No Holds Barred – Meaning and Origin

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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.

No holds barred means no rules or restrictions are being used in a particular situation or competition. It’s an idiom that, like a wrestler with an endless bag of tricks, gets its origins from the world of professional wrestling.

Idioms are phrases where the words together have a different meaning than their individual definitions. They are the fun, high-flying moves of the English language, capturing big ideas in a simple way, like a literary body slam.

But there are a few things you need to know before you bust out this phrase, like if it should be hyphenated as “no-holds-barred” or what context to use it in. So, keep reading and see how you’re supposed to use this idiom in a sentence by learning about its deeper meaning.

Should ‘No Holds Barred’ Be Hyphenated?

No Holds Barred vs No Holds Barred Ngram
No-holds-barred and no holds barred usage trend.

This one isn’t as black and white as most other idioms with hyphens in question. You’ll find the hyphenated version more often because it’s usually used as an adjective. And, when a phrase is used as an adjective to describe a noun, we always use hyphens.

  • She had a no-holds-barred approach to the case.

However, alone, the phrase doesn’t need to be hyphenated.

  • When it comes to pulling off this event, it’s no holds barred.

What Is the Meaning of No Holds Barred?

No Holds Barred – Meaning and Origin

No holds barred simply means nothing is off the table; there are no rules to hold you back from doing something. In a no-holds-barred situation, anything goes. In everyday life, it’s like saying, “Don’t hold back; give it everything you’ve got!”

Origin and Etymology Behind No Holds Barred

Back in the day of professional wrestling, the phrase was used to describe matches where typical wrestling holds (also known as moves) weren’t restricted. So, no holds barred would mean you can use any hold you want—elbow drop, sleeper, or suplex. It was the anything-goes of wrestling.

Over a short time, the phrase has become a way to describe any situation where there are no rules or limitations. This phrase originally comes from the wrestling world, where holds are maneuvers used to pin an opponent. So, no holds barred would mean you can use any hold you want—elbow drop, sleeper, or suplex.

No Holds Barred Synonyms

If you’re in the mood to mix things up, these synonyms might help!

  • Anything goes
  • No restrictions
  • Unrestricted
  • Free-for-all
  • Pulling no punches

Using ‘No Holds Barred’ in Sentence Examples

No Holds Barred – Meaning and Origin 1

Here’s how to use this phrase in various walks of life.

  • The senior debate turned into a no-holds-barred argument about the cafeteria menu.
  • She gave a no-holds-barred performance on stage as the Juliard recruiter watched with admiration.
  • His no-holds-barred attitude got him far in the business world, but his family life suffered for it.
  • They had a no-holds-barred approach to solving the plumbing problem.
  • “In this competition, it’s no holds barred,” announced the host.
  • The meeting was a no-holds-barred discussion on company ethics and workplace relationships.
  • Their love was no holds barred, wild, and free.
  • I promise this is a no-holds-barred zone; say what you really think.
  • His no-holds-barred review of the restaurant went viral for all the wrong reasons.
  • If you want to win this game, it’s got to be a no-holds-barred effort.

Give It All You’ve Got

That’s no holds barred in all its unrestricted glory. It’s the idiom that celebrates breaking the rules—or at least not having any to begin with. Be sure to read some more of my quick idiom breakdowns like this one. I promise it’s a no-holds-barred experience!