[ hohld-uhp ]
/ ˈhoʊldˌʌp /
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a forcible stopping and robbing of a person.
a stop or delay in the progress of something: There was a holdup in the construction of the bridge.
an instance of being charged excessively.
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Origin of holdup

1830–40, Americanism; noun use of verb phrase hold up
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does holdup mean?

A holdup is a delay or something that causes a delay.

It’s frequently used in the phrase What’s the holdup?—meaning “What’s the cause of the delay?”

Holdup can also refer to a kind of robbery, typically in which the robber takes a person’s money by stopping them and threatening them with a weapon, especially a gun. In this sense, a holdup is also called a stickup.

In both cases, the word is sometimes spelled hold-up.

The phrase hold up can be used as a verb meaning to delay, to cause a delay, or to rob someone in a holdup. (It also has several other meanings.)

Example: I asked him what the holdup was, and he told me that he was waiting for the designer to deliver the images.

Where does holdup come from?

The first records of holdup come from the 1800s in the United States, where it is primarily used. Both senses of holdup are based on the phrasal verb hold up. When it refers to a robbery, holdup is a reference to the robber’s usual demand for the victim to hold their hands up. (The same thing is true for the very close synonym stickup).

The word holdup is typically applied to robberies in which the victim is an individual person on the street or a clerk at a retail store. Stickup is used in the same way, but it’s even more informal—it sounds more like something out of an old movie.

When holdup is used in the context of a delay, it can refer to the delay itself (as in A lack of drivers is causing a holdup in deliveries) or the thing causing the delay—the thing holding things up (as in We need to find out what the holdup is so we can eliminate it and prevent further delays).

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to holdup?

  • hold-up (alternate spelling)
  • holdups (plural)

What are some synonyms for holdup?

What are some words that share a root or word element with holdup

What are some words that often get used in discussing holdup?

What are some words holdup may be commonly confused with?

How is holdup used in real life?

Holdup is usually used informally. When used in reference to a delay, it sometimes implies annoyance that there is a delay.



Try using holdup!

Is holdup used correctly in the following sentence?

If you’re late submitting those documents, the holdup will make us miss our deadline.

How to use holdup in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for holdup


verb hold up (adverb)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with holdup

hold up


Offer or present as an example, as in The teacher held Bernie's essay up as a model for the class to follow. [c. 1600]


Obstruct or delay, as in We were held up in traffic. [c. 1900]


Rob, as in He was held up in a dark alley, with no help nearby. This usage, which gave rise to the noun holdup for a robbery, alludes to the robbers' demand that the victims hold their hands high. [Late 1800s]


Also, hold out. Continue to function without losing force or effectiveness, endure. For example, We held up through that long bitter winter, or The nurse was able to hold out until someone could relieve her. [Late 1500s]


See hold one's head high.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.