The phrase “ahead of the pack” means some entity exceeds the efforts, accomplishments, or results of its contenders. This entity might be anything from a human being to a consumer product. For example, if a student has a better grasp on a particular subject matter than his classmates do, he might be considered ahead of the pack. Likewise, if a software company develops a computer antivirus program that detects and removes more viruses than other similar programs do, that antivirus program might be considered ahead of the pack. Generally, the phrase “ahead of the pack” is an informal one, but it’s not uncommon to encounter it during both informal and formal speech and writings.
Perhaps it’s easiest to understand idiomatic expression by first understanding the meaning of idioms. By definition, idioms are sayings meant to convey a certain message. Usually, these sayings are unique to a certain region, though that region can be as large as an entire country. Oftentimes, idioms are unique to certain professions and are considered part of the jargon of a particular occupation. Generally, idiomatic expressions aren’t clearly understandable based solely on their parts, but this isn’t always the case.
For example, “ahead of the pack” can be better understood when its main parts are broken down into individual meanings. For this idiom, we can think of the two main parts as “ahead” and “the pack.” In most English sayings, to “get ahead” or to “be ahead” means to excel, to make progress, or to be successful. “The pack” often refers to the group of people the person is competing against. This might be friendly competition, such as that among classmates or co-workers, or it might be a more serious rivalry, such as that among political candidates.
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Like many idiomatic expressions, there are acceptable times and places to use the phrase “ahead of the pack.” Generally, these times and places are informal, such as when a teacher privately discusses a student’s progress or an employer is considering a certain employee for promotion. It’s not uncommon to see the phrase in personal letters, hear it during speeches or lectures, or read it on websites or blogs or in newspapers. Despite its informal nature, it’s also not uncommon to hear or see the idiom during slightly more formal situations. For example, a university’s president might use the phrase to praise his school during each freshman orientation, or a hospital’s chief of surgery might use the saying while describing a new surgical technique during a surgeons’ conference.