rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic

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rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic (third-person singular simple present rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic, present participle rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, simple past and past participle rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic)

  1. (idiomatic) To do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem.
    • 1969 January 17, Elizabeth Carpenter (interviewee), Nan Robertson (reporter), “White House Memories Recalled By Mrs. Johnson's Press Aide”, New York Times, page 18
      All the new people want an office close to the President's. You should see them scramble. It's like fighting for a deck chair on the Titanic.
    • 1972 May 15, Joseph Eger, “Listening to the Vibes”, in New York Times, page 34:
      Administrators are running around straightening out deck chairs while the Titanic goes down.
    • 1976 May 16, Rogers Morton (interviewee), Washington Post
      I'm not going to rearrange the furniture on the deck of the Titanic.
    • 2005 July 24, Business Online:
      Gordon Brown's decision to redefine Britain's economic cycle has been damned by one of the City's most influential economic forecasters, which accuses the Chancellor of the Exchequer of doing little more than "moving the deckchairs on the Titanic".
    • 2006 April 29, Stephen Colbert, White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, Washington, D.C.:
      "And then you write, ‘Oh, they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.’ First of all, that is a terrible metaphor. This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg!"

See also[edit]