Go Big or Go Home – Meaning, Origin & Correct Usage

Have you heard the phrase “Go big or go home” but are unsure what it means? Read on to find out so you can use it correctly in your writing.

Go big or go home is a commonly used English phrase, but do you know when and how to use it appropriately? 

This phrase suggests being bold and doing things to their fullest extent, so it’s commonly heard in business and sports settings.

Using figurative language in your writing allows you to give your words more power and express a clearer picture. But in order to do that, you need to use the right words in the right place. In the case of phrases like “Go big or go home,” that means understanding what it actually means. 

In this guide, we’ll get to the bottom of things, including the meaning, origin, and correct usage. 

While here, check out our article on how to use figurative language in your writing. Now, let’s dive in.

What Does Go Big or Go Home Mean?

The phrase “Go big or go home” is an idiom – but what does that mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an idiom is an expression that has a particular meaning different from the literal definition of each word it consists of. 

This idiom is often used in entrepreneurship and, overall, in business. “Go big or go home” serves as an encouragement for people to be ambitious and aim high when defining their goals, but also not be afraid to take bold steps to achieve those goals. It’s a do-or-die attitude.

You might also hear this expression in sports, especially competition-oriented sports. For example, you might hear the coach say, “Go big or go home,” in the context of motivating the team to give their best shot at the game and strive for an extravagant win. 

In fact, this idiom applies to any high-risk, high-reward situation. Whether you’re making a work presentation or encouraging your friend to sing the most challenging song at karaoke, “Go big or go home” can be a great motivational quote.

Origins of Idioms

Let’s take a look at another idiom of the English language: “It cost an arm and a leg.” This idiom has a figurative meaning of “To be very expensive.” 

Since they’re not literal, idioms can sometimes be hard for non-native speakers to understand. This is true for all languages, as every language in the world has its own idioms with cultural meanings behind them. 

If you want to learn more about idioms, check out our article on idiom vs metaphor.

As for the origin of this particular idiom, “Your guess is as good as mine!” That’s another idiom by the way, meaning that there are several theories as to the origin of “It cost an arm and a leg,” and we haven’t found the definitive answer yet.

One theory is that it relates to the Irish halfpenny minted in the 17th century. They were manufactured by Sir Thomas Armstrong (remember the ARM) and Colonel George Legge (remember the LEGGE). The coins were used in time by Irish emigrants to the American colonies, and as their usage grew, the phrase “it will cost you an ARM and a LEGGE” developed, referring, of course, to the patentee’s names: the literal meaning being “It will cost you a halfpenny.” 

In time, the origin of the phrase was lost, and people assumed the meaning to be more literal, as losing an arm and a leg would be a high cost, which led to the phrase being associated with something very expensive.

Another commonly published but often discredited theory is that it relates to the fee that portrait painters charged in past centuries. There was supposedly a fixed fee for head and shoulder portraits; adding the torso and limbs resulted in an additional cost.

Several sources report that this idiom originates from the post-war US, where many soldiers lost their limbs in combat. The phrase meant to say that it was too high of a price for anyone, and it stuck in everyday speech to this day.

However, it could also have developed from similar phrases used throughout Europe, such as “I’d give my right arm for that” and other varieties like “Cost the eyes from your head” and “Cost your Mother and Father.

Returning to the idiom “Go big or go home,” it shouldn’t be taken literally either. The first part, “go big,” is also an idiom and means to be brave and bold and do something to its fullest extent. As for the second part of the idiom, it suggests that if you don’t win, you lose – there’s no in-between.

Origin of Go Big or Go Home

Harley Davidson
The slogan “Go big or go home” was used on the packaging of oversized, oversized Harley Davidson pipes for motorbikes.

While the idiom “Go big or go home” is something English speakers have heard numerous times in their lives, it’s not exactly that old. Or rather, it wasn’t popular until the 1990s.

The idiom is quite catchy, isn’t it? Well, the marketing sector of a motorcycle parts company from Southern California thought so, too. Apparently, the slogan was used on the packaging of oversized, oversized Harley Davidson pipes for motorbikes. 

However, the company didn’t actually invent the idiom. We don’t actually know who did, but the earliest known mention of the phrase was in 1964 in Boston Traveler. On page 32, the author Richard Starnes wrote:

In the language of the race-track plunger, the choice there has always been the same: Go big or go home.”

Just by this sentence, it’s clear that the phrase had been used quite a lot before that article in Boston Traveler came out.

It is a phrase that we have taken to heart. The outdoor adventure novelist Will Hobbs used it as a title for his 2008 book. It’s also the title of a popular song by the American Authors of New York, featuring Matt Sanchez, James Adam Shelley, and Shep Goodman.

Synonyms and Similar Catchphrases

The beauty of languages lies in the fact that you can play around with words to make different meanings. That’s why there are other ways you can convey the same meaning of the idiom “Go big or go home.” So, for instance, you could also say:

  • Go all out
  • Give it your all
  • No pain, no gain
  • To the hilt
  • You gotta risk it to get the biscuit
  • Put up or shut up
  • Double or quits
  • No guts, no glory
  • Muck or nettles
  • Do or die
  • Go hard or go home

As you can see, all of these idioms can be used when encouraging someone to act boldly and bravely. They all state that achieving good results necessitates taking risks.

Correct Usage of Go Big or Go Home

Now that we established what this idiom means and where it came from let’s see how you can use it properly in a sentence. 

  • In the finance industry, you go big or go home. Those who always play safe never get too far. 
  • Well, I’ve made the decision to participate in the competition, so it’s go big or go home now.
  • In order for the whole team to do great, every player needs a “go big or go home” mentality.