Common idioms with the word ‘head’

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by Kate Woodford

Last month we focused on idioms that included various parts of the body. This week, we look at idioms featuring the most productive part – the head! As ever, we only cover phrases that are frequent and current.

If there is a problem and you bury your head in the sand, you behave as if there is no problem because you do not want to deal with it: This is an environmental catastrophe and we’re just burying our heads in the sand. Someone or something that is head and shoulders above other people or things is very much better than them: There’s no comparison with the other teams – they’re head and shoulders above them. If you keep your head down, you deliberately try to avoid making someone angry, usually by saying little and keeping busy: He’s in a bad mood this morning. I’m just keeping my head down. A discussion that goes over your head is too difficult for you to understand: I must say, parts of the talk went over my head.

Three common ‘head’ phrases also include a word for a part of the body found at the other end, (heel, tail and toe). If you are head over heels in love, you are completely in love: They met in Paris and fell head over heels in love. If you can’t make head nor tail of something, you can’t understand it: Could you read these instructions? I can’t make head nor tail of them! From head to toe means ‘covering all of the body’: By the end of the afternoon, both children were covered from head to toe in paint.

The following ‘head’ idioms are more informal. If you keep trying to do something but have absolutely no success, you might say informally that it is like banging/hitting your head against a brick wall: Trying to get him to help is like banging your head against a brick wall! If you speak to someone and they bite/snap your head off, they reply angrily, usually without a good reason: I asked a perfectly reasonable question and you just bit my head off! To laugh your head off is to laugh a lot, loudly: You laughed your head off when I tripped! British English has the informal idiom to get your head around something, which means to succeed in understanding it. (We often used it in the negative form.) The arrangements are so complicated – I can’t get my head around them.

Finally, ending on a positive note, we sometimes say two heads are better than one, meaning that two people working together achieve more than one person working alone. Do you have this phrase in your language?



43 thoughts on “Common idioms with the word ‘head’

  1. Rudolf Sardi, PhD

    “Two heads are better than one” translates into Hungarian as follows: két szem többet lát. Instead of the head, we use the eyes to indicate the same meaning as the English phrase does. In translation: more eyes can see more.

    1. Kate Woodford

      That’s interesting, Rudolf – thanks. We talk about ‘another pair of eyes’ with the meaning of ‘an additional person to check something’. Best wishes from Cambridge.

    2. Michał

      Hello Kate, very eloquent post.
      In Polish: “Co dwie głowy to nie jedna”
      Loosely translated:
      “Two heads are better than one”

  2. F Hossain

    Another addition: let heart rule head, meaning to do something based on one’s own personal desires rather than for pragmatic or practical reasons.

    1. Oli

      Naval history. Wikipedia explains it better I would imagine but basically a sailor would have to urinate over a particular part of the ship, usually attached to the ‘figurehead’ iirc

  3. Lucrecia Smith

    Thank you so much for this lesson! I am an Spanish speaking learning English and I always had problem with idioms, they didn’t made any sense to me, and for that reason I couldn’t stick them in my mind. Now that I have seeing you comparing them with the parts of the body, it seems easy to memorize them. Thank you again & again.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Lucrecia. Thanks for your kind words. It’s so encouraging to hear that people find our posts useful. Best wishes from Cambridge.

  4. Maryem Salama

    It seems we have the same (head)! as we have similar idioms of some of them in my language with a slight change in some others.

  5. Mujahed Jadallah

    To express the idiomatic meaning of “two heads are better than one”, in Palestinian Arabic we sometimes say “one hand just won’t clap”, implying that it takes two hands to clap.

  6. Mohammed Elbarody

    Thanks a lot for this good lesson
    Yes l have similar meaning in my Egyptian Arabic language :
    ((The baggage with 2 hands should be carried by 2 persons))

  7. Eleonora Boeriu

    There is a similar idiom in the Romanian language, but with eyes” 2 eyes see better”.
    And with “head”: “2 heads think better than one”.

  8. Maryem Salama

    A funny one in our dialect says Two Heads in one Hat which means two persons have the same way of thinking or looking things.

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