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32 Useful Idioms and Phrases to Describe Anger

Kenna consulted and contributed to books about writing and taught Writing to Elementary school students.

Idiom and Phrase Expression

Writers get stumped when it comes to expressing anger in fiction. They think avoiding idiomatic or phrasal expressions is correct because of overuse or cliché. Sometimes, they reveal the right meaning. Most idioms and phrases documented by well-known writers originate on the streets or in the countryside. “Send him packing” means telling someone to leave or go away because of anger or annoyance. This idiom comes from Shakespeare. He documented many idiomatic phrases, as did other writers.

Examples of Idiomatic Phrases

The writer needs to help the reader to understand why the character is angry without startling revelation when the character pounds his fist into the door or when she scratches his eyes out. Characters in novels get mad, and the best way to show anger is in action.

A writer uses dialogue to show anger as well. A character can speak effectively using an idiom, such as in movies. Like Dirty Harry films, “Make my day” or “Do you feel lucky, punk.”

Describing Anger

Most idiomatic phrases or idioms come from yesteryear’s literature. Knowing what a particular saying means helps the writers express themselves better. It ignites creative juices. Finding the correct expression is challenging, so I’ve dug up quite a few idiomatic and phrasal illustrations that indirectly show the emotion of anger.

1. Hell's Bells and Puppy Dog Tails

I first heard the phrase “hell’s bells and puppy dog tails” when my father-in-law lost a hand at cards. I found the term “hell’s bells,” which means fiercely upset in my research. The phrase is novel, not used often anymore. It originated in the late 19th century. “Puppy-dog tails” comes from a 19th-century rhyme about what boys made up. I guess pulling a puppy’s trail makes the unfortunate animal mad.

2. Nurse a Grudge Against Someone

The idiomatic phrase is visual and brings up all sorts of imagery. The writer needs to understand the meaning of "nurse." This definition is novel since the word not "takes care of someone who is sick." This particular definition means "maintain thoughts, a feeling, or theory." I visualize bigotry, prejudice, or jealousy for stealing someone's boyfriend or girlfriend. "He nurses a grudge against her for going out with his best friend."


3. Throw a Fit

The idiomatic phrase means to become very angry or agitated. I often heard mothers say their son threw a fit. A writer intensifies it by writing, “throw forty fits.” The phrase is slang and originated in 1930.

4. Mad as…

“Mad as…” comes with several end words that describe someone being angry. “Mad as a meat-ax” means extremely angry or dangerously crazy. The idiomatic phrase comes from Australia since the 1920s. “Mad as a cut snake” means very mad or exceedingly angry and originates from Australia in 1890. Other endings from down under are “…a Chinaman,” “…a dingbat,” and “…goanna.” Canada originated one “mad as a wet hen,” which means Intensely annoyed. These phrases change with “madder than….” Using these phrases is a writer’s tool, turning them into similes. “He is madder than a man carrying a meat-ax.”

5. Dish It Out

The idiomatic phrase describes verbally harsh towards others or even physically abusive. Either way, the person is angry and dishing it out. “He can dish it out, but he can’t take it.” is a common phrase heard since 1925.

6. Up Yours!

Is the idiomatic phrase voicing anger at the intended? There are variations to the words with different endings. “Up your pipe!” and “up your jumper!” are phrases expressing anger when the person’s attitude and voice match the words. The terms originated in 1930 and 1920, respectively.

7. Piss-off!

When someone says “piss-off,” it means they are angry or displeased with a person or thing. Being made at a person is easy to visualize. The idiom directed at a broken-down car works as well. The phrase originated in 1940. In the 1970s, the words spoken by teenagers. The writer keeps in mind that older people are not likely to say “piss-off.”

8. Have a Bone to Pick

The idiomatic phrase “have a bone to pick (with someone)” means to have something to argue about with someone, which means that the person is angry. “Bob is always picking bones with people for no reason.” I see an old man not happy with a friend or an acquaintance saying, “Bob, I have a bone to pick with you about cheating at cards.”

