extract from the book "Now You know" Ships & Sailing

Thought I might share these with you. There taken from the above book i have called "Now You Know" a great book of answers to the origin of sayings and such like.

Why does “jury-rigged†mean a temporary repair with whatever
is at hand?

In the seventeenth century, when a ship’s mast was damaged at sea, a
“jury mast†was rigged to hold the sail until the replacement could be
found. Because this was a critical situation the repairs had to be done
within a day, or in French un jour, which in this case is the origin of
jury. Something jury-rigged is a temporary repair and has nothing to do
with “jerry-built,†which means permanent bad work.

Why would you give a “swashbuckler†or a bully a “wide

Swashbuckler, a word we use for a pirate, was created from the archaic
words swash, meaning “to make noise by striking,†and buckler, meaning
“shield.†A swaggering brute yelling and banging his sword on his shield
was called a swashbuckler. These bullies were given a “wide berth,â€
which in nautical lingo means to anchor or berth a ship a safe distance
away from another that might cause trouble.

Why do we say that someone is “on the spot†when they’re
facing big trouble?

To be “on the spot†means you’re in serious difficulty, and it comes from
the pirates of the Caribbean. The “spot†is the ace of spades, a card that
pirates ceremoniously showed to a condemned person indicating that
he was about to be executed as a traitor. To be put on the spot has
become much less dire, and instead of being a signal that you’re being
put to death, it has evolved into meaning, “Explain yourself or you’re
out of here.â€

Why do we say that someone arrogant needs to be “taken
down a peg�

A ship’s colours are raised or lowered to signal the ship’s status. “All
flags flying†signals great pride, but flags could also indicate degrees
between failure and conquest. These flags were once held in place by a
system of pegs, so lowering them was done by taking down a peg. This
was a shame to the ship and its crew and gave us the expression for
humiliation: to be taken down a peg.

What’s the origin of the expression “son of a gun�

Early in the eighteenth century, wives and girlfriends (as well as the
occasional prostitute) were allowed to go to sea with the sailors during
long voyages. When one of them became pregnant and was about to
give birth at sea, a canvas curtain was placed near the midship gun
where the birth would take place. If the newborn’s father was in doubt,
and it often was, the birth was registered in the log as the “son of a gun.â€

How did “spick and span†come to mean very clean?

Today, Spick and Span is a trade name for a well-known cleanser, but the
expression began in the fourteenth century as the nautical term “spick
and span new,†to describe a freshly built or refurbished ship. A spick was
a spike, while span was a Viking reference to new wood, but also means
any distance between two extremities (such as the bow and stern of a
ship). The wooden ship was so clean that even the spikes looked new.

Why does “chewing the fat†mean gossip or casual conversation?

During the twentieth century, “chewing the fat†came to mean passing
time with informal small talk. The phrase originated with the grumbling
of nineteenth-century British sailors whose lean diet was often
nothing more than the fat from barrels of salt pork. Their whining while
chewing the tough meat would expand to include complaints about
every other hardship at sea and became known as “chewing the fat.â€

Why do we say that someone who has overcome an obstacle
with ease has passed with “flying colours�

Since the eighteenth century, ships of the navy have used flags to communicate their status or well-being. The most prominent flag, of
course, is that of the ship’s country, but there are dozens of other banners,
which are called “colours.†The most elaborate use of this bunting
is after a victory at sea, when a triumphant ship returns to its home port
with a proud and full display of flying colours.

Why do we describe something approximate as “by and

In early sailing jargon, by was “by the wind,†and when a helmsman was
ordered to fill the sails he was told to steer “full and by.†This required
great skill and was called steering small. A less experienced helmsman
might have been told to steer large with the order “by and large,â€
which meant use the wind but don’t fill the sails. This is how “by and
large†came to mean not quite true, but close enough.

If you’re short of cash why might you ask for a loan to “tide
you over�

If you ask for money to tide you over, you are using a nautical term to
reassure the lender that repayment is inevitable. When a boat or ship
wants to enter a river from the ocean at low tide, its way will be
blocked by the accumulation of mud or sand that has been swept
downstream and collected at the mouth of the river. When the predictable
tide rises and the obstacle is “tided over†the boat, like a borrower,
can continue its progress.

Why do we say that something lost has “gone by the board�

During the time of wooden ships, sailors often referred to their sailing
vessel as “the Boards.†We still use their language when we board a ship
or are on board as part of a crew. Outboard is outside the boat, while
inboard is inside. When a sailing ship’s mast was broken by enemy cannon
or in a storm and couldn’t be salvaged, the captain would order the
ropes holding it to be cut, letting it drift away or “go by the board.â€

Why is a severe labour dispute called a “strike�

Conditions on board commercial sailing ships were miserable. On long
voyages, food and water went bad and hygienic conditions were lower
than for animals in a stable. If they suspected that a ship was poorly prepared,
it wasn’t uncommon for the crew to strike the main sail, making it
impossible to go to sea until conditions improved. This gave us the word
strike to describe any extreme action by labour against management.

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