On the Street: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
September 19, 2023

When you hear someone mention "on the street," what comes to mind? A physical place, perhaps? This idiom often refers to more than just the pavement under your feet. It can also mean public opinion or information circulating among the general public.

In short:

"On the street" often describes a commonly held belief, gossip, or general information that people are talking about.

What Does "On the Street" Mean?

The phrase on the street is intriguing. At first glance, it seems simple. But delve a little deeper, and you'll find it's like an onion with many layers.

  • It can mean literally being on a road or sidewalk: "The kids are playing on the street."
  • It could mean being homeless or without a stable residence: "He's been on the street for weeks now."
  • It often denotes public opinion or common knowledge: "The word on the street is that the company will be announcing layoffs soon."

Where Does "On the Street" Come From?

The phrase on the street has a long and fascinating history, tracing its roots to different aspects of society and language.

Historical Usage

The expression dates back to the 19th century. It appeared in various publications and literature of the time, often to denote the concept of public opinion.

"The word on the street is that he's going to be the next president."

This quote, from an 1887 newspaper, is an early example of the phrase being used to signify public sentiment.

10 Examples of "On the Street" in Sentences

This idiom is quite common and can be heard in many different contexts. Here are some examples that illustrate its different meanings.

  • I found a great spot for parking on the street right in front of the building.
  • He was on the street after losing his job and home.
  • The weather on the street was chilly, prompting everyone to wear their jackets.
  • On the street, people say that the local team is going to win the championship this year.
  • She's been on the street since she ran away from home.
  • During the parade, everyone was on the street to celebrate.
  • The two rival food trucks were in a battle for the best location on the street.
  • She has friends on the street who keep her informed about neighborhood events.
  • My dad always told me not to play on the street.
  • I'll do my best to find out what's happening on the street regarding the festival preparations.

Examples of "On the Street" in Pop Culture

This idiom has made several appearances in pop culture, often used to create a sense of realism or urgency.

  • In the song "Streets of Philadelphia" by Bruce Springsteen, the phrase is used to describe life on the street.
  • In the TV show "The Wire," the term is frequently used to describe information circulating among the characters.
  • The Wall Street Journal has a segment called "Word on the Street," which discusses trending financial news.
  • In the movie "Wall Street," the term is used to represent financial traders and business people.
  • In the book "The House on Mango Street," the phrase is used in a more literal sense to describe the setting.

Other/Different Ways to Say "On the Street"

Sometimes, you might want to shake things up a bit and use a different phrase.

Here are some alternatives:

  • Public opinion
  • Rumor has it
  • Common knowledge
  • Gossip mill
  • Word of mouth

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "On the Street"

  • What does "on the street" really mean?

It refers to several things, from public opinion to actually being on a road or sidewalk. The phrase is versatile and has been used in various contexts.

  • Where did the phrase originate?

It traces its roots back to the 19th century and was commonly used in publications to denote public sentiment.

  • How is the phrase used in pop culture?

From songs to movies and TV shows, the phrase is used to depict realism, urgency, or societal views.

  • Is the phrase still relevant today?

Absolutely. It continues to be widely used in modern language, both literally and figuratively.

  • Can "on the street" mean being homeless?

Yes, it can mean being without a stable residence or being homeless.

  • Is it appropriate to use in formal writing?

In the interim, while it is generally accepted in most forms of writing, using it in an academic paper might not be the best choice.

  • What's the difference between "on the street" and "in the street"?

"On the street" often refers to the broader environment of the street, while "in the street" might imply being physically present in the road.

  • Is the phrase ever used in finance?

Yes, especially in Wall Street jargon, it often refers to circulating opinions about financial markets.

  • Can "on the street" be considered slang?

Though it started as slang, it has entered mainstream language and is widely accepted.

  • How can I use the phrase creatively?

Try attracting attention by using it in unexpected contexts, such as storytelling or when you call around for opinions.

Final Thoughts About "On the Street"

Understanding this idiom enriches your grasp of English, offering you a more nuanced way of interpreting and engaging with language.

  • Literally refers to being on a road or sidewalk
  • This could mean being without a stable residence or being homeless
  • Often denotes public opinion or common knowledge
  • Its roots stretch back to at least the 19th century, yet it still finds resonance in modern-day usage.

Understanding idioms like this makes you more proficient in English and adds color to your conversations. Whether you use it to describe what you've heard around or to literally mean a physical street, this phrase has stood the test of time, proving its adaptability and relevance.

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