Expressions about water
Water is the essence of life. All living things on our planet need it to survive, no matter where they are. For human society, it also plays a role in things like comfort, hygiene, transport, science, philosophy, and mythology. Because it is so integral, it is no wonder that there are so many expressions about water in the English language.
This list of water expressions includes idioms, proverbs, slang language, and other sayings. It can help learners develop their vocabulary and understanding of English as well as assist writers who are looking for some interesting terms they can use. Now, let’s dive in and take a look at some fun water sayings!
1- Water off a duck’s back
This is used to describe criticism that doesn’t offend or affect someone. The person doesn’t care at all about being criticized or having something bad said about them. Similarly water slides off the back of ducks due to the dense feathers they have which help keep them dry.
Example – The other team’s fans screamed terrible things at him but he wasn’t at all bothered. It was like water off a duck’s back for him.
2 – To be in hot water
If you are in hot water, you have done something wrong and are in trouble. It is often used in situations where people have upset others and made them angry.
Example- She is in real hot water with the boss now because she lost the keys to the restaurant.
3 – A fish out of water
Someone who is or feels like a fish out of water feels uncomfortable where they are, or doing what they are doing. You can find a detailed look at this idiom here.
Example – She felt like a fish out of water at the party because she was quite shy and none of her friends were there.
4 – Water under the bridge
This is used to talk about past events that cannot be changed. The event has either been forgotten because a lot of time has passed or has been resolved and is no longer thought about. It is also sometimes said as “water over the dam”.
Example – Tom and Jenny had a big fight and didn’t talk to each other for a year but they made up and it is all water under the bridge now.
5 – A backwater
This is a negative term that is used to describe a place that isn’t interesting, is very isolated, or doesn’t have much culture. The literal meaning of a backwater is a part of a river where the water is not flowing so it makes a lot of sense to be used in this idiomatic way.
Example – I really don’t like this town there is nothing to do or any shops, and it is such a backwater.
6 – Uncharted waters
If you are in uncharted waters you are doing something new or in a situation that you have never been in before. This can also be said as unfamiliar waters or untested waters.
Example – The town has never had to deal with this many tourists before, these are uncharted waters.
7 – Can talk underwater
This funny Australian expression about water is used to say that a person is very talkative. So much so that even if they were submerged underwater they would still keep talking!
Example – I bumped into her at the supermarket and she didn’t stop talking for 20 minutes, she could talk underwater that lady.
8 – A long or tall glass of water
This is used to say that a person is very tall and usually thin. A long glass of water is also used in some places to describe someone as boring.
Example – Look at the size of that guy over there! He’s a tall glass of water, I bet he’d make a good basketball player.
9 – You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink
This means that you can show someone how to do something, help them, or give them an opportunity but you can’t make them do it. They need to be willing and take the initiative themselves to succeed and cannot be forced no matter the benefit.
Example – She offered him a job to help him out with his money troubles but he was too lazy to work and said no.
10 -Spend money like water
To spend money like water is to spend a lot of it, often wastefully without care or worry about the consequences.
Example – Since they won the lottery they have been spending money like water. They don’t care what they buy or how much it costs.
11 – Blood is thicker than water
This proverb is used to say that family relationships are more important and long-lasting than those of friendship. Loyalty to your family is the number one and bonds with relatives are the strongest of all.
Example – When he had problems last year it was his family who helped him not his friends. Blood is thicker than water.
12- Couldn’t pour water out of a boot
This slang water expression is used to describe a person of low intelligence. It means to say that could not do even the most basic things properly.
Example – He doesn’t even know how to turn on the computer, he couldn’t pour water out of a boot.
13 – Like a duck to water
A person who learns something very quickly or naturally can be said to take to it like a duck to water. It can also be used to describe a person who enjoys doing something almost immediately.
Example – They didn’t think their daughter would like learning to play guitar but she took to it like a duck to water.
14 – Test the water
To test the water or waters is to try something to see if it could become a success, if you would enjoy it, or to see what others think of it.
Example – The band sent a demo of their music to the radio station to test the waters and see if anyone liked their music.
15 – Tread water
To tread water is to float vertically in one spot with just your head above the water. As an idiomatic expression, it is used aptly to describe a person who is not in a good situation. They are neither moving forward to get out of this problem nor backward where it will become worse. They are just surviving and staying still.
