Like oil and water

Like oil and water
is an idiom that is hundreds of years old. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying like oil and water, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Like oil and water compares two things that do not go together or two people who are not compatible or do not get along. The expression like oil and water is a simile, which is a phrase used in a sentence that is a comparison of one thing with something else using the word like or the word as. The idiom like oil and water is the abbreviated form of the proverb, oil and water don’t mix. The idiom like oil and water is said to have originated in the United States in the 1780s; however, mixing oil and water has never been possible, and surely had been observed even in ancient times.


Their dissimilar communication styles often made them seem like oil and water, she said. (Business Journals)

For years it’s felt like the Cincinnati Bengals and free agency mix like oil and water. (Sports Illustrated)

When chefs Michael Cimbrec and Jackie Barthelemymet for the first time more than a decade ago, “it was like oil and water,” Cimbrec says. (Palm Beach Post)

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