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What Is a "Close Shave"?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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"A close shave" is one of several different English sayings that refers to a situation in which an individual narrowly misses some type of mishap. Along with idiomatic expressions like "close call" or "near miss," a "close shave" indicates just how closely the individual escapes some sort of undesirable situation. The idiom can be used in a number of settings, referring to various types of business situations, events that could involve bodily harm, and even romantic entanglements.

The exact origins of "close shave" are debatable, although one popular school of thought holds that it has to do with the use of a barber in times past. During eras in which barbers provided more services than simply trimming hair and beards, such as dispensing medical treatments such as tooth removal and even some types of surgery, it was not unusual for barbers to shave patients in anticipation of treating some sort of ailment. The idea was to have the shave be as close as possible without irritating the skin. According to legend, there would at times be situations in which the shaving would be completed when something would prevent the actual execution of the medical procedure. When this occurred, the patient received a close shave but escaped an aftermath that could have been quite painful.

Whatever the origin of "close shave," there is no doubt that by the 20th century the term referred to narrowly escaping some type of undesired event. For a number of decades, the phrase has been used to refer to situations in which did an individual escaped some sort of unfortunate situation only by sheer luck. One common use of the term has to do with narrowly escaping some sort of injury. An individual who steps off a curb and then is yanked back by someone just as a bus passes by is sometimes said to have experienced a close shave, since the bus could have very well hit and injured the party if not for the quick thinking of someone nearby.

The close shave may also refer to narrowly escaping what could have been an ultimately undesirable romantic situation. When it is learned that someone who was perceived as a great catch is actually not so great after all, those who sought to engage that man or woman in romance may be thankful that nothing came of their efforts, referring to the situation as being a close shave. In like manner, being able to avoid the arrangement of a blind date with someone who is not particularly interesting would also be considered a close shave, since the date would most likely be unsuccessful for either party.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Language & Humanities, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By Reminiscence — On Jan 21, 2015

I'll never forget the day my doctor told me I had a "close shave" with death after a car wreck. He said if the piece of metal had pierced my chest just one more centimeter to the left, it would have sliced open a major vein in my heart. I probably would have bled to death before the ambulance arrived. They were able to stabilize the wound and get me to the ER safely, instead.

I've had a few other close shaves in my lifetime, and I'm sure anyone else who reads this article has, too. Once you survive the initial experience and the shock of coming that close to disaster, you start to appreciate the good things in life even more.

By Ruggercat68 — On Jan 20, 2015

I usually do my own shaving at home with a standard double-bladed disposable razor, but every once in a while I'll go to a professional barber for a close shave. He'll soften up my facial and neck skin with a hot towel, then use heated shaving cream and a straight-edge shaving razor. I get nervous when he starts, but I know he has a steady hand and years of experience.

When I hear the expression "close shave", I understand what they mean. The shave I get from that barber is about as close as I think a person can get. Any closer and skin would be removed. Some things in life can be just as scary. Just one slip or miscalculation and the outcome would be tragic.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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