Box and Cox


      • To describe conflicting or opposing viewpoints or interests
        Used to refer to two people or parties who are constantly in disagreement or at odds with each other, often in a humorous or lighthearted manner

      • To describe a situation where two people or parties are competing or vying for the same thing
        Can be used to describe a rivalry or competition between two individuals or groups, typically in a neutral or humorous tone

    Examples of Box and Cox

    • She was constantly playing "box and cox" with her boss, by alternating between flirting and avoiding him in the office.

      The idiom "box and cox" refers to the habit of constantly shifting one's place or position, like a box being moved from one place to another, and can also suggest a kind of avoidance, as when a character in a play, Box, alternates with Cox in occupying a room and sleeping in the other's bed. In this example, the idiom highlights the speaker's belief that the woman is manipulating her boss's attention by alternating between being flirtatious and keeping her distance.

    • The sales manager frequently switches his strategies, moving products in and out of the market, much like a character in a play moving between two homes, one belonging to Box and the other to Cox - in this case, the "box" represents a successful product line, and the "cox" represents one that is underperforming.

      Here, the reference to "Box and Cox" is a bit more literal, but still illustrates the concept of constantly moving back and forth between two positions or strategies. It suggests that the manager is indecisive or unsure of which approach to take, much like the character Box and Cox in the original play.

    • The government has been playing a game of "box and cox" with social welfare programs, alternating between funding them and cutting them in the budget.

      This example uses the idiom in a political context to suggest that the government's handling of social welfare programs is uncertain and inconsistent, much like the characters in the original play who move between two homes. It implies that those who rely on these programs are being subjected to uncertainty and instability due to the government's indecisiveness.

    • The celebrity couple's on-and-off relationship is becoming quite like a case of "box and cox".

      In this example, the idiom is being used to describe a relationship that is marked by frequent periods of closeness and distance, much like the characters in the original play who alternate between two properties. It suggests that the relationship is uncertain and unstable, with the couple's attachment to one another being marked by fluctuation.


    The idiom "Box and Cox" has two main meanings, both centered around the idea of conflicting or competing interests. The first meaning is used to describe two people or parties who are constantly at odds with each other, while the second meaning refers to a competition or rivalry between two individuals or groups. Both meanings are often used in a humorous or lighthearted manner.

    Origin of "Box and Cox"

    The origin of the idiom "Box and Cox" can be traced back to a play of the same name written by Irish playwright John Maddison Morton in 1847. The play, which was a farce, featured two characters named Box and Cox who unknowingly rented the same room from a landlord, leading to a series of comedic misunderstandings.

    The play became popular and the phrase "Box and Cox" entered into common usage, often used to describe conflicts or competitions between two individuals or parties. It has remained a popular idiom in English language, with its origins in the world of theatre and comedy.