To take the bull by the horns
What does it mean?
To take the bull by the horns means to do something difficult in a brave way. Often people run away when confronted with a difficult situation, just like most people would probably try to do if they were in a field with a bull. This phrase means not to run away, but to stand and face the problem.
Where does it come from?
The exact origins of this idiom are unknown for certain, although it is known that it dates back to at least the 18th century. One likely explanation is that this phrase comes from cowboys wresting with bulls in the American west. Another explanation is that it is something that bullfighters do.
How can I use it?
In many cases we use this about difficult conversations we need to have. For example, a manager who needs to fire someone may find this difficult, especially if it is due to redundancy. Another example would be if a married man developed bad breath, his wife may find it difficult to bring up the topic.
We often use this idiom in advice with phrases like ‘need to’ or even in the imperative. For example:
- Take the bull by the horns.
- You need to take the bull by the horns.
- Just take the bull by the horns.
- It’s time to take the bull by the horns.
We often follow this idiom with the thing that we need to do. To do this, we use ‘and’ followed by the thing we need to do, e.g.
- take the bull by the horns and fire him
- take the bull by the horns and tell him
- I decided to take the bull by the horns.
- I was determined to take the bull by the horns.
- I’m willing to take the bull by the horns.
- I’ll take the bull by the horns, if I need to
- He’s afraid to take the bull by the horns.
- She failed to take the bull by the horns.
Note that we can also use grab instead of take. However, the use of take is about three times more common.
What are some examples?
- You need to just take the bull by the horns and tell her how you feel.
- We’re looking for someone who can take the bull by the horns and lead us.
- It took me a while, but in the end, I decided to grab the bull by the horns.
What are some similar or related expressions?
Bite the bullet
Face the music
Make a move
Swing into action