Can You Fill the Blanks in These Old-Timey Phrases?


By: Sameena Mughal

6 Min Quiz

Image: George Marks/Retrofile RF/Getty Images

About This Quiz

OMG! There are so many ways to express how we feel about any given situation. Sometimes, we just say how we feel. Other times, we think of creative ways to express ourselves with colorful words and phrases. As long as there has been language, people have come up with ways to bring home what they're saying. Some people exaggerate. Some make comparisons. Some just say off the wall things for effect.

Some expressions are more literal. "A leopard can't change its spots." Beggars can't be choosers." With some, people will know what they mean and use them. Still, when you look closely, it's hard to see the connection. For example, "mind your Ps and Qs" doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Neither does "can't cut the mustard." What does mustard really have to do with anything? It is a bit confusing when you think about it.

At the end of the day, some of these kooky expressions we use don't have to make total sense. They're just fun and silly. They're ways to make what we say memorable.

Now, it's your turn to see how much you remember. Take our quiz and see if you're the professor or the student when it comes to the classic phrases we've cooked up. Have fun!

What's missing from, "if it ain't _____, don't fix it?"

English teachers the world over cringe at the word, "ain't," but in the saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," it's used to emphasize a point. Don't bother something that's working.


When someone wants to tell you how good you are, they might say "you're the cat's ..." what?

Telling someone they're "the cat's meow" to tell them how great they are has a bit of logic to it. Even though most cats don't meow when they're happy, this phrase intimates that they do.


How would you complete the phrase, "Don't count your chickens before they _____?"

"Don't count your chickens before they hatch" is a way to caution someone not to get too anxious about something that isn't already settled. That's sound advice. Don't bet the farm, either.


How would you complete this caveat: "Don't take any wooden _____?"

Since most coin currency is made of metal of some sort, accepting wooden nickels is not a good idea. "Don't take any wooden nickels" is just a warning to be leery of things that are useless.


Which word finishes, "made in the _____?"

Shade is a good thing when it's hot out, and you need to cool off. So, in the 50s, if someone said they had it "made in the shade," they were doing pretty well for themselves, and they had no worries.


How would you complete: "you're _____ up the wrong tree?"

"You're barking up the wrong tree" is not the thing to say when things are going smoothly. When that is said, the person on the receiving end is either completely off base, completely annoying, or both.


Do you know the word to complete this phrase, " A _____ stone gathers no moss?"

This vintage phrase is a two for one deal. Used one way, it prompts someone to take action rather than do nothing. If used another way, it means that it's hard to be steady when you're moving.


Do you know the word that fits best in, "I'll be there with _____ on?"

Starting in the tail-end of the 19th century, people said, "I'll be there with bells on" to show their enthusiasm for whatever event they were invited to. The invitee showed next-level excitement with that response.


Do you know the missing word here: "Crusin' for a _____?'

"You're crusin' for a bruisin'" wasn't just said by Kenickie in the movie, "Grease." It was said by a lot of people in the 50s to people who were just so irritating they could get punched.


Can you say what's missing from, "this isn't my first _____?"

When someone says, "this isn't my first rodeo," that's their way of telling you that they know what they're doing, and they're not naive. Not only do they know what they're doing, they've been doing it a long time.


"There's more than one way to skin a _____" what?

"There's more than one way to skin a cat" is not the most pleasant of sayings. Oddly, it's encouraging someone to keep trying and be persistent. There's always another way to try and succeed.


What word fills the beginning of this phrase: The _____ wheel gets the grease?"

This saying is a warning to not stay quiet if you need something or something is going wrong. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" is another way of saying the loudest voice gets heard.


Which word is missing from, "_____ while the iron is hot?"

Among the older phrases of English, "strike while the iron is hot" makes logical sense. Metal is formed and crafted when it's hot. So, getting to something right away or just going for it will get the job done.


Can you tell us the right first word for, "_____ home the bacon?"

When you come home with a paycheck and even pay some bills, you are "bringing home the bacon." You might want to fry it in a pain, too. Regular employment gives a person that ability.


"Make _____ while the sun shines." What are you being asked to make?

Some say that everything has its time and place. Apparently, the time to make hay is during daylight hours, if one knows how to do such a thing. Simply put, make the best use of time.