9. Have a Chip on One’s Shoulder

This idiomatic phrase is visual. Anyone with a chip on their shoulder is looking for a fight. They want to argue because they are angry all the time. A writer uses this phrase in a fun and descriptive way. A person with a chip on his shoulder is uncomfortable to be around.

10. Burned Up

The idiomatic phrase means very angry. "I never seen Bill so burned up over losing a game before." A writer describes a character burning up with anger or just burning over a situation. "You better leave because Bob is burning up."

11. Go Fly a Kite!

People are mad at someone or annoyed, and they want to leave their immediate area. They say, "Go Fly a Kite! Quit bothering me!" The idiom is slang and dates around the 1900s.

12. Grit One's Teeth

Grits his teeth mean grinding one's teeth because they are angry but are not expressing their anger. "He quietly grits his teeth over the money he lost at the poker game."

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13. Have a Conniption Fit

A person gets angry over something or violent emotion. "She had a conniption fit when I dropped her device and cracked the screen."

14. Have a Low Boiling Point

Having a low boiling point describes a person who gets angry quickly. "John is pretty touchy, right now, and has a low boiling point." A writer uses this idiom in many ways, such as "Tom felt his low boiling point ending up even lower after he saw his girlfriend dancing with another man."

15. Stick in One's Craw

When someone has someone of something sticking in their craw, it means they are irritated or displease with it. Another way of saying someone is mad about something. "You're trying to stick the problem in my craw!"

16. Get Off My Back!

"Get off my back!" expresses annoyance with someone telling the person what to do or criticizing. The person wants to be left alone.

17. Up in Arms

"Up in arms" means a person or a group is angry, and they are complaining about something. A mother is up in arms about her kids not cleaning up their rooms. The town is up in arms about drugs and alcohol in the park at night, and the police do nothing about it.

18. Bear with a Sore Head

"Bear with a sore head" means the person is in a bad mood and gets annoyed over little things. My neighbor is a bear with a sore head in the mornings. I can't do yard work because the noise sets his temper off.

19. Be in a Black Mood

"Be in a black mood" means to be irritably or angrily depressed. My dad is in a black mood. I will ask him tomorrow about taking the camping trip.

20. Blow a Fuse

"Blow a fuse" means losing your temper or going into a rage. It also means becoming extremely angry and suddenly going into a frenzy. My teacher blew a fuse when over half the class didn't turn in their homework.

21. Blow Up

"Blow up" means suddenly becoming angry at someone or something. "Todd always blows up over the spilled milk." It happens suddenly, like bursting with anger.

Finding the right words to express anger is a challenge.

Finding the right words to express anger is a challenge.

22. Give Vent To

"Give Vent to" is used in expressing sadness but is primarily used for someone blowing off steam. "She gives vent to the high gas prices even though she drives a Suburban Ford."

23. Rage-quit

"Rage-quit" shows how people are so angry about something that they quit. Most noticeably, when someone is playing a video game.

24. Throw Your Toys out of the Pram

"Throw your toys out the pram" is a dated phrase, but the image of a child throwing a tantrum in a baby carriage with toys flying out and bouncing on the ground is funny.

25. Let Rip

"Let rip" indicates the person suddenly gets angry and shouts at the other person or persons. You can write, "He let it rip after finding out his son got a drunk driving ticket."

26. Cut up Nasty/Rough

"Cut up Nasty/Rough" is an old-fashioned phrase from the United Kingdom. I find it useful because you can use it in many ways today. "Did you see how he got all cut up and nasty over the spilled milk?" "Get ahold of yourself, mate. No reason to get so cut up and rough with the chicken."

27. Give Someone the Finger

"Give someone the finger" is tried and true and probably used too much for its effectiveness. I see it as a childish way of reacting to something that causes you anger.

28. Go Berserk

"Go berserk" or "Going berserk" shows someone very angry and violent in an uncontrolled way. "He went berserk when I told him I wanted to end our relationship."

