Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am looking for idioms or informal/slang/colloquial expression for some people that make you think that they are able of building a skyscraper, constructing a spaceship, playing the piano better than Mozart or something very fancy that requires remarkable skills, but when it comes to practice they prove to be completely inadequate.

share|improve this question
    
@Pantelis: It's open now! –  Daniel Sep 12 '11 at 18:51
1  
As I understand it you are looking for an idiom to describe a person who boasts excessively, not an idiom to describe the act? I am inclined to downvote all those answers that describe the act because they are not answering the actual question. –  z7sg Ѫ Sep 12 '11 at 19:56

12 Answers 12

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are tons of them. There's a whole sub-genre based roughly off the phrase "all talk (and no substance)". These generally have the form "all X, no Y".

Others culled from synonyms on the wictionary link below include:

  • All bark and no bite.
  • All booster, no payload.
  • All crown, no filling.
  • All foam, no beer.
  • All ham, no let. (for you fans of The Bard).
  • All hammer, no nail.
  • All icing, no cake.
  • All lime and salt, no tequila.
  • All mouth and no trousers / All mouth and trousers.
  • All shot, no powder.
  • All sizzle and no steak.
  • All wax and no wick.

My personal favorite from cattle country here in the USA is to say that a person is all hat and no cattle.

As a note to outsiders, for some people wearing a cowboy hat has become something of a cultural statement. Thus many people wear them who, if confronted with an actual cow, would have no clue which end the "moo" comes out.

share|improve this answer
    
Rephrased this (and made community wiki) in a desperate attempt to stave off the profusion of similar answers. If you have a favorite "All X no Y" saying, I think it would be easier to come by if you post it on the list above or as a comment here, rather than make another similar answer. –  T.E.D. Sep 13 '11 at 14:27

I believe a good idiom that describes this situation is blowing your own trumpet.

share|improve this answer
1  
P.S. I believe an idiom that gets close to describing situation 3 is when it rains, it pours. –  Bill Sep 12 '11 at 0:15
1  
Hmm, I'm not sure "blowing your own trumpet" means that you can't necessarily do what you say you can, though. –  simchona Sep 12 '11 at 0:51
    
@simchona - You may have a point but, it's the closest that I could think of. –  Bill Sep 12 '11 at 0:55
2  
A variant of this is tooting your own horn. –  grautur Sep 12 '11 at 3:23
1  
Perhaps related: blowhard –  Scott Mitchell Sep 12 '11 at 19:36

When someone is said to be “full of hot air”, it means that he or she talks rather a lot about topics he or she doesn't really understand.

[source]

share|improve this answer
    
Or slightly more vulgarly, just "full of (bull)shit". –  Noldorin Sep 13 '11 at 17:41

braggart would be an appropriate and pretty generic term for such a person. This word would be appropriate in a formal or informal context. (Note that the verb "to brag" is pretty much synonymous with "to boast", so this is a pretty direct noun formation.)

From the examples you give, I would probably use the adjectives delusional and arrogant (narcissistic if you want to sound pompous, or cocky in slang) to describe such a person. For the former, an appropriate idiom might be:

He/she is on crack.

or even,

What is he/she smoking?

both alluding to the use of mind-altering drugs (though not usually literally).

share|improve this answer

Because the person can't actually do what they say they can, you could say that they cannot put their money where their mouth is:

If someone puts their money where their mouth is, they back up their words with action.

share|improve this answer
    
This idiom has the meaning "Better do sth instead of talking about it" while I more needed an idiom to emphasize that sb is boasting about things they can't do. But it's a good one too. –  Pantelis Sopasakis Sep 12 '11 at 1:22

All gong and no dinner.

All fur coat and no knickers.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to English Language & Usage, Barrie. I would invite you to edit your answer in order to flesh it out, to give it a bit more context. That would then give other users an incentive to vote, and an high-voted answer is more likely to attract the attention of the poster. –  Eldroß Sep 13 '11 at 12:47
1  
Actually, both these logically go with my answer, probably as a comment. –  T.E.D. Sep 13 '11 at 14:05

Scott Adams suggests "Topper".

share|improve this answer

What about "to have a big head"?

share|improve this answer
1  
This is very apt; but it’s more common, I think, as the adjective big-headed. –  PLL Sep 12 '11 at 22:11

Some people can't walk the talk.

share|improve this answer
    
Or you might say the person, "Talks a big game." –  Scott Mitchell Sep 12 '11 at 19:34

One of my favorites: Blowhard

share|improve this answer

I know you’re looking for a colloquial idiom, but there does actually exist a (rare) word that means this very thing: jactator. It’s a direct borrowing from the identical Latin word. The OED marks it as “obsolete rare-0”, with the last citation given from back in the 18th century.

Somewhat more current and less rare is the related term jactation, whose sense 2 is “Boasting, bragging, ostentatious display.” It is not marked as obsolete or rare, or even archaic. Here are that sense’s citations:

  • 1576     J. Woolton Christian Man. sig. H.iiiiv,     If wee vse them with excesse, fylthy pleasure, vaine iactation:‥we abuse Gods good gyftes.
  • 1604     T. Wright Passions of Minde (new ed.) i. vi. 26,     I could adde‥Envy, Emulation‥Iactation or Boasting.
  • 1825     London Mag. I. 379     There is no surer sign of vulgarity than jactation of gentility.
  • 1886     Saintsbury in Macmillan's Mag. July 171     The tedious burlesque, the more tedious jactation which disfigure his work.

Its pronuncation is /dʒækˈteɪʃən/ , and its entymology is:

Latin jactātiōn-em, n. of action from jactāre to throw, toss about, discuss, boast of, refl. to talk boastfully, make an ostentatious display, frequentative of jacĕre to throw; compare French jactation (Cotgrave).

I suspect that jactator has strong potential for all sorts of intentional misunderstandings in various wicked puns. :)

Probably only students of Latin or speakers of derived Romance tongues would understand its original meaning. For example, jactarse de algo is “to boast of something” in Spanish, and is a perfectly common use, not a rare one.

Google Ngrams shows scant but measurable use of jactator compared with somewhat more frequent use of jactation, which actually seems to be on the rise since 2000. It might be used in its pathology sense, though.

share|improve this answer

Braggart, blowhard, and the more vulgar bullshitter all work well in daily, idiomatic American English.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.