Etymology lesson #2

Or how so many phrases from the English language find their anchors in Sailing English

“The Bitter End”

Sailing            : The end of the anchor line secured to a sturdy post on the deck called a ‘bitt’. The line was paid out in order to set the anchor. However, if the water was deeper than anticipated the rope would pay out to the bitter end. The “bitter end” of any line is the loose, unsecured end.

English           : “To the bitter end” is used to say that one will continue doing something until it is finished, no matter what.

“Black Book”

Sailing            : From the 1300’s – a collection of maritime laws and conduct that became known as the Black Book of the Admiralty. The punishments for offenses was harsh, to say the least. Drowning, starvation, and marooning were punishments for serious offenses such as repeatedly sleeping on watch.

English           : As used today, if you’re listed in someone’s black book, you have offended them in some way. Luckily for you, physical punishments no longer apply.

“Dressing Down”

Sailing            : Thin and worn sails were often treated with oil or wax to renew their effectiveness. This was called “dressing down”.

English           : Reprimand or scolding


Sailing            : Possibly from the Dutch ‘krengd’, a crank was an unstable sailing vessel. Due to a faulty design, the imbalance of her cargo, or a lack of ballast, a crank would heel too far to the wind.

English           : Has come to mean irritable.

“Rock and Roll”

Sailing            : Motion of a ship on the seas. Possibly a reference to sexual congress.  19th century black slang.

English           : Dance / musical genre.


Sailing            : A rush of wind from the high land.  A sudden unexpected rush of wind from a mountainous shore which allowed a ship more leeway.

English           : A stroke of good luck.

India Boating, May ’07


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