Understanding the Idiom: "fall between the cracks" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When we talk about something falling between the cracks, we are referring to a situation where something has been overlooked or neglected. This idiom can be used in various contexts, such as in education, healthcare, or even social relationships. It implies that there is a gap or space where something should have been noticed but was missed.

The origin of the idiom

The exact origin of this idiom is unclear. However, it is believed to have originated from an old practice of using wooden floorboards with gaps between them. When small objects like coins fell through these gaps, they were difficult to retrieve and often went unnoticed for long periods.

Usage examples

This idiom can be used in different ways depending on the context. For instance:

  • A student who fails to meet academic requirements may fall between the cracks and not receive necessary support.
  • A patient whose symptoms do not fit into any specific diagnosis may fall between the cracks and not receive proper treatment.
  • A friend who feels neglected by their social circle may feel like they have fallen between the cracks.

In all these cases, falling between the cracks means being overlooked or ignored due to some oversight or lack of attention.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “fall between the cracks”

The idiom “fall between the cracks” has been used for centuries to describe situations where something or someone is overlooked, neglected, or forgotten. The origins of this expression are unclear, but it is believed to have originated in medieval times when people would walk on cobblestone streets that had gaps between the stones. If someone accidentally stepped into one of these gaps, they could fall and get hurt. Over time, this phrase came to be used metaphorically to describe situations where something or someone was missed or ignored.

In modern times, the idiom “fall between the cracks” has taken on a more general meaning. It can refer to any situation where something falls through the cracks of a system or process. For example, if a student fails to turn in an assignment because their teacher forgot to collect it, they might say that their work fell between the cracks. Similarly, if a person is denied healthcare coverage because their application was lost in bureaucratic red tape, they might say that they fell between the cracks.

This idiom is often used in discussions about social justice and inequality. People who are marginalized or disadvantaged may be more likely to fall through the cracks of society’s systems and structures than those who hold more power and privilege. As such, understanding how and why things fall between the cracks can help us identify areas where we need to improve our social safety nets and support structures.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “fall between the cracks”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in usage that can add nuance or change the meaning altogether. The phrase “fall between the cracks” is no exception, as it has been adapted and modified over time to suit different contexts and situations.

One common variation is “slip through the cracks,” which has a similar meaning but implies a more deliberate action on behalf of the person or thing slipping away. Another variation is “fall through the gaps,” which emphasizes a sense of incompleteness or lack of attention to detail.

In certain industries or professions, such as healthcare or education, there may be specific jargon used to describe instances where something falls between the cracks. For example, in medicine, doctors might refer to a patient’s case as being “lost to follow-up” if they fail to return for scheduled appointments.

It’s also worth noting that while this idiom typically refers to negative outcomes (such as missed opportunities or overlooked details), it can sometimes be used in a positive context. For instance, someone might say that an innovative idea fell between the cracks because it was ahead of its time and not fully appreciated at first.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “fall between the cracks”


Some synonyms for “fall between the cracks” include:

  • Slip through the net
  • Get lost in the shuffle
  • Fall through the gaps
  • Be overlooked
  • Be neglected
  • Go unnoticed


The opposite of “falling between the cracks” would be:

  • To be seen/heard/noticed/acknowledged/appreciated/rewarded

In certain cultures, idioms are often used differently than they are in others. For example, in American English, this idiom is commonly used when discussing individuals who have been failed by a system or institution. In British English, it may be more frequently applied to situations where something has been forgotten or missed due to a lack of attention.

Cultural insights like these can help us understand not only what an idiom means but also how it is used within specific communities and contexts.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “fall between the cracks”

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blanks

In this exercise, you will be given a sentence with a missing word or phrase that relates to “falling between the cracks.” Your task is to fill in the blank with an appropriate word or phrase that completes the sentence correctly.

Example: The new policy was supposed to cover all employees, but some still _______.

Answer: fell through the cracks

1. Despite his hard work, John’s efforts went ____________.

2. The company’s negligence caused many complaints from customers who felt they had ____________.

3. The government program aimed at helping homeless people often leaves out those who ____________.

4. Mary was so busy juggling her job and family responsibilities that she let some important tasks ____________.

5. The school system failed to provide adequate support for students who were likely to ____________.

Exercise 2: Role Play

In this exercise, you will work with a partner and act out scenarios where someone falls between the cracks due to neglect or oversight by others.

Example scenario: A student misses an important deadline because their teacher forgot to remind them about it.





The student confronts their teacher about missing an important deadline due to lack of communication from their end.


1. A patient is discharged from hospital without proper follow-up care instructions leading them back into hospitalization.

2. An employee is passed over for promotion despite being qualified because management overlooked their application.

3. A customer receives a defective product that the company refuses to replace or refund.

4. A tenant is evicted from their apartment due to a landlord’s failure to maintain the property, leading to health hazards.

These exercises will help you develop a better understanding of how and when to use the idiom “fall between the cracks.” With practice, you can improve your communication skills and avoid situations where someone may fall through the cracks.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “fall between the cracks”

Mistake #1: Misusing the Preposition

One of the most common mistakes when using this idiom is misusing the preposition “between”. The correct phrase is “fall between THE cracks”, not “fall through THE cracks” or “fall under THE cracks”. It’s important to use the correct preposition to convey your intended meaning.

Mistake #2: Overusing or Misusing Idioms

Another mistake people make is overusing or misusing idioms. While idioms can add color and personality to your language, they should be used sparingly and appropriately. Overuse of idioms can make your speech or writing sound unnatural or forced.

  • Avoid using too many idioms in one sentence.
  • Make sure you understand an idiom’s meaning before using it.
  • Use idioms that are appropriate for your audience and context.
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