Ever heard or used the term “elbow room?” Ever had to work at a desk in between two people and kept hitting their elbows with yours? Then you know exactly what this phrase means! “Elbow room” means space enough to work, write, or do whatever you need to do – space in which your arms and, especially, elbows can move freely.
Shakespeare used the term in his play King John, but it’s been traced back to the year 1540 by the Oxford English Dictionary – so the phrase is just a bit older than the Bard himself! The full usage in the play:
Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room;
It would not out at windows nor at doors.
King John is speaking. Here the phrase is being used figuratively. The King’s soul obviously does not have elbows! But he’s saying that it has room to spread out.