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"In a pickle" is an English idiom that refers to someone who has ended up in a difficult situation. Although the phrase's colorful nature suggests that the predicaments are more nuisances than major problems, it can be used for any situation where someone cannot find a way out of a dilemma. The phrase gets its meaning from the way that vegetables like gherkins and cucumbers were mixed up and preserved in pickle sauces hundreds of years ago. In the sport of baseball, the phrase "in a pickle" refers to a base runner who is trapped on the base paths between defensive players tossing the ball back and forth.
It is common for people speaking English to use colorful words and phrases that have meanings that don't quite coincide with their literal definitions. These phrases are known as idioms, which gain their accepted meanings from the ways that people in a culture use them over time. Idioms are effective tools for those wishing to speak in a familiar manner with others who know the phrases well. One such idiom is the expression "in a pickle."
This phrase has origins that go back hundreds of years. In times gone by, the word pickle referred to a sauce or stew that contained many different types of vegetables, which were all mixed together. As a result, someone who was deemed to be "in a pickle" was considered to be figuratively mixed up or in a situation that was difficult to sort out.
For modern speakers, this idiomatic expression has come to symbolize anyone who finds himself or herself in a tricky situation. It may be a permanent conundrum, but more often than not it is a temporary issue that still may require great effort to effectively resolve. As an example of how this phrase is used, consider the sentence, "I can't believe he asked two different girls to the dance; I think you could safely say that he's in a pickle."
There is also a usage of this phrase that's specific to the sport of baseball. In baseball, there are certain times when a player running between bases will get caught between two or more defensive players with no clear way to reach either base safely. The defensive players throw the ball back and forth rapidly while trying to get close enough to tag the runner out. When this occurs, baseball jargon defines this runner as being "in a pickle."