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Jan 27 / Jonathan

Dead metaphor department: running tide

On NPR this morning, of President Obama in advance of tonight’s SOTU: “the tide is running against him”.

This is one of those metaphors that most listeners, if pressed, could explain. I think. While it’s dead, it’s not yet returned to dust. But how many of us have any experience of a “running tide”? We in the SF Bay Area have a nearby dramatic example, four times a day, and I’ve even watched it run from a blufftop overlooking the Golden Gate. But it’s never been running against me.

If our experience of tides comes from our visits to the beach, we know something about the ebb & flow of the tide, but not its running. (It was relatively late in life that I made the connection between “flow”, ebb & flow, and “flood”, ebb tide and flood tide. Duh.)

The sense of “tide” as “time” (eventide, Eastertide) predates its related application to the timing of the sea. We can hear an (unintended) echo of that sense in “the tide is running against him”.

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  1. Simon gibbs / Jan 2 2012

    ‘running’ tide refers to the flow state of the water body. As opposed to ‘slack’ water between tides, running is mid eb or mid flood. To have the tide running against you refers typically to a navigational situation where the water body is flowing opposite to your intended sailing direction. The metaphor is thus to have the tide running against you, when the opposition in life is strong.

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