What Does Tongue Tied Mean?

Tongue Tied Meaning

Definition: To have trouble speaking due to shyness or embarrassment.

Origin of Tongue Tied

This idiom is quite old and goes back all the way to the 1500s. It appeared around the same time as the noun tongue-tie. The noun form refers to a medical condition in which the tongue cannot move freely, due to being attached too closely to the mouth.

The literal meaning of this medical condition came first, and over time people began using it metaphorically to refer to any person who couldn’t think of what to say, and therefore struggled to speak.

Examples of Tongue Tied

define tongue tiedIn the dialogue below, two friends are talking about how one of them met her favorite celebrity.

Ezekiel: Hey. What’s up?

Maggie: You’ll never guess whom I met on Friday night.

Ezekiel: Who?

Maggie: I met my favorite actor! I couldn’t believe it was him, so I just walked up to him to get a closer look. I think I must have scared him because I got way too close and then just opened and closed my mouth like a fish gasping for breath. I wanted to tell him how much I admired his acting, but I was too tongue-tied.

definition of tongue tiedIn this example, two friends are discussing an awkward family gathering that one of them had to attend.

Tyrion: My father just got remarried to a woman that I used to date.

Mila: Oh my goodness! That must have been an uncomfortable wedding for you to attend.

Tyrion: Yes. He had asked me to make a speech, and I even stood up and tried to give the speech. However, I couldn’t think of what to say, and I kept stuttering. I was so completely tongue-tied that I had to fake a coughing fit and leave the dining area.

More Examples

This excerpt is about the best way to describe yourself during a job interview.

  • You know you’re going to be asked about yourself in a job interview, so don’t get caught tongue-tied. It’s smart to have a small collection of adjectives that describe you well and show you off in your best light—bonus points if they aren’t the same old tired words everybody else is using. –USA Today

This excerpt is about a NASCAR racer meeting a famous actress.

  • Blaney, a “Star Wars” nut, was tongue tied when he met actress Daisy Ridley in March. An hour or so after confetti fluttered on him in victory lane, he offered an open invitation to Ridley to join the post-race party. –USA Today


The term tongue-tied means unable to say anything.