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

The expression have a sharp tongue is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the have a sharp tongue idiom.

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

Idioms with similar meaning

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is an English idiom that means you shouldn't make assumptions about someone or something based solely on its appearance. In Japanese, the similar idiom is "Hana yori dango," which translates to "Dumplings rather than flowers." This idiom means that substance is more important than appearance.


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