When the chips are down

When the chips are down is used as an idiom. 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 when the chips are down, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

When the chips are down means at the most critical time or when all seems lost. The expression when the chips are down comes from gambling and refers to the time during a game of chance when the bets have been made, but the outcome is not yet known. Poker chips and gambling chips in the shape of discs came into use in the mid-1800s; before this time, numerous objects were used in wagering games, including coins and paper money. The idiom when the chips are down came into use during the mid-twentieth century.


“When the chips are down Manitowoc rises to the occasion every time.” (Seehafer News)

“It comes down to understanding each other, and quite simply having a relationship where when the chips are down, you’re going to sort of say, ‘We’re going to figure this out.’” (Home Health Care News)

The issue, he bluntly told reporters, isn’t whether he’ll carry out his commitments to Netanyahu, but whether, when the chips are down, Netanyahu will do the same for him. (Times of Israel)

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