There is a proverb in our language which is used when someone tries to show off and pretend to be very rich and also try to spend much money, and somehow prepare well-brand clothes to keep up with the wealthy elite of the society, but if you know them, you are aware that they are almost flat broke! Actually, such people boast when they have no penny to bless themselves with! We say: "great boast, but empty pockets to buy something.

For isntance, please imagine a woman who has a lot of debts which should be paid back ASAP, but they try to buy some expensive jewellery.

Is there any current English saying to explain this situation?

  • I think the word wannabe could be used, maybe combined with something else (wannabe rich?), but I'm not really sure. May 16, 2019 at 0:37
  • Out of curiosity, which is "your language"?
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    May 16, 2019 at 1:01
  • Wasn't this the intended meaning of "Gangnam style"? :)
    – JollyJoker
    May 16, 2019 at 13:32
  • Junior high school kids are calling them a "try-hard" and when I was a kid (80s) they were "posers". May 16, 2019 at 14:18

3 Answers 3


Be aware that most people would be offended if you used any of these descriptions to them or about them. Non-native speakers are also advised to avoid the ones marked as vulgar unless you are absolutely certain of your audience.

We have in the UK:

  • He is all show and no substance -- pretty much exactly the meaning you're after

  • He is all mouth and trousers -- all talk and showy clothes wiktionary

  • He is all mouth and no trousers -- all talk and no potency (Guardian about which came first)
  • He is all bark and no bite -- all talk but no power (dog metaphor)

There's a US cowboy metaphor (not necessarily universally known):

  • ... all hat and no cattle -- wiktionary Also Big hat ...

Quite a few more are in the second wiktionary ref.

Collected from comments:

  • All talk/air/gas/wind ... (variant on all show, emphasising what person says), All bling and no bullion (bling showy clothes and jewellery, bullion solid gold), All gilt and no gold (gilt surface gold plating, gold solid), all flash no cash (flash display, cash money), hood rich (US, might not be understood elsewhere, looks rich but lives in a poor neighbourhood).
  • With slightly different meanings: All dollars and no sense (US, means has money but no sense, pun on sense sounding same as cents), All style and no substance (looks nice but unimportant/untrustworthy/poor, could be said of a person, a film, a book, a magazine, a political party, a tool), champagne taste on a beer budget (unlimited variants of "expensive taste on small means", meaning wanting the rich things without having the money, but not necessarily pretending.)
  • With various degrees of vulgarity and closeness to wanted phrase, also all wind and piss (wind talk, piss vulgar, urine = anger, but nb to piss in the wind = rage without effect, OED: "empty talk, bombast."), all piss and vinegar (OED: "orig. U.S. energy, vigour; youthful aggression", all fur coat and no knickers (Of a woman, orig Scottish, fur coat elegant on the outside, no knickers by avoiding necessities or in reality sleazy)

An antiquated but occasionally seen expression is

  • He is a penniless mountebank -- Very dated, but occasionally seen in literary writing ("North London’s Kentish Town has always been the home of penniless artists, writers, ruffians, mountebanks and charlatans, not to mention stoners, loners and ladies of slender means." Christopher Fowler in 2014.)
  • 3
    These are good. "All show and no substance" is also used in the US, although my feeling is that it can be used for any kind of braggadocio, not just wealth. There's also "he is all talk"
    – Andrew
    May 15, 2019 at 15:28
  • 1
    As given in the answer, mouth/trousers is UK (OED says originally northern England); hat/cattle is US (Andrew says Texan). You can also make up new ones very easily: all (small part), no (big part): "all coins and no notes", "all clothes and no castle"
    – jonathanjo
    May 15, 2019 at 16:06
  • 1
    If you said any of these directly to or of someone they are likely to be offended! Only the trousers variations have any kind of sexual overtone, but it's mild and not vulgar. NB these aren't sarcasm ("use of remarks that clearly mean the opposite of what they say").
    – jonathanjo
    May 15, 2019 at 16:10
  • 2
    Thank you @Jonathanjo; that was a superb answer. Just I came across some other concepts. What about: "champagne taste on a beer budget," or "All flash, no cash" and "Hood rich"? ;) Which one is common in this sense in AmE/BrE diallect?
    – A-friend
    May 16, 2019 at 5:49
  • 2
    Back in the day, we would say that a female who did this was "all fur coat and no knickers". In fact, the City of Edinburgh used to be described that way May 16, 2019 at 9:40

I think the closest equivalent in English is the expression:

living beyond [their] means

as in

He should stop living beyond his means and start saving money.

However this is more a warning to live within your means, rather than a statement about someone else's profligate spending habits.

I've never encountered the cultural equivalent of someone who "lives rich" yet who boasts about how poor they are. Usually someone who tries to appear rich will hide the fact that they have no money, in order to, as we say:

keep up appearances

If someone is spending a lot in order to seem as wealthy as their friends and neighbors, we call this

Keeping up with the Joneses

This expression doesn't mean that they have no money, rather that they are buying things they don't really need for the sake of appearances. For example, Mr. Jones buys a new luxury sedan, so Mr. Smith, his neighbor, goes out and buys an even more expensive and luxurious sedan, because he wants people to believe he is wealther than Mr. Jones (even if he is not).

A less figurative term for someone who habitually spends beyond their means is

a chronic debtor

This expression is normally used in the same kind of context as calling someone an alcoholic, or saying they have a gambling problem. It's a label for people who should get help to overcome a serious problem in their lives.


A common slang term in the US is to "front"

To be "fronting"

Urban slang. To put up a facade or make appearances, typically to impress or in some way deceive to maintain an image. From 'to front'.

He is frontin' - that Mercedes is a rental!

In a more formal conversation, I would stick with the other answers given on this post. I would only use this with my friends.

  • 2
    This answer is correct, more or less, but not very useful. "Front" is definitely slang in this context. It can be difficult to use slang correctly if you are not part of the subculture that speaks that dialect (most often when you get too old for it). Moreover, slang quickly ages past its due date. This expression is at least 15 years old, and it's likely the kids have since come up with something to replace it. If you tried to use it now, it's possible you would sound ... well, whatever kids nowadays say to mean "not cool".
    – Andrew
    May 15, 2019 at 21:53

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