ENGLISCH/817: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (150) Nautical idioms (SB)


150. We are all in the same boat

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

...I wonder what was originally meant by the expression "We are all in the same boat". Living in a society with very rare water supply, idioms that base on experiences in rowing or sailing are very strange and hard to understand. ...

Yours sincerely

W.W. Mohammed Ali (India)


Dear Mr Ali

Because Britain is an island and therefore surrounded by water this had led to a lot of idioms which have to do with the sea. Sailing and rowing has also been a rich source of new expressions. If you keep this in mind you won't be so annoyed by the multiplicity of nautical expressions in the English language. Here are some examples:

Maybe you remember the song "Sit down, you're rocking the boot" (Musical Guys and Dolls) which is based on the idiom "rocking the boot". If someone causes trouble we can say he or she is rocking the boot. Because, when someone rocks the boot, they are causing the kind of trouble that might effect the balance that might for example upset an organization or institution.

So a secretary of a well-organized company would probably say to a colleague: "Everything is going fine for the company at the moment. The new boss would do well not to rock the boat". It is easy to see where the image comes from. When you are in a small boat with a few people it only needs one person to stand up for the boat to turn over. So, "don't rock the boat!"

Now imagine another scenery, a wild and stormy night as in the American movie "Titanic". The ship you are travelling in has hit the rocks or an iceberg. You had to abandon the ship. But you're one of the lucky ones. With some of the other passengers you have managed to escape in a small lifeboat. And someone's sorrowful question "O, will anyone ever find us?" might be answered with: "Well, at least we're all in the same boat."

"We're all in the same boat." - an often used idiom. It means: We're all in the same position or we've all got the same problems.

Another example of everyday's conversation:
"I used to quite like this job. But now we have to work longer hours we don't get paid enough. Conditions are getting worse and worse...."
"You don't need to tell me that. I mean everyone feels the same. Still at least, we are all in the same boat."

Or if someone tells you: "I am only just managing to keep my head above water" this can mean in a literal sense that he or she is swimming or walking through water and has some difficulty in keeping his or her head up to breathe. This means literally and in a figurative sense, that he or she just managed to survive.

I think these are enough nautical examples for today. Thanks for asking and don't forget to keep your head above water.


Mrs Gobbledygook

26. November 2008