The language of hair – not only can we use it to tell a story of who we are, hair also has a tendency to pop up in everyday language in the form of idioms – those expressions that say one thing but mean another.
Everything should be as simple as its literal translation, but by grouping words and adding a dash of figurative meaning can make communication more robust and colorful.
Do you imagine a person covered in wool when they say they put on a hair shirt? Would you tell your mom to get highlights when she says she gets gray hair from your Facebook photos? Or do you actually recommend seeing a dermatologist when a friend says they have a wild hair up their ass?
The Language of Hair – and What it All Means
While some idioms are commonly understood, some might sound unfamiliar. Take a look at these 25 idioms to see how the word hair has transformed our language from simple to simply stunning:
- A hair shirt: the phrase wearing, or putting on, a hair shirt refers to choosing something unpleasant. This points back to a time when religious people would wear something rough or uncomfortable as an act of penance or repentance for doing something wrong.
Cassie put on a hair shirt and is now on a three-day fast after breaking her diet last week.
- A hairy situation: something scary; this may be related to the idiom “make one’s hair stand on end” when talking about a terrifying experience.
We heard loud explosions and people started to shout for help. We knew the tour had turned into a hairy situation.
- Bad hair day: a description used at a time when everything seems to go wrong
Three feet of snow covered the road outside when I woke up and traffic was really heavy on the way to work. How can this be such a bad hair day?
- By a hair’s breadth: any distance, from side to side, is called breadth so using a strand of hair as measurement alludes to a very small margin or space
A man and his son jumped out of the burning train, escaping death by a hair’s breadth.
- Curl someone’s hair: to frighten, alarm or shock someone
That tabloid story about aliens made my hair curl.
- Get gray hair from: to be stressed or overly worried about something
There’s a huge sales presentation my boss is getting gray hair from.
- Get in someone’s hair: to irritate or annoy someone
These real estate agents are starting to get in my hair!
- Hair of the dog: a remedy, usually a small amount of alcohol, used to cure a headache or hangover after having too much to drink. This has its origins in an ancient cure that required putting the hair of the dog that bit you into the wound to heal it.
Hair of the dog? I think I can use some of that wine you left to chill.
- Hair on fire: a figure of speech used to describe something that catches your attention, is extremely urgent, or exciting
The famous singer’s concert announcement set our hair on fire.
- Hair trigger: literally, it means a trigger of a firearm that goes off at the slightest pressure; figuratively, it means someone or something easily provoked.
Everyone in the room noticed his hair trigger reaction when he was asked about his whereabouts on the night of the robbery.
- Hang by a hair: to be caught in an unstable situation
My secretary thought her boyfriend was a bachelor; now that his wife has shown up, she’s hanging by a hair.
- Harm a hair on someone’s head: to hurt someone
The criminal looked like he couldn’t harm a hair on someone’s head, but I was wrong.
- Have a wild hair up one’s ass: to be obsessed with something that’s completely unexpected or to act in a manner that’s out of character
My best friend had a wild hair up his ass when he thought of scaling Mt. Everest on his own.
- Have someone by the short hairs: a person’s short hairs are usually on the back of the neck; to have someone by the short hairs would mean to be in absolute control over, or to dominate, another.
It’s just the start of your relationship and your date already has you by the short hairs!
- Hide nor hair: this usually refers to a trace or sign of something
I haven’t seen hide nor hair of that man since we graduated from college.
- In the crosshairs: the word “crosshairs” refers to two fine lines that intersect with each other and serve as the target in an optical instrument; the idiom implies being targeted by someone.
That journalist had the senator in the crosshairs everytime he asked a question.
- Keep your hair on: an advice, usually in informal British language, to stop being upset about something
The guy who bumped your vehicle will pay for the damages so keep your hair on.
- Let your hair down: relax and enjoy yourself
It’s been a long week at work and we’re all looking forward to letting our hair down.
- Make someone’s hair stand on end: means to terrify someone.
It was a great thriller to watch because it made every viewer’s hair stand on end from start to finish.
- Not a hair out of place: having a neat appearance
Steve Harvey might be bald but he always seems not to have a hair out of place!
- (Not) turn a hair: to be unaffected or unconcerned
How can you not turn a hair when a child cuddles up to you?
- Out of your hair: to get someone out of your hair means to have someone stop annoying you
I want to keep my landlord out of my hair so I’m going to pay him a month in advance this time.
- Put hair on someone’s chest: to make someone stronger or healthier
Drink some of this hot cocoa – it will put some hair on your chest.
- Split hairs: to devote too much importance or time on small and trivial things
Do we really have to split hairs every time we plan a vacation?
- Tear/pull your hair out: to be worried about something
Her disappearance makes me want to pull my hair out.
Which one is your favorite hairy expression?