The big picture

  • The big picture is an idiom with an uncertain origin. 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 saying the big picture, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    The big picture is an idiom that means the overall view of a situation or the entire perspective of a situation. The idea is that one should not concentrate on just a small detail, but should consider all aspects of a situation. The exact origin of the idiom the big picture is unknown. Most believe that the term came into use in the early 1900s and is related to film-making. However, in The Lounger at the Exhibition, published in Chamber’s Journal in 1862, we find: “…it was but a panel from the big picture of life, such a one as you yourself might have traced out during those months spent at the sea-side – a very quiet panel…” In this instance, the big picture refers not to a film, but to a metaphorical painting.



    Set your radar to be alert to the big picture: what is going on in local/global economic and related environments? (Royal Gazette)

    In this way, users have a simplified interface where everything is connected, enabling them to see the ‘big picture’ rather than working to gather and analyse separate data streams in isolation. (The Journal of Transportation)

    “We looked at the big picture, the ridership at every level,” Mwilambwe said. (Daily Illini)

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