Open main menu

shrinking violet




Possibly from the inconspicuous nature of the violet (genus Viola) flower and plant.[1] The term appears to have been first used in the literal sense in the early 19th century.[2][3]


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪələt/, /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪlət/, /-lɪt/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪələt/, /ˈʃɹɪŋkɪŋ ˈvaɪlət/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: shrink‧ing vio‧let


shrinking violet (plural shrinking violets)

  1. (idiomatic) Often in the negative form no shrinking violet: a very shy person, who avoids contact with others if possible. [from early 19th c.]
    • 1832, [Anna Brownell] Jameson, “Characters of Passion and Imagination. Juliet.”, in Characteristics of Women, Moral, Poetical, and Historical. [...] In Two Volumes, volume I, London: Saunders and Otley, OCLC 277697986, page 101:
      The timidity of Thekla [from Friedrich Schiller's Wallenstein] in her first scene, her trembling silence in the commencement, and the few words she addresses to her mother, remind us of the unobtrusive simplicity of Juliet's first appearance [in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet]; but the impression is different;—the one is the shrinking violet, the other the unexpanded rose-bud.
    • 1923 October 27, “Pat”, “Railway Supply Man’s Bedtime Story: Broadcasted from Station Ryrev, Chicago. No. 27.”, in Willard A. Smith [et al.], editors, Railway Review, volume 73, number 17, Chicago, Ill.: Railway Review, OCLC 1606700, page 630, column 3:
      Bertram Bull had been a book agent before he got into the supply game. Now, book agents, my dear children, are not noted for being little shrinking violets, and Bertram Bull was no exception to the general run of book agents.
    • 2013, Averil Cameron, “The Cost of Orthodoxy”, in Church History and Religious Culture[2], volume 93, ISSN 1871-2428, OCLC 1034336456, page 353:
      An equally sensational recent Spanish film, Agora (2009), set in Alexandria in the early fifth century, with the Christian storming of the Serapaeum (391), followed nearly a generation later by the murder by Christians of the philosopher and teacher Hypatia (415). In the film Cyril of Alexandria, admittedly no shrinking violet, is shown looking like a Taliban leader. The interpretation in the film is certainly highly exaggerated; yet such things did happen. Late antique cities were volatile places, and religious division provided a spark.
    • 2015, elke emerald; Fiona Ewing, “‘Do We Keelhaul the Little %$#@ or Chuck Him in the Chain Locker?’: How Life at Sea Becomes ‘Stories to Live By’ for a Woman on a Fishing Vessel”, in Mike Brown and Barbara Humberstone, editors, Seascapes: Shaped by the Sea: Embodied Narratives and Fluid Geographies, Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing, →ISBN, page 173:
      Fe's energy fills a space. She is big – as in, personality big. Her life force is strong. I cannot imagine being in a room and not knowing she is there. I guess that is one of the reasons she was so successful at sea. I am thinking it is not a place for shrinking violets or wallflowers.




  1. ^ Shrinking violet” in Michael Quinion, World Wide Words[1], 25 September 2010.
  2. ^ Leigh Hunt (23 February 1820), “Ronald of the Perfect Hand”, in The Indicator, issue XX, London: Joseph Appleyard, OCLC 561227160, page 158:
    The sun looked out with a melancholy smile upon the moss and the poor grass, chequered here and there with flowers almost as poor. There was the buttercup, struggling from a dirty white into a yellow; and a faint-coloured poppy, neither the good nor the ill of which was then known; and here and there by the thorny underwood a shrinking violet.
  3. ^ [James Gates Percival] (1 November 1825), “The Perpetual Youth of Nature. A Soliloquy.”, in The United States Literary Gazette, volume III, issue 3, Boston, Mass.: Harrison Gray, published 1826, OCLC 648386174, page 109: “The wind is very low— / It hardly wags the shrinking violet, / Or sends a quiver to the aspen leaf, []

Further readingEdit