The phrase "hanging by a thread" is an English idiom, or figure of speech. The expression doesn't have a literal meaning, so non-native English speakers or those unfamiliar with the phrase won't immediately understand its meaning.
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If something is "hanging by a thread," it is ready to fall apart or end. This phrase applies to things as well as to concepts, situations and ideas.
"This engine is hanging by a thread.": The engine is about to break down.
"I'm hanging by a thread in this class.": I'm barely passing this class.
"This friendship is hanging by a thread.": This friendship could end at any time.
This expression is closely tied to an image of easily breakable thread. When something is suspended by a thread, it's in constant danger of falling.
According to the Dictionary website, this idiom alludes to Damocles, a courtier of ancient Syracuse, who annoyed King Dionysius with constant flattery. The king invited him to a banquet, where Damocles was seated under a sword suspended by a single hair, symbolising his tenuous position in the court.
Hanging by a hair
Barely hanging on
Barely holding it together
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