Whatever Floats Your Boat: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
June 30, 2023

When we say "whatever floats your boat," we mean that you should do whatever makes you happy or suits your personal taste, regardless of how others perceive it. It's an affirmation of individual preferences, implying that one should pursue what one like as long as it doesn't harm others.

In short:

The idiom "whatever floats your boat" expresses an acceptance of individuality and personal preference, essentially saying "do what makes you happy."

What Does "Whatever Floats Your Boat" Mean?

"Whatever floats your boat" conveys the idea that everyone is entitled to their own preferences, hobbies, or interests, even if others find them unusual or odd. It suggests an open-minded approach to the diverse ways people choose to live their lives or make their decisions.

  • It's often used in discussions about personal preferences or decisions. For example, "If you enjoy rock climbing on your weekends, then whatever floats your boat!"
  • It can also serve as a response to someone's unusual or unexpected choice, expressing acceptance without necessarily understanding or agreeing with the choice. For instance, "You like pineapple on pizza? Well, whatever floats your boat."
  • Lastly, it can be employed to indicate indifference or lack of interest in someone else's choices or actions. You might say, "If you want to watch that show instead of the game, whatever floats your boat."

Where Does "Whatever Floats Your Boat" Come From?

The phrase "whatever floats your boat" is believed to be of American origin, although its exact beginnings remain a mystery. The idiom acts as a metaphor, comparing a person to a boat and their personal choices or lifestyle to the water that supports the boat or allows it to defy gravity. The phrase suggests that whatever one prefers or whatever makes one happy is acceptable. The term "floats" is typically associated with the boat (person), indicating that the person's choices are what allow them to "float" or feel satisfied and content in life.

Historical Example

"You can jot down ideas, write letters, compose poems or essays, whatever floats your boat."

- Healing Times: A Personal Workbook by Louise Giroux, 1997

10 Examples of "Whatever Floats Your Boat" in Sentences

To better comprehend the idiom's usage, let's examine its use in a variety of contexts:

  • If you think you'll have a blast at the party wearing that, whatever floats your boat.
  • John prefers to work at home - whatever floats his boat.
  • I prefer beaches to mountains, but whatever floats your boat.
  • If reading old literature floats your boat, then you should check out this book.
  • She's into modern art, and while it's not my thing, I always say whatever floats your boat.
  • It sucks that your friends don't understand your ideas, but if it floats your boat, go for it!
  • Whatever floats your boat, as long as you're not hurting anyone.
  • If waking up at a quarter to four to exercise floats your boat, more power to you!
  • I don't understand why he likes spicy food so much, but whatever floats his boat.
  • Her strange hobby cracks me up, but I believe in "whatever floats your boat."

Examples of "Whatever Floats Your Boat" in Pop Culture

The idiom "whatever floats your boat" often appears in popular culture, which aids in maintaining its relevance in modern language:

  • "Whatever Floats Your Boat" is a song by Brian Kelley featuring The Boat Boys from the album of the same name. The song revolves around the concept of embracing individuality and finding what brings joy and satisfaction to one's life.
  • The 2005 book "Whatever Floats Your Boat" by Donna Fareed (Warfield) encourages readers to examine their lives and identify what truly brings them fulfillment and satisfaction.
  • In the 1990 action/adventure movie Flashback, Sparkle tells Huey Walker, "Whatever floats your boat, baby."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Whatever Floats Your Boat"

Several alternative phrases convey similar sentiments to "whatever floats your boat," such as:

  • To each their own
  • Whatever makes you happy
  • If it makes you feel good
  • Different strokes for different folks
  • Whatever suits you
  • If that's your thing

These alternatives each offer their own nuance, but the fundamental idea remains the same: endorsing personal preference and individuality.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Whatever Floats Your Boat":

  • What is the meaning of "whatever floats your boat"?

The phrase "whatever floats your boat" essentially means "do whatever makes you happy or satisfies your personal preferences."

  • What is the origin of the phrase "whatever floats your boat"?

The exact origin of the phrase is uncertain. However, it's believed to metaphorically relate to the idea of deciding what's important or useful enough to keep your boat - or life - afloat.

  • Can "whatever floats your boat" be used sarcastically?

Yes, depending on the tone and context, "whatever floats your boat" can be used sarcastically or dismissively to show indifference or lack of interest in someone else's preferences or actions.

  • Can "whatever floats your boat" have negative connotations?

Typically, "whatever floats your boat" is a neutral or positive phrase indicating acceptance or tolerance. However, if used sarcastically or dismissively, it can have negative connotations.

  • How can I replace "whatever floats your boat" in a sentence?

Phrases like "to each their own," "whatever makes you happy," or "if that's your thing" can replace "whatever floats your boat" in a sentence, depending on the context.

  • Is "whatever floats your boat" an American idiom?

Yes, "whatever floats your boat" is predominantly an American idiom, but it's widely understood and used in other English-speaking regions.

  • Do people use it in everyday conversation?

Yes, "whatever floats your boat" is fairly common in everyday conversation. It is often used when discussing individual preferences and choices.

  • Can I use "whatever floats your boat" in formal writing?

Generally, "whatever floats your boat" is considered informal and colloquial. While it's perfectly acceptable in casual conversation and informal writing, it might not be suitable for formal or academic contexts.

  • Can "whatever floats your boat" be used to describe decisions?

Yes, it can. "Whatever floats your boat" is often used in response to someone's decision or choice, indicating that the decision is up to them and should be based on their personal preference or happiness.

  • Can "whatever floats your boat" be used as a response to a question?

Yes, it can be used as a response to a question, typically one asking for an opinion or preference. It essentially means "do whatever you prefer" or "the decision is yours."

Final Thoughts About "Whatever Floats Your Boat"

"Whatever floats your boat" is a versatile phrase that underlines the importance of personal choice and individual happiness.

  • The idiom typically implies acceptance or endorsement of others' preferences but can also be used sarcastically.
  • Its nautical origins lend it a casual, informal tone that fits comfortably in relaxed conversations and casual settings.
  • "Whatever floats your boat" is a reminder of the variety and diversity in our preferences and decisions.

Understanding this idiom can help us better appreciate the richness and flexibility of language, allowing us to express our acceptance of individual choices and diversity in an informal and approachable manner.

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