What Does Elbow Room Mean?

Elbow Room Meaning

Definition: Sufficient space to move without restrictions.

Origin of Elbow Room

This idiom is fairly old since it originated in the 1500s. The word elbow itself dates back to around the year 1000 and refers to the middle part of the arm, specifically the part that bends.

Elbow room simply means enough space in which one can move his or her elbows without knocking them into someone else. To get a visual of this, imagine you are on a crowded street. People bump into you on every side. You have no space so you must keep your arms tucked in tightly to your side, or else get them knocked about. You literally have no room in which to spread out your elbows.

what is elbow roomThis idiom appears in the play King John, from the year 1598, by the famous English playwright William Shakespeare.

  • Now my soul hath elbow-room.

In the play, the king says that he wants elbow room for his soul. This shows that Shakespeare had taken a well-known expression that was fairly literal and made it figurative.

Examples of Elbow Room

Here is an example that involves two college students who are trying to study in the library.

Robin: Why is it so crowded in here? I’ve never seen this many people in the library before.

Harry: It’s finals week. Everyone is here trying to prepare for exams.

Robin: Well, there’s no space for me to spread my books out or even stretch my arms. I’m going to go back home, so I have a little more elbow room.

meaning of elbow roomIn this dialogue, two co-workers are at work and are complaining about the cubicle situation.

Mal: I hope the budget allows the company to move to a bigger space. Right now, we have two people per cubicle, and these cubicles were only built to accommodate one person.

Xiomara: I know. I can barely get any work done because I have no space. A little elbow room would help a lot.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about why people are moving out of Southern California.

  • Sean Stafford, a Laguna Beach transplant working as an agent in Bend, Oregon, guessed that as many as 30 percent to 40 percent of out-of-state homebuyers in his area are Californians, drawn by elbow room, clean air and everything from fishing, kayaking to world-class mountain climbing. –OC Register

This excerpt is about a new, more spacious workplace.

  • More elbow room, in the form of additional offices and conference rooms awash in natural light. An exercise room for employees. –OC Register


The expression elbow room means ample space.