Straight and Narrow – 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.

Straight and narrow is an idiom that means to live a morally correct, honest, or lawful path in life. For example, despite my friend’s rough upbringing, he stayed on the straight and narrow path and is now a successful businessman.

The expression is an idiom, meaning it is used figuratively to emphasize or explain an author’s message. Its roots are deeply embedded in the Bible, and variations of it have existed for centuries.

Idioms are common in English and often used informally. Learning their meanings and usage can enhance your grasp of English grammar. So, please keep reading to fully understand straight and narrow, its origin, and how to use it in various examples.

Straight and Narrow Idiom Meaning

Straight and Narrow – Idiom Meaning and Origin 1

On the straight and narrow means doing what is morally right or behaving honestly and uprightly. The expression alludes to walking a straight, honest path rather than the alternative that infers a troubled or dishonest life.

Is It Strait and Narrow or Straight and Narrow?

Both are correct. Unlike some idioms with spelling variations, strait is the original word in this idiom. However, over time, straight has also become accepted.

Strait means a narrow or tight space, while straightmeans not crooked. You can use either version to convey the idea of staying on the right path in life or in any context where the expression fits.

Straight and Narrow Synonyms

  • Moral high ground
  • Virtuous course
  • Ethical road
  • Honorable track
  • Upstanding way
  • Conscientious path
  • Principled journey

Using Straight and Narrow in a Sentence

  • Despite the temptations and distractions around him, John managed to stay on the straight and narrow, always making the right choices.
  • Growing up in a tough neighborhood, Maria had to navigate through many challenges to stay on the straight and narrow path.
  • After his troubled past, Mark turned his life around and committed himself to walking the straight and narrow, determined to leave his mistakes behind.
  • Living a life on the straight and narrow may be challenging, but it leads to a sense of fulfillment and peace.
  • Sarah’s parents encouraged her to stay on the straight and narrow by focusing on her education and avoiding distractions.
  • Emily’s determination to stay on the straight and narrow guided her through difficult times, ensuring she made responsible choices.

Straight and Narrow Origins

Straight and Narrow vs. On the Straight and Narrow vs. Strait and Narrow Ngram
Straight and narrow, on the straight and narrow and strait and narrow usage trend.

The phrases straight and narrow, strait and narrow, and on the straight and narrow all convey the idea of righteous, law-abiding behavior. Although the term became widely popular in the mid-1800s, its roots go back much further.

The King James Bible from 1611, in Matthew 7:13-14, mentions:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate… for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life…”

Even before The King James Version, the Wycliffe version from the 14th century states:

“Entre ye bi the streyt yate… Hou streit is the yate, and narwy the weye, that ledith to lijf…”

Technically, we can argue that straight is a misspelling of strait, but its use is not modern. In fact, straight was used in place of strait since the 1600s. For example, it is seen in “The Surgeons Mate or Military and Domestique Surgery” from 1658:

This Symptom is thus remedied, to bind the wound slackly, and let the party not put on too straight clothes.

Today, strait often describes a narrow water passage, like the “Straits of Gibraltar,” or signifies difficulty, as in “dire straits.” But when speaking of the moral path, straight and narrow remains the more common expression.

Let’s Review

The idiom straight and narrow advises living honestly and morally, and it finds its roots in the Bible. Interestingly, it originally used strait instead of straight, but over time, a spelling mix-up led to the shift. Today, we typically use strait to describe narrow waterways. Both spellings are accepted, but straight and narrow definitely wins in popularity.