English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency is coming apart at the seams.

In the example above and in general.

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

It's an idiom. Referring to clothing.

It means that something is falling apart, or declining in quality, as clothing would if it were torn at the seams.

Seam: A line where two pieces of fabric are sewn together in a garment or other article.

share|improve this answer
Thanks, what is/are seams? – Anderson Silva May 10 '11 at 1:07
Did you see the definition of seam MikeVaughan quoted? A seam is where two pieces of cloth are held together by thread. – mgkrebbs May 10 '11 at 2:09

bursting (or bulging) at the seams informal (of a place or building) full to overflowing.
come (or fall) apart at the seams informal (of a person or system) be in a very poor condition and near to collapse : the attitude of the airport guard was symptomatic of a system falling apart at the seams.

An earlier version of this second expression was give way at the seams, seen in print in its literal sense from the mid 19th century. The first figurative use of the phrase I could find was from Across the Campus: A Story of College Life by Caroline Fuller, 1899:


The related phrase bursting at the seams came first, but all versions of the phrase seem to have followed similar paths in their trek from literal to predominantly figurative use:


share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.