NAUTICAL LANGUAGE HISTORY

See the Sea.org

The historical significance of the sea is easy to see when one looks at our language.
Many words and expressions originate from our relationship with the sea. Western
civilization has its roots in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. From the
earliest Phoenician and Greek cultures, over two thousand years ago, the
Mediterranean Sea was not only essential for survival, providing food, but also in
maintaining economic and social ties between the people living around the sea. The
language used from these early times became permeated with nautical terms. The
nautical terms became the one universal language understood by different cultures.
Throughout the ages, new words and phrases have entered into our language from this
continuing tie to the oceans. The English language gained many additions during the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when British naval and merchant ships traveled
the seas.
Some familiar words and phrases come unexpectedly from their use on the sea; from
commonly used words like overwhelm (from the Middle English word meaning "to
capsize") and casual (from the term "a casual" used to describe the wages paid to
seamen between regular payments) to expressions like a "square meal" (from the
square tray upon which the main meal of the day was served on early British
warships) and "Please stand by" (an expression derived from the command for sailors
to be ready).
Below we have assembled a list of some of the more common words and phrases that
relate to our connection to the sea:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U
V W X Y Z
A
 A1: Originates from the top ranking given to a wooden ship in the Lloyd's
Register, an organization founded in 1760 to examine merchant ships and
classify them according to their condition.
 Above board: Pirates would often hide much of the crew below the deck. The
ships that displayed the crew openly on the deck were thought to be honest
merchant ships known as "above board".
 Abreast: Meaning along side the beam of a ship. Now a common expression,
"keeping abreast of a situation" means staying in touch with or keeping up
with.
 Admiral: An admiral is a senior ranking officer and the word signifies a
commander of a fleet, or part of a fleet, in all maritime nations. The root of the
word is from the Arabic word amir meaning commander.
 Adornings: Comes from the Latin term adornare meaning to embellish.
Commonly used to refer to the ornate woodwork on the stern of old sailing
ships. To adorn is to make something more attractive.
 Adrift: Naval word for anyone or anything that cannot be found or has come
undone. Ships are adrift when they are moved about at the will of the wind and
tide. Adrift originates from the Middle English 'drifte' meaning to float.
 Afternoon Watch: The sea watch from noon until 4 p.m.-- one of the seven
watches used by the Royal British Navy.
 Albatross around one's neck: An Albatross is a large and long-winged
seabird of the Southern Hemisphere capable of long flights. It was believed
among seamen that albatrosses embodied the souls of dead sailors and it was
considered unlucky to kill one.
 All at sea: Nautical expression to describe the condition of a vessel lost out of
site of land. Now the expression or its shortened form "at sea" is used to
describe someone who is confused, bewildered and unable to understand.
 All hands on deck: A term used to tell all seamen to get to their stations or
positions and prepare for action.
 All sewn up: Dead sailors were "all sewn up" in a bit of canvas with a weight
attached to make sure that the corpse sank deep in the water. Today this
expression is used to describe something that is "all done" or completed.
 Aloft: This comes from the Anglo-Saxon word 'alofts' meaning "on high." Now
the word is commonly used in the nautical world to describe things overhead
on a boat, on the mast or in the rigging.
 Aloof: A nautical order to keep the ship's head to the wind, thus to stay clear of
a lee shore or some other quarter. The front part of the sail which meets the
wind is called the luff. A sailing vessel that could point higher to windward and
hold its speed better than another was said to stand apart or to sail a-luff that
later became aloof. Today the word is used to describe a person who is distant
or stands apart from the others.
 Any port in a storm: When trouble struck at sea, seamen would go to the
nearest to "any port in a storm." Now this phrase has entered our everyday
language and is used when we have problems and any and all help is welcome.
 Armed to the teeth: This expression does not originate with pirates holding
swords in their teeth, rather it is just one of many uses of the metaphorical
phrase "to the teeth," meaning "very fully or completely".
 As the crow flies:. The most direct route from one place to another without
detours. Before modern navigational systems existed, British vessels
customarily carried a cage of crows. These birds fly straight to the nearest land
when released at sea thus indicating the direction of the nearest land was.
 At a loose ends: A nautical term for a rope when unattached and therefore
neglected or not doing its job. Thus 'tying up loose ends' indicates having done
a complete job or having dealt with all the details.
 At a rate of knots: To go at top speed. This is used to describe someone who
is traveling or driving very fast.
 Athwart: Lying along the ship's width, at right angles to the vessels fore-and-
aft line (centerline). Same as abeam.


B
 Bale out: To bale out means to remove water from a vessel. Now the term is
used in the sense of getting out of a bad situation such as selling the shares of a
failing company.
 Bamboozle: From the 17th century, it described the Spanish custom of hoisting
false flags to deceive (bamboozle) enemies. Today if one intentionally deceives
someone, they are said to have bamboozled them.
 Bare Poles: Describes a sailing vessel with no sail set. A ship in a storm that
has taken down all of her sails is with or under bare poles.
 Barge in: The word barge refers to the more common, flat-bottomed workboat
which is hard to maneuver and difficult to control. They would bump and bang
into other boats thus the term . . . "barge in."
 Batten down the hatches: Now used as a term meaning "get ready". The term
originates from the act of securing the hatches and tarpaulins covering them on
a boat with use of battens (long flat blades made of wood) in preparation for a
coming storm.
 Bear down: To approach something from upwind, to bear down is to sail fast,
often towards the enemy in a threatening manner. Today to bear down is still
used to describe "making a rush at", as well as exert strength or pressure upon
something or to pay special attention in some situation.
 Bedlam: The word originated from the name of a London mental hospital, St.
Mary of Bethlehem Hospital, where the Royal Navy would discharge men for
treatment of mental illness. Now the word is used to describe a state of
extreme confusion and disorder.
 Bell-Bottom Trousers: Originating aboard sailing vessels, the wide, flared,
legs on bell-bottomed trousers are easy to roll up when working, cleaning or
wading on a boat.
 Bigwigs: Senior officers in the English Navy were known as "bigwigs" because
they wore huge wigs. Bigwig officers aboard ships were often disliked. Today
it is still used to refer to the most important person in a group or undertaking
and is often used in a derogatory manner.
 Bilge Water: Now slang for nonsense, the term bilge water is the water that
collects and stagnates in the bilge of a ship.
 Binge: Nautical term for rinsing or cleaning out something such as a cask of
rum. Thus a sailor who had cleaned out such a rum cask was known to have a
binge. Now the term is used to describe any act of immoderate indulgence of
for example alcohol.
 Bite the bullet: To bravely face up to something unpleasant, one is said to
"bite the bullet". This originated from the practice of giving sailors and soldiers
a bullet to bite during amputations or other surgery before the use of
anesthetics.
 Bitter End: The last part of a rope or final link of chain. The end attached to
the vessel, as opposed to the "working end" which may be attached to an
anchor, cleat, other vessel, etc. Today the term is used to describe a final,
painful, or disastrous conclusion (however unpleasant it may be).
 Black Book: Beginning in the 1300's, a collection of maritime laws and
conduct became known as the Black Book of the Admiralty. The punishments
for offenses were often harsh. Today, if you're name is in someone's black
book, they believe you have offended them in some way.
 Blood is thicker than water: A well known saying meaning that family
relationships are more important than all other relationships. It was originally
attributed to an U.S. Navy commodore Josiah Tattnail who used the expression
when justifying his intervention in the British attack on the Peiho forts in June
1859 during the second China war.
 Blood Money: Originally known as bounty money, it was the financial reward
for sinking an enemy ship. Today blood money refers to money paid by a killer
as compensation to the next of kin of a murder victim or money gained at the
cost of another's life or livelihood.
 Bolster: A piece of wood fitted in various places to prevent chafing. Today the
term means to support and strengthen.
 Brightwork: On a vessel, brightwork is the varnished woodwork and/or
polished metal.

