Glossary Home Idioms

Shape up or ship out

‘Shape up or ship out’ is an English-language idiom that’s used to threaten someone with a consequence if they don’t do what they’re supposed to.

‘Shape up or ship out’ suggests that the listener is going to have to leave, is going to be forgotten, or lose some privilege if they don’t do what they’re asked. It originated in the 1950s with the U.S. military but is easily used in a variety of contemporary situations.

Shape up or ship out definition and origin

Meaning of Shape up or ship out

“Shape up or ship out” is an English idiom that’s used to threaten someone with an action if they don’t get themselves organized.

Or if they don’t do whatever it is, they need to. “Shape up” is directed at someone who is unorganized, unprepared, or unprofessional. To shape up, they need to get their affairs in order, take responsibility for their actions, and act like a professional. The phrase “ship out” is the threat. It is used metaphorically to describe that same person losing access to something they care about. If they have to “ship out,” then they have to leave, get out, or forfeit their rights to something. If the phrase has its intended effect, the person will get themselves together and do what they’re supposed to.

When to Use Shape up or ship out

It’s possible to use “Shape up or ship out” in a wide variety of scenarios. One might use the phrase when talking to a friend or family member who needs a wake-up call or to a child who is misbehaving. In some circumstances, a boss might use the phrase to remind an employee that their behavior is not appropriate, and they should make an immediate change. As noted below, the phrase has its origins (most likely) in the U.S. military.

In one scenario, someone might be inspired to use the phrase when their child refuses to do their homework. IF the parent tells them to “shape up or ship out,” they might be alluding to the child losing privileges or something else that should inspire them into action. When a boss uses it in regard to an employee, they’re likely threatening them with termination if they don’t do the work they’re supposed to.

Example Sentences With Shape up or ship out

  • You better shape up or ship out. I’m not sure what’s going to happen if you don’t.
  • He told her she had to shape up or ship out, and it really made her work harder.
  • After they were told to shape up or ship out, they didn’t change anything and were all fired.
  • You never want to hear your mom use the phrase “shape up or ship out.”
  • I don’t need someone to tell me to shape up or ship out. I’m always focused on my work.
  • If you’re not going to shape up, you’re going to have to ship out.

Why Do Writers Use Shape up or ship out?

Writers use “Shape up or ship out” in the same way and for the same reasons that people use it in everyday conversations. It’s an interesting phrase, one that leaves the threat open-ended. This means that it can be used in a number of different situations, and readers should remain engaged with it. Unlike some idioms, it’s not so overused that it’s an obvious cliche. This means that it is still used by some writers on a regular basis. (That being said, it’s certainly not original either.)

Origin of Shape up or ship out

“Shape up or ship out,” like most idioms, has different possible origins. But, the most commonly cited is related to the U.S. military in the 1950s and the use of the phrase as a way to direct soldiers to conform to standards. An officer in charge might use the phrase to threaten the soldiers with disciplinary action if they didn’t get themselves organized and in line.


What is the tone of shape up or ship out?

The tone is forceful and demanding. Someone who uses this idiom is asking another person to do something specific right at that moment. There is no time to spare. They need to get themselves together quickly.

What idioms mean the same thing as shape up or ship out?

Idioms like “get it together” and “get your ducks in line” mean the same thing as “shape up or ship out.” They are all directed, rather forcefully, towards someone who isn’t doing exactly what they’re supposed to.

What is the purpose of shape up or ship out?

The purpose is to get someone moving who is being lazy or irresponsible. It’s not the nicest idiom, so it’s unlikely to be used in a truly joking manner.

What is a good reaction to being told to “shape up ship out?”

A good reaction is to either do exactly what one needs to do or to accept the consequences. This is likely going to mean that you’re going to lose your job or suffer some other consequence.

Why would someone need to “shape up or ship out?”

If someone was not fulfilling their job requirements in some way, they’d likely be told to shape up or ship out. This could mean that they need to leave or are going to be fired. Another situation could be found in the home where a parent might threaten (hyperbolically) the same thing with their child.

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