Sitting on a powder keg

Sitting on a powder keg is an idiom. 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 sitting on a powder keg, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

The expression sitting on a powder keg means that one is in a situation that may explode into violence, that one is in a dangerous situation that may deteriorate into chaos at any minute. Usually, someone is said to be sitting on a powder keg when he is a leader who is expected to quell problems. The word powder keg may also be used as an idiom to mean a place or situation that is likely to explode into chaos and violence. The literal definition of powder keg is a wooden cask that contains gunpowder. The phrase sitting on a powder keg came into use in the 1900s.


If they don’t have a way to monitor that carefully, they could be sitting on a powder keg of liability and backlash. (Forbes Magazine)

The GM, who was being patient, but was also sitting on a powder keg (matter relating to the past events), between the two, suddenly went into a frenzy of anger -akin to a volcanic eruption- he shouted remarks, which fell only a short meter away from the skirting of decent language. (The International News)

Alongside this, unemployment has risen to almost 30 percent (there are now 10 million people unemployed), and we are sitting on a powder-keg of unemployed youth with little or no future. (The Independent)

Military Intelligence has long warned that Gaza — with its rampant unemployment and deteriorating living conditions — is a powder keg which Israel must address before it collapses completely (and did so again last month in its annual assessment). (The Times of Israel)

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