C
 Calm before the storm: Although not exclusively nautical, this has been
attributed to seagoing folk as a result of their constant and intimate interaction
with the weather. Although not known at the time, an approaching storm will
drop the barometric pressure, creating a low directly ahead of the storm front. If
a storm comes from a direction that is opposite to the prevailing winds, the
prevailing breezes will eventually be overcome by the storm front. Just before
this happens, however, there will be an equalization of wind speed from two
opposing directions resulting in an absence of any wind. The meaning is not
lost on landlubbers: Before someone explodes in anger, they almost invariably
become overly quiet and, in some instances, even tranquil.
 Canteen Medals: Naval name for stains down the front of jumper, jacket or
coat caused by food or drink.
 Careen: From the Latin carina (keel) or French carener. When hulls on old
wooden ships needed to be cleaned, patched, caulked, etc., careening was the
deliberate heeling to one side in order to accomplish these tasks. Usually this
was done on a careenage -- a steep, sandy shoreline when the tide had gone out.
 Carry away: Break off; to break a spar, bowsprit or part a rope. A spar is said
to "carry away" when it is broken or disabled. When any part of a vessel's gear
or equipment breaks or gives way, is lost or washed away, it is said to be
"carried away."
 Carry on: In the days of sail, the officer of the deck kept a weather eye
constantly on the slightest change in the wind so that the sails could be reefed
or added as necessary to ensure the fastest headway. Whenever a good breeze
came along, the order to "carry on" would be given. It meant to hoist every bit
of canvas the yards could carry. Through the centuries, the term's connotation
has changed somewhat. Today the expression means to continue onward or go
on with a given task.
 Castaway: A shipwrecked or marooned sailor or, in some cases, a sailor put
ashore as punishment. To cast away was to commit a deliberate act to cause a
ship to sink, to be lost or to make it necessary to abandon her.
 Cat-o'-nine-tails: Until 1881, an authorized instrument of punishment in the
British Navy, composed of nine pieces of chord about half a yard long fixed
upon a piece of thick rope for a handle. Each length of chord had three knots at
close intervals near the striking end. Sailors were flogged with the cay on the
bare back for transgressing "The Articles of War" (the rules of the service). A
"thieves cat" had larger and harder knots than usual and was used only for
punishing thieves.
 Chandlery: A maker and seller of candles was known as a chandler and the
place where candles were made and sold was a chandlery. Boats at that time
consumed large amounts of candles on a voyage. To replace those consumed,
the captain would have to visit the local chandlery while in port. Chandlers
would often stock other nautical goods, such as rope, leather and tar. Today the
term refers to a boat supply store.
 Channel: From the Latin canal referring to the movement of water. It is the
area within a body of water of adequate depth to be used for navigation.
 Chew (chewing) the fat: Sailors used to talk and complain about the poor food
while eating their salt pork. Chew the fat meant to talk socially without
exchanging very much information. Alternately, in the days when brine was
added to barrels of meat, it had a hardening effect on the fat. It was still edible
but it took considerable chewing. So, to "chew the fat" has come to mean to
talk endlessly.
 Chock-a-block (Chock full): When the sails were pulled in tight so that the
boat could sail as close to the wind as possible, the blocks (pulleys) would be
pulled "hard-up" or in as tight or close together as possible. This would be
called "chock-a-block," or chock full." Used in the modern-day sense of any
articles (or people) that are packed in tightly together.
 Clean Bill of Health: A widely used term which originates from the "Bill of
Health", a document issued to a ship showing that the port it sailed from
suffered from no epidemic or infection at the time of departure.
 Clean Slate: It was the custom in sailing ships to record courses, distances and
tacks on a log slate. The new watch would always start with a clean slate if
things had been growing fine, disregarding what had gone before and starting
anew. In a similar way, today we refer to a new beginning as starting with a
"clean slate."
 Clear the deck/Clear for action: In preparation for heavy weather, "Clear the
deck," (or a naval engagement, "clear for action") meant removing anything
from the deck that was not essential. Today, this phrase is usually used when
preparing to start a project in order to be fully ready for the intake of all new
information and needed materials.
 Close Quarters: A small wooden fortress or barricade constructed on the deck
of a ship. The term 'close quarters' has come to mean in close contact or a small
area. Closed quarters referred to the quarters aboard ship, especially those for
officers and passengers, which had wooden partitions or bulkheads dividing
them.
 Cock Up: In port, the yard arms where slewed inboard by the cock up crew and
neatly braced so that they would not foul other ship's rigging or dock
equipment Today, a "cock up" is a mistake or making a mess of something.
 Combing the cat: When flogging a seaman, "combing the cat" meant to run
fingers through the cat-o'-nine-tails after each stroke to separate the strands in
preparation for the next stroke.
 Come hell or high water: To do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal or
arrive at a destination.
 Come through the hawse-pipe: The hawse-pipe is a pipe in the ship's bow for
the anchor cable to run through. Anybody who has risen to Captain from lowly
deckhand is said to have "come up through the hawse-pipe." Today the
expression is also used outside of the naval language.
 Couple of shakes: Shakes refers to the shaking (luffing) of the head sails if the
vessel points up too close to the wind. Sailors would measure short periods of
time before watch changes with a "couple of shakes." Today the expression is
used to mean in a short time period.
 Cranky: From the Dutch krengd, a crank was an unstable sailing vessel. It has
come to mean irritable.
 Crew Cut: A short haircut given to the whole ship crew.
 Cut and Run: Hurry off abruptly; to escape by a sudden maneuver. This
phrase comes from the act of cutting the anchor line in an effort to make a
quick getaway. Alternately, the saying comes from the cutting of the ropeyarns
used to fasten the sails so the sails could fall quickly when the need to get under
way was urgent.
 Cup of Joe: From American Navy lore. Josephus Daniels (1862- 1948) was
appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
During his time as Secretary of the Navy, "Joe" Daniels abolished the officers'
wine, after which the strongest drink aboard Navy ships was coffee. A cup of
coffee became known as "a cup of Joe".

