It took me some time to find out the English word waterline whose presence wasn't as yet included in my vocabulary. As an aside, in my language in a literal translation this would be called floating line, thence all my search efforts led to only unsatisfactory results such as: a line, cordage or rope that floats.

In my language, the waterline has a very popular figurative use expressing the idea that someone or something when situated above it, still continues to live like in the following scenario:

"How are you? Or, how's your business?"

"Still above the waterline."

I know that in English the word waterline can be used figuratively this way or this way:

Brooks was felled by the phone-hacking scandal, and dozens of senior Sun reporters and editors have been arrested in related bribery allegations over the last year, but the current editor Dominic Mohan vociferously defended Page 3 in the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics as an “innocuous British institution.” News International might have been holed below the waterline, but if the ship was going down, the seminaked women were going last.

Now, I don't know if my imaginary scenario could be acceptable in English but even if it could I still would like to know some other words, idiomatic expressions or phrases that could possibly express the idea in question.

  • 4
    To keep one's head above water means the same and is similar.
    – user20792
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 20:41
  • 1
    In "the business is still above the waterline" the figurative reference is to a flood. When things have a hole "below the waterline", the figurative reference is to a ship.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:14

2 Answers 2


One common phrase is "make ends meet":

To have enough money to cover expenses; to get by financially; to get through the pay period (sufficient to meet the next payday).

If you can "barely make ends meet" you're likely not doing well financially but you're making do with what you have.

This can be used both with individuals/families and with large companies:

  • As a native English speaker could you p!ease explain me why did they do it? Your answer seems to be just fine to me. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:35
  • Oh. I have no idea. I think this is a perfectly good answer.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:42
  • Yes, me too:), but few brave people are here to explain their reason. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:44
  • @LucianSava What do you mean explain "why did they do it?" Not sure what you're referring to here...
    – user20827
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 23:07
  • @TechnikEmpire He was asking why someone downvoted this answer.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 2:46

In English "waterline" doesn't really have cultural meaning on its own. "Above the waterline" implies that something is not sunk, and therefore not yet failed/dead. "Below the waterline" is generally paired with a verb like "holed" or "torpedoed", and is a reference to how a ship shot below the waterline will sink very quickly. But if you said a business was "below the waterline", that would not be immediately obvious to me.

Similar English idioms meaning "still alive despite setbacks" include:

  • "still treading water"
  • "still afloat"
  • "hanging on"
  • "hanging in there"
  • "above ground" (specifically referring to a person still alive)
  • "still ticking" (same)
  • "still standing" (this one can have the connotation of just surviving, or it can also suggest something that is performing quite well despite setbacks)
  • "scraping by"
  • "skating by"
  • "eking by" (less common)
  • In reference to businesses, "in the black" means they are making money because accountants write positive numbers in black, and write negative numbers in red. So a business that is just barely making is "just barely in the black"

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