Muddy the waters

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Muddy the waters is an idiom that has been in use since the 1600s. We will examine the meaning of the idiom muddy the waters, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Muddy the waters means to make something more confusing or more chaotic, to make something harder to understand. The image is of a muddy bottom being stirred up in a pond or lake composed of clear water, making it hard to see through the water. The expression muddy the waters came into use in the 1600s, though the expression muddled the waters was also popular at the time. Related phrases are muddies the waters, muddied the waters, muddying the waters. Note that the plural, waters, is used in the expression.


We use the expression “to muddy the waters” when someone is stirring up trouble, causing confusion. (The National Catholic Reporter)

However, incomplete or incorrect data can also muddy the waters, obscuring important nuances within communities, ignoring important factors such as socioeconomic realities, and creating false senses of panic or safety, not to mention other harms such as needlessly exposing private information. (The Harvard Business Review)

Not to muddy the waters, but within each of these categories are vegetables whose seeds you plant directly in the garden, and those that require so long a growing season that you need to purchase transplants (seedlings) for planting. (The Minot Daily News)