Many expressions we commonly use today originate from early nautical activities. With a little research I found some interesting nautical origins for sayings we currently use. How many of these expression explanations do you know?
1) Mayday: When sailing ships from France found themselves in great peril, they repeated the words ‘m’aidez’ meaning ‘help me.’ The expression morphed into “Mayday” and is used today to broadcast a request for help, for a life threatening emergency.
2) Loose Cannon: As in, “He is a loose cannon.” A person who acts in such a manner that they can cause damage is being compared to the damage an improperly secured heavy cannon can cause onboard a ship.
3) Posh: We use the word today to refer to classy or upscale persons. Back in the days of early cruise ships and before air conditioning, wealthy passengers preferred the cooler cabins that did not face into the sun and would pay more to get them. Their tickets were marked “POSH” which stood for “Port Out, Starboard Home. There must have been a lot of requests for this in order for the word to have evolved as it has.
4) Feeling Blue: If the captain of a sailing ship died for any reason while at sea, the ship would raise a blue flag or paint a blue line on the hull when returning to its port. “Feeling blue” came to describe a sad scenario.
5) Give a Wide Berth: As in, “stay well apart from that person or thing.” Where a ship is docked or anchored is called a ‘berth.’ It is important to have a wide berth in order to leave sufficient space around the berth to maneuver or allow for wind and tide movements.
6) Eat My Hat: Early sailors stored their chewing tobacco in their hat band. When mixed with a little forehead sweat it produced tobacco juice. While they didn’t like to do it, when out of tobacco and in need of a tobacco fix they would chew on their hat band. When they were in a disagreement and thought they were in the right, they came up with the phrase “If that is true, I will eat my hat.”
You might also like: The Real Origins of Boating’s Most Common Terms (Part 1)