“Bent out of shape” is a common idiom used in English-language conversations. It is used to describe a particular state of irritation, exasperation, or exhaustion. Someone might use the phrase to describe a friend who is upset about something that just happened to them or one might use it to describe how they’re feeling about a particular situation. It’s unclear when or where it originated but educated guesses place it in the mid-20th century.
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Meaning of “Bent out of shape”
“Bent out of shape” is used as a way of describing how upset someone is. It’s possible to use this phrase to describe oneself or to use it to describe how someone else is acting. Usually, the idiom is received passive-aggressively, or in a way that’s more insulting than if the other person has said nothing. It might add insult to injury. One person might say to another “don’t get bent out of shape” when the other person is rightfully upset about something serious. It’s often used as a way of suggesting that someone “shut up” or “stop complaining.”
When to Use “Bent out of shape”
It’s possible to use “bent out of shape” in a wide variety of situations. But, it is best used among friends, family members, and colleagues. That is if the speaker doesn’t want the listener to think they’re insulting them in some way. Even still, depending on the tone the speaker uses, it’s very easy to hear this idiom and feel as though one is being judged for how they’ve reacted or what they’re feeling. That will only be emphasized in a formal setting such as a business meeting or academic presentation.
- I told her not to get bent out of shape about losing her place on the team. I don’t think it helped.
- Seriously, Jack, don’t get so bent out of shape. It’s only a car, you can always buy another.
- I kept telling myself not to get bent out of shape about what they said or I’d never make any friends here.
- It’s hard not to get bent out of shape when someone is always telling you you’re doing everything wrong.
- I couldn’t believe his first reaction was to tell me not to get bent out of shape. He was completely unhelpful.
Why Do Writers Use “Bent out of shape”
Writers use “bent out of shape” in the same way and for the same reasons that the phrase is used in everyday conversation. It’s easy to imagine how a writer might use the phrase in the dialogue between two characters. When one gets upset, the other tells them not to “get bent out of shape.” Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the writer’s intentions, the idiom is usually not received well. It’s a snappy way of telling someone not to be so upset about something they’re probably rightfully upset about.
Origins of “Bent out of shape”
Like many idioms, “bent out of shape” does not have a defined origin. There is no clear written record of when this phrase was used for the first time or how it was initially intended. Often, when these phrases are coined they’re used more literally than their later iterations suggest. Some sources suggest that the earliest meaning of the phrase was related to intoxication with alcohol or drugs. For example, saying someone is “bent” rather than “drunk.” The latter being more serious than the former.
As the decades progressed, the word was more commonly used to refer to someone getting upset about something. By the mid-1950s, the idiom was being used in its current form. It’s also possible to find iterations of the phrase being used in an anti-gay or homophobic way.
- “Don’t cry over spilt milk.”
- “A penny for your thoughts.”
- “A perfect storm.”
- “Actions speak louder than words.”
- “Elephant in the room.”