strike up: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘strike up’ mean?

The idiom strike up means to start or begin something, particularly a conversation or a friendship, in a friendly or positive way. It implies initiating or establishing a connection or relationship with someone or something, often in a spontaneous or casual manner.

Idiom Explorer


The idiom "strike up" has various meanings and can be used in different situations. One common meaning is to begin or initiate something, often referring to a conversation, relationship, or friendship. For instance, someone might say, "I hit it up with my neighbor," meaning they initiated a conversation with their neighbor. Similarly, you could say, "I chatted up that girl at the party," indicating that you initiated a conversation with her.

Another meaning of "strike up" is to start or perform a piece of music. This can refer to a musician starting to play a song or a band starting to perform. For example, you might hear someone say, "The band hit it up with a lively tune," meaning the band started playing a lively song. Similarly, you could say, "He struck up the piano and played a beautiful melody," indicating that he started playing the piano and performed a beautiful song.

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Additionally, "strike up" can also mean to ignite a flame or start a fire. This can be used in a literal sense, such as striking up a match to light a candle. In a figurative sense, it can also refer to igniting passion or enthusiasm for something. For example, you could say, "She hit on a great idea and struck up enthusiasm among her colleagues," meaning she came up with a great idea and sparked enthusiasm among her colleagues.

In some cases, "strike up" can have a negative connotation, especially when used in relation to conflict or disagreement. It can mean to provoke or initiate a fight, argument, or dispute. For instance, someone might say, "The comment struck up a heated debate among the panelists," indicating that the comment initiated a strong disagreement among the panelists. Similarly, you could say, "His remark kicked off an intense argument between the two friends," suggesting that his remark initiated a heated argument between the two friends.

The origins of the idiom "strike up" are believed to be derived from the verb "strike" in various senses. One possible origin is from the striking of a match or fire, which involves a quick movement to create a spark and ignite the flame. This corresponds to the idea of initiating or starting something. Another possible origin is from the action of striking a musical instrument, such as striking the strings of a guitar or the keys of a piano to produce sound. This association with starting or playing music contributed to the idiomatic meaning of "strike up" in relation to music.

Overall, the idiom "strike up" encompasses a range of meanings, from initiating a conversation or relationship to starting a fire or playing music. Its origins are likely connected to the quick, initiating actions associated with striking a match or striking a musical instrument. As with many idioms, "strike up" holds different connotations and can be understood and used in various contexts, such as striking a chord with someone or kicking off a discussion.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "strike up" can be used in a sentence:

  1. She struck up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to her on the train.
  2. The band struck up a lively tune, and the crowd started dancing.
  3. After a few weeks of training, he was able to strike up a friendship with his new neighbor.

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