In a Pickle – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that you are in trouble and need their help? If so, you could use the saying “in a pickle” to describe your situation. This post unpacks this expression's meaning and origin.


If you’re telling someone you’re “in a pickle,”” it means you’re in a precarious situation. Typically, you’re using it as a segue into asking them for help with a problem. You can use “I’m in a pickle” to describe situations with varying degrees of consequence.

Being in a pickle could mean that you’re facing a small challenge at work, and you need a colleague's assistance with finding a solution. Or it could mean that you’re in a pickle because you left the concert tickets at home, and there are only 30-minutes left until the start of the show.

Example Usage

“I don’t know what to do here, John. I’m in a bit of a pickle with the boss over the Jefferson account, and I don’t know how to handle it.”

“We’re in a bit of a pickle here, Karen. You said that there wasn’t anything in your bag, and now we found this. We’ve got you on camera stealing it from the store.”

“This leaves things in a bit of a pickle, I’m afraid. I don’t know what you’re going to do about it, but there’s not much choice in the situation.”

“So, you got yourself in a pickle, and the first person you call is me? Why do you think I would do anything to help you after last time?”

“We always end up in a pickle when we leave things to the last minute. Next time, I will properly plan this before we mess it up again.”


The origin of the expression "in a pickle" comes from the 1500s. The phrase's original meaning was to be "in a fix." It went by several iterations over the centuries, such as "in a stew" in England in the 19th century.

Thomas Tusser's "Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie," published in 1573, records the earliest iteration of the phrase in print, where it appears as follows.

"Reape barlie with sickle, that lies in ill pickle."

In the late 1700s, The Duke of Rutland toured Britain published his writing on his experiences in his travelogue, "Journal of a Tour to the Northern Parts of Great Britain," 1796.

In the book, the story shows The Duke present at the disinterment of the body of Thomas Beaufort, buried some 350 years earlier. The phrase appears as follows.

"The corpse was done up in a pickle, and the face wrapped up in a sear cloth.",

Phrases Similar to In a Pickle

  • In a jam.
  • In a bind.
  • In trouble.

Phrases Opposite to In a Pickle

  • Everything’s going great.
  • No roadblocks in the way.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • In a pickle.

Ways People May Say In a Pickle Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with pickles. It’s another way of telling someone that you’re “in a jam” and you need some advice or help. The “pickle” in the saying is an unexpected and annoying or frustrating event derailing your progress.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase In a Pickle

You can say “in a pickle” when you’re trying to tell someone that you’re experiencing a challenging situation in life. That could involve a serious life event, like being trapped in a canoe in high waters, or a minor event, like being in trouble with the wife for missing your anniversary.

It suits social and professional use. You could use it with your friends when you tell them you’re in a pickle because you missed your car license renewal date and can't drive them home from the bar. You could use it at work to describe how you’re in a jam with the boss, and you need to improve your work, or he might fire you.

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