What does Keep Locking Horns mean?


keep locking horns

Have you watched a nature show like National Geographic or Discovery channel and seen two rams fighting by ramming their horns together?

Or two bulls fighting for their territory and they are butting horns? Sometimes these animals will ram or butt their horns and they become entangled and essentially lock horns because of their fight for dominance.

The phrase originates somewhere in the 1800’s where it was taken from describing two actual animals to the idiomatic use of describing two people behaving like animals and arguing or fighting in an effort to gain dominance.


The use of this phrase is used to describe two people, groups or teams arguing or competing for dominance. It is often used in the context of sports or business.

Example of “Keep locking horns”

  • The two football teams are going to lock horns today to decide the championship.
  • The two CEO’s are going to lock horns in an effort to see who will lead the two company’s after the merger is complete.


Philip: Hey Sarah, what are you doing this weekend?

Sarah: We are all going to get together at my house for the big Rugby match.

Philip: Oh, really? I am not much of a Rugby fan.. Who is playing?

Sarah: The Lions and the Wallabies. They are locking horns again, this time for the championship.

Philip: Sounds like a bit of a rivalry?

Sarah: Yeah, my boyfriend and I are always locking horns on who is going to win.

Philip: Ok, don’t lock horns too much, it is all about having fun.

Sarah: Yeah, your right! Cheers!

Other words you can create: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc (ex: mug – mugger)












Related phrasal verbs:

Argue with someone

This is a phrasal verb that we use to describe the act of arguing or disagreeing with someone.

  • I always argue with my boss, we always seem to be locking horns.

In conflict with

This is a phrase to describe someone or groups disagreeing with each other.

  • Jane is always in conflict with her sister, they always are locking horns about family issues.

Vie with/for

This is a phrasal verb we use to describe the action of competing against or with someone for a desired outcome.

  • The two teams are vying for the title and they will lock horns today for the championship.

Measure up against

This phrase is used to describe a potential rivalry or conflict of comparison.

  • The two candidates will lock horns in a debate and we will see how they measure up.

Fight off 

This is a phrase or phrasal verb we use to describe defending against an attack or potential attack.

  • The CEO fought off an attempt to replace him, he is now locking horns with the board of directors to determine a path forward for the company.

Let (someone) have it

This is a phrase we use to describe attacking someone physically or verbally.

  • The two boxers locked horns in the match of the century and the Mexican boxer really let the Filipino opponent have it.

Square off with

This is a phrasal verb we use to describe a situation where people of someone to compete against or fight.

  • The two fighters are going to square off and lock horns to determine who will be the champion. 

Related idioms:

Bump heads with

  • My boss and I are always bumping heads.

Cross swords with

  • I have cross swords with my husband on many issues, but we have always been able to work things out.

Run against the tide

  • He is always running against the tide and locking horns with his superiors.

Square off with

  • The former couple squared off in court and locked horns for custody of their children.

Synonyms for keep locking horns:

Bump heads with

Square off with

Take on

Tangle with

Meet head-on

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