A slap on the wrist

A slap on the wrist is an idiom that has risen sharply in popularity since the mid-1900s. 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 that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, 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 slap on the wrist, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

A slap on the wrist is a minor punishment, a slight reprimand, a mild warning for a transgression. Often, the phrase a slap on the wrist is used when the punishment should have been more extensive for the severity of the crime or transgression. Usually, someone who gets a slap on the wrist for a crime or for breaking the rules is a person who has power, social standing, or money or his family has power, social standing, or money. The phrase a slap on the wrist functions as a noun. It has been in use since the mid-1700s, but the popularity of the phrase has grown quickly since the mid-1900s.


Lawyer Michelle Acosta told the Texas Lawyer that lawyer Allan Manka received only a “small slap on the wrist” for the alleged June assault at the courthouse in Floresville. (The ABA Journal)

Bryce Walker, the monstrous jock who raped both Jessica Davis and Hannah Baker during season one, and essentially got away with a slap on the wrist in season two, is dead. (Cosmopolitan Magazine)

In a separate statement, Bandar Kuching MP Kelvin Yii said the “slap on the wrist” for Zakir sets a bad precedent, and shows that individuals can make highly sensitive remarks if they are popular enough. (Malaysiakini)

Earlier in August, it was revealed that Musk got a slap on the wrist from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for falsely bragging on the company blog that they had the safest cars. (The New York Post)

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