I heard it in The Big Lebowski movie, when Walter yells at Donny, "shut the fuck up, Donny"; then he exclaims, "You're out of your element!".

  • 5
    General reference: specific quote and the phrase in general.
    – Lynn
    Dec 2, 2011 at 23:31
  • 3
    i am a programmer and i saw this question in stack overflow,so i quess here in english.SE i am out of my element,no ?
    – Qchmqs
    Dec 3, 2011 at 13:54

2 Answers 2


The references given in a comment (in thefreedictionary and urbandictionary) suggest the meaning, "to feel unhappy or strange because you are in a situation that you are not familiar with", but provide no sense of why it should mean that. It is a reference to classical elements, Earth, Water, Air, and Fire; as, for example, a fish out of water is out of its element.

  • 8
    +1 "A fish out of water" is a great example of the literal and intended meaning. Dec 2, 2011 at 23:43

Someone's "element" refers to their bailiwick of expertise or comfort. A doctor might be in her element in the operating room but out of her element in a garage.

The quote from The Big Lebowski can be interpreted as "This situation is not something you are comfortable or qualified to deal with."

  • In the lingo of the film: "Back off! You have no fucking clue what you're dealing with here". Sep 10, 2015 at 3:58

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