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A drop in the bucket

  • A drop in the bucket is an idiom that has been in use for hundreds of years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom a drop in the bucket, where it comes from and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    A drop in the bucket is a small amount, an insignificant amount or an unimportant amount. The expression a drop in the bucket is sometimes used when someone is overwhelmed by the amount of effort one must put into a situation, or the amount of work one must do to complete a task. Synonyms for the idiom a drop in the bucket that may be found in a thesaurus are pittance, smidgen, trace. The phrase a drop in the bucket has been in use since the 1300s, and is derived from a passage in the Bible found in Isaiah 40:15: “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…”

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    Examples


    The group also has managed to get a small amount of aid inside the country, which Graham called “a drop in the bucket” compared to what is needed. (Reuters)

    That $20 billion may seem like a small drop in the bucket of a proposed fiscal 2020 budget that will be just under $5 trillion, but when close to one-third of federal spending consists of programs with budgets of $25 billion or less, the dollars add up quickly. (The Washington Examiner)

    “We kind of feel like we’re a small part — a drop in the bucket — but each drop does make a difference,” she said. (The Daily Nonpareil)


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