Ten phrases that came from sailing

Published on March 4th, 2020

When you stop to think about it… sailing is pretty amazing. From a historical perspective, through its role in travel, trade and war, it was the absolute hinge of western civilization for hundreds of years. Through that time, sailors’ slang and terminology became rooted in the English lexicon and still exists profoundly to this day.

The American Sailing Association has compiled a list of 10 everyday phrases that you may not have realized were born in the days when sailing made the world go round… wait… is that a nautical phrase?

“A clean bill of health”
According to dictionary.com this phrase derives from the days when the crew of ocean going ships might be a little less than hygienic, so they needed to present a certificate, carried by a ship, attesting to the presence or absence of infectious diseases among the ship’s crew and at the port from which it has come.

“Feeling Blue”
How often do you hear people talking about feeling blue or have the blues? An entire genre of music comes from this phrase. Who knew that came from the world of sailing? See-the-sea.org explains the popular phrase comes from a custom that was practiced when a ship lost its captain during a voyage. The ship would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along her hull when she returned to port.

“Pipe down”
Parents have been screaming “pipe down” to their kids forever, but where does that actually come from? Apparently, Pipe Down was the last signal from the Bosun’s pipe each day, which meant lights-out, quiet down, time to go to bed.

For complete list… click here.

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