sharp-elbowed: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘sharp-elbowed’ mean?

The idiom "sharp-elbowed" means being aggressive or assertive in order to succeed or get ahead, often at the expense of others.

Idiom Explorer

Decoding Sharp-Elbowed Power

Sharp-elbowed, an idiom originating in the United States, describes someone who is aggressively competitive or assertive in an attempt to gain an advantage over others. This term stems from the literal action of using one's elbows forcefully or aggressively. When someone is considered "sharp-elbowed," it means they are willing to push or elbow their way through a crowd or a competitive situation, disregarding the comfort or personal space of others.

The idiom has been around since the early 20th century and has become popular in American English. Although the exact moment of its introduction into the lexicon is uncertain, it is widely recognized in informal contexts, such as social gatherings, sports events, or competitive environments. The idiom's popularity has grown due to its ability to succinctly convey the notion of someone being assertive or aggressive in their pursuit of success.

While the idiom may seem self-explanatory, it carries connotations worth analyzing. The use of the term "sharp" suggests a certain intensity or keenness in an individual's actions or behavior. The aggressiveness associated with being "sharp-elbowed" implies a determined and unyielding attitude toward achieving one's objectives. However, it is important to note that the idiom does not necessarily imply malicious intent but rather a single-minded focus on personal gain or success.

This figurative extension of the idiom makes it applicable to various competitive scenarios. It can be used to describe situations involving professional advancement, political maneuvering, or even assertive social interactions where individuals push their opinions or desires. In a society that values initiative and ambition, the idiom "sharp-elbowed" serves as a concise expression to describe individuals who demonstrate these qualities in an assertive and often relentless manner.

It is crucial to recognize that the idiom "sharp-elbowed" highlights a specific type of behavior prevalent in competitive environments or situations. While it portrays determination and drive, it can also be perceived as displaying insensitivity toward others. The idiom raises questions about the line between assertiveness and tactlessness, as well as the ethical considerations surrounding the pursuit of personal success at the expense of others.

She aggressively pursued her ambitions, determined and pushy.

Additionally, the related idioms "elbow mentality," "give the elbow," "play hardball," and "razor-sharp" further emphasize the competitive nature inherent in being "sharp-elbowed."

The term "elbow mentality" describes an individual's aggressive or assertive approach to achieving their goals. It implies a willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed, even if it means disregarding the comfort or well-being of others. An individual with an "elbow mentality" may exhibit behaviors associated with being "sharp-elbowed," such as pushing their way through a crowd or aggressively asserting their ideas or opinions.

"Give the elbow" is another related idiom that aligns with the notion of being "sharp-elbowed." It means to forcefully exclude or remove someone from a particular environment or situation. When someone is "given the elbow," they are being pushed aside or disregarded in favor of someone else's interests or desires. This action is indicative of the aggressive and competitive nature associated with being "sharp-elbowed."

"Play hardball" is a phrase commonly used to describe a tough and uncompromising approach in competitive situations. It involves using aggressive or assertive tactics to gain an advantage or achieve one's objectives. When someone "plays hardball," they are employing strategies similar to those used by individuals who are considered "sharp-elbowed."

The idiomatic expression "razor-sharp" can also be related to being "sharp-elbowed." It describes someone who is highly intelligent, perceptive, or skilled in a particular area. This term conveys the idea that someone possesses a sharpness or keenness, much like the characteristics associated with being "sharp-elbowed."

Overall, the idiom "sharp-elbowed" encompasses a particular mindset and behavior associated with competitiveness and ambition. It signifies a willingness to assert oneself forcefully, often at the expense of others' comfort or well-being. However, it is essential to consider the potential consequences and ethical implications of adopting such an approach. The idiom invites reflection on the balance between personal success and empathy toward others, leaving room for further examination of the complex interplay between ambition, competitiveness, and interpersonal dynamics.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "sharp-elbowed" can be used in a sentence:

  • She made her way through the crowded market with her sharp-elbowed maneuvers.
  • In politics, he was known for his sharp-elbowed tactics to gain more power.
  • The competitive nature of the industry makes it necessary to be sharp-elbowed to succeed.

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