A Slap on the Wrist (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "A Slap on the Wrist"?

The term "a slap on the wrist" means a mild punishment.

"A slap on the wrist" is mostly used figuratively to suggest a mild reprimand. It contrasts with "a slap in the face," which suggests a harsher punishment. (Of note, to receive "a slap in the face" carries a connotation of the reprimand being unwarranted or unexpected. This is not the case with a "slap on the wrist," which carries a connotation of getting away with a misdemeanour.)
  • John: The CEO said my comment ruined the whole meeting.
  • Anna: Wow, that was a real slap in the face.
  • John: The CEO said my comment ruined the whole meeting. She wants to see me in the morning.
  • Anna: I think you'll get away with a slap on the wrist.
The term "a slap on the wrist" probably derives from the 18th century but only came into regular use in the 20th century (evidence). During the times when the term first emerged, punishments were often severe, and a slap on the wrist would have been considered extremely mild.
A Slap on the Wrist (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Despite committing a serious offense, he received a slap on the wrist and was given a minimal punishment.
  • After causing a significant disruption in class, the student only received a slap on the wrist and was not given any substantial consequences.
  • Despite the potential harm caused by his actions, he was let off with a slap on the wrist and faced no significant repercussions.
  • She expected a severe penalty for her misconduct, but instead, she received a slap on the wrist and was allowed to continue with minimal consequences.
  • They were caught engaging in unethical practices, but all they received was a slap on the wrist, which failed to address the severity of their actions.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.