Glossary Home Idioms

Know which way the wind blows

“Know which way the wind blows” is used metaphorically to refer to understanding where public opinion is.

“Know which way the wind blows” is a common idiom used to imply an as of yet unknown course of action. Someone uses this phrase who is unsure what they’re going to do and is willing to wait and let others’ actions decide.

 

Meaning of “Know which way the wind blows”

“Know which way the wind blows” is a clever phrase that’s used metaphorically to refer to understanding public opinion. The direction of the wind, the thing one wants to understand, is what the public believes or supports. Therefore, knowing the “direction” means one can navigate it and follow along if one chooses. In some cases, this might be done out of the simple desire to make the best decision possible. On the other hand, it might be used when someone wants to manipulate public opinion for their own good.

 

When to Use “Know which way the wind blows”

It’s possible to use this phrase in a variety of situations. Most commonly, this phrase is heard in everyday conversation. For example, one friend might ask another if they’re going to take a particular course of action. In reply, the friend might say they’re going to wait and see “which way the wind blows.” This implies that they aren’t ready to decide yet and are interested in seeing what everyone else is going to do first. In theory, their decision would then be the right one, even if it’s not their preferred choice. They’d be in line with the crowd and therefore be able to use it to their advantage.

A possible example includes a politician waiting to put out a statement until they know “which way the wind blows” and align themselves with public opinion. Another possible use would be someone planning a party and seeking out the most popular trends, music, etc.

 

Example Sentences with “Know which way the wind blows”

  • Do you know what you’re going to do about him yet? “I’m not sure, I think I’ll wait to see where the wind blows.”
  • There’s nothing else we can do for now, we’ll have to wait to see which way the wind blows.
  • If we wait to see which way the wind blows we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on.
  • She told me she was going to wait to see which way the wind blows before she makes any rash decisions.

 

Why Do Writers Use “Know which way the wind blows?”

Writers use “know which way the wind blows” in the same way that it is used in dialogue among people in the everyday world. As is the case with most phrases like “know which way the wind blows,” it can be equally helpful and unhelpful for writers to make use of it. In one instance it might make a piece of dialogue feel more realistic while in another it might seem forced and out of place, something that’s not at all beneficial.

 

Origins of “Know which way the wind blows”

“Know which way the wind blows,” like other similar idioms, proverbs, and other related aphorisms has an unclear origin. Historically, know which way the wind is physically blowing has always been important—for direction, farming, sailing, etc. It seems likely that the phrase evolved naturally over time from use in situations in which it really was necessary to understand the wind. Now, the phrase is used far more and in regard to a wide variety of circumstances, most commonly, in relation to public opinion.

The use of the phrase figuratively, to mean how people are generally feeling and are planning on acting, is recorded in the 19th century, but was likely used earlier. In an advertisement for a book, The Political House that Jack Built. published in The Times in 1819, there’s a passage that reads:

A straw – thrown up to show which way the wind blows.

In popular culture, the phrase was used in Bob Dylan’s song, Subterranean Homesick Blues, written in 1965.

You don’t need a weather man

To know which way the wind blows.

Here, he alludes to the metaphorical and literal interpretations of the phrase, suggesting that knowing what’s going on in the world doesn’t take a weatherman.

 

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