Mum’s the word: idioms about mothers and other mumsy facts

Idioms about mothersSeeing as it’s Mother’s Day today here in the UK – I know that other parts of the world celebrate it at different times of the year – I thought I’d dedicate my latest blog post to language-related facts, trivia and idioms about mothers.

Synonyms for ‘mum’

A quick search has thrown up 16 different words in English for ‘mum’; some of these are rather out-dated, however, while others such as ‘mom’ are used mainly in America.

















Being ‘mum’ in other languages

Collins Dictionary reveals that most countries in Europe have a similar sounding word for ‘mother’:

Croatian: mama

Czech: máma

Danish: mor

Dutch: mam

Finnish: äiti

French: maman

German: Mutti

Italian: mamma

Norwegian: mamma

Polish: mama

Portuguese: mama

Romanian: mami

Russian: мама

Spanish: mamá

Swedish: mamma

Ukrainian: мама

Idioms about mothers

Keep mum means to keep something a secret, while Mum’s the word is used as a request, command or warning to remain silent so as not to reveal a secret.

As is the case with most idioms, the word mum used in these expressions has nothing to do with mothers. Instead, it stands for an inarticulate sound made with closed lips – indicating either unwillingness or inability to speak.

Other sayings and idioms about mothers include:

A face that only a mother could love = used to describe someone who’s not been blessed in the looks department

A mother hen = a woman who’s protective and caring for those she loves

A mummy’s boy = a boy or man who allows his mother to have too much influence on him

At your mother’s knee = said about something you learnt to do as a young child

Experience is the mother of wisdom = people learn from what happens to them

Failure is the mother of success = failure is often a stepping-stone towards success

Like mother, like daughter = when daughters resemble their mothers in appearance or habits

Mother Nature = the force that controls the weather and all living things

Necessity is the mother of all invention = if you really want to do something, you’ll think of a way to do it

Shall I be mother? = a humorous way to ask if the speaker should serve food or drink; mostly associated with pouring tea

The mother of all something = an extreme example of something, e.g. a headache

Tied to your mother’s apron strings = someone, usually a man, who can’t think or act independently of their mother

Mother-related phobias

To round off this post in honour of Mother’s Day, here are some phobias you might not be aware of:

Metrophobia is the fear of motherhood

Pentheraphobia is the fear of your mother-in-law

Tokophobia is the fear of pregnancy or childbirth

So, on that jolly note, may I end off by wishing mums everywhere a very Happy Mother’s Day!

(image courtesy of Stuart Miles via

Posted in Idioms, Language Tagged with: , , ,

Have your say