Laying It on Thick – Meaning, Origin and Examples

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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.

Laying it on thick means exaggerating or overstating something, usually to the point of flattery or insincerity. It’s an idiom—words and phrases that don’t have a literal meaning, just figurative ones that help us communicate more deeply.  

So why do we use this phrase, and where did it come from? Surprisingly, this phrase traces its roots back to Shakespearean times. In this article, we delve into the layers of this idiom, illuminating its literal and figurative connotations while providing instructive sentence examples to enhance your grasp of its correct usage.

As we explore the intricacies behind this phrase, you’ll find yourself better equipped to wield it with precision and charm. So, don’t stop now; let’s unveil the story behind laying it on thick!

Laying It on Thick – Meaning Origin and Examples 3

What Is the Meaning of Laying It on Thick?

Collins Dictionary says laying it on think means “exaggerating a statement, experience, or emotion in order to try to impress people.”

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the idiom as “to praise someone too much.”

The exact definition varies in wording across different sources and dictionaries, but the bottom line is always the same. The idiom laying it on thick means talking about someone’s good qualities way too much, to the point where it’s annoyingly obvious that you’re just buttering them up.

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Laying It on Thick?

Laying It On Thick Ngram
Laying it on thick usage trend.

Lay it on thick came from the act of generously applying a substance, like butter or paint. The notion was then metaphorically transferred to language, implying the excessive layering of praise or flattery.

Shakespeare is credited with coining the phrase when he used it in 1598, but that was more on the literal side of the idiom. Samuel Butler used it figuratively in the early 1900s in his written works titled “The Way of All Flesh.”

“The advantage of doing one’s praising for oneself is that one can lay it on so thick and exactly in the right places.”

What Are Examples of Using Laying It on Thick?

I can think of a few examples of laying it on thick that I’ve encountered in my life: Parents who talk up their kids as if they’re the next Einstein or Picasso. There are proud parents, and then there are ones that just lay it on a bit too thick with the bragging.

Sometimes, I’ll get influencers reaching out to me to express how much they love my writing and my books, and I always think to myself, “Geez, they’re laying it on pretty thick,” right before I discover they just want free books.

You can also find the expression used everywhere in media and entertainment:

The scammer (caller) will lay it on thick, telling you that the court, the Sheriff, IRS, or Social Security Office has issued a warrant for your arrest and unless you pay the fine a deputy will be coming to your door and arresting you. (The Ely Times)

These days I need my news spoon-fed to me with a little sugar; Trevor Noah (and his dimples) knows how to lay it on thick. (The Portland Mercury)

If that wasn’t enough, costume designers really laid it on thick by adding a leather harness and knee-high boots. (The Daily Express)

How Do We Properly Use the Term Laying It on Thick?

Laying It on Thick – Meaning Origin and Examples 1

Grammatically speaking, lay it on thick mainly functions as a verb phrase to describe how an action is performed.

  • Maggie laid it on thick when complimenting her friend’s questionable wardrobe choices.
  • You don’t have to lay it on so thick when introducing the team lead to new recruits.
  • Wow, she really lays it on thick when talking about her kids, doesn’t she?

What Are Some Related Words, Idioms, and Phrases?

Make your words and ideas even more colorful with alternatives to the idiom lay it on thick and a few terms that mean the opposite.

Similar Words

  • Exaggerate
  • Overstate
  • Embellish
  • Overdo it
  • Inflate
  • Hyperbolize
  • Magnify
  • Overemphasize
  • Overplay
  • Amplify


  • Downplay
  • Understate
  • Minimize
  • Belittle
  • De-emphasize
  • Underplay
  • Trivialize
  • Diminish
  • Soft-pedal
  • Play down

Similar Idioms and Phrases

  •  Butter someone up: This idiom means to be excessively nice or complimentary to someone to gain favor or something from them.
  • Pile it on: This phrase suggests adding more praise, compliments, or exaggeration to a situation, often to excess. 
  • Lay it on with a trowel: This is a humorous way to describe the act of exaggerating or using excessive flattery.

What Are Common Mistakes When Using Laying It on Thick?

  • Confusing it with thick as thieves, which is more about closeness rather than exaggeration.
  • Overusing the idiom—ironically, this might lead to you laying it on too thick with laying it on thick!
  • Using it literally instead of figuratively and vice versa.
Interactive Section: Test Your Knowledge!

Interactive Section: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

Which of the following is a synonym for “laying it on thick?”
Laying it on thick is used figuratively to describe:
Which one best describes the idiom “laying it on thick?”
In the sentence “He praised her singing, really laying it on thick,” the phrase suggests:
Literally laying it on thick likely originated from:
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Wrapping Things Up

In exploring the idiom laying it on thick, we’ve understood its usage, historical roots, and significance. This phrase, indicating exaggeration or insincere flattery, adds depth to communication. By unpacking the origins, definitions, and examples of its usage, we can now use this idiom more effectively and with greater precision.

The exploration enriches our understanding, enabling us to engage with language more playfully and meaningfully. So, now that you know how to use it like a pro, add a few more idioms to your vocabulary from our huge collection!