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Sailing Idioms in Business English

by Alex Anderson, St Giles New York City

Picture a ship powering through the ocean heading for a distant port. Sometimes the sun shines, the sea is smooth and the ship makes steady progress through the water. At other times, however, the wind blows and storms can come out of nowhere. Therefore it takes a skilled captain to navigate the oceans successfully.
Now picture a business in the same way – sometimes everything goes smoothly. At other times, however, there may be crisis to deal with. Recession; supply and demand; cash flow are all potential dangers for businesses. Therefore it takes a skilled CEO to ensure that a business remains successful and copes with dangers when they arise.

With these pictures in your mind, it’s easy to see why the metaphor of sailing and ships is one that is often used to describe the process of running a business.

If you are looking to improve your business English, it’s necessary to be aware of this metaphor and the idioms related to sailing and ships. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Shipshape – in a neat and orderly state e.g. We need to get everything shipshape before the delegates arrive
  • Sink or swim – to succeed or fail e.g. I didn’t get any training – I was left to sink or swim
  • On the rocks – to be in a state of bankruptcy e.g. That bank is on the rocks. Don't put your money in it
  • Run a tight ship – To run an organization or a department in an orderly and disciplined manner e.g. The new manager runs a tight ship
  • Show (someone) the ropes – Introduce and teach someone the way things work or are organised e.g. Welcome to the company, I’m going to show you the ropes so pay attention!
  • All hands on deck - something that you say when everyone's help is needed, especially to do a lot of work in a short amount of time e.g. We've got to get everything ready before the conference so it's all hands on deck
  • Plain sailing - easy unobstructed progress e.g. After we solved that problem the rest was plain sailing
  • Rock the boat - to disturb the balance or routine of a situation e.g. I won’t ask for a raise yet, I don’t want to rock the boat

Want to know more? Follow this link for a free lesson on sailing metaphors: http://www.businessenglishpod.com/2009/07/26/bep-138-int-sailing-idioms-company-performance-part-1/