run for one’s money: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘run for one's money’ mean?

The idiom "run for one's money" means to provide a strong competition or challenge, often to someone who is expected to win easily.

Idiom Explorer

The Origin of Competition

"Run for one's money" has a few different meanings and uses. One meaning is to give someone a competitive challenge or to give someone a difficult time. If someone says "I gave him a run for his money," it means they competed well against their opponent, making the outcome uncertain or difficult for the other person. It can also mean getting value for one's money or gaining an experience that is worth the cost or effort.

Originally, this idiom was associated with horse racing, where it referred to a racehorse that was expected to give a strong challenge to the others. The phrase later came to describe any situation where a competitor or challenger provides a formidable or unexpected challenge. Over time, it has expanded to encompass a wider range of situations, from sports to business to everyday life.

Interestingly, a similar phrase, "a good run for one's money," was used in the late 19th century to describe the experience of going to the theater. In this context, it meant getting an enjoyable and entertaining show that justified the price of the ticket. Gradually, it took on the broader meanings mentioned earlier, becoming a versatile idiom used in various contexts.

The idiom "run for one's money" is widely understood and used in contemporary American English. It is a flexible expression that can be applied to different situations, emphasizing the notion of challenge, competition, or value. It has become a part of everyday language, appearing in various forms of media and literature. Like many idioms, it adds color and depth to the language, allowing for nuanced and evocative communication.

I must outsmart my rival to win the competition.

The phrase "run for the roses" is related to "run for one's money." "Run for the roses" is a popular idiom used in the context of the Kentucky Derby, referring to the racehorses competing for a chance to win the coveted rose-garlanded trophy. It also symbolizes the fierce competition and the challenge faced by each horse in the race. The phrase highlights the determination and effort required to compete at such a high level, mirroring the spirit of "run for one's money."

Another related idiom is "run for one's life." This expression describes a situation where someone is running away or fleeing to escape from danger or harm. It is often used to emphasize the urgency and fear associated with the escape. While it may seem different from "run for one's money," both idioms revolve around the idea of intense action and the need to overcome obstacles.

One more related idiom is "make a run for it." This phrase refers to the act of making a sudden and fast attempt to escape or get away from a situation. It is often used when there is a need for speed and urgency, like in a chase or to avoid a potential consequence. Although the context may vary, "make a run for it" shares the idea of taking action and facing challenges similar to "run for one's money."

"in the running" is another idiom related to "run for one's money." It means being considered as a serious contender or having a chance of winning or being successful in a competition or endeavor. This phrase highlights the idea of being actively involved or in the midst of a competitive situation. While it may not directly refer to the challenge aspect of "run for one's money," it certainly aligns with the spirit of competition and the pursuit of success.

The final related idiom is "for my money." This expression is often used to denote one's opinion or personal preference, especially in matters of taste or judgment. It implies that the speaker believes that something or someone is worth the investment or effort. In the context of "run for one's money," "for my money" adds a personal touch by expressing one's belief in the value or quality of the experience or competition.

The idiom "run for one's money" was originally associated with horse racing but has since evolved to become a versatile expression used to describe competitive challenges and value for one's money. Its usage has expanded beyond its original context, becoming a commonly understood phrase in contemporary American English. With its multifaceted meanings, this idiom adds flavor and depth to the language, allowing for nuanced and evocative expression. It is a testament to the ever-evolving nature of language and the richness of idiomatic expressions.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "run for one's money" can be used:

  • She gave the champion runner a run for his money in the race.
  • The underdog team put up a strong fight, giving the favored team a run for their money.
  • Despite being inexperienced, the rookie singer gave the established artists a run for their money with her incredible performance.

More "Competition" idioms