Example – She has so many bills to pay, she is just treading water financially.
16 – To fish in troubled waters
If you are fishing in troubled waters you are in a tricky situation that could cause you major problems. It can also be used to describe a person looking to take advantage of difficult circumstances for their own personal gain.
Example – Jill thinks she will make a lot of money trading in cryptocurrency but I think she is fishing in troubled waters.
17 – Water-cooler talk
This is a casual discussion between people who work together. A water cooler is a water dispenser that you find in most workplaces and office settings. It is a place where colleagues in a building might have a brief simple conversation when they meet. Water-cooler talk can also mean idle gossip in the workplace.
Example – Every morning just after 10 they have a quick water cooler talk about the latest TV series.
18 – Doesn’t hold water
An argument or idea that doesn’t hold water seems very unlikely to be true or is unbelievable. It can also be used in the opposite way, saying something holds water means that is believable and probably a fact.
Example – The scientists checked the new theory but after looking at the facts they found it didn’t hold water.
19 – A watering hole
This is a place in nature where animals go to drink. It is also used figuratively in English as a name for places where people drink alcohol such as a bar or pub.
Example – Every Friday afternoon after work they gather at their local watering hole to drink a few beers.
20 – Dull as dishwater
Someone who is said to be as dull as dishwater is a very boring person. It can also be used to describe other things and activities that you think are very uninteresting.
Example – I really don’t like watching that kind of football, I think it is as dull as dishwater.
21 – Blow something out of the water
Something that is blown out of the water is suddenly destroyed forever. This can be used to describe ideas, theories, legal cases, plans, and policies. It can also mean to greatly surprise a person, to be much better than them, or to beat them in a competition or battle.
Example – They had interviewed over 50 people for the job but she came in afterwards and blew all the other candidates out of the water.
22 – Water down
To water something down is to make it less forceful, powerful, important, or reduce its effectiveness.
Example – The president had to water down his policies because the citizens were getting angry.
23 – Come hell or high water
This idiom about water is commonly used to say that a person will do something no matter what. They are extremely determined on their path or goal and are willing to overcome any difficulty that stands in the way. So much so they would face the fires of hell or the destructive high waters of flooding.
Example – Come hell or high water I am going to climb to the top of that mountain.
24 – Carry water
To carry someone’s water is to do what they want. This is done in a subservient manner. A person usually carries water for a more powerful person or organization.
Example – When Carol became assistant manager she had to carry water for the main manager and do all his basic tasks.
25 – Throw cold water on
If you throw or pour cold water on something you point out what is wrong with it instead of enjoying it or its idea with other people.
Example – We were all excited about the idea of camping this weekend until Tony threw cold water on the idea and said it would rain.
28 – Bubble water
This is a slang term for champagne, an alcoholic drink from a region of France (named Champagne) where it originated from.
Example – It is her birthday this weekend so we are going to buy some bubble water and celebrate it.
27 – Mouth-watering
We say that something is mouth-watering or brings water to the mouth if it is delicious or very desirable. It is something that we really want, like when a hungry dog looking at food and its mouth begins to water.
Example – Somebody just offered them a mouth-watering amount of money for their house. They will be able to retire and never work again!
28 – Throw the baby out with the bath water
To do this is to throw away something important when you get rid of something considered useless. You can lose something important when you reject something completely. This expression is commonly used as a warning not to do something without taking more thought.
Example – Just because you lost the race there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater and buy a new bike.
29 – Dead in the water
Something that is dead in the water is a failure. It is completely doomed and cannot be revived to be useful again. There is no hope for it in the future.
Example – The mayor’s plans to build a supermarket there are dead in the water now that some endangered species have been found on the land.
30 – In smooth waters
To be in smooth waters is to be in a good position or situation free from problems. Just like sailing on a smooth sea with no waves, everything is easy and going well for you at this time.
Example – The company is giving me a pay raise next month, after that I will be sailing in smooth waters.
31 – You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry
Don’t is interchangeable with never in this proverb. It simply means that until something is gone you take it for granted and don’t appreciate what you have.
Example – I never really noticed how beautiful my hometown was until I had to move to the city for work. You never miss the water until the well runs dry I suppose.
