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What Does "It's a Jungle out There" Mean?

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  • Written By: J.E. Holloway
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2016
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"It's a jungle out there" is an idiomatic English expression describing a dangerous and threatening situation. It often has the broader implication that the entire world is the proverbial "jungle," a dangerous environment filled with hazards in which all parties are out only for themselves. This expression draws on a long tradition in English idiom and literature of representing the natural world, and jungles in particular, as threatening and chaotic. The term is primarily American, although it also occurs in British English.

The expression is one of a number of English idioms in which the jungle stands for an uncivilized environment, a threatening natural world as opposed to the safety of the cultural world. "The law of the jungle" describes fundamental laws of human interaction, and is often used to describe brutal, unfair laws under which the strong exploit the weak, although ironically this is not consistent with the term's original use in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book." The term "jungle drums" refers to the informal methods of communication by which information often travels. "The concrete jungle" refers to cities, suggesting that cities are, in their own way, as dangerous and filled with predators as the wilderness.

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All of these idioms, including "it's a jungle out there," draw on a conception of the difference between nature and civilization rooted deeply in Western thought. For example, Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century philosopher, described the life of man in the state of nature as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." The behavior of animals served as an analogy for human behavior to writers like Shakespeare, who wrote that fish live in the sea "as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones." Images of wild areas such as the jungle are therefore used to suggest dangerous environments in which predators thrive and the weak must look out for themselves.

"It's a jungle out there" has two slightly different common uses. The first is as a warning, and it usually includes the suggestion that the individual must look out for himself. In the second use, the expression is used to justify ruthless, competitive behavior on the part of the speaker. "I had to think of my own interests first," a speaker might argue, "it's a jungle out there." In this sense, the expression as the same meaning as the common saying "it's every man for himself."

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geekish
Post 4

At the high school I attended, there were quite a few memorable teachers. One such memorable teacher was one that used the idiom "it's a jungle out there", on a daily basis. I wish I would have known what he meant back then, that way I could have been more prepared after high school.

I didn't really understand the idiom "it's a jungle out there" until a few years ago. For me, it took working overtime to really see just how much of a jungle it is on this earthly world. You really have to be strong to stay afloat in this world.

Some people choose the easy way out to get ahead in this life. I prefer

to do things the morally right way, even if it means it will be ten times more difficult than the easy, ruthless way.

I think it is sad that this life is so much like a jungle, because there is no reason why we should act like other animals, as we are the only ones who can at least express our feelings, which are a by-product of emotions.

I think that we are one of the only animals that can and do experience feelings, based upon our emotions. Since we have feelings, and are quite intelligent, we should be able to not only use our heads but our hearts as well to make the best decision. We also each have a conscious, so we know when between right and wrong, whereas some animals do not.

burcinc
Post 3

@fify- I don't think that this idiom is extreme or exaggerated. It just compares the world to nature because in nature anything might happen unexpectedly and you need to be prepared and strong in order to do well and survive. It's sort of like the idiom "survival of the fittest."

In nature, the strongest of any group generally makes it through the life-threatening dangers and conditions. I think the same goes for human life. The best, the smartest, the strongest, and the wealthiest tend to reach the top and become successful and influential.

So there is nothing exaggerated about this idiom. It's probably one of the best descriptions of how the world works.

fify
Post 2

@turkay-- If the world is compared to a jungle, does that mean that there is no place for emotion or kindness there?

I feel like this idiom is a bit of an exaggeration. I think it describes a really extreme environment that's full of threats and dangerous people or things. I've never been in a jungle and I'm sure it's pretty nerve-wrecking and scary to be in it. But I don't think that city-life or work is this bad.

I know that there are some really competitive and difficult jobs and cities that have high crime and hard living conditions. But I also think that in any environment where there are people, there would also be emotions and

at least some compassion and kindness.

The article cited Thomas Hobbes who is well known for believing that humans only care about themselves and their well-being. I think this idiom suits this type of thinking. I personally don't see the world so black and white. I don't think that the world is like a jungle and I don't usually use this idiom for this reason.

candyquilt
Post 1

When I graduated from school and started working, it was difficult to get used to a work environment at first. And the organization I worked for had office politics and very unique personalities. I had my ups and downs and talked to my boss about how I was doing several times.

He once told me that he understands how I feel but that I've now entered the real world. He said that work environments are a whole another ball park than school or family life. It's a jungle out there and I have to learn to live in it.

This little conversation did a lot for me at that time because it was like a reality check. I

understood that I need to stop whining and just make the best of it and play by the rules. I've been doing very well since then. I do agree that working, trying to make ends meet and establishing a career can be like being in a jungle sometimes.

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