Make Waves – Meaning, Origins & Example Sentences

make waves meaning and examples, explained below

The idiom “make waves” is used to describe someone who is causing trouble, disrupting the status quo, or drawing attention in a way that could be seen as troublesome or revolutionary.

This idiom is often used to describe individuals who challenge established norms, question authority, or bring about change, sometimes in a disruptive or unconventional manner.

For example, if someone is challenging established practices within an organization, they might be said to be “making waves.”

chrisAbout the Author: has a PhD in Education. He has been a teacher in schools and universities and has taught English as a Second Language in Colombia. He is former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

Make Waves Idiom Origins

This idiom is relatively modern, with its usage traced back to the mid-20th century, particularly in reference to people effecting social and political change.

As the following historical data demonstrates, the idiom took off in the 1960s, a time of significant social change, and has continued to be a popular phrase ever since:

I do not have any evidence connecting this idiom to the surfing movement, but its rise does correlate well with the rise of surfing itself. Look at how similar the “surfing” keyword graph is from the same historical dataset (taken from books and newspapers):

15 Examples in a Sentence

  • “Ever since she joined the company, she’s been making waves with her innovative ideas.”
  • “The new policy is making waves among the employees, causing a lot of discussions.”
  • “He’s not afraid of making waves if it means addressing important issues.”
  • “The young activist is making waves with her passionate speeches on climate change.”
  • “Making waves** in a traditional industry can be challenging, but it’s necessary for progress.”
  • “The artist is known for making waves with his controversial installations.”
  • “She’s making waves in the tech world with her groundbreaking research.”
  • “The senator is making waves by pushing for comprehensive healthcare reform.”
  • “By speaking out against injustice, you are making waves and inspiring change.”
  • “The new CEO is making waves with his plans for restructuring the company.”
  • “Making waves** can be risky, but it’s the only way to bring about meaningful change.”
  • “The journalist made waves with her expose on corruption in the government.”
  • “The film made waves for its representation of underrepresented communities.”
  • “The scientist made waves in the academic community with his revolutionary theory.”
  • “The athlete is making waves by advocating for equal pay in sports.”

Practice Questions Worksheet for Students

Question 1: If someone is making waves in their community, what are they likely doing?

  • a) Keeping a low profile
  • b) Following all the rules
  • c) Challenging established norms
  • d) Avoiding attention

Question 2: Which of the following scenarios best describes someone making waves?

  • a) A student quietly completing their assignments.
  • b) An employee proposing a new and unconventional project.
  • c) A citizen following all traffic rules.
  • d) A shopper adhering to store policies.

Question 3: If a new policy is making waves within a company, what is the likely reaction of the employees?

  • a) Indifferent
  • b) Unaware
  • c) Discussing and possibly resisting
  • d) Completely supportive

Question 4: In a creative field, making waves is often seen as:

  • a) Discouraged
  • b) Necessary for innovation
  • c) Unimportant
  • d) Unnoticed

Similar Idioms

1. Rock the boat

Definition: To cause trouble or disturb a peaceful situation.

In a Sentence: “He didn’t want to rock the boat, so he kept his opinions to himself.”

2. Stir the pot

Definition: To cause unrest or discord.

In a Sentence: “She’s always trying to stir the pot by spreading rumors.”

3. Upset the apple cart

Definition: To ruin a plan or event.

In a Sentence: “The sudden rainstorm really upset the apple cart for the outdoor concert.”

4. Break the mold

Definition: To do something in a new and different way.

In a Sentence: “The inventor broke the mold with his revolutionary design.”

5. Go against the grain

Definition: To act contrary to what is customary or expected.

In a Sentence: “His unconventional methods really go against the grain.”

6. Challenge the status quo

Definition: To question or oppose established practices.

In a Sentence: “The reformist leader aimed to challenge the status quo.”

7. Blaze a trail

Definition: To pioneer or innovate in a particular field.

In a Sentence: “The scientist blazed a trail with her research on renewable energy.”

8. Push the envelope

Definition: To go beyond the usual or accepted limits.

In a Sentence: “The artist is known for pushing the envelope with his provocative work.”

9. Think outside the box

Definition: To think creatively and unconventionally.

In a Sentence: “To solve this problem, we need to think outside the box.”

10. Turn the tables

Definition: To reverse a situation and gain the upper hand.

In a Sentence: “The underdog team turned the tables and won the championship.”

11. Throw a wrench in the works

Definition: To sabotage or cause problems for a plan or project.

In a Sentence: “The unexpected obstacle really threw a wrench in the works.”

12. Ruffle feathers

Definition: To annoy or upset people.

In a Sentence: “His blunt comments really ruffled feathers during the meeting.”

13. Shake things up

Definition: To make significant changes.

In a Sentence: “The new manager came in and really shook things up.”

14. Swim against the tide

Definition: To go against prevailing opinion or trends.

In a Sentence: “It’s not easy to swim against the tide, but it’s necessary for progress.”

15. Break new ground

Definition: To do something innovative that has not been done before.

In a Sentence: “The research team broke new ground with their groundbreaking study.”

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