Sunday, 27 October 2013

Nautical Idioms

This is my last post about words, names and phrases that come from the sea and I am going to look at some idioms that have a nautical theme.

There are a number of idioms that come from nautical origins such as ‘all at sea’, ‘being on one’s beams’, ‘showing one’s true colours’…the list goes on. But to look at three in particular:

‘To be left high and dry’ goes back to 1805 and the Battle of Trafalgar when it was used to indicate when a ship was stranded or grounded on the lowering tide and therefore had no means of being moved.

‘Turning the corner’ may also come from nautical beginnings as there are two corners – Cape Hope (South Africa) and Cape Horn (South America). It was (and still is) well-known that the sea around both Capes can be dangerous, rough, and very difficult to navigate. But once sailors had passed the Capes successfully, they would have ‘turned the corner’ because the sea would be calmer and they could look forward to a much smoother journey ahead. That was the theory anyway.

Finally, to ‘learn the ropes’ links back to when sailors would learn how to operate the speed and direction of ships from the complicated system of ropes that would control the huge sails.

So a whole variety of idioms in English which originate from the sea.

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