pigeonhole /ˈpɪdʒənˌhoʊl/

Used both as a noun and a verb, this expression carries a range of meanings, from categorization to compartmentalization.



  • to assign to a particular category, especially in a manner that is too rigid or exclusive.
  • to set aside or ignore, especially with the intention of dealing with it later.

Example Sentences

  1. She felt that her colleagues had pigeonholed her as just a secretary.
  2. He was tired of being pigeonholed as the funny guy in the office.
  3. The committee decided to pigeonhole the proposal until next year.



  • a category or classification that restricts freedom or creativity.
  • a small compartment or recess, typically one of a series in a desk, used for storing letters or papers.

Example Sentences

  1. Each employee has a pigeonhole in the office where they can receive their mail.
  2. The artist disliked being placed in a pigeonhole as a mere landscape painter.
  3. The chef resisted being pigeonholed into desserts, aiming to demonstrate his talent for savory cooking too.

Origin and History

Scholars and etymologists have debated the origins of “pigeonhole” for decades, yet a definitive answer remains elusive. One prevalent theory traces its roots back to the ancient practice of pigeonkeeping. Pigeon fanciers often utilize small compartments or holes to house their birds, providing them with a sense of security and organization. Over time, this association with compartmentalization evolved into the metaphorical sense we use today.

Military Metaphors

Another commonly cited origin stems from military usage. In centuries past, military commanders used pigeonholes to store messages and dispatches, with each compartment designated for a specific recipient or destination. This method facilitated efficient communication in an era predating electronic means. As such, the term may have entered the lexicon as a metaphor for sorting or categorizing information.

Literary Legacies

Literature also offers potential insights into the idiom’s genesis. Some suggest that the term originated in literary circles, where authors and editors would assign manuscripts to specific pigeonholes based on genre or subject matter. This practice of compartmentalizing literary works could have metaphorically inspired the term’s broader usage.

Navigating Linguistic Labyrinths

Despite these compelling theories, the precise origins of “pigeonhole” remain shrouded in mystery. Language, like history, is a complex tapestry woven from myriad influences and contexts. While we may never unravel the exact moment of its inception, the idiom continues to enrich our linguistic landscape, offering a vivid reminder of the intricacies and enigmas inherent in human expression.

Grammar Note

The correct form of the term is “pigeonhole.” This is the standard and most widely accepted spelling in modern English, both as a noun and as a verb. The other forms, “pigeon hole” and “pigeon-hole,” are less common and generally considered incorrect in contemporary usage.

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