back and fill


Vacillate, be undecided, as in This measure will never be passed if the town meeting continues to back and fill. This term comes from sailing ships, where it signifies alternately backing and filling the sails, a method used when the wind is running against a ship in a narrow channel. The sail is hauled back against the wind and braced so that the tide or current carries the ship forward against the wind. Then the sail must be swung around and filled, to keep the ship on course. The term's figurative use for indecisiveness dates from the mid-1800s.

QUIZZES

WHO SAID IT: A QUIZ ON PRESIDENTIAL WIT AND WISDOM

Think you know your presidents? Take this quiz and see if you can match the style, wit, and ideology of these memorable lines to the right POTUS.
Question 1 of 9
“I do believe that the buck stops here, that I cannot rely upon public opinion polls to tell me what is right. I do believe that right makes might and that if I am wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.