Salty Language

salty language

The historical significance of the sea is easy to see when we look at our language.

My husband has a whole range of salty language that he occasionally lets rip. But thats not quite what I mean. Neither are the expressions that most yotties use to bamboozle us all such as

  • beswoggle the gunnels
  • chivvy the ballast
  • splice the aftnotch


Common Terms and Meanings

My  guess is you don’t realise how many  phrases you use during everyday speech are actually nautical terms.
This is my example
“I was at loose ends the other day. So I read War and Peace through to the bitter end. I would give this book a wide berth though, I found it too posh for me. but the story line is above board. I don’t keep a copy in the boat as there is not enough room to swing a cat.”
(took me hours to construct that paragraph)

The Translation

  • Loose Ends: Today we use loose ends to refer to someone who has spare time and does not know what to do with it. The term comes from  having the ship’s crew members repair and splice the ship’s ropes when they didn’t have something else to do. The crew member is said to be at loose ends.
  • Bitter End: The last part of a rope or final link of chain. We use the term today to describe a final conclusion.
  • POSH: Today this word  means superior or fashionable and expensive. Actually, its an acronym. Port Out Starboard Home. In the 1800’s, sailing from the UK to colonial India the sun would rise in the east (Starboard side) and set in the west (on the port side) The trunks of wealthy passengers would have the label POSH on their luggage. It indicated that they had paid more for shaded cabins to avoid the sun.
  • Above board:  Pirates would often hide much of the crew below the deck. Ships that display crew openly on the deck are thought to be honest  ships and therefore “above board”.
  • No room to swing a cat: Refers to the whipping punishment using the cat o’ nine tails. All members of crew would be  called on deck to witness the act. The deck could be so crowded that the cat was difficult to use without hitting other crew members.  In other words, there is “no room to swing a cat.” Today the expression is used to indicate crowded or packed surroundings.

A few more examples

  • Feeling Blue:  Stems from the event of losing a captain at sea; when arriving back in port, ships would fly a blue flag and the ship’s hull wore a blue band. Today often used to indicate feeling sad
  • Slush Fund:  We use this today to indicate  money  kept aside for illegal or illicit purposes. During the 1700s, slush was the leftover fat  that remained after the ship’s chef had brewed salt beef for the crew’s dinner. This fat was kept and sold when the ship returned to port. The money from the sale was referred to as the slush fund . It was used to buy special items for the crew.
  • Pipe Down: Today, we scream at people to pipe down when they are making too much noise.  Pipe down was  the last signal from the senior deckhand’s pipe at the end of the day. This signalled to the  sailors that it was time for lights out, silence and everyone to head to bed.
  • A Clean Bill of Health: First came about during the 1700s when sailboats and ships were less than hygienic. Boats needed to carry a certificate stating whether or not any infectious diseases were present among the ship’s crew.
  • Toe the Line: Today, we use this term to refer to accepting and obeying  authority. It first emerged  as a phrase used on ships when a captain called the crew to gather in a straight line with their toes meeting the edge of one of the planks of the deck.  Thus, toeing the official line was born.
  • Hunky Dory: Legend says that ‘Hunky Dory’, which now means that everything is good and well, originates from a street named Honcho Dori (also spelled Huncho Dori) in Yokohama, Japan. US sailors on shore leave in Yokohama would spend their spare time enjoying the street’s bars and female company, basically having a good time.

so…….In my best business nautical gobbledygook

Baton down the hatches, we have to run a tight ship but sometimes you need to send a shot across the bows and make sure to watch out for those loose cannons.