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The meaning and origin of the expression: A rising tide lifts all boats

A rising tide lifts all boats

What's the meaning of the phrase 'A rising tide lifts all boats'?

'A rising tide lifts all boats' is a fairly recent proverbial saying - given that most proverbs are centuries old. It is most often used today to refer to the movements of prices on the stock market or the economy generally. The notion as regards the stock market is that a rising 'bear' market causes all stocks to rise in value, even weak ones. As regards the economy the idea is of a Reaganistic trickle down effect, that is, if those at the top of the economic pile do well then so do all others.

As we shall see below, the economic world wasn't the source of this expression.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A rising tide lifts all boats'?

The phrase 'A rising tide lifts all boats'.'A rising tide lifts all boats' is often attributed to John F Kennedy. The speech which introduced this phrase to many people was given by Kennedy in 1963, when he promised the continued defense of Europe:

As they say on my own Cape Cod, "A rising tide lifts all the boats."

They did indeed say it in Cape Cod; "The Rising Tide Lifts All The Boats" had been the slogan of the New England Council since 1950.

What Kennedy was alluding to was the idea that what is good for Europe was good for the world. Although that speech made the saying popular neither Kennedy nor the good folk of Cape Cod in the 1950s were the originators of it.

The first example that I know of of the phrase in print is from the New Jersey newspaper The Herald News, January 1910, in a piece about the raising of funds by religious groups for missionary work:

Some inquiries are already heard concerning work at home, if so much is to be given abroad. The reply of this in charge of the campaign is that a rising tide lifts all boats.

There are other pre-Kennedy newspaper citations of the phrase, sometimes in its variant form 'a rising tide lifts all ships'. These all refer to religious work, as in this early example from The Greensboro Daily News, January 1915:

"The rising tide lifts all ships." The direct plan for improvement by every Christian Endeavor society is to identify itself with all union movements.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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