Clearing the Air – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to indicate that things are all good, or that you have good intentions with your words or actions? The phrase ‘clearing the air’ is a common English saying that can be used to say just this. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The phrase ‘clearing the air’ or ‘to clear the air’ is a common figurative saying that is used to mean that someone means to explain or clarify a situation with the end goal of a positive outcome for both parties.

The phrase ‘clearing the air’ is used to assume that there has been a disagreement or prior conflict between the people in question.

To ‘clear the air’ is to seek a solution to the problem from the one party’s side, with the hope or implication that the other party will accept the resolution.

‘Clearing the air’ is used as synonymous with the phrase ‘burying the hatchet’ and is similar to the phrase ‘letting bygones be bygones.’

The phrase ‘clears the air’ is acceptable when the phrase is used in the present active tense.

The phrase can be used as ‘cleared the air’ when the use of the phrase is in the past tense.

‘Clearing the air’ is the acceptable use of the phrase for when it is used in the present tense.

If someone ‘clears the air’ then they are seeking a mutual resolution to an old conflict or current problem.

Example Usage

“I’m just going over to the other side of the neighborhood to clear the air with Johnny, but if I don’t come home, I want y’all to call the police in about five or six hours.”

“I sent them a fruit basket to clear the air. I guess the middle finger emoji that he sent back to the family group means that it’s not accepted as a peace offering.”

“If you’re going to try and clear the air, I would make sure to at least polish your shoes first. You look like you’re going to a really depressing funeral.”

“Clearing the air doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, you can just buy them something at the dollar store and have it engraved with something nice or a quote by Ernest Hemingway.”

Origin

The exact origin and first use of the phrase ‘to clear the air’ is not stated by the majority of online etymology resources, though its meaning is assumed as clear by most resources that list it: clearing the air is likely a reference to weather, which can go from stormy to clear in a matter of minutes.

The ‘air’ is figuratively used to mean the atmosphere or situation, which can be ‘clouded’ with anger or other emotions and then ‘clear’ once the ‘air has been cleared’ as the expression states.

The expression ‘to clear the air’ was already in common use by the 1600s, though is likely to have become even more popular with the introduction of the printing press.

Figurative use of the phrase remained common through the early-2000s as the term started to appear on message boards, and its use continued with modern social media use in the 2010s.

Phrases Similar to Clear the Air

  • Bury the hatchet
  • Peace offering

Phrases Opposite to Clear the Air

  • N/a

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Clearing the air
  • [to] clear the air
  • Cleared the air

Ways People May Say You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me Incorrectly

There are several ways in which the phrase ‘clear the air’ can be used in the wrong way, or its meaning misunderstood by others.

The phrase likely originated in Old English, and might not translate well as a direct phrase to other languages with no equivalent phrase.

The meaning is figurative, but a literal misunderstanding of the term can cause confusion.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase  You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me

The right way to phrase ‘clear the air’ is to use it to refer to an attempted conflict resolution between two parties, where ‘clear air’ refers to a resolved conflict or hope thereof.

 

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