What Does Tall Order Mean?

Tall Order Meaning

Definition: A very difficult task or request.

Origin of Tall Order

This exact origin of this expression is unknown, but it saw its first use in the late-1800s, early-1900s.

In this idiom, the word tall has the sense of big or considerable. Order has the sense of command or instruction.

Another example of an idiom that uses tall to mean considerable or exaggerated is tall tale. A tall tale is a type of folk fable with unbelievable elements, although some parts of it may be true.

A person might utter, “That’s a tall order” as a polite response to a manager assigning that person a difficult task. This would imply that the person is unsure if he or she will be able to accomplish it.

Examples of Tall Order

tall order synonymIn this example, a woman is asking her friend for a favor.

Neha: What are you doing this weekend?

Tyrese: I don’t have any plans. Why? Do you want to catch a movie or something like that?

Neha: Actually, I was hoping you could babysit my niece for me. I promised my sister I would watch her kid, but a guy I really like asked me on a date!

Tyrese: Oh, I don’t know.

Neha: Please, please, please!

Tyrese: That’s a tall order! First of all, I have no experience watching kids, so I have no idea what to do. Second, and more importantly, you know I have a phobia of small children! I’ll be terrified the whole time!

Neha: Then think of this as a perfect opportunity to gain experience and overcome your fear!

tall order originIn this example, two office workers are discussing a new co-worker.

Barry: I can’t believe they want me to train the new guy in addition to all my other responsibilities.

Rachel: I know it’s annoying, but at least that will give you a break from your normal duties. You’ll have more time to finish that big project!

Barry: That’s the problem! They want me to train him and keep up with everything else! I’ll be doing the work of three people with no additional time.

Rachel: Wow! That’s a tall order. It might even be impossible.

More Examples

This quote is from a former Olympian who wants to run a marathon at 60 years old. She anticipates that it will be difficult for her.

  • “I haven’t been on the track in 20 years and I (was) debating whether to get back on the track in anticipation for Chicago. But if it’s not broken why fix it, so to speak. And I don’t want to break myself. It’s a tall order for me. I’m playing with fire in my training. We’ll see what happens in October. If I’m at the starting line, I’ll go after it. I just am pushing it. –Chicago Tribune

This excerpt is from an article about traveling by rocket.

  • Bell said overcoming some of these technical hurdles could be a tall order. But he noted that many people had doubted SpaceX’s ability to land first-stage boosters on floating droneships in the ocean. SpaceX has landed 16 boosters so far, nine of them at sea. –LA Times


The expression that’s a tall order is another way to say, “That is an extremely challenging undertaking.”