Too many irons in the fire

  • Too many irons in the fire is an idiom that dates back hundreds of years. 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 too many irons in the fire, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    Too many irons in the fire describes someone who is attempting to do too many things at once, someone who has divided his time between too many activities so that none of them are done well. It is inefficient and unfocused to have too many irons in the fire. The expression too many irons in the fire is derived from the trade of blacksmithing. If a blacksmith attempts to heat too many pieces of iron in his fire at once, it cools the fire and none of the pieces of iron will heat properly. The phrase too many irons in the fire dates back to the mid-1500s.



    But with three young children to raise and coaching with the Southeast Iowa Soccer Academy, Kuechmann felt he had too many irons in the fire to dedicate his time properly to everything. (The Burlington Hawk Eye)

    To a certain extent, the grain elevator used to take care of the mowing, but since it got damaged in a storm last June the elevator operator has had “too many irons in the fire” to take care of it anymore, so Grates has stepped up to do it. (The Journal-Advocate)

    The job boosted his personal celebrity and arguably the paper’s profile, but he rapidly had too many irons in the fire in broadcasting for the BBC to give the paper his full attention or commitment. (The Guardian)

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