D
 Davy Jones' Locker: Seamen's slang for the bottom of the sea. This expression
is believed to be from the story that Davy Jones was the owner of a sixteenth-
century London pub where unwary sailors were drugged and put in lockers and
then awoke aboard ship to find they had been 'recruited' into the Navy.
 Dead Horse (Flogging a dead horse): The term "flogging a dead horse"
alludes to the difficulty of getting any extra work from a crew during a
celebration held by British crews when they had been at sea four weeks and had
worked off their initial advance (often one month's pay). At the expiration of
the first month of the voyage, it was at one time customary to hoist in the
rigging a canvas effigy of a horse. Today, "dead horse" refers to a debt to the
government and/or advance of salary.
 Dead in the Water: A sailing ship that is dead in the water is stationary with
no wind in its sails to make it come alive. In everyday usage, the term means
"not going anywhere".
 Dead Reckoning: For many years, the practice of keeping a log based on
estimated speed was called 'deduced' reckoning. Over time, this turned into
dead reckoning. Dead reckoning is the process by which the position of the ship
at any moment is found (without any observation of the sun or stars) based
upon the last well-determined position and the run that has been made since
that last position. For this purpose, the ship's course indicated by its compass,
the distance indicated by the log, and drift and leeway were all taken into
account.
 Dead on end: Said of the wind when exactly ahead and of another vessel when
her fore and aft line coincides with observer's line of sight.
 Dead Soldier: An expression used for an empty bottle of wine, spirit or beer.
Originally the expression was "dead Marine." In the late 1700 Duke of
Clarence ordered the steward to remove the "dead marines" to make room for
new bottles.
 Deep Six: A fathom, the unit of measurement for the depth of the sea, is 6
feet. Sailors used the term to refer to throwing something overboard and it has
come to mean getting rid of something ("deep sixing").
 Deliver a broadside: A broadside was the simultaneous firing of the guns
and/or canons on one side of a war ship. Today, it means much the same type
of all-out, often verbal, attack.
 Devil to pay, Devil and the deep blue sea: In traditional wooden ships, the
sailors had to caulk or pay the seams with hot tar between the planks of the
deck to prevent leakage into the bilge. The devil seam was topmost on the hull
next to the scuppers at the edge of the deck and the longest and most difficult
seam to caulk. Hence, if there was the "devil to pay," then this was the most
difficult and dangerous job since the sailor might be knocked down by a large
wave and find himself between the "devil and the deep blue sea." Today, the
expression "devil to pay" is used to mean that there will be a big price to pay,
and "devil and the deep blue sea" refers to being in a difficult or unpleasant
position like being "between a rock and a hard place."
 Dismantle: To unrig a vessel and discharge all of its stores.
 Doesn't have both oars in the water: This is an expression used to describe
someone that is thought to be slow or crazy, or just not all there.
 Dog watch and Dogging the watch: This likely comes from the expression
"dodge watch," the shorter of the seven lookout or watch duties on board a
ship. A dog (or dodge) watch is two hours long while all other watches are
four hours in duration.
 Don't hand me a line: An expression now used to ask for a speaker to consider
telling the truth. This originated from the frequent observation that the person
speaking or telling a story would not be helping to tie up boat lines or ropes
while docking, but rather leaving the job to the other sailors.
 Don't rock the boat: Keep things the way they are.
 Down the Hatch: This is a drinking expression that is believed to have its
origins in sea freight where cargo was lowered into the hatch for transport
below deck. The freight appeared to be consumed by the ship.
 Dragging your anchor: When a vessel is caught in a storm and heading for
land or rocks, they would drop anchor to try to avoid running aground. If the
anchor did not grip, it would drag along the bottom. Today the expression
refers to being impeded by something or of behaving or acting in a tired or
slow manner.
 Dressed to the nines: To celebrate victories, a returning ship would approach
her home waters or port "dressed" in bunting and flags. As many of the crew
as possible would line up on the nine primary yards as a salute to their
monarch. Today the expression is often used to describe a person who is
dressed in fancy clothing.
 Drifting through life (Drifter). From the Middle English 'drifte' which means
to float. Now used to describe a person without purpose or aim in life.
 Dummy run: The naval name for a trial or practice in which all the motions
are gone through but nothing else. The expression is therefore freely used in the
navy to mean a rehearsal.
 Dungarees: A coarse kind of unbleached cotton cloth. The term dates back to
the 18th century, from the Hindi word 'dungri', a particular type of sturdy
Indian cotton cloth that was used for making sails.
 Dutch treat or going Dutch: This means sharing the expenses. The
expression, intended to be negative, originated as a result of the hostility
between the British and the Dutch during the 17th and 18th centuries during
which there were trade disputes, shipping embargoes as well as war.
 Dunnage: Technically, packing material used to protect or wedge in cargo or
stores. It is also used when referring to a person's clothes and/or baggage.

E
 Everything on top and nothing handy: This is used to describe any gear
carelessly stowed. The expression is believed to come from the lack of
organization in the crew's storage chest.
 Eye-splice: To splice, ('episeer' French. 'splitster', Dutch, 'plico' Latin) to join
the two ends of a rope together, or to unite the end of a rope to any other part
thereof. There are several different methods of performing this operation,
according to the services on which it is to be employed. Thus, there is the short-
splice, the long-splice, the eye-splice, and the cunt-splice-- all of which are
used for different purposes. The "eye-splice" is intended to make a sort of eye
or circle at the end of a rope.

