What Does Rubbing Elbows Mean?

Rubbing Elbows Meaning

Definition: to mingle with.

To rub elbows with means to spend time socially with.

Origin of Rubbing Elbows

This expression first appeared in the 1800s. Rub, in this idiom, is synonymous with touch.

This idiom refers to the fact that if one is spending time with others in a social setting, they are likely close enough to touch elbows. Imagine a party with many people. It is probable that these people will form groups, often in circles, in which their elbows are close to the elbows of the others.

This expression isn’t commonly used for spending time with one’s close friends. Rather, it has the connotation of referring to an ordinary person being allowed to mingle with famous or powerful people.

Examples of Rubbing Elbows

rubbing shoulders In the dialogue below, two friends are discussing a third friend of theirs.

Tina: Why didn’t Jack join us on our road trip to the beach? I thought he loved coming there with us.

Keanu: He does, but he got invited to a very important business meeting with the leaders of his company. He couldn’t turn down a chance to rub elbows with the decision makers of his industry. He thinks that if he is able to make a good impression at the party that he could get a promotion.

elbow rubbing In this example, one friend is inviting another to a special event.

Jonah: Hey, Tatiana, you’ll never guess what happened! I won tickets to go see the Oscars. I’m going to go see all the best actors get awards!

Tatiana: How many tickets?

Jonah: Just two! Do you want to join me?

Tatiana: Of course! I’ve always wanted to rub elbows with the rich and the famous.

More Examples

This excerpt is from different socioeconomic classes in California.

  • The next rank on the scale of who’s who in California are the non-working poor. While the upper classes do not want to rub elbows with them, they are regarded as useful because their votes can be purchased through extensive entitlement programs that are paid for by the very lowest class. –OC Register

The second example is about prospective baseball players for a team.

  • The Sox are bringing outfielder Eloy Jimenez, their No.2-ranked prospect behind Yoan Moncada, and Michael Kopech, their No. 3, to Chicago Tuesday and Wednesday to rub elbows with the team and have some face time with media. –Chicago Sun Times


The phrase to rub elbows with means to socialize with someone, usually someone who is rich, famous, or special in a similar way.