In/Out of your element - Idiom of the Week

In/Out of your element - Idiom of the Week


As defined in Linda and Roger Flavell’s book Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins, to be in or out of your element means to be at ease or awkward or unnatural in your environment (page 113).


You could tell that TK was really in his element in his new role at work because of his increased enthusiasm for his work, his confidence, and the quality of his work.


For the most complete picture of the origin of this idiom, we’ve included a bit of Linda and Roger Flavell’s description here:

“Earth, water, air, and fire are the four primary elements which were once believed to be in the make-up of all things, as well as the environments in which any living thing existed. People themselves were classified according to their humorous dispositions, each associated with a corresponding element: the introspective, yet creative melancholic man, whose ruling element was the earth (cold and dry); the wiry, red-haired, ambitious choleric man, dominated by fire (hot and dry); the sluggish, corpulent phlegmatic man, influenced by water (cold and moist); and the fortunate sanguine man, a red-checked optimist who enjoyed the healthful benefits of air (hot and moist).

“The trick for a happy existence was to keep these humours, and one’s environment, in balance… The characters in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries reveal this understanding of medicine and psychology. References to being in one’s element, that is in the surroundings in which one feels most at ease, or employed at the occupation one feels most comfortable with, date from the late sixteenth century” (page 113).