"Gimme some _____" what?

Many times, when people first see each other, they shake hands. If someone is really enthusiastic about seeing someone they're meeting or running into, they might say, "gimme some skin."


"You look happy as a _____" what?

"Happy as a clam" came from the phrase, "happy as a clam in high water." When a clam reaches higher waters, it's safe from its natural predators. Feeling safe equals feeling happy.


What word would you complete this saying with: "A _____ in time saves nine?"

Sometimes, you just have to put the work in, whether it's now or later. If someone tells you "a stitch in time saves nine," they're telling you it might as well be now to save you from more later.


What word completes "don't flip your ____?"

Somehow, in moments of aggravation, wigs can move in ways that one doesn't expect. Someone who is giving you news that you don't want to hear will tell you to take it easy, and "don't flip your wig."


What's missing from, "you're preaching to the _____?"

Some people can be guilty of "preaching to the choir." They get so wrapped up in or passionate about what they're saying they might go on and on to people who already agree. That effort might be best aimed at people who are not on board.


Which word fits in with "you're the bee's _____"?

When last seen, bees didn't have knees. So, it's unclear why people started saying, "you're the bee's knees" in the 1920s to mean something is super fab. Somehow, it just caught on.


"Don't throw the _____ out with the bathwater." What should you not be throwing?

It's kind of an unsettling thought, the idea of throwing a baby out. If someone says, "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," they're really saying not to forget what's precious. The rest can go, but the best should stay.


How would you finish, "as I live and _____?"

This southern gem, fully expressed is "as I live and breathe." No real logic here because that's what people do every day, all day anyway. It's just a way to show surprise when faced with the unexpected.


"Come on snake, let's _____" do what?

"Come on snake, let's rattle" is a rather unique and indirect way to ask someone if they would like to dance. It's a somewhat neutral way, too, so if the answer is no, it doesn't sting as much.


"You're cooking with ____ " which word?

The saying, "cooking with gas" is another way to say how good something is and popped up in the late 30s when the radio comedians started using it. It really started picking up steam when one of Bob Hope's writers wrote it in one of his routines.


Can you tell us the first word from: _____ favors the brave?

"Fortune favors the brave" is the complete phrase. Essentially, it means that you're more likely to get what you want if you just go for it. Don't be shy and wait for it to come to you or be given to you.


Don't look for trouble, but which word is missing from "a trouble shared is a trouble _____?"

There is nothing like sharing a trouble to release your burdens. It definitely lightens the weight for the person sharing. The phrase, "a trouble shared is a trouble halved" is another way of saying both of those things.


What word completes, "Don't sell me a ____?"

Of the many things a person could sell you, a dog isn't so bad. In the 19th century though, people who sold dogs lied about them being purebreeds. Hence, the phrase, "don't sell me a dog" became another way of telling someone, "don't lie to me."


If you're feeling off, you might say you, "got the _____." Can you choose the right word?

In the Victorian era, if you told someone you "got the morbs" you were telling them you were feeling sad at the moment. It is believed to have come from the word, "morbid," which is really dark.


The "word from the _____" where?

When someone is assuring you they're telling you the truth, they will say "word from the bird." The other person must believe you because everyone knows that birds have never uttered untruths to anyone.


Can you tell us how to complete, "know your _____?"

In the 20s, vegetables seemed to denote some sort of knowledge. If someone said that you "know your onions." they were acknowledging that you know the game and what's really going on.


"Tell it to _____" who?

During the Jazz Age, if someone told you to "tell it to Sweeney," they weren't buying what you were selling. They took it further by telling you to tell Sweeney, who is buying, apparently.


What word is missing for "colder than a brass toilet seat in the _____?"

Of the many ways to indicate just how cold it really is, this one is very specific. Metal in cold is a strong visual, and if you know anything about the Yukon, it can definitely get cold.


Do you know the first word to this one: "_____the gas?"

"Cut the gas" is a step above "shut up." This saying has small amount of logic to it in that a car will run when you push the gas pedal. Of course, it is comparing a pedal to a mouth, thus ending the logic.


How would you complete, "to have one's _____ out?"

We can give credit to our Australian neighbors for another way to describe someone who has gotten angry. "To have one's shirt out" was a saying in the 19th century in the land down under.


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