What Does Pins and Needles Mean?

On Pins and Needles Meaning

Definition: Nervously awaiting something.

A common version of this phrase appears as waiting on pins and needles.

Origin of Pins and Needles

Pins and needles, when not preceded by the word on, refers to a tingling feeling in one’s limbs. This feeling often occurs when blood flow is returning to the limb after temporarily not flowing there. This happens when a person sits or positions himself in such a way to cut off blood flow. This sensation is numb and unpleasant to most people. In fact, it feels like the limb is being pricked by pins and needles, thus the name.

People started adding on around the year 1800, and the meaning changed to become a nervous mental state of anticipation.

If you are waiting for an acceptance letter from a school or college, it might be said that you are waiting on pins and needles for a reply.

Examples of Pins and Needles

on pins and needles idiom meaningHere is an example in which two roommates are discussing a job opportunity that one of them has.

Mario: How was your interview this morning?

Axel: I think it went pretty well, actually!

Mario: Do you think you’ll get the job?

Axel: Well, I’m not sure. I know there was at least one other candidate who was very promising. Regardless, I should know by 5 p.m. if I got it or not. I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear from the company!

Mario: I hope you get the job! Good luck!

pins and needles phraseIn this example, two college students are discussing the final exam that they just finished taking.

Roger: How do you think you did on the exam?

Noel: I’m not sure. I think I did okay, but there were a few questions that I wasn’t sure about. What about you?

Roger: I have no idea. I was so nervous during the test that I can’t even remember which questions I answered. I know that I ran out of time, which is never a good sign. I guess we’ll just have to wait until the professor posts our grades.

Noel: Yes, I’ll be on pins and needles until then!

More Examples

This excerpt is about housing developers who may lose funding due to a new tax plan.

  • Low-income housing developers remain on pins and needles. –LA Times

The second example is about success during a baseball game.

  • “It was one of the biggest reliefs when Darin caught that ball. You’re on pins and needles the whole time, basically stressed out, trying to be ready for everything and then…” Eckstein said, his words sprinting until he let out a long sigh. –OC Register


The idiom on pins and needles means to be in an anxious state.