fresh air: Refreshing and new. A mid-19th century compliment previously
expressed as “a breath of heaven” or “a breath
decks: Removing or tying down all objects on the upper decks,
usually in preparation for battle or a storm.
Cut of his
jib: A first impression. The cut of a jib sail could sometimes
be used to determine the nationality of an approaching ship.
feet wet: To venture into new territory; comes from the notion
of a timid swimmer who is wary of getting into the water at all.
To go to extremes, especially in favor of someone; comes from
the extreme act of jumping off a ship (probably to save a drowning
a clam: To be delighted in one’s lot. Originally “happy
as a clam at high tide,” because clam digging is only done
at low tide, so during high tide a clam would supposedly be carefree.
and sinker: Completely, totally, all of it. Originally “swallow
hook, line, and sinker,” referring to a gullible fish that
takes the bait so completely, it swallows the fishing hook, line
and sinker, as well.
In the swim:
Actively engaged, in the thick of things. A fishing term, where
a large number of fish in one location is sometimes called “a
ropes: Knowledge that differentiates an old hand from a beginner.
The rigging of a large ship could have ten miles of cordage, so
knowing what ropes were for each task was critical.
wisdom: Good advice from a sage source. May have originated from
the New Testament (Matthew 13:45-46), in which the kingdom of
heaven is described as a “pearl of great price.”
Rain or shine:
No matter what happens. Implies that an activity will be carried
out, no matter what the circumstances.
In tip top order, neat and tidy. The original phrase was “In
shipshape and Bristol fashion,” as the Port of Bristol,
England, was known to be the best regulated and well-organized.
Stem to stern:
From beginning to end, from one end to the other. The stem is
an upright at the front of a boat, and the stern is the back end.
your oyster: Everything is going extremely well. Alludes to the
world being full of opportunities for extracting profit; originated
in William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.