55 “House” Idioms

By Mark Nichol

The integral nature and the ubiquity of houses in our culture has given rise to a number of idiomatic expressions that include the word house. This post lists such terms.

1. A house divided against itself cannot stand: A statement from a speech by Abraham Lincoln based on biblical scripture and alluding to the impending conflict between the North and the South over slavery
2. A house is not a home: A saying that differentiates a physical building from a dwelling identified with a family
3. A house of cards: a precarious situation, from the notion of an activity in which one or more people try to build a structure out of vertically placed playing cards without causing it to collapse
4. A plague on both your houses: A curse, based on a line from Romeo and Juliet, in which the speaker expresses disgust with both parties in a dispute
5. As safe as houses: In British English, a reference on the presumption that a house is secure, to satisfactory protection
6. Basket house: A music venue in which performers earn only money collected in a basket or other receptacle as donations
7. Big house: Slang for prison, or a reference to the main residence of an estate
8. Boardinghouse reach: An especially long reach across a table, alluding to the relaxed table manners of a boardinghouse, a lodging in which meals are provided
9. Bottom the house: A reference to thoroughly cleaning a place
10. Brick house: A sexually attractive woman, from the notion that she, on the analogy of a sturdy structure made of brick, is well built
11–12. Bring down the house/bring the house down: A reference to a performer being so entertaining that everyone in the venue in which the person is performing responds so enthusiastically that the performance is temporarily interrupted
13–15. Call house/house of ill fame/repute: Euphemisms for brothel
16. Clean house: A reference to thoroughly reforming an organization by replacing employees or members or changing policies or traditions
17. Crack house: Slang for a house from which crack cocaine is sold
18. Dream house: A house one considers ideal as a residence
19. Eat (one) out of house and home: Deplete all the food in a house
20–21. Fox guarding the henhouse/in the henhouse: A proverbial reference to the folly of allowing a person inimical to an organization to lead it or be involved in it
22. Full house: Said of an entertainment venue with the audience at capacity
23. Get (one’s) own house in order: An admonition to improve one’s own situation before criticizing another person for theirs
24. Get along like a house on fire: Become friends immediately upon meeting
25–26. Go around/round the houses: An expression, synonymous with “beating around the bush,” alluding to a person talking about trivial matters to avoid bringing up a sensitive topic
27. Halfway house: A residence for rehabilitating ex-convicts, drug addicts, or mental patients; by extension, a midpoint
28. Hash house: An inexpensive restaurant
29. Haunted house: A house thought to be inhabited by ghosts or spirits
30. House band: A musical ensemble hired to play regularly at a venue on its own, backing up visiting performers, or both
31. House music: A style of electronic dance music similar to disco but with few or no lyrics
32. House of correction: A euphemism for prison
33. House of many doors: Slang for prison
34. House poor: Able to afford housing costs but little else
35. House specialty: A menu item or other product that a business takes pride in offering
36. House wine: Any type of wine offered as a specialty of a restaurant or bar
37. Housebreak: Train a pet to use a special receptacle or go outside to urinate or defecate; by extension, make polite or submissive
38. Housewarming party: A celebration to commemorate moving into a new residence
39. In the house: Present (usually in the context of an entertainer being in a performing venue)
40. Keep house: Manage a household
41. Keep open house: Said of a residence in which visitors are always welcome
42. Lady of the house: A woman who manages a household
43. Like a house on fire: Quickly, from the notion that a burning house will swiftly become engulfed in flames
44. My house is your house: An expression of hospitality to make a guest feel welcome
45. On the house: Free (meaning that the house, or establishment, will on a special occasion pay for a product offered in the establishment)
46. Open house: An event in which visitors are welcome, either for a house party, a showing of a residence for sale, or an event in which members of the public are invited to visit an organization’s headquarters
47. Out of house and home: Evicted or otherwise deprived of shelter
48. Outhouse: An outdoor toilet
49. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones: A proverb that discourages hypocrisy; compare “put (one’s) own house in order”
50. Play house: Pretend to engage in activities associated with being part of a family (usually said of children role-playing domestic behaviors such as cooking and cleaning)
51. Put (one’s) house in order: Manage one’s affairs; contrast with “Put (one’s) own house in order”
52. Put (one’s) own house in order: An expression exhorting people to take care of their own affairs before criticizing how others handle theirs; compare “Those who own glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” and contrast with “Put (one’s) house in order”
53. Rock the house: Elicit an enthusiastic response from an audience
54. Shotgun house: Slang for a long, narrow house built with rooms in a straight line, from the notion that a shotgun shell could be fired through the front door and out the back door
55. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house: A reference to a dramatic performance that causes everyone in the audience in a performance venue to cry

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18 Responses to “55 “House” Idioms”

  • Dale A. Wood

    HOMEBREW !
    Why didn’t we think of this before!?
    Homebrew can be homemade wine, beer, ale, gin, rum, moonshine,…

  • Dale A. Wood

    Other unpleasant places to be, and some of these are slangs from other places besides North America: birdhouse, dollhouse, greenhouse (slang for a jail), guardhouse, henhouse (where you get henpecked), poorhouse, slave house, slophouse (where you get fed nothing but slop and pumpkin soup), workhouse.
    Elisha Dushku starred in a TV horror series about a place called the “Dollhouse”. Do you know anything about it? I had some ideas that would have made it a lot better!
    Good places that you really, really need sometimes:
    bathhouse, firehouse, funhouse, guesthouse, lighthouse, movie house, playhouse (for entertainment), powerhouse, roadhouse, roundhouse, safe house, smokehouse, treehouse, warehouse, winehouse.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “House drink” – We have the world’s best peach margarita. You gotta have one.
    “House wine” – Some large chains of restaurants have arranged with a winery to produce a few wines for them that are sold nowhere else. Generally, these are a white, a pink, and a red.
    Other places have a “house coffee” and/or a “house tea”.
    In some parts of the planet, you can find the “house marijuana”!

  • Dale A. Wood

    3. “A house of cards: a precarious situation.”
    Not just that. A person can “build a house of cards” by telling one kind of a falsehood, lie, or exaggeration after another. He/she tells lies to cover up on falsehoods to cover up on exaggerations.
    I have lived with a couple of people like that, and those people are positively infuriating! I was ready to throw someone to the sharks.
    There is the film NO WAY OUT, which stars Kevin Costner, Will Patton, and then Gene Hackman as the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary said to his assistants in this one, “We have built a house of cards here.” He meant that he and his assistants had told a long chain of falsehoods and exaggerations to Congress, and that the whole thing
    was ready to collapse.
    President Nixon and his assistants had built a HUGE house of cards concerning the crooked burglary at the Watergate Apartments – with their falsehoods and cover-ups to Congress, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the courts – and it all collapsed on them in 1974.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Confucius say, “Man who live in glass house throw few stones.”
    Confucius say, “Man who live in glass house hang a lot of curtains.”
    Confucius say, “Man who live in glass house get dressed in basement.”
    My father was a star in high school football & basketball. Then he had a full scholarship, and he was a star in college football in West Tennessee. Then he became a schoolteacher, high school basketball & football coach, high school assistant principal, and high school principal. Then he moved on to become an executive in the State Dept. of Education, and in the president’s office at state universities. When he retired, my father said that he felt like he had lived his life in a greenhouse or a glass house, and he just wanted to go live in the countryside, have some privacy, and be away from peering eyes.
    I guess that people like presidents, governors, senators, congressmen, and school superintendents just get used to it

  • Dale A. Wood

    Unpleasant places for people to live:
    apehouse, the Big House, blockhouse, crazyhouse, deathhouse, doghouse, donkeyhouse, hellhouse, hothouse, hunger house, icehouse, jailhouse, madhouse, outhouse, rathouse (in the American meaning), sickhouse, stinkhouse, ungulate house, zebra house.

  • Dale A. Wood

    To tie some things together about food, I can stand these:
    beanhouse, burger-house, cookhouse, hashhouse, pancake house, roadhouse, souphouse, a Waffle House, or a dining hall;
    but not a slophouse, swillhouse, craphouse, or Goulashkannon.

  • Dale A. Wood

    There are many other compound words or short phrases that are more or less idiomatic in their meanings:
    boathouse, carriage house, deckhouse (on a warship), doghouse, draughthouse, guardhouse (two meanings), house of horrors (several meanings), icehouse, lakehouse, manor house, White House, and yachthouse.
    At the zoo, you can go see the ape house, cat house, gorilla house, monkey house, pachyderm house, and reptile house, none of which are places for people to live.
    In German, “Krank” means “sick”, and “Rat” means “advice”, and so a Krankhaus is a hospital and a Rathaus is where the town council or the city council meets to talk things over. Perhaps they give advice to the Burgermeister (or the local prince, duke, or baron).

  • Dale A. Wood

    In bicameral congresses, legislatures, and parliaments around the world, there are the Upper House and the Lower House. In many places, the Lower House is called the “House of Representatives”, thought in others it can be the “Chamber of Deputies” the “House of Commons”, and so forth. I know that in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, they have adopted the American term for the Upper House – the Senate. In places like Canada, Australia, and various Provinces or States, the “capitol building” is called the House of Parliament, the Houses of Parliament, or the Parliament House.
    In most places, if you go to a restaurant or a hotel called The Parliament House, you can expect to be treated well for your money. In Ontario, I stopped at a roadhouse for a meal, and I ordered a small steak. The waitress asked me, “Would you like some HP Sauce with your steak?”
    Duh, that is not “Hewlett Packard Sauce,” but rather it is “Houses of Parliament Sauce”, and the bottle has a picture from Ottawa portraying that. Canadian HP Sauce is quite like American A1 Sauce. (It is not “hot pepper” sauce, either.)

