get a word in edgewise

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The use of the word edgewise or edgeways (with the edge facing in the direction of movement) is metaphorical, suggesting that the gap or opportunity for a person to speak is very slim.



get a word in edgewise (third-person singular simple present gets a word in edgewise, present participle getting a word in edgewise, simple past got a word in edgewise, past participle (UK) got a word in edgewise or (US) gotten a word in edgewise)

  1. (US, usually in the negative) To break into or participate in a conversation.
    Everyone was talking at once. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
    • [1778 December, “[Original Letters. Miss Clifford to Miss Granby.] In Continuation.”, in The Lady’s Magazine; or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement, London: Printed for G[eorge] Robinson, [], OCLC 1078157316, page 652, column 1:
      The converſation at breakfaſt began on reading, which ſhe ſaid ſhe was extremely fond of, and Joſeph, her ladyſhip, and my papa, fell into ſuch a deep diſcourſe, that I verily thought they would never have finiſhed; for, believe me, I was quite out of patience, as neither mama nor I, could ſo much as put a ſingle word in edgewiſe; for they might as well have talked Greek to us, and we ſhould have underſtood them much the ſame.]
    • 1822, [James Colman], “Letter VIII. The Contrast.”, in Walks in the Country; or, Christian Sketches of Scenery, Life, and Character, in Familiar Letters, London: Printed for the author; published by James Nisbet, [], OCLC 230649420, page 100–101:
      Accordingly she was exceedingly elevated; alternately singing pieces of hymns in a hobbling broken voice, having lost her teeth, breaking out into incoherent exclamations, and relating parts of her experience; while I had not room, which indeed I did not much require, to get a word in edgewise.
    • 1894 May, Rudyard Kipling, “Servants of the Queen”, in The Jungle Book, London; New York, N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., published June 1894, OCLC 752934375, page 196:
      The baggage-camel had been bobbing his head to and from for some time past, anxious to get a word in edgeways.
    • 1962 September 11, Jack Kerouac, chapter 13, in Big Sur, New York, N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, OCLC 421903663; republished as Big Sur (Penguin Modern Classics), London: Penguin Books, 2012, →ISBN:
      We help him push his Nash down the street, then drink awhile and talk with Evelyn a beautiful blonde woman that young Ron Blake wants and even Dave Wain wants but she's got her mind on other things and taking care of the children who have to go to school and dancing classes in the morning and hardly gets a word in edgewise anyway as we all yak and yell like fools to impress her tho all she really wants is to be alone with me to talk about Cody and his latest soul.
    • 1996, Louis Baldwin, “Cokie Roberts: Political Commentator (1943– )”, in Women of Strength: Biographies of 106 who have Excelled in Traditionally Male Fields, A.D. 61 to the Present, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, →ISBN, page 177:
      From the women who write to her, Cokie Roberts has observed, "I get the feeling that the country is full of women who've never gotten a word in edgewise when the men talk politics."
    • 1999, Zena Collier, chapter 3, in A Cooler Climate, Lincoln, Neb.: toExcel Press, iUniverse, →ISBN, page 24:
      I sat there, letting his voice run on. Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't have gotten a word in edgeways. Perhaps if life continued thi way, I would gradually lose the faculty of speech, [...]
    • 1999, Felicia Hughes-Freeland, “Dance on Film: Strategy and Serendipity”, in Theresa J. Buckland, editor, Dance in the Field: Theory, Methods and Issues in Dance Ethnography, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, DOI:10.1057/9780230375291, →ISBN, part II (Methodological Approaches), page 117:
      I only included the interview because it is revealing of Javanese gender relationships. The young dancer is muted and hardly gets a word in edgeways, as the (male) troupe leader and her mother hijack each question and provide answers which are sometimes contradictory.
    • 2003, Sylvia Helmer; Catherine Eddy, “ESL Learners and Communication”, in Dyanne Rivers, editor, Look at Me when I Talk to You: ESL Learners in Non-ESL Classrooms (Pippin Teacher’s Library; 39), Toronto, Ont.: Pippin Publishing Company, →ISBN, page 48:
      [W]hen interacting with a member of a cultural group used to taking longer to reflect on what to say next, native English speakers virtually prevent this person from getting a word in edgewise. We feel compelled to fill the "uncomfortably long" silence with words.
    • 2014, Ben Elton, chapter 5, in Time and Time Again, London: Black Swan, Transworld Publishers, →ISBN, page 57:
      Stanton stood up. It seemed the only way of getting a word in edgeways.
    • 2014, Emma O’Reilly; with Shannon Kyle, “Old Wounds”, in The Race to Truth: Blowing the Whistle on Lance Armstrong and Cycling’s Doping Culture, London: Bantam Press, →ISBN, page 248:
      Betsy rang me every now and then, but I couldn't get caught up in the 'fight' like she did. Besides, if I got a word in edgeways during each call I'd be lucky.
    • 2015 February, Eva Gates, By Book or by Crook (A Lighthouse Library Mystery), New York, N.Y.: Obsidian, New American Library, →ISBN, page 313:
      She must have nattered on for half an hour. Everyone else was gone when I finally got a word in edgewise and escaped.

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