Over the top

Over the top is an idiom that has been in use for just over one hundred 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, 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 that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, 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 over the top, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Over the top may mean to push oneself over a figurative finish line, to achieve a goal that one has been figuratively climbing toward. More often, however, the idiom over the top is used to mean something foolhardy, excessive or outrageous, something tremendously exaggerated. For instance, wearing a wig that is four feet tall may be considered over the top. The phrase over the top has an interesting origin. The expression originated during World War I to describe the action of emerging from the trenches to charge across an open area to attack the enemy. The invention of the phrase is attributed to British soldiers. By the 1930s, the phrase over the top had become an idiom. The abbreviation O.T.T. is commonly used in British English, though it is unknown in American English. When used as an adjective before a noun the phrase is hyphenated, as in over-the-top.


Adding Francisco Lindor and Gerrit Cole would put Yankees over the top (New York Post)

She also described the side dish as “unbelievably good” and the dessert was “over the top.” (The Echo Press)

“Burnt-Out Wife” is a master storyteller channeling over-the-top humor to help us digest a very serious topic – should she stay in her marriage or get a divorce? (The Press Herald)

America’s Biggest Indoor Theme Park to Open Inside Wildly Over-The-Top Mall (Fodor’s)

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