Tag Archives: nautical
gongoozler

gongoozler

    MEANING   a person who stares protractedly at anything     ORIGIN   This noun originally denoted, in the canal people’s slang, an idler who stares at length at activity on a canal. Although it probably dates back to the 19th century, it is first recorded in Glossary of Canal Terms, in Bradshaw’s Canals […]

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Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.

    MEANING   Don’t risk the failure of a large project by trying to economise on trivial things.     ORIGIN   Ship is a dialectal pronunciation of sheep, and this proverb was originally to lose the sheep (often the hog) for a halfpennyworth of tar, that is to say, for want of spending […]

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one over the eight

    I suppose it wasn’t often that the boys of Market Snodsbury Grammar School came across a man public-spirited enough to call their head master a silly ass, and they showed their appreciation in no uncertain manner. Gussie may have been one over the eight, but as far as the majority of those present […]

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Bombay duck

Bombay duck

  Drying Bombay duck – photograph: Madhav Pai       MEANING   a small elongated fish of southern Asian coasts which is dried and used as food     ORIGIN   The first element is an alteration, by association with Bombay (until 1995, the name for Mumbai, in India), of bummalo, which has also […]

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companion

companion

  photograph: David Levene for the Guardian       In the sense of a person one chooses to socialise or associate with, this noun dates back to the early 14th century. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old and Middle French forms such as compaignun and compaignon (Modern French compagnon), derived from Late Latin companio/companion-, attested […]

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fletcher

fletcher

  The Mutineers turning LIEUᵀ BLIGH and part of the OFFICERS and CREW adrift from His MAJESTY’s Ship the Bounty, by Robert Dodd (1748-1815)       The noun fletcher denotes a person who makes and sells arrows. It also formerly designated an archer. It is from Old French flechier, flecher, of same meanings, derived […]

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between the devil and the deep blue sea

between the devil and the deep blue sea

  contemporary etching of troop disposition at the beginning of the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631)       MEANING   in a difficult situation where there are two equally unpleasant choices     ORIGIN   The reference to the sea suggests a nautical origin. The use by sailors of devil as a name for a […]

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the devil to pay

the devil to pay

  portrait, said to be of Stella (Esther Johnson) image: Crawford Art Gallery – Cork, Éire         MEANING   serious trouble to be dealt with     ORIGIN   This expression refers to a person making a pact or bargain with the Devil: the heavy price has to be paid in the […]

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kamikaze

kamikaze

  Mongols’ Invasion (Mooko shuurai - 1847), by Kikuchi Yoosai (1781-1878) image: Wikimedia Commons       Shinto (the way of the gods, from Chinese shên, gods, and tao, way) is the native Japanese religion dating from the early 8th century and incorporating the worship of ancestors and nature spirits and a belief in sacred power (kami) in […]

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holy-stone

holy-stone

  In nautical slang, a holy-stone was a piece of sandstone used by sailors for scouring the decks of ships. The terms bible and prayer-book were also used, as Admiral William Henry Smyth indicated in The Sailor’s Word-Book: an alphabetical digest of nautical terms (1867): – Bible. A hand-axe. Also, a squared piece of freestone to […]

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