Scraping the bottom of the barrel

Scraping the bottom of the barrel is an idiom that probably originated in America. 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 scraping the bottom of the barrel, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel means using something of very poor quality because that is all that is left; dealing with people who have substandard skills because they are the only ones available; settling for whatever one has access to rather than what one wants; or coming to the end of one’s cash reserve. The expression scraping the bottom of the barrel plays upon the imagery of accepting the dregs from a wine barrel or the least desirable item that remains, because that is all that is available at the bottom of a barrel. The expression most probably came into use because many goods were shipped in barrels in America during the 1700s and 1800s, before the advent of refrigeration and canning. Related phrases are scrape the bottom of the barrel, scrapes the bottom of the barrel, scraped the bottom of the barrel.


Auto dealers were yesterday “scraping the bottom of the barrel” after supply chain woes slashed vehicle inventories by up to 70 percent and left them unable to meet higher-than-expected demand. (The Tribune)

“At this point, we are not able to do anything that has the remote risk of losing money because we are scrapping the bottom of the barrel,” she said. (Post -Gazette)

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on and I wait for my final vaccine dose, I have taken to scraping the bottom of the barrel for entertainment. (Daily Independent)

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