Skating on Thin Ice | Grammar Stuff

Today we’re talking about the phrase skating on thin ice. It’s one of those strange, idioms with more than one meaning.

Skating on Thin Ice

Skating on thin ice

OK, so we can all agree there is a literal meaning to this phrase. Skating on thin ice means just that, skating on thin ice. You wouldn’t normally run into this problem on indoor rinks, but if you were trying to skate (or walk, snowmobile, etc. etc.) on a frozen lake or pond you would need to check it wasn’t thin—especially in the middle; the deepest part.

However, that’s not what I’m looking to define. I’m looking for the idiom, the figurative meaning.

What do you think it means? My first instinct says it’s meaning is how we use it today: Be careful of what you do! Watch what you say, you’re in dangerous territory right now!

Other similar phrases with comparable meanings:

  • Walking on eggshells
  • Tread lightly
  • Walking on broken glass

So, yeah. But apparently that is only one usage.

Another potential meaning of this phrase could be referring to being in a risky situation or taking a big chance (and it does make sense if you think about skating over really thin ice at top speed. Risk takers.). Basically, you’re in a situation that could become really dangerous really quick.

If this is the original meaning/usage of this phrase it is credited to American poet/essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Prudence, written in 1841, he says:

In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.

And a third idea (from the Urban Dictionary) is to be one step away from a downward spiral of bad things happening to you. I suppose this one is kind of a combo of #1 and #2 because you’re being very careful…to avoid the straw that broke the camel’s back if you will…because you’re in a potentially risky situation…and if you make one wrong move then…BOOM! Downward spiral of very bad things.

I think the only lesson we can really take from skating on thin ice is whether you’re very careful, or go very fast…a leisurely pace can lead to nothing good.

Other posts about words

Today we're talking about the phrase Skating on Thin Ice. It's one of those strange, idioms with more than one meaning. Literal and figurative.

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