What does the idiom "have a sharp tongue" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase have a sharp tongue, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression have a sharp tongue used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "have a sharp tongue"


The phrase "have a sharp tongue" means to speak in a way that is cutting, often with sarcasm or criticism, or to be able to think of quick and clever responses. It implies that someone speaks in a way that is able to sting or hurt other people, even if it is done in a humorous way. It also suggests that someone is quick-witted in their conversations and able to come up with witty comebacks swiftly.


The idiom "have a sharp tongue" has its origins in the English language and dates back to at least the 16th century. The phrase was likely first used by Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar, when Antony said, "Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers; Gentlemen all,-- of my word, I have a sharp tongue." Other literary sources, including a 1590 poem by John Manwood, have also used the phrase in a similar manner.

The phrase itself is metaphorical, drawing on concepts of sharpness and weaponry to describe someone's ability to think of and deliver acerbic remarks. The phrase implies that someone's words are like a weapon, capable of wounding with acerbic wit or criticism.


The phrase "have a sharp tongue" is generally used in a negative manner to describe someone who speaks in a way that can be hurtful or caustic, often using sarcasm or criticism. It is also used in a neutral context to describe someone who is able to think of witty comebacks quickly, without implying any negativity.

Example Sentences

  • Sally had a sharp tongue, which made it hard for anyone to get close to her.
  • Steve had a sharp tongue and was always able to think of clever comebacks in any situation.
  • The professor had a sharp tongue and was not afraid to speak his mind.
  • John was known for his sharp tongue, which made him popular but unpopular at the same time.

The meanings of the words in the "have a sharp tongue" idiom

The universal role of idioms

"Kill two birds with one stone" is an English idiom that means to accomplish two things with a single action. In French, the similar idiom is "Faire d'une pierre deux coups," which translates to "To kill two birds with one stone." This idiom highlights the efficiency of completing two tasks with one action.


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