Pull one’s punches

Pull one’s punches is an idiom. 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 saying pull one’s punches, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

To pull one’s punches means to go easy on someone or something, to restrain from applying the full force of one’s judgement or criticism, to soften the truth to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. The expression is also rendered in the negative: not pull any punches, which means to expend the full force of one’s judgement, criticism, or opinion on someone. Both phrases came into use in the 1920s and are derived from the sport of boxing. In boxing, a contestant may literally pull his punch in order to land a softer blow than he is capable of landing. A boxer may do this if he is only sparring or if he wants to lose the contest on purpose. Related phrases are pulls one’s punches, pulled one’s punches, pulling one’s punches.


You’ve covered a number of stories over the years that involved your colleagues – have you ever pulled your punches on a boss’ order? (New Zealand Herald)

Joe Biden was running an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine and he pulled his punches while his son was on the board of Burisma. (Highland County Press)

Recently, Canberra pushed to ensure the international enquiry into the early handling of COVID-19 pandemic and its reporting doesn’t pull any punches. (Republic World)

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