What Does In A Pickle Mean?

In a Pickle Meaning

Definition: In a little bit of trouble.   

This idiom is said of a person in a difficult situation. It can be said jokingly or as a way to downplay the seriousness of the problem.

Origin of In a Pickle

Pickles is a conjugation of the verb to pickle, which is a process of preserving vegetables, and some sources cite evidence that, in the past, there were stories of bodies being preserved in this same way.

By this description, in a pickle could mean in trouble because one was dead. This could be used figuratively to describe anyone in a tough situation.

One of the earliest written uses of this phrase was by the English playwright William Shakespeare in the year 1610, in his play The Tempest.

Alonso: And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they

Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em? 2355

How camest thou in this pickle?

Trinculo: I have been in such a pickle since I

saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of

my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

Examples of In a Pickle

what does it mean to be in a pickleIn the example below, two siblings discuss a new student at their school.

James: So, I finally talked to the new girl, and you were right. She is really friendly.

Jordan: Good! I’m glad you met her.

James: Me too. But now I’m kind of in a pickle.

Jordan: Why? What’s wrong?

James: Well, I actually would really like to ask her on a date, but my best friend likes her, too. I’m not sure what to do.

Jordan: Oh, well, keep me out of it. That seems like it could become a huge mess.

to be in a pickleIn the second dialogue, two coworkers who are working on a commercial use the expression.

Herman: I’m glad we could compromise and come up with this idea. It’s way better than either of our individual ideas.

Alison: Yeah, I think so too. Let’s show it to the boss.

Herman: Actually, we’re in a bit of a pickle.

Alison: Why do you say that?

Herman: The boss hates everything on which I work. If he knows that I was a part of this, he’ll reject it just out of spite.

Alison: Why?

Herman: It doesn’t matter. Why don’t you just show it to him and say you did it alone?

Alison: That doesn’t seem fair, but I guess if it’s the only way to solve the problem, I’ll do it just this once.

More Examples

In this excerpt about a political candidate, the idiom is used to say that she sometimes faced negative views due to her beliefs.

  • References to food have sometimes gotten Clinton in a pickle. She ruffled feathers in some quarters when she let it be known that her career took precedence over homemaking. –Houston Chronicle

The second excerpt uses the idiom to explain a troublesome situation in which a judge can see no perfect solution.

  • Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert expressed empathy about Mathis’ plight but said the county is in a pickle, too, as state law requires certain government buildings be built in the county seat. –Houston Chronicle


The phrase in a pickle is used to describe a person who is in a bothersome situation or who has a problem that is tricky to solve.