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

The expression like a bull in a china shop is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the like a bull in a china shop idiom.

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 Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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