fishing in troubled waters


      • discourage someone
        Advise against engaging in a particular activity or task, cautioning that it will not result in any positive outcome or benefit

      • taking advantage of a situation
        Exploiting a difficult or chaotic situation for personal gain or benefit

    Examples of fishing in troubled waters

    • In order to win the upcoming election, the opposing candidate decided to "fish in troubled waters" by attacking the current administration's handling of the economy and recent scandals.

      This idiom suggests that the candidate is taking risks by criticizing the ruling party's performance during a time of economic uncertainty and public outcry, which could potentially turn voters against them. However, this strategy may also pay off if the candidate is able to effectively address the issues at hand and present themselves as a viable alternative to the current leadership.

    • After a disagreement with their coworker, Lucy found herself caught in the middle of office politics and decided to "fish in troubled waters" by trying to mend their relationship and smooth over any misunderstandings.

      This example illustrates how the idiom can be used in a professional setting. In this case, "fishing in troubled waters" refers to approaching a contentious situation with the intention of resolving it, rather than furthering the conflict. This can be a challenging but necessary step towards maintaining a productive work environment.

    • When rumors began circulating about a possible scandal involving a high-profile celebrity, the media jumped at the chance to "fish in troubled waters" and sensationalize the story without all the facts.

      Here, "fishing in troubled waters" signifies the practice of exploiting or magnifying a potentially sensitive situation for personal gain, without fully considering the potential consequences. This can be a reckless and irresponsible approach to reporting, and often leads to unfounded speculation and inflammatory headlines.

    • Despite the warnings of her friends and family, Sarah decided to "fish in troubled waters" by pursuing a romantic relationship with her ex-partner's current significant other.

      In this example, "fishing in troubled waters" implies the decision to act against conventional wisdom or common advice, with the potential to face negative repercussions as a result. In this case, Sarah's actions could jeopardize her personal relationships and lead to further complications in an already difficult situation.

    • The reporter continued to probe the politician about the scandal, despite the fact that it was clear that the situation was delicate and fraught with controversy. The politician gritted his teeth and refused to answer any further questions, feeling that he was being forced to "fish in troubled waters."

      This idiom refers to questioning or investigating a situation that is complicated, high-tension, or potentially explosive. It implies that the person involved, like a fisherman in rough seas, is taking a risk by venturing into dangerous territory, but may be able to reap a reward if they can catch something important. This use of the idiom highlights the reporter's tenacity and persistence in pursuing a story, as well as the politician's frustration and defensiveness in the face of unwelcome scrutiny.

    • The boss called a meeting to address the recent misconduct by one of his employees, but the employee's co-workers grew increasingly uncomfortable as the discussion became more pointed and intense. Feeling sympathetic to their colleague, the co-workers opted to "stay out of the troubled waters" and let the boss handle the situation on his own.

      This idiom emphasizes the desire to avoid getting involved in a contentious or unresolved issue, either out of loyalty, self-preservation, or lack of knowledge about what to do. It suggests that the person in question is trying to steer clear of potential danger or negative repercussions, and may prefer to let others take the lead in handling the situation. In this example, the co-workers' decision to stay out of the meeting demonstrates their support for their colleague, but also their awareness of the risks and uncertainties involved in confronting the misconduct head-on.

    • The scientist's colleague criticized his experimental method, calling it "fishing in troubled waters." The scientist, however, defended his approach, arguing that his technique was the only way to locate a particular molecule that had proven elusive in previous studies.

      This idiom carries a more positive connotation than some of its uses, as it suggests that the person is taking a calculated risk in order to achieve a specific goal. It implies that the scientist is aware of the challenges and difficulties inherent in his chosen approach, but is confident in his ability to succeed despite the obstacles. This use of the idiom highlights the scientist's creativity and determination, as well as his willingness to push the boundaries of what is known and accepted in his field.

    • The therapist urged her patient to confront the source of his anxiety, but the patient was hesitant to "fish in troubled waters" and bring up the painful memories that he had been avoiding for years.

      This idiom speaks to the idea that some problems or issues are deeply ingrained and emotionally charged, making them difficult to address or resolve. It suggests that the patient is aware of the potential emotional fallout that could result from delving into his past, but is also aware that failure to confront his anxiety might result in further psychological harm or stagnation. This use of the idiom underscores the therapist's role in guiding her patients through difficult and complicated situations, as well as the potential rewards of facing one's fears and working through one's pain.


    The idiom "fishing in troubled waters" is used to discourage someone from engaging in a particular activity or task by cautioning that it will not result in any positive outcome or benefit. It is also used to describe the act of exploiting a difficult or chaotic situation for personal gain or benefit.

    In both cases, the idiom is used to convey a sense of caution and warning about the potential negative consequences of pursuing certain actions or taking advantage of a situation in an unethical way. It is a metaphorical way of expressing the idea that it is not wise to seek opportunities in challenging or risky circumstances.

    Origin of "fishing in troubled waters"

    The origin of the idiom "fishing in troubled waters" can be traced back to the literal act of fishing. In fishing, troubled waters, such as those that are turbulent or disturbed, are not ideal for catching fish. The phrase likely originated as a metaphor, suggesting that attempting to fish in such conditions would be futile and unproductive.

    Over time, the idiom has evolved to encompass a broader meaning, extending beyond the literal act of fishing to convey the idea that seeking opportunities in difficult or chaotic situations may not lead to favorable outcomes. It has become a cautionary phrase, warning against engaging in activities or taking advantage of circumstances that are fraught with challenges or uncertainties.