Avast Ye Matey: The Origins Of Seafaring Sayings
Shiver Me Timbers
There are a lot of sayings about different professions and areas of interest that have somehow worked their way into our typical, daily conversation. Many people are surprised to find out how many sayings we use actually refer to horses, farming or agriculture, even though today they may have very different meanings. Another major source of sayings is the sea, or more specifically the colorful sailors, pirates and military men that sailed the oceans blue.
Below are a few sayings, some which are obviously seafaring talk and others that are less well known as "sailor speak".
The Bitter End
Although there are several different possible origins for this saying, many researchers believe that it doesn't actually refer to taste or to the termination of a particular event. It seems that on old ships there was a central post, known as a bitt, to which cables and rope were fastened. When the rope or cable was let out as far as it could go and there was no more, the rope was said to be at the bitter's end. Over time it was simply shorted to bitter end, the point at which there was no more rope to give or no more movement to be made.
Hand Over Fist
Ok, most people know this one, but may not realize it is a nautical term at heart. Hand over fist refers to the steady, even progress made when hoisting up a sail or pulling up an anchor as done the old fashion manual way. Since this pull was difficult and required several men, they all had to be working in concert in order to move the object at the end of the rope in a controlled and steady fashion. Today the term hand over fist is often used to indicate a really rapid or speedy way to make money, not as much the steady even meaning first given the phrase.
Three Square Meals A Day
Old time ships were nothing less than horrible places to live and work, with crew and officers forced to live in terrible conditions. Every effort was made to provide them with some type of food in order to stay at least functioning while on very lengthy, rough voyages. Since china plates were too delicate carpenters made square flat tray like plates out of wood, simply by cutting planks straight across. They were durable, easy to stack and store and were almost indestructible with normal use. The crew would come down to the galley to eat, weather permitting, getting a square plate, which eventually led to the phrase a "square meal". Captains would then use "three square meals a day" as a way to entice sailors to their crew with the promise of hot, substantial meals.
One Bad Apple
Before refrigeration and proper types of food storage, most foods had to be transported in either fresh or dried forms on board ships. Apples, being one of the more durable fruits, were packed in large barrels for long voyages. The only problem occurred if on or more apples in the barrel were bruised, this could lead to spoilage of the entire barrel. Hence the phrase "All it takes is one bad apple to ruin the bunch". There are several different phrases using the term "bad apple" all with a seafaring origin.
Three Sheets To The Wind
Most people have heard this term and realize that it has something to do with sails, sailors and drinking. In its most basic sense the term was used to describe the degree of intoxication of a particular sailor based on his ability to remain steady and walk a straight course. The sheets referred to in the saying are not really the sails, but rather the ropes or chains that were used to secure the sails in place. There were three ropes or chains used to secure the sail, and the more that were loose the more erratic the ship moved through the water. Therefore, being three sheets to the wind meant highly intoxicated and unsteady, while one sheet to the wind might be just buzzed but still maneuvering relatively well.
Hard And Fast
This is sort of similar to "high and dry" and are both terms used to indicate a ship that is out of water and beached. Even today both of these terms are used to indicate a less than ideal situation or a situation where things are definitely not looking promising.
In the early 15th century there were several words that were combined with "a" to give the opposite meaning. Aback came to mean away from the forward direction in a sudden movement, or towards the rear of the ship. A sail that was suddenly blown the opposite direction was taken aback to the mast and the ship stopped forward progress. Over time and with some literally license writers such as Charles Dickens used the nautical expression to indicate a sudden surprise that completely startles the individually both in thought as well as in action.
TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY
Don't forget that September 19th is the annual Talk Like A Pirate Day.
According to the official website http://www.talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html, this is the day to really get out and enjoy yourself.
More can be found on this holiday (hmmmm) at: