Hair idioms are quite common in English and, as is often the case with idioms, they usually have nothing to do with actual hair.
As we shall see, the idiom meaning refers to a situation or emotion, expressed using hair metaphors.
Please be aware of the pitfalls of using idioms incorrectly. This post will help you with this.
For those of you who prefer your content in video format, here’s a video based on this blog post.
There was a time when a single strand of hair was considered to be the thinnest thing possible. This is apparent in many of the hair idioms below.
Let’s look at some hair idioms in detail.
To get in someone’s hair
To annoy someone, often by getting in the way.
“I would be able to get the housework done a lot quicker if the kids weren’t in my hair.”
To get out of someone’s hair
To give someone some space and/or peace and quiet.
“I can see you’re busy – I’ll get out of your hair and come back later.”
To hang on by a hair (or thread)
To be in a precarious position. This may be related to the Sword of Damocles story.
“The company’s future is hanging by a hair. If we don’t get some decent orders soon, we will go under.”
The hair of the dog
The full expression is “the hair of the dog that bit you” and refers to an alcoholic drink that is used to cure a hangover. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t work.
Apparently, people used to think that they could ‘cure’ a bite from a mad dog by rubbing some of its hair in the wound. Where do they think of these things?
To pull your hair out
To worry or stress out about something.
“The kids have been playing up all day – I’m tearing my hair out!”
To put hair (or hairs) on your chest
Usually used as a reason to eat or drink something unpleasant. The idea is that doing so will make you more manly.
Keep your hair on!
This is a very British expression that is used to tell someone to calm down.
To let your hair down
To drop your inhibitions and reserves and have some fun.
In the good old days, it was only deemed proper for ladies to be in public with their hair pinned up. In the more relaxed home atmosphere, this wasn’t always necessary.
To split hairs
To be pedantic and focus on trivial details. Often used in the negative form.
“Those two things are basically the same – don’t split hairs.”
By the short hairs
This means that you have control over someone, usually against their wishes.
The short hairs mentioned here refer to the short hairs on the back and side of the head. Imagine an old-fashioned teacher using his finger and thumb to lift an unwilling school boy out of his chair by his short hairs.
Not a hair out of place
Perfect and unblemished in any way. This usually refers to a woman’s appearance and is a positive expression of admiration.
Depending on the context and intonation, you could use this ironically with an eyeroll to describe someone who is a complete mess.
In the cross hairs
The cross hairs here are actually those that form the cross shape on a telescopic sight, as used with sniper rifles.
It means that someone is a target for criticism. If you have someone in your cross hairs, you have targeted them for something negative.
Not harm a single hair on someone’s head
To not hurt or injure someone even slightly. Often used in the form “if you harm a single hair on her head, …” as a threat.
Within a hair’s breadth
Within the very smallest margin possible.
“I almost failed to return my library book by a hair’s breadth but managed to get it back just before the library closed – phew!”
To win by a hair
To win by the very smallest margin.
“The race was extremely close – the winner won by a hair.”
Hair Idioms Summary
As you can see, there is a wide variety of expressions with hair, even if the actual meaning doesn’t directly refer to hair.
Did I miss any of your favourite hair idioms? Please use the comments to tell me.