Jump ship

The term jump ship is an idiom that began with a literal meaning. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a second language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the expression jump ship, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The original, literal meaning of the phrase to jump ship means to leave employment as a member of a ship’s crew. Crew members are bound to serve out a contract of employment. If one leaves that employment prematurely he is said to have jumped ship. This probably stems from the practice of literally jumping off a ship as it nears or leaves a port and swimming to freedom. Jumping ship was particularly prevalent when sailors were often shanghaied or pressed into service aboard ships against their wills. Today, the phrase jump ship is most often used in a figurative sense as an idiom, to mean to abandon a post, a task or a responsibility, or to leave employment in any type of industry or business. Often, the implication is that one is moving on from a sinking ship or failing post, task, responsibility or business. However, one may jump ship in order to grab a better opportunity. Related terms are jumps ship, jumped, ship, jumping ship. While the practice of literally jumping ship has waned, the popularity of the idiom jump ship has increased greatly over the past century.


Executives often find it hard to jump ship after helping steer the same workplace for years. (The Australian)

As Tory defectors to the new Independent Group claimed there were a ‘significant’ number of MPs from all parties on the brink of quitting, Westminster was abuzz this evening discussing who could be next to jump ship. (The Daily Mail)

Three Hartford lawyers from litigator Carlton Fields have jumped ship to join a Philadelphia-based law firm that’s opening an office in downtown Hartford. (The Hartford Business Journal)

Some other info was made public thanks to a lawsuit brought by Optum, which is concerned that one of its former top dogs who’d jumped ship to Haven is taking some proprietary information with him along for the ride. (Managed Care Magazine)

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