What Does the Expression “Dire Straits” Mean and Where Did the Phrase Come From?

Strait is a Middle English word that was used by sailors to describe a narrow or tight and difficult-to-manoeuvre channel of water such as the Straits of Gibraltar or the Bering Strait.

The word comes from the Latin strictus, meaning “to bind tightly.”

Dire also has a Latin root and means “terrible” or “fearsome.”

Although “dire straits” now signifies any serious day-to-day problem, it originally meant facing an obstacle so difficult to overcome that the odds against navigating through it successfully were overwhelming.

Dire Straits is also a British rock band, formed by Mark Knopfler and his younger brother David Knopfler.