Definition of tread water in US English:

tread water

phrase

  • 1Maintain an upright position in deep water by moving the feet with a walking movement and the hands with a downward circular motion.

    • ‘But I began to tire, and I realised that if I rested and trod water, I would undo all the progress I had made.’
    • ‘Her head popped up from under the water and she laughed, treading water as he walked through the waves out to her.’
    • ‘As Trey notes, to be certified for diving you have to swim two hundred yards and tread water for ten minutes.’
    • ‘She emerged from her dive and started treading water as she turned herself around to look at the room.’
    • ‘The skipper treads water as a Navy diver waits for a line to be thrown from the Oryx helicopter.’
    • ‘As part of his basic training Kevin had to swim 200 metres and tread water for two minutes.’
    • ‘I tried to catch my breath, maniacally treading water like a child learning how to swim.’
    • ‘We were treading water in a large water basin in a generator room.’
    • ‘He said the fisherman had probably damaged his arms and legs badly as he had been unable to swim or tread water and described him as being ‘a minute away from death’.’
    • ‘He had been swimming and had started treading water when he started getting into difficulties.’
    1. 1.1 Fail to advance or make progress.
      ‘men who are treading water in their careers’
      • ‘So when you see the elites floating away in their yachts while you're barely treading water, before you get angry, take a moment to feel their pain.’
      • ‘He treads water for a few more minutes and sputters out a handful of other fun winter facts.’
      • ‘The real problem is that the rhetoric currently focused on the band either treads water too obviously or overreaches in apparent hipness.’
      • ‘So what could have been a quirky sleeper hit like There's Something About Mary, basically treads water for 90 minutes, then sinks.’
      • ‘His tendency to fall into the same sing-songy patterns and rhythms is disappointing, and his meditations on overdone subjects, like his musings on church, for example, sound like he's treading water.’
      • ‘We are treading water but have increased recruits by a very small percentage.’
      • ‘The plot treads water and most of the gags are so achingly obvious, you'll be hard pushed to even smile.’
      • ‘With a 10th win in 11 league games assured, the Old Trafford aristocrats trod water slightly after the interval.’
      • ‘Brando trod water a lot, so I might go for Mitchum.’
      • ‘As Maloney treads water, others are catching up.’