Avoid like the plague

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| Grammarist

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| Idiom

Avoid like the plague is an idiom that may be older than you think. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, 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 like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom avoid like the plague, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Avoid like the plague means to stay away from something at all costs, to evade something or elude something. For instance, one may avoid like the plague someone who is a nuisance or liability. The expression avoid like the plague is a simile, which is a phrase used in a sentence that is a comparison of one thing with something else using the word like or the word as. A simile may compare two things with qualities that do not seem related, though there must be some similarity that is either literal or figurative. The phrase avoid like the plague became popular around the turn of the twentieth century, though the sentiment may be found in writings by Saint Jerome in the 300s: “Avoiding these [priests] then as though they were the plague…”


It’s nice knowing that business owners who flout public health measures enjoy talking about flouting public health measures, thus alerting the rest of us to those businesses we should quite literally, avoid like the plague. (Toronto Star)

Hiring Your First Freelancer Online? 4 Mistakes To Avoid Like The Plague (Forbes)

I found both of these lists really helpful as I now know where to avoid like the plague. (Norwich Guardian)

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