F

 Fathom: This was originally a land measuring term derived from the Anglo-
Saxon word 'fætm' meaning the embracing arms, or to embrace. In those days,
most measurements were based on average sizes of parts of the body. A
fathom is the average distance from fingertip to fingertip of the outstretched
arms of a six-foot tall man hence six feet.
 Fathom it: (see fathom above) In the days of sailing vessels, soundings were
made by lowering a lead weight on hemp line. As the line was retrieved, it was
measured with outstretched arms. Today the expression "can't fathom it" means
that we don't understand or can't work it out or, more close to the origination,
we can't find the depth of the meaning in something.
 Feeling Blue: Today 'feeling blue' means being sad or depressed. It comes
from a custom that was practiced when a ship lost its captain during a voyage.
The ship would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along her hull when
she returned to port.
 Feeling down in the doldrums: "Feeling down in the doldrums" originates
from the area near the equator known as "The Doldrums" where light winds
make sailing difficult or impossible.
 Feeling under the weather: This refers to feeling ill or sick and came from the
frequency of ship passengers becoming seasick in heavy weather.
 Fend off: To fend a boat or ship is to prevent her striking against any quay,
jetty, vessel or any object that may endanger her. Hence a fender is an object
used to soften the blow. To "fend off" is to prevent another vessel or object
(quay, jetty, etc.) from striking a boat or ship. We use it more commonly in the
sense of keeping something away or even in fending off an attack (even a
verbal one) of some kind.
 Field day: Originally a day for cleaning all parts of the vessel. Today the
expression is used to reference a good time; "Have a field day".
 Figurehead: An ornamental figure placed on the front of a ship often under the
bowsprit. Originally, the figure was often thought to be a religious and/or
protective emblem. Today the term figurehead describes a leader with no real
power or function, much like the figurehead on the front of a ship.
 Filibuster: From the Dutch for 'vrybuiter' (freebooter) translated into French
as 'flibustier'. It is now used as a political term meaning to delay or obstruct the
passage of legislation by non-stop speech making. The term originated from
the Buccaneers known in England as filibusters who would stop sailing vessels.
 Fits the bill: A Bill of Lading was used to acknowledge receipt of goods and
the promise to deliver them to their destination in good or like condition. Upon
delivery, the goods were checked against the Bill of Lading to see if all was in
order. If so, they "fit the bill".
 First-Rate: Today the expression is used to describe something as being best.
Originally, this term referred to the largest and most heavily armed ship using
the old system of grading English ships.
 Flag of Convenience: When beneficial ownership and control of a vessel is
found to lie elsewhere than in the country of the flag the vessel is flying, the
vessel is considered as sailing under a flag of convenience.
 Flake out: In order to keep the anchor chain of a ship in good condition, the
chain would be flaked (laid out in a way to avoid tangle) on the deck in order to
make repairs. Today the expression means to not complete a task or action, to
fall asleep or to be overcome especially by exhaustion.
 Flannel: A naval slang word for insincerity or "Hot air" .
 Flimsy: Today the word is used to describe something that is weak or
insufficient. The word originated from the paper certificate issued to an officer
when leaving an appointment to show as to his previous conduct. The paper
was known as the flimsy.
 Flogging a dead horse. The term "flogging a dead horse" alludes to the
difficulty of getting any extra work from a crew during a celebration held by
British crews when they had been at sea four weeks and had worked off their
initial advance that was often one month's pay. At the expiration of the first
month of the voyage it was at one time customary to hoist in the rigging a
canvas effigy of a horse. Today "dead horse" refers to a debt to the
government/or advance of salary.
 Flogging the glass: Old Naval term for being early for an appointment or doing
anything earlier than planned. The expression originated from the half-hour
sandglass used during sea watch to measure time "Flogging the glass" was
when the hourglass was shook in order to shorten the watch.
 Floozies: Women who were let aboard during the time a vessel was in port. A
general term today for loose women.
 Flunkey: A sailors' nickname for an Officers' Steward or a Marine acting as a
Ward Room Attendant. In a more general, everyday sense, it is applied to
anyone perceived as a subordinate, minion, hanger-on etc.
 Fluky: A light wind at sea that does not blow steadily from any one direction,
hence a wind that is light and variable.
 Fly-by-night: The term comes from replacing several smaller, more intricate
sails which require less attention than the large sail which are generally used at
night and for downwind sailing. Today the term is used to refer to a "flaky"
person who avoids their responsibilities and does not do things in a proper
manner.
 Footloose and Footloose and Fancy-Free: The word comes from the term for
the bottom of the sail that is known as the foot of the sail which must be
attached to the boom. If it is not properly attached it may become footloose
causing the vessel not to sail properly. Footloose and fancy-free have come to
mean someone acting without commitment.
 Forging ahead: A naval term for going ahead slowly. Today the phrase is used
to mean continuing or "press on", but not always slowly.
 Foul up: To foul is a nautical term meaning entangled. The expression ""foul
up simply means to error or "screw up".
 Freeze the balls off a brass monkey: Cannon balls where piled on deck
beside the cannon, pyramid fashion, and retained in a brass monkey or ring. If
the weather was very cold the brass ring would contract faster than the iron
cannon balls thus causing some of them to topple. From this, the expression
was, and is today, used to describe something which is very cold.
 From stem to stern: An expression for all-inclusive or very thorough. The
expression comes from the nautical term stem or very front of a ship and stern
or very back of a ship. From stem to stern means the entire ship.
 Fudge (as used in expressions like "fudging the books"): This expression is
believed to come from a Captain Fudge, also known as "Lying Fudge" who was
a notorious liar in the 17th Century.

G
 Galley: The galley is the kitchen of the ship. The best explanation as to its
origin is that it is a corruption of gallery. Ancient sailors cooked their meals on
a brick or stone gallery laid amidships.
 Gangway: A nautical word for "Get out of the way," often used as an order
to step aside for a superior naval officer.
 Get cracking: The expression "get cracking" means to get moving or hurry up.
It is a common slang expression indicating the importance of haste. It possibly
comes from the old sailing expression "cracking on" meaning "to speed more
sails".
 Get Hitched: This is a common term used to describe the act of marriage. It
comes from the act of joining or hitching two ropes together to form one.
 Give a wide berth: Today this means to keep a safe distance which is the
same as the nautical origination to avoid a collision by giving a large distance
between maneuvering vessels.
 Give Leeway: From the practice of allowing extra room off a dangerous lee
(downwind) shore in case of error or mishap in order to allow the vessel extra
distance to maneuver in an emergency. Today it is used to describe being more
patient with someone or giving a little extra room to maneuver.
 Give me some slack: An expression that originated during the docking of a
ship. One would alternately tension the line in your hands and then release.
The call would be to "give me some slack" when it was your turn to "haul".
Today, it still means much the same thing as when used in referenced to the
boating world. The term is also now used synonymous with "give me a break".
 Gob-stoppers: The expression is thought to originate in the nautical practice of
placing a grapeshot in the mouth (gob) of an over-talkative ship's youngster.
The term refers to a large, round, hard candy, also know as a jawbreaker.
 Go off on another tack: To alter one's course of action from that previously
followed. The expression originates from the zig-zag or tacking action when
sailing into the wind.
 Go overboard: This refers to an over-enthusiastic person being carried away
by his emotions or commitment.
 Go to the Head: This is synonymous with going to the toilet. The expression
comes from the fact that on sailing ships, the toilet was located forward, close
to the figurehead or the "head" of the vessel.
 Go with the flow: An expression for sailing in the same direction as the current
flow that makes the passage smoother and faster. Later this term was used to
mean taking things easier or being more relaxed, or getting in step with
surrounding events.
 Gripe: A sailing vessel 'gripes' when she can not properly sail close hauled (at
a angle close to the direction of the wind) due to being incorrectly designed or
because she has an imbalance of sail which results in bow (front) heading into
the wind when sailing close-hauled. The sails flap around and forward progress
is difficult. The term is now used to mean complain.
 Grog (Groggy): This originates from the nickname the British sailors had for
their Commander, Admiral Vernon, who wore a cloak made of a coarse cloth
called grogram. Admiral Vernon became known as "Old Grog". In 1740, he
ordered his men to dilute their daily ration of rum with water. Today the term is
used to mean an alcoholic drink.
 Ground swell: A sudden swell or rise of water near the shore that often occurs
in otherwise calm conditions. It is caused by undulating water from a far away
storm. Today the term means a growing change in public opinion.
 Gung Ho: This term originated as a Chinese expression used to describe ship
crews when they would join together to make it through a difficult situation.
The term was brought into the English vocabulary when WWII Marine
Lieutenant Colonel Carlson used the term for a motto for his division. Today
the expression is synonymous with excited or ready for action.

