Dredge up and dig up

Dredge up and dig up are idioms. 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 beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, 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 definition of the phrases dredge up and dig up, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

To dredge something up means to mention something unpleasant from the past, to bring up a past error or transgression that is probably best left forgotten, to discuss something troublesome that others would prefer not to think about. The term dredge up is taken from the literal sense of dredging, which means to rake out the bottom of a body of water in order to allow a stronger flow of current, to allow ships to pass through the area, or to find something that has been lost in the muck. Authorities look for the bodies of those who have drowned by dredging the lake or pond. The idiom dredge up has been in use since the 1500s. Related phrases are dredges up, dredged up, dredging up.

The idiom to dig something up means to uncover information that is hidden, to discover something that is difficult to find, to unearth something. The phrase dig up is also taken from its literal sense, meaning to unearth something or excavate soil until one finds what one is looking for. The idiom dig up has been in use since the 1300s. Related phrases are digs up, dug up, digging up.


The New York Times points to tools like SeatGuru and FlightStats—websites that can dredge up your aircraft’s make and model if you input your flight info. (Popular Mechanics)

Those who disagree with Carlson wouldn’t step up to argue with him on his show about what he said; rather, they chose to dredge up something in an attempt to silence him by taking away his ability to make a living.  (USA Today)

We know this stuff is fun to dig up and speculate about, but you should not treat any of that info as a source of truth. (Forbes Magazine)

Eagle-eyed Twitter users then dug up a couple of older tweets that may not look as innocent given the day’s revelations. (The Houston Chronicle)

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