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Relaxing in the Dinghy on the Manatee River
~ Relaxing in the Dinghy on the Manatee River ~
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Nautical Terms and Superstitions
Words Born Before the Wind
Sailing is defined as the fine art of getting wet and becoming ill while slowly going nowhere at great expense. True as that may be, it appears that the language of this medium has seeped into most everyone's daily lives – even those who believe that spending their entire lives on land is just Hunky-Dory (originates from a street named Honcho Dori in the port of Yokohama, Japan where sailors spent their shore leave enjoying the bars and female companionship.) Whether we're land lubbers or seafarers, many salty words and phrases still pepper our conversations and it makes me smile to know that I am surrounded by the influence of those brave souls and mariners of old who've let their spirit and the wind pull them toward every corner of their earthly bounds.

I'm not an etymologist, and can't promise all the following information is Above Board. Originates from a vessel whose crew had nothing to hide, versus pirates who'd hide below decks to appear weak and outnumbered. And I don't want to Overwhelm Middle English word meaning to capsize or overturn a boat. you with a bunch of useless information. But sometimes, an odd turn of phrase leaves me At Loose EndsOriginates from rope on a ship, of which each end must be tied to something, such as an anchor, a sail, a block or the boat – else a loss is bound to occur. and, though I understand its meaning, I don't like to be left High and DryAttributed to an August 1796 'Ship News' column in The [London] Times regarding a Russian frigate. with regards to its origins.

I could go a little OverboardLiterally, this originates from a person falling off a boat, and enthusiastically hoping to be back onboard. on this subject, which By and Large'By' means a general compass direction, as in "North By Northwest," and 'Large' is a wind that blows favorably from the stern and allows the largest, square sail to be set. I find fascinating. But I'll stop myself from BingingOriginated from the 1825 word 'Benge, meaning to soak a wooden vessel in order to clear out some offensive element, such as guano, or rat infestations. too much so as not to make you too GroggyThe name, contemptuously given by the crew of Admiral Shovell, who wore grogram jackets and earned the sailor's disdain by watering down their daily rum ration. or Cranky.Originated from the Dutch word krengd, referring to an unstable sailing vessel.

Though, perhaps you'll find yourself Taken AbackOriginates from the term when a sudden wind change causes a boat's sails to 'Back', or blow flat against the mast or spars, then the ship is stopped or Taken Aback. as well by some of these phrases I have In the Offing.The farthest edge of the sea that can be seen from land is known as the offing or offen, and ships spotted 'in the offen' will arrive in port before the turn of the tide. But I'll keep this list short, just enough to Tide You OverFirst recorded by Captain John Smith, an English seaman who was referring to the tide continuing a ships movement, albeit slow, in the absence of wind. until you find yourself using a word with roots you can't FathomWhen sailing in shallow waters, depth soundings were taken in 'fætm,' an Anglo-Saxon word for Embracing Arms, but translated roughly to the fingertip to fingertip measurement of outstretched arms, or about 6'. or you find you Haven't Got a ClueClew refers to the corner of a sail where a brass ring is sewn, allowing some means of controlling attachment via rope or spar. about the origins of an unusual phrase.

So pull up a Cup Of Joe1913 U.S. Navy Secretary Josephus "Joe" Daniels banned officer's from having wine onboard, leaving only coffee as the strongest drink available on Navy ships. and enjoy some of the ScuttlebuttOriginates from the scuttles, or drinking ladle with small holes or 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 I've heard over the years!

Hanging out at Key's Fisheries
~ Hanging out at Key's Fisheries ~
Elbows Off the Table!
Turns out your mom was trying to protect you from being shanghaied into service.

The story goes that shipboard life in the early days was hard, such that sailors would often disappear while in port. Ships left stranded for want of crew would scour the local taverns with the intent of commandeering men while in a drunken stupor. Once sober, the ship would be out to sea and escape for the kidnapped workforce would be impossible.

Now the savvy subjugator could detect an experienced seaman by looking for a particular habit. Eating with elbows on the table restricted a sailor's plate from sliding away when the ship pitched and rolled. A man with this custom was a pretty good sign of a man with shipboard experience. So through the guise of bad behavior, mothers instructed their children to keep those elbows off the table, and hoped this would keep their boys on dry land.

Old Oversea's Liquor in Marathon
~ Old Oversea's Liquor in Marathon ~
I was Shanghaied!
The expression "shanghaied" originated in the Chinese port of Shanghai. Clipper ships looking to obtain crew members would pay Chinese tavern owners to slip drugs into the grog of a viable candidate. Once comatose, the new sailors were carried off to the waiting ships, with no escape in sight once revived.

The whole of Asia has such a long, documented chronicle of experience with drugs – some good history, some bad history. The funny thing is, our US history has us believe that our English ancestors were scouring the earth for a direct route to India, in order to get SPICES! Now – knowing how wonderfully spicy English food is – I've got to wonder if these explorers were really early drug runners, addicted to the very substance that got them on a ship in the first place. The same old adage given to the Queen Mum in her day is still repeated to other mums today – "Yeah – it's just oregano."