32 – In deep water
To be in deep water is to be in a difficult or dangerous situation. It is not easy to see how you will survive or get out of it unharmed.
Example – The company has been in deep water since their new product failed. They could go bankrupt soon.
33 – Muddy the waters
If you muddy the waters you make something more confusing or harder to understand. It becomes less clear, just as water does when mud is added to it.
Example – When they changed the law it really muddied the waters, nobody was sure what was legal or illegal anymore.
34 – Be like oil and water
Oil and water just don’t mix, this expression means the same thing. It can be used to describe the relationship between two people as well as other things that don’t go well together.
Example – Her husband and mother can never get along with each other, they are like oil and water.
35 – Cast bread upon the waters
To do this or cast your bread upon the water means to do good things that help others. You do it only as an act of kindness and charity without expecting something in return.
Example – After she retired she decided to cast her bread upon the water and work for free in an orphanage.
36 – To carry water in one hand and fire in the other
This means to be deceptive, to say one thing and do or mean another. The two opposing elements in each hand illustrate the meaning quite well.
Example – He told me he was single but he has a wife and 3 kids, he carries water in one hand and fire in the other.
37 – Of the first water
This old water expression is used to say that something or someone is very good, excels at something, or is amongst the very best.
Example – His latest book shows that he is an author of the first water.
38 – Meet your Waterloo
This of course comes from the famous defeat of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. To meet your Waterloo means to experience an extreme failure or suffer a heavy defeat.
Example – John really met his Waterloo when his business failed, he lost everything that he owned.
39 – Cover the waterfront
If you cover the waterfront you cover every aspect and detail of a subject. You are very thorough on a wide range of things concerning the subject.
Example – The documentary covers the waterfront on the war. It explains everything that happened during that time.
40 – Still waters run deep
This proverb about water is used to describe a person who doesn’t show emotion, is quiet or keeps to themselves, and is hard to get to know. It is suspected that this person has a deep and complex personality and is very intelligent. Deep water is quiet but shallow running water can be quite noisy, therefore quiet people can have something a bit more to them than talkative ones. It can also mean that just because a thing is silent or calm it isn’t dangerous.
Example – She had never spoken to me until yesterday, I didn’t know she was so clever. Now I see that still waters run deep.
41 – A scalded dog dreads cold water
This is a very old water proverb that means that people who have had a bad experience will try to avoid the same thing in the future.
Example – She refuses to go swimming anymore since the time she nearly drowned in the river.
42 – Running water
Running water is moving water in a river or stream. It is used to describe the water in a house or building that flows through pipes and plumbing.
Example – After the hurricane, most of the homes in the town had no electricity or running water.
43 – Water is wet
This is a funny quip to imply that something said is very obvious. If a question with a very obvious answer is asked a similar retort is “Is water wet?”.
Example – A – The Sahara desert looks really hot don’t you think? B – Is water wet?
44 – Pour oil on troubled water
To pour oil onto troubled water or waters is to calm down a person, people who are arguing, or a tense situation that might escalate further.
Example – The two boys were having a noisy argument until their mother came in and poured oil on troubled waters and they forgot all about it.
45 – Firewater
This is a slang term for very strong alcohol. It is an American expression that seems to have arisen in the early 1800s.
Example – The men had finished a hard day’s work and were happy as they passed a bottle firewater around the table.
46 – A mill cannot grind with water that has passed
This proverb about water means that you should do something when you can and the opportunity is there. Don’t miss the chance and let it pass by you. If you do miss the chance don’t waste time thinking with regret about what could have been in the past. A similar idiom is “Don’t cry over spilled milk”.
Example – You should work hard now while you are young and strong, a mill cannot grind with water that has passed.
47 – You can’t get water out of a stone
This water saying means that you cannot get money from a person who doesn’t have any. It is also said as “You cannot get blood from a stone”.
Example – Don’t even bother trying to get him to give you back the money he lent. He is unemployed now and you can’t get water from a stone.
48 – Keep both oars in the water
To keep or have both oars in the water is to remain calm, steady, and sensible. It is used to describe a person who has these personality traits and shows them during times when others might get worried or overly angry. It basically means that a person is stable and sane, they can steer a boat in a straight line. To not have both oars in the water of course means the opposite of this.
Example – We worried about what he would do when his marriage ended but he had both oars in the water and was fine.