What Does “Make Waves” Mean? When To Use It In Writing

“Make waves” is a phrase that you must have heard before when referring to someone that is disagreeing with another person. Here we will review everything you need to know about this phrase and more.

The phrase “Make waves” means creating a problem or a disagreement. i.e., We are now on the same page, so please don’t make waves. We use this phrase when we want to tell someone that there is no need to create a problem out of nothing when referring to someone who wants to create a disagreement.

Definition Of The Phrase

The phrase “Make waves” or “Making waves” means, in simple terms, to cause trouble. When you do something that changes the status quo and disrupts a situation, you are making waves. Acting in a very active way to make other people notice you, often in a way that troubles everyone else, that is, making waves. Making something new or innovative that is not what the people around you are expecting is also a definition of making waves.

A definition of the phrase we can put in two words upsetting and destabilizing.

The common way to see or to identify when someone is “making waves” is when they change a situation by making things in a very different way than the rest.

Origin Of The Phrase


The exact origin of the phrase is unknown. But some people think it is a punchline of a joke, explained by John Bailey Lloyd of Beach Haven, N.J.:

”The soul of a bad guy arrives in hell. The Devil offers him the choice of one of three doors to enter and stay for eternity. From behind the first door comes the sound of drinking; from the second, the sound of merriment; from the third, a chorus crying, ‘Don’t make waves.’ Curious, he chooses the third. The Devil opens the door to a room in which thousands of souls are standing up to their chins in foul muck and mire, wailing to each new arrival, ‘Don’t make waves!”

Others say that this expression dates back to the 20 century, which refers to keeping water still. If you want to float your boat on the water, you wouldn’t like anyone to bother you by making waves in the water. If someone makes waves in water, then it will be difficult for you to float your boat.

Even so, the origin (official or not) shows that the main meaning of the phrase is causing trouble or disrupting the peace.

How People Use The Phrase


There are many other reasons or ways to use the phrase, either positive or negative. People are very different, and they express themselves in different ways. Following up, we will present some of the ways the phrase “make waves” is used.

People use the phrase when they don’t want to make changes or when referring to someone that is making changes. The phrase is used when something makes a difference.

When a situation is happening, and people are talking about it a lot is also when they use the phrase as follows:

The new story is making waves this week; there is the belief that many people are shocked by it.

When someone is trying to incite a situation or start something in a way that will cause trouble, it can be said that the person is making waves.

When people are expressing that something needs to be left as is, they use the negative form of the phrase, don’t make waves.

When referring to someone or something that is making something disrupting in an industry and it is making an impact on it.

Knowing that the ways above are only a few examples of how and when people use the phrase is a clear sign of the following:

Languages, phrases, and idioms evolve and change until they are part of the way we interact on a day to day basis. 

Related Words And Phrases


Every language has different ways to say the same thing. Words or phrases that have the same or similar meaning. In this section, we will be presenting different words and phrases that hold similar meaning as the idiom “make waves”.

Related words:

  • Destabilize: to make someone lose control of any given situation.
  • Upset: to make someone unhappy or mad.
  • Disrupt: stop something from progressing and causing a bad situation.
  • Troublesome: creator of problems.
  • Persuade: convince someone.

 Related phrases:

  • Rock the boat; this is when something is said or done that upsets people or causes problems.
  • Put the skids under, which refers to when someone puts an abrupt end to a plan.
  • Knock for a loop, which means when something happens, that upsets you because it was not expected.
  • Don’t upset the applecart, which suggests that everything is going good or well enough, so don’t make things go bad.
  • Stir things up; this is when you mix things up to change what it was.
  • Sow the seeds of discord, which refers to doing the things that start the changes.

Antonyms Words And Phrases

Just as it is common to hear words or phrases that essentially mean the same thing, there are words that are the opposite in meaning to another; this is known as antonyms. Next, we will present a list of words and phrases that mean the opposite of the idiom’ “make waves.”

Antonyms words: 

  • Discourage: to make someone calmer.
  • Dissuade: to keep the peace.
  • Calm: to make it peaceful.
  • Soothe: to relieve or ease pain.
  • Comfort: ease the grief or distress.

Antonyms phrases:

  • To cut a long story short, which refers to making things simple, not complicated.

Examples Of The Phase In A Sentence

  • It’s not a good idea to start making waves in your first week in a new job.
  • Please don’t make waves. We’re trying to settle all our problems.
  • When I started the job, Mike told me not to make waves because the managers didn’t like people to disagree with them.
  • Peter has a history of making waves; just last week, he was painting the gym’s walls.
  • I don’t want to risk my position by making waves.
  • In my culture, people are always told to respect the norms and not make waves.
  • In Colombia, people are making waves because there are changes that are not good for them.
  • You should avoid making waves your first week at work.
  • Ronaldinho made waves when he was 13, scoring 13 goals in a single game.
  • After Michael Jordan, it is pretty hard to make waves in basketball.
  • Relax. Don’t make waves. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
  • In today’s world, you have to do extraordinary things if you want to make waves.
  • When I spoke up at staff meetings and took credit for the good work I did, I was constantly accused of making waves, so I quit my job finally.
  • Initially, Lady Gaga was making waves with a meat dress and other outlandish costumes.
  • Keep your concerns to yourself and avoid making waves.
  • This brand is definitely making waves in performance swimsuit circles, and in the fashion circle was well.
  • He has made waves with his comments. I think many people are shocked.
  • After Madonna, it was pretty hard to make waves in music.
  • Leeds United is making waves this season in the Premier League.
  • I am very outspoken, and I am always making waves at school and with my friends.
  • My assistant made waves at the office wearing blackface on Halloween, and management is not sure how to handle the situation.
  • The civil rights movement and its advocates made waves in the United States, with massive boycotts and protests.
  • When you go to another country, try not to make waves, different cultures take things differently than ours.


Idioms are a bunch of terms that are set up by day-to-day use as if they have a deeper significance than the individual words.

Phrases or idioms exist in every language. They are terms that are not meant to be taken literally. Phrases and idioms are usually something that is passed along from one generation to another.

These phrases become part of the way we normally talk and communicate. In every language, there are phrases used to make a point, to explain something that is deeper and has more meaning than what is textually said.

Idioms like making waves try to express more than just words; they are trying to give more context to what we try to say. These phrases are looking to express more than just the phrase itself.

The phrase making way is just another example of an idiom that has been transferred from multiple generations—looking to express something more than the literal meaning of the words that conform to the phrase.

Making waves can be said to be making noise, causing trouble, and changing what it is for what you want it to be.

By Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.