below

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