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Learn English: Water words

Swimming
Swimming.

Pixabay CC: tpsdave

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Swimming in the water is not only one of Australia's most popular pastimes — it's also the source of some common idioms. Let's test the waters with these very watery words and phrases.

Anytime you go swimming, it makes sense to check the water's temperature before diving in. You might call this 'testing the waters'. We use this phrase in other contexts, too.

To "test the waters" can mean to try something new to see if you like it. It can also refer to finding out what people think of something new.

"We tested the waters to see if people would buy our new range of green lipsticks."

"I thought we would get along well, so I asked him out for ice cream to test the waters."

A dog with a ball in its mouth
A dog keeping its head above water.

Pixabay CC: manfredrichter

To be 'in deep water' means that you are in serious trouble.

"She was caught cheating on a test. She's in deep water now."

If you're learning to swim, one of the most important skills is to learn how to float — or 'keep your head above water'.

If you're keeping your head above water, you are surviving, but only just. We often use it in a financial sense, to talk about managing your money.

"I am only working part-time, so I am struggling to keep my head above water."

We can also use the word 'afloat' to talk about avoiding financial difficulties.

"Without help from his family, he couldn't keep the business afloat."

'Treading water' refers to a way of moving your arms and legs in the water to stay in one spot, and keep your head up.

We sometimes use treading water as a way to talk about staying in one place — you're keeping your head above water, but not making any progress.

Just as treading water is extremely difficult to do for a long time, particularly when you are tired and cold, we can also use the phrase 'treading water' to highlight the fact that you are experiencing financial hardships. 

"It's been five years since she had a promotion, so she feels as if she's treading water."

A herd of elephants
A herd of elephants.

Flickr CC: Clive Reid

There are also some specifically Australian 'water' sayings.

A 'watering hole' is literally a place where animals congregate to drink.  If someone in Australia refers to a watering hole, they are most likely referring to a pub, or hotel, where they can buy a drink — often a beer.

If you already knew that, you might say: 

"Do you think I came down in the last shower?"

A shower of rain is short and usually only lasts a few minutes. "Do you think I came down in the last shower," is a way of saying, "Do you think I am foolish?"

It's a way of saying that you've been around for long enough to know someone is trying to fool you.

Water under the bridge
Water under the bridge.

Pixabay CC: rmac8oppo

If you've had enough water words for now, you might pour cold water on this discussion.

To 'pour cold water' on something means to be negative and to criticise it.

"I was really excited about the new project until Mum poured cold water on all my ideas."

But even if someone has poured cold water on your ideas in the past, it's all 'water under the bridge' now.

This common phrase refers to the idea that problems from the past are not important anymore and should be forgotten.

"We argued constantly when we were children, but that's all water under the bridge now."

Duck in water
A duck in water.

Pixabay CC: DenisK_2017

Of course, it's better not to be bothered at all by problems and criticism. In that case you can say it's 'water off a duck's back'.

"She has never listened to anyone who says she won't succeed. It's just water off a duck's back to her."

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