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Walking on eggshells

  • The idiom walking on eggshells has been in use since at least the 1800s. 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 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 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 is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, 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, as 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. We will examine the meaning of the idiom walking on eggshells, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    Walking on eggshells means to behave in a cautious manner to avoid upsetting someone, to be careful in one’s behavior to avoid offending someone. The idea is that one is cautious because the person he may upset or offend is unreasonable and easily angered. For instance, a woman with an abusive husband may always be walking on eggshells around him. Obviously, an eggshell is a dainty item that is easily broken. The phrase walking on eggshells came into use in the 1800s and was preceded by the phrase walking on eggs, which came into use in the 1700s. Related phrases are walk on eggshells, walks on eggshells, walked on eggshells.

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    Examples

    The novel is a series of interrelated stories in which it feels like something terrible will happen at every turn – reading it is like walking on eggshells. (Apollo Magazine)

    “I think a lot of women and men who are in relationships are like this where, you know, you’re just walking on eggshells and you’re just happy anytime it’s just like you can breathe a little bit, even though you don’t realize that you have, you know, a cinder block on your chest the whole time.” (The Dothan Eagle)

    Retail employees constantly have to walk on eggshells around their managers in order to keep their jobs. (Winsight Grocery Business)


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