Roll up one’s sleeves

Roll up one’s sleeves is an idiom that has been in use for over 150 years. 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, 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 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, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, 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. 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 roll up one’s sleeves, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To roll up one’s sleeves means to prepare to work, to get ready to tackle something difficult, to commit to getting something done. The idiom roll up one’s sleeves comes from the very real gesture of rolling up one’s sleeves before working on something dirty or messy. The idea is that one is ready and willing to get one’s hands dirty, in this case, figuratively, with honest labor. Related phrases are rolls up one’s sleeves, rolled up one’s sleeves, rolling up one’s sleeves. The idiom roll up one’s sleeves came into use in the mid-1800s.


City of Mount Gambier is encouraging members of the community to roll up their sleeves and help contribute to an unpolluted environment for Clean Up Australia Day this Sunday 1 March 2020. (Mirage News)

Our hope is that most advisors employ a robust service model, but times like these require you to roll up your sleeves and make as many extra outbound calls as you can. (Barron’s)

“I don’t want to forgive myself, but if I roll up my sleeves, I can show the world the suffering I’m seeing on this journey.” (The Herald-Mail)

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