Some of my favorite beach idioms are:
- To have a beach body
- To bring sand to the beach
- Not the only pebble on the beach
- To bury your head in the sand
- To draw a line in the sand
Below, I explain these 5 idioms for the beach, as well as many more!
A List of Beach Idioms
1. Draw a Line in the Sand
To draw a line in the sand means that you have set clear boundaries on a topic that you will not cross.
For example, you could say that you refuse to work more than 5 days a week. If your boss tries to force you to work 6 days, you might say: “No. I’m drawing a line in the sand. I will only work 5 days a week and that’s it.” Figuratively, you’re saying that you’ve set a clear ‘line’ that you will not cross (no matter what!).
2. A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats
This economic growth metaphor refers to the idea that if the economy grows, everyone will benefit (not just the rich!). It’s widely associated with trickle-down economic theory. You could imagine that the more money is moving around the economy, everyone is likely to get some of that money. Similarly, if there’s more water in the ocean, all the boats will be lifted up.
It is first attributed to John F. Kennedy, but has been used extensively by politicians who advocate for neoliberal supply-side economic policies.
3. All at Sea
To be all at sea is to be lost and unsure of what to do. You can imagine someone in a small dinghy boat out in the ocean looking for a beach to paddle towards, but they’ve lost sight of the beach. They look all around and all they can see is the ocean. So, they’re ‘all at sea’.
4. Sea Change
A ‘sea change’ refers to a significant change that has occurred. It originates from the Shakespeare Play The Tempest. But today, we regularly talk about a sea change when someone has significantly altered their beliefs or attitudes toward something.
We can also use this phrase to refer to a societal change in attitudes that has suddenly occurred.
5. Beach Baby
A beach baby is a person who has had a natural affinity with water and the ocean from their earliest days. You could call someone this if they as a child would run toward the ocean and enjoy every moment of it.
The origin of this term may be the fact that some toddlers avoid the ocean and are afraid of it, while others get a thrill out of it. This divide in attitudes from a young age could signify personality differences that are carried with them for life.
6. Beach Body
A beach body is a body that is toned and looking good, ready to be ‘shown off’ in a swimsuit by the beach. In early spring each year, people will often say they are ‘working out’ to get a beach body ready for when the weather is warm enough to go to the beach to sun tan.
Read Also: A List of Nature Idioms
7. Beach Bum
A beach bum is a person known to be unambitious and simply wants to sit in the sun all day to enjoy their life. They’re often derided for their lack of interest in the rat race or making money for themselves.
However, people in beach and surfing culture relish their alternative lifestyle and the title that comes with it. The snow equivalent is a ‘ski bum’.
8. Beach Bunny
A beach bunny is a woman who loves to spend time by the ocean. It’s a surf culture term and could be considered the feminized version of ‘beach bum’ (above).
9. Beached Whale
‘Beached whale’ is a derogatory term for a person who is obese. The idea is if they were to go to the beach and lie there tanning, they would look a lot like a whale that has been ‘beached’ (meaning to have been washed ashore).
10. Bring Sand to the Beach
To ‘bring sand to the beach’ is to do something redundant. There is so much sand at the beach, that you wouldn’t need to bring sand there. There’s enough to go around!
We would usually use this phrase when we see someone doing something that seems silly, such as turning up to a catered event with a plate of additional food. Another example is if you bring your own bowling ball to a bowling alley.
11. Bury your head in the Sand
A person who buries their head in the sand is someone who chooses to ignore things and hide from them instead of facing them head-on.
You can imagine if someone puts their head in the sand they’ll be in the dark and not be able to see or hear anything. If you’re trying to ignore something, that’s a good place to be! (Usually we’re saying it negatively, though, for example: “Get your head out of the sand.”
12. Castles made of Sand Fall into the Sea
This proverb refers to the idea that something that’s built with flimsy material will collapse. For example, a castle made of bricks might survive while a castle made of sand will not.
