What does the idiom "not hold water" mean?

not hold water is an idiom used by many writers. When idioms are used in the right place, they open the doors of effective communication and increase your descriptive power. In this way, you will be better understood. The meaning of the expression not hold water is also remarkable in this respect.

Meaning of "not hold water"


The idiomatic expression 'not hold water' is used to describe an idea or explanation that is not valid, or not strong enough to be convincing. It implies that if the 'idea' were held up to scrutiny and inspected closely, it would not hold together and not appear to be well thought out. This expression has been around since the 16th century and can convey a feeling of disbelief or criticism.


The phrase “not hold water” appears in a book by John Trapp written in 1647. In the book, Trapp mentions a proverb from 1568, that “the old proverb was true, which sayeth, that a nutshell will hold water as soon as a sieve.” This proverb is the origin of the phrase “not hold water” and it essentially means that a sieve (a perforated device used for separating solids from liquids) is essentially worthless if it cannot hold water, and similarly an idea is essentially worthless if it cannot hold up under scrutiny.


The phrase 'not hold water' can be used to refer to any situation in which an idea, a plan, a course of action, or an argument is presented, but it is considered to be flawed and inadequate. It is often used to express skepticism or disbelief in the ideas of another person, and can also be used to criticize someone's proposal in a neutral or even humorous way. For example, if someone proposes a plan that is unrealistic or not feasible, one could say "That plan doesn't hold water."

Example Sentences

  • His argument that the project would be successful doesn't hold water when you look at the facts.
  • That explanation doesn't hold water; it's too far-fetched.
  • I'm afraid your theory doesn't hold water; we know that can't be true.

The meanings of the words in the "not hold water" idiom

Idioms with similar meanings in different languages

"Barking up the wrong tree" is an English idiom that means to pursue a mistaken or misguided course of action. In German, the similar idiom is "Auf dem Holzweg sein," which translates to "To be on the wrong track." This idiom emphasizes the idea that when you are pursuing the wrong course of action, you are not going to achieve your desired outcome.


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