Understanding the Idiom: "keep it in the family" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

When we talk about keeping something within a certain group, we often use the phrase “keep it in the family”. This idiom can be used to describe situations where people prefer to keep things private or within their own circle. It can also refer to businesses or organizations that are passed down from generation to generation.

The phrase “keep it in the family” has been around for many years and is commonly used in English-speaking countries. While its origins are unclear, it is believed that the idiom may have originated from traditional family values and a desire to maintain close relationships with loved ones.

The Meaning Behind “Keep It In The Family”

At its core, “keep it in the family” means keeping something within a specific group or community rather than sharing it with outsiders. This could refer to anything from personal information or secrets to business dealings or opportunities.

For example, if someone says they want to keep a problem “in the family”, they mean they don’t want anyone outside their immediate circle (such as friends or coworkers) knowing about it. Similarly, if someone talks about keeping a business within their family, they mean passing ownership down through generations rather than selling out to an outsider.

Examples of Using “Keep It In The Family”

Here are some examples of when people might use this idiom:

– A father tells his son he wants him to take over the family business one day because he wants to keep it in the family.

– A friend confides in another friend about a personal issue but asks them to keep it in the family and not tell anyone else.

– A company decides to hire someone from within the organization for a higher position rather than bringing in an outsider because they want to keep it in the family.

By using this idiom, people can convey their desire to maintain close relationships with those they trust and respect. It can also be used as a way of showing loyalty or protecting sensitive information.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “keep it in the family”

The idiom “keep it in the family” is a commonly used phrase that refers to keeping something within a close-knit group or circle. The origins of this idiom can be traced back to ancient times when families were considered the basic unit of society. In those days, families worked together to survive and prosper, and they kept their resources within their own kin.

As societies evolved, so did the meaning of this idiom. It became more than just a way to keep resources within one’s own family but also a way to maintain power and control over certain aspects of life. This was especially true for wealthy families who wanted to preserve their wealth and status by marrying within their own social class.

During the 19th century, with the rise of industrialization and capitalism, this idiom took on new meanings as businesses became more competitive. Family-owned businesses often preferred hiring relatives over outsiders because they believed that family members would be more loyal and trustworthy.

Today, “keep it in the family” has become an idiomatic expression that is used in various contexts beyond its original meaning. It can refer to anything from keeping secrets within a small group to maintaining traditions or customs passed down through generations.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “keep it in the family”

One common usage of this idiom is when discussing business practices. In this context, “keeping it in the family” means that a company or organization prefers to hire or work with people who are related to each other rather than outsiders. This could be due to trust issues or simply wanting to maintain control over certain aspects of the business.

Another variation of this idiom pertains to personal relationships. When someone says “keep it in the family,” they may mean that certain information should only be shared among relatives and not with outsiders. This could apply to sensitive topics such as financial matters or health concerns.

In some cases, “keeping it in the family” can also refer to maintaining traditions and values within a particular group or community. For example, a cultural practice may be passed down from generation to generation within a specific ethnic group, ensuring that its customs remain intact.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “keep it in the family”


– Keep it close-knit

– Stick together

– Stay loyal

– Maintain solidarity

– Remain united


– Divide and conquer

– Betray trust

– Turn on each other

– Disperse

– Fragment

Cultural Insights:

The idiom “keep it in the family” is often associated with a sense of loyalty and protection towards one’s own kin. This concept can be traced back to many cultures around the world, where families are viewed as a fundamental unit of society. However, this notion can also have negative connotations when taken too far – such as nepotism or favoritism within a business or organization. It is important to strike a balance between maintaining familial bonds while also being fair and inclusive towards others outside of one’s immediate circle.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “keep it in the family”

Exercise 1: Identify Examples of “Keep It in the Family”

In this exercise, you will read a series of short passages and identify examples of the idiom “keep it in the family.” This exercise will help you recognize how this phrase is used in context.

  • Read each passage carefully.
  • Circle or highlight any instances where “keep it in the family” is used.
  • Write down what you think each instance means.

Example Passage:

“My father owns a small business, and he always keeps it in the family. He only hires relatives or close friends.”

Example Answer:

“Keep it in the family” means that someone only hires people they know well or who are related to them.

Exercise 2: Use “Keep It In The Family” In Conversation

In this exercise, you will practice using “keep it in the family” correctly in conversation. You can do this with a partner or by yourself.

  1. Choose a topic for discussion (e.g., work, school, hobbies).
  2. Incorporate at least three instances of “keep it in the family” into your conversation about that topic.
  3. Your partner (or yourself) should listen carefully and try to identify when you use these instances.

Example Topic: Work

“I work at my uncle’s restaurant because he likes to keep things within our family. My cousin is also working there now after graduating from college. We all get along really well, and it’s a great environment to work in.”

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Expression “Keep it in the Family”

Avoid Taking It Literally

The first mistake people make with this idiom is taking it too literally. The expression “keep it in the family” does not mean that you should only share information or resources within your immediate family members. Instead, it refers to keeping things within a close-knit group of trusted individuals who share a strong bond.

Avoid Excluding Others

Another common mistake is excluding others from your circle because they are not part of your family. While this expression emphasizes loyalty and trust among family members, it does not mean that non-family members cannot be included as well. In fact, expanding your network beyond just relatives can bring new perspectives and opportunities.

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