Where does the expression “on the rocks” come from and What does on the rocks mean?

As used in American slang the respected and well-established phrase “on the rocks” has taken on a variety of interpretations.

They all relate to some form or another of dilapidation or ruin, however.

Thus a person “on the rocks” may be ruined financially or “busted”; or he may be suffering a physical or mental collapse or “off his hinges,” “minus some buttons,” “gone haywire.”

A marriage “on the rocks” is one that is about to be, or has been, broken up. A business or other venture “on the rocks” has failed or, at least, is in a desperate plight.

Figurative use in the sense of being destitute dates back some two hundred years, and was derived from the literal nautical sense of the condition of a vessel shipwrecked on a rocky coast.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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