Understanding the Idiom: "on the stocks" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The Origin of “On the Stocks”

Before we delve into the meanings of this idiom, let’s take a look at its origin. The phrase “on the stocks” dates back to medieval times when ships were built on wooden frames called “stocks.” When a ship was being constructed, it was said to be “on the stocks.” Over time, this phrase evolved to mean something that is in progress or being worked on.

The Different Meanings of “On the Stocks”

Today, there are several different interpretations of this idiom depending on how it is used in a sentence. For example:

  • If someone says that a project is “on the stocks,” they mean that it is currently being developed or worked on.
  • If an item is described as being “on the stocks,” it means that it has been ordered but has not yet been produced.
  • In finance terms, if a company’s stock is said to be “on the stocks,” it means that new shares are being issued or sold.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “on the stocks”

The phrase “on the stocks” is a commonly used idiom in English language that has been around for centuries. It is often used to describe something that is currently being worked on or developed, but it also has a historical context that dates back to medieval times.

During the Middle Ages, ships were built using a system of wooden frames called “stocks”. These frames would hold the ship in place while it was being constructed, and they were often visible from shore. When a ship was “on the stocks”, it meant that it was still under construction and not yet ready to set sail.

Over time, this phrase began to be used more broadly to describe any kind of project or task that was still in progress. It became a popular way of referring to things like books, buildings, and even ideas that were still being developed.

Today, we continue to use this idiom as a way of expressing the idea that something is not yet complete or finished. Whether we’re talking about a new product launch or an ongoing research project, saying that something is “on the stocks” helps us convey its current state of development without having to go into too much detail.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “on the stocks”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in usage depending on context and region. The phrase “on the stocks” is no exception, as its meaning can vary slightly depending on how it’s used.


The most common usage of “on the stocks” refers to something that is being worked on or developed. This could be a project, product, or even a plan. In this context, “on the stocks” implies that whatever is being worked on is not yet complete but is actively being developed.

Another way “on the stocks” can be used is to describe something that has been put aside for later use or consideration. This could be an idea or a proposal that hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet but may be revisited at a later time.


While the core meaning of “on the stocks” remains consistent across different contexts and regions, there are some variations in how it’s used.

In some cases, “on the stocks” may be replaced with similar phrases such as “in progress”, “under development”, or simply “being worked on”. These variations still convey the same idea of something being actively developed but may have slightly different connotations depending on context.

Additionally, some regions may use different phrasing altogether when referring to something that’s being worked on. For example, someone might say they’re working on a project that’s currently in production rather than saying it’s “on the stocks”.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “on the stocks”


– In production

– Under construction

– In development

– Being built

These phrases can be used interchangeably with “on the stocks” to convey a similar meaning. They all imply that something is currently being worked on or created.


– Completed

– Finished

– Done

– Finalized

These words are antonyms of “on the stocks”. They indicate that something has already been completed or finished and is no longer in progress.

Cultural Insights:

The phrase “on the stocks” originated from shipbuilding terminology. It referred to a ship that was being constructed and had its hull supported by wooden frames called “stocks”. Over time, it came to mean anything that was under construction or in development.

In modern times, this idiom is still commonly used in reference to projects or products that are not yet complete. It can also be applied metaphorically to situations where someone is working on improving themselves or their skills.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “on the stocks”

In order to fully comprehend and use the idiom “on the stocks” correctly, it is important to practice using it in various contexts. Below are some practical exercises that can help you become more familiar with this expression.

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank

Read each sentence below and fill in the blank with an appropriate form of “on the stocks”.

  1. The new product is currently ____________.
  2. We need to make sure that we have enough materials before we put this project ____________.
  3. The company’s financial report shows that they have several projects ____________.

Exercise 2: Create Your Own Sentences

Create your own sentences using “on the stocks”. Try to come up with at least five different examples. Share your sentences with a partner or write them down for future reference.

Note: Remember that “on the stocks” means something is being prepared or worked on, but has not yet been completed or released. Use this understanding when creating your own sentences.

Example: The restaurant has a new menu item on the stocks, but it won’t be available until next week.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “on the stocks”

When using idioms, it is important to use them correctly in order to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. The idiom “on the stocks” is no exception. However, many people make common mistakes when using this particular idiom.

One mistake that people often make is confusing “on the stocks” with “in stock”. While both phrases involve the word “stock”, they have completely different meanings. “In stock” means that something is available for purchase or use, while “on the stocks” refers to something that is being worked on or developed.

Another mistake people make when using this idiom is assuming that it only applies to physical objects such as ships or buildings. However, this idiom can also be used metaphorically to refer to ideas or plans that are still in development.

It’s also important not to confuse this idiom with similar ones such as “under construction” or “in progress”. While these phrases convey a similar idea of something being worked on, they do not have the same historical connotations as “on the stocks”.

To summarize, when using the idiom “on the stocks”, it’s important to remember its specific meaning and historical context. Avoid confusing it with other similar phrases and be mindful of its potential metaphorical usage beyond just physical objects.

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