KNOW THE ROPES

Have you enjoyed all our nautical and beach terms? Here are the origins of some of the more obscure references, from Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey, and Have a Nice Day – No Problem! A Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer.

Breath of fresh air: Refreshing and new. A mid-19th century compliment previously expressed as “a breath of heaven” or “a breath of spring”.

Clear the 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.

Get your 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.

Go overboard: To go to extremes, especially in favor of someone; comes from the extreme act of jumping off a ship (probably to save a drowning person).

Happy as 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.

Hook, line 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 swim.”

Know the 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.

Pearls of 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.

Shipshape: 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.

World is 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.


Stuff We Do - Cool Ideas - Our Clients - The Team - Nice Words - Contact Us - Nautilus Home