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Plain sailing, smooth sailing, and clear sailing

  • Plain sailing, smooth sailing, and clear sailing are three variations of an idiom. 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 or metaphors, 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 like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom variations plain sailing, smooth sailing, and clear sailing, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.


     

    Plain sailing, smooth sailing, and clear sailing are idioms that mean that things will become easier from this point on, that problems will melt away and that the hard times are over. Plain sailing is the oldest of these three idioms, dating from the 1700s. It is derived from the process of plane sailing, or plotting one’s course on a map as if the world were flat or a plane. Smooth sailing came into use in the 1800s, and clear sailing in the 1900s. Today, the phrase smooth sailing is the most popular iteration of the idiom, and clear sailing is the least popular.

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    Examples

    However, the producer, who is sharing her experiences to mark World Breastfeeding Week, was quick to add that things were not exactly plain sailing. (The Daily Mail)

    Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has always preached to his teams that less waves in the summer means more smooth sailing during the season. (Sports Illustrated)

    Although the results of the study indicate that herbivores are the most at-risk group, it is not clear sailing for predators. (Science Daily)


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