Did someone say to you ‘through thick and thin’ and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
‘Through thick or thin’ is an old English idiom that means to persevere no matter what obstacles are in your path. It’s original meaning was ‘through thicket and thin woods,’ describing the mix of more challenging and more traversable terrain of England when it was still primarily wooded.
This phrase is commonly used to describe relationships between people.
When you use the expression ‘through thick and thin,’ you are indicating a willingness to remain steadfast and endure in any type of commitment (such as a friendship or a relationship) regardless of the issues, troubles, or challenges that could crop up.
‘Through thick and thin’ is a very old expression in the English language. For many centuries, it has maintained the same figurative meaning. This phrase dates all the way back to when England was still a land dominated by forests with few roads. In this landscape, animals would graze on mixed woodland and grass, which was known as wood pasture.
The origin of the phrase was ‘through thicket and thin wood,’ which was a literal description of moving through the English countryside. Entering the dark forest of Medieval England, some places would be overgrown, dark, and very difficult to navigate, while others would have thin woods that were easy to pass through.
One of the oldest examples of this phrase using modern wording comes from a 1662 religious text entitled A Saint Or a Brute: The Certain Necessity and Excellency of Holiness, written by Richard Baxter:
"Men do fancy a necessity [of holiness] where there is none, yet that will carry them through thick and thin."
However, the phrase was used in its older form for many centuries before it was written down by Richard Baxter. One of the oldest uses of the phrase in the ‘through thicket or thin wood’ sense shows up in The Reeve’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer, written in 1387-1400:
And whan the hors was laus, he gynneth gon
Toward the fen, ther wilde mares renne,
And forth with "wehee," thurgh thikke and thurgh thenne.
[And when the horse was loose, he begins to go
Toward the fen, where wild mares run
And forth with "wehee," through thick and through thin]
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that ‘through thick and thin’ was obviously in use before the earliest date that the tool tracks, which is 1800.
The expression shows up in dictionaries and encyclopedias from the early 1800s, including The New Encyclopaedia:
“Through thick and thin she followed him.”
The same text also gives this example of the phrase:
“For a small sum to swear through thick and thin.”
Another example appears in the 1811 The Adventures of Sir Lancelot Greaves:
“We were sworn brothers, admired and praised, and quoted each other, sir: we denounced war against all the world, actors, authors, and critics; and having drawn the sword, threw away the scabbard– we pushed through thick and thin, hacked and hewed, helter-skelter, and became as formidable to the writers of the age as the Boeotian band of Thebes.”
Finally, a third instance of the phrase shows up in Travels through the United States of America in the Years of 1806 & 1807, and 1809, 1810, & 1811 by John Melish:
“When I observed the fore-horses plunge, I called out to the driver whether we must swim? “O yes,” says he, “swim away through thick and thin.” I requested that he would remove the mail to a higher seat. He was not for losing time. I insisted I might be allowed to remove my trunk; and this being granted, I prevailed on him to assist me in moving the mail also: which having done, he dashed right through the creek.”
How would ‘through thick and thin’ be used in a sentence?
Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other idioms and phrases that have a similar meaning to ‘through thick and thin’?
Here are some options:
‘Through thick and thin’ is a very old phrase in the English language that means to persevere no matter the obstacles you face– through good times and bad times. It indicates that a person stays committed, loyal, and supportive no matter what difficulties might arise. You can use this phrase to describe someone standing by another person’s side during both favorable and unfavorable situations, showing dedication and unwavering support along the way.
Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!
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