What Does By Any Stretch of the Imagination Mean?

Any Stretch of the Imagination Meaning

Definition: As much as anyone could imagine.

Usually used in the negative—as in, this is not possible by any stretch of the imagination—this phrase means something is definitely not possible or true.

Even if you can stretch your imagination to include all viable possibilities, this is not one of them. It is a strong way to say that something is completely and absolutely not possible or true.

Origin of By Any Stretch of the Imagination

stretch in a sentence Stretch has meant to lengthen by force since the late-14th century and to enlarge beyond proper limits from the mid-16th century. Stretching the imagination, in this sense, is forcing your imagination to try to conceive of something outside proper limits.

The phrase began circulating in the early to mid-1800s, and we can see an example in the New-York Daily Tribune from July 1844,

  • The remainder of the party might have been supposed, without any remarkable stretch of imagination, to have emerged from the workhouse.

Another example comes from The Republic in November 1849,

  • Can we, by any stretch of the imagination, suppose some Walter Scott of a new race in Australia or South Africa saying the same of the Vedas or the Koran?

Examples of By Any Stretch of the Imagination

Stretch the imagination In the modern day, this phrase is most often used in the negative or the interrogative.

For example,

  • It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a nice house, but the family loved it and built their life there.

-and-

  • He wasn’t a good basketball player by any stretch of the imagination, but he gave it his all and always had a smile on his face.

Both of the above examples showcase the negative use of the phrase. Now, let’s look at an interrogative example,

  • Do you know anyone who, by any stretch of the imagination, could be mistaken for Santa Claus?

More Examples

  • “It’s not acceptable, but we’re not concerned that this is pervasive fraud by any stretch of the imagination, and there are processes in place to stop this,” Thomas said. –Detroit Free Press
  • Multigenerational living in America isn’t a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, and for some people, it’s the best option for their family. –Akron Beacon Journal

Summary

Something that is not possible by any stretch of the imagination is not possible even in the strongest imagination; it is something that is definitely not true or possible.