Bodily expressions I: Hair, heads and brains


If the mere mention of body parts makes you squeamish, you might want to avoid reading Glossophilia over the next few days. We’ve gathered all the phrases and idioms we can possibly think of that make use of bodily parts in all their glory — and divided them into ten broad categories* descending from head to toe (and then some …). We’ve left out one- and two-word euphemistic adjectives and tried to avoid expressions that refer too literally to our actual limbs, organs or orifices (yes, you were warned); what follows are phrases that tend towards the metaphorical and poetic, even though some can also be taken more literally.

It’s fascinating to see, when they’re compiled and grouped in one place , how very similar some expressions that share a body part can be, but with the smallest, most subtle changes in wording that generate completely different meanings. Take, for example, the phrases: “He has his eye on her” and “He’s keeping his eye on her”: one spells attraction or selection, the other protection. Or these two: “He caught her eye” and “His eye was caught by her”: the first marks a shared moment between two people, the second a notable observation. And talking of eyes: keep an eye on the tallies in each category. They might surprise you. Take a guess at which of the body parts is featured in the most expressions, and please add any idioms we’ve missed to the comments section below.

First up, starting at the very top of the human body: expressions that make use of hair, heads, and brains


1. Let my hair down

2. Get out of my hair

3. Pulling/tearing my hair out

4. Makes my hair stand on end

5. The hair of the dog

6. By a hair’s breadth

7. Wouldn’t harm a hair on his head

8. To have someone by the short hairs (or by the short and curlies)

9. Gets in my hair

10. Hair of the dog that bit you

11. He didn’t turn a hair

12. Doesn’t have a hair out of place

13. Don’t split hairs


1. Head in the clouds

2. It’s all in your head

3. Bury your head in the sand

4. Head over heels

5. To keep one’s head

6. To lose one’s head

7. To get a head start

8. In over my head

9. A head for heights

10. Two heads are better than one

11. On your own head be it

12. Get one’s head around something

13. To have a good head for something

14. To have a good head on one’s shoulders

15. (of alcohol): It went straight to his head

16. (of pride): It’s gone to his head

17. Have eyes in the back of your head

18. Keeping one’s head above water

19. To bite someone’s head off

20. He’s off his head

21. To have your head screwed on (right)

22. To come to a head

23. To drum into her head

24. Banging his head against a brick wall

25. To want someone’s head on a platter

26. Can do something standing on one’s head

27. To wet the baby’s head

28. An old head on young shoulders

29. Off the top of my head

30. To scratch your head over something (in confusion or disbelief)

31. To keep your head down

32. To rear its ugly head

33. Put your head on the block


1. To have something on the brain

2. To be the brains behind something

3. All brawn and no brain

4. To pick someone’s brain

5. To rack (or wrack) your brains

* Categories:

I: Hair, heads & brains
II: Eyes & ears
III: Faces, noses & mouths, teeth, cheeks & chins
IV: Necks, throats & shoulders
V:  Chests, breasts & hearts
VI: Arms & hands, fingers & thumbs
VII: Bellies & bottoms, hips, loins & backs
VIII: Legs, feet, toes & heels
IX: Blood, sweat & tears, skin & bones, nerves, muscles
X: Bodies & skeletons