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Re: Knock the wind out of their sails

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 20, 2008 at 21:06

In Reply to: Knock the wind out of their sails posted by Jomamma on August 20, 2008 at 10:12:

: Do you have the origin of the naval military expression "knock the wind out of their sails" (to incapacitate the enemy or rival in naval battle). Are there other variants to this? Is there common usage?

The normal form is "take the wind out of someone's sails". It is a common metaphor. Its origin isn't specifically naval, just maritime - and no, it doesn't mean "to incapacitate the enemy or rival in naval battle". When two sailing vessels are close together, if one gets upwind of the other it will take the wind out of the second vessel's sails - that is, it blocks the wind from reaching its sails, so that it suddenly loses speed and the sails flap uselessly. (This is a tactic often used in dinghy and yacht races.) Thus, when somebody anticipates your course of action or argument and frustrates it by a quick change of tactics, leaving you floundering for a reply, figuratively speaking they have taken the wind out of your sails. (VSD)