Tide Someone Over vs. Tied Someone Over – Origin & Definition

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Have you ever used the expression “to tide over” but were unsure whether you were using it correctly? This article explores its proper use, origins, and how to use it in a sentence.

Typically used in speech, it is a phrase that provides a figurative, non-literal meaning to help strengthen the point of a sentence. Used out of context, it may seem confusing or unrelated to the topic of the sentence. But when used properly, it helps highlight a quick solution to a temporary problem.

The Definition of Tide Someone Over

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The idiomatic phrase “to tide someone over” means to furnish a necessity (such as money or food) to someone who has run short on supplies in order to help sustain them. People sometimes need something to tide them over when unexpected emergency wrecks their budget or simply because they do not earn enough money to live on.

Sometimes, the phrase is used to mean to provide someone with something temporarily or quickly to help them last a short period of time. Such as feeding a child a snack to sustain them until it is time for a meal.

Is It Tie Over, Tide Over, or Tied Over?

There has been a hot debate over whether the original term was actually “to tie over” instead of “tide over.” However, there is plenty of documentation showing it as “tide over” in the 1600s as a seafaring phrase.

“Tied over” is a misspelling of “tide over.” Tied means to attach, fasten, or bind something, while a tide is the rising and falling of the sea that takes place twice a day in relation to the pull of the moon’s gravity.

Origins of Tide Someone Over

The earliest use of the “tide over” was recorded by Captain John Smith, the famous English Captain who settled the first permanent North American settlement in Jamestown, Virginia.

Its original use was meant to allow the ship to “float with the tide” during a period of calm wind until the next tide allowed them to move on. This description is recorded in his manual A Sea Grammar, published in 1627, stating, “To Tide ouer to a place, is to goe ouer with the Tide of ebbe or flood, and stop the contrary by anchoring till the next Tide.”

Although “tiding” over was literally what sailors were doing, the word “tide” became synonymous with “time” to describe the time it took until the next tide. This use is still seen in words such as Yuletide or good tidings to mean Christmas time or good times, respectively.

The idea of “tiding over” for a period of time until the literal tide rose or fell was somehow superseded by our more modern use of the phrase: to provide a short-term solution to help cope with a problem of some sort.

We first see this usage in 1821 in a letter to the Bishop of Llandaff from the Earl of Dudley when he states, “I wish we may be able to tide over this difficulty.”

Although the use provides a nod to its initial nautical origins, it is obviously referring to the wish to be able to wait out the issue or problem at hand.

Tide Someone Over Used in a Sentence

  • We swung by the store on the way home to pick up a few supplies to help tide us over until the end of the week.
  • That new hay bale should tide over the horses until our next cutting.
  • We stocked up on bottled water and non-perishables to help tide us over until the winter storm passed.

Let’s Review

The idiom to tide someone over is derived from a seafaring term. Sailors would sometimes depend on the tide to help them get from one place to another, and they would need to wait, riding the tide, until it was deep enough to move. This use of the term tide over is recorded as early as the 1600s.

In time, tide over, in a figurative sense, means to get through some obstacles in life while providing a short-term solution to help cope with a problem of some sort.

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