Today, my three year old son was doing something he wasn't normally supposed to do but we were letting him get away with it (wearing a backpack to the dinner table). He pointed out that he wasn't supposed to wear it and my wife replied that "today, we're just going to let that slide." Since he's young, the expression (obviously) didn't make sense to him. We explained that it meant that we were going to excuse the infraction today because it wasn't something that was terribly important. He then asked why "let it slide" means that. My wife and I didn't have an answer.

So, I'm here. Where does the expression "let it slide" come from? Why does it mean what it means? And so forth?

2 Answers 2


ODO's entry for slide defines "let something slide" as:

negligently allow something to deteriorate:
Papa had let the business slide after Mama’s death

Therefore, the connotation is quite literal in that you are letting something slide down. Furthermore, there is also an implicit restriction involved in your expression which would expand to something along the lines of:

Let it slide this time

In other words, you're allowing the situation to deteriorate temporarily.

The etymology of the word slide dates the first use of let (something) slide to the 14th century:

O.E. slidan "move smoothly, glide," from P.Gmc. *slidanan (cf. O.H.G. slito, Ger. Schlitten "sledge"), from PIE root *(s)lei- "slide" (cf. Lith. slystu "to glide, slide," O.C.S. sledu "track," Gk. olisthos "slipperiness," olisthanein "to slip," M.Ir. sloet "slide"). Phrase to let (something) slide is recorded from late 14c.

  • 1
    I hadn't thought of that definition of "slide." Good insight. Thank you. Nov 8, 2012 at 7:45

To let something slide can be both pejorative and easy going. The example of "Papa had let the business slide after Mama's death" could be construed as an example of sloth (therefore bad) or more likely as an example of grief taking over his life.

The example of letting the child sit at the table with his backpack on is of the easy-going type unless one believes in spare the rod and spoil the child.

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    Hi Henry, and welcome to the site! Your answer explains what the expression means, but the question was about the origin and reasoning behind the expression....
    – Hellion
    Mar 20, 2015 at 16:32

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