Ahoy and Fathom This

Our Ancestors Left The Sea, But Not the Language . . .

So many of our ancestors were seafaring people that our language is literally filled with their nautical terms.

Yeah, and while they’re of ancient origin, people like us, who don’t know port from starboard, not only understand their meaning, but use them in our everyday conversation without giving a thought to their origin.

For example: each of us has more than once said, that someone ‘really knows the ropes’. Now, a man on a long ago sailing ship had to ‘know the ropes’ in order to survive. Today, of course, it means anyone who is equal to coping with some complicated situation.

And in the same way, a person who enters a room awkwardly, noisily and heavily, is said to come ‘barging in’.  A real barge, you see, is hard to handle and moves around the harbor in a most disruptive manner. Just barging around, you see.

We also know what’s meant when we’re told that a person if ‘off the beam’. Its origin goes back to when a ship was stricken by storm and careened so far that the deck beams were almost vertical. And it’s not a safe thing for man or vessel to be that far ‘off the beam’.

And on it goes. In the sailing days, ships were often, for some reason, at sea far longer than planned, and when that happened, provisions would run low and the cook struggled to feed the crew. He literally had to ‘scrape the bottom of the flour barrel’ to make his bread. So, to this day, when one is having a hard time making ends meet, we say they’re ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel’.

It’s also common usage, when confronted by someone who likes to blow and brag too much, for us to say they’d like to knock the ‘wind from his sails’, meaning to put an immediate stop to the huffing and puffing. Which is exactly what happened to a ship when the wind ceased to blow. The wind went out of the sails.

And then, when one is taking a lot of unnecessary chances, someone else is sure to warn that if he isn’t careful, he may ‘end up on the rocks’. Which is what vessels once did if they didn’t carry sufficient ballast to keep them ‘anchored’ in the water. They might sail into the shallows and literally ‘end up on the rocks’.

My Dad used to say, when a storm was coming that he had the animals ‘all snugged down’ with enough food and water to take care of them for a day or two if necessay. That term is exactly what is/was used aboard ships when a storm was/is approaching and the crew lashes down loose gear and close all the hatches. ‘All snugged down’.

Fishermen usually go to sea before the dawn and return late at night. So they took a good lunch with them which included hot tea or coffee, and it was nautically called a ‘mug-up’.

Our ancestors left the sea but carried the words with them, and today, it isn’t unusual to be invited out for a ‘mug-up’. And even if no liquid is served, it’s still a ‘mug-up”, and I love it.

Here in this area we have such a varied vocabulary because our ancestors came from so many different countries and also that LDS missionaries travel to so many far-off places and bring new words and phrases back with them. And we like and use them.

Our forefathers were probably like the old sailor, disenchanted with the sea, who swore he was going to put his oars over his shoulders and keep going inland until someone had to ask him what they were. And then and only then would he stop to make a home. Well, that’s what many of our ancestors did, but at that time, they didn’t bring their oars. but their colorful language with them.

You probably have your favorites, kept alive from generation to generation, and we are collecting more as we go along. No? Well, how about Ciao? Adios? Aloha? Pizza? Tortilla? French bread? Viola? And a hundred more coming on line each and every day. Skole!

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