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Meaning of “At A Pinch” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

At A Pinch

“The Israelites send to hire the King of Egypt . . . to help at a pinch.”—BISHOP BROWNRIG (1659).

The phrase is as old at least as Caxton, and simply means: if put to the test; if there is no alternative; in the last resort. Emerson, in his English Traits, says of our islanders: “Each of them could, at a pinch, stand in the shoes of the other”; but that opinion may be a slight exaggeration of the adaptability of the average Briton.

The English verb “to pinch” means to squeeze in such an acute manner that, owing to the pressure exerted, there is little possibility of escape without being more or less injured. When we say: “He’ll scrape through at a pinch,” we mean exactly “scrape” in the sense of a man’s being so squeezed and pressed in his endeavour that some part of his metaphorical anatomy is scratched or rubbed away. So narrow is the aperture through which he struggles, that it is tip and go whether or not he will eventually succeed in getting through. Such a case clearly indicates an extremity of difficulty. Hence, we often say, when we are in any great need for financial assistance: “I’m pinched for money just now”; meaning, the pressure of my needs is so great that I can hardly escape disaster.

In such straitened, or pinched, circumstances, men are always more or less prone to seek assistance from those whose aid they would not normally accept; much less beg. Thus, adversity makes strange bedfellows. At a pinch, we will pocket our pride and eat humble pie. When the jackal is being hunted by the jaguar, he will, at a pinch, crave help from the mighty lion, knowing full well that, later, he may be eaten by his benefactor.


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