Like Oil and Water – Meaning, Origin and Synonyms

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Like oil and water means two things or people that don’t mix well together. It might be personalities, ideologies, or even favorite pizza toppings. If you hate pineapple on pizza, then you might say, “Pineapple and pizza are like oil and water.”

Idioms and similes are what make language more fun and elevate it with relatable, metaphorical sayings like this one. They can help you communicate better, but only if you understand their true meanings and nuances, even their synonyms. So, sit tight as I explain the origin of this phase and show you how to use it in a sentence.

What Does the Idiom Like Oil and Water Mean?

Like Oil and Water – Meaning Origin and Synonyms

The saying like oil and water paints a pretty realistic picture of incompatibility. Basically, it captures the futility of mixing two substances—or personalities or ideas—that naturally repel each other. Oil and water don’t blend; similarly, certain things or people are just inherently incompatible.

Take my two kiddos, for example. You’d think they’d be the best of friends with everything in common. But, au contraire! One is a quiet, nerdy introvert who barely speaks. The other is a loud, artsy extrovert. They don’t really play well together, so they’re like oil and water.

The idiom like oil and water is actually considered a simile, but it gets away with being both. A simile is comparing two things with the words like and as, while an idiom is a phrase that says something in a metaphorical way.

Origin and Etymology of the ‘Like Oil and Water’ Saying

Like Oil and Water Ngram
Like oil and water usage trend.

The origin of this simile is as straightforward as it gets. Anyone who’s taken a basic science class knows that oil and water don’t mix due to their molecular differences. That’s how they came up with the idea for lava lamps!

The phrase leverages this universal truth to comment on other forms of natural incompatibility, becoming a go-to idiom in everyday language. It’s been around since the 1700s but really took off in popularity during the late 1900s.

Like Oil and Water Synonyms

If you’re fishing for alternative ways to describe incompatible pairs, look no further! Here are some great synonyms for oil and water.

  • At odds
  • Chalk and cheese
  • Irreconcilable
  • Apples and oranges
  • Worlds apart
  • Incompatible

Oil and Water Metaphor in Sentence Examples

Like Oil and Water – Meaning Origin and Synonyms 1

  • My new roommate and I are like oil and water when it comes to music tastes.
  • Don’t bother. Trying to mix those two groups of friends is like blending oil and water.
  • The political views of my parents and in-laws are like oil and water; they’ll never agree.
  • Adam’s work ethic and laziness are like oil and water.
  • The corporate hustle culture and my personal values turned out to be like oil and water, so I bought a house in the country and now work from home.
  • My best friend and I tried working on a writing project together, but our ideas were like oil and water.
  • Our parenting styles are like oil and water, causing constant disagreements every day.
  • Despite being siblings, they’re like oil and water in their personalities and likes.
  • The merger failed because the two companies were like oil and water, and things just would not work.
  • These two shades of paint may look similar, but they’re like oil and water when mixed.

The Final Mix

Saying two things are like oil and water is fairly universal that almost anyone can understand. Now that you’re all equipped to use this phrase, try it out! After all, idioms and similes add color to language, even if they describe things that don’t mix!