PIgeonhole is an idiom that has been in use for over 150 years. An idiom is a commonly used 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 common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, 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, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom pigeonhole, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Pigeonhole, when used as a verb, means to put something in a narrow category; often, the category is unnecessarily restrictive. For instance, an actor may be pigeonholed as a romantic lead and may never receive offers for other types of character roles. The connotation of the verb pigeonhole is one of restriction; the person or thing that has been pigeonholed may have more qualities than are being acknowledged. Pigeonhole is a closed compound word, which is a word derived from two or more separate words used together without a space or hyphen to create another word. Compound words are new words that have a different meaning from the definitions of the original words. The word pigeonhole came into use in the 1500s in a literal sense to mean a hole in which pigeons nest; 100 years later, the term pigeonhole was used to mean a cubby hole in a writing desk. In the mid-1800s, pigeonhole became a verb that means to put something in a narrow category. Related words are pigeonholes, pigeonholed, pigeonholing.


“From here, you can, over time, determine what you would like to specialise in — and minimise the risk of pigeonholing yourself into a specialisation suitable for your organisation or mentor or employer, but perhaps not suitable for you,” she said. (Lawyers Weekly)

Limiting potential from age 10: how girls pigeonhole themselves (The Guardian)

There had been an attempt to pigeonhole politics into Fine Gael versus Sinn Féin, and “we have demonstrated today there are progressive alternatives”. (Irish Times)

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