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How to Use the Phrase ‘Still Waters Run Deep’

Still waters flowing into the Kenai River in Alaska in fall with tree reflections in the water.

There are many saying that is part of our everyday language that we may have never thought twice about.

You know, phrases such as “bite the bullet” or “break the ice”.

But when you actually think about the phrases themselves, they are a far cry from meaning anything literal.

When we say “bite the bullet”, we are referring to getting something done and over with. We do not mean actually taking a bite from a real bullet that would go into a gun.

The same goes for “break the ice.” We are not meaning to actually get a chisel out and smash through the ice. Instead, we are referencing breaking through those social norms of getting to know a person a bit better and creating a warm environment that people feel comfortable being themselves in.

So have you ever thought about the other saying of “still waters run deep”? What does it even mean? And how do you know if you are actually using it correctly anyway?

Throughout the years, the way we use this saying has evolved quite a bit. So we are going to take you through the history of this phrase and give examples of how to use this phrase correctly in our modern-day English language.

The Meaning of the Phrase

Before we start rattling off examples of how to use “still waters run deep”, let’s first actually give meaning to this phrase.

According to official sources, “still waters run deep” means that someone who is quiet and placid in their external manner may actually be full of passion and enthusiasm.

The phrase itself is often used to describe people who are shy or introverted, yet offer a whole other side to their personality once you really get to know them. It is for those who are full of mystique and a reminder to really never judge a person until you really get to know them.

We really like to think of the phrase “still waters run deep” as a metaphor for life as well. There is an art in being calm and elegant on the exterior and knowing how to keep those deep swirling passions reserved for times that are appropriate.

If you think about the phrase in a literal context, you will be tempted to enter a calm river. But can be instantly surprised at how easy it is to get swept away by the raging rapid water underneath.

How it Used to be Used

Today, some people wonder if this phrase is still considered a compliment. That is because, in the past, the way in which this phrase has been used has evolved greatly.

Dating all the way back to the 1400s, the great Shakespeare himself used this very phrase in one of his iconic plays—Henry VI. But he did not say the phrase verbatim as we do today. Instead, he said “smooth runs the water where the brook is deep….” and used this to prelude the dangers that the main character of the play possessed.

And then, the phrase and its use continued to evolve. It was also used in Aesop’s fables, where it gave reference to remind the readers that there is more to a person than their exterior and beauty in having a bit of mystique.

So How is It Used Now?

In today’s modern language, we see some of the greats of our time still use the phrase “still waters run deep” and many of us likely do not even realize that we use it in our own daily discourse. It is a bit of a mix though and can be used as both an insult and a compliment. It really comes down to the specific context of the statement.

Here are some modern-day examples of how we would use this phrase:

He was so shy that he seemed uninterested, although it may very well be that still waters run deep.

The fire in her eyes when he questioned her indicated that in fact, still waters run deep.

She was bored with the date until he mentioned that, alluding to the fact that still waters run deep.

In wrapping this up, it is important to note that language is always evolving. The way we use idioms and phrases like “still waters run deep” a hundred years ago are different to now. And will likely be just as different in a hundred years time.

But what is so beautiful about “still waters run deep” is that to this day it represents a mystique and allure of there always being way more to a person—whether good or bad—than you may have ever initially thought.

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