Bookshelp header image for page World Wide Words logo

Tide one over

Q From Kathleen Zimmermann: Could you please clear up a disagreement my husband and I are having regarding the proper usage of the phrases to tie you over versus to tide you over?

A You don’t say which of you is on the side of which version, so I don’t know whether it is you or your husband who is going to be disappointed when I say that the true form is to tide one over. In some slight defence of to tie one over, it is becoming more common, but it is a folk etymology (read “error” if you prefer) that has grown up because the word tide here seems to make no sense.

The phrase means that something — especially money — will see one through a difficult period and keep one going until things improve. An example from the Daily Telegraph from 31 August 2002: “As well as putting money aside, which can be used to tide him over when he returns from his post in Antarctica, Mr Bursnall can begin to build up a deposit for a flat”.

The idea is that of the swelling tide, which will carry you over some obstacle, with the implication that it won’t require effort on your part. It may be that it’s a deliberate echo of Brutus’s comment, in Julius Caesar: “There is a Tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the Flood, leads on to Fortune”, or it may at least be taken from the same idea of a ship, say, waiting for the tide to rise and carry it over the bar into a harbour.

Perhaps oddly for an expression that concerns something so basic and immemorial, the phrase is first recorded only in 1860. Many of the early instances evoked the watery associations explicitly, as does this, from Edward Meyrick Goulburn’s book The Pursuit of Holiness of 1869: “As an exuberant mounting flood shall tide us over the difficulties of our career”.

Share this page
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Google+

Search World Wide Words

Support World Wide Words!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 24 May 2003

Advice on copyright

The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-tid1.htm
Last modified: 24 May 2003.