Now, the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.
Expressions about water are almost as common as water itself. But many of the expressions using water have unpleasant meanings.
The expression to be in hot water is one of them. It is a very old expression. Hot water was used five hundred years ago to mean being in trouble. One story says it got that meaning from the custom of throwing boiling water down on enemies attacking a castle.
That is no longer the custom. But we still get in hot water. When we are in hot water, we are in trouble. It can be any kind of trouble–serious, and not so serious. A person who breaks a law can be in hot water with the police. A boy can be in hot water with his mother, if he comes into the house with dirty, wet shoes.
Being in deep water is almost the same as being in hot water. When you are in deep water, you are in difficulty. Imagine a swimmer in water over his head who cannot reach the shore.
You are in deep water when you are facing a problem that you do not have the ability to solve. The problem is too deep for you. You can be in deep water, for example, if you invest in stocks without knowing anything about the stock market.
To keep your head above water is a colorful expression that means staying out of debt. A company that can keep its head above water can survive economic hard times.
Water over the dam is an expression about a past event. It is something that is over and done with. It cannot be changed. The expression comes from the idea that water that has fallen over a dam cannot be brought back again.
When a friend is troubled by a mistake he has made, you might tell him to forget about it. You say it is water over the dam.
Another common expression, to hold water, is about the strength or weakness of an idea, opinion or argument. It probably comes from the way of testing the condition of a container. If it can hold water, it is strong. The expression is used the same way to describe an idea or argument. If the argument can hold water, it is solid and strong without any holes. If it does not hold water, then it is weak and cannot be proved.
Throwing cold water also is an expression that deals with ideas or proposals. It means not to like an idea. For example, you want to buy a new computer, so you can do some of your work at home. But your wife throws cold water on the idea, because a computer costs too much.
This VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Marilyn Christiano. I’m Faith Lapidus.