Elbow room

Elbow room is an idiom that has been in use for several hundred years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression 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, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, 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. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase elbow room, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Elbow room means having enough space to work, play, accomplish a task, or to simply be comfortable. The expression elbow room is used when one is referring to having enough room to navigate in physical space, but it may also be used to mean to have the freedom to accomplish something. The image is of someone extending his elbows without touching someone or something else. The word elbow, which means the bending joint of the arm, has been in use since the 1200s. The idiom elbow room has been in use since the mid-1500s and is found in William Shakespeare’s play The Life and Death of King John: “Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room…”


With a $503,000 expansion to the Austintown Township Police Department nearing completion, dispatchers in the building are eager to move to new space that will not only provide more elbow room, but also help improve efficiency in responding to emergencies in multiple communities. (The Youngstown Vindicator)

North Dakota’s new tourism marketing campaign is promoting what the sparsely populated state has plenty of: elbow room. (The Bismarck Tribune)

That’s a lot more elbow room than we have today, considering the state is now home to 10.4 million people, with 498,044 of them in the capital city. (The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

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