Lion’s Share – Idiom, Meaning and Origin

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

The lion’s share is an idiom that means the best or largest of something has been acquired. It is a descriptive term that can indicate a physical size or highlight a behavior of someone. It was first used in the 18th century as a figure of speech but may have some even older figurative associations!

Idioms are figurative words and phrases used to add detail and make connections within text and speech. They are often associated with a literal definition but are used in an analogous manner to elevate grammar within the English language.

Learn about the meaning and origin of this idiom and learn how to use it within sentence examples below!

What Is the Meaning of a Lion’s Share?

Lions Share – Idiom Meaning and Origin

The phrase a lion’s share describes the biggest or most significant portion of something. Think of it as the “main chunk” or “the majority.” Originating from ancient fables where the mighty lion would claim the largest portion of the hunt, this term has come to symbolize dominance or taking more than one’s fair share.

While often used to simply highlight a majority—like someone getting the lion’s share of the pie—it can also carry a more critical tone. If someone is accused of taking the lion’s share, it might imply that they’re being greedy or not considering others.

Delving deeper, this idiom highlights our innate understanding of power dynamics, whether in nature or society. The lion, as the “king of the jungle,” naturally gets the most, reminding us of hierarchies and the balance of power in various situations.

Using ‘Lion’s Share’ in a Sentence

  • After the last election, it was obvious which candidate had become the favorite since she collected the lion’s share of votes.
  • Because it was his birthday, he was given the lion’s share of the dessert tray—which he gracefully portioned out to his friends.
  • She helped herself to a lion’s share of the main course, leaving very little behind for those in line behind her.
  • When we split up the leftover pizza, Mike ended up taking the lion’s share, leaving just one slice for the rest of us.
  • Even though we all worked on the project, it was clear that Jenna did the lion’s share of the research and writing.
  • At the family reunion, the kids predictably got the lion’s share of attention with their antics and endless energy.

A Lion’s Share Origins

Lions Share Ngram
Lion’s share usage trend.

The term “lion’s share” refers to the largest or main portion of something. The phrase traces its origins back to a French saying from 1701: “le partage du lion.” Interestingly, in French, the word “lion” has symbolized a hero since the 12th century, suggesting that this phrase might originally have denoted a hero’s deserving portion, especially from the spoils of war. But this interpretation isn’t set in stone due to a lack of concrete evidence.

A pivotal moment in the phrase’s history comes from a fable by the French poet Jean de La Fontaine. Written in 1668, “The Heifer, the She-Goat, and the Ewe, in partnership with the Lion” narrates a story where a lion, after a hunt with other animals, claims all parts of their prey for various reasons, including his title, partnership, strength, and a veiled threat to those who’d dare dispute his claim. This story conveys a lesson about unequal partnerships and how might doesn’t always make right.

Interestingly, the saying “le partage du lion” was officially documented as a French idiom in 1701 in the Dictionnaire universel by Furetière and de Beauval. It means that everything is tilted to one side, leaving nothing for the other.

By the close of the 18th century, this concept had made its mark on the English language. One early instance is found in the writings of Edmund Burke in 1790, where he used “lion’s share” to describe a dominant portion in an agrarian context.

All in all, the journey of “lion’s share” from a French fable to an English idiom underscores the rich tapestry of language evolution.

Let’s Review

To sum it up, the phrase “lion’s share” has a rich history intertwined with both cultural metaphors and literal interpretations. While once symbolizing a “hero” in French vernacular, the lion’s reputation for claiming the majority portion became widespread, thanks to the influence of a fable from the 17th century.

This idiom, today, serves as a versatile tool in English, capturing nuances from pointing out greed to simply emphasizing a significant amount. Like many idioms, its origin story adds depth to its current use, painting a vivid picture of how language evolves over time.