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Nautical terms and phrases in everyday language

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Have you ever realised that some terms and phrases used in the common language have a deeper meaning or are “borrowed” from different contexts? This is the case of the nautical world, from which we took many funny but meaningful expressions and translated them into our everyday life. And the best part is that they actually fit perfectly with this new context! 

We are sure you have already used all of the phrases listed in this article, but do you really know their original meaning? Let's find out together!

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All at Sea: currently refers to a person unable to understand a situation, or confused.

When accurate navigational aids weren’t available, a boat or a ship that was all at sea was out of sight and in an unsure position, with the possibility of becoming lost.

Cut and run: making a quick departure from a difficult situation.

Originally refers to the practice of securing the sails of a ship with ropes that could be easily cut away in case of an emergency departure.

Fathom: getting to the bottom of a situation, trying to figure something out.

In nautical times, a fathom was a measure equal to six feet, generally used to measure the depth of the sea. Taking the measure and fathom were synonyms.

Footloose - A person that is carefree, unattached.

In the nautical slang, a foot is the bottom portion of a sail. If the foot is not secured, it is, in fact, footloose and it dances randomly in the wind.

Fit the bill: being suitable for a particular purpose.

Ships’ masters used to sign Bills of Lading to make sure they would deliver specific goods to their destination in the same conditions. Upon arrival, if everything was in order and the goods were in proper conditions, they fit the bill.

High and dry: being in a helpless position, being left without resources.

It originally refers to the ships that were beached, stranded by the sea, and that possibly remained out of the water for a long time.

Over the barrel: put someone in a difficult situation where they have no choice but to do what you want them to do.

Aboard ships, the most common punishing method was flogging: sailors were tied to a grating over a barrel and punished in a quite brutal way. 

Scuttlebutt: rumour, gossip.

A scuttlebutt was a barrel filled with drinkable water where sailors used to gather to drink, talk, or pass on information.

Turn the corner: Starting to improve, get to a point where things are looking up.

When ships were passing the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, or Cape Horn in South America, they were passing a critical point and could turn the corner towards safer waters. 

Long shot: an attempt that has the slightest chance of succeeding.

A long shot was a target too far to be reached by a cannon shot, hence would be easily missed unless luck was on their side.

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If you enjoyed this list of nautical phrases used in everyday language, check our website to find the perfect boat for your next holiday. 

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