Neat as a pin

Neat as a pin is an idiom with several interesting possible sources of 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 such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, 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 neat as a pin, where it may have come from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Neat as a pin means tidy, free of dirt, orderly. The phrase neat as a pin may also be rendered as neat as a new pin, which is somewhat more common in British English. The idiom neat as a pin may have come to us from at least two different sources. First, the word neat was derived from the Middle French word net, which means clear or bright. This would account for the comparison between something clean and a bright, shiny pin. The second possible influence on the development of the idiom neat as a pin is an older common saying that was popular during the 1600s: “As fine as fippence, as neat as nine pence.” It is easy to see how the idiom could have evolved from “neat as nine pence” to neat as a pin. The idiom neat as a pin first came into use in the very late 1700s.


Even the garden is neat as a pin, with a brick patio and an enviably smooth lawn with stepping stones down to a wooden potting shed, all lined with shrubs and flowers. (The Independent)

They escaped the summer heat of their neat as a pin row houses, by ambling through the sylvan wooded lanes of Britannia and Woodlands Parks.  (The Hamilton Spectator)

They are well cared for – pruned, neat as a new pin.  (The Irish Times)

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