Understanding the Idiom: "alarums and excursions" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: From a Shakespearean stage direction, indicating that soldiers should march across the stage, blowing bugles and beating drums, etc.

The term “alarum” comes from the Latin word “alarmare,” which means to sound an alarm or call to arms. In Shakespearean times, it was used as a signal for soldiers to prepare for battle. The word “excursion” has roots in the Latin word “excursio,” which means a sudden attack or raid.

When these two words are combined in the idiom “alarums and excursions,” they create a vivid image of chaos and disorder. This phrase is often used metaphorically to describe situations where there is a lot of noise, confusion, or activity happening all at once.

To better understand this idiom’s usage and context, let’s take a closer look at some examples:

– During the concert’s finale performance, there were alarums and excursions as fans rushed towards the stage.

– The company’s annual meeting was marked by alarums and excursions as shareholders voiced their concerns about recent losses.

– In Act III of Shakespeare’s play Henry IV Part I, there are several scenes that feature alarums and excursions as soldiers prepare for battle.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “alarums and excursions”

The idiom “alarums and excursions” is a phrase that has been used in English language for centuries. It is often associated with chaos, confusion, and noise. The origins of this phrase can be traced back to medieval times when it was commonly used in military contexts.

During battles, soldiers would sound alarms (or “alarums”) to warn their comrades of impending danger. These alarms were often accompanied by the sounds of trumpets or other instruments, which created a great deal of noise and commotion on the battlefield.

In addition to its military usage, “alarums and excursions” also became a popular expression in theatrical performances during the Elizabethan era. Plays from this time period often included scenes with battle or combat, which required actors to make loud noises and create chaos on stage. The phrase came to represent these dramatic moments in theater as well.

Over time, “alarums and excursions” evolved into a more general expression for any situation that involved confusion or disorder. Today, it is still used in various contexts such as politics, sports events, or even everyday life situations where there is a lot of noise or commotion.

The Use of Alarum vs Alarm

It’s worth noting that the use of the word “alarum” instead of “alarm” was common during Shakespeare’s time but has since fallen out of use except within this specific idiom. This may be due to changes in spelling conventions over time or simply because the word fell out of favor among English speakers.

Famous Examples

There are many famous examples throughout literature where authors have used the idiom “alarums and excursions.” One notable example comes from William Shakespeare’s play Henry V:

“And let us swear our resolution will keep

Alarum’d to the onset, and at once

Follow’d with a general ‘sword drawn’ cry.”

This passage demonstrates how the phrase was used in a military context to describe the chaos and noise of battle.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “alarums and excursions”

One variation of this idiom is “alarum bells,” which refers specifically to the ringing of bells that signal an emergency or danger. Another variation is “excursion train,” which describes a special train that takes passengers on an adventure or sightseeing trip.

In literature, this idiom has been used by various authors throughout history, including William Shakespeare in his play Henry IV, Part 1. In modern times, it has also been referenced in popular culture through movies and television shows.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “alarums and excursions”

Some possible synonyms for “alarums and excursions” include commotion, uproar, turmoil, pandemonium, mayhem, bedlam, chaos, and disorder. These words all convey a sense of noise and confusion that is similar to the meaning of the original idiom.

On the other hand, some antonyms for “alarums and excursions” might include calmness, tranquility, serenity, orderliness, harmony, peaceable-ness. These words represent a contrast to the chaotic nature of the idiom’s meaning.

Cultural insights into this idiomatic expression reveal that it has roots in Shakespearean theater. In fact “Alarum” was an Elizabethan spelling of “Alarm,” which meant a call to arms; “Excursion” referred not only to movement but also specifically military maneuvering. Thus when Shakespeare wrote about “Alarums” he was referring not just any old disturbance but one involving conflict between armies – with all their attendant noise!

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “alarums and excursions”

Exercise 1: Conversation Practice

One effective way to practice using “alarums and excursions” is through conversation practice. Find a partner or group of friends who are also interested in improving their English language skills, and engage in a conversation where you intentionally use this idiom. Start by discussing current events or recent experiences, and try to incorporate the phrase naturally into your speech.


Person A: “I was at a concert last night, but there were so many alarums and excursions that I couldn’t enjoy the music.”

Person B: “What kind of alarums and excursions?”

Person A: “Well, first there was a fire alarm that went off, then someone spilled their drink on me, and finally there was a fight that broke out near us.”

Exercise 2: Writing Prompts

Another way to practice using idioms like “alarums and excursions” is through writing prompts. Choose a prompt from below, or create your own story idea that incorporates this phrase:

– Write about an adventurous trip where unexpected things kept happening (e.g. missed flights, lost luggage).

– Imagine you’re telling someone about an eventful day at work – include several instances of chaos or confusion.

– Create a fictional story where characters must navigate through dangerous situations (e.g. natural disasters) while trying to accomplish their goals.

  • Write down any other ideas for stories or conversations where you could use this idiom.
  • Practice incorporating it into your speech or writing until it feels natural.
  • Remember that idioms are often used in informal language, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different ways of using them.

By practicing these exercises, you’ll become more confident in using “alarums and excursions” in everyday conversation and writing. Keep exploring new ways to incorporate idioms into your language learning journey!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “alarums and excursions”

When using idioms in everyday language, it is important to understand their meaning and usage. The idiom “alarums and excursions” may seem straightforward, but there are common mistakes that people make when using it.

One mistake is using the idiom in inappropriate situations. “Alarums and excursions” refers specifically to a commotion or uproar, usually related to military action or conflict. Using it in other contexts can be confusing or even offensive.

Another mistake is mispronouncing the words. The correct pronunciation of “alarums” is with emphasis on the second syllable (uh-LAR-uhmz), while “excursions” should be pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable (ik-SKUR-zhuhnz).

Finally, some people mistakenly use the phrase as a singular noun (“an alarums and excursions”) instead of its proper form as a plural noun (“alarums and excursions”). This can lead to confusion and incorrect usage.

By avoiding these common mistakes when using the idiom “alarums and excursions,” you can ensure clear communication and accurate understanding of your intended message.

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