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What is the origin of the idiom miss the boat?

This is the definition of the idiom from Dictionary.com:

a. to fail to take advantage of an opportunity: He missed the boat when he applied too late to get into college.

b. to miss the point of; fail to understand: I missed the boat on that explanation.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's a metaphor. Take the literal meaning and apply it figuratively to the situation.

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Excellent picture to illustrate the point. –  Zibbobz May 1 at 13:28

Getting 'on-board' an idea typically means being with the concept and working with it to reap the benefits, so "miss the boat" could be related to a failure to "get on-board" in time for the opportunity.

Passengers are expected to get on-board a real boat before it leaves, so missing your chance to do so would probably be where this term originally comes from.

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