When Sailors Chewed the Fat

By Stoddard, Maynard Good | The Saturday Evening Post, July/August 1996 | Go to article overview

When Sailors Chewed the Fat


Stoddard, Maynard Good, The Saturday Evening Post


A seaworthy historian traces the origins of colorful maritime expressions that have dropped anchor in our everday speech.

When A Loose Cannon Flogs A Dead Horse There's The Devil To Pay by Olivia Isil 115 pages, International Marine, $9.95

If you belong to the landlubber group, always at sea when it comes to the meaning of maritime expressions, help is on the way.

You'll find at least 250 colorful explanations in Olivia Isil's When A Loose Cannon Flogs A Dead Horse There's The Devil To Pay.

You will have no trouble recognizing the common English words and phrases of seagoing men today. But it has remained for author Isil to run them up the flagpole and salute them with her own salty elucidations.

Phrases such as "scraped from the bottom of the barrel," "they don't know the ropes," "keep a weather eye open," "barge in," or "bitter end," as well as such words as bootleg, fairway, or hijack.

Library research alone did not set the sails or raise the anchor on Isil's work. In her youth she played on the rotting deck of the U.S. Niagara, listening to old sailors' yarns. Today, she sails as a crew member aboard an authentic working replica of a late-1500s ship, the Elizabeth II, in North Carolina and serves as chief historic interpreter of the organization that runs the ship.

"My dad, a diver-dock worker during World War II, and my three sailor uncles . . . influenced my interest in the colorful language of the sea," Isil writes in the preface. "Much to my father's and uncles' delight, and my mother's extreme horror, I was the perfect mimic and repeated everything (and I do mean everything!) that came within earshot. At the age of six, I was packed off to the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the refined environment of a convent school-and probably just in the nick of time."

The author's memory has not failed her, nor has her fascination for the nautical sayings that are anchored in our contemporary English speech.

Quoting from the intro to her work, "With bearings set, and navigation charts in hand, [let us] embark on a short sail . . . through the sea of words that await.... Conditions may sometimes be foggy but, by and large, smooth sailing is in the offing."

Let's sail first into the question of why we sometimes carry a difficult struggle to its "bitter end." The answer is simple, once you understand that the anchor rope on old sailing vessels was attached to a stout oak post called a bitt. When the rope was played out, the end nearest the bitt was called the bitter end. Why, of course.

Our word bootleg comes from the practice of sailors smuggling goods ashore in the upper part of their seaboots. And all the time we had this crazy idea that the word originated from our game of football, wherein the quarterback fakes a handoff to a teammate but keeps the ball himself and runs with it.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

When Sailors Chewed the Fat
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.