Which is Correct “Tied Over”, Or “Tide Over”? The Answer Might Surprise You
While writing today, I began to type the idiom “to tide you over”, when I had to stop and think about the correct use and spelling of the term “tide”. I was quite surprised at myself, that I had to think about it, it being quite a common expression. But, I began to wonder, was the term “tide” spelled ”tide” or ”tied”?
To be honest, I initially thought that the correct term was “tied”. I was 98% sure of it. However, as I began to think about the definition of “tied” as being the past tense of tie, as in: ”I tied that little rugrat to a tree” vs. “I’m going to tie that little rugrat to a tree”, the use of that term in this expression didn’t make sense to me. But then neither did “tide”. “Tide” being a wave, surge or flood. “To surge you over”, was just not what I was going for.
I realized that, to use this phrase properly, I would have to look up its true meaning, delve into its history, and find out which, tied or tide, was the correct word to use. This is what I found:The original ‘tiding over’ was a seafaring term and derives ultimately from ‘tide’ being synonymous with ‘time’. The literal meaning was ‘in the absence of wind to fill the sails, float with the tide’. This usage was recorded by the English seaman Captain John Smith. Smith is best known for his role in establishing the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, Virginia. In addition to that achievement, he had more luck as a mariner than his namesake John Edward Smith, the master of the Titanic. His status as a sailing authority was established by his writing the influential sailor’s manual A Sea Grammar, 1627, which includes this earliest known citation of ‘tide over’:
“To Tide ouer to a place, is to goe ouer with the Tide of ebbe or flood, and stop the contrary by anchoring till the next Tide.”
That sense of tiding over, in which ships would tide over here and tide over there, was superseded by a ‘coping with a short-term problem’ meaning. This meaning drew on the imagery of ships floating over obstacles on a swelling tide. Our present figurative usage of that image was established by the early 19th century, as in the Earl of Dudley’s Letters to the Bishop of Llandaff, 1821:
“I wish we may be able to tide over this difficulty.”
So there you have it. I hope this tides you over until my next blog! But, what about you, which phrase or phrases don’t quite make sense to you?