If you’ve ever wondered how “Whatever floats your boat” originated and what it means, there is a great backstory, and it may be different than you think.
The English language can sometimes be a complicated one. Not only do certain rules seem to change constantly, but many phrases that we’ve learned to just take for granted may not always make sense. Learning more about the origins of certain phrases, like “Whatever floats your boat” can be interesting and helpful.
The phrase “Whatever floats your boat” first originated in the early 1980s and its meaning can be literal (and apply to the operation of someone’s boat), and figurative (meaning “whatever suits you”), depending on the context in which it’s being used.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to understand what someone is trying to say, especially when they use slang terms or phrases that don’t totally make sense. Other times we just want to know why a certain phrase has become popular in our culture just to fill our curiosity. A phrase like, “Whatever floats your boat” has an interesting history, and knowing more about it will make for great conversation and even allow you to use it in the appropriate context next time you use it.
I am a big fan of words, sayings, and slang. As a person who also loves boating, I find a phrase like “Whatever floats your boat” to be a fun one to research and explore. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy learning about the origins of this fun phrase as much as I did!
What Are the Origins and Meanings of “Whatever Floats Your Boat”?
The English language is full of slang terms that can sometimes be difficult to understand unless you know where they came from and why they caught on at a certain time in our society.
Not only will understanding the development of a slang phrase help you to grasp what someone is trying to say to you, but it will also allow you to use it properly when the occasion calls for it.
Learning the origins of a slang term can also bring an entertainment value to your life. Some of the most common slang phrases in our society had some very interesting origins that you may be super surprised to learn about.
It’s also interesting to note that certain slang phrases are derived from pockets of our culture that we may not be familiar with until we dig deeper and learn more about the phrase, its origin, and what it actually means.
The phrase “Whatever floats your boat” is one of these such phrases. Today, we use it in casual conversation to express a certain sentiment to another, but knowing what it was originally used for will give you some insight into the world of boating and how past boating enthusiasts used this phrase to communicate something that is not necessarily in the same context as how we use it today.
Let’s learn more!
1. The Phrase First Originated in the Early 1980s
The first time the phrase, “Whatever floats your boat” was used can probably be traced back to the early 1980s amongst a group of boating friends.
Though there’s a good chance the phrase had been used previous to this time, it’s assumed that the first time it began being used frequently was with this group of friends who were engaged in a conversation about – you guessed it – their boats.
The story is that at the time, boat lovers were beginning to add more features and special accessories to their crafts. Up until then, even recreational boats were very minimally outfitted, and the main focus for boat designers was on safety, not comfort or pizzazz.
But in the early 80s, this began to change. More companies were getting creative with optional items that boaters found to enhance their experience on the water, while not compromising their safety while afloat. People started purchasing more accessories for their boating pleasure, but made sure to not do anything that wouldn’t allow their boats to stay afloat.
Then, an article in the Tampa Bay Times was published that used a new phrase in print, and the saying took off. The article was about boating safety and the new interest in making boats not just safe, but aesthetically more pleasing and fun at the same time.
As the article suggested, continue to do what you want to make your boat unique, but do “whatever is going to still float your boat.”
After that, the phrase became widely popular amongst all boating enthusiasts and began to be used more widely, in everyday society as well.
2. What’s the Literal Meaning of the Phrase?
Now that you understand the origin of the phrase, “Whatever floats your boat”, the literal meaning is probably much more clear.
When the phrase originated in the 1980s, boating safety had always been of top concern for boating manufacturers and customers alike.
But, as more accessories and recreational items began being introduced to the boating community, people began clamoring for adding all the extras to their boats, from comfier seating, to food and drink accessories, to special lighting.
As more boaters jumped in on the fun, some people worried that all these extras would compromise a boat's safety and ability to operate effectively.
But the fun had just begun, and the boating community was not going to stop. So, the phrase came to fruition, meaning that it was perfectly fine to add more items to a boat as long as it would still float.
3. What’s the Figurative Meaning of the Phrase?
After the literal meaning of the phrase took off in the boating community, it also began spreading and taking on a figurative meaning as well.
Just like any good slang phrase, “Whatever floats your boat” originated in the roots of its words, but also was easily used to communicate something that had nothing to do with boats.
Now, when a person says, “Whatever floats your boat”, they are basically suggesting that you should do what you want, what suits you, regardless of what it may look like to others.
“Whatever floats your boat” is our way of saying, “As long as it doesn’t sink you, do what you want.”
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson