Thursday, October 29, 2015


29 October 2015: A week or so ago I put up a bunch of expressions in everyday English that derived from the language of the sea and ships. The response seemed to indicate it struck a nerve and I interpreted that to mean more would be welcome. So, once again, into the breach with a few more expressions we use in everyday speech that found their origins in the nautical world.

ALL AT SEA: Shortened, due I assume to our inherent laziness, to "at sea." Original reference to a ship out of sight of land and potentially lost, it now means in a confused state, bewildered, and unable to understand. Probably applies to more people than we realize!

BEDLAM: A famous 18th & 19th century London mental hospital, St. Mary of Bethlehem Hospital, gained the foreshortened nickname which has now come to mean a state of extreme confusion and disorder. the hospital was where the Royal Navy put those discharged for reasons of insanity.

BINGE: The original meaning of this in a nautical context was to clean out a cask - as in a cask of rum - and the sailor tasked with the chore was known to "have a binge" - Now, of course, there is still an alcoholic reference as the word is used to describe an immoderate indulgence of alcohol, but also the use of other things, like chocolate.

CHOCK A BLOCK (CHOCK FULL): In the days of sail, the blocks (pulleys) would often be pulled up tight to each other so the sails would be hauled in tight thus allowing the vessel to sail closer to the wind. Now, of course, means full or tightly packed.

CUT AND RUN: Referred to cutting the anchor cable to make a hasty escape. Also refers to the 'small stuff' or light line used to furl sails so they could be cut quickly to make sail. Still today implies a sense of urgency.

FLOG A DEAD HORSE: British sailors were given a 4 week advance before the ship sailed so they might purchase necessaries ashore or from the purser. When the 4 weeks had passed, a celebration was often held, sometimes including hoisting the effigy of a horse into the rigging. The expression references the futility of getting any extra work out of the men during that celebration. Today, a dead horse means, among other things, a debt to the government or an advance of salary.

Okay, that will do it for today. Maybe there will be more if the response continues favorable! So before I find myself all at sea, I will cut and run!

                                    Fair Winds,
                                      Old Salt

No comments:

Post a Comment