You can’t fight city hall

You can’t fight city hall is an American 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 saying you can’t fight city hall, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

You can’t fight city hall means that an individual cannot combat bureaucracy or the government; an individual cannot buck a political, governmental, or bureaucratic system and its rules. The expression you can’t fight city hall uses the term city hall to mean a bureaucratic institution; it may refer to city government, a national government, or a regulatory agency. The phrase you can’t fight city hall became popular in the twentieth century, but it was in use in the latter-1800s and may be related to the New York politics of the time. Tammany Hall was a political organization in New York that was founded in the 1700s. By the mid-to-late 1800s, Tammany Hall controlled the Democratic party, and therefore, all of politics in the region. Tammany Hall was extremely powerful, so it that case, it was indeed impossible to fight city hall.


When it comes to a public health crisis of this magnitude, you can’t fight city hall — in this case the state’s chief executive officer. (Lowell Sun)

They say you can’t fight city hall, but, in High Point at least, you can make suggestions. (Rhino Times)

At first blush, this sounded like a classic case of “you can’t fight city hall” but, after council asked questions, it sounded more like something fell down in the process of getting parts of long-time Gulfportian Pat Dunham’s house rebuilt. (Gulfport Gabber)

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