The phrase “to skate on thin ice” means: To approach or treat a delicate subject without causing offense; to risk imprudence or indelicacy in language.
We have skated over thin ice several times in our attempt to explain one or another irreligious or indecent expression tactfully, without giving occasion to any reader to drop us in the fire.
The allusion is to the sport indulged in by daredevil boys and venturesome young men, in winter, in skating rapidly over newly formed ice on lakes or streams, ice so thin that it would not bear his weight if the skater stopped or slowed down; hence, the risk of being plunged into icy water.
In our own youth, as in that of our sons in New England, the sport was called “tickledy-bendo,” partly from the bending ice as the skater skimmed its surface.
The expression also is used to mean to undertake a venturesome enterprise, especially one relying upon consummate skill or great luck.