Headbloom Blog

In Search of a Little Elbow Room
In Grand Rapids this week, I passed by The Elbow Room, a tavern I’d seen a dozen times before. For the first time, I broke into a grin, thinking about the meaning: a place to spread out and be comfortable—and maybe even put one’s elbows up on the bar. It became funnier yet when I remembered the expression “to bend a few elbows” (meaning to have a few drinks).

Brainstorming for my students, I came up with several expressions that include the word “elbow.” Which of these do you already know?

  • elbow room = space to spread out and be comfortable
    If we’re going to work comfortably, let’s find a conference table with enough elbow room.
  • to bend elbows = to have some (alcoholic) drinks
    Honey, I’m going out with the boys to bend a few elbows.
  • elbow grease = extra work or physical effort
    To get this old jalopy ready for the antique car show, we’re going to need a lot of elbow grease.
  • to elbow in = to assertively enter, to force one’s way into a space
    They elbowed their way into the crowd to get a better view of the accident.
  • elbow macaroni = slender noodles with a bend in them
    Mac & cheese is usually made with elbow macaroni.
  • tennis elbow = inflammation, pain, or tearing of the tendon inserting into the elbow from the upper arm
    I had to quit playing racquetball for six months because of a bad case of tennis elbow.
  • to rub elbows with = to associate with (possibly sitting next to and drinking with)
    She has been known to rub elbows with some pretty influential people in this town.
  • sharp elbows = physical toughness or aggressiveness
    Retired Red Wings hockey player, Gordie Howe, used to be called Mr. Elbows.
    In a 2010 pickup basketball game at the White House, President Obama caught a sharp elbow on the lip and needed 12 stitches.

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Interesting factoid: Did you know the “ell” is an old-fashioned unit of measurement? It corresponded to the length of a man’s forearm from fingertips to elbow. Elsewhere, it extended up to the shoulder and was used primarily in tailoring to measure fabric.

Checking the internet, I discovered there are dozens of Elbow Room bars, taverns, and lounges in the U.S. Clearly, this clever name has inspired more than just the owners of the Grand Rapids watering hole. The welcoming message for patrons across the country: “There’s room for you here!”



Alan Headbloom