Understanding the Idiom: "take time by the forelock" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
  • make hay while the sun shines
  • strike while the iron is hot

The idiom “take time by the forelock” is a popular phrase that has been used for centuries to encourage people to seize opportunities before they pass them by. This expression is often used in situations where someone needs to act quickly or make a decision without delay.

The Meaning of “Take Time by the Forelock”

When we say that someone should “take time by the forelock,” we mean that they should take control of their situation and act decisively. The phrase comes from an old practice of catching horses, where one would grab onto their mane at the base of their ears (known as the forelock) in order to control them.

Examples of Using this Idiom

This idiom can be used in a variety of situations. For example, if you have an important project due soon, you might tell yourself to “take time by the forelock” and start working on it immediately instead of procrastinating. Alternatively, if you’re considering applying for a job or starting your own business, you might use this expression as motivation to take action rather than waiting for something else to happen.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “take time by the forelock”

The idiom “take time by the forelock” is a well-known phrase that has been used for centuries. It is an expression that encourages people to seize opportunities when they arise, rather than waiting for them to pass.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to ancient Rome, where it was believed that Fortune had a lock of hair on her forehead which could be grasped by those who were quick enough. This idea was later adopted in medieval Europe, where it became a popular motif in art and literature.

In English, the phrase first appeared in print in 1594, in Shakespeare’s play Richard III. In this context, it referred to seizing an opportunity before it passed: “But I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s…I’ll take no nap by the way but simply do’t/Their heads shall be my stepping-stones”.

Over time, “take time by the forelock” came to mean more than just seizing opportunities; it also came to represent being proactive and taking control of one’s life. Today, this idiom is still widely used as a reminder to act decisively and not let opportunities slip away.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “take time by the forelock”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in their usage depending on the context or region. The same can be said for the idiom “take time by the forelock”. While its general meaning remains consistent, there are different ways in which it can be used.


  • “Seize the day” – This variation is commonly used as a synonym for “take time by the forelock”. It emphasizes taking advantage of opportunities that may not come again.
  • “Strike while the iron is hot” – This variation refers to taking action at an opportune moment. It suggests that waiting too long could result in missed opportunities.


The idiom “take time by the forelock” can be applied to various situations where prompt action is necessary. For example:

  1. A student who wants to excel academically should take time by the forelock and start studying early rather than waiting until just before exams.
  2. An entrepreneur who has identified a gap in a market should take time by the forelock and launch their business idea before someone else does.
  3. A sports team that wants to win a championship should take time by the forelock and train hard every day rather than only when games approach.

In each case, taking action early gives one an advantage over those who wait until later. By seizing opportunities promptly, one can achieve success more easily.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “take time by the forelock”


– Seize the day

– Carpe diem

– Strike while the iron is hot

– Make hay while the sun shines

– Act promptly


– Procrastinate

– Delay action

– Put off until tomorrow what can be done today

Cultural Insights:

The idiom “take time by the forelock” has its roots in ancient Roman culture where slaves would grab their masters’ hair as a sign of respect and obedience. In modern times, it is commonly used in English-speaking countries to encourage people to take advantage of opportunities when they arise rather than waiting for a more convenient time. However, this concept may not be universally understood or accepted in all cultures. For example, some cultures value patience and deliberation over quick action. It’s important to consider cultural context when using this idiom in conversation or writing.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “take time by the forelock”


To begin with, it is important to note that this idiom refers to taking action promptly or seizing an opportunity before it passes. It implies being proactive and not waiting for things to happen on their own. The following exercises will help you develop a better understanding of this concept:

Exercise 1: Identify Examples

The first exercise involves identifying examples of situations where someone has taken time by the forelock. This could be from personal experience, news articles, movies or TV shows. Write down at least three examples and explain why they demonstrate the meaning of this idiom.

Exercise 2: Role Play

The second exercise involves role-playing scenarios where one person takes time by the forelock while another procrastinates or waits too long. For example, one scenario could involve a student who starts studying for an exam weeks in advance while another student waits until the night before. The objective is to demonstrate how being proactive can lead to better outcomes than waiting until it’s too late.

By completing these practical exercises, you will gain a deeper understanding of what it means to take time by the forelock and how it can be applied in different situations.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “take time by the forelock”

When it comes to using idioms, it’s important to understand their meanings and how they should be used in context. The idiom “take time by the forelock” is no exception. While it may seem straightforward, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this phrase.

Firstly, one mistake is using the idiom in situations where it doesn’t apply. This phrase specifically refers to taking action or seizing an opportunity before it’s too late. It shouldn’t be used as a general statement about being proactive or efficient.

Another mistake is misusing the word “forelock”. Some people mistakenly use “forehead” instead of “forelock”, which refers to a lock of hair on the front of someone’s head. This can change the meaning of the idiom entirely and lead to confusion.

It’s also important not to mix up similar idioms with different meanings, such as “seize the day” or “strike while the iron is hot”. While these phrases may have similar themes of taking action and seizing opportunities, they have distinct differences in their specific contexts.

Lastly, avoid overusing this idiom or any other idioms in your speech or writing. While they can add color and personality to your language, excessive use can come across as forced or insincere.

By avoiding these common mistakes when using the idiom “take time by the forelock”, you’ll be able to communicate effectively and confidently in English.

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