A Shot in the Arm – Idiom, Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

I always wondered if the phrase a shot in the arm was an idiom or not. Turns out, it’s technically not, but it passes as one in about any situation. But let’s take a look at the phrase and its origins so you can be sure you’re using it correctly.

What Does a Shot in the Arm Mean?

httpsgrammarist.comidioma shot in the arm

When you hear someone say they need a “shot in the arm,” they probably need a much-needed boost or a quick improvement. This can be anything from physical energy in the mornings, motivation to keep going, or any other situation where a little extra help or second wind is needed.

In English, we use a shot in the arm expression to talk about needing a quick and effective solution to our problems. A business might need “a shot in the arm” to boost its sales for a certain quarter, or a sports team might need “a shot in the arm” to improve its gameplay.

Is a Shot in the Arm an Idiom?

While “a shot in the arm” seems like it would be an idiom, it’s not technically one. It’s actually a metaphor, which can be confused for idioms because they both work in the same way; a phrase or word that has a literal meaning and a figurative one.

Origin of the Phrase a Shot in the Arm

A Shot in the Arm Ngram
A shot in the arm usage trend.

The phrase “a shot in the arm” has its basic origins in the medical field, which is obvious. It’s a needle or an injection that’s given in the upper arm, like a vitamin shot, a vaccine, or even the injection of drugs. This is a real shot in the arm.

In the literal sense, the phrase was first used in the early 1900s in the medical field when talking about the injection of media. It quickly became popular as a metaphor for anything that gave you a quick and effective boost of something.

One early note of it was in 1916 in The Lewiston Evening Journal when discussing politics, “The vets can give politics a shot in the arm and the political leaders realize it.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, the phrase became even more common, especially in the United States.

Synonyms for the Phrase a Shot in the Arm

Here are a bunch of different ways you can say a shot in the arm without actually saying it. Any of these terms or phrases convey the same idea.

  • A quick boost
  • Need a pick-me-up
  • A kickstart
  • Stimulus
  • Second wind
  • An infusion
  • Energy boost
  • New blood

Using a Shot in the Arm in a Sentence

Let’s look at a shot in the arm’s meaning in the context of full sentences.

  • We could really use a shot in the arm next quarter, or our end-of-year sales report isn’t going to cut it.
  • After being up all night with the kids, I could really use a shot in the arm in the form of a big cup of coffee.
  • I have an appointment to get a shot in the arm for my COVID booster.
  • I can’t believe how good the other team is. We’ll need a much-needed shot in the arm if we want to beat them.

Do You Need a Boost in the Arm?

While it’s not technically, and many sources will claim it to be, and that’s okay. Regardless, it’s a useful phrase that you can use to describe situations where a quick and effective boost is needed. So, the next time you need a little help, remember that sometimes, all it takes is a quick shot in the arm to get back on track!

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