Take a powder

Take a powder is an idiom that became popular during the 1920s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, 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 have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. 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. We will examine the meaning of the idiom take a powder, where it may have from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To take a powder means to leave abruptly, to disappear, to hide out, to avoid contact with others. The term take a powder was popular in the 1920s and is attributed to American gangster culture. Whether the idiom became popular because of gangster culture or because of its depiction in movies and books is debatable. The phrase take a powder may be a nod to the fact that women called the bathroom the “powder room”, and often excused themselves to “powder their noses.” A more plausible explanation is that prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs for constipation, insomnia, and headaches in the 1920s often came in a powdered form, wrapped in individual envelopes. The term take a powder is still sometimes used today, but is generally considered old fashioned. Related phrases are takes a powder, took a powder, taken a powder, taking a powder.


When the lines are blurred by the medium itself, good journalists sometimes take a powder. (The Talequah Daily Press)

Now it’s time to take a powder. (The Providence Journal)

One supposes he can only be graceful so many times, which is why he took a powder on Wednesday. (The Globe and Mail)

But that didn’t seem to worry Jared Leto when he took a powder from acting nearly six years ago to concentrate on his rock band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. (The Los Angeles Times)

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