32 Idioms and Phrases Expressing Anger
Idiom and Phrase Expression
Writers get stumped when it comes to expressing anger in fiction. They think avoiding idiomatic or phrasal expressions is correct because of overuse or cliché. Sometimes, they express the right meaning. Most idioms and phrases 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 and Phrase Examples
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. Characters in novels get angry, and the best way to show anger is in action.
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.”
Most idiomatic phrases or 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 quite a few idiomatic and phrasal 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.”
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.
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.”
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."
11. Go Fly a Kite!
A person is mad at some or annoyed, and they want them to leave their immediate area, they say "Go Fly a Kite! Quit bothering me!" The idiom is slang and dates around the 1900s.
12. Grit One's Teeth
Grit's one's teeth, literally means grinding one's teeth because they are so mad and angry but are not expressing their anger. "He quietly grits his teeth over the money he lost at the poker game."
13. Have a Conniption Fit
A person gets angry over something or violent emotion. "She had a conniption fit when I dropped her device and cracked the screen."
14. Have a Low Boiling Point
Have a low boiling point describes a person who gets angry or mad easily. "John is pretty touchy, right now, and has a low boiling point." A writer uses this idiom in many ways such as "Tom felt his low boiling point ending up even lower after he saw his girlfriend dancing with another man."
15. Stick in One's Craw
When someone has someone of something sticking in their craw, it means they are irritated or displease with it. Another way of saying someone is mad about something. "You're trying to stick the problem in my craw!"
16. Get Off My Back!
"Get off my back!" express annoyance with someone telling the person what to do or criticizing. The person wants to be left alone.
17. Up in Arms
"Up in arms" means a person or a group is angry, and they are complaining about something. A mother is up in arms about her kids not cleaning up their rooms. The town is up in arms about drugs and alcohol in the park at night, and the police do nothing about it.
18. Bear with a Sore Head
"Bear with a sore head" means the person is in a bad mood and gets annoyed over little things. My neighbor is a bear with a sore head in the mornings. I can't do yard work because the noise sets his temper off.
19. Be in a Black Mood
"Be in a black mood" means to be irritably or angrily depressed. My dad is in a black mood. I will ask him tomorrow about taking the camping trip.
20. Blow a Fuse
"Blow a fuse" means losing your temper or go into a rage. It also means becoming extremely angry and suddenly going into a rage. My teacher blew a fuse when over half the class didn't turn in their homework.
21. Blow Up
"Blow up" means suddenly becoming angry at someone or something. "He always blows up over the spilled milk." It happens suddenly, like bursting with anger.
22. Give Vent To
"Give Vent to" is used in expressing sadness, but is primarily used for someone blowing off steam. "She gives vent to the high gas prices even though she drives a Suburban Ford."
"Rage-quit" shows how a person is so angry about something that they quit. Most noticeably when someone is playing a video game.
24.Throw Your Toys out of the Pram
"Throw your toys out the pram" is a dated phrase, but the image of a child throwing a tantrum in a baby carriage with toys flying out and bouncing on the ground is funny.
25. Let Rip
"Let rip" indicates the person suddenly gets angry and shouts at the other person or persons. You can write, "He let it rip after finding out his son got a drunk driving ticket."
26. Cut up Nasty/Rough
"Cut up Nasty/Rough" is an old-fashioned phrase from the United Kingdom. I find it useful because you can use it in many ways today. "Did you see how he got all cut up and nasty over the spilled milk." "Get ahold of yourself, mate. No reason to get so cut up and rough with the chicken."
27. Give Someone the Finger
"Give someone the finger" is tried and true, and probably used too much for its effectiveness. I see it as more of a childish way of reacting to something that causes you anger.
28. Go Berserk
"Go berserk" or "Going berserk" show someone very angry and violence in an uncontrolled way. "He went berserk when I told him I wanted to end our relationship."
29. Let Off/Blow off Steam
"Blow off steam or Let off stream" expresses someone discharging anger without hurting anyone or anything. "She just wants to let off steam, so she took a walk in the park."
30. Put/Stick Two Fingers up at Someone
"Put/stick two fingers up at someone" is not a common expression, though effective in a visual sense. The phrase expresses anger toward someone in an unsophisticated way that is rude. The person holds up his first two fingers in a "V" shape with his palm facing the target. "He stuck two fingers up at the police officer."
31. Throw a Wobbly
"Throw a wobbly" is a funny way to describe an angry reaction to someone or something. It is an informal British expression but effective. "Oh, don't go and throw a wobbly on me, mate. Give it a break."
32. Turn On
"Turn on" has many meanings, some positive, like "She turned me on." This expression can be negative. It means to become suddenly angry and start criticizing someone, or just plain, shout at them. "Bobby can turn it on sometimes with his wife. I wish he'd turn it off, geez."
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