Shrinking Violet – Idiom, Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

A shrinking violet is an idiom that describes someone who is shy, modest, or lacking confidence, usually preferring to avoid attention or remain in the background. Think of Rory from Gilmore Girls. She was a shy book nerd who didn’t come out of her shell until the later seasons.

Idioms are phrases where the words together have a different meaning than their individual definitions. They are so important to the English language because they give us other ways to describe things that can sometimes soften the harshness of other words. A shrinking violet sounds a lot nicer than an insecure, shy person.

So, why is a bashful person likened to a purple flower? I’ll go over all the details of its meaning, origin, and usage in a sentence so you never have to wonder again.

Shrinking Violet Meaning Explained

Shrinking Violet – Idiom Meaning and Origin

A shrinking violet points to a person who tends to be unassuming and introverted, often overshadowed by more of the dominant personalities that surround them. It evokes the image of a delicate flower recoiling or shrinking from the touch.

These introverted people usually speak quietly, if at all. They avoid large, loud crowds and prefer to take up wholesome, solo hobbies like reading and crafting.

Being a massive book nerd and homebody who prefers to keep one or two close friends, I’ve been considered a shrinking violet for most of my life. It’s no surprise that I built a career sitting at home in a quiet office surrounded by books.

Shrinking Violet Origin and Etymology

Shrinking Violet Ngram
Shrinking violet usage trend.

The phrase “shrinking violet” stems from the nature of actual violets, which are small, delicate flowers often hidden beneath larger plants in woodlands and fields. The use of shrinking as an adjective to describe someone as being shy dates back to the 16th century when William Shakespeare used it in his play Hamlet.

“A violet in the youth of primary nature, forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting.”

By the 20th century, the term “shrinking violet” became a popular way of describing someone modest or bashful, painting a vivid mental picture of someone closing in on themselves like a delicate flower.

Shrinking Violet Synonyms

Like a garden full of flowers, it’s good to add some variety. Consider these alternatives to shrinking violet the next time you want to describe someone as shy or self-effacing.

  • Wallflower
  • Introvert
  • Mouse
  • Retiring type
  • Bashful person

Shrinking Violet Idiom Examples in a Sentence

Shrinking Violet – Idiom Meaning and Origin 4

  • Despite her incredible talent, Emily was a shrinking violet and hesitated to showcase her sculpturing skills.
  • The manager suddenly realized that his most reliable employee was the shrinking violet who sat quietly in the corner during meetings.
  • In a room full of loud voices, it’s easy to overlook a shrinking violet; they prefer it that way.
  • “You’re too much of a shrinking violet,” her friend exclaimed, urging her to speak out and stand up for herself.
  • It’s ironic that the CEO, a booming personality now, was once considered a shrinking violet.
  • “Step out of your comfort zone; you’re not a shrinking violet,” the theater coach encouraged.
  • At family gatherings, Uncle Joe, the quintessential shrinking violet, would always be found reading in a quiet corner, and I gravitated toward him.
  • My gentle demeanor and shrinking violet nature made me the perfect candidate for the librarian role.
  • Some of the world’s greatest thinkers and writers were once described as shrinking violets in their younger days.

Violets Can Surprise You

Being a shrinking violet is nothing to be ashamed of. It just means you prefer a quiet, non-confrontational life. And, if you ask me, it’s a lovely way to describe someone with those qualities. There are tons of other idioms just like this one right here on our site!