Friday, May 9, 2014

coat strings/coat tails: The Weekend Edition—Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday–Sunday, May 9–11, 2014

coat strings/coat tails
A person deriving unearned benefits by being attached to another is riding on his or her coat tails. This expression derives from the long tails on men’s old-fashioned coats.

A person clinging to another’s apron strings is excessively dependent on him or her, like a small child hanging on to its mother’s clothing.

These two expressions are often mistakenly blended. The result is statements such as “she hoped to succeed by clinging to her boss’s coat strings” and “he is still clinging to his mother’s coat strings.” Some coats have strings, but “coat strings” is not standard usage in either of these sorts of expressions.

The Week's End Extra from the Archives: "Hazard a Guess" (June 28, 2012).


  1. Since I didnt know both the phrases, I am still unsure which 1 is correct or both are correct and usage of coat strings is wrong.

    1. Both "[riding on] coat tails" and "[clinging to] apron strings" are correct, but "[clinging to] coat strings" is non-standard; it is a result of mixing up the two expressions. I've never heard anyone using "[clinging to] coat tails," but that would also be non-standard.