Wide Berth – 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.

A wide berth means the space that’s given between two people or objects in a precautionary way. I know, you probably thought it had something to do with giving birth, but it’s just a way of saying, “Keep a safe distance.”

But if you’re curious about where this phrase came from and how it should be used, keep reading, and I’ll explain everything you need to know about this idiom!

Is It Wide Berth or Wide Birth?

Save the birth for baby showers and hospital rooms. In this context, we’re sticking with berth because that’s the correct spelling for this phrase.

What Does the Idiom Wide Berth Mean?

Wide Berth – Idiom Meaning Origin

A wide berth means giving a large amount of space between yourself and someone or something else, more or less as a precautionary measure. It’s all about staying clear and avoiding any potential dangers or unpleasantness.

A great example is the indie author world. We’ve got groups and communities all about leaving a wide berth between certain problematic people like other authors, predatory publishers, and more and us. If a fellow author tells me to give a wide berth between me and a person/company, I know to just stay away.

Origin and Etymology Behind Give a Wide Berth

Wide Berth Ngram
Wide berth usage trend.

As I’ve already mentioned, berth is a nautical term. When a ship is given a wide berth, it means that it’s been provided with plenty of room to maneuver about and avoid collisions. In a literal sense, the phrase was popular in the 1500s when everyone was out sailing the seas.

Eventually, this seafaring expression washed ashore and became part of everyday language as an idiom. We use it to describe keeping a safe distance from anything potentially problematic, on sea or on land.

Wide Berth Synonyms

Looking for a new way to say wide berth? Here are some synonymous phrases that work just fine:

  • Steer clear of
  • Keep distance from
  • Avoid
  • Shun
  • Avoid like the plague
  • Stay away from

Sentence Examples Using Wide Berth

Wide Berth – Idiom Meaning Origin 1

  • The manager has been in a bad mood all day, so I’m giving him a wide berth until he comes around.
  • I decided to give the stray dog a wide berth because it looked super aggressive and maybe even rabid.
  • Given his seedy reputation, I’ve always kept a wide berth from him.
  • We should give that restaurant a wide berth; I got food poisoning last month.
  • When doing yard work, I gave the construction site next door a wide berth to avoid any falling debris.
  • He’s always so negative, so I’ve started giving him a wide berth.
  • After the scandal, everyone gave the politician a wide berth.
  • Knowing she had a contagious cold, Amy gave her friends a wide berth.
  • We decided to give the angry protesters a wide berth and just move on with her day.
  • I’d give that idea a wide berth if I were you; it doesn’t seem feasible.

Navigating the Waters of Language

Now that you’ve absorbed all the info on using the phrase wide berth, you’re ready to start slipping it into regular conversations with confidence. If you want to read up on more idiomatic phrases like this, I have plenty to share.