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General Writing and Grammar Help/meaning of the expression "take the wind out of someone's sail"

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Dear Ted,
I think there is an expression "take the wind out of someone's sail". If there is such an expression, what does it mean and can you please give me some examples of how to use it. Also, is the proper expression "take the wind out of someone's sail" or "take the wind out of someone's sails", or are both ways correct?

Answer
Dear Glen:

I think there is an expression "take the wind out of someone's sail". If there
is such an expression, what does it mean and can you please give me some
examples of how to use it. Also, is the proper expression "take the wind out of
someone's sail" or "take the wind out of someone's sails", or are both ways
correct?

*** The expression originated in the sport of sailing or yachting.  It is a maneuver through which the sailors on one boat get into a position that allows their boat the block the wind from reaching the sails of another boat.  

Both of your ways are correct.

This expression was first used to describe actions performed on human beings by Sir Walter Scott in 1822.  [Check the full entry from "The Oxford English Dictionary."]  It means that someone is made less confident or less sure of himself, if the winds are taken out of his sails.  He will be at a disadvantage.  Mary corrected Peter's grammar, and that really took the winds out of his sails!

Here's a lot more information, if you are interested.

Ted


take the wind out of someone's sails
Fig. to challenge someone's boasting or arrogance. John was bragging about how much money he earned until he learned that most of us make more. That took the wind out of his sails. Learning that one has been totally wrong about something can really take the wind out of one's sails.
See also: out, sail, take, wind
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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take the wind out of somebody's sails
to make someone feel less confident or less determined to do something, usually by saying or doing something that they are not expecting I was going to tell him the relationship was over when he greeted me with a big bunch of flowers and it rather took the wind out of my sails.
See break wind, run like the wind, see which way the wind is blowing
See also: out, sail, take, wind
Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. Copyright Cambridge University Press 2006. Reproduced with permission.
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take the wind out of your sails
to make you feel less confident or determined I was really mad at him, but he greeted me with flowers, which immediately took the wind out of my sails.
Etymology: based on the literal meaning of take the wind out of someone's sails (to slow down a competing boat by catching the wind in your own sails and preventing it from filling the other boat's sails)
*****
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.


"The Oxford English Dictionary" -- take the wind out of someone's sails
frustrate someone by unexpectedly anticipating an action or remark.

b. Naut. in various expressions referring to the direction or position of the wind in relation to the ship: hence also allusively.e.g. to gain, get, or take the wind of  , to get to windward of (another ship) so as to intercept the wind, to get the weather gage of: so to give, have the wind of. to keep one's (the, a good) wind  , to keep close to the wind without falling away to leeward. to take the wind out of the sails of   (fig.), to deprive of one's means of progress, put a check upon the action of, put at a disadvantage. to turn (the) wind  , to turn so as to get on the other side of the wind. (For other phrases, as to haul one's wind, to hold a good wind, etc.: see the verbs.)

14..   in J. Gairdner Sailing Direct. (1889) 13   By turnyng wynde at an est south of the moone.
1563   T. Gresham in J. W. Burgon Life Sir T. Gresham (1839) II. 41   They did all they colde to tacke the wynde of us.
1600   C. Leigh in R. Hakluyt Princ. Navigations (new ed.) III. 198   All the three Biskainers made toward our ship, which was not carelesse to get the winde of them all.
1600   T. Dallam Diary in Early Voy. Levant (1893) i. 97   We havinge the wynde of the Spanishe ships.
1629   J. Wadsworth Eng. Spanish Pilgrime ii. 7   We..made all haste possible to gaine the winde of him.
1666   London Gaz. No. 74/2,   The Zealand Admiral kept his wind, the Admiral of the Blew, with eight or ten more standing after him.
a1687   W. Petty Treat. Naval Philos. i. iii, in T. Hale Acct. New Inventions (1691) 127   What makes her [sc. a ship] Leeward or keep a good Wind.
1696   tr. J. Dumont New Voy. Levant xxvi. 350   They are oblig'd to take the Wind of us.
1704   London Gaz. No. 4054/1,   The Wind shifted..to the Westward, which gave the Enemy the Wind of us.
1805   Ld. Nelson 6 Oct. in Dispatches & Lett. (1846) VII. 82   To keep the wind under three topsails and foresail for the night.
1822   Scott Fortunes of Nigel I. ix. 223   He would take the wind out of the sail of every gallant.
a1828   Young Allan vi, in F. J. Child Eng. & Sc. Pop. Ballads (1892) IV. viii. 379   My master has a coal-carrier Will take the wind frae thee. She will gae out under the leaf, Come in under the lee, And nine times in a winter night She'll turn the wind wi thee.
1849   Blackwood's Edinb. Mag. 65 333,   I felt the ship bring her wind a-quarter.
1883   Harper's Mag. Feb. 339/2   A young upstart of a rival, Llanelly..which has taken a great deal of the wind out of the sails of its older neighbor.  

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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