English Expression – Throw the baby out with the bath water

This is such a bizarre expression, don’t you think?

Throwing the baby out with the bath water” is a very old idiomatic expression that is used to suggest avoiding the error of discarding everything when something could be used. We say someone has “thrown the baby out with the bath water” when they have gotten rid of the good parts as well as the bad parts of something.

This idiom comes from a German proverb: “Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten”. The earliest written record of this phrase is from 1512! It is very common to say this in Germany and there is proof of many people using it, including Martin Luther and Otto von Bismarck.

It came to English with the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle. He wrote the translation and explanation in a magazine article in 1849:

Fling-out your dirty water with all zeal, and set it careering down the kennels; but try if you can keep the little child!

And now, it is used by both German and English speakers!

Here’s the definition of those vocabulary words:

Fling out – to throw or push (something) in a sudden and forceful way.

Zeal – a strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something.

Careering – to go forward quickly without control.

Kennels – kennels are a place where dogs are kept while their owners are away. However, it is possible the author meant “canals”.


There are elements of this strategy which are valuable, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water and discard the whole thing yet

‘James and I want to change our living room so we are giving all our furniture away’
‘Are you sure you want to throw the baby out with the bath water? You could paint the furniture a different colour and it would look new!’

TWEET IT OUT: I just learnt the meaning of the idiom “throw the baby out with the bath water” with @abaenglish! #alwaysbelearning

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