Throw out the baby with the bath water

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Throw out the baby with the bath water is an idiom.

The phrase describes a special kind of mistake which happens when something good is lost while trying to get rid of something bad.[1]

The idiom summarizes what happens when something which is necessary is rejected along with what is not necessary.[2]

A slightly different explanation focuses on the loss of the essential while holding on to what is not essential.[3] In other words, the idiom also makes sense when someone might throw out the baby and keep the bath water.[4] Idioms are a common stumbling block for learners of a language.

History[change | change source]

The idiom is pictured in this German book, 1512

This idiom comes from a German proverb, das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten. In 1512, Narrenbeschwörung (Appeal to Fools) by Thomas Murner includes a woodcut picture showing a woman tossing a baby out with waste water.[5]

Alternate expressions[change | change source]

The meaning and intent are sometimes mirrored in different terms.

  • Throw out the champagne with the cork[6]
  • Empty the baby out with the bath.[7]

References[change | change source]

  1. Lim, Tan Cheng (2002). Advanced English Idioms For Effective Communication. Singapore Asian Publications. p. 52. ISBN 978-981-4122-35-1.
  2. Jewell, Elizabeth (2006). The Pocket Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus. Oxford University Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-19-530715-3.
  3. The World Book dictionary. World Book, Incorporated. 2003. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-7166-0299-6.
  4. Nichols, James Oliver (1995). Assessment Case Studies: Common Issues in Implementation with Various Campus Approaches to Resolution. Agathon Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-87586-112-8.
  5. Wilton, David (2004). Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-19-517284-3.
  6. Shaw, Bernard (2002). Shaw on Shakespeare: An Anthology of Bernard Shaw's Writings on the Plays and Production of Shakespeare. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-55783-561-1.
  7. Kirkpatrick, Betty; Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth McLaren (1999). Cliches: Over 1500 Phrases Explored and Explained. Macmillan. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-0-312-19844-2.

More reading[change | change source]