Sunday Cliches

Per request of Lynn over at Word Shamble and Cyn at FranklyWrite, I am doing some nautical clichés this week.  I did do a cliché post on seafaring clichés in April, but there are so many to choose from that I can certainly do another…. and perhaps even another one later on. It is intriguing to find the phrases that came from the sea. So many are in our standard lexicon, but we have forgotten where they came from.

by and large: in general, all things considered. ‘By’ and ‘large’ are two separate nautical terms, and combine to mean being able to  sail not only in the direction of the wind, but also against it.  ‘Large’ means that the wind is blowing behind the ship in the direction the ship is going. ‘By’ means “in the general direction of.” The earliest known reference in print is:
“Thus you see the ship handled in fair weather and foul, by and learge.”
                  from Samuel Sturmy, in The Mariners Magazine, 1669 ***

to the bitter end:  to continue to the end of a difficult fight or event. Generally bitter is used to refer to a taste. However, it is actually a nautical term. ‘Bitts’ are the posts ona deck used to fasten ropes and cables.  The farthest part of that chain or rope from the anchor is called “the bitter end”, it is rarely used and usually deep inside the ship.

get a word in edgeways: unable to speak in a conversation as the others parties are speaking too rapidly, and without break.  In Australia & Britain, in America known as “get a word in edgewise.” The phrase came from the  “nautical practice of  proceeding edge first or making small tacking movements to make progress. So naturally when someone is hogging a conversation or debate the best way to get your own point across is to proceed carefully, taking advantage of the smallest of opportunities to speak.”*

hard and fast: strictly adhered to, no deviations. A particularly apt phrase, as the nautical term means the ship is beached firmly. Thus there will be no deviations at all in its course! 

The [London] Times, January 1820:
“She was laid before the fire, at about a yard distance, and was hard and fast asleep.”**

shiver my timbers: an expression of annoyance, surprise or an oath (promise). Famously used in Treasure Island by pirate Long John Silver, however, there is no proof that this phrase is anything more than a literary invention. But it is an accurate invention. In nautical terms, ‘shiver’ means to break into pieces. So in sailor terms, ‘shiver my timbers’ equals a sailor’s boat falling to pieces. Certainly something no sailor would ever want!


“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous…” Thomas Merton

Any other requests? I do love finding these meanings for you!





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