Make Headway: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 6, 2023

"Make headway" means to make steady or significant progress towards achieving or completing something, especially when facing difficulties or resistance.

In short:

  • "Make headway" means to make progress or move forward in a particular task or situation.

What Does "Make Headway" Mean?

The phrase "make headway" means to make progress or move forward, especially in a difficult situation or task. It's often used when someone is overcoming obstacles or moving towards a goal, even if slowly. For example, if students make headway in their studies, they are gradually improving or advancing in their learning.

Here are the key aspects of its meaning and usage:

  • Make headway" is about progressing, moving forward, or advancing in some way.
  • It's often used in contexts where progress is challenging or slow but noticeable.
  • This phrase can apply to various situations, from personal goals to professional projects, indicating gradual progress.
  • In a sentence, you could say: "After months of research, the scientists made headway in their quest for a cure." This shows that the scientists are moving closer to their goal.
  • Synonyms for "make headway" include "progress," "advance," and "make strides."

Where Does "Make Headway" Come From?

The term "headway" originally described the forward motion of a ship, particularly against the wind or current. In this context, if a ship made good headway, it progressed well despite challenging conditions. Conversely, if it wasn't making any headway, the ship was stationary or moving very slowly. This nautical term found its way into everyday language, and its meaning broadened. Today, it's used in various contexts to describe making progress or moving forward.

Historical Usage

The earliest recorded use of "make headway" in its idiomatic sense dates back to 1887. The phrase was used by Augustus Jessopp in his work "Arcady for Better or Worse" published in the same year, with the line:

“Rarely, except in the open parishes, do the demagogues make headway.”

10 Examples of "Make Headway" in Sentences

Here are ten sentences that showcase the idiom in different contexts:

  • We need to make headway on this project; we're behind schedule.
  • Despite the trying times, our team managed to make headway and complete the assignment.
  • She's been studying hard and is starting to make headway with her math lessons.
  • The researchers hope to make headway in finding a cure for the disease.
  • If we don't make headway soon, we might have to reconsider our strategy.
  • During the negotiations, both parties seemed to make headway and ultimately struck a deal.
  • The construction crew has worked tirelessly to make headway on the new bridge.
  • I'm trying to make headway in understanding this complex topic, but it's taking time.
  • Despite going full throttle, the explorers couldn't make any headway due to the dense forest.
  • With the new tools, we expect to make significant headway in our research.

Examples of "Make Headway" in Pop Culture

The phrase "make headway" has permeated popular culture, appearing in songs, movies, and literature.

Here are some examples from various media:

  • The short film "Headway" by Camilo Rizzo features a young boy with autism and a struggling MMA fighter making headway in their lives by helping each other.
  • The phrase has been featured in many songs, such as "Headway" by the band Painting Promises, which deals with moving forward despite difficulties.
  • The academic book series "New Headway," published by Oxford University Press, challenges students by introducing them to new and complex topics.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Make Headway"

Several phrases come to mind when we talk about making progress or moving forward.

Here are some of them:

  • Forge ahead
  • Move forward
  • Progress
  • Advance
  • Get ahead
  • Gain ground
  • Proceed
  • Push on
  • Breakthrough
  • Make strides

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Make Headway":

  • What does the idiom "make headway" mean?

It refers to making progress or advancing in a particular situation or task.

  • Where did the idiom originate from?

The phrase "make headway" has its origins in nautical terminology, describing a ship's forward movement, especially against challenging conditions.

  • Can "make headway" be used in different contexts?

Yes, it can be used to describe both physical progress, like a journey, and abstract progress, such as understanding a complex topic.

  • Is "making headway" always a positive expression?

Generally, it's used in a positive context to denote progress. However, its exact interpretation can depend on the specific situation it's used in.

  • Are there other idioms related to "make headway"?

Yes, similar idioms include "gaining headway" or "losing headway" which respectively mean to make more rapid progress or to regress.

  • Can "make headway" be used in the negative, like "didn't make any headway"?

Yes, it can be used in the negative to suggest a lack of progress or a stalemate.

  • Is "make headway" commonly used in everyday conversations?

Yes, it's a widely recognized idiom and is often used in everyday conversations to denote progress or advancement.

  • Are there any famous songs or movies titled "Make Headway"?

While there might be songs or other works of art with similar themes, none are universally recognized as being famous with the exact title "Make Headway".

  • Does the idiom have variations in other languages?

Many languages have their own idioms that convey the idea of making progress, but the literal translation might differ from "make headway".

  • How can I incorporate "make headway" into my vocabulary?

Start by using it in situations where you talk about progress or advancement. The more you use it, the more natural it will feel.

Final Thoughts About "Make Headway"

The phrase "make headway" means to make progress or move forward, especially in difficult situations or against obstacles. It is commonly used to describe advancing towards a goal or overcoming challenges.

To recap:

  • "Make headway" originally comes from nautical terminology, referring to a ship’s forward movement, primarily through tricky waters.
  • Now, it indicates forward movement or progress in tasks, projects, studies, or any endeavor that requires effort and persistence.
  • The phrase is versatile and applicable in various situations, from personal achievements to professional goals.
  • Using "make headway" often implies not just movement but meaningful and constructive progress, even if gradual, towards achieving a specific aim or overcoming difficulties.

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