Talk Like A Sailor

Have you ever been told to "pipe down"? Frustrating, I know. Perhaps in addition to being frustrated, you were also confused. What does the common idiom actually mean? There are endless phrases just like this one that hold so much mysterious meaning that most of us don’t even consider. And many of them actually stem from nautical culture. Here are a few of my favorites:

Above board refers to everything above deck and in full view. If it’s above board, it’s straightforward and honest. 

You receive a clean bill of health if your crew is healthy and no contagious diseases will follow the sailors from the boat to the shore. 

When a ship is in battle they would deliver a broadside by firing all weapons simultaneously on one side of the ship. 

Dutch sailors were rumored to be cowards in the 1600s when it came to war, but would gain their Dutch courage after a schnapps or two, or—let’s be real—the whole bottle.

I’ve been described as being even keeled which I take as a compliment because, like a boat that floats upright and sails forward, it means I’m calm and steady. 

Sailors have not always been known as the most savory characters. When leaving port with a ship full of goods, the Captain was given a Bill of Landing detailing the goods onboard. The receiving port would check the goods coming off the ship and if they matched the list it would fit the bill.

High and dry describes a boat that’s beached. 

If you know the ropes chances are you know how to work the sails on a tall ship. 

Perhaps, you're on a tall ship and you don’t know your ropes. You’re like a boat sitting upright with no wind to make you move, you’re listless.

I’ve never heard anyone with no room to swing a cat but, then again, I’ve never crowded around a disobedient sailor about to receive a flogging. I have been told to pipe down and keep quiet after the final blow horn on the ship goes off to say “silence.”

Surprisingly, the title of son of a gun was given to children born on board the ship. For whatever reason, a convenient, but surely uncomfortable, place for labor to occur was between the canons on board. 

While in battle, a ship captain would turn a blind eye to a ship that signaled for the battle to end.

1 comment

So what about Pipe Down??
Do love the sailing content etc you have been posting On Point (if people still say that)

Kris March 20, 2020

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