On the rocks

On the rocks is an idiom with two different, distinct meanings. 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 in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, 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 meaning of the idiom on the rocks, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

On the rocks may mean to serve a beverage with ice in it. The “rocks” referred to in this expression are ice cubes. Most often, a beverage that is served on the rocks is an alcoholic drink.

On the rocks may also be used to mean that an institution, endeavor or romantic relationship is on the brink of inevitable failure. A marriage that is headed for divorce may be said to be on the rocks. A failing business may be said to be on the rocks. The idiom on the rocks, used in this manner, is derived from the image of a ship running aground and breaking apart on a rocky outcropping. The idiom on the rocks has been in use since at least the 1800s.


At their sister restaurant, O-Ku, it’s mixed as a cocktail and served on the rocks. (The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

This delicious concoction of half dry vermouth and half sweet vermouth served on the rocks was uncommon and most bartenders needed an explanation of it when he would order. (St. Catherine’s Standard)

Does Netanyahu’s failure to hit 61-seats place annexation on the rocks? (The Jerusalem Post)

She later hit back at claims their marriage is on the rocks and absence from home during Strictly and his appearance on the live shows has put a strain on their relationship. (The Sun)

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