H
 Hail from: To hail, call to, or salute to other passing vessels has long been a
nautical custom. The expression to "hail from" was used to acknowledge a
passing vessel and to simultaneously inform the other vessel of the hailing
vessels home port or area of origin. The expression is now used to inform
people where you come from.
 Halcyon Days: Originally this expression has its roots in Greek mythology.
Halcyone was the daughter of Aeolus and wife of Ceyx. When Ceyx drowned,
it is said that Halcyone threw herself into the sea. Out of pity, the gods changed
the pair into kingfishers also known as halcyons. The gods also forbade the
winds from blowing seven days before and after the winter solstice. This is the
breeding season of the halcyon. The expression "halcyon days" has come to
mean a time of peace and tranquility.
 Hand over fist: The expression "hand over fist" means to go forth rapidly in
some endeavor, such as, making money hand over fist. Originally the
expression came from the act of quickly climbing the rigging of the old sailing
ships " hand over hand" or "hand over fist".
 Hard and fast: An expression used to describe inflexibility, such as, a hard and
fast rule The term is nautical in origination and was used to describe a ship
grounded on the shore; 'hard' meaning firmly and 'fast' meaning fixed.
 Hard up: An expression now used to mean short of money. Originally when a
sailing crew was ordered to tighten the sails, the blocks would be "hard
up" meaning hauled together as close as possible.
 Hasn't got a clue: With nautical origins, the clew refers to the corner of the sail
where a brass ring is sewn into the fabric of the sail in order to properly hold
the sail in place. If a clew should rip, the sail would loose shape and the vessel
will not sail in a controlled manner. Until it is refastened, it "hasn't got a clew,"
or needs to "get clewed up" again. Today if someone "hasn't got a clue" then
they do not understand or are not knowledgeable. To "get clued up" is to learn
about or to come to fully understand something.
 Haze or Hazing: Today this word is used to refer to an initiation ritual of a
newcomer to a group by humiliating and harassing him or her, thereby
asserting the authority of the group. Originally hazing was the practice of
captains asserting their authority by having a ship's crew work all hours of the
day or night, whether needed or not, in order to make them generally miserable
thereby more humble and easier to manage.
 Head: The lavatory aboard a ship is known as the "head." The expression
comes from the fact that on the sailing ships the toilet was located forward,
close to the figurehead or the "head" of the vessel.
 Heave to: To stop or slow a sailing vessel by placing some of the canvas (often
the jib) back against the wind and placing the main in a close haul position
while fastening the rudder in a fixed position. The expression is also used to
mean stopping. However, this is not used as commonly as it once was.
 High and Dry: Today the expression is synonymous with being without
resources or support. Originally used to describe a ship that is beached or on
the rocks. She is left 'high' by the receding tide and 'dry' by being out of the
water.
 Hit the deck: To fall or drop suddenly, usually to evade some danger.
 Holy Mackerel: Because mackerel is a fish that spoils quickly, merchants were
allowed to sell it on Sundays contradicting the blue laws in 17th-century
England. The phrase "Holy Mackerel!" is still used today as an expression of
surprise and/or astonishment.
 Horse Latitudes: This is the area of relatively calm weather conditions found
from latitudes 30 degrees North to 30 degrees South. The expression is said to
come from the story that sailing ships carrying horses to America, when
traversing these latitudes, had to throw horses overboard in order to lighten
their vessels to make headway.
 Hot pursuit: A term originating from the naval warfare tactic of allowing a
fleeing enemy to be followed into neutral waters and captured there if the chase
had begun in international waters. Today it is used to mean closely follow or
chase.
 Hulk: A nautical expression for an old sailing vessel that is no longer
seaworthy. The larger vessels were sometimes stripped of their rigging and
used for in-port storage. Today expressions like "He was a great 'hulk' of a
guy" means he was a big man.
 Hunky-Dory: This term, meaning everything is alright, originated from a
street named "Honki-Dori" in Yokohama, Japan. This street was known by the
sailors as the street that catered to the pleasures of sailors. If life was Honki
Dori, a sailor had money, plenty of grog, and a pretty girl.

I
 Idler: This was the name for those members of a ship's crew, such as cooks and
sail-makers, that did not stand night watch because of their work.
 In Irons: This is a term used to describe the position of a sailing vessel with the
bow or front facing directly into the wind so that neither side of the sails fill.
 In the Drink: Is a term used to indicate that someone has fallen into the water.
 In the Doldrums: Doldrums is the name of an area of the ocean on either side
of the equator. This area is known to have unstable and light wind conditions.
A sailing ship caught in the Doldrums can be stranded due to lack of wind.
Today the term is used to describe someone as being in low spirits, stagnated or
depressed.

J
 Jibes (Gybes): This is the term to describe the often unwelcomed and possibly
violent and dangerous swing of the boom and sail from one side of the vessel to
the other. This is brought about when a boat sailing down wind alters course or
when the wind changes direction so that the wind passes from one side of the
stern to the other. The term is also now used when referring to negative,
unwelcomed remarks about or to another person.
 Junk: Refers in a nautical sense to an old rope no longer able to take a load.
 Jury Rig: This term describes something that is assembled in a makeshift
manner offering nothing more than a temporary solution. It originates from the
nautical term "jury mast," which is a temporary mast made from any available
pole when the mast has become damaged or lost overboard. This term gave rise
to the term 'jury rigging' to describe an attempt to place certain persons as
jurors in a court proceeding in an effort to assure a particular legal decision.

