Colourful Similes

This morning I was listening to Macca on Australia All Over, when I heard the expression “as blind as a welder’s dog”. I’d never heard it before, but it immediately struck me as one of those out-of-left-field but wonderfully apt phrases. It’s like “muffin top” to describe those (usually young) people whose jeans are done up tightly around their waist, with a roll of fat hanging out all round — just like a muffin which spreads out over the top edge of the cup-cake holder.

Of course, I thought! A welder’s dog will look at the dazzling light produced by the welding process, which we adults don’t do because we know it will damage our eyes. But the poor dog will keep doing it until it turns blind.

It got me thinking about similes (expressions where one thing is said to be like another), of which there must be many thousands in common use. Many are quite pedestrian, but some are wonderfully graphic and evocative.

Here are a few which I assume are probably Australian in origin:

  • to shoot through like a Bondi tram (to depart rapidly)
  • as game as Ned Kelly
  • as sweet as a Mike Hussey cover drive
  • as dry as a Pommie’s bath mat
  • as miserable as a bandicoot
  • madder than a gum tree full of galahs
  • he’s built like a brick dunny (very solidly built and hard to knock over)
  • as fit as a Mallee bull
  • as keen as mustard
  • sadder than a Werribbee duck (Werribee, in Melbourne, is I gather home to a very large sewage farm)

A few other colourful similes whose origin I don’t know:

  • like a rat up a drain pipe
  • it goes like the clappers (it moves fast)
  • sticks like poo to a blanket
  • she was all over him like a rash
  • like trying to herd cats
  • as mad as a cut snake
  • as cunning as a dunny rat
  • as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike
  • he went off like a bucket of prawns in the sun
  • as flash as a rat with a gold tooth
  • as popular as a snake in a sleeping bag
  • as busy as a one-armed paperhanger with hives
  • it handles like a dog on lino (talking about a car)
  • better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick
  • as happy as a dog in a hub cap factory
  • as funny as a kick in the head

There are of course many others, and they all help to keep our conversation colourful and interesting.

You may care to mention (in a comment) some of your favourites, although I’m not wanting to provide a forum for the many risque and bawdy ones.



About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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11 Responses to Colourful Similes

  1. Pete says:

    One I heard in college from a Canadian was “As subtle as a brass toilet seat!”

  2. Anne says:

    What about “as useful as pockets in underpants”. By the way Werribee sewerage farm (ponds) is a haven for waterbirds and is a popular destination for birdwatchers from o’seas and nationally. So I reckon that duck is pretty happy.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Regarding Werribee, I’ll take your word for it, Anne. Nevertheless, call me precious if you will, but I think if I was a duck flying over and if I knew that those ponds down there were a sewage farm, I’d fly on a bit further to try and find an alternate spot.

      I note that many overseas birdwatchers apparently make a point of visiting this “popular destination” during their time in Australia. It occurred to me that the Australian Tourist Commission should be alerted to this tourist drawcard, so that it could be featured alongside Uluru, the Sydney Opera House, and the Barrier Reef as one of our major attractions. It could well give us a competitive edge — as far as I know, there are no other countries offering sewage farm visits.

      Of course, time is of the essence. As soon as the Chinese get wind of this (and frankly, let’s hope that no-one much beyond the Werribee district gets wind of it), they’ll no doubt be pushing the Beijing Sewage Farm as the world’s largest sewage farm, with an associated theme park, and a high-speed train link from the airport — and zillions of happy waterbirds.

      • Steve says:

        The expression I’ve most often heard in relation to Werribee sewerage farm is not about happiness but rather trouble as in “you’ll be in more shit than a Werribee duck!”.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Hi Steve,
      Sounds like you’ve got a pretty rich vocabulary! Hope you manage to put it to good use.

  3. Anne says:

    One has to seek special permission to enter the Werribee ponds. It is a restricted area, so it is pretty special if you are invited to go bird watching there.

  4. Rob says:

    Do you have any idea of the origon of “silly as a wheel”. Have spent all night searching the web and can’t find anything but have a 7 year old who reckons wheels aren’t silly

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Well, that’s a good question! I don’t know, and my efforts to find out — like yours — have not produced any answers. But curious 7-yr-olds deserve answers to their questions, so let’s try to find out. I’ve referred the matter to an international language expert — see .

      My only idea is that maybe it’s related to our use of “cracked” to mean “silly”, and a cracked wheel (particularly on a train) is defective and needs to be replaced. A bit far fetched, I agree. I’ll let you know if I get any more info.

      By the way, I’ve just today added a new post with some more colourful expressions.

      • dazzlerplus says:

        I’ve not yet had any response from World Wide Words, but have noticed that the expression “silly as a square wheel” produces quite a number of hits on Google. So I’m wondering whether “silly as a wheel” is just the lazy man’s version of that saying. A square wheel is clearly a silly concept!

        But yet another explanation may go back to the Middle Ages and refer to the Wheel of Fortune, where “silly” could also mean “fickle”, so “as silly as a wheel” meant “as fickle as the Wheel of Fortune” (which we may refer to as the Chocolate Wheel). That may be a bit obscure for a 7-yr-old!

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