All hands on deck. Now, okay,
I’m starting with a clean
slate. I want to be completely above board about
this. I have no intention of barging in only to
bamboozle you with mere scuttlebutt. I hereby
proclaim that I will avoid clichés even if I am
under the weather.
It’s too easy to write with
clichés. Any writer who knows her ropes and is
worth her salt should shape up.
Am I passing with flying
colors? No? I guess I’d better mind my P’s and
Q’s or there will be devil to pay.
How many clichés did you
count? If you counted 14, you’re A1 in my book.
Oops. Make that 15.
Here’s the interesting part:
these clichés and a bunch more all came from the
world of boating. Many I learned at a terrific
website called shipsandcruises.com and others from
an article freelance writer Chris Caswell wrote in
a magazine article in 1997.
Here’s what I learned.
A1. In Lloyd’s Register “A1”
was the mark of a first class wooden ship.
Above Board: Pirates would
hide crew members below decks to fool victims.
When all the crewmen were on the deck then --
seeing is believing – the vessel was more likely
to be an honest merchant ship.
All hands on deck: Nowadays
we gather to discuss some task. Sailors did the
same thing, but met on the deck.
Bamboozle: This was the word
used to describe the deceit of pirates who flew an
ensign of national origin other than their own.
Barge in: Most believe this
term, used today to describe a tactless appearance
or interruption, came about because barges are
hard to maneuver.
Clean slate: Daily logs were
kept on a slab of slate. Each new watch officer
would erase the previous entries.
Devil to pay: The “devil”
seam which ran along the hull at the deck level,
was the most difficult to caulk. To “pay” meant to
caulk. Voilá. The sailor had to hang off the deck
to caulk the seam and was said to be “between the
devil and the deep blue sea.”
Knows the ropes: It took an
experienced seaman to know the function of all the
ropes on a sailing vessel.
Mind your P’s and Q’s: Short
for pints and quarts of ale. Tavern keepers would
keep careful track (mind) the tab, especially, of
sailors who were about to ship out.
Passed with flying colors:
Refers to a sailing ship that distinguished itself
by flying all of its pennants and flags (called
“colors”) when passing other vessels.
Pipe down. Helmsmen told the
crew members on deck that they could “pipe down,”
meaning their chores were done and they could
return to their quarters below decks.
Scuttlebutt: To discourage
idle chit-chat at the ship’s water barrel, the
drinking ladle had little holes in it so the water
would leak if the sailor didn’t drink it up fast.
The holes were called scuttles.
Shape up: This was the term
helmsmen used to refer to getting back on course
to avoid danger.
Under the weather: The sailor
who had to stand watch on the bow taking all the
pounding and spray was said to be “under the
Worth their salt: Salt
actually was also used to pay Roman sailors. So
any sailor “worth his salt” was worth what he was
Clichés, they say, are to be
avoided like the plague. But, my, they do come in
handy, don’t they?