Etymology lesson #3

Phrases from the English language that find their anchors in ‘Sailing’ English

“In the Doldrums”

Sailing            : Between the trade winds of the northern and southern hemisphere lies an area of calm winds, close to the equator, called the Doldrums. Since sailing vessels relied upon the wind, a trip through the Doldrums was often long, hot and boring.

English           : Emotionally down.

“Shanghai or Shanghaied”

Sailing            : To join a ship lacking a full crew by drugging them, or using other underhanded means.  Perhaps first attempted in the city of Shanghai, China.

English           : Coerce or trick into a place or position, or into doing something.

“Field Day”

Sailing            : Day for cleaning up all parts of a ship. Alternate. As of the year 1747, meant a day of military exercise and review. The figurative sense of the phrase appeared mid 19th century.

English           : An opportunity for action, success, or excitement, especially at the expense of others.

“Loose Cannon”

Sailing            : A cannon having come loose on the deck of a pitching, rolling, and yawing deck could cause severe injury and damage.

English           : An unpredictable or uncontrolled person who is likely to cause unintentional damage. E.g. George W Bush.

“Crossing the Line”

Sailing            : A ceremony performed onboard when passengers and/or crew cross the equator for the first time. It’s a special initiation ceremony in which King Neptune and various other mythological characters participate. Owes its origins to ancient pagan rites.

English           : Going too far.

A ‘Certificate’ All Sailors Wanted

Sailors treasure the certificate which testifies that: In Latitude 00°-00’ and Longitude xx°-xx’, and usually addressed to all Mermaids, Sea Serpents, Whales, Sharks, Porpoises, Dolphins, Skates, Eels, Suckers, Lobsters, Crabs, Pollywogs and other living things of the sea, (Sailors Name) has been found worthy to be numbered as one of our trust shellback, has been gathered to our fold and duly initiated into the solemn mysteries of  The Ancient Order of the Deep.


Sailing            : Garbling was the prohibited practice of mixing rubbish with the cargo. E.g. All the Chinese made products that have flooded the market.

English           : A distorted, mixed up message was said to be garbled.

India Boating, July ’07


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