Understanding the Idiom: "go by the wayside" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The idiom “go by the wayside” is a commonly used expression in English language. It refers to something that has been neglected or forgotten over time. This phrase can be used to describe various situations, such as an idea or project that was once important but no longer receives attention, a skill or talent that has not been practiced for a long time, or even a relationship that has deteriorated due to lack of effort.

The origin of this idiom is unclear, but it is believed to have originated from the practice of traveling on unpaved roads where there were many side paths leading off in different directions. If someone went by the wayside, they would have left the main path and become lost or forgotten.

In modern usage, “go by the wayside” is often used in informal settings such as conversations between friends or colleagues. It can also be found in literature and media as a way to convey a sense of loss or neglect.

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

– After years of neglecting her passion for painting, Sarah’s artistic skills had gone by the wayside.

– The company’s plans for expansion went by the wayside when they faced financial difficulties.

– Tom’s commitment to his fitness routine had gone by the wayside since he started working long hours at his new job.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “go by the wayside”

The idiom “go by the wayside” is a commonly used expression in English language, which means to be forgotten or neglected over time. The origin of this phrase can be traced back to ancient times when people used to travel on foot or horseback along unpaved roads that were often narrow and winding. These paths were known as “waysides,” and it was common for travelers to lose their way or get sidetracked while navigating them.

Over time, the term “wayside” came to be associated with anything that was off the beaten path or outside of mainstream society. In modern times, the idiom “go by the wayside” has come to mean something that has been abandoned or disregarded due to changing circumstances or priorities.

The historical context of this idiom can also be seen in its usage during World War II. During this time, soldiers who were injured in battle were often left behind on the battlefield because they could not keep up with their unit’s retreat. This led to many wounded soldiers being left behind and ultimately dying from their injuries. The phrase “going by the wayside” became synonymous with these tragic events.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “go by the wayside”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in their usage depending on the context. The same can be said for the idiom “go by the wayside”. While its general meaning is understood as something being neglected or forgotten, there are different ways this phrase can be used.

One variation of this idiom is “fall by the wayside”, which means essentially the same thing – something or someone being left behind or abandoned. Another variation is “slip by the wayside”, which implies a more gradual decline rather than an abrupt abandonment.

The usage of this idiom can also vary depending on what is being referred to. It can be used to describe anything from a person’s goals or ambitions that have been put aside, to a company’s outdated practices that have been replaced with newer methods.

In addition, this idiom can be used both in formal and informal settings. It may appear in academic writing as well as casual conversations between friends.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “go by the wayside”


When something “goes by the wayside”, it means that it is neglected or forgotten. Some synonyms for this expression include:

  • Fall through the cracks
  • Slip away
  • Get overlooked
  • Lose sight of
  • Be left behind


If something goes by the wayside, then it does not receive attention or care. The following antonyms represent opposite ideas:

  • To prioritize something
  • To focus on something
  • To keep up with something
  • To maintain something
  • To give attention to

Cultural Insights: In American culture, there is a strong emphasis on productivity and efficiency. Therefore, when someone says that a project has gone by the wayside, they are expressing disappointment and frustration over wasted time and resources. In contrast, some cultures place more value on leisure time and relaxation than work-related activities.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “go by the wayside”

Exercises to Improve Understanding

If you want to improve your understanding of the idiom “go by the wayside,” there are several exercises you can do. One exercise is to read articles or books that use this idiom in context and try to identify its meaning based on the surrounding words. Another exercise is to practice using this idiom in your own sentences, either spoken or written.

Real-Life Scenarios

To truly understand how to use an idiom like “go by the wayside,” it’s helpful to see it used in real-life scenarios. Try watching movies or TV shows where characters use this idiom, and pay attention to how they use it and what they mean by it. You can also listen for this idiom in everyday conversations with friends, family, or coworkers.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “go by the wayside”

When using idioms in conversation or writing, it is important to understand their meanings and usage. The idiom “go by the wayside” is no exception. However, there are common mistakes that people make when using this expression.

Mistake #1: Misunderstanding the Meaning

The first mistake people make when using this idiom is misunderstanding its meaning. “Go by the wayside” means to be forgotten or neglected over time. It can also refer to something that has been abandoned or discarded.

Mistake #2: Incorrect Usage

The second mistake people make is incorrect usage of the idiom. For example, some may use it in a positive context such as, “I was going to eat healthy but my cravings went by the wayside.” This usage does not align with the negative connotation of being forgotten or neglected.

To avoid these common mistakes, it is important to fully understand and correctly use idioms like “go by the wayside”. By doing so, you will effectively communicate your intended message without confusion or misinterpretation.

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