Plain Sailing

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Plain Sailing : Phrases


An easy, uncomplicated course.



This is a nautical phrase and originally had the literal meaning of 'sailing that is easy and uncomplicated'. It isn't clear whether the allusion is to the 'simple, uncomplicated' meaning of plain or whether it referred to an easy-to-navigate sea, in the 'level, flat' sense.

A citation of it in this original naval meaning comes from Adam Martindale in 1683, in A Collection of Letters for Improvement of Husbandry & Trade:

"A Token for Ship-Boys, or Plain-Sailing, made more plain."

The first use of it in a figurative sense, meaning simple 'easy and uncomplicated' comes in Fanny Burney's Camilla, 1796:

"The rudiments, which would no sooner be run over, than the rest would become plain sailing."
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