Idioms for Halloween

October 23, 2021
October 23, 2021 Rochel deOliveira

“Saved by the bell”. “Dead ringer”. “Like a bat out of Hell”.  American English is full of idioms – you can’t escape them… 👻

If you are trying to improve your American English accent and language skills, remember idioms! Americans use them all the time. Idioms add spice to your speech and help you deliver your message devilishly well. 👿

There are idioms associated with sports, food, animals, and pretty much anything you can think of. This post will feature words related to spooky Halloween topics, specifically bells, bats, and blood! 

Read on or listen to the audio version instead:

~ Bells ~

Bells are associated with many types of events. There are celebratory wedding bells, festive winter sleigh bells, and Sunday morning church bells. Bells also have a darker side… think of funeral bells tolling ominously in the cemetery. So, in honor of this spooky time of year, let’s consider a few idioms dedicated to bells.

“Saved by the bell” means being spared from an unpleasant situation at the last moment because of a sudden event that changes the focus and “gets you off the hook” (relieves you of the trouble). For example: I really didn’t want to go to that picnic. And then it started raining. Saved by the bell!

The idiom “saved by the bell” originates from the 19th-century boxing world.  A boxer who was about to be defeated would be spared if the bell that marked the end of a round rang out.

Some people incorrectly believe that this idiom originates from a 19th-century practice of installing bells in graves. This was before the development of embalmment, when people were generally terrified of being buried alive. (There doesn’t seem to be any documented report of anyone ringing that bell from underground, thank goodness.)

drawing of safety coffin with bell and corpse

19th c. “Safety Coffin”

“Dead ringer” is an idiom that sounds spooky but has nothing to do with death. A dead ringer is someone who looks exactly like someone else. Your boyfriend is a dead ringer for Justin Bieber. Again, the origin is from 19th-century sports culture, in this case, the horse-racing world. A horse that was dishonestly presented looking exactly like another of a finer pedigree was called a “ringer”, and “dead” was an idiom for “exact”.

“Chime in” is a verbal phrase/idiom that is used a lot during brainstorming sessions, focused discussions, and negotiations. I’d just like to chime in and say that your idea is awesome. Hey Brad, would you like to chime in on this? To chime in means to actively contribute your ideas to a conversation. It can also indicate interrupting – for example: Everyone at the dinner table started chiming in when the topic turned to the election. This idiom has a neutral or positive quality.

~ Bats ~

Images of bats are seen everywhere when Halloween rolls around. Vampire bats are probably the most well-known type of scary bat. They are truly a centuries-old meme. Did you know that baby bats are called “pups”??

Bats also come up a lot in American English idioms.

close up of bat with wings outstretched and mouth openFor example, “…like a bat out of Hell” means something that happens very suddenly and quickly. My cat ran like a bat out of Hell when I turned on the vacuum cleaner. A bat’s flight tends to be darting rather than smooth. The movement is not just fast, but chaotically so. Bats can fly at speeds at and above 60 mph! I have also read that since these creatures have an aversion to light, the light of the flames of Hell would certainly cause any poor bat to flee frantically at top speed.

The expression “batshit crazy” has a range of meanings. Urban Dictionary’s definition is “certifiably nuts”. Think of  Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie The Shining. “Batshit crazy” could negatively describe a very erratic cult or fringe society; or someone who is just very, very upset about something. That woman yelling into her cell phone sounded totally batshit crazy. 

The thought of bat excrement + craziness conjures up a wide range of associations with caves, darkness, dampness, bats hanging around eating insects, and suddenly flying really fast. It just seems so much more fun when something is batshit crazy then when it’s just crazy. There are multiple opinions about the origin of this expression, including a reference to possible mental health problems caused by inhaling powdered bat feces in caves and mines.

“He didn’t bat an eye”. This means someone didn’t reveal any sign of an emotion when something significant was happening.  This idiom has a negative connotation – implying that the person is indifferent or even heartless. She didn’t bat an eye when I told her I was adopting a bat.

~ Blood ~

Seeing anything or anyone bloody is usually an unpleasant experience, but around Halloween, everyone seems OK with it. If you are wearing a costume or a mask dripping in fake blood, great. A bloody dagger, superb. Here are just a few examples of the many idioms relating to blood.typewriter with bloody paper and word "Horror!"

“Like getting blood out of a stone.” Just imagine it – what a cool and creepy image! This idiom is easy to remember as we all know people who just don’t “have it in them” to do or feel something because of their mood or temperament. Convincing Mark to go on a vacation was like trying to get blood out of a stone.

“Out for blood” is another strong idiom. It’s a good one to use to describe someone who is very angry or vengeful and has decided to defeat or punish their enemy. It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any literal bleeding; perhaps someone will get fired, or betrayed, or hurt in some way. Now that he found out which members of the board betrayed him, the CEO  is out for blood. The escaped prisoner is looking for the guy who turned him in to the police. He’s out for blood.

“New blood” is an idiom often heard in business environments. When a new (often younger) person is hired, they may see things from a fresh perspective and encourage new, beneficial insights into the company practices. We could use some new blood in this department… someone who can think outside of the box, who can break new ground, who can get us off the beaten track.  

While you are working on your American accent, choose a few catchy idioms each week, write them on post-its, stick them up around your house, and start using them. Idioms will infinitely improve your comprehension of English and make you feel and sound more confident.


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