Take a shot

Take a shot is an interesting idiom because it has several different meanings. 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 take a shot, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Take a shot is a phrase that may be used literally to mean to shoot at something; however, the term may also be used figuratively to mean 1.) to make an attempt or to try something, 2.) to attempt to score while playing a sport, 3.) to make a derogatory remark about someone or insult that person, 4.) to take a photograph, 5.) to quickly drink a small amount of hard liquor out of a small glass. The idiom take a shot comes from the literal meaning, which is to attempt to shoot at something. The figurative meanings of take a shot have been in use for some time; exactly when and how these expressions came into use is foggy.


First Lady Jill Biden declined the opportunity to get a little wild on Saturday afternoon when she was offered a shot of alcohol by the owner of a bar she was having lunch at. (Daily Mail)

Burrow probably didn’t mean to take a shot at Cincinnati, he is an Ohio native after all. (Sports Illustrated)

Column: The Chicago Bears had to take a shot at a QB — and they did, moving up to draft Justin Fields on what could prove to be a pivotal day in the NFC North (Chicago Tribune)

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