Start with a clean slate and wipe the slate clean

Start with a clean slate and wipe the slate clean are two versions of 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, 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 idioms start with a clean slate and wipe the slate clean, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

To start with a clean slate and to wipe the slate clean both may mean: 1.) to start over without any preconceived notions; 2.) to forgive and forget someone’s wrong-doings or failures; 3.) to expunge a debt; or 4.) to discard an old system in favor of creating a new one. The expressions start with a clean slate and wipe the slate clean came into use in the 1800s. At that time, students still used slates and chalk to perform written exercises in school. Bars and stores used slates and chalk to keep track of debt clients owed the establishments. By the middle of the 1800s, the phrases start with a clean slate and wipe the slate clean were used in an idiomatic sense.


Whether it’s an actual desk, a folding TV table or a portion of a dining table, start with a clean slate — with materials you need for that day’s learning set out, and nothing else. (The Daily Gazette)

If you find certain bloatware is hooked so deeply into your system that you can’t remove it—or if you just want to start with a clean slate—Windows’ Fresh Start option can help. (Popular Science Magazine)

This is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. (The Ulster Herald)

Creative director Stuart Vevers felt it important to wipe the slate clean and think differently about presenting fashion under such strange new circumstances. (Vogue Magazine)

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