The expression fold one’s tent is an idiom. 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 in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, 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 meaning of the idiom fold one’s tent, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.
Fold one’s tent means to withdraw, to leave, to quit, to give up. The idea is to slowly depart from a place or situation without fanfare. The expression fold one’s tent is derived from a quote from the poem, The Day is Done, published by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1844: “…Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, And quietly steal away.” In the past, the latter half of the quote, “…like the Arabs…” may have been cited, but today the expression may be considered xenophobic. Related phrases are folds one’s tent, folded one’s tent, folding one’s tent. The idiom fold one’s tent also invokes the image of a carnival or circus folding their tents after their last evening performance and leaving before dawn.
“We don’t see that enough from people, and young people when there’s a little bit of a challenge you can fold your tent or you can step up and get better, and that’s exactly what he’s done.” (The Idaho Statesman)
Knowing this ahead of time, fold your tent like the Arabs and wait for another day to make your pitch. (The National Post)
“You can either see what you can do to improve or you can fold your tent and don’t see these kids doing that.” (The Saratoga Sun)