Have you ever thought about the number of common idioms relating to furniture and buildings?
There are literally thousands in the English language.
When it comes to furniture sayings, many have been part of our everyday conversation for so long that we don’t even think about where they’ve come from.
Part of the furniture
When a person is described as “part of the furniture”, it means they have been in a certain place for so long that they’ve become an integral part of their surroundings. For example, it can describe an employee who has worked at the same place for many years.
Furniture in a building usually remains in the same place for a long time without moving. People who have worked there for a long time can seem so familiar that no-one even notices them anymore, hence they have become “part of the furniture”. It’s normally said in a complimentary way, rather than as an insult.
Sweeping something under the rug
When you sweep something under the rug or carpet, it means to ignore it, even if you should deal with it. For example, someone might say, “You’ve made a huge mistake – don’t just sweep it under the rug!”
Based on the idea of a lazy housemaid sweeping dirt under the rug, rather than getting a dustpan to remove it from the room; its origins lie in the Victorian era, when wealthy households had servants.
Elephant in the room
Based on the theory that something as large as an elephant can still be deliberately overlooked in certain social situations; the phrase “elephant in the room” refers to when there’s an obvious problem that nobody wants to discuss. While everyone knows a sensitive issue ought to be broached, it isn’t openly acknowledged by anyone present.
It originated in 1814, when the Russian author Ivan Andreevich wrote a fable called The Inquisitive Man. It told of a man who went to a museum and noticed every tiny thing around him but failed to spot an elephant. The phrase later became proverbial.
An armchair critic is a person who knows (or at least pretends to know) a lot about a subject, but in theory, rather than in practice. It is often used as an insult. For example, you might say, “She’s always criticising other people’s work, but she’s never done the job herself. She’s just an armchair critic.”
The phrase originated in 1886, when the British politician Joseph Chamberlain mockingly called opponents “armchair politicians”. A decade later, the term “armchair critic” was first used.
Round the houses
Going round the houses means taking an unnecessarily long time to get to the point when talking about something. For example, in a meeting, you could describe a speaker as “going round the houses” by taking 20 minutes to describe something that could be concluded in half the time.
A British saying from the mid-19th century, it was used to describe a person who was saying something unimportant, rather than focusing on the main part of a speech.
Bring to the table
Bringing something to the table means contributing something to a group effort. For example, at a meeting, the speaker might ask, “What do you think volunteers can bring to the table?”
The phrase has its roots in gambling, referring to the initial wager that a player makes in a game of cards. The idiom relates to bringing something of value to a meeting, for example, by having a lot of useful information to impart.
Displaying cupboard love for someone means pretending you care for them to gain something to your own advantage. For example, if someone shows you affection only when you’ve bought them a gift, you could describe it as “cupboard love”.
First used in the mid-1700s, the phrase originates from the way a cat will show superficial love for the person who feeds it when they go to the cupboard that holds its food.
Shut the front door
New furniture idioms are entering the English language all the time. One of the most recent is “shut the front door”, used as an expression of surprise. For example, if someone tells you something shocking, you might exclaim, in a light-hearted way, “Shut the front door!”
Its exact origins are unknown, although it is believed to have come from the United States in the early 21st century. It’s a variant of the phrase, “No way!” when used as an expression of disbelief.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our light-hearted look at furniture sayings from the past 400 years!