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Related to violet: mauve, gentian violet

shrinking violet

Fig. someone who is very shy and not assertive. I am not exactly a shrinking violet, but I don't have the guts to say what you said to her.
See also: shrink, violet

a shrinking violet

a very shy person (usually negative) She's no shrinking violet. I wouldn't exactly describe him as a shrinking violet.
See also: shrink, violet

shrinking violet, a

An extremely shy person, as in She was a shrinking violet until she went away to college. This metaphoric idiom refers to the flower, but the precise allusion is unclear, since violets thrive under a variety of conditions and often are considered a garden weed. [Early 1900s]
See also: shrink

shrinking violet

A shy person. The violet flower gives the impression of shyness, growing as it does close to the protective ground and often beneath other plants, shrubs and trees. Compared to other larger foliage, violets do seem to look as though they are shrinking, growing smaller. As applied to shy people, the phrase first appeared in both America and Great Britain in the 1820s.
See also: shrink, violet
References in classic literature ?
I will tell you," replied little Violet, the tears gathering in her soft eyes.
So, gathering a tiny mushroom for a parasol, she flew away; Daisy soon followed, and Violet was left alone.
The ant and bee learned generosity, the butterfly and bird contentment, the mole and worm confidence in the love of others; and each went to their home better for the little time they had been with Violet.
Through the crowd there came a little form, a wreath of pure white violets lay among the bright locks that fell so softly round the gentle face, where a deep blush glowed, as, kneeling at the throne, little Violet said:--
Forth sallied the two children, with a hop-skip-and-jump, that carried them at once into the very heart of a huge snow-drift, whence Violet emerged like a snow-bunting, while little Peony floundered out with his round face in full bloom.
At last, when they had frosted one another all over with handfuls of snow, Violet, after laughing heartily at little Peony's figure, was struck with a new idea.
And, to say the truth, if miracles are ever to be wrought, it will be by putting our hands to the work in precisely such a simple and undoubting frame of mind as that in which Violet and Peony now undertook to perform one, without so much as knowing that it was a miracle.
He strolled on; and Violet, having sniffed the air for a few more minutes with her tip-tilted nose, went indoors to attend to her work.
And, lastly, passing through the hall but an instant before, he had met Violet, carrying the coffee and the evening post to the study, and she had given him two long envelopes addressed in his own handwriting.
At this point in his meditations Violet entered with the after-dinner coffee and the evening post.
To think that, but for the coming of this wonderful Mademoiselle Violet, he might even now have been furnishing a small shop on the outskirts of Islington, with collars and ties and gloves designed to attract the youth of that populous neighborhood!
Apparently Mademoiselle Violet combined a taste for philanthropy with her penchant for Islington dancing halls.
Albert had fastened the faded bunch of violets to his button-hole.
Her wedding dress was to have been a gown of white brocade with purple violets in it.
Come and look for violets with me in the spinney, and let us talk of the houses we are going to build, and the dreams we shall dream in them.