Hit the Deck – Meaning and Origin

Photo of author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Hit the deck is an idiom that means to drop to the ground quickly, usually due to a threat of some sort. It can also be used to express the need to get moving quickly.

Although the origins of this idiom are somewhat inconclusive, the term is usually associated with naval terminology, with the deck in question being the deck of a ship. Popular in the 20th century, a musical of the same name was even produced at one point.

Idioms are fun and expressive ways to figuratively make connections with ideas and messages within text and speech. Most idioms have strong literal origins but have been associated with other actions and events through the years. They can be confusing to anyone new to the English language, and becoming familiar with their use can help elevate a person’s understanding of English vernacular.

This article highlights the meaning, origins, and use of the term hit the deck and provides plenty of examples of its usage.

What Is the Meaning of ‘Hit the Deck’?

Hit the Deck – Meaning and Origin

Hit the deck typically means to lie down quickly to the ground, often as a protective response, as seen in military contexts when one is under fire. However, like many idioms, it’s versatile. In more relaxed settings, it might be a playful nudge to get moving swiftly, whether that’s jumping out of bed in the morning or diving into a task with urgency.

For example:

  • Upon waking, the calls of “hit the deck” echoed through the room, and Robert quickly slid out of bed towards the bathroom to avoid waiting in line.
  • She quickly hit the deck when she saw the tow line snap, thus avoiding the backlash of the rope.
  • The instructor addressed the class with their need to hit the deck regarding the final project since it was due in less than a week.

Hit the Deck Origins

Hit the Deck Ngram
Hit the deck usage trend.

Although the actual origins of the phrase hit the deck are hard to nail down, it is commonly accepted to have started in a military context as a warning to duck or get down when under fire, especially on the deck of a ship. Its use became familiar in the 19th century and quickly became a popular saying during the early 1900s. It was even the title of a musical published in 1928 about a woman’s quest to convince her sailor love interest to marry her.

It was also considered nautical slang around this time to mean wake up or get out of bed. Over the years, it has been used to express the need to get going or move more quickly.

Let’s Review

Hit the deck may have started with a military relationship, but today, it expresses the need to move quickly. Depending on the context, if you tell someone to hit the deck, you might be yelling at them to get down, get out of bed, or get moving. Either way, they need to move fast.