Tuesday, 5 June 2012


The River Thames and the boats that travelled along it on Sunday were in the news all over the world, so this seems a good time to have a look at some "boating" idioms in English.

First of all, let's have a look at the terminology:

Boat is a general word for a sea or river vessel but usually refers to smaller ones.

Ship is used for larger sea-going vessels.

A barge is a flat-bottomed boat used for the transport of goods along rivers or canals. Barges are often towed. In naval terminology, a barge is a boat assigned to a flag officer, often for ceremonial occasions.  The Queen travelled on a very special barge on Sunday:

Image: Wikimedia Commons via

To go boating means to take a trip in a boat for pleasure.

Now see if you can match the following sentences 1- 8, which all contain idioms about boats, with their meanings a - h.  The answers are at the end of the post.

1. I understand how you feel because I'm in the same boat.

2.  When my ship comes in, I'll buy you a car.

3.  I should have applied for the job but I missed the boat.

4.  Everything is ship-shape and Bristol fashion.

5. In the end he decided not to rock the boat.

6. She barged in on the meeting and annoyed everybody.

7.  My boss runs a tight ship.

8.  I wouldn't touch that project with a bargepole!

Broad Quay, Bristol, UK
 in the eighteenth century

a.  I was too late.

b.  I think the situation could be dangerous or stupid.

c.  The person is very strict in the way he or she manages the company or institution.

d.  When I become rich I will do this.

e.  The person did not want to cause a problem or disturb a situation.

f.  I am in the same situation as the other person.

g.  Everything is absolutely in order.

h.  She interrupted or entered in a rude way.

Highlight the space below to see the answers:

1f, 2d, 3a, 4g, 5e, 6h, 7c, 8b.

You can see the origin of the saying, "Ship-shape and Bristol fashion" here.

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