pull up the slack

danielxu85

Senior Member
Mandarin Chinese
I think "slack" means trousers or pants depending on whether you are British or American. What does it mean to say "pull up the slack"? Is it the same as "tighten one's belts"?

They withdrew NT$10,000 out of their mission fund accounts each month for expenses. My wife and I pulled up the slack if they needed help.
 
  • mrbilal87

    Senior Member
    English (NAmE)
    "Pull up the slack" actually has nothing to do with trousers or pants in this context. It's actually more similar to slack as in extra rope or string. "Pull up the slack" is an idiom meaning taking over the work someone else has stopped doing. For example: say we're co-workers in a corporation and we're supposed to be building a database for a website together. If for whatever reason I quit working on the database, you're probably going to have to "pull/take up the slack", meaning you're going to have to finish the database.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers!
     

    danielxu85

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    Thanks, mrbilal87! I am not sure about one point: you said "take up the slack" means the same as "pull up the slack", but my dictionary, which only has the former idiom, tells me "take up the slack" means to make little-used resources more productive. I am a little bit confused right now. Could you clear it up for me?
     

    mrbilal87

    Senior Member
    English (NAmE)
    Hmm that's interesting, because now that I think about it, "pick up the slack" or "take up the slack" actually seems more often used than "pull up the slack". Also I've never heard "take up the slack" used to mean simply making little-used resources more productive, but I believe it could be understood that way depending on the context. I believe in your sentence, however, the meaning is the same whether it says "pick", "take" or "pull".

    Cheers!
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    I have heard "take up the slack", but not "pull up the slack", although I understand it, having read it now.

    I don't think it necessarily means to "finish" something that someone else has started, but I'm not saying it can't mean this.

    It's a naval metaphor, I think. We have a lot of these, certainly in BE, because of our "great" naval past - Brittannia Rule the Waves and all that.

    Imagine a sailor, pulling a great rope on a ship (for some purpose or other), trying to make it taut; in order to carry out his task/finish his task, he needs someone else to take the bit of rope which is not taut, but still slack/loose. That person will "take up the slack".

    Examples:

    John, we haven't been able to finish this project - we need another report. Could you take up the slack and write one?

    John, we're trying to get enough money together to buy a van for the local youth club, but we need another £200. Is there any chance you could take up the slack [provide the £200] while we apply for a bank loan?

    Edit
    I have just done a bit of research and Dictionary.com has 1930 for the first date of appearance of this metaphor, so if that's correct, my naval metaphor idea is rubbish! I have not done any more research, though, so take this with a pinch of salt. Dictionary.com also gives the following examples:

    [Non-metaphorical use] - Take up the slack before releasing the kite.

    [Metaphorical use] - New sources of oil will take up the slack resulting from the [oil] embargo.
     
    pick/take up the slack (American & Australian, informal)
    to do the work which someone else has stopped doing, but which still needs to be done. When Sue starts going out to work each day, Bob and the kids will have to take up the slack and help more at home.
    I have never heard this usage in BE. It would appear to be AE and AuE.

    Like Emma, I always associate this term with sailing and the Navy.

    LRV
     

    winklepicker

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    "Pull up the slack" actually has nothing to do with trousers or pants in this context.
    This is true, though rather a pity. I like the idea of taking up the slack in one's slacks! It's a nice picture (though sadly not one that I with my middle-aged spread have experienced for a while...).
    So I think we have an odd combination of two concepts: to pull up one's slacks = put on one's trousers and to take up the slack = to tighten a rope or any of the figurative uses explained above. I'm betting that Emma is right and dictionary.com is wrong on the sailing ship origin.
     

    snowalker

    Senior Member
    canada english
    There is a hitch (a type of knot) called a "slack hitch" where a running line goes around a set line or rail, and loops back over itself. Tension on the running line locks the loop on itself. There are all kinds of variations and gadgets that do this, but when sailing the lines that hold the sails must be adjusted frequently. Lines are let out. For others, something must be done to take up the slack. Slack is produced when some part of a balanced system stops pulling a full load.
     

    Roddyboy55

    Senior Member
    England, English UK
    My understanding is similar to Emma's and LRV's, I believe it is a nautical term derived from slack mooring ropes of a boat tied up on the dockside.

    "Taking up the slack" (in the mooring ropes) being required to keep a ship secure as the tide rose and fell.

    Rod
     

    danielxu85

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    Thanks, everyone! I like Emma's interpretation of associating this phrase with naval, though it might not be right. It helps me to remember it! This is the best part!
     

    snowalker

    Senior Member
    canada english
    I am still new at this so I don't really know how closly a "thread" must tie back to the topic. However, to risk changing the subject, one usually doesn't pull up or take up slack in mooring lines because most of the world's boats are tied to docks that go up and down with the tide, or the mooring lines go around pilings and back to the boat and slide on the pilings as the tide or cargo displacement changes.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    Dear snowalker, the topic is the metaphorical use of the phrase, so discussion of the intricacies of mooring a boat is off-topic in my view.:) The Forum is primarily for the discussion of language.;)
     

    glasgo

    New Member
    English
    The expression "take up the slack" originated, as far as I am aware" in the Royal Navy. Seaboats were rowed by seamen, for example a whaler would have five oarsmen and a coxwainn. When the seaboat was lowered, the ship was generally moving and the boat would be lowered to within a few feet of the water and dropped by means of releasing special pins attached to the falls (ropes with blocks and tackles secured to either end of the boat. The order would be given, "clear lower deck for lowering/raising seaboat". All hands off watch would muster adjacent to the seaboat. The two ends of the falls would be laid on the deck and the ratings would form two lines, each group taking a fall in hand. The order would then be given "take up the slack". The two group of sailors would then do just that, pull on the individual ropes until there is no slack in them. The order would then be given "marry the falls". The two groups of sailors would then bring the ropes together and form one group pulling or releasing the the two ropes as required
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I think "slack" means trousers or pants depending on whether you are British or American. What does it mean to say "pull up the slack"? Is it the same as "tighten one's belts"?

    They withdrew NT$10,000 out of their mission fund accounts each month for expenses. My wife and I pulled up the slack if they needed help.
    Pants or trousers are 'slacks', not slack.
     
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