What Does Shaking Like a Leaf Mean?

Shaking Life a Leaf Meaning

Definition: To tremble in fear.

Synonymous expressions include quake like a leaf, quake in one’s boots and shake in one’s shoes.

The idea behind all of these expressions is that people tend to shake when they are afraid.

Origin of Shaking Like a Leaf

This idiom is very old and finds its first appearances in other languages. It occurs in several 13th-century French fables.

shake shake shake like a leafOne of the first popular English writers to use this expression was Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote during the Middle Ages in the 1300s. He specified the type of leaf as an aspen leaf. This is because aspen leaves are very broad with thin stems. Therefore, they shake more easily in the wind than most other types of leaves.

Other iconic writers like Shakespeare and A.A. Milne have used this phrase over the years.

People usually use this expression in the progressive form, with ing.

  • Shaking like a leaf.

Examples of Shaking Like a Leaf

Here is an example that involves two college students who just received their grades for the semester.

Robin: Oh no!

Harry: What happened? Are your grades pretty bad?

Robin: They’re terrible; I failed every class.

Harry: Well, I hate to say this, but I did tell you to study more.

Robin: My parents are going to kill me!

Harry: You must really be nervous. You’re shaking like a leaf.

Robin: They’re never going to trust me again! They’re going to force me to go to some horrible school that is much stricter than here.

Harry: If it makes you feel better, legally they can’t force you to do anything.

trembled like a leafIn this dialogue, two coworkers are at work when they get an alert via text message on their phones.

Mal: Xiomara, did you get this text?

Xiomara: Yes, it says there is a gunman in the building and to take cover.

Mal: Is this real?

Xiomara: I’m not sure, but just to be safe, we should hide and lock the office door. We should turn off the lights in here too, so that it looks like no one is here.

Mal: Oh my goodness!

Xiomara: Try to stay calm. You’re shaking like a leaf. It’s going to be okay. Remember that the office door is bulletproof.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a young girl competing on a talent show.

  • Remember how shy VanderWaal was in her audition (that was viewed more than 50 million times in two days)? She told us that she was “shaking like a leaf” right before that AGT performance. –USA Today

This excerpt is from an article about a comedian winning an award.

  • Again, “I Love Lucy” was nominated for best comedy and Lucy entered the Hotel Statler “shaking like a leaf,” observed Variety gossipmeister Sheilah Graham. –LA Times


The phrase shake like a leaf means to quiver from fright.