Bow and scrape

  • Bow and scrape is an idiom that like many idioms, was first used in a literal sense. 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 bow and scrape, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    Bow and scrape means to be overly submissive, humble, or subservient; to acquiesce. The expression bow and scrape came into use in the mid-1800s and refers to making a bow, or bending from the waist, and a scrape, which is a type of bow that involves bending one’s front leg and “scraping” the other leg behind you. It is a formal, extremely submissive gesture. Bow and scrape is a verbal phrase; related phrases are bows and scrapes, bowed and scraped, bowing and scraping.



    Singer Sona Mohapatra has said hardworking professionals with a great track record in other industries are hired only if they are willing to ‘toe the line’, ‘bow & scrape’ in front of the Bollywood families. (Hindustan Times)

    Republicans who continue to bow and scrape at Trump’s feet are backing a loser, a candidate whom most Americans have rejected twice. (South Dakota Standard)

    According to the “prospectus” that outlined Pioneer Little Europe, such a community would bring in “the culturally homeless, the berserkers, the greatest misfits, the especially angry, those who refuse to run any more, who refuse to bow and scrape, the doers rather than passive thinkers, the dogs in the cellar.” (Tampa Bay Times)

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