Belt Idioms

By Maeve Maddox

A striking headline from The Daily Beast got me thinking about all the expressions that make use of the noun belt:

The Rustbelt Roars Back From the Dead

I thought a post about belt idioms might be especially useful to ESL speakers.

A belt is a strip of flexible material, such as leather, plastic, cloth, used with or without a buckle for wear (usually) around the waist. Some idioms are based on a belt’s narrow shape, like the following epithets for different sections of the United States.

Corn Belt
This term refers to the region in the north-central Midwest of the United States where corn (maize) and corn-fed livestock are raised. The Corn Belt extends from western Ohio to eastern Nebraska and northeastern Kansas.

Cotton Belt
This is the region of the South and Southwestern sections of the United States where much cotton is grown.

Rust Belt
Regions in the Midwest and Northeast that were once centers of manufacturing but which have become the sites of obsolete, abandoned factories are collectively known as the Rust Belt.

Bible Belt
Sections of the United States, especially in the South and in Middle West, where many residents hold fundamentalist religious beliefs, has long been referred to as the Bible Belt. The AP Stylebook warns journalists to use the term with care “because in certain contexts it can give offense.”

Sun Belt
Those states in the South and West, ranging from Florida and Georgia through the Gulf states into California are often referred to as the Sun Belt.

Other belt idioms are based on the use of the belt as an article of clothing.

to tighten one’s belt
The meaning is “to spend less money.” A person who must spend less money on groceries may be forced to eat less and lose weight as a result. Losing weight makes it possible to fasten a belt more tightly.

Example: Just as families and businesses across the nation have tightened their belts, so must the federal government.

to get something under your belt
This means “to complete some endeavor seen as necessary.”

Example: Aled Davies has his first Grand Prix under his belt.

to hit below the belt
The meaning is “to take unfair advantage of someone.” In boxing, striking an opponent below the belt is against the rules.
Example: Sarkozy hits below the belt as race for Elysée hots up

a belt and braces approach (British)
a belt and suspenders approach (American)
This refers to a way of doing things that involves more than the usual amount of caution. Either a belt or a pair of braces or suspenders is sufficient to hold up one’s trousers. Using both is excessive.

Example: The combination of these factors—change in key staff and rapid growth—meant that there needed to be a “belt and braces” approach to quality management and staffing. 

Constitutional protections seem to represent a belt and suspenders approach.

put a notch on one’s belt
This idiom can mean “to defeat an opponent” or t”o add something to a collection.” According to the lore of the Old West, every time a gunfighter killed a man, he cut a notch on his gun handle or along the edge of his gun belt.

Example: For DeMint, the Moran victory is another notch on the belt.

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8 Responses to “Belt Idioms”

  • Alexander Hollins (leaking pen)

    What about belt as hitting? I’m going to belt you one.
    I’ve always wondered where that came from.

    Belt is also used for thin strips that connect parts of machinery, such as fan belts and timing belts in cars. (for the steampunk crowd! you need a belt or chain to go with those gears and sprockets!)

  • Jacquelyn Lynn

    Also:

    “I’ll give you the belt.” A term for spanking.

    And when “belt” is used to refer to drinking, usually alcohol, as in, “I’ll have a belt of that.”

  • Curtis Manges

    Don’t forget the machine parts, such as fan belts, drive belts, etc.

  • venqax

    I was struck by other items in the examples:

    The Rustbelt Roars Back From the Dead
    Rust belt is oneword? When did thathappen?

    Sarkozy hits below the belt as race for Elysée hots up
    Hots up? Maybe imperfectly translated from French. I don’t know the verb “to hot”.

  • Roberta B.

    It’s also used in astronomy:
    Asteroid belt – objects in our solar systems between Jupiter and Mars
    Kuiper Belt – solar system objects beyond Neptune (formerly beyond Pluto which was demoted from planet status)
    the belt of Venus – the pink band of sky above the horizon at sunset or sunrise

  • Maeve

    Venqax,
    The standard spelling of Rust Belt is with caps and as two words. I just copied and pasted from the source.

    As for “hot” as a verb, a Google search for “race hots up” brings about 383,000 results. A cursory glance at the links suggests that the use of “hot” as a verb is popular in the non-American English-speaking press.

  • Caitlin

    My understanding of the ‘tighten one’s belt’ idiom is that one would tighten one’s belt in order to fend off hunger pangs.

  • thebluebird11

    You can belt out a song (sing in a loud voice). How that expression arose I did not look into. There is the Beltway, a highway that runs around the Washington DC/Maryland area, and the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn/Long Island NY, which runs along the south shore…drove that road too many times LOL. A la Jacquelyn Lynn above, you can belt someone (verb meaning to hit; whether or not an actual belt is used is irrelevant). We also have garter belts…and then garter snakes…but I digress…

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