Thursday, November 3, 2011

Say what?

Since moving onto a boat and learning to sail, I've discovered that much of my everyday speech already contained an abundance of nautical metaphors and references.

This revelation came one day when Eric asked me to see if the "tell-tales" were flat. I responded with, "Huh?" He then pointed at two little pieces of fabric attached to the mainsail, and explained that when these pieces of fabric are flush against the sail, you know the sail is in the correct position. My response was, "Ah... a tell-tale sign."

Circled are our forward sail's 3 sets of tell-tales

I began thinking about other things I say--particularly in a professional setting--and realized that maritime terms abound within business jargon. For instance, I describe an organization's leader as "being at the helm," although I sometimes question who is "steering the ship."

I describe uncertainty as venturing into "uncharted waters," which requires "learning the ropes" before experiencing "smooth sailing." A situation with no positive outcome is, of course, a "sinking ship," which might cause some to "jump ship" or "abandon ship" because they fear being "dead in the water."

Resolving problems requires getting your "bearings" before selecting a "heading" and "charting a new course." When garnering the support of others, I say I'm getting them "on-board." When there is a time-crunch, I call for "all hands on deck," and I can't count the number of times I've used some form of "we're all in the same boat," or "you're either on the boat, or you're off it."

When I reach out to someone who is struggling, I say I'm "throwing them a line." I think of level-headed individuals, who keep a team grounded, as "anchors." Reliable people are "beacons," while others shock me by "showing their true colors."

Work isn't the only place I find myself using these common nautical terms and phrases. My speech is riddled with them! Here are just some of the many seafaring words, phrases, and idioms that have worked their way into my vernacular over the years (yours, too, probably):

Allow for leeway
Anchors aweigh
Bail out
Batten down the hatches
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
Bitter end
Bristol condition
By and large
Clean bill of health
Close quarters
Coast is clear
Copper-bottomed investment
Dead ahead
Down the hatch
Edging forward/edgewise
First Rate
Fly by night
Go by the board
Hand over fist
Hard and fast
High and dry
Jury rig
Laid up
Loose cannon
Making headway
Missed the boat
Pipe down
Rock the boat
Rummage sale
Shake a leg
Slush fund
Son of a gun
Squared away
Take down a peg
Taken aback
Taking the wind out of his/her sails
Three sheets to the wind
Turning a blind eye
Under the weather
Under way
Walk the plank
When my ship comes in

While working on this post, I came across one nautical saying that I had never heard before (although its true meaning did not likely originate at sea). It is crude, mildly off-putting, potentially offensive, and yet, upon reading it, I felt regret that this charming visual wasn't part of my vocabulary during any one of the many years I spent living in freezing cold climates. Although I may not have many opportunities to use this phrase moving forward in life, I hope that at least one of our cold-climate readers will forgo the ever popular "Gosh, the morning winter air is so crisp," and instead opt for this poetic description:

"It is cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!"

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