shoulder to cry on: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘shoulder to cry on’ mean?

The idiom shoulder to cry on means to be there to provide emotional support and comfort to someone who is upset or in need of sympathy.

Idiom Explorer


The idiom "shoulder to cry on" is a commonly used phrase in American English. Its origins can be traced back to the early 1940s, although the exact date of its first usage is unclear. The idiom is derived from the literal action of crying on someone's shoulder, which symbolizes seeking comfort and support from another person in times of distress or sadness.

The idiomatic expression "shoulder to cry on" is a metaphorical representation of the emotional support provided by a person who is willing to listen and offer comfort. It suggests a willingness to lend a sympathetic ear and a compassionate presence to someone who is experiencing difficulties or heartache. The phrase implies a sense of trust, as the person seeking solace believes they can rely on the other person to offer empathy and understanding.

The idiom "have someone's back" is closely related to the concept of a "shoulder to cry on." It signifies being there for someone in times of need, offering support and protection. Just as a shoulder to cry on provides emotional comfort, having someone's back implies being a reliable and trustworthy ally. It suggests a commitment to watching out for the other person's best interests and offering assistance when necessary.

The phrase "cry for help" also relates to the idea of seeking support and assistance. While a shoulder to cry on represents emotional solace, a cry for help signifies an urgent need for aid. It suggests a call for others to come to one's rescue, whether it be in a physical, emotional, or psychological sense. Both idioms emphasize the importance of reaching out to others when one is in distress or facing challenges.

Shoulder to cry on, offering support and comfort.

Similarly, the idiom "shed a tear" is connected to the concept of emotional release. It signifies the act of crying or becoming emotional. While a shoulder to cry on refers to the person providing comfort, shedding a tear focuses on the individual experiencing the emotion. Both idioms acknowledge the vulnerability and rawness of human emotions, highlighting the importance of expressing and processing them in a supportive environment.

"move someone to tears" also relates to the idiom "shoulder to cry on" by emphasizing the powerful impact of emotional connection. To move someone to tears is to evoke strong emotions, often to the point of tears. It signifies the ability to touch someone's heart and elicit a deep emotional response. Both idioms underscore the significance of empathy and understanding in human relationships, and the profound effect that genuine compassion can have on an individual.

The idiom "shoulder to cry on" is commonly used in various contexts, including personal relationships, friendships, and even professional settings. It implies a close bond between the individuals involved, whether it be family members, close friends, or colleagues. The idiom emphasizes the importance of emotional support and the value of having someone to lean on during challenging times.

The phrase "shoulder to cry on" has become ingrained in everyday language and is often used in conversation, literature, and popular culture. It has also gained recognition and understanding beyond the English-speaking world, particularly in countries where English idioms and expressions have become widely used and understood.

Despite its popularity, the idiom does not have a universally accepted equivalent in other languages. While other languages may have similar idiomatic expressions that convey the concept of emotional support, the specific imagery of crying on someone's shoulder may not be directly translated.

The idiom "shoulder to cry on" encompasses a range of emotions and experiences. It signifies vulnerability, trust, and the human need for connection. It suggests that in times of distress, having someone who is willing to listen, comfort, and provide support can be invaluable. The idiom evokes a sense of empathy and understanding, reminding us of the power of compassion and the importance of being there for one another.

Example usage

Examples of the idiom "shoulder to cry on" being used in sentences:

  • After her breakup, Sarah turned to her best friend as a shoulder to cry on.
  • When Jim lost his job, he found support in his wife, who became his shoulder to cry on.
  • After a long day at work, Mary needed a shoulder to cry on, so she called her sister.

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