sailing terms

Did you know how many phrases and words that we use in everyday English have their roots in nautical teminology? Here is a selection of them but if you know of any more, then email

Eight Bells - Aboard Navy ships, bells are struck to designate the hours of being on watch. Each watch is four hours in length. One bell is struck after the first half-hour has passed, two bells after one hour has passed, three bells after an hour and a half, four bells after two hours, and so forth up to eight bells are struck at the completion of the four hours. Completing a watch with no incidents to report was "Eight bells and all is well." The practice of using bells stems from the days of the sailing ships. Sailors couldn't afford to have their own time pieces and relied on the ship's bells to tell time. The ship's boy kept time by using a half-hour glass. Each time the sand ran out, he would turn the glass over and ring the appropriate number of bells.

Ensign - The name given the Navy's junior-most officers dates back to medieval times. Lords honored their squires by allowing them to carry the ensign (banner) into battle. Later, these squires became known by the name of the banner itself. In the U.S. Army, the lowest ranking officer was originally called "ensign" because he, like the squire of old, would one day lead the troops into battle and was trained to that end. It is still the lowest commissioned rank in the British Army today. When the U.S. navy was established, the Americans carried on the tradition and adopted the rank of ensign as the title for its junior commissioned officer.

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