Cliche Sunday

Here  we go again! Taking Lynn’s idea, I am going for Nautical Clichés today.  I love terms deriving our long ago nautical history.

How cool it would be to sail on an antique frigate. Although, the cramped conditions and smelly men may make me change my mind. Still, they are simply beautiful as they cut through the water.

broad in the beam: something no woman ever whats to be called! And no sane man would use this phrase in reference to a woman. Meaning, of course, wide in the hips and buttocks. A good thing for a ship, as it adds stability. It began being used in the early 1600s to describe the widest part of the boat, the beam. It morphed into our more modern meaning in the 1920s, first used by Hugh Walpole in his novel, Hans Frost.

chock-a-block: closely crammed into a small space.  The word chock was most likely from the phrase “full to choking”, and became popular to use on ships in the 1700s.

“Chock, a sort of wedge used to confine a cask or other weighty body..when the ship is in motion.”–William Falconer*

The block came from the block and tackle apparatus to raise and lower sails. The full term probably came from someone putting the block onto a chock for a better wedge to prevent movement in rough seas.

cut and run: running away when put under pressure. There seems to be some discussion whether the “cut” comes from actually cutting through the anchor line in a hurry to catch the prevailing wind; or whether it simply means the ship “cutting” through the water, as described in The Faerie Queen:

“It [a ship] cut away upon the yielding wave.” –Edmund Spenser, 1590*

The first known use of our modern usage, to run away, was used in 1861 by Dickens:

“I hope, Joe, we shan’t find them.” and Joe whispered to me, “I’d give a shilling if they had cut and run, Pip.”–Great Expectations*

plain sailing: also known as “smooth sailing,” meaning smooth and easy-going during any particular activity. But why is it “plain?” The answer for that is the confusing spelling of the 16th and 16th centuries. “Plain” and “Plane”  were used interchangeably, and the “plane” was not our common airplane, but the mathematical plane.

‘Plane sailing’ is a simplified form of navigation, in which the surface of the sea is considered to be flat rather than curved, that is, on what mathematicians call a ‘plane surface’. The plane method of approximation made the calculations of distance much easier than those of ‘Mercator’s sailing’, in which the curvature of the earth was taken into account.*

 In modern boating with motors, “bringing the boat onto plane” means increasing the speed to even out the boat so it rides on the surface of the water, insuring the least resistance and the fastest pace.


*Meanings and Origins



Filed under Cliche Sunday

3 responses to “Cliche Sunday

  1. Thanks for the mention, Samantha! Great cliches – I like ‘broad in the beam’ and who knows, maybe it was a compliment at one time!


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