K
 Keel hauling: This was a naval punishment during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The crew member who was to be punished was dragged under the bottom of
the boat from one side of the boat to the other. The term "keel-hauled" is still
used to mean a severe punishment.
 Keel over: This describes the action of a boat that rolls over, often as a result of
a strong wind gust. Today the expression is often used in reference to a person
being emotionally "turned over" or upset as well as a reference to a person
dying.
 Keep an even keel: A nautical term for keeping a boat upright, not heeling
over to either side. Today the expression is used when describing a persons
emotions. To "keep an even keel" is to remain level headed or emotionally
stable.
 Keeping a weather eye open: This expression comes from the importance of
a sailing crew staying alert and looking for potential trouble such as
approaching bad weather. Today it has a similar use, meaning to generally
watch out for trouble.
 Knot: The term knot is used worldwide to denote one's speed through water
and means the number of nautical miles per hour. One nautical mile is equal to
1852 meters or 1.15 statute miles. The term comes from the method of using a
rope or line marked with knots at even intervals to measure the boats speed. At
one end of the line there would be a log or some other type of sea anchor that
was thrown over from the stern. The knotted line was allowed to run freely for
a specific amount of time after which it was hauled back onboard where the
number of knots could be counted giving the number of knots of forward
speed.
 Know the ropes: This is a term that originally meant to know the proper use
of the many ropes the older sailing vessels had. Today the term means to be
accomplished or be proficient at some particular job or task.

L
 Lay of the land: Nautically to "know the lay of the land" was important for
navigation as well as an indicator of what the seafloor may be like. If the land
is flat and sandy, the seabed is likely to be shallow and sandy.
 Leading light: It was customary to mark the entry to a port with a line of
leading lights to show the way. Someone who shows the way or is a leader is
called a "leading light".
 Learning the ropes: This expression has come to mean generally learning how
to perform some specific task or gain skill within some particular field of
endeavor. The term comes from the important task of learning the use of the
many ropes aboard a sailing vessel.
 Letting the Cat out of the bag: This term comes from the old naval
punishment of being whipped with a "cat o' nine tails." The whip was kept in a
leather bag and when the sailors "let the Cat out of the bag" they had usually
done something that would result in punishment. The term is used today to
mean that someone has said something that was not to be said or revealed a
secret.
 Like rats deserting a sinking ship: This is a derogatory term for a person who
leaves a given situation at the first sign of trouble, just as rats were said to leave
a sinking ship.
 Like ships passing in the nights: This expression indicates a meeting or
passing which had a low probability of occurring just as it was unlikely that
ships met at night on the sea when boat traffic was little and before navigational
aids such as radar were used.
 Limey: A term that was used to refer to a British sailor, now this is also used
generally to indicate a British person. The term came from the seventeenth and
eighteenth century practice of issuing limes to British sailors to combat scurvy
(a vitamin C deficiency).
 Listing to port: Today this phrase is used to describe someone who appears to
be unsteady on their feet, perhaps from the effects of fatigue or alcohol. The
term is from the nautical term "listing to port" which means the vessel is
leaning towards the left or portside.
 Log book: Today a record kept on a regular basis aboard ship is called a "log."
The term comes from the fact that these records were originally kept by
inscribing information into shingles cut from logs and hinged so they opened
like books.
 Loose Cannon: Today the term "loose cannon" refers to someone who is out of
control, unpredictable, and who may cause damage, just as the canons would
do if they were to break loose on the decks of the old sailing vessels.
 Loose Ends: Today the term "at loose ends" is used to reference someone who
has spare time and does not know what to do with themselves. The term comes
from the practice of having the ship's crew members repair and splice the ship's
ropes when they didn't have something else to do. The crew member
performing this task was said to be at "loose ends."
 Loose lips sink ships: This term originated during World War II by the US
military and was meant as a reminder that classified information was never to
be discussed as it posed unnecessary risks for naval ships. Today the term is
used to refer to the act of generally saying something that should not be said.
 Lubber or Landlubber: This term is used to mean a big, awkward or clumsy
person. The term landlubber originated as a derogatory term for an
inexperienced seaman who may be better off on land.


M
 Maiden voyage: A term to reference a ship's first voyage. Today the term is
applied to most any type of first trip, whether it is a first trip in a new car or the
first voyage to a new place.
 Main stay: Part of the standing rigging on a sailboat, it is the cable or rope
which supports the mast from the front of the boat to the top of the mast.
Today it's use in the vernacular, as in "He was the mainstay of the
organization," meaning someone or something on which there is a principal
dependence.
 Marooned: This term is used for an old punishment for mutineers. It consisted
of placing the person on a remote island with very limited supplies and leaving
them to their fate. Today the term is used synonymous with stranded.
 May Day: 'Mayday' is the internationally recognized voice radio signal for
ships and people in serious trouble at sea. The word comes from the
French m'aidez which means "help me".
 Mind your P's and Q's: Sailors would get credit at the taverns in port until
they were paid. The barman would keep a record of their drinks on a
chalkboard behind the bar. A mark was made under "P" for pint or "Q" for
quart. On payday, the sailors were liable for each mark next to his name, so he
was forced to "mind his P's and Q's." Today the term means to remain well
behaved.
 Miss the mark: This expression comes from sailing where the "mark" is a
rounding mark or buoy that sailboats competing in a regatta must sail around
before turning towards the next mark or finish line. If a sailboat misses the
mark, it must complete a 360-degree circle before continuing the race as a
penalty. Today the expression is used when one did not achieve an intended
goal or complete a plan.

N
 Nautical: The term 'Nautical' originates from the Greek word 'nauti' meaning
sailor.
 No room to swing a cat: During the whipping punishment using the "cat o'
nine tails," all hands were called on deck to witness. With a full crew, the deck
could be so crowded that the cat o' nine tails was difficult to use without hitting
other crew members. In other words, there was "no room to swing a cat."
Today the expression is used to indicate crowded or packed surroundings.
 Now You're talkin': This was originally an expression used by sailors to
indicate that the sails were set correctly and the ship was balanced. The tem is
still used to indicate agreement with what someone else is saying or a particular
course of action.

O
 Off and On: An expression meaning at some times or occasionally. It
originated as an old naval expression meaning close to the shore by sailing off
and on or away from and towards the shore.
 Old Salt: Nautical term for old, retired sailor or someone with many years of
sailing experience. The term is also used to mean a "genuine" kind of a person.
 On an even keel: This is a term to indicate that a vessel has no lean or tilt
towards either side. The expression is often used to reference something or
someone in a state of stability and balance.
 On the wrong tack: This was originally a nautical term for a sailing vessel
which is sailing a bit too close to the wind for that particular tack. The
expression is also used to reference someone approaching a task or problem
from the wrong direction or continuing in the wrong direction.
 Over a barrel: Sailors being punished were sometimes tied over a cannon
barrel when being whipped. Today the expression is used when someone is in a
bad situation and that there is often no other possible course of action.
 Overhaul: An expression which refers to the action of the crew going aloft to
adjust and replace ropes or lines to avoid chaffing while sailing. Today the
word means to maintain things in a working condition or to improve upon the
current condition, for example to overhaul or make repairs on a car.
 Over-reach: This is an expression that originally meant to continue to sail
longer upon a tack than is necessary in order to reach a given point. Today the
term is used in a general sense of exceeding a limit or having gone too far or
over-extended in some venture.
 Overwhelm: This term comes from the Middle English word meaning "to
capsize" or overturn a vessel. Today the term is synonymous with being
overcome, defeated or to capitulate.