Our Square of Lobster Tails
~ Our Square of Lobster Tails ~
A Square Meal
So much terminology comes from the eating habits of seamen! Well – in any event, this phrase most likely originates from the square wooden platters used on the early square riggers. When the weather was fair, it was safe to serve your crew a warm meal – keep them happy so you could work them harder.

I myself have square plates onboard. My thought was that round plates created useless space when stored. When I was told this bit of trivia, I began to wonder if it was really fragments of a previous life that drove me toward this unusually shaped dinnerware.

The Sailors
~ The Sailors ~
I'm Pooped!
I had to throw this one in because it is a favorite phrase of my father's, when he wishes to express how tired he is.

The definition of being pooped on a boat is being swamped by waves coming over the stern. Basically – the sea is gaining on you and it's not a good thing. Getting pooped typically means you are in very bad weather.

Fighting mother nature for your very survival, with waves crashing down on you, cold, wet and exhausted – it's easier to say pooped.

~ Neptune ~
Let the Cat Out of the Bag
So, you have been Shanghaied and pressed into service against your will, all for having poor table manners. You're lucky to get 3 square meals a day, your pooped, a little groggy (watered down rum rations) – and what is management's method of discipline? FLOGGING!

The Cat o' Nine Tails was a nasty little whip used by the Royal Navy for the most serious crimes. This whip was kept in a bag, and brought out for the flogging that all crew members were required to witness. Thus letting the cat out of the bag was considered a bad thing.

Now – if you happened to be well respected by the crew, they may have crowded around the flogging area, making it very difficult for the Bosun's Mate to get a good swing while administering the punishment. So this was a two-fer. Now you know where "No Room to Swing a Cat" came from.

Bitter End Sailing School – BVIs
~ Bitter End Sailing School – BVIs ~
The Bitter End
Rope – or line as it is called on a ship – is abundant on a sailing vessel. So we've managed to even give special names to the parts of a rope – if you can imagine that. The bitter end is the end that should be well tied to the bitt – a fitting attached permanently to the boat.

For example, you might have a very expensive anchor tied to a line on one end (the working end) and you better have the other end of that line tied to the bitt on the boat.

Therefore, as you gently lower your anchor to the ground, paying out the line as your boat drifts back to hold, you won't be bitter when you see the bitter end slip through your hands and float gently down to rest with your expensive anchor on the ocean floor.

Flying Our Colors
~ Flying Our Colors ~
Showing your True Colors
Strategies of war while battling at sea brought this term into being. If you remember your history – or have caught the movie "Master and Commander," you may recall that ships of all make and origin were often pressed into service.

So who was to know what side your ship was on? Flying a brightly colored flag representing your nation was the method of the time.

A good way to coax an enemy into firing range was to hoist colors of your adversary. However the rules of civilized warfare mandated that all ships fly their country's flag, or show their true colors before firing the first shot.

Now – it seems to me that if everyone was deviously falsifying their alliance just before firing, then a lot of ships were probably shooting at their comrades. He with the best eyes and slowest trigger finger wins.

Chilly Sailor Diana
~ Chilly Sailor Diana ~
Under the Weather
Feeling bad? A little Under the Weather? Then you got the crappy side of the boat to keep watch on. Because a sailboat can never navigate directly into the wind, one side will always be to the wind, and the other side away from it.

The windward side was also called the weather side, and crew was typically stationed on that side to keep a watch out for changes and other boats. This crew member was said to be 'Under the Weather.'

So if you're feeling drippy, chilly and wind-burnt, you are truly under the weather. Otherwise, you're just not feeling well.

Puffed Up Puffer Fish
~ Puffed Up Puffer Fish ~
Knocked Down a Peg
Tradition dictates that pennants are flown for each officer onboard a ship. These flags are attached from pegs, arranged from top to bottom according to rank. When a higher ranking officer boards the vessel, every pennant is knocked down a peg. Or worse, should an officer be demoted, his pennant may be knocked down a peg or two.

So the tradition holds on land so to speak, that when someone alleges their importance by waving their own flag, they eventually will be knocked down a peg by someone more important.

Genevieve Through the Forward Hatch
~ Genevieve Through the Forward Hatch ~
Ship High In Transit
You've never said this? Put the first letter of each word together and answer that question. Just as any other profitable commodity, manure was often cargo on the early merchant ships. And just as anything else on a boat, these bundles would often get wet in the ship's hold. An interesting lesson in chemistry: manure and water = fermentation and methane gas.

Yes, you can picture that hold, oil lamp for light, a sailor with his pipe, the cook at his hearth and all that combustible wood, hay and coal.

So – after several fiery experiences, these bundles were no longer carried in the hold, but rather kept high on the ship where the gas could disperse harmlessly. Stamped with the warning 'Ship High In Transit', the acronym came to mean the contents, the bad smell, the explosion – everything but the warning.

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“Mackerel skies and mares tails, soon will be time to shorten sails.” ~ Old Sailor's Proverb