A big, happy family – 5 idioms about families!

Families are, for better or worse, a big part of culture. Millions of books, films, and scholars have analyzed family relationships  in some way and it permeates our vocabulary. We are going to see 5 idioms that include words related to family and their meaning.

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

Bob’s your uncle

This funny idiom is part of British slang, very coloquial. if you have never heard of it (or you’ve never understood it), it means that something is very simple. It is typically used after instructions and it is something like “and it’s as simple as that!”

The origin of this expression dates back to 1887 in the UK, when the British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (Bob) appointed his nephew Arthur James Balfour as Minister for Ireland. Arthur referred to the Prime Minister as “Uncle Bob”. The expression started being used as something meaning ‘anything is easy if Bob’s your uncle’, which turned into “Bob’s your uncle.”

Like father, like son

One of the most popular idioms with familiar ties, “like father, like son” is quite visual: there are similarities between a father and a son. It also appears as “like mother, like daughter” for women. More generally, it means that parents and their children share one or more specific characteristics. Usually, a third person will use it to talk about a child and their parent. For example:

-My mum is so stubborn! She always wants to do things her own way.

-Like father, like son / like mother, like daughter. You also do that!

We do not know the exact origin of the expression, but it was already recorded in 1616 in a book called Bibliotheca Scholastica Instructissima, a collection of proverbs by Thomas Draxe. Even the Bible has a version of this expression, “like mother like daughter”, in Ezekiel 16:44.

The black sheep of the family

Most families will have someone they call the black sheep: maybe they have different tastes, wear weird clothes, choose a different path in life, or have cut off their ties to the family entirely. The black sheep is that disgraced person in the family, or the outcast. 

The origin of the idiom is quite debated. Some people believe it comes from linking black things with bad things, a common connection in English texts. It may also come from shepherds who disliked black sheep as their fleeces couldn’t be dyed, so they were not worth as much as white sheep.

However, it is more likely to have derived from misinterpreted early English Bibles, translated from German texts. In the original texts, the Genesis 30:32 story is that the shepherd Jacob suggested that he remove any black cattle in order to show that he hadn’t stolen any white ones. That meant that the black sheep were a symbol of integrity, instead of the current disrepute. This use of the expression continued to evolve and spread in English culture, to what we know today.

Like taking candy from a baby

“Like taking candy from a baby” means that something is very easy to do. As you can imagine, a baby can not defend himself if someone decides to take something from them. The connotations are negative, of doing something unfair or shameful because it is so easy to do. We use the expression for actions that are somewhat dishonest, or at least sneaky. 

The idiom has an American origin, in the beginnings of the twentieth century. The earliest use was in 1900 by Clarence Louis Cullen in Taking Chances, a collection of short stories. 

Everyone and their mother

It seems like every language has an expression that means the same as this one. “Everyone and their mother” has a very simple meaning: absolutely everyone.

What is surprising about this idiom is that the origin is unknown due to the massive spread and usage, as well as the amount of variations in English. You can say “everyone and their mother”, or change “mother” for “brother”, “his dog,” and you can say “the world and his wife.” There are many options, so choose one, the world is your oyster!

Do you know any variations of these idioms? Let us know! Click here for more expressions.

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