Crossing swords and sparks flying (Idioms about arguing)

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

a couple seated facing each other having an angry argument

by Kate Woodford

The English language contains a lot of idioms and phrases on the theme of arguing. This post looks at some of the most useful ones. I hope you find it interesting.

Before a disagreement even begins, if someone clearly wants an argument and tries to provoke a person into arguing, you can describe them as spoiling for a fight. Also, if someone says something to deliberately start an argument, you can say they throw down the gauntlet:

He was clearly spoiling for a fight during Monday’s debate.

She threw down the gauntlet to her critics today.

Moving on to having an argument, there are various idioms for this, many of which create a vivid – and often violent – image in the mind. For example, you can say that people cross swords and if you want to emphasize that they argue very angrily you can talk about them being at each other’s throats:

They’d crossed swords numerous times in Parliament over this issue.

Tom and Ben were at each other’s throats the whole time.

Another way of saying that people argue very angrily is to say that sparks fly:

At the same press conference, sparks flew between the manager and a young journalist.

An informal way of saying that an angry argument starts (often between several people) is all hell breaks loose:

All hell broke loose when my brother got home.

Meanwhile, two people who often have angry arguments may be said to (UK) fight like cat and dog / (US) fight like cats and dogs:

I get on really well with my brother now, but as kids we used to fight like cat and dog.

Other phrases are not quite so visual. A rather restrained way to say that you have had an argument with someone is to say you exchanged words or had words with them. (Confusingly, ‘exchange words’ can also just refer to people speaking together, rather than arguing).

We had words this morning over her refusal to study.

It’s thought that they exchanged words after the meeting.

Moving on to noun phrases in this area, a shouting match is a noisy argument in which people raise their voices and, in UK English, a slanging match (informal) is an argument in which people insult each other. A running battle, meanwhile, is an argument that continues for a long period of time:

The debate soon degenerated into a shouting match.

I refused to be drawn into a slanging match.

We’ve had a running battle with the council for almost a decade.

Finally, an issue that people argue over is sometimes called the bone of contention:

The main bone of contention between them was the fact that he was so rarely at home.

That concludes my ‘argument idioms’ post. My next post will be on a rather nicer theme – ending arguments and becoming friends again!

24 thoughts on “Crossing swords and sparks flying (Idioms about arguing)

    1. Justin

      Its very interesting, even as a native English speaker (US) to be reminded of the “idioms” I’ve taken for granted.

  1. Kuol Monyjei Ajak

    Thank you so much for clear definition of different vocabularies meaning.
    Please continue to do so.
    God bless you all where you are all.

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