Elbow Room – 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.

Isn’t it annoying when you’re squished in a crowd, unable to move freely? That’s when you need some elbow room, a phrase that’s far more than just a physical need for space. This idiom is all about freedom, room to maneuver and the joy of unrestrained movement. Let’s take a quick second and explore this idiom and all its nuances.

Is Elbow Room an Idiom?

Elbow Room – Idiom Meaning Origin

Yep, elbow room is totally an idiom! It’s one of those phrases that have more to do with conceptual space than physical, but it can apply to both. It’s not actually about having room for your elbows (though that would be nice); it’s about having space to function effectively and freely.

Elbow Room Meaning Explained

When we say elbow room, we’re usually not requesting a bigger cubicle or a wider armchair. The idiom elbow room typically means having sufficient freedom or scope to do something without restriction.

Whether it’s a creative endeavor, a business decision or just general personal space, elbow room is about liberty and opportunity, similar to the idiom breathing room.

Origin and Etymology Behind Elbow Room

Elbow Room Ngram
Elbow room usage trend.

The phrase elbow room goes all the way back to the 16th century, believe it or not. I’d like to say there’s a deeper meaning behind it, but the whole idea came from the actual need to have room for your elbows at the table. If people sit too close, it becomes too cramped.

Fun fact: It was used in William Shakespeare’s play “The Life and Death of King John”: “Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room… .”

Synonyms for Elbow Room

  • Breathing space
  • Leeway
  • Room to maneuver
  • Scope
  • Freedom

How to Use Elbow Room: Examples in a Sentence

Elbow Room – Idiom Meaning Origin 1

Seeing this phrase in a full sentence will help you better understand it.

  • The new office has plenty of elbow room for everyone.
  • With this promotion, I’ll finally have some elbow room to make important decisions.
  • The artist moved to the countryside for some elbow room to express her creativity.
  • This new budget gives us more elbow room for our marketing strategies.
  • The cottage, while cozy, doesn’t offer much elbow room.
  • “With the kids gone for the summer, we have some elbow room around the house,” said Dad.
  • The legislation provides companies with elbow room to innovate.
  • After studying in a cramped dorm room, having my own apartment feels like a lot of elbow room.
  • The spacious park provides kids with enough elbow room to run around.
  • After years of being micromanaged, she left her job to start a business where she’d have elbow room.

Give Yourself Some Elbow Room!

And that’s all you need to know about the idiom elbow room in all its unrestricted glory! Whether you’re yearning for some personal space or seeking more freedom in decision-making, use this idiom, and don’t hesitate to ask for your elbow room. Learn about more awesome idiomatic phrases like this with our other helpful guides!