[Idiom] "renovating the ship while at high seas"?

dennis66

New member
Joined
Nov 17, 2017
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
Dutch
Home Country
Netherlands
Current Location
Netherlands
I'm looking for an English expression like "renovating the ship while at high seas" or "overhauling the plane in full flight" - something to express that you're making changes to something while it continues to operate. Both these expressions are translations from things I've heard being said in other languages. Is there an equivalent in English?
 

probus

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 7, 2011
Member Type
Retired English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
We can and do speak of doing things such as repairs "on the fly." But such things are necessarily in the nature of minor running repairs. The idea that something as major as an overhaul or renovation could be done while a machine is operating is simply absurd. That is why nobody has coined an English phrase for it. It could never happen in real life.

I understand, however, that ships with multiple engines sometimes overhaul an engine at sea, while operating on the other engine(s). Jacek1 will be able to confirm or deny.
 

Charlie Bernstein

VIP Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
In the US, we do say things like that. For instance, you could say that a task is as hard as:

- sewing a patch on a blown-up balloon. (That's how doctors describe by-pass surgery.)
- fixing a flat without stopping the car.

. . . or as useless as:

- rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
- closing the gate after the horse got out.
- painting a burning house.
- using a flame thrower to put out a fire.
- washing dirt.
 

emsr2d2

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jul 28, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
UK

Charlie Bernstein

VIP Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
I'm looking for an English expression like "renovating the ship while at high seas" or "overhauling the plane in full flight" - something to express that you're making changes to something while it continues to operate. Both these expressions are translations from things I've heard being said in other languages. Is there an equivalent in English?

Dennis -

After sleeping on it, I have another thought.

Your examples are a little confusing because they're too wordy. Simply. For example, you could have said:

- It's like trying to patch the leak while the boat is sinking.
- It's hard to replace a wing in midair.

Those are much clearer, right?

Before resorting to three-syllable words like renovate and overhaul, think about whether there are any one- or two-syllable words that will work. (No, I couldn't think of a shorter word for syllable!)
 

dennis66

New member
Joined
Nov 17, 2017
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
Dutch
Home Country
Netherlands
Current Location
Netherlands
Dennis -

After sleeping on it, I have another thought.

Your examples are a little confusing because they're too wordy. Simply. For example, you could have said:

- It's like trying to patch the leak while the boat is sinking.
- It's hard to replace a wing in midair.

Those are much clearer, right?

Before resorting to three-syllable words like renovate and overhaul, think about whether there are any one- or two-syllable words that will work. (No, I couldn't think of a shorter word for syllable!)

Charlie,

Thanks! I like "replacing a wing in midair" because it's short and expresses exactly what I want to convey, which is that the job at hand is hard.

My original post didn't make this clear enough. I'm looking for expressions to indicate something is difficult, not that it is useless or too late. For that reason, "closing the gate after the horse got out" is not what I'm looking for, and "fixing a flat without stopping the car" is much closer.
 

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
Change horses in midstream?
 
Top