The Meaning of High Strung: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever heard someone refer to someone as high strung? This guide will provide you with all of the information you need on the phrase high strung, including its meaning, example sentences, synonyms, origin, and more!

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What does the phrase high strung mean?

According to Merriam-Webster and other dictionary apps, high strung, pronounced “ˌhaɪˈstrʌŋ” is an adjective that can be used to describe someone with a nervous or sensitive temperament in an extreme way. This person might be extremely tense or on edge about every little thing, according to Dictionary

According to Panda Gossips, there are many different ways one can deal with someone who has a high strung personality, as it may be grating after a long time of dealing with someone who is constantly nervous or up in arms about everything. They suggest keeping a close eye on the person’s mood, taking a break from that person, keeping yourself calm, keeping a calm tone, being sympathetic but not empathetic, limiting your codependency, time and energy spent on them, deflecting or changing the subject when they begin to get nervous, staying open-minded, avoiding them when they are in stress mode, not insulting them, or if it comes to it, ending the relationship altogether. Dealing with a high-strung person is a two-way street, and that person needs to be making an effort of their own in order to make the relationship last.

What is the etymology of the phrase high strung?

According to Etymonline, the word high strung was first used in the year 1848 to describe someone who has a sensitive nervous system. This word was also used to describe stringed instruments from 1748, and took on its figurative meaning later. 

The word high comes from the Old English heh, meaning something of great height. This comes from the Proto-Germanic hauha. This could perhaps be related to the Lithuanan kaukara, meaning “hill” but it is unclear. The word strung has been used since the 1680s to describe someone’s nerves and feelings. It is the past tense and past participle form of the verb string, which has been used since the 1400s to mean to fit a bow with a string. Other phrases that include the word high include high school and high street.

How can the phrase high strung be used in a sentence?

The phrase high strung is often used to describe people with nervous constitutions. This can be considered insulting to some but not to others, so be sure to exercise caution when using the phrase high strung as some people might be offended. In this first example, Liza and Leanne are discussing their boss.

Liza: I can never make her happy, she’s so high-strung that she just prefers to do everything herself. It’s like, why am I even here?

Leanne: I feel you on that. I feel like we can never do enough, but when we do try to do more, she gets all freaked out and just wants to do it herself. What do we do?

Liza: I don’t know. Maybe we should ask one of the other VPs, or another executive who has worked for her in the past. Maybe they’ll know the secret. Not the evil one.

Leanne: That’s a great idea.

Here, Liza and Leanne use the word high strung to describe their boss who micromanages them at every turn. In the next scenario, Liza and Leanne are swiping on a dating app site.

Leanne: What do you look for in a guy?

Liza: Honestly, I just want someone who’s easy-going. Both of my parents are so high strung, I don’t want my marriage to turn out like that. I want someone who’s go with the flow, but still has goals. 

Leanne: Totally! I completely agree there.

Liza: How about you? What do you look for?

Leanne: Sense of humor, over six feet.

Liza: You’re five foot one! Why should over six feet matter?

Leanne: I’m kidding! I already know my future children will not be NBA stars with my genetics.

What are synonyms and antonyms to the phrase high strung?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word high strung. These words are considered synonyms. Synonyms are words that have the same meaning as a given word or phrase, and can be used interchangeably with said word. In this case, one might choose to use a synonym to expand their vocabulary or to avoid repeating themselves. This list of synonyms is provided by Thesaurus.

  • jumpy
  • fitful
  • apprehensive
  • flustered
  • querulous
  • annoyed
  • shrinking
  • agitated
  • nervous
  • twitchy
  • distressed
  • hesitant
  • high-strung
  • hysterical
  • wired
  • timid
  • fussy
  • overwrought
  • tense
  • unrestful
  • overstrung
  • sensitive
  • excitable
  • shaky
  • ruffled
  • nervy
  • basket case
  • timorous
  • unstrung
  • skittish
  • uptight
  • fidgety
  • disturbed
  • bothered
  • troubled
  • spooked
  • concerned
  • solicitous
  • worried
  • shy
  • upset
  • volatile
  • neurotic
  • afraid
  • edgy
  • irritable
  • restive
  • weak
  • taut
  • uneasy
  • anxious
  • jittery
  • snappish
  • on edge

If someone wanted to describe someone who was the opposite of high strung, they would look up what is called an antonym. Antonyms are words or idioms that are the opposite of a given word or phrase. This list of antonyms for the word high strung is also from Thesaurus.

  • serene
  • low-key
  • windless
  • pacific
  • still
  • unruffled
  • placid
  • halcyon
  • stormless
  • soothing
  • slow
  • undisturbed
  • breezeless
  • reposeful
  • bland
  • smooth
  • cool
  • quiescent
  • motionless
  • inactive
  • at a standstill
  • bucolic
  • at peace
  • tranquil
  • mild
  • pastoral
  • in order
  • harmonious
  • rural
  • reposing
  • breathless
  • waveless
  • restful
  • hushed

Overall, the phrase high strung is used to describe someone who is very nervous or sensitive in temperament. This is an adjective, which means it is a descriptor. If someone is very high strung, they might be hyper or skittish to an extreme extent.