up a creek without a paddle


up a creek without a paddle


  • being in trouble.
  • being in a difficult situation.
  • in an unpleasant predicament.
  • in an awkward situation.
  • being in a position of great difficulty.
  • being in a situation where you have no power to influence the events and conditions around you.
  • being at the mercy of affairs external to you.
  • in a challenging or troublesome situation, that is not easy to resolve.

Examples in Sentences

  1. With no savings, being fired will leave me up the creek without a paddle.
  2. If we don’t stop for gas, we might find ourselves up the creek without a paddle if the car were to die.
  3. You got yourself up the creek without a paddle, so get out of it.
  4. My neighbor owes people money, leaving him up the creek without a paddle.


The phrase might have originated from Haslar Creek, found in Portsmouth harbor. During the time of Nelson, wounded sailors would be taken here for admission at the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar, founded in 1753, from where they would recover or die. The wounded soldiers and the ships that had moored up in Solent would be taken up the Haslar Creek by a tramline, which gives rise to “up the creek without a paddle.” Most of these sailors were held prisoner here to prevent their deserting when in treatment. Some of them would escape via the sewers to get to the creek.¬†They had no paddle, which made this hopeless. This explains why the idiom has gone on to mean being trapped, in trouble, or stuck.

The people of the British Isles, who were seafaring, are credited with bringing the phrase into popular culture, which in effect brought it into English. However, the earliest recorded example of the use of the idiom comes up in 1941, in a radio play that the American playwright wrote.

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