On the Rocks

Meaning of Idiom ‘On the Rocks’

1. Especially used to refer to relationships or organizations, on the rocks means not going well and likely to end soon; ruined or spoiled. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2McCarthy, Michael. Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms. Cambridge University Press, 2002

2. When used in reference to alcoholic drinks, especially whiskey and other liquors, on the rocks means served over ice. The ‘rocks’ are the ice cubes. 3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,4Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. 

Meaning of alcohol (whiskey, liquor) on the rocks idiom

3. A chiefly British usage, on the rocks sometimes means broke, bankrupt, or in serious financial difficulty. 5Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Examples Of Use

“I’ll have a whiskey on the rocks please,” said the man to the bartender.

“They’ve only been together for six months and already their marriage is on the rocks.”

“Our democracy is on the rocks. Let’s hope we can survive the next four years!”

“I’m on the rocks,” said David. “If you could spare enough for my rent this month I can get by.”

Origin

The first meaning, above, has bee nin use since the late 1800s and alludes to a ship running to ground on the rocks and thus breaking apart. The third meaning dates from about the same period. The second meaning, in regards to alcoholic beverages, dates from the mid-1900s. 6Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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Sources   [ + ]

1, 3, 5, 6. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. McCarthy, Michael. Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms. Cambridge University Press, 2002
4. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.