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree with venqax completely: “House poor” is just like “land poor”. This is when one has a lot of nonliquid real estate, but no cash for groceries, then one is “house poor”. I can remember long ago when Phyllis Diller was in a short-lived TV series. She was in a (British?) noble family that had an estate with a mansion, but the money had disappeared. I remember best of all one time when she looked and looked for her favorite fur coat. At long last, she looked into the refrigerator, and there it was!
    Also, regardless of what some stupid spellcheckers might say, “nonliquid” and similar words are never hyphenated. My mother the English teacher told me long ago to never hyphenate “non” onto anything, unless that “something” is capitalized, such as in non-Danish, non-Indo-European, non-Martian, non-Tibetan.
    Q: Who is that tall being with greenish skin?
    A: I don’t know who he is, but I can assure you that he is a non-Martian. Martians have red skin.

  • Dale A. Wood

    13–15. Call house/house of ill fame or ill repute: Euphemisms for brothel.
    42. Lady of the house: A woman who manages a household.
    Better: A house of ill repute = bordello, bawdyhouse, cathouse, hooker-house, whorehouse. (“Houses abound”.)
    “The lady of the house” is the “Madame”, the woman who manages and takes care a bordello, and who also protects the women from being harmed by ill-mannered and outrageous jackasses.
    “Bordello”, “bawdyhouse”, and “Lady of the house” are much more polite words and phrases.
    A specific one is “The House of the Rising Sun” in “Old New Orleans”, but this one always makes me think of “The Land of the Rising Sun” = JAPAN. After all, in the opera, “Madame Butterfly” worked in a Japanese bordello.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Strawhouse”. The wise man (or smart piggy) builds his house out of bricks & mortar, or out of strong timber, but the foolish man (or dumb piggy) builds his house out of straw – a strawhouse. And then, the Big Bad Wolf…
    In a parable, the wise man built his house upon the rock, but the foolish man built his house upon the sand….

  • venqax

    34. House poor. Like land poor, I think this also has the connotation that one’s wealth or net-worth is tied-up in non-liquid assets that don’t generate income, like a house or land. So one can have a high net-worth because he owns valuable property, but has no cash unless he sells it.

  • Dale A. Wood

    More to do with crime and punishment: The blockhouse, a place for (military or naval) confinement and punishment, just like a brig or a
    stockade. Be careful: a blockhouse is also a (small) defensive fortification, just like a bunker, a pillbox, or a revetment.
    Furthermore, “The Old Man threw me into the bunker,” means “The commanding officer sent me to be locked up in the stockade.”
    “Deathhouse”: The story of “The Fugitive” – “Freed by a trainwreck while on the way to the deathhouse, Dr. Richard Kimball…”
    “Hellhouse” – a very strict penitentiary, like a Soviet gulag or a Turkish prison. Another expression for a “hellhole”, though a hellhole is also a place for the punishment of solitary confinement .
    “The Old Man threw me into the hole,” means “The warden locked me up in solitary confinement.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    So, you would rather not eat in a “hashhouse” (usually one word). Well then, don’t go to one of these: a slophouse, a swillhouse, or a messhouse. A messhouse is a poor excuse for a “dining hall”.
    In the old-time Wehrmacht of Germany, a messhouse or cookhouse was sometimes called a “Goulashkannon” = “goulash cannon”. The cooks just stirred the stuff up and then fired it down your throats!

  • Dale A. Wood

    19. Eat [them] out of house and home: Deplete all the food in a house. By extension: also to drink up all of their wine and booze, to take away some of their clothing w/o permission, to use up all of the towels and toilet paper….

  • Dale A. Wood

    17. Crack house: Slang for a house from which crack cocaine is sold
    No, mostly incorrect. A crackhouse (usually written as one word) is a place where people go to smoke crack cocaine. Thus, the similarity is a very strong one: crackhouse ~ “opium den” ~ “dope house” ~ “meth house” .
    Other such places: an alehouse, beerhouse, booze house, liquor den, a cheap winehouse, a speakeasy, a den of bathtub gin.

  • Dale A. Wood

    It is a madhouse around here!
    The fox in in the henhouse!
    She is built like a brick outhouse!
    Confucius say, “Man who live in glass house throw few stones.”
    The greenhouse has turned into a hothouse!
    His/her house has turned into a jailhouse. He/she never goes anywhere.
    Our house has turned into a jailhouse. Our parents will not let us go anywhere or do anything.

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