Sail Close to the Wind: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
February 17, 2024

The phrase "sail close to the wind" is a nautical term adapted into everyday language. It refers to sailing as close as possible to the direction from which the wind is blowing without losing control. In a broader sense, it describes a situation where someone operates very close to the limits of what is acceptable or safe, especially in a legal or ethical context.

In short:

  • Originally a nautical term, it now refers to taking risks within the boundaries of what is acceptable or safe.
  • It often implies a situation where there is a risk of crossing into unacceptable or dangerous territory.

What Does "Sail Close to the Wind" Mean?

The phrase "sail close to the wind," in its figurative sense, means to operate near the limits of safety or acceptability, often in a risky or daring manner. It's used to describe actions or behaviors that are on the edge of being considered improper, unethical, or illegal but which have not yet crossed that line. This expression is often used in contexts where someone is pushing boundaries or taking risks.

More about the phrase's meaning:

  • It suggests a deliberate choice to engage in risky behavior.
  • The phrase often conveys skill or daring, requiring careful navigation to avoid crossing the line into wrongdoing.
  • It is frequently used in legal, business, and political contexts to describe controversial or borderline unethical actions.

Where Does "Sail Close to the Wind" Come From?

The expression "close to the wind" has been known in sailing circles for centuries and was first recorded in Captain John Smith's training manual for sailors, "A Sea Grammar," published in 1627. In this manual, Smith explains the techniques and challenges of sailing close to the wind, describing it as sailing against the wind or maintaining one's course without falling leeward or backward. This technique, known as "boarding" or "beating it up upon a tackle in the wind's eye," was essential for navigating against the wind.

10 Examples of "Sail Close to the Wind" in Sentences

To help illustrate its use, here are some examples:

  • The lawyer was known to sail close to the wind with his courtroom tactics.
  • He liked to sail close to the wind, believing the sky was the limit.
  • His remarks during the interview sailed close to the wind, bordering on offensive.
  • The company's tax avoidance strategy was sailing close to the wind legally.
  • She said she would get back to you, but you knew she was sailing close to the wind.
  • The politician's campaign tactics were seen as sailing close to the wind of electoral regulations.
  • They had to sail close to the wind to reach their destination, so it was all hands on deck.
  • She told him, “I’ll see you soon. Don’t sail too close to the wind while I’m gone.”
  • His habit of making edgy jokes at work was sailing close to the wind of acceptability.
  • In her pursuit of the story, the reporter sailed close to the wind, nearly violating privacy laws.

Examples of "Sail Close to the Wind" in Pop Culture

This phrase is less common in pop culture but can be found in contexts where characters engage in risky or borderline activities.

Some examples include:

  • "Fulham and FFP: The club complied, but did they sail close to the wind?" explores Fulham Football Club's financial strategies within the Fair Play Regulations, questioning whether they pushed the limits of legal financial conduct.
  • "DP World not afraid to 'sail close to the wind'" discusses the port operator's aggressive business tactics, suggesting they're willing to take bold risks in their deal-making and operational strategies.
  • In an interview with The Guardian, Andi Osho discusses her comedic style, saying she likes to "sail close to the wind" with her jokes, reflecting on her bold approach to comedy and her knack for pushing boundaries.
  • "It's Our Ship: The No-nonsense Guide to Leadership" uses the metaphor of sailing close to the wind to describe leadership strategies that navigate challenges with boldness and integrity.

Synonyms: Other Ways to Describe Risky Behavior

Here are some alternative phrases that express a similar concept:

  • Walking a fine line
  • Skirting the edge
  • Playing with fire
  • Pushing the envelope
  • Treading on thin ice
  • Bending the rules

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Sail Close to the Wind":

  • What does "sail close to the wind" mean?

"Sail close to the wind" means to operate near the limits of what is acceptable or safe, often in a risky manner.

  • Is "sail close to the wind" a negative expression?

It can be, as it often implies risky or borderline unethical behavior, though it can also reflect boldness or daring.

  • Can this phrase be used in a positive context?

Yes, in some cases, it can imply cleverness or skill in navigating difficult situations.

  • Is it a common phrase?

It's reasonably common, particularly in business, legal, and political contexts.

  • Does it have a literal meaning related to sailing?

Yes, in sailing, it literally refers to a maneuver where a boat sails as close to the wind as possible without stalling.

  • Can it be used in everyday conversation?

While more common in specific contexts, it can be used in everyday conversation to describe risky or daring actions.

  • How old is this phrase?

The phrase dates back to when sailing was more prevalent, but its exact origin is unclear.

  • Is the phrase specific to any particular culture?

It's primarily found in English-speaking cultures with maritime histories.

  • Can it be used in a legal context?

Yes, it's often used in legal contexts to describe actions that are close to crossing legal boundaries.

  • Are there similar expressions in other languages?

Many languages have their own idioms to describe risky or borderline behavior, though they might not use a sailing analogy.

Final Thoughts About "Sail Close to the Wind"

The idiom "sail close to the wind" is an evocative expression used to describe actions that are daring, risky, or close to crossing ethical or legal boundaries. It's a useful idiom for conveying the sense of navigating complex or risky situations, often requiring skill and careful judgment.

To recap:

  • It originates from a sailing maneuver and is now used to describe risky or borderline behavior.
  • It's common in business, legal, and political contexts and applies to personal decisions.
  • The phrase carries connotations of daring, skill, and, sometimes, recklessness.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Copyright © 2024 - U.S. Dictionary
Privacy Policy