Window shopping

Window shopping is an idiom that has been in use since the 1800s, though the activity has been enjoyed since seventeenth century. 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 window shopping, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Window shopping is a recreational activity that involves looking in store windows or showcases for fun, without any intent of buying what one is examining. Window shopping, as an activity, came into being in the seventeenth century with the rise of the middle class in Europe. Merchants installed clear glass in their storefronts and displayed goods in these windows to entice customers. The term window shopping came into use around 1870. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, window shopping should be rendered as two, separate words. However, the expression is often rendered with a hyphen, as in window-shopping. Window shopping is a noun, the verb forms are window shop, window shops, window shopped, window shopping. One who indulges in the recreation is a window shopper.


Two black bears were caught on video exploring an outdoor Tennessee mall, perhaps searching for food but also doing some window-shopping and enjoying the holiday décor. (The New York Daily News)

Police in Florida responded to a shopping center to apprehend an alligator spotted doing some afternoon window shopping. (UPI)

A “magic mirror” in the window of Edel-Optics flagship store on Hamburg’s Ballindamm takes an image of the window-shopper and projects a pair of glasses onto the customer’s face. (Hamburg News)

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