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float your boat

Posted by Lewis on September 23, 2005

In Reply to: Slow boat posted by James Briggs on September 22, 2005

: : : What does the idiom a slow boat to China mean?

: : If someone has gone to the store, for example, and takes a long time returning, it might be said: "He must of taken a slow boat to China." When the West first started trading with China, it was before modern transportation. It was a long trip even on a fast boat, longer if one was on a slow boat.

I think an important point is being missed - back in the 'olden days' - i.e. I can't remember exactly when it started - you could get different passages on ships. usually people wanted to get somewhere and if they could afford it, took the express, as it were - a passenger ship. if you were poor or if you wanted to kill time, you could take the 'slow boat' which I think usually meant passage on a freighter.
If my memory is correct, the period in which this was most common was during the hey-day of steamers.