29. Let Off or Blow off Steam

"Blow off steam or Let off stream" expresses someone discharging anger without hurting anyone or anything. "Helen just wants to let off steam, so she took a walk in the park."

30. Put or Stick Two Fingers up at Someone

"Put or stick two fingers up at someone" is not a common expression, though useful in a visual sense. The phrase expresses anger toward someone in a simple way that is rude. The person holds up his first two fingers in a "V" shape with his palm facing the target. "He stuck two fingers up at the police officer."

31. Throw a Wobbly

"Throw a wobbly" is a funny way to describe an angry reaction to someone or something. It is an informal British expression but valid. "Oh, don't go and throw a wobbly on me, mate. Give it a break."

32. Turn On

"Turn on" has many meanings, some positive, like "She turned me on." This expression has a negative connotation. It means becoming suddenly angry and starting to criticize someone or just plainly shout at them. "Bobby can turn it on sometimes with his wife. I wish he'd turn it off, geez."

Artistic License in English

I hope my idiom examples help you write better and show more to your readers. A writer creates as they see fit when taking an idiom. The artistic license is available for writers. You alter or embellish the phrases as you please. I wish you a well-written story.

© 2019 Kenna McHugh


Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on February 21, 2019:

That's a smart move keeping an eye on it. I don't think squirrels get rabies -other diseases but not rabies.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on February 21, 2019:

She actually had to rip it off her fingertip-- and though she wanted to throw it (it was outside).. decided she had better put it back in the cage and keep it to see if it was sick.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on February 21, 2019:


I bet that hurt! My pet squirrel bit me and hung on to my index finger. It seemed like he had no plans for letting go until I threw him off, and he landed on the carpet and scampered away - surprisingly into his cage. Traumatized doesn't begin to describe how I felt.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on February 21, 2019:

My parents were not angry people and I never heard either one of them curse-- except one time my Mom said "Hells Bells!" when a ground squirrel I had captured in a cage, bit her finger and wouldn't let go.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on February 21, 2019:


Thanks for the comment. Tell me some real-life and colorful ways to describe anger?

Brad on February 21, 2019:


I guess real life is more colorful and angry than these 15 idioms. I would put these in the very polite category for anger. Despite my comment, the article was well done and interesting.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 25, 2019:

Patrick, That is so cool. I am glad they liked it.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 25, 2019:

NF, Learning about idioms is fun plus a decent way to build your vocabulary.

Patrick from Nairobi on January 25, 2019:

I shared this article with some of my neighbors (a few high school students) and they really love it.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 25, 2019:

Liz, "...hit the roof" is a good one. There is also "...hit the ceiling". "throw a wobbly" is more like going postal. Yikes!!! Good ones.

Tapaswini Bashoo from Washington DC on January 25, 2019:

Interesting .. never knew about these constructions.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 24, 2019:

Others I have thought of are 'he/she/they hit the roof' and 'to throw a wobbly'.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 24, 2019:

Patrick, That makes sense. Languages evolve just like culture. As a writer, I like learning idioms because it helps my creative juices. They are still in the reference books, so I use them or change them around to fit my story.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 24, 2019:

Liz, "Hopping mad" is a good one. "Fuming" is more of a slang word. These days the difference is minute. Idioms are words used together to convey a meaning different than if they were individually defined.

Patrick from Nairobi on January 24, 2019:

Thank you for sharing the list. Such idioms as these are being used less and less these days. Could it be as a result of changes in how we use language? For instance, the "English" used during the Victorian era is different from today's. I wonder is the use or lack of using such phases is just but a process of change in language. Not sure if I make much sense :)

Liz Westwood from UK on January 24, 2019:

This is a helpful list. My Dad used to say he was 'fuming'. I have also heard people described as being hopping mad.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 23, 2019:

Louise, you are welcome. Idioms are so much fun with writing.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on January 23, 2019:

I have used many of these idioms in the past! Very interesting to read, thankyou.

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