On the Bubble – 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.

On the bubble means being in a situation where you’re on the verge of either success or failure—think of it as hovering on the edge of two possible outcomes. A bubble can take you soaring or pop in an instant. This idiom originates from the 1970s with race car driving.

Idioms, like this one, are phrases where the words together have a different meaning than their individual definitions. They are metaphors we use to make life more relatable when communicating. 

But how do you use it without bursting your conversational bubble? Don’t worry, I’ll cover the deeper meaning and proper usage and even show you some sentence examples.

On the Bubble – Meaning and Origin

Is It ‘On the Bubble’ or ‘In the Bubble’?

If it’s between “on the bubble” or “in the bubble,” stick with the former. “In the bubble” has different connotations and doesn’t convey the sense of precarious balance that “on the bubble” does.

On the Bubble Meaning Explained

Being on the bubble implies a sense of tension and anticipation. You’re not out of the game, but you’re not securely in it, either. It’s the point where your next move, or someone else’s, could catapult you into success or plunge you into failure.

On the Bubble Origin and Etymology

On the Bubble Ngram
On the bubble usage trend.

The phrase “on the bubble” has actually been in use as far back as the 1500s, but I don’t believe it was as an idiom. The phrase as we know it today came from the world of professional car racing. If a racer is within a hair of where they need to be to advance to the next round, they’re on the bubble, meaning their victory is within reach but could burst at any moment if another racer swings ahead.

Synonyms for On the Bubble

Variety is the spice of language, so here are some alternative phrases for on the bubble that you can sprinkle over your conversations.

  • On the edge
  • On the brink
  • In limbo
  • Treading water
  • At a crossroads

Using ‘On the Bubble’ in Sentence Examples

On the Bubble – Meaning and Origin 1

Ready to use on the bubble in real life? Here are ten example sentences I whipped up to show how it can be used.

  • My son’s basketball team is on the bubble for making it to the playoffs this year.
  • I’m on the bubble about accepting the new job offer because I think something better might come along.
  • Their new project is on the bubble; it could either be a massive success or a huge flop.
  • With those grades, you’re on the bubble of failing the class, mister.
  • The company is on the bubble of securing a major investment that will help them level up their game.
  • She was on the bubble during the last round of auditions but made it through by the skin of her teeth.
  • The startup is on the bubble, still unsure of its profitability this early on.
  • I’ve been on the bubble lately about pursuing a career change.
  • Their relationship is totally on the bubble, and no one knows what will happen next.

Get Off the Bubble

As you can see, on the bubble isn’t as fun as it sounds. It means you’re in limbo, or your success is fragile. But at least you know how to use this idiom properly now! We’ve got plenty more idiom guides to level up your knowledge right here on the site.