Why We Say "Pop The Question" and What It Actually Means

Plus, the history behind other common proposal phrases.
Man proposing to boyfriend on terrace
Photo: Goodboy Picture Company / Getty Images
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Elizabeth Ayoola
elizabeth ayoola headshot
Elizabeth Ayoola
The Knot Contributor
  • Elizabeth contributes a range of lifestyle content to The Knot.
  • She also works as a full-time writer at NerdWallet and contributing writer at ESSENCE and POPSUGAR.
  • Elizabeth has a degree in Environment, Politics, and Globalization from King's College London.
Updated Oct 25, 2023

When we hear popular phrases, we don't always interrogate their origins. For instance, many of us say "pop the question," in reference to getting engaged, but how did that phrase come about? As with many idioms, they're inspired by traditions, events, stories or cultural practices. It can be insightful to know where some of your most frequently used idioms came from, especially in the world of love and weddings.

Let's get into how the phrase "pop the question" came about and define the meaning of other similar idioms.

In this story:

What Does "Pop the Question" Mean?

Pop the question means for someone to propose marriage or to ask someone for their hand in marriage. We often see this happen through grand gestures like getting down on one knee with a ring in the middle of a sports game or more subtle gestures like proposing during dinner time at home. "Pop the question" is an idiom that people have been saying for years and use interchangeably when discussing proposing or getting engaged.

Where Does "Pop the Question" Come From?

The term "pop the question" can apparently be traced back thousands of years and has origins in the 1700s. Back then, it meant to ask an important question.

Around the 1820s, the phrase evolved to specifically mean asking someone for their hand in marriage. Today, we still say "pop the question" when we propose to a loved one or tell a story of an engagement we witnessed. It isn't an idiom that has double meanings as it's often synonymous with getting engaged.

Traditionally, males popped the question, but now we live in a progressive society where any gender can do it. Other idioms similar to this include "put a ring on it" or asking for someone's hand in marriage, which we'll expand on below.

Other Proposal Idioms Like "Pop the Question"

Aside from "pop the question," there are other wedding, love and proposal idioms many of us say on a regular basis. Here are a few you may be familiar with.

  • Get hitched: Getting hitched means to get married. It's an informal expression you've probably heard before.

  • Jump the broom: Jumping the broom is also a way to describe getting married. While this is an idiom, it's also an actual tradition couples perform where they jump over a broom after getting married. It's said to have origins in both Wales and Africa.

  • Tie the knot: To tie the knot means to get married and originates from a tradition or Celtic custom called a handfasting ceremony. During this ceremony, couples hold hands while a third person ties their hands together with a ribbon or cord.

  • Match made in heaven: This idiom refers to two individuals who are a 'perfect' match or highly compatible. The heaven element infers a divine force brought these two people together or the stars aligned for them.

  • Cold feet: If you've ever seen someone talk about 'having cold feet' it's usually right before their wedding. It means having second thoughts about getting married. Some people attribute it to nerves, while others end up calling off the wedding altogether.

  • Shotgun wedding: A shotgun wedding is one that takes place because one party got pregnant. It implies there's pressure from family or parents to get married because of the pregnancy.

  • XOXO: This represents hugs and kisses and can be seen at the end of an email or on the inside of a romantic card.

  • Head over heels: When someone is consumed by someone else or love struck, they may refer to themselves as being head over heels. The term supposedly originated from the 1300s and initially was "heels over head", or being upside down.

  • Get down on one knee: Many proposals consist of the person proposing getting down on one knee to ask for their lover's hand in marriage, this act has been turned into an idiom that refers to someone proposing. The origins date back to medieval times when knights would drop to one knee to show respect.

  • Put a ring on it: This phrase comes courtesy of Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter. Alexa, play "Single Ladies".

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