What does the idiom "like a bull in a china shop" mean?

The phrase like a bull in a china shop is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of like a bull in a china shop.

Meaning of "like a bull in a china shop"


The phrase ‘like a bull in a china shop’ is used to describe a person (or thing) that is so clumsy, careless or reckless that they cause a great deal of destruction, damage or disruption. It implies that an individual’s actions have resulted in the destruction of something valuable or delicate and that their clumsiness is the cause of it.


The phrase ‘like a bull in a china shop’ is thought to have originated some time in the mid-1800s, although its exact origin is unknown. It is thought to stem from the fact that bulls are notoriously difficult to control, and when they are put into something delicate, like a china shop, the consequences can be disastrous. The phrase was popularised by the Victorian author and poet Thomas Hood in his poem ‘The Ballad of a Chinaman’.


This phrase is typically used to describe an individual that is clumsy or reckless, and has caused harm or disruption as a result of their actions. It can also be used more generally to describe a situation in which there has been a great deal of destruction or disruption. It is often used in a humorous context and is not intended to be taken too seriously.

Example Sentences

  • I can’t believe he just crashed his car into the shop - he’s like a bull in a china shop!
  • The new employee was like a bull in a china shop, making a mess of everything he touched!
  • The angry mob was like a bull in a china shop, destroying everything in sight.

The meanings of the words in the "like a bull in a china shop" idiom

From One Language to Another: Idioms in Translation

Translating idioms from one language to another can be a tricky task, as the cultural context behind an idiom can be difficult to capture. For example, the French phrase "avoir le cafard" translates to "to have the cockroach," which means to feel down or depressed. Similarly, the Chinese idiom "????" (j?ng d? zh? w?) translates to "frog at the bottom of a well," which refers to someone with a narrow view of the world.


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