shrinking violet

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Possibly from the inconspicuous nature of the violet (genus Viola) flower and plant.[1] The term appears to have been first used in the literal sense in the early 19th century.[2][3]


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪələt/, /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪlət/, /-lɪt/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪələt/, /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪlət/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: shrink‧ing vio‧let


shrinking violet (plural shrinking violets)

  1. (idiomatic) A very shy or timid person, who avoids contact with others if possible. [from early 19th c.]
    June, no shrinking violet she, crossed the room and introduced herself to the newcomers.
    • 1965, “So Long Mom (A Song for World War III)”, in That Was the Year That Was, performed by Tom Lehrer, side 2, track 1:
      Little Johnny Jones, he was a US pilot / And no shrinking violet was he / He was mighty proud when World War III was declared / He wasn't scared, no siree!



Usage notes[edit]

  • Often in the negative form no shrinking violet.


  1. ^ Shrinking violet” in Michael Quinion, World Wide Words[1], 25 September 2010.
  2. ^ Leigh Hunt (23 February 1820) , “Ronald of the Perfect Hand”, in The Indicator, issue XX, London: Joseph Appleyard, OCLC 561227160, page 158:
    The sun looked out with a melancholy smile upon the moss and the poor grass, chequered here and there with flowers almost as poor. There was the buttercup, struggling from a dirty white into a yellow; and a faint-coloured poppy, neither the good nor the ill of which was then known; and here and there by the thorny underwood a shrinking violet.
  3. ^ [James Gates Percival] (1 November 1825) , “The Perpetual Youth of Nature. A Soliloquy.”, in The United States Literary Gazette, volume III, issue 3, Boston, Mass.: Harrison Gray, published 1826, OCLC 648386174, page 109: “The wind is very low— / It hardly wags the shrinking violet, / Or sends a quiver to the aspen leaf, []

Further reading[edit]