What’s the meaning of “Essere in alto mare”?

Essere in alto mare in Italian

Essere in alto mare
To be at a loss, to have a long way to go

Literal translationTo be on the high sea
MeaningA problem or a mystery you are having trouble solving
IPA pronunciation/ˈessere in ˈalto ˈmaːre/

Where does this come from? Imagine yourself on a raft (zattera) floating in the middle of the ocean. When you’re literally at sea, you can’t tell where you are. The horizon is an endless expanse of water touching the sky, and there are no lands in sight, no landmarks to guide you. You are basically lost. This is why essere in alto mare means “to be at a loss”.

woman on a surf board

For example, you can say…

Devo consegnare il saggio questo venerdì, ma sono ancora in alto mare.
I have to turn in the essay this Friday, but I still at a loss.

Cosa c’è stasera per cena? Hamburger e patatine? – Sei in alto mare, ritenta!
What’s for dinner tonight? Burgers and fries? – You have a long way to go, try again!

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