Fall between / through the cracks

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Although I know it's illogical, I've always said "fall between the cracks", and most people I know say that too.  In retrospect, it makes more sense to say "fall through the cracks".

Mark Swofford did a bit of ngram research on the matter:

It looks like the expression kicked off mainly in the 1960s. Interestingly, "between" seems to have had a small edge early on; but a look at the sources reveals a lot of government documents that appear to be transcripts (i.e., recorded speech rather than formal writing that went through an editor).

Some interesting numbers on Google Ngrams.

Present tense:

Past tense:

Selected readings

[Thanks to Paula Roberts]


  1. Andreas Johansson said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 1:12 am

    It would have been helpful if the colours for each variant had been the same between the two graphs.

    It's not an expression I'm in the habit of using, but I've always thought of it as "through the cracks", and probably mentally corrected "between" when encountering it.

  2. James said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 4:34 am

    When something falls through your fingers, it also falls between your fingers. Could that have anything to do with it?
    Also, I believe in England (maybe all of the Commonwealth?) the expression "Falling between two stools" is more common, so maybe the US usage is influenced by that one.

  3. Michael Lyon said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 6:39 am

    I have a hedge-layer friend who contends that the expression "falling between two stools" relates not to the accident caused by attempting to sit between two stools, arguably a somewhat freakish mishap, but instead to the practice of hedge-laying, where in this context a 'stool' is the stump or base of a hedge tree. Hedge-laying is the practice of rejuvenating an existing field hedge by partially cutting through the main trunks of the hedge trees at ground level, and laying down the still connected stems along the line of the hedge. This encourages a density and continuity of fresh growth at low level, with the objective of forming an effective barrier to livestock. Ideally, the stools, as the primary sources of growth along the hedge, should be regularly placed; where there is too large a gap occurs it becomes problematical.

  4. Philip Anderson said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 6:59 am

    Fall between the cracks seems to be more American, with fall/slip through the cracks in British dictionaries. We do use fall between two stools, which is probably older, but if it’s not used in the USA would it have influenced a related idiom?

  5. Rodger C said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 8:55 am

    "Fall between two stools" is certainly used in the US.

  6. Bob S. said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 9:15 am

    Maybe regionally? I'm 64 and have lived in New England and the Midwest and don't think I've ever heard it.

  7. Tal said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 9:48 am

    Could this be related to the expression "fall between the chairs", which basically has the same meaning?

  8. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 11:37 am

    I have only ever heard “through the cracks” & have never heard the stools variant, nor the chairs. I’m 53, grew up in SE Ohio, lived in Cleveland for 9 years, and have lived in CA for 20 years.

    @Michael Lyon — thanks for that description of how hedgerows are made! It reminds me of half-cutting Mesquite for quail.


    (PS what a terribly long URL!)

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 4:47 pm

    Falling between chairs sounds like a variant of the more familiar stools version.
    I don’t buy the hedgelaying origin – it sounds contrived and wouldn’t be familiar to many people. I picture someone who’s had one too many trying to sit on a bar stool.

  10. Chas Belov said,

    June 16, 2022 @ 11:55 pm

    Tried embedding for slip and slipped and was blocked by your very sensible site security.

  11. Chas Belov said,

    June 17, 2022 @ 12:00 am

    Looks like the best I can do is link to an ngram. Interesting to see

    Fall through the cracks, Slip through the cracks, Slipped through the cracks, Fell through the cracks come out in the ranking they did.

  12. Philip Anderson said,

    June 19, 2022 @ 4:18 pm

    Wiktionary has:
    From an old proverb, "Between two stools, one falls to the ground", which dates from 1390. This, in turn, is most likely a translation of the medieval Latin proverb labitur enitens sellis herere duabus ("he falls trying to sit on two seats").

  13. Pamela said,

    June 25, 2022 @ 10:55 am

    seems like this goes with the set of media-induced meaning manglings (seemingly innocent but in the long run content degrading): "impact" as a transitive verb, "beg the question" to mean "raise the question," reversing "troublesome" and "troubling," comically misapplying "fulsome," etc. it sounds humorous that anybody would say "fall between the cracks," but when somebody is really not figuring out that they said something fell between cracks (and kept going into the deep dark), that is sort of brain damaging.

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