P
 Passed with flying colors: This expression comes from the custom of sailing
ships that would fly their colors or put up their flags and pennants if they
wanted to be identified when passing other ships at sea. Today this expression
is used to refer to someone who has passed a test or some other type of trial
with a great margin.
 Perks: This word comes from the naval abbreviation of the word "perquisites"
meaning the allowances or benefits (often money) offered with any specific
office or appointment. Today the word is used outside of the navy and is
synonymous with benefit or advantage, like getting a company car for ones
own use.
 Pidgin English: This is a term used to reference the limited or altered English
language spoken by non-native English speaking people. The term is likely
taken from the phonetic translation of the Chinese word meaning business, as
this form of English was often used in commercial trade in ports outside of
Europe.
 Pipe Down: This originally nautical term was used as an officer's whistle
sound denoting the completion of an above-deck work shift and thereby giving
permission to go below. This expression is now used to mean "be quiet" or
keep quiet".
 Plumb the depths: This is an expression meaning to find out what's going on
or to fully investigate something. Originally the phrase "plumb the depths"
came from the plumb or lead weight attached to a rope used to test the depth of
the water.
 Pooped: This word is used to denote the swamping of an aft deck when sailing
down wind in high following seas. Today the word is used synonymously with
worn-out or fatigued, perhaps as the crew member may have been on a
"pooped" deck.
 Port Holes: Today the term is used to describe the windows, or openings on a
vessel. The word originates from the French word porte which means door. The
expression "port hole" originated when French boat builders began to install
small doors on the side of ships which could be opened to shoot the cannons.
 Port and Starboard: Port is the nautical term for left and starboard means
right. Originally the words come from the old sailing ships that did not have a
rudder and were steered using a board on the right side which became known as
the "steerboard" side, the other side of the vessel was called the port side as the
boat was docked on this side so as to not interfere with the steering board.
 Posh: Today this word means superior or fashionable and expensive. The word
originated in colonial Boston where the trunks of the wealthy passengers would
have the label "POSH", which stood for "Portside Out Starboard Home"
instructing the luggage handlers where to place the luggage to avoid intense sun
exposure.
 Push the boat out: This is an old navel expression meaning to have drinks all
round or to celebrate lavishly.
 Put a new slant on things: This expression refers to the fact that sailing
vessels have an optimum angle of heel and experienced sailors know when to
"put a new slant on things" to achieve this optimum slant or angle. Today the
expression is used to indicate a new approach or that one is looking at an issue
from a different perspective.
Q
R
 Rake you from stem to stern: This expression refers to the attempt during
battle between ships to maneuver in a way as to have the opponents stem or
stern facing your cannons so they could be fired to "rake the ship from stem to
stern".
 Rise and shine: This was part of a traditional naval morning call-out to the
crew. The expression is now used outside the Navy meaning to awaken and be
alert.
 Round robin: This is an expression rooted in British nautical tradition. Sailors
planning a mutiny would sign their names in a circle so the leader could not be
identified. Today the term is often used in sporting events and competitions
when referring to a series of games in which all members of a league play each
other one time.
 Rummage sale: This term is used synonymously with yard sale or garage sale.
The term comes from the French word 'arrimage' meaning "the loading of a
cargo ship." The damaged cargo or rummage was occasionally sold.
 Run the gauntlet: Today this expression refers to going through an unpleasant
experience. Originally the term comes from a naval punishment where the
punished crew member was forced to proceed between two lines of men who
would beat and whip him. The word gauntlet was earlier spelled "gantlope"
which originates from the Swedish "gata" meaning road, and "lopp" meaning
course.

