Keep on a short leash

The phrase keep on a short leash is an idiom that has been around for hundreds of 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 keep on a short leash, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To keep on a short leash means to tightly control someone or something, to restrict someone’s freedom, to curtail someone’s independence. The idiom keep on a short leash is also sometimes expressed as keep on a tight leash, but the former is much more common. A leash is a rope or leather strap attached to an animal, usually a dog, in order to control the movement of that animal. The exact origin of the idiom keep on a short leash is unclear, but it probably dates to the 1700s. Related phrases are keeps on a short leash, kept on a short leash, keeping on a short leash. The word leash is derived from the Latin word laxus, which means loose.


Curiously, it’s not just lawmakers whom voters would keep on a short leash, given the chance. (The Sacramento Bee)

Meanwhile, sparks fly between Eddie and Emma, whom he must keep on a short leash and out of trouble. (Variety)

The app-based ride-hailing company is being kept on a short leash by Transport for London (TfL) after only being granted a two-month licence, believed to be shortest ever issued by the transport body. (The Daily Mail)

A four-man breakaway including serial escapee Stephane Rossetto of Cofidis was kept on a short leash, with their advantage never quite reaching three minutes, a gap which began to tumble as Toulouse came into view. (The Independent)

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