5 English Idioms for so-so and average

Why use idioms for so-so in speech

English people use the word “mediocrity” to describe something average or so-so. Below you will find five idioms, or phraseological expressions, associated with this concept. Studying idioms helps to expand your vocabulary, makes your speech more varied, imaginative and close to the level of native speakers.

Idioms for so-so: No great shakes

Use this idiom to say that someone or something is nothing special, not good enough, worthless, unremarkable, unenviable, unimportant. Translation to Russian: ничего особенного собой не представляет, не бог весть какой, никудышный, незавидный, неважный:

  • As a team leader, he is no great shakes. Руководитель коллектива из него никудышный.
  • My husband is no great shakes at cooking. Повар из моего мужа неважный.
  • This film is no great shakes, in my opinion. Фильм, на мой взгляд, ничего особенного собой не представляет.

#2: Nothing to write home about

The meaning of this idiom is “nothing special or exceptional, that is worth telling about.” Translation to Russian: “ничего особенного, исключительного, стоящего того, чтобы рассказать”.

  • Our performance this year has been nothing to write home about. О наших показателях в этом году нечего и говорить.
  • His car is nothing to write home about. Машина у него не фонтан.
  • This trip was ok, but nothing to write home about. Поездка была нормальная, но ничего такого.

#3: Garden-variety

This idiom for so-so means “most ordinary, ordinary, commonplace, mediocre.” Russian translation: “самый обычный, рядовой, заурядный”.

  • He is a garden-variety office worker. Он – рядовой офисный служащий.
  • This is a garden-variety tax evasion case. Это самое обычное дело об уклонении от уплаты налогов.
  • She’s got a garden-variety flu. У нее обыкновенная простуда.

#4: Milk and water

This idiom can be translated as “weak, empty, unexpressive, insubstantial, featureless, lacking in character, faceless.” Russian translation: “слабый, пустой, невыразительный, бессодержательный, бесхарактерный, безликий”.

  • This report is milk and water. Этот доклад – ни рыба, ни мясо.
  • She is sort of a milk and water girl. Она какая-то кисейная барышня.
  • They are living the life of milk and water here. Они тут ведут никчемную жизнь.

#5: Fair to Middling

This idiom means “so-so, average, tolerable, middling.” Russian translation: “так себе, средне, сносно, серединка на половинку”.

  • What’s your English like? – Ohh, fair to middling”. Как твой английский? – Так себе.
  • How was your time abroad? – Well, fair to middling. Как ты провел время за границей? – Ну, не особенно.
  • How are you today? – Fair to middlin’. Как себя чувствуешь сегодня? – Средне.

Fair To Middling: The Origin of the Idiom

“What do we mean by “fair to middling”? It’s better than good – at least if you are talking about cotton quality”. By John Nova Lomax, US journalist

“Fair to middling” idiom was once widely used by cotton producers in Texas, USA. The terms “fair” and “middling” served as indicators of the high quality of the exported cotton. Over time, the phrase lost its connotation of “first-class quality” and came to be used as an American version of “It’s okay”, or from “good to so-so” [1].

Idioms for so-so and average: Conversation Questions

Is there anyone in your family about whom you can say that they are no great shakes?

What is one thing you possess which you can describe as nothing to write home about?

Do you know anyone who in your opinion lives the life of milk and water? Why do you think so?

Can you call yourself a garden-variety worker? Why? Why not?

Can your knowledge of English be characterized as fair to middling?

Do you think idioms fo so-so are useful for English learners? Why?


  1. Lomax, John. Talk Like a Texan: What Do We Mean By “Fair To Middling”. Retrieved from: www.texasmonthly.com

Written by Elena Rudaya

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