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10 Idioms Expressing Anger

Updated on January 29, 2019
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna consulted and contributed to books about writing and taught English Writing to Elementary school students.

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Idiom Expression

Writers get stumped when it comes to expressing anger in fiction. They think avoiding idiomatic expressions is the correct because of overuse or cliché. Sometimes, they express the right meaning. Most idioms documented by well-known writers originate on the streets or countryside. “Send him packing” means telling someone to leave or go away because of anger or annoyance. This idiom comes from Shakespeare. He documented many idiomatic phrases.

Idiom Examples

Characters in novels get angry. The best way to show anger is action. The reader needs to understand why the character is angry, so there is no startling revelation when the character pounds his fist into the door or when she scratches his eyes out. A writer uses dialogue to show anger as well. That dialogue speaks well using an idiom. Some idioms come from movies. Like Dirty Harry films, “Make my day” or “Do you feel lucky, punk.”

Expressing Anger

Most idiomatic phrases come from yesteryear’s literature. Knowing what an idiomatic phrase means helps the writer express himself. It ignites the creative juices. Finding the right expression is challenging, so I’ve dug up ten idiomatic expressions that indirectly show the emotion of anger.

1. Hell's Bells and Puppy Dog Tails

I first heard the phrase “hell’s bells and puppy dog tails” when my father-in-law lost a hand at cards. In my research, I found the phrase “hell’s bells,” which means fiercely upset. The phrase is novel, not used often anymore. It originated in the late 19th century. “Puppy-dog tails” comes from a 19th-century rhyme about what boys are made up. I guess, pulling a puppy’s trail makes the unfortunate animal mad.

2. Nurse A Grudge Against Someone

The idiomatic phrase is visual and brings up all sorts of imagery. The writer needs to understand the meaning of "nurse." This definition is novel since the meaning is not "take care of someone who is sick." This particular definition means "maintain thoughts, a feeling, or theory." I visualize bigotry or prejudice or jealousy for stealing someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend. “He nurses a grudge against her for going out with his best friend.”

3. Throw A Fit

The idiomatic phrase means to become very angry or agitated. I often heard mothers say their son threw a fit. A writer intensifies it my writing “throw forty fits.” The phrase is slang and originated in 1930.

4. Mad as…

“Mad as…” comes with several end words that describe someone being angry. “Mad as a meat-ax” means extremely angry or dangerously crazy. The idiomatic phrase comes from Australia since the 1920s. “Mad as a cut snake” means very mad or exceedingly angry and originates from Australia 1890. Other endings from down under are “…a Chinaman,” “…a dingbat,” and “…goanna.” Canada originated one “mad as a wet hen,” which means Intensely annoyed. All these phrases change with “madder than…” Using these phrases is a writer’s tool, turning them into similes. “He is madder than a man carrying a meat-ax.”

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5. Dish It Out

The idiomatic phrase describes someone who is verbally harsh towards others or even physically harsh. Either way, the person is angry and dishing it out. “He can dish it out, but he can’t take it.” is a common phrase heard since 1925.

6. Up Yours!

Is the idiomatic phrase voicing anger at the intended? There are variations to the phrase with different endings. “Up your pipe!” and “up your jumper!” are phrases that express anger as long as the person’s attitude and voice match the words. The phrases originated in 1930 and 1920 respectively.

7. Piss-off!

When someone says “piss-off,” it means they are angry or displeased with a person or thing. Being made at a person is easy to visualize. The idiom directed at a broken-down car works as well. The phrase originated in 1940. In the 1970s, the words used by teenagers. The writer keeps in mind that older people are not likely to say “piss-off.”

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8. Have A Bone to Pick

The idiomatic phrase “have a bone to pick (with someone)” means to have something to argue about with someone, which means that the person is angry. “Bob is always picking bones with people for no reason.” I see an old man not happy with a friend or an acquaintance saying, “Bob, I have a bone to pick with you about cheating at cards.”

9. Have a Chip on One’s Shoulder

This idiomatic phrase is visual. Anyone with a chip on his or her shoulder is looking for a fight. They want to argue because they are angry all the time. A writer uses this phrase in a fun and descriptive way. A person with a chip on his shoulder is uncomfortable to be around.

10. Burned Up

The idiomatic phrase means very angry. “I never seen Bill so burned up over losing a game before.” A writer describes a character burning up with anger or just burning over a situation. "You better leave because Bob is burning up."

Artistic License in English

I hope my idiom examples help you write better and show more to your readers. A writer creates as he or she sees fit when taking an idiom. The artistic license is clear for writers. You alter or embellish the phrases as you please. I wish you a well-written story.

© 2019 Kenna McHugh

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    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      3 weeks ago from Northern California

      Patrick, That is so cool. I am glad they liked it.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      3 weeks ago from Northern California

      NF, Learning about idioms is fun plus a decent way to build your vocabulary.

    • Patrick Patrick profile image

      Patrick 

      3 weeks ago from Nairobi

      I shared this article with some of my neighbors (a few high school students) and they really love it.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      3 weeks ago from Northern California

      Liz, "...hit the roof" is a good one. There is also "...hit the ceiling". "throw a wobbly" is more like going postal. Yikes!!! Good ones.

    • naturalfever profile image

      Tapaswini Bashoo 

      3 weeks ago from Washington DC

      Interesting .. never knew about these constructions.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 weeks ago from UK

      Others I have thought of are 'he/she/they hit the roof' and 'to throw a wobbly'.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      3 weeks ago from Northern California

      Patrick, That makes sense. Languages evolve just like culture. As a writer, I like learning idioms because it helps my creative juices. They are still in the reference books, so I use them or change them around to fit my story.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      3 weeks ago from Northern California

      Liz, "Hopping mad" is a good one. "Fuming" is more of a slang word. These days the difference is minute. Idioms are words used together to convey a meaning different than if they were individually defined.

    • Patrick Patrick profile image

      Patrick 

      3 weeks ago from Nairobi

      Thank you for sharing the list. Such idioms as these are being used less and less these days. Could it be as a result of changes in how we use language? For instance, the "English" used during the Victorian era is different from today's. I wonder is the use or lack of using such phases is just but a process of change in language. Not sure if I make much sense :)

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 weeks ago from UK

      This is a helpful list. My Dad used to say he was 'fuming'. I have also heard people described as being hopping mad.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      3 weeks ago from Northern California

      Louise, you are welcome. Idioms are so much fun with writing.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      3 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      I have used many of these idioms in the past! Very interesting to read, thankyou.

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