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by the skin of one’s teeth

to narrowly escape something bad


by the skin of one's teeth = um Haaresbreite, nur mit äußerster Knappheit, um ein Haar, in letzter Minute, mit knapper Not entkommen



“But the Labour candidate ended up retaining the seat with a majority of just 323. The party, and Starmer, had clung on BY THE SKIN OF THEIR TEETH.”

Jim Pickard — The Financial Times (7th June 2023)

“Animals literally live and die BY THE SKIN OF THEIR TEETH. And the end product that emerges from this cumulative line of evolution, of heritable variation and natural selection, is indeed remarkable.”

Nassim Taleb — Atheneum (24th May 2022)

Did you

by the skin of one's teeth

- narrowly escape from some kind of bad situation

- narrowly succeed in doing something

- manage to do something by the smallest margin

The Grammarist / The Idioms


The idiom "by the skin of one's teeth" has a curious and rather ancient etymology! It actually originates from the 'Book of Job in the Old Testament'.

"My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth."

Since teeth don’t have skin, the phrase is hard to make literal sense of. Notwithstanding, the metaphorical essence and modern usage remains the same: a narrow escape from danger or misfortune, possibly even from death.


- lie through one’s teeth = to tell a blatant lie

- like pulling teeth = extremely difficult or unpleasant to do

- grit your teeth = bear pain or difficulty with determination

- long in the tooth = getting old

- armed to the teeth = heavily armed and prepared for conflict

- fight tooth and nail = fight with all your might or effort

- rarer than hen's teeth = extremely rare or scarce

- bare one’s teeth = show aggression or anger

- chattering teeth = hivering from cold or fear

- sink your teeth into = to enjoy something thoroughly

- have a sweet tooth = enjoy sweet foods

- get your teeth into something = start working on something with enthusiasm

- cut your teeth = gain experience in a challenging situation

- a toothy grin = a wide, happy smile


by a hair (a hair's breadth), by a nose (smidgen, thread, the width of a cigarette paper), by the narrowest/slimmest of margins, BY THE SKIN OF ONE’S TEETH, barely, by a nose (a whisker, the seat of one's pants), closely, just (barely, made it, squeaked through), nearly not, only just, narrowly, too close for comfort

SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“He caught the train, but only BY THE SKIN OF HIS TEETH.“

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