Thursday, February 12, 2009

Will This Tide You Over?

I often see sentences containing something like, “It is there to tie you over...” Something may be there to tide you over until you can do or get another thing, like an afternoon snack that will tide you over until dinnertime. But what does that mean, exactly?

As far as I can determine, the phrasal verb “tide over” grew out of nautical terminology. The in-coming tide would lift your ship over an obstacle, such as a sandbar, or free you from having run aground. Thus, something that tides you over satisfies a need, like hunger or money, until you can give it your full attention. That need acts as an obstacle to other activity, often by serving as a distraction that prevents you from focusing on something momentarily more pressing.

“Tide over” these days means much the same as the phrase “get you over the hump”. Both imply assistance that boosts you over an obstacle or carry you through a difficult situation. Think of that, the next time you ask to borrow a little to tide you over until payday.