In the weeds

  • In the weeds is a popular idiom with an unknown origin. 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 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, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, 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 in the weeds, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.


    In the weeds is an idiom with two distinct definitions. One definition of in the weeds is to be overwhelmed with work and unable to keep up with the necessary pace. For instance, a waitress who is behind in taking orders from her patrons and bringing food out to her guests is considered to be in the weeds. In this case, in the weeds refers to a rush in a work situation, usually in retail or the hospitality industry. The second definition of in the weeds is to wander into esoteric and unimportant details when one is researching a subject or writing a report. In this case, in the weeds describes being focused on the wrong things. The origin of the idiom in the weeds is unknown. Some believe that it originated during the American Prohibition era, when bootleggers and moonshiners hid their liquor in fields. Others believe it is an aviation term, referring to missing a runway when landing and ending up in the weeds.



    “You can get lost in the weeds right after a big album, a big major release, in a singing competition,” said Hicks, 43. (The Union Leader)

    When I was in the weeds as a new mom, any angst I expressed to seasoned mamas was often met with a shrug and a dismissive saying: “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” (

    It might seem academic to political scientists who can get lost in the weeds of the swampy morass of state governance, but it is a crucial consideration that weighs on the minds of everyone who thinks going to the polls will bring about results. (The Insider)

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