Poor-mouth vs bad-mouth

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Poor-mouth and bad-mouth are two idioms that seem as if they should be related, but the definitions are very different. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, 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 have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. 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. We will examine the meaning of the idioms poor-mouth and bad-mouth, their origins, and some examples of their use in sentences.

Poor-mouth is a verb that means to claim that one is impoverished. When one poor-mouths, he is claiming poverty as an excuse for not doing something or as a defense as to why he can not do something. Poor-mouth means to hide how much money one truly has. Poor-mouth came into use during the 1930s, though the exact origin is unknown at this time. It may be related to the fact that most people who were rich during the Great Depression did not flaunt their wealth. Related words are poor-mouths, poor-mouthed, poor-mouthing. Note that the word poor-mouth is a hyphenated compound word.

Bad-mouth is a verb that means to denigrate, belittle, criticize or defame someone. The negative facts being discussed about a person or thing may be true, but if the speaker has malicious intent, it is considered bad-mouthing. Bad-mouthing may also involve spreading information that is not true, and may be considered vicious gossip. Bad-mouth came into use in the 1940s. Many etymologists believe that the term is derived from an African-American term, bad mouth, which means to curse someone or to cast a spell upon them. Related words are bad-mouths, bad-mouthed, bad-mouthing. Note that bad-mouth is also a hyphenated compound word.


According to a translation of Flann O’Brien’s classic novel The Poor Mouth, in Gaelic and Old Irish “ ‘putting on the poor mouth’ means making a pretense of being poor or in bad circumstances in order to gain advantage.” (Town & Country Magazine)

Similar to other Illinois government agencies, the Lake County Forest Preserve District is crying poor mouth. (The Chicago Tribune)

Hong Kong opposition lawmakers promise not to ‘bad-mouth’ city during meeting with US officials, but will give honest appraisal of extradition bill unrest (The South China Morning Post)

It is customary to bad-mouth the Knesset due to the behavior and conduct of some of its members, who have vulgarized its proceedings, and lack even a minimum of decorum. (The Jerusalem Post)