In British English we would often say something like 'in the thick of this crisis...', meaning 'in the midst of this crisis...' The latter is a little too formal for the context in which I need this phrase, but I need to be sure that the former would sound natural to speakers of American English.

Is 'in the thick of' used in this way in the US? If not, what would be the nearest equivalent?

  • It's not real common in AmE, but is used. Most often in the idiom "in the thick of it", rather giving a specific object, though both forms are used. It could certainly be made to sound "unnatural", but is not inherently so. – Hot Licks Oct 7 '16 at 12:38
  • Not everything is predetermined. To be in the thick of it is common in American English and substituting any situation for the It is fine. Of course, it is common but not on the street, as it were. – Lambie Oct 7 '16 at 13:03
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    The Atlantic Monthly: "The railroad—known as the Tazara line—was built by China in the early 1970s, at a cost of nearly $500 million, an extraordinary expenditure in the thick of the Cultural Revolution." – Lambie Oct 7 '16 at 13:05
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    The New Yorker - When Powell wrote this introduction, in 1997, the imperative to deny the dominion of aids was urgent—the gay community was in the thick of the crisis. – Lambie Oct 7 '16 at 13:06
  • Thank you very much. From what you are saying it is not so much in common parlance, but it is nevertheless used in more formal contexts. That is very helpful. – The Advocate Oct 7 '16 at 13:08

In OED sense B1 1a of the noun/adj thick it says the following with examples. No indication is given that it is uniquely British, but then none of the examples are American. I suspect it may have something to do with its origins being a metaphor from fog.

b. fig. The position, time, stage, or state in which activity is most intense; the midst, the height (of an action). Always in the thick of.

1681 J. Flavell Method of Grace ix. 214 Something they enjoy..in the very thick of troubles.

1821 Byron Sardanapalus iii. i. 86 Where a soldier should be, In the thick of the fight.

1849 C. Brontë Shirley I. i. 13 They are in the thick of a revival.

1870 J. H. Burton Hist. Scotl. to 1688 V. lv. 348 The bishop was in the thick of these splendid projects.

1885 H. Dunckley in Manch. Examiner 15 June 6/2 We are now in the thick of a Cabinet crisis.

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    Thank you. I had never given particular thought to the origin of the phrase. To be perfectly honest, the image that has always formed in my mind was one of a thick, viscous liquid, such as a barrel of molasses! – The Advocate Oct 7 '16 at 11:02
  • I've always kind of viewed it as alluding to a "thicket" (and hence "in the thick of it".) – Hot Licks Oct 7 '16 at 12:40
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    @HotLicks That may well be valid, and my own interpretation of fog, probably reflects my own regional upbringing. In Norfolk they report the presence of fog, as often as not, simply by saying "it's a bit thick out there" or in extreme cases "tha's as thick as pea soup out there". – WS2 Oct 7 '16 at 17:19

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