I know what a nut shell is:

a walnut shell

But what is its meaning in this sentence:

In a nut shell I'm trapped mentally and physically.

In this a common expression? Does it mean that he's closed in himself?

3 Answers 3


This is quite a common expression. This is similar to saying ... in short... But I understand that the confusion is due to nut shell and trap. He's not trapped into the nutshell!

TheFreeDictionary has an entry for that and it is an idiomatic way to say that.

in a nutshell - In a few words; concisely

So, he's not fitting himself into that little space but comprising the matter that might fit well into it! :) Said that, he's telling something in short without adding much explanation.

It's often used when you don't want to get into a long description or explanation.

  • 5
    +1 The underlying image is that you are reducing a complicated topic to something so small it will fit in a nutshell. Sep 20, 2014 at 10:27
  • Note that we can write 'nut shell', 'nut-shell' and 'nutshell'. Google Ngrams shows 'nutshell' and 'in a nutshell' used more than the other choices. I seem to remember a children's story about a very small character who slept in a nutshell, but couldn't find any reference to that online. I did find many 'advice for parents' websites with titles like 'Baby sleep: in a nutshell' (and one titled 'College psychology in a nutshell').
    – Sydney
    Sep 20, 2014 at 22:33
  • @Sydney: was the very small character male or female? If male, you're probably thinking of Tom Thumb, and if female, Thumbelina.
    – Martha
    Dec 17, 2015 at 16:43

In a nutshell is often said after one has explained in depth a topic. It is a summary of the events.

In the example provided, I could imagine the speaker talking about his/her personal problems.

Their psychological well-being:

  • My kids never talk to me. (They don't respect me.)
  • The neighbour's dog barks at night and it's not safe to go out at night.
  • I think my spouse is having an affair. (I wish I could get a divorce)
  • My boss expects me to work 14 hours per day. (I hate my job)
  • If I complain, I might get laid off. (I have a mortgage to pay)

Their economic situation:

  1. I can't leave my job
  2. I can't move home
  3. I can't afford to leave my spouse
  4. The kids will be starting college soon

In a nutshell OR in other words, I'm trapped mentally and physically


This is a metaphor. The inside of a nutshell is a small space; hence anything "in a nutshell" has been compressed into a small space, in other words: summarized. The context given is not in itself a common usage and the "nutshell" is not a reference to the state of being trapped.

As with so many of these metaphors, it is a cliché and should generally be avoided in favour either of something fresher, or something straight-forward.

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