The processes of nature continue, no matter how much we might like them to stop. The word tide meant “time” when this proverb was created, so it may have been the alliteration of the words that first appealed to people. Now the word tide in this proverb is usually thought of in terms of the sea, which certainly does not wait for anyone.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Other Idioms and Phrases with Time and tide wait for no man
One must not procrastinate or delay, as in Let's get on with the voting; time and tide won't wait, you know. This proverbial phrase, alluding to the fact that human events or concerns cannot stop the passage of time or the movement of the tides, first appeared about 1395 in Chaucer's Prologue to the Clerk's Tale. The alliterative beginning, time and tide, was repeated in various contexts over the years but today survives only in the proverb, which is often shortened (as above).
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.