Put your oar in


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Put your oar in'?

To put your oar in is to interfere or get involved in an unwelcome way.

The expression is most commonly used in the UK and less so now than in the past.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Put your oar in'?

‘Put your oar in’ was originally the Tudor
phrase ‘Put your oar in another man’s boat’
– something Henry VIII was fond of doing.

‘Put your oar in’ derives from an earlier variant of the phrase ‘put (or have) an oar in another man’s boat’. This earlier form was coined in the Tudor period and was quite a commonplace saying then.

It is a reasonable hypothesis that the expression was a form of Tudor innuendo. We can suppose that ‘another’s man’s boat’ referred to his wife. I’ll leave what the oar might have alluded to to your imagination.

The first person known to have put the phrase into print was the industrious scholar Nicholas Udall in his translation of Apophthegmes of Erasmus in 1542:

In eche mannes bote, would he haue an ore,
But no woorde, to good purpose, lesse or more.

The migration to ‘put/stick your oar in’ took place over some centuries. The ‘oar in another man’s boat’ form continued to be used into the 18th century.

Trend of put your oar in in printed material over time

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.

Gary Martin

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.