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15 Nautical Words And Terms Used In Everyday Speech
bulls-eye
[boolz-ahy]
Conventional usage means you're right on target. You hit dead center, you nailed it. It also refers to the center of a target. It does have a nautical meaning, though! "An oval or circular wooden block having a groove around it and a hole in the center, through which to reeve a rope." And no, that's not a typo. Reeve is a thing. Would we lie to you?
gaff
[gaf]
A homophone here, folks. Two words with the same sound but different meanings/spellings. On the boat, a gaff is "a spar rising aft from a mast to support the head of a quadrilateral fore-and-aft sail." On the land, Dictionary.com notes if you commit a gaffe, that is a "social faux pas, a blunder." A good gaffe would be "He showed up for his wedding without wearing any pants."
high-and-dry
[hahy]
Used on land, if you leave someone high and dry, you're basically leaving them with no way out; they're stuck, which is exactly what our definition says down at point 42, under idioms. "In a deprived or distressing situation; deserted; stranded: 'We missed the last bus and were left high and dry.'" In nautical parlance, this term basically refers to a beached boat. It's run aground and it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Think "Minnow" from Gilligan's Island.
groggy
[grog-ee]
Are you feeling groggy? We'd usually associate that term with someone that's not fully awake. Our definition is "sluggish and lethargic." You just need some coffee to get going. "He just woke up and still feels groggy" would be acceptable usage. The term is derived from the sea. Well, kinda sorta. Here's the story, as reported by The Phrase Finder. "Groggy" is derived from the word grog, which is an alcoholic drink. Arrrrr. Feel free to start talkin' like a pirate at this point, matey. So why is it called "grog?" It seems that a fellow named Admiral Edward Vernon was an officer in the British Royal Navy way back when. He fancied wearing grogram jackets to keep warm. We define that as a coarse fabric, and we also feel compelled to report that it came from the word grosgrain, or "course-grained." He also liked to water down his crew's rum ration, so it wouldn't be quite as potent. The crew didn't much care for that, so they called him "Old Grog" and that's what they also called his weak beverage. The crew knew what they were talking about—at one point their daily drink ration was a gallon of beer.
loose-cannon
If you're a loose cannon, you're rather reckless and unpredictable, and you fit our definition perfectly. Back in the day, though, the term literally referred to loose cannons on the deck of sailing ships. These massive guns had rollers on the bottom and were anchored by ropes, and if they came loose in the course of battle, well, there you go.
jib
[jib]
If you admire the cut of one's jib, you're basically saying you admire their appearance, their demeanor, their overall presence. It feels very Brooks Brothers, very masculine. You just wouldn't use this to describe a female in present-day. Dictionary.com says the nautical term means "any of various triangular sails set forward of a forestaysail or fore-topmast staysail."
three-sheets-to-the-wind
[sheet]
The contemporary meaning is that you're drunk. This kind of relates to grog. Phrase Finder says "sailors at that time (1870s) had a sliding scale of drunkenness; three sheets was the falling over stage; tipsy was just 'one sheet in the wind,' or 'a sheet in the wind's eye.'" The term is also derived from the the current nautical word sheet. Dictionary.com says a sheet is a "rope or chain for extending the clews of a square sail along a yard, a rope for trimming a fore-and-aft sail, or a rope or chain for extending the lee clew of a course."
hard-and-fast
[hahrd-n-fast, -fahst]
As in a hard and fast rule. There's no getting around it. We note that this term was originally applied to a vessel that has come out of water, either by running aground or being put in dry dock, and is therefore unable to move. This term is similiar to high and dry.
shake-a-leg
[leg]
We cite this term as one that means to hurry up, let's get moving. Phrase Finder (we like the cut of their jib at this point) points to a Royal Navy origination for this term. Sailors that were in their hammocks better get moving. Another meaning refers to the fact that women were allowed on board Royal Navy vessels in the 19th century, and they were allowed to stay in bed after the sailors got up. So they were told to shake a leg to distinguish themselves from the rest of their, er, bunk mates.
clean-bill-of-health
This is what you want after you go to the doctor for a checkup, and that's how we use it in everyday use. On the water, it refers to "a certificate signed by a port authority attesting that no contagious disease existed in the port of departure and none of crew were infected with a disease at the time of sailing," according to the website Dear Surprise.
filibuster
[fil-uh-buhs-ter]
You hear this term on the television news. We define it as some politician trying to delay passage of a bill by making an hours-long speech. But the term has its origination far from the floors of the House or Senate. It seems that olde-tyme buccaneers (there's your ARRRRR again) were sometimes known as filibusters in England.
poop
[poop]
Now, stop snickering, there's a real meaning here. In everyday usage, it means you're tired, as in "I'm pooped." Where in the nautical world does this come from? Glad you asked, sailor. First of all, you've got poop. Our definition of the nautical context says it's "a superstructure at the stern of a vessel." And what do you have when you are there? Why, a poop deck, of course. Dictionary.com says that is "a weather deck on top of a poop." Now that we've established this, we turn to The Dear Surprise to put a bow on top of this." If a ship were unlucky enough to be overtaken by a massive, breaking sea which drenched her from astern, she was said to have been “pooped.”
slush-fund
We call slush fund "a sum of money used for illicit or corrupt political purposes, as for buying influence." We also note that slush is actually refuse fat from a ship. Zizoo.com fills out our definition a bit, and adds "during the 1700s, slush was knows as the leftover fat waste that remained after the ship’s chef had brewed salt beef for the crew’s dinner. This fat was kept, stored and sold when the ship returned to port. The money from the proceeds of the fat waste was referred to as the slush fund and was later used to buy special items for the crew."
pipe-down
[pahyp]
Ever had your parents yell at you with that one? That's how we know it today. Its original nautical definition was when the senior deckhand would play the last signal on his pipe at the end of the day. Time for lights out, men.
son-of-a-gun
The term can be used a variety of ways, depending on inflection. If you are referring to a person and say son of a gun in a rather irritated tone, we call them a "a rogue; a rascal; a scoundrel." You can say it with amazement in your voice, meaning you're totally surprised, too. "The Cubs won the Series? Son of a gun!" Going back in the day, 17th and 18th century sailors had a different meaning. Women would sometimes give birth on ships. If the father couldn't be determined, the child was known as "a son of a gun."