Metaphorically, we use this phrase to refer to times when someone develops a story based on a lie. The proverb tells them that that story has poor foundations (it’s a lie!) and eventually the story will fall apart and you will be exposed for that behavior.
The saying is also the title of a hit Jimi Hendrix song.
13. Dip your Toes in the Water
To dip your toes in the water means to try something out. You can imagine someone walking up to the shoreline and just dipping their toe in the water to see how cold it is before they make a decision to dive in head-first. If the water is warm, then they might decide to go for a swim.
You can use this idiom metaphorically to refer to anything that you will try out before eating entirely. For example, you could try out some food with a sample before choosing to go ahead and order an entire dish.
14. Life’s a Beach
The idiom ‘life’s a beach’ is a reaction to another idioms – ‘life’s a bitch’. People would say that life is a bitch if they’re unhappy with life, consider it unpleasant, or even consider it unfair.
A more positive person might turn around and say ‘life isn’t a bitch. It’s a beach!’ Here, they’re saying that life is really fun and easy. They are using a beach in this analogy because being on the beach is associated with fun and relaxation.
15. Make Waves
To make waves is to make an impression, usually on multiple people. For example, a new book that becomes very popular has ‘made waves’ in the population.
This idiom refers to the idea that people who dive into the water will create ripples around them that will affect the people nearby. But if you make big enough ripples, they feel like waves washing up against people nearby. So, when you make a big impression, it’s like diving into the water and creating waves all around you that impact everyone nearby.
16. Not the only Fish in the Sea
This idiom is usually used to talk about people who have recently gone through a break-up. Their friends will say: “he was not the only fish in the sea. You will find someone else.”
Here, the idea is that there are many potential people you can fall in love with, just like there are many fish in the sea!
17. Not the Only Pebble on the Beach
‘Not the only pebble on the beach’ is the same as ‘not the only fish in the sea’. There are many pebbles on the beach, not just one. So, you’d say this when someone has recently broken-up with someone: “Don’t worry, he wasn’t the only pebble on the beach. You will find someone who you like better!”
18. Swim Against the Tide
To swim against the tide means to do something different to everyone else. For example, if all your friends were going to college but you decided to go travelling, you would be “swimming against the tide” because you’re doing something different.
It could also mean you have a difference of opinion to everyone else. For example, everyone around you might think the best book is Harry Potter but you are ‘swimming against the tide’ because your favorite books is Narnia.
The idiom comes from the idea that the ‘tide’ in the ocean is something that pulls you and everything around you in a particular direction. But if you decide to go in the different direction to the tide, you’re ‘swimming against it’.
19. Swim with Sharks
‘Swimming with the sharks’ means to be hanging out with dangerous people. For example, if a young man becomes friends with people doing things illegal, you might warn him: “You shouldn’t hang out with them. It’s swimming with the sharks.”
This idiom can also mean simply to take a risk. For example, if you are gambling and you take a particularly risky roll of the dice, someone observing might say: “he’s really swimming with the sharks with this one.”
20. Swim with The Tide
To swim with the tide means to choose to do the easiest option that will annoy the least people. For example, if you are going out to dinner with a group of people and several people suggest a restaurant, you might say “I’ll swim with the tide on this one.”
This would mean that you have agreed to go to the restaurant that everyone else wants to go to. It also implies that you don’t really have strong opinions about the issue, so you’re not going to put up a fight about whatever decision the group makes.
21. Tide you Over
Something that will ‘tide you over’ is a thing that will help you out for a short period until relief arrives. We will usually use it in relation to money. For example, you can lend someone $100 to ‘tide them over’ until their payday. Once they are paid by their work, they will pay you back.
The term comes from the idea that sailboats would often find themselves stuck in shallow waters until the tide rises, after which they can pass through the shallow sections. So, they will have to drop anchor to ‘tide them over’ until high tide comes again.
22. Time and Tide Wait for no Man
This idiom is quite literal. There are two things that people cannot change. They cannot change the fact that time will pass. They also cannot stop the tide from rising and falling on a beach. So, the saying implies that you cannot control certain things, no matter who you are.
