Nautical Sayings And Phrases - Everyday Language

Published: 19th December 2011
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When it comes to being out on the open waters it is not just a fully equipped boat you will need. Having a range of nautical sayings and phrases will add to the experience. Nautical sayings and phrases are not just there to make you look good either. There is a history behind them!

From the times when people would spend most of their lives at sea or 'seafaring' as it is called, is reference to the days when people would work at sea. They had many nautical phrases and boat related sayings that are still used today and some of them have even made it into our everyday language.

Some of the nautical sayings we hear we associate with pirates such as 'shiver my timbers' and 'walk the plank'. Whilst not necessarily useful these nautical terms are still fun.

Other nautical sayings can be extremely useful when working with a boat crew as they enable communication of tricky tasks in an easy and quick fashion, much like shouting orders.

Below is a list of some of the most common nautical phrases and sayings. Many of which are used in everyday language.

A1 - Meaning a ship or a vessel of first-class standard. Now used to refer to something that is of high quality

All above board - This means anything above the deck but it used today to mean something that is good and open.

Adrift - Something that is not tied down. For example a boat.

As the crow flies - Originates from when ships would release a crow in order to help a boat find its position. It now means the straightest and easiest distance between two points.

Bitter end - This actually means a loose line, or an anchor. Today we refer to the 'bitter end' when we want to say that we will do something until it is finished, no matter how hard it is.

Clean Slate - Where the watch keeper kept a record of the nights events. It has now come to mean starting afresh.

Fathom - A fathom is a nautical measurement. One fathom is equal to six feet. It now means trying to figure something out.

Gripe - A ship will gripe if its sail is not affixed properly. This will mean it won't be balanced properly and is therefore said to 'gripe'.. Gripe in today's terms means to moan or complain.

Keel over - A ship that has capsized.. Nowadays it can refer to someone who has died. 'He keeled over'..

Learning the ropes - Teaching a member of the crew how to hoist a sail or use the ropes on a boat. On land it means something similar. If you are to show someone the ropes you are teaching them how to do something.

Pipe down - This was a signal which meant that you needed to turn your lights off and be quiet. Often used nowadays to mean 'be quiet'.!

Rummage sale - If a ships cargo was damaged then it would be sold at a rummage sale. Rummage sales happen on land now also. Often to mean second hand items being sold, much like a car boot sale.

Square meal - This was a crews meal on a square wooden plate. Now it means a wholesome meal or a meal that is healthy.

Three sheets to the wind - Most small boats have three sheets that make up their sail. If you have three sheets flying then you don't have control of your boat. Nowadays it is reference to someone who is drunk.

Nautical sayings and phrases are used often in everyday language. A lot of the nautical sayings that were used years ago have simply gone out of fashion. They hold no meaning any more and can seem dated. However some have changed over the years but now hold new meaning. Sailing seems to almost have a language of its own!


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