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On the straight and narrow

  • On the straight and narrow is an idiom that has been in use for hundreds of years. 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 or metaphors, 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 like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom on the straight and narrow, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


     

    On the straight and narrow means doing what is morally right, behaving in an honest and upright manner. The expression alludes to walking a straight, honest path rather than a tricky, twisty path. The idiom on the straight and narrow is derived from a passage in the Bible, Matthew 7:13-14: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” On the straight and narrow is often used to describe people who have reformed themselves from a previous, immoral or criminal life.

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    Examples

    “I didn’t walk my entire life on the straight and narrow to be in a jumpsuit like that for nothing.” (The Buffalo News)

    Of course, we veer off course now and then, but He will not let us get too far before He pulls us back on the straight and narrow. (The Coastland Times)

    “I see all sorts of young people coming through the courthouse. … I see too many young black males getting into trouble, and it’s simply because they don’t have structure in their lives, they don’t have male role models to keep them on the straight and narrow,” Stigler said. (Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier)


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