Bring the House Down: What Does This Idiom Mean?

Every language in the world has its unique collection of phrases and sayings. These expressions often contain meaning that isn’t immediately obvious by simply reading the individual words contained therein. People call them idiomatic expressions.

We’ve covered many of these idioms in our previous posts. We do this to help you express complex thoughts in a simple way, keep your reader stimulated (if you’re writing a novel or a story), establish a point of view or add humor to your writing.

Back in our previous posts, we’ve talked about the meaning and origin behind popular idioms, including raining cats and dogs and crocodile tears. Today, we’re going to check out another well-known phrase that people use in performances.

The idiom we’re talking about is bring the house down (or its variant, bring down the house).

What Does “Bring the House Down” Mean?

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The expression bring the house down is common in both the United Kingdom and the United States. This idiom refers to tremendous favor or praise from the response of live audiences at theaters, concerts, playhouses and other public performance venues.

Think of this idiomatic expression as a combination of a round of applause and a standing ovation from the audience. The cheering or applause is so thunderous that it could, in theory, make the theater collapse.

People may also use this idiom to describe other types of performances apart from singing. The exceptional performance of an actress, for instance, could bring the house down. One might also claim that the playwright who wrote the script of that actress brought down the house.

Even a speech can bring the house down if people responded well to it. This is true especially if the audience cheered during or at the end of the speech.

The idiom isn’t just limited to a live performance, though. You can also use the phrase to describe the success of a person. Whenever an employee has done a wonderful job with a task and others notice and celebrate that success, that worker has brought the house down.

Read these sentences to see how this idiomatic expression is used:

  • The performance of my favorite contestant on American Idol brought the house down.
  • Do you believe that you’ve done enough preparation to bring the house down?
  • During Chinese New Year’s Eve, my dad always tells corny jokes that bring down the house.
  • Andrew looked through his eyeglasses peevishly when the other speaker brought the house down with applause.
  • Be sure to watch Jennifer Hudson along with the Broadway cast of “The Color Purple” bring the house down singing “Purple Rain.”

Using the Phrase Literally

Unlike certain idiomatic expressions, such as raining cats and dogs and kill them with kindness, you have the option to use bring the house down in a literal manner.

There have been people using bring the house down in a non-colloquial sense. The phrase, when used properly in a sentence, indicates the actual collapse of a home, such as from a storm, tornado or other natural disasters.

Where Did “Bring the House Down” Come From?

Bring the house down became popular as an idiomatic expression before the electronic forms of entertainment, such as television, radio and the internet.

Another word for theater is “house,” with the enclosed building established in England during the early part of the 16th century. The exact origin of bring the house down remains unknown to this day, but this idiom may have originated during this century. People during this period built theaters with thatched, simple roofs and were relatively fragile structures.

Over time, the phrase has evolved and developed an expanded meaning. People began using bring the house down to refer to any enthusiastic praise in and out of a theater. An example is an athlete from a major sports event making a key play that results in big cheers from a crowd.

Bring the House Down in Popular Culture

The popularity of this idiomatic expression has led to its use in entertainment and popular media contexts.

One such example is the film “Bringing Down the House.” The movie features Steve Martin as Peter Sanderson, a lonely guy on the web who meets escaped convict Charlene Morton played by Queen Latifah.

Morton, who’s fresh from jail, barges into Sanderson’s upper-class life and causes trouble. The title of the film is a play on “bring the house down,” which signifies the disruptions caused by Morton.

What are Other Words for Bring the House Down?

You can substitute bring the house down with another word or phrase. Just make sure that the phrase or word you’re going to use makes sense.

Here are some synonyms you can use instead of bring the house down:

  • Give a big hand
  • Cheer
  • Give a standing ovation
  • Applaud
  • Give a round of applause
  • Put one’s hands together for
  • Praise to the skies

When an audience enthusiastically responds with applause, cheer or laughter, you can be sure that the performance brought the house down. If someone told you that this idiom in your performance, feel proud, as you did a great job making your audience happy.

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