drive someone up the wall: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘drive someone up the wall’ mean?

The idiom "drive someone up the wall" means to irritate, annoy, or frustrate someone to the point of exasperation or anger.

Idiom Explorer

Maddening Mind Games

The idiom "drive someone up the wall" is a commonly used expression that signifies extreme frustration, annoyance, or anger. This idiom implies that the person or thing being referred to is causing such irritation that it is pushing the affected individual to the point of exasperation.

Originating in America during the early 20th century, the exact birthplace and time of this idiom's creation remain uncertain. While the exact origins of many idioms are often challenging to trace definitively, this particular phrase has been widely used in American English for several decades.

The meaning of the idiom is straightforward - it conveys a concept of annoyance or frustration. The phrase utilizes the verb "drive" as a metaphorical action that represents provoking someone's emotions. The preposition "up" adds emphasis to the intensification of the action, signifying an elevation of annoyance or frustration levels. The phrase's concluding element, "the wall," serves as a symbolic representation of a boundary beyond which the person's patience or tolerance cannot extend.

This idiom is versatile and useful in various contexts. It is predominantly used in personal and interpersonal settings to describe situations where someone's actions or behavior become unbearable, grating on the nerves of others. Whether it is a repetitive annoying habit, persistent nagging, or incessant noise, the idiom captures the essence of the resulting frustration.

The constant interruptions caused exasperation and annoyance.

While "drive someone up the wall" is widely recognized and understood, its precise usage may vary depending on the context and the speaker's intention. It can be utilized in everyday conversations, literature, and media to vividly express the extent of irritation or annoyance towards a particular individual, situation, or thing.

The idiom "drive someone crazy" is closely related to "drive someone up the wall." Both phrases convey extreme frustration and annoyance. They emphasize the overwhelming nature of the irritant, suggesting that it is causing the affected individual to lose their sanity or composure. "Drive someone crazy" is another way to emphasize the heightened emotions and reactions provoked by the person or thing in question.

Similarly, the phrase "up the walls" is related to "drive someone up the wall." It builds upon the imagery of "driving" and signifies that the irritation or frustration is not limited to just one wall; it extends and affects the entire space around the person. The phrase "up the walls" intensifies the scope and reach of the annoyance, emphasizing its all-encompassing nature.

Another related idiom is "do someone's head in." This phrase carries a similar meaning to "drive someone up the wall" in that it represents extreme frustration or irritation. However, "do someone's head in" adds a slightly different nuance. It suggests that the irritant is not only causing frustration but also mental distress or confusion. The phrase conveys the idea that the person or thing is overwhelming the affected individual's thoughts, causing a mental burden that is difficult to bear.

The idiom "drive someone up the wall" encapsulates the feeling of extreme frustration and annoyance caused by a person, behavior, or situation. With its origins rooted in American English, this idiom's longevity and frequent usage reflect its enduring relevance in various interpersonal and personal scenarios. Whether someone is being driven crazy, feeling like they are up the walls, or having their head done in, these related idioms vividly describe the depths of exasperation and irritation experienced in different situations.

Example usage


1. The constant noise during the night drives me up the wall.

2. Her endless complaining about everything is driving me up the wall.

3. I can't stand the way he smacks his lips when he eats, it drives me up the wall.

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