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

Overbearing - To sail downwind directly at another ship thus "stealing" or diverting the wind from his sails.

Overhaul - To prevent the buntline ropes from chaffing the sails, crew were sent aloft to haul them over the sails. This was called overhauling.

Overreach - If a ship holds a tack course too long, it has overreached its turning point and the distance it must travel to reach it's next tack point is increased.

On the Fiddle - As mentioned in the text of "Square plate", fiddles were the raised edges on a naval issue square plate. These were there not only to stop food items such as peas falling off the plate but also to set the limit of food for each sailor. In the event a sailor was found to have so much food on his square plate that it touched or lay on one of the 'fiddles', he was accused of 'fiddling' or taking something not rightfully his. I.e. the next mans share of food. In the Navy "Fiddling" was an offence punishable by flogging. Although not confirmed, I am led to believe that the maximum sentence for fiddling was twelve lashes of the cat.

Opportunity - Even this term has a nautical origin. In the days of sail, ships depended upon the incoming, or flood tide, to take them into port. If they arrived early or late, then they had to stand off outside of the harbor's entrance to wait for the right time. The ancient Romans referred to this as "Ob Portu", which literally translated as, 'standing off port, waiting for the moment.' It has evolved into English as the word, 'opportunity', meaning, 'the right moment'

On an even keel - when everything is smooth and problems-free The keel is the central girder of the ship and hence, even keel suggests balanced ship.

Over the Barrel - The most common method of punishment aboard ship was flogging. The unfortunate sailor was tied to a grating, mast or over the barrel of a deck cannon.

Off and On - Oh, you know, off and on. Old naval expression meaning occasionally. The expression originally denoted keeping close to the shore by sailing off and on it.

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