Broad shoulders (figurative use)

Discussion in 'English Only' started by giovannino, May 12, 2008.

  1. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Naples, Italy
    Italian, Neapolitan
    I'd like to know whether the use of "to have broad shoulders" in the sense of being strong enough to cope with a difficult situation is fairly common in AE and BE.
    In Italian we would say, for example, that you need broad shoulders if you have a child who is a drug addict. At IE it was suggested that this figurative use of "broad shoulders" is just as common in English but I only got a few hits on Google so I was wondering how common it really is.
  2. johnp

    johnp Senior Member

    Perhaps the younger generation doesn't use it very much. I don't think you would hear it commonly nowadays. In fact, I would say that some may not understand the idiom.
  3. bbip Senior Member

    English GB
    As a younger speaker, I have never heard it used as an idiom. Perhaps a suitable alternative would be "you need to stand strong/firm."
  4. london calling Senior Member

    Yes, I think that's probably the case. To me it's perfectly normal BE (but I am no longer a member of the younger generation....)!
  5. Melz0r Senior Member

    Suffolk, England
    English, England
    I've never heard that - but I do like it! I may try to use it one day.
  6. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I too thought it was perfectly normal BE; I am surprised that some of my compatriots haven't heard of it.
  7. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I agree with london_calling and sound_shift: it's perfectly normal BrE to me, too.

    I don't use it quite in the sense described in post 1. Rather, I use it in connection with taking responsibility, as in this dictionary definition.
  8. Melz0r Senior Member

    Suffolk, England
    English, England
    Well, I'm 16, so my not having heard of it would support the theory that it's fallen out of use. It's a shame, it's a good phrase!
  9. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Perhaps the phrase only becomes useful when the burdens of responsibility start landing!
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    It's certainly common in contemporary articles, so I don't think it has fallen out of use:
    She says you need broad shoulders, a sense of humour and to be prepared for the downs as well as the ups…
    In my job you need broad shoulders, a philosophical expectation of criticism whatever you do, and a resilient nature.
    Being gay is fine- you just need broad shoulders to shrug off the insults, hypocracy and arrogance of the ignorant and the pseudo religious.
    Montreal’s WOLF PARADE are the latest darlings of the indie world. In this attempt to find the next ARCADE FIRE to latch onto, people everywhere are eager to pin ‘the next big thing’ tag onto these guys or anyone that Pitchfork says is great (and they are from Canada after all). That calls for broad shoulders, and they have them, as this record on Sub Pop deserves all the attention it’s getting.
  11. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    The worries of the world simply bounced off his broad shoulders.

    I would not think twice about using "broad shoulders" in conversation or writing. I would feel just as comfortable using that phrase as, for instance, "water off a duck's back".

    I am also of the opinion that cliches become cliches because they are particularly good ways of expressing a thought. Once a cliche is out of vogue for 50 years or so, it sounds fresh all over again.
  12. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    This phrase has never been part of my active vocabulary, though I would readily understand it and find it idiomatic enough. I doubt if the working class have ever used it much, and most people just say someone is "tough". To me it does not have the universality of "water off a duck's back". I could imagine a vicar talking about "broad shoulders" to one of his flock.
  13. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Naples, Italy
    Italian, Neapolitan
    Lots of interesting responses. Thank you so much. The phrase is clearly still current. I'm puzzled by the circumscribed definition quoted by Loob:

    In the passages quoted by JamesM, the phrase is used in the wider sense in which we use the equivalent phrase in Italian, as in my example in post #1.
  14. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Interesting comment, giovanni: the reason I posted that definition was that I thought your description in post 1 sounded more circumscribed!

    It seems clear, as you say, that the English and Italian expressions are equivalent :)
  15. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Naples, Italy
    Italian, Neapolitan
    Actually you may well be right, Loob:) Maybe it was my example that made it sound circumscribed. What I meant was that the definition seems to limit the use of the phrase to "handling responsibility", whereas JamesM's quotes suggest a wider use, as in the quote about coping with homophobia, i.e. any kind of difficult situation, including but not limited to the burdens of responsibility.
  16. london calling Senior Member


    Hello, everyone!

    Yes, I certainly wouldn't say it was limited to the burdens of responsibility, it often means you have to be tough (Giovannino: tosto!;)).

    Thinking about it, shoulders are often to be found in similar contexts:

    To take the weight/load off someone's shoulders
    To shoulder something, e.g. a responsibility

  17. Bethann New Member

    Chicago is known as the city of Broad Shoulders As I told a Californian who complained of the unseasonable cool weather, we are tougher than most...
  18. pob14 Senior Member

    Central Illinois
    American English
    Chicago is the City of the BIG Shoulders, so dubbed by Carl Sandberg, although I see that Wikipedia endorses Bethann's version also. I never heard it that way when I lived there.

    I used to have a boss who used the "broad shoulders" metaphor all the time, particularly when assigning me an unpleasant task.

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