Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Our language includes bountiful gifts from the sea

We've borrowed many terms from life aboard ships;

whether you "know the ropes" or not, come have fun

 If you "know the ropes" you have proficiency
in your task, a term which comes straight from sailing.

AHOY, avast and shiver your timbers!
Much of our language comes from the sea, from the early Phoenician and Greek cultures, on up through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when British naval vessels ruled the seas.
Did you know, for instance, that "overwhelm" comes from the Middle English meaning to capsize.
Our term, "square meal," comes from the square trays set before hungry seamen, the "three squares a day" promised in their contract.
DO YOU try to "go with the flow" and "give some slack" to your colleagues or friends? Both old sailing terms.
Are you proud of "knowing the ropes" and understanding "the lay of the land."  Both derive from sailing, meaning proficiency in a task and knowledge of the terrain.
Perhaps there is a modern day "floozy" aboard, enjoying.
If you're a "leading light" in your business, you're a natural teacher or leader -- another sea term in which lights were hung to mark entry to a port and show other ships the way.
MAYBE you're a "floozy," meaning loose woman. This salty phrase comes from a centuries-old term, floozies, for women brought aboard when a vessel was in port.
Basically prostitutes, assuming they received some pay.  Or perhaps they just liked fooling around with sailors.
Are you a "Limey" -- hailing from the British Isles -- or a "loose cannon," slightly out of
control? Limey dates to the 17th Century when British sailors were issued limes to combat scurvy.  The cannon reference  
The term "loose cannon" comes from an unpredictable, loose cannon on deck.
refers to the unpredictable or potentially dangerous cannon which came loose on decks of old sailing vessels.
Want to tie up some "loose ends" -- or are you feeling "under the weather"?
The "loose ends" refers to having everything shipshape on board -- no details overlooked, no ropes untied.  The "weather" reference refers to feeling ill and comes from the frequency of ship passengers becoming seasick in heavy weather.
DO YOU do your best to "keep an even keel"? Another sailing
Above and below left,  writer and
photographer are minding their
"P's and Q's" or at least champagne
term for keeping a boat upright, not listing to either side. Today the expression is used when describing a person's emotions, encouraging level-headed or stable behavior.
You may have guessed that "minding your P's and Q's" has to do with pints and quarts.   

Sailors would get bar credit at the taverns in port until they were paid. The barman always kept 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, a sailor was 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.
THERE ARE many, many more. Even the word "nautical"  originates from the Greek word 'nauti' meaning sailor, not questionable behavior.
"May Day" is one of my favorites, an internationally recognized voice radio signal for ships and people in stress or trouble -at-sea. Its source is actually a verb, the French
Even the word "nautical" comes from the sea; "nauti" is Greek for sailor. 
m'aidez which means "help me."
So the next time you're sailing, think of language and its shipshape evolution.
That term, by the way, shipshape, derives from the captain's command that everything be left in meticulous order or "shipshape" by the crew.
HERE ARE a few more to ponder and have fun with.
*Feeling over a barrel?  Sailors were sometimes tied over a cannon barrel when being whipped. Today the expression is used when someone is in a risky or precarious  situation with limited or no course of action.

"Getting hitched" means marriage, deriving from joining ropes together.
*High and dry: This expression usually refers to being without resources or support. It derives from the description of a ship that is beached or on the rocks.  She's "high -- as the tide recedes -- and "dry" without water.
*Getting hitched: This common term usually describes the act of  marriage and comes from the ship hands' joining or hitching two ropes together to form one.
 *Holy mackerel: Because mackerel spoils quickly, merchants were allowed to sell it on Sundays contradicting the blue laws in 17th-century England. Thus mackerel is a "holy" fish! The phrase is still
If you wanted other vessels to see your identity,
you flew your flag or "colors" when passing.

used   as an expression of surprise.
 *Swashbuckler has become synonymous with adventurer,  explorer or traveler. The word originated in the 1500s, and was used to refer to a below average swordsman. Its present day connotation is more glamourous.
If you "scrape the bottom of the barrel," you're dealing with the undesirable, deriving from the ship's cook's last couple ladles of food which were not very appetizing.
My daddy always woke us youngsters with "rise and shine," an old naval morning call now used to mean "get yourselves out of bed and greet the day!"
"Swashbuckling" has its roots in sea language, connoting adventure.
If you knew most of these, you've "passed with flying colors." This expression comes from the sailing custom of flying colors, or flags and pennants, to be identified when passing other ships at sea. Today this expression is used to refer to someone who has easily passed a test or some other trial or challenge!
Aboard the Jada, out of San Diego bay, everything
is "shipshape" in her beautifully restored galley.
OKAY. Now are you ready to go the "whole nine yards? This expression means "everything" or all encompassing. The expression comes from square-rigged sailing vessels that had three masts with three yards of sails on each. "The whole nine yards" meant all sails were up.
 Now, perhaps you'll come into a windfall.
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.
Since language has been evolving for hundreds of years, and the sea has played a huge part in our lives, it makes sense that our speech is permeated with nautical terms.
TRY FIGURING out "run the gauntlet" or "rake you from stem to stern".  While ancient armies forced soldiers to "run the gauntlet" the Royal Navy had its shipside version,  as a punishment for theft. The condemned was prevented from rushing by the master-at-arms with a cutlass and pushed forward by a corporal, while being beaten with rope yarns. If you're raked "stem to stern," you are verbally chastised completely, from one end of your "boat" to the other."
So happy sailing.  Happy speaking. The two have a time honored connection!

COMING UP: We take a loving look at our three-year old Christena, born with a birth defect, Down Syndrome,  but thriving in the "Cosgriffe Village."
See how our family is coping with this delightful youngster (the writer's namesake) and how she is thriving with her single dad's steadfast care and many loving helpers.

Christena recently celebrated her third birthday with balloons.
Her father, Patrick Cosgriffe, hosted a party for her.
AND, HAVE you ever been to Martinsdale, Montana?  You're in for a treat. At the world class Bair Museum and the Crazy Mountain Inn with its delectable lemon pie.
Remember to explore, learn and live.  Check us out Wednesdays and Saturdays at

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