I was speaking to a native Canadian when he told me during a video game progress:

"I'll pick up the slack"

I got upset with him because I know that slack has a negative connotation which means he was being offensive to me. However, he said that:

"Seeing you're not a native and I am, you don't know better the expressions we use here and their intent."

(even though I have a Bachelor's degree and he doesn't).

Aside from him pulling a red herring's argument, he's not being very clear about this. Further, he said:

"When Canadians say 'I'm picking up your slack' they mean it in an innocent, positive way. They mean that they're just going to pick up the work that's left to be done".

According to him I'm wrong and I don't have a right to argue because I don't live there like he does and I 'just have book smarts' (which we all know isn't true because a degree teaches you critical thinking), so I apparently wouldn't know the English language and their expressions better than him.

"I'll pick up the slack" apparently means "I'll do the work that's left to be done" and has nothing to do with me or the fact that I'm slacking. He even said: "I wasn't calling you a slacker". I'm sorry but it doesn't sound logical at all. Doesn't it imply that I was slacking? In this context we were on a team, fighting a game enemy. So if he was being productive in the game and he wasn't referring to his own slack - and I was the only one falling behind - surely he was implying my slack?

I would like to debunk this. Is he right? Am I wrong? Could someone please clarify this?

  • Sounds like he was right, and you were wrong.
    – user453441
    May 27, 2019 at 22:54

2 Answers 2


I'm an American.

If someone is "picking up your slack," they are taking on the work that you are not doing. There's not an inherent connotation about why you aren't doing that work. In many cases, you have slack to be picked up because you're overloaded and too busy doing something of higher priority.

To my knowledge, "picking up slack" and "slacking" do not have a relationship.

The (real, this time; n.1) origin of the phrase comes from sailing. When a sailor is pulling on a "line" (a rope), there's likely to be some amount of slack in the line he's putting down. Another sailor is needed to "pick up the slack" and ensure the line doesn't get tangled. In this context, "picking up the slack" is purely about teamwork; the first sailor is unable to pick up that slack because they are busy adjusting the line, so the second sailor is needed.


Contrast these two statements:

"I'll clean up the mess."

"I'll clean up his mess."

The former leaves the source of the mess completely ambiguous, and no accusation of who made the mess is evident.

The latter places the responsibility for the mess on someone, which could lead to conflict.

In the example you cited, "slack" isn't attributed to anyone. Perhaps it was due to bad luck, game latency, or a loose cat on a keyboard. We don't know. The speaker is simply saying "I got it covered."

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