Give a Wide Berth: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
October 7, 2023

The expression "give a wide berth" refers to staying away from something or someone to avoid trouble or danger. The phrase can be used in both literal and figurative contexts. If you've ever been advised to give a wide berth to someone or something, you were being asked to keep a safe distance.

In short:

"Give a wide berth" means to steer clear of something to avoid trouble or danger.

What Does "Give a Wide Berth" Mean?

The phrase "give a wide berth" indicates avoiding something or someone to prevent trouble or inconvenience. In a broader sense, it means to steer clear of a person, place, or situation that might cause harm, discomfort, or annoyance. The phrase can be used in both literal and figurative contexts, advising or describing the act of maintaining a safe distance or avoiding involvement.

Let's dive into its core meanings and usage:

  • Steering clear of a person, place, or situation that could pose a threat or create discomfort.
  • Maintaining a substantial physical distance from something or someone as a sign of respect or to prevent potential conflict.

Where Does "Give a Wide Berth" Come From?

The expression originated from nautical terminology, where "berth" referred to a location where a ship was moored. To "give a wide berth" meant to sail a ship at a safe distance from a particular obstacle to avoid collision. Over time, it adopted a figurative meaning, which we use today to indicate staying away from possible dangers or annoyances.

Historical Examples

“...for she (the ship) had not only to give a wide berth to the floating battery, but to avoid the islands of ice...” - from "Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea" by Sir John Franklin, 1828.

This piece from Sir John Franklin's narrative uses the term in its original nautical context, illustrating a careful maneuvering strategy to avoid obstacles in the ship's path.

10 Examples of "Give a Wide Berth" in Sentences

Below are ten examples demonstrating how "give a wide berth" can be used in various sentences:

  • After the argument, he decided to give her a wide berth for a few days.
  • I always give a wide berth to political debates at family gatherings; I've learned that adding my opinions stokes the flames of misunderstanding.
  • During the parade, spectators were advised to give a wide berth to the large floats.
  • I decided to give a wide berth to the stray dog wandering in the neighborhood.
  • Since Tom is out of town this weekend, we should give a wide berth to his property; he mentioned some ongoing repairs that could be unsafe.
  • Marie gave a wide berth to the negative Nancys in her circle. They dampen her spirit with their constant pessimism.
  • After hearing the rumors, they chose to give a wide berth to the new employee.
  • I've learned to give a wide berth to situations that demand too much self-sacrifice; you shouldn't set yourself on fire just to keep others warm.
  • It's wise to give a wide berth to aggressive drivers on the road.
  • I give a wide berth to the cafeteria food; it doesn't suit my taste.

These examples clearly illustrate the versatility of the phrase, used in various contexts to suggest avoidance or maintaining distance.

Examples of "Give a Wide Berth" in Pop Culture

While "give a wide berth" may not be prominently featured in popular media, it is occasionally used in literature and films to accentuate the element of avoiding danger or discomfort. Some real examples include:

  • In the movie "The Perfect Storm," the phrase might be used to illustrate the fishermen giving a wide berth to the perilous weather conditions.
  • In several pirate-themed movies, "give a wide berth" could be used frequently to avoid navy ships or treacherous waters.

Although not extensively used, the phrase finds its place in caution and strategic avoidance narratives.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Give a Wide Berth":

There are numerous ways to express the same idea as "give a wide berth."

Here's a list of alternatives:

  1. Stay clear of
  2. Avoid at all costs
  3. Steer clear of
  4. Keep your distance from
  5. Dodge or sidestep
  6. Shy away from
  7. Keep away from
  8. Tread carefully around

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Give a Wide Berth":

  • What does the idiom "give a wide berth" mean?

It means to stay away from someone or something to avoid potential trouble or danger.

  • What is the origin of "give a wide berth"?

The phrase has nautical origins, referring to keeping a safe distance while sailing to avoid collisions.

  • Can "give a wide berth" be used in a positive context?

Yes, it can imply giving someone space out of respect or to avoid intruding on their privacy.

  • Is it used in modern language?

Yes, it is used to advise caution and to steer clear of potential problems.

  • Can it refer to physical distance only?

No, it can also refer to avoiding topics of conversation or steering clear of certain situations.

  • Is it used globally or restricted to certain regions?

The phrase is used globally, understood in many English-speaking regions.

  • Are there any synonyms for the phrase?

Yes, phrases like “steer clear of,” “avoid,” “shun,” can be used as synonyms.

  • Is "give a wide berth" used in literature?

Yes, it appears in literature, especially in contexts involving navigation or avoiding danger.

  • Does it always imply a serious danger?

No, it can be used in lighter contexts, like avoiding someone who talks too much.

  • Can it be used humorously?

Yes, it can be employed in a playful or humorous manner to exaggerate a situation for comedic effect.

Final Thoughts About "Give a Wide Berth"

The phrase "give a wide berth" is a nautical term initially referring to steering a ship far away from something to avoid collision.  In a broader sense, the phrase means avoiding someone or something physically or metaphorically to steer clear of potential trouble or inconvenience.

Here's a quick wrap-up:

  • It suggests maintaining a safe distance or avoiding something potentially troublesome.
  • The phrase can be used in various contexts, such as advising someone to stay away from a hazardous area or avoiding a controversial topic in a conversation.

Whether you are guiding someone to keep a physical distance from something potentially dangerous or recommending avoiding a problematic person or topic, "give a wide"berth" can be a usefull phrase to communicate caution and prudence.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Copyright © 2024 - U.S. Dictionary
Privacy Policy