Read More: A List of Time Metaphors
23. Turn the Tide
To ‘turn the tide’ means to change your own fortunes. For example, if you are having bad luck in your dating life, but then you meet someone who you are really happy with, you can say that this new relationship has ‘turned the tide’. You’re now happy, finally!
The idea here is that the tide will rise and rise and rise, but then it will reach a point where it ‘turns’ and the rising tide will stop, and the tide will move in a new direction for a while.
24. Washed Over Me
We usually use this idiom to refer to emotions that you felt suddenly. Commonly, you would say “relief washed over me” to refer to the moment your anxiety and stress disappeared. You could similarly say “grief washed over me” if you felt a sudden sadness at the loss of someone.
You can also let experiences wash over you. For example, you can close your eyes and let music wash over you, or sit in a restaurant and let the atmosphere wash over you. Here, you’re taking it all in.
This idiom comes from the sense of lying on the beach and letting the tide suddenly ‘wash over you’.
25. Washed Up
If someone is ‘washed up’, it means that they are looking unkempt and perhaps also feeling a little unwell.
You could also say ‘look what washed up’ to refer to the idea that someone or something suddenly turned up out of nowhere. The analogy here is that some things are carried by the tide onto the beach and then left there once the tide recedes (such as messages in bottles!)
26. Fish out of Water
A person who is a fish out of water is someone who feels uncomfortable somewhere. For example, in the first day of a new job, you might say you feel like a fish out of water because you’re unsure about what to do and don’t feel like you’re a natural at doing any of the tasks you’re asked to do.
27. Fresh off the Boat
Someone who is fresh off the boat is a person who is a new immigrant to a country. Back when the major way people migrated was through sea travel, this could have been interpreted quite literally: someone has only recently arrived from a boat. Now, it’s more figurative, but has the same overall meaning: that you’re a recent arrival to a country.
28. Dive in Head-First
To dive in head-first is to commit yourself completely to a task immediately. You can imagine someone who dives into the ocean from the beach has really committed themselves to the task. They haven’t slowly walked in or ‘tested the water’ first.
This idiom is the opposite to ‘dip your toe in’, which means to try something out before committing to it.
29. A Drop in the Ocean
This idiom means that something is insignificant. For example, if you have $100 and you need $100,000 to buy a house, you can say: “that $100 is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of money I need!”
If you think about the ocean, one drop of water is completely insignificant compared to the volume of water overall that’s in the ocean.
Some people also use the idiom ‘a drop in the bucket’, which has the same meaning.
30. He’s a Shark
A person who is a shark is someone who is ready to profit from a situation.
Sharks circle their prey and when they ‘smell blood’ they attack.
Similarly, you would consider a shark (metaphorically) to be a person who sees an opportunity to make money from someone else and comes in to get that money. Often, sharks are also considered to exploit people. For example, they might be a ‘loan shark’, which is a person who loans money to people who are desperate in exchange for very high interest rates.
31. Ebb and Flow
The ebb and flow are literally the two phases of tides. The ‘ebb’ is the phase where the tide recedes, and the ‘flow’ is where the tide rises.
But today, we use this phrase figuratively to refer to anything that consistently changes. We might say that the stock exchange ‘ebbs and flows’ because prices go up then down then up again.
Furthermore, ‘ebb and flow’ is most often used to refer to consistent changes that follow a pattern. If the changes are random or sporadic, chances are this idiom will not fit. Think of situations that are repetitive when using this idiom: for example, the rise and setting of the sun might be considered as a daily ‘ebb and flow’.
This list of beach idioms is not exhaustive. I’m sure there are many, many more! But, they’re a good starting point for thinking about different examples of how to talk about the beach using figurative language and analogy.
For more figurative uses of the beach in the English language, take a look at my article on beach metaphors and similes.
I’m a Scorpio and I love the outdoors. My spirit animal? It’s the black horse, of course! It symbolizes inner strength and is a majestic sidekick.