Take the High Road – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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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.

As a content creator and full-time fiction author dealing with readers, industry professionals, and other authors in my community, I find myself taking the high road quite a bit. People can be so mean and petty. But what does it mean to take the high road in something? I’ll explain this to you right here in this guide.

What Does Taking the High Road Mean?

Take the High Road Idiom Origin Meaning

“Taking the high road” is a pretty common phrase. I’m sure you’ve heard it at least once. We use it to describe a situation where you might choose to act morally or ethically, even when you’re faced with adversity or even provocation.

Basically, when someone is being nasty, or somebody did a horrible act toward you, instead of retaliating or engaging in a heated argument, you take the high road, aka be the bigger person and maybe even establish better communication with people than fight about it.

Is Taking the High Road an Idiom?

You bet! “Taking the high road” is considered an idiom because it doesn’t have a literal meaning. In this case, the meaning is derived from the simple idea of choosing a moral path when faced with challenges or some kind of opposition.

Who Is a Person Who Takes the High Road?

The perfect example I can give you is from a recent incident we all watched on TV when Will Smith strutted up on stage and slapped Chris Rock right across the face in front of the entire world.

Did Chris Rock hit him back? No. Did he spew off some nasty words in anger? Nope! Chris instead laughed it off and continued with his speech in a professional manner. That was taking the high road, and now Will Smith has acquired a horrible name for himself.

Origin of the Phrase Taking the High Road

The phrase came about during the 1948 presidential campaign, when Republican Thomas E. Dewey selected “the high road” and let American voters draw their own conclusions about what road President Harry Truman was trudging down.

Where I’m from, in Newfoundland, we always thought taking the high road referred to traveling and referred to choosing a quicker route to somewhere. Perhaps that was the literal meaning at one point, or maybe it was something just lost in translation.

Are There Synonyms for Taking the High Road?

There sure are! You can use any one of these phrases in place of “taking the high road.”

  • Acting with integrity
  • Choosing the moral path
  • Maintaining one’s dignity
  • Rising above pettiness
  • Being the bigger person

Taking the High Road Examples in a Sentence

Take the High Road Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • Despite the insults my mother received about the way she chose to raise us, she decided to take the high road and not stoop to their level.
  • When I was faced with an ethical dilemma at work, I chose to take the high road, even though it caused me to get fired.
  • After getting slapped by Will Smith, Chris Rock took the high road, and fans loved him for it.
  • Instead of getting involved in petty office gossip, I choose to take the high road and focus on my work.
  • Taking the high road definitely isn’t always easy, but it shows the strength of character and personal values that not everyone has.

Always Take the High Road

No matter what, always try and be the bigger person. It can be hard to resist slapping back with an insult or pointing out something bad about the other person, but you’ll be better for it in the end if you don’t. I hope my little guide to this idiomatic phrase helped you understand it better!