Two islands in the corners of my mind.
I am working on a project night and day.
(and the hours in between) which is taking a great deal of finger-energy-on-keyboard so I need a vacay from Pacific Voyages. Of course I can’t take even a single-week-off gauldernit!; as ya’ll rely on this magazine. So here’s a modest pork chop of an article tossed into your gaping alligator mouths.
These are everyday phrases that originate from nautical terms.
- The devil and the deep blue sea: this refers to the last plank at the waterline of a ship that can be caulked while the ship is in the water. Other sources say it is the seam betwixt deck and hull. In any case if you fall in the sea Old Scratch will get you.
- Feeling blue; or the blues: this refers the custom of flying a blue flag on a ship when an officer dies on board. Often they would paint a blue band on the ship’s hull as well.
- Taken aback: this is when the sails reverse suddenly.
- Pipe down: the boatswain blows a signal on his command whistle to alert the crew members on deck to go below at the change of a watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpBJNrQyzzM
- Toe the line: the typically barefoot British seaman were called to ‘turn to’ on deck and literally put their toes on a line as they awaited orders.
- Slush fund: slush is the refuse grease rendered from the salted meat cooked on board a ship. This slush was once commonly skimmed and put into barrels to be sold in port. The money received was put into a ‘slush fund’ and used to purchase luxuries for the crew that they otherwise could not afford. In the late 19th century, the term was appropriated for cash used to supplement the salaries of government employees, bribing public officials, or carrying on corruptive propaganda on behalf of special interests.
- Bitter end: this is the onboard end of an anchor line which is secured to a deck mounted bitt or post.
- Three sheets to the wind: the sheets are ropes attached to the lower corner of a ship’s sails and used to extend or shorten the sails. If you were on a ship with three mainsails and all three sheets were loose—in the wind—the boat would wallow about uncontrollably much like a staggering drunk.
- By and large: This is the ability of a vessel to sail well both on (that is, toward) and off (away from) the wind. In this context, the word by basically means ‘near’ or ‘at hand,’ and the word large means ‘with the wind on the quarter.’ Hence, a vessel that sails well by and large can sail close to the wind or off it.
- Groggy: From ‘Grogram’, the name of a coarse, loosely woven fabric made entirely or partly from silk. The 18th-century English Admiral Edward Vernon is reputed to have been in the habit of wearing a grogram cloak and to have earned, for this peculiarity, the nickname ‘Old Grog’ among the sailors under his command. In Old Grog’s day, sailors in the Royal Navy in the West Indies were customarily given a daily ration of rum, but in 1740 Vernon, alarmed by the damage to the physical and moral health of his men, ordered that the rum should be diluted with water. The decision wasn’t very popular with the sailors, who supposedly dubbed the mixture grog after Vernon. The word groge ventually became a general term for any liquor, even undiluted, which led to people applying the term groggy to anyone, however sober, who moved with the unsteadiness characteristic of someone who has had too much grog.
- Through Thick and Thin: this comes from the method of using both thin and thick pulleys or ‘blocks’ and ropes used to hoist sails.
- A1: This was first used to mean ‘having the highest qualifications’ in reference to commercial ships. The term referred to the highest possible rating in the system instituted prior to 1800 by that very famous insurer of almost everything, Lloyd’s of London. Lloyd’s registry of ships explains the A1 rating in this way: The character ‘A’ denotes New Ships, or Ships Renewed or Restored. The Stores of Vessels are designated by the figures ‘1 and 2; 1’ signifying that the Vessel is well and sufficiently found.
- Caboose: The ‘railroad car’ sense of the word caboose is a 19th-century Americanism. Caboose was used previously in English to refer to a hut and, earlier, to refer to a ship’s galley.
There are so many others Rock the boat; All hands on deck; sink or swim; dead in the water; bottoms up; to show one’s true colors; close quarters; learn the ropes; as the crow flies; hand over fist; stem the tide and finally keel over as I am doing now.