Can you suggest an idiom or common expression that can be used to describe a misunderstanding? The typical case is when Mr. A is talking about something and Mr. B understand something else. Mr. A can say, "sorry you have misunderstood me," or "sorry what you have understood is __"

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    I think the point raised by Bib and GMB is the most important one and bears repeating. Im AmE (and I assume others as well), The speaker bears the responsibility to speak clearly and understandably. If another misunderstands, etiquette dictates that the speaker assume responsibility: "I'm sorry, I wasn't very clear, please let me try it again." One does not start with, I'm sorry, but you misunderstood me (unless they think you have just insulted their wife or child when you did not.) Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 22:51

10 Answers 10


Other idioms are: "We are not on the same page," or ". . .not singing from the same sheet of music." However, if a misunderstanding has already occurred, it might be better to avoid idiomatic speech and say directly something like, "I'm sorry. I did not make myself clear, what I mean to say is . . .."

  • same sheet of music? Never heard that one... I thought sheet was for paper or bed sheet.
    – Keneni
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 20:42
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    +1 Saying I think I was not being clear is one of the most useful tools for clarifying without raising hackles. And quite different from Let me make this clear ... which is often perceived as a threat.
    – bib
    Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 22:17
  • @Keni That is the problem with idioms. They rely on common frames of reference that may not be widely shared. For more on sheet music, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheet_music
    – GMB
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 2:30
  • @Keni a sheet is, in this case, for paper. Specifically, paper which has written on it a song (lyrics and musical notes).
    – Doc
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 14:27
  • I've heard "hymn sheet" rather than "sheet of music" -- comes of living in a country with a state religion perhaps! Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 15:38

A common idiom for that is that you "Got your wires crossed"


You got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

to not understand a situation correctly

Her friend saw us arrive at the party together and got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I said how nice he was and Julie got the wrong end of the stick and thought I wanted to go out with him.

For this particular case you could also say, "Sorry if I was speaking Greek." A variation would be, "Sorry if I was speaking a different language."


"Sorry what you have understood is way off (base)!"

way off (base): Inf. Fig. on the wrong track; completely wrong

Consider also wide of the mark, (way) off the mark, and out in left field.

off the mark: wrong or not accurate

out in left field: completely wrong; mistaken

*Sorry what you've understood is (way) off the mark.*

*Sorry I think you're out in left field [=I think you've completely missed the point]."


Mr A and Mr B are talking at cross-purposes or experiencing a miscommunication.

This reminds me of the time my wife and an old friend of hers were arguing about which way a certain object revolved. Eventually they discovered that she had been talking about the direction the water in a toilet bowl swirls when you flush it, whereas he had thought they were discussing the turntable of his microwave oven.

(Good times!)

  • "At cross-purposes" is a good idiom in cases where the misunderstanding isn't discovered until after the conversation has continued for a few rounds of increasing confusion. In cases where A immediately notices that B hasn't understood, then I'd say they haven't had a chance to talk at cross purposes. A would describe it as a miscommunication or just say "sorry, that's not what I meant". Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 15:40
  • On a minor note, regarding that discussion: For several models of microwave ovens, rotation direction is random; at each restart it may go the same way as before, or may randomly go the other way. That usually isn't true of water going down a drain (ie it's true for some drains, but for most it isn't). Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 0:45


You're not smelling what I'm stepping in.

I love that one.

Note: an idiom involving scatological humor, like this one, is inappropriate if the two people are not well-acquainted, if the matter at hand is serious, or if either person has no sense of humor.


be another/a different kettle of fish is a useful idiom:

if you say that something or someone is a different kettle of fish, you mean that they are completely different from something or someone else that has been talked about.


"You're not picking up what I'm laying down," is one possible idiom. However, this could be seen as slightly abrasive or even insulting in some contexts. It would be more appropriate in informal speech and particularly if those involved are well acquainted.


Mr. A and Mr. B are not on the same page.



Our communications appear to be orthogonal.

[the fifth meaning]