What does “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” mean?

Uncover the origins and meaning of the idiom 'Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater'. Learn how to apply this timeless cautionary phrase in modern life.

Understanding the Idiom

Origins and History

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” is an idiom that has been used for centuries.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to the 1500s in Germany.

During that time, people would take baths once a year, and the whole family would use the same water.

The father would take the first bath, followed by the mother, and then the children.

By the time the baby’s turn came, the water would be so dirty that there was a risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Literal Meaning

The idiom “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” means that one should not discard something valuable while getting rid of something unwanted.

The idiom is often used to caution against throwing away an entire idea, principle, or system because of a few flaws or mistakes.

Modern Usage

This idiom is commonly used in everyday conversations, and it has become a popular phrase in the English language.

Here are three examples of how the idiom can be used:

  • After firing the bad employee, the manager shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater and let go of the good ones too.
  • The new teacher shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater and completely change the curriculum.
  • The politician shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater and abandon their principles just to win an election.

How are the phrases “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” and “dead in the water” similar in meaning?

When it comes to “understanding dead in the water” and “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” both phrases convey the idea of abandoning something valuable due to a superficial flaw or setback.

They caution against making hasty decisions and emphasize the importance of careful consideration and discernment.

Synonyms

Here are three synonyms of the idiom “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”:

  • Keep the baby and throw out the bathwater
  • Don’t lose the forest for the trees
  • Separate the wheat from the chaff

Overall, the idiom “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” is a cautionary phrase that reminds people to be careful not to discard something valuable while getting rid of something unwanted.