In the city, I frequently drive by a tavern called the Elbow Room. It always makes me smile, thinking about the meaning. In English, elbow room is a place to spread out and be comfortable—maybe even a place to put your elbows up on the bar.
It becomes even funnier when I remember the expression, “to bend a few elbows”–which means to have a few drinks.
In addition to these two expressions, there are a half-dozen others that include the word “elbow.” How many of these do you already know?
- elbow grease
- to elbow in
- elbow macaroni
- tennis elbow
- to rub elbows with
- sharp elbows
To check yourself, check the list below to see the definitions of these expressions and read example sentences of each.
In checking the internet for this story, I discovered there are dozens of Elbow Room bars, taverns, and lounges across the United States. Clearly, this clever name has inspired more than just the owners of our local watering hole. The welcoming message for patrons across the country: “There’s room for you here!”
- elbow room = space to spread out and be comfortable
If we’re going to work comfortably, let’s find a conference table with enough elbow room.
- to bend elbows = to have some (alcoholic) drinks
Honey, I’m going out with the boys to bend a few elbows.
- elbow grease = extra work or physical effort
To get this old jalopy ready for the antique car show, we’re going to need a lot of elbow grease.
- to elbow in = to assertively enter, to force one’s way into a space
They elbowed their way into the crowd to get a better view of the accident.
- elbow macaroni = slender noodles with a bend in them
Mac & cheese is usually made with elbow macaroni.
- tennis elbow = inflammation, pain, or tearing of the tendon inserting into the elbow from the upper arm
I had to quit playing racquetball for six months because of a bad case of tennis elbow.
- to rub elbows with = to associate with (possibly sitting next to and drinking with)
She has been known to rub elbows with some pretty influential people in this town.
- sharp elbows = physical toughness or aggressiveness
Retired Red Wings hockey player, Gordie Howe, used to be called Mr. Elbows.
In a 2010 pickup basketball game at the White House, President Obama caught a sharp elbow on the lip and needed 12 stitches.
Historical Note: Did you know that the “ell” is an old-fashioned unit of measurement? It corresponded to the length of a man’s forearm from fingertips to elbow. Elsewhere, it extended up to the shoulder and was used primarily in tailoring to measure fabric.