Rock the boat

The origin of the idiom rock the boat is attributed to an American statesman. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression 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 that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, 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 rock the boat, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To rock the boat means to make trouble, to upset the status quo, to disturb the harmony. It is often expressed in the negative as a warning, don’t rock the boat. The origin of the idiom rock the boat is attributed to William Jennings Bryan, a politician and talented public orator. Bryan was a Democrat from Nebraska who unsuccessfully ran for president three times. In a speech in 1914, he coined the idiom: “The man who rocks the boat ought to be stoned when he gets back on shore.” William Jennings Bryan is probably most remembered today for his role as prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which John T. Scopes, a teacher, was prosecuted for teaching evolution in Tennessee. He was defended by Clarence Darrow. Rock the boat and don’t rock the boat are still popular idioms today, often used as a rallying cry for political or social change. Related phrases are rocks the boat, rocked the boat, rocking the boat.


The only issue is whether any of these schools — Arkansas, most likely — will have the institutional fortitude to make a hire that is going to rock the boat in ways that are both thrilling and potentially embarrassing. (USA Today)

With one of his signature policy initiatives facing a delicate political moment, you might have thought President Donald Trump would refrain from doing anything to rock the boat. (Milford Daily News)

With so much of their advertising coming from airlines, car companies and retail conglomerates, it’s no wonder they don’t want to rock the boat. (The Irish Times)

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