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The phrase “take it easy” has several different meanings, and it's not always easy to tell between them from context. I'm referring specifically to the standalone phrase (grammatically, an imperative), not to the use of the verbal expression in general.

  • — I'm going on a holiday. — Take it easy for a week, you deserved it. (the usual verbal meaning)
  • — I'm leaving, bye. — Take it easy. (≈ “have a nice time”)
  • — I'm going to hit someone. — Hey, take it easy, man! (≈ “keep your cool”)

What clues can distinguish the friendly use (have a nice time) from the reproachful use (keep calm)? Are there other meanings to consider? Are there regional variations?

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All uses of take it easy I can think of are nearly interchangeable with relax. (One wouldn't say just "relax" as a farewell, but in that use it's similar to "stay cool" or "have a good [relaxed] day".)

And uses where take it easy is literal imperative advice are not necessarily reproachful.

"Augh, I'll never get all these facts straight in time for the test! I'm going to fail, I know it!" "Whoa, take it easy. You can do this."

3

Personally I don't see any real difference in meaning between any of the examples. Like lots of informal slang, take it easy can be used in many situations where you don't really want to be too specific in exactly what you say. But in the context of imminent aggressive behaviour, it's context and delivery that distinguishes between calm down or I'll deck you!, and please stop because you're distressing me.

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Take it easy, I think can mean 'look after yourself', and also maybe 'slow down a bit', 'keep staying focused', even 'go with the flow'.

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