tread water

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tread water

1. To move one's feet and hands in a motion that will allow one to keep one's head above the surface of the water. If you fall overboard, just tread water until we are able to circle back around and pick you up. He's terrified to go on a boat because he can't even tread water.
2. By extension, to maintain one's current status without making any significant progress; to be barely able to maintain one's current position or status. The market for paperback books has shrunk so much in recent years that our company has really just been treading water recently. With all the expenses we have to deal with in the new house, it feels like we're just treading water between paychecks.
See also: tread, water

tread water

Expend effort that maintains one's status but does not make much progress toward a goal, as in He was just treading water from paycheck to paycheck. This idiom alludes to the term's literal meaning, that is, "keep one's head above water by remaining upright and pumping the legs."
See also: tread, water

tread water

COMMON If you tread water, you fail to make progress, but instead just continue to do the same things. I feel as if I've actually taken a step forward, and that I'm not just treading water. Without any hope of promotion, I feel I'm just treading water. Note: When swimmers tread water, they move their arms and legs in order to keep their head above the water without actually making progress in any direction.
See also: tread, water

tread water

1 maintain an upright position in the water by moving the feet with a walking movement and the hands with a downward circular motion. 2 fail to advance or make progress.
2 1996 Financial Post The NAPM index…has been treading water since the spring, and that is making a lot of people nervous.
See also: tread, water

ˌtread ˈwater


1 keep yourself upright in deep water by moving your arms and legs
2 make no progress while you are waiting for something to happen: For the past year I’ve been treading water, in a boring job with no hope of promotion.
See also: tread, water

tread water

1. To keep the head above water while in an upright position by pumping the legs.
2. To expend effort but make little or no progress to achievement of a goal or an end.
See also: tread, water
References in periodicals archive ?
NEW YORK -- Wall Street stocks treaded water early Friday as Boeing shares took a hit after the company announced that it would take a $2.1 billion charge against second quarter earnings.
INVESTORS treaded water for a second day yesterday as a batch of mixed economic reports and signs of division among Federal Reserve policymakers offered little insight into the economy.
As Kadlec treaded water without a life jacket, the boat slowly turned in circles in the water.
He kept very cool and simply treaded water and tried to calm things down.
Then the stocky 5ft 6ins cook, from Cairnbulg, near Fraserburgh, treaded water for an incredible 60 minutes in only a T-shirt and pants.
Even while Schrager treaded water while working out formidable bank debt, the hotel enjoyed a mid-60's occupancy rate with what he calls "the creme de la creme," but also have the same kind of sensibilities.