shake out: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘shake out’ mean?

The idiom "shake out" means to remove or get rid of something by vigorously shaking or causing a change. It can also imply discovering or revealing information or potential issues through a thorough examination or investigation.

Idiom Explorer

Unveiling the Mystery

Shake out is an idiom that has multiple meanings and uses in American English. One of the most common meanings of this idiom is to physically remove dirt, dust, or other particles from something. For example, you might shake out a rug or shake out your clothes before folding them. This usage of shake out is often associated with cleaning and tidying up.

In addition to its literal meaning, shake out is also used metaphorically to mean to get rid of or eliminate something. It is usually done in order to assess or evaluate a situation. For example, in a military context, shaking out refers to the process of eliminating, detecting, or neutralizing enemy forces or threats before proceeding with a mission. This usage of the idiom is often associated with preparation and ensuring safety.

Another related idiom is "sweep out." Like shake out, it involves removing unwanted elements. However, while shake out specifically refers to removing particles from something, sweep out has a broader meaning. It can refer to physically sweeping away dirt and dust, as well as metaphorically getting rid of undesirable things or people. For example, you might sweep out negative thoughts from your mind or sweep out corruption from an organization. This idiom signifies a thorough removal or elimination, leaving no trace behind.


Shake to release, rid of and eliminate.

Another usage of shake out is in reference to a financial market or economy. When used in this context, shake out implies a period of instability or volatility, during which weaker or less stable elements are removed from the system, leading to a more stable and efficient state. In this sense, shake out can refer to a market correction, a period of adjustment, or a recession. This usage of shake out is often associated with economic cycles and the concept of survival of the fittest.

Similarly, the idiom "sift out" is related to this concept. It is used to describe the process of separating or sorting out different elements to find the desired ones. For example, you might sift out the important information from a large amount of data or sift out the truth from a web of lies. This idiom emphasizes the careful examination and selection of elements, leaving behind what is not needed or desired.


Furthermore, shake out can also be used in a figurative sense to mean to reveal or uncover the true nature or qualities of something or someone. It can be used to describe a situation where hidden problems or issues come to light and are exposed. This usage of the idiom is often associated with discovery, revelation, or unveiling.

Shake out is a versatile idiom that can be used in different contexts and with various meanings. It can refer to the physical act of removing dirt or particles, the metaphorical act of getting rid of something or preparing for a task, the economic process of removing weaker elements for stability, or the figurative process of revealing or uncovering hidden issues. The idiom shake out captures the idea of removing or eliminating elements to achieve a desired outcome, whether that is cleanliness, safety, stability, or truth.

Example usage


1. Let's see how things shake out before making a decision.

2. The results of the experiment should shake out in a few days.

3. It's hard to predict how the negotiations will shake out.

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