Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone to calm down and reconsider actions they might regret? If so, you could say, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” to stop them from acting in haste. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” means that the person should avoid discarding something valuable to them with something they want to get rid of in their life. It means that people are being hasty with their decisions, and they should consider the consequences of their actions.

It can also refer to getting rid of something bad but inadvertently removing something good, with unintended consequences. The saying also serves as a warning to be thoughtful with your decision-making.

Example Usage

“C’mon, Holly, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I know you’re upset, but think about the consequences for the kids if you leave.”

“I think you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater with this. There’s no reason to quit your job over something so insignificant.”

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater over this. Just because the concierge was unfriendly doesn’t have to ruin the entire hotel experience.”

“You’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Why get so frustrated over this and ruin everything for everyone else?”

“There’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just relax and calm down. Things will work out eventually.”

Origin

The expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” originates from medieval water conservation practices. The father would be the first to take a bath, and the rest of the family would follow him, bathing in the used water due to a lack of fresh supply.

By the time it got to the baby’s turn to bathe, the water was usually so dirty that you wouldn’t see the baby in the bathwater. People would joke that the water was so filthy you could throw out the baby with the bathwater if you weren’t paying attention to the child’s whereabouts.

Philosopher and scholar Thomas Carlyle translated a series of proverbs from German to English in 1849, publishing them in a collection in 1853. An early iteration of the phrase appears as follows.

“you must empty-out the bathing-tub, but not the baby along with it.”

Phrases Similar to Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater

  • Empty the baby out with the bath.
  • Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.
  • Don’t throw out the champagne with the cork.
  • Don’t sacrifice something important just so you can address a minor annoyance.

Phrases Opposite to Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater

  • Use it or lose it.
  • Toss it away like old tissues.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Ways People May Say Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with babies or bathwater. The “bathwater” is the bad person or event you want to rid yourself of in your life. However, it has a good part interwoven into it that benefits you, i.e., the baby. It has nothing to do with getting wet or babies.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Don’t throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

You can use the phrase, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” when you’re telling someone that they need to reconsider their actions before they do something they regret. Getting rid of something bad in your life at the expense of losing something good is a decision most of us will regret.

The phrase suits social and professional use. Use it at work to tell a colleague that quitting their job over a single bad event isn’t a good strategy. Use it at home to tell your partner that their actions are over the top and they will regret the outcome in the future.

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