Keep one’s head above water

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Keep one’s head above water is an idiom that is several hundred years old. We will examine the meaning of the idiom keep one’s head above water, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To keep one’s head above water means to stay out of trouble, to work hard enough to avoid difficulties, to keep up with an overwhelming work load, to stay solvent–which means to be able to pay one’s bills, to avoid becoming consumed by stress. The phrase to keep one’s head above water has a figurative meaning that is derived from a literal meaning, which alludes to someone who is swimming and is managing to not sink or drown. The first use of the phrase is unknown, but the expression has been in use at least since the 1700s. Related phrases are keeps one’s’ head above water, kept one’s head above water, keeping one’s head above water.


“As long as you keep your head above water, you will be a valuable member of the team.” (The Mooresville Tribune)

But advancing new ideas when you are trying to keep your head above water with the needs of day-to-day business operations is no easy task. (Forbes Magazine)

Here, she offers some tips for tempering one’s panic in even the most extreme situations and how to keep your head above water when all goes awry. (Oprah Magazine)

“Everybody’s just very uplifting, very positive, so it’s very easy to keep your head above water when you’re going through something like that,” he said. (The Los Angeles Times)