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Stretched too thin

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 31, 2010 at 22:10

In Reply to: Stretched too thin posted by Kathleen Moore on January 30, 2010 at 11:58:

: What is the origin of "stretched too thin?"

I don't think there's anything idiomatic about the phrase, other than that it is often used figuratively. Any material that's stretchable can be stretched "too thin" to serve its purpose. It's used frequently for security people trying to provide safety when their numbers are inadequate. In the U.S. there is the "thin blue line" of policemen stretched too thin to provide protection. That is, they are too few to provide the safety needed. In the UK, the "thin red line" of British soldiers was often stretched too thin to accomplish the objective. The line, when stretched too far, had too many holes in it.

Of course the material stretched does not have to be a line of soldiers or policemen, stretched by placing the men farther apart. A busy man might say, "I'd be glad to do it, but my time is stretched too thin as it is."

Or you could be literal. "I tried to cover the dish with a piece of thin rubber, but I stretched it too thin and it snapped."

If a growing person's skin is stretched too far too fast, it can be stretched too thin, leaving stretch marks. (This is not exactly a scientific or medical explanation of stretch marks.)