S
 Sailing too close to the wind: Originally an expression referring to the risk in
sailing when a vessel would get too close into the wind thereby stalling the
vessels forward movement. Today the expression is used to mean one is taking
risks by defying rules or pushing the limits.
 Scraping the bottom of the barrel: This is an expression originating from the
ship's cook who literally scraped the bottom of the food barrel, resulting in a
little desired serving. Today this term is used to mean the last resort or
something generally not wanted.
 Scupper: This word originated as naval slang for killed. Today it is used to
mean finishing something off as in 'He was scuppered off that job.'.
 Scurvy: This is a term meaning that a person has vitamin C deficiency
resulting in discolored skin spots, swollen legs, putrid gums and even death.
The ship's crew avoided the illness by eating citrus fuits.
 Scuttle: This is a naval term for deliberately sinking a ship to prevent capture
by an enemy. Today the term means to wreck or spoil a plan or idea.
 Scuttlebutt: This is a word synonymous with rumor or gossip. The word
originates from the drinking ladle with small holes or scuttles in it to reduce the
small talk and wasted time at the water barrel. The holes forced the sailors to
drink fast before the water ran out.
 Shake a leg: This term means to move rapidly. Originally a call to get the
hands out of their hammocks to go to work.
 Shanghai: To Shanghai someone is to make them drunk or insensible to get
them aboard an outward-bound ship in need of a crew, or, more generally, to
trick someone into going somewhere. The term may have originated in the
phrase "Ship him to Shanghai", meaning to send someone on a long one way
voyage, often to the Orient.
 Shape up: This is an expression meaning to point up or shape up the current
course to avoid danger when sailing off a lee shore. Today the expression is
used synonymously with "get it together".
 Shifting ballast: This is a term used by sailing crews to refer to the passengers
onboard.
 Ship shape: This is a term we use today to mean neat, tidy or organized. The
expression originated from the inspections that were started during the 1800's
to ensure the the ships were clean enough so as to not bring anything such as
disease into a port. When inspected and approved for port entry, they were said
to be "ship shape".
 Showing your true colors: This is an expression which originated from the old
warship custom of having flags from many places available onboard to deceive
a potential enemy. Showing your true colors meant to use the ship's correct
flag. The expression now means much the same-- to reveal one's true
intentions.
 Skipper: The word skipper is synonymous with boat Captain and originates
from the Dutch word 'schipper' that means the master of a trading vessel.
 Skyscraper: This word is most commonly used to describe a tall building. The
word originates from the term for a small, triangular shaped sail that was set
above the other sails on the old square-rigged vessels. They were so tall they
seemed to scrape the sky.
 Slush fund: This term originates from the practice of the ship's cook putting
the fat from the bottom of the food barrel into a "slush fund" where it was
stored until they reached the port where it would be sold to tanneries or candle
makers. The word is now used to describe a money reserve.
 Snub: This means to suddenly stop or secure a line. The word is used today in
the expression 'To snub someone' meaning to cut someone off or intentionally
ignore him or her.
 Son of a gun: This expression comes from the term for children conceived on
the gun decks of a ship. When in port, women were often brought on board.
Since the sailors had no private quarters, they would sling hammocks between
the guns or cannons for their liaasons. Today the expression 'son of a gun' is
used as an expression of surprise.
 Sound off: This expression comes from the practice of sailors 'sounding off' or
shouting the number of fathoms as noted when sounding the depth in unknown
water. Today the expression is used when voicing one's opinion.
 Spin a Yarn: Today, this expression means to tell a story, much of which may
be out of fantasy. The expression originated from the stories sailors would tell
while making spun-yarn or doing other repetitious chores.
 Sponge: This is a word used to refer to someone who 'uses' others for example
by borrowing money with no intent to repay the debt. The term comes from the
detention area for debtor's that was called the sponge.
 Square meal: This is an expression synonymous with a proper or substantial
meal. It originated from the square platters that were used to serve meals
aboard ships.
 Stand off: This is an expression which means to maintain a course away from
shore. The term is now also used synonymously with to be aloof, evade or
remain at a distance.
 Starboard and Port: Starboard is the nautical term for right and port means
left. Originally the words come from old sailing ships which did not have a
rudder and were steered using a board on the right side which became known as
the "steerboard" side The other side of the vessel was called the port side as the
boat was docked on this side so as to not interfere with the steering board.
 Stay on an even keel: This is a term to indicate that a vessel has no lean or tilt
towards either side. The expression is often used to reference something or
someone in a state of stability and balance.
 Stem the tide: An expression originally used to mean that a ship was sailing
against the tide fast enough to make headway over the ground or to move faster
than the tide in the opposite direction. Today the expression means to stop,
slow, or prevent an event.
 Stick in the mud: This expression was originally used to refer to someone of
no consequence, such as a pirate or mutineer, which came from the old English
practice of burying executed criminal seamen in the mud of the Thames
river. Today the expression is used to mean someone not likely to be persuaded
or change.
 Stranded: This word was originally used to describe a vessel that has been
driven aground during a storm. Today stranded is synonymous with stuck,
marooned or abandoned.
 Swashbuckler: Swashbuckler has become synonymous with adventurer,
explorer or traveler. The word originated in the 1500's, and was used to refer to
below average swordsman.

T
 Taken Aback: This is a term used to describe the position of a sailing vessel
with the bow or front facing directly into the wind so that neither side of the
sails fill. Today the expression is used to describe a sense of being surprised or
shocked by an unforeseen event.
 Take someone down a peg or two: This expression comes from the fact that
the flags of old sailing vessels were raised or lowered using pegs. To lower a
flag meant to surrender. Today the expression is still used to mean to deflate
someone's ego or lower someone's status.
 Take the wind out of his sails: Today this expression means to stop someone's
forward momentum in some venture or to 'bring someone back down to reality'.
The term comes from literally taking the wind out of someone's sails by sailing
upwind or to windward, causing the other vessels to slow or stop.
 Taking the wrong tack: This was originally a nautical term for a sailing
vessel which is sailing a bit too close to the wind for that particular tack. The
expression is also used to reference someone approaching a task or problem
from the wrong direction or continuing to go off in the wrong direction.
 Tally: The word originally comes from the tally stick used in checking or
counting cargo from a vessel. Today the word means to count or add up as in
'taking a tally of his money'.
 Thar she blows. Today an expression meaning 'there it is.' Originally this was
the cry of the crew on a whaling boat when a whale was spotted.
 Three sheets to the wind: This expression meant that one did not have control
of the vessel because one had lost control of the sheets or lines. Today the
expression is used to refer to someone who is drunk or does not have control of
himself or herself.
 Tide-Waiter: This expression refers to someone who waits to see the trend of
events before taking action, much like ship captains wait for tides to continue
on a given course.
 Time and Tide waits for no man: This phrase refers to procrastination. Act
now as the time and tide will continue regardless of one's actions.
 Took the wind out of his sails: Today we use this expression to describe
getting the overhand or the best of an opponent in an argument. Originally it
described a battle maneuver of sailing ships whereby they would take the wind
out of the opponents sails by sailing upwind or to windward causing the other
vessels to slow or stop.
 Touch and go: If a vessel goes aground and then slips off, she is said to "touch
and go." Today the expression is used to mean a close call, a near thing or
something where the outcome is unsure.
 Try a new tack: A tack is the way the sails are set relative to the direction of
the wind. If one tack is not working or not the most efficient, then one can "try
a new tack". The expression is used generally to mean to try something
different.

U
 Under the weather: This expression came from boat passengers who would
go down to lower levels or 'under the weather' where the rocking of the ship
was less. Today the expression is used to describe someone who is generally
not feeling well.
 Under Way: This is a naval expression meaning to get moving. The expression
is used to mean that something is in progress of moving forward.

V

W
 Wash Out: This expression means that something is a disappointment or
failure or that someone is a failure. The expression originates from the
recording of naval signals that were written on a slate that was wiped clean
when the message was complete.
 Weather the storm: An expression used to mean that a person or thing was
able to withstand, endure or resist a difficult situation. The expression comes
from the vessels and the reference to their ability to weather the storms.
 Whipping boy: Whipping the end of a rope is to wrap a light line around the
ends to prevent the lines from unraveling. If this was not done correctly, the
crew member who had done the job would become the 'whipping boy' and face
punishment. Today, the expression is used to describe someone who takes the
blame for others.
 Whole nine yards: This expression means everything or all encompassing. The
expression comes from the old square-rigged sailing vessels that had three
masts with three yards of sails on each. The whole nine yards meant all sails
were up.
 Windfall: This is synonymous with a stroke of luck, a turn of luck, or a
financial gain. Originally the word was used to refer to a rush of wind which
would help a vessel's forward movement. Today, it means a stroke of good
luck.
 Windward: This word means to be upwind. It is now also a naval expression
meaning to gain an advantage.
X

Y

Yacht: A yacht is a vessels used mainly for pleasure. The word 'yacht' comes
from the Dutch word 'jacht' that means to hurry. It has been Anglicized to
yacht. The word yacht only applied to light fast vessels in its early usage.

Z

Zig-Zag: This is the action of a sailing boat tacking to windward.

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