My take on some nautical terms

As the crow flies:. The most direct route from one place to another without detours.  Before modern navigational systems existed, British vessels customarily carried a cage of crows. These birds fly straight to the nearest land when released at sea thus indicating the direction of the nearest land was.  I often wonder why crows?  What about gulls?  Sea Sparrows?  Do they not go in the right direction?

Abreast:  Meaning along side the beam of a ship. Now a common expression, “keeping abreast of a situation” means staying in touch with or keeping up with. Of course a real man is two abreast to notice anything else.


  • Bamboozle: From the 17th century, it described the Spanish custom of hoisting false flags to deceive (bamboozle) enemies. Today if one intentionally deceives someone, they are said to have bamboozled them. I know some women who will display a false flag and hoodwink a guy with their overt structures

    Bite the bullet:  To bravely face up to something unpleasant, one is said to “bite the bullet”. This originated from the practice of giving sailors and soldiers a bullet to bite during amputations or other surgery before the use of anesthetics. I do wonder if the pressure of ones teeth could cause a bullet to explode thus blowing away the lower jaw in a spray of flesh.

  • Blood Money: Originally known as bounty money, it was the financial reward for sinking an enemy ship. Today blood money refers to money paid by a killer as compensation to the next of kin of a murder victim or money gained at the cost of another’s life or livelihood.  Another meaning is working oneself to death for the man and thus giving blood to the job at hand.

  • Chew (chewing) the fat: Sailors used to talk and complain about the poor food while eating their salt pork.  Chew the fat meant to talk socially without exchanging very much information. Alternately, in the days when brine was added to barrels of meat, it had a hardening effect on the fat. It was still edible but it took considerable chewing. So, to “chew the fat” has come to mean to talk endlessly. Something old married people do.  The longer one is married the less talk is necessary.  Just a look tells the story.  My wife has the look and I know that I am in trouble about something.
  • Doesn’t have both oars in the water:  This is an expression used to describe someone that is thought to be slow or crazy, or just not all there.  I sometimes do not have even one oar in the water.
  • Feeling Blue: Today ‘feeling blue’ means being sad or depressed.  It comes from a custom that was practiced when a ship lost its captain during a voyage.  The ship would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along her hull when she returned to port. Did not know this one.  I wonder in today’s world if the ship captain was a woman if the expression would feeling pink would apply and mean you lost the woman captain.



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