We don’t know about you guys but there’s lots of terms and phrases we use in everyday life which, we have at best, only limited knowledge of their origin. Unsurprisingly loads of these developed at sea. Take the word ‘tidy’... Even that derived from the tides due to their methodical, well arranged nature. So we thought we’d share some with you. We are sure Old Harry used a few himself!


A T   A   L O O S E   E N D

The ends of rigging ropes would come easily unravelled at sea. So when there was little work to do the Captain would ask the crew to check the ropes for loose ends and repair them.


A record of a sailor’s transgressions kept by officers. This practice was not abolished until 19th Century.

C R A C K   O N

When the ship was at full pelt, the straining sails and sheets would make cracking sounds.


D R E S S I N G   D O W N

The process of treating sea worn sails with heated preservatives and oils to repel water. Sailors hanging by ropes would have to ‘dress down’ both sides of a flapping sail. This was renowned for being an unpleasant yet unavoidable task.

F L A K E   O U T

Laying the anchor rope out in the sun on deck to ensure it did not ‘foul up’ when dropped.


G E T   H I T C H E D

To join or ‘marry’ two ropes together.


K I C K   T H E   B U C K E T

In the absence of the usual structure, men were hanged standing on a bucket or cask, at which point the bucket was simply kicked from under them!


N O   G R E A T   S H A K E S

As food barrels and other casks were emptied, they were shaken apart to gain extra storage space. The pieces of timber, which were of little value, came to be called ‘shakes’.

P U L L   Y O U R   F I N G E R   O U T

When the cannon were loaded, a small amount of powder was poured into the ignition hole. To keep the powder secure before firing a crew member pushed a finger into the hole. When the time for firing arrived, he was told to pull his finger out.

S C R A P I N G   T H E   B O T T O M   O F   T H E   B A R R E L   &   S L U S H   F U N D

Removing the last of the hardened pork fat from a cask, to put towards the Slush Fund. This was then saved by the ship’s cook and sold to tanneries and candlemakers the next time they hit dry land. In the 19th Century the US Government applied the term to a contingency fund in one of its operating budgets.

S O N   O F   A   G U N

Sometimes wives and mistresses joined their men at sea. Occasionally they had to give birth on board. As spare room was so scarce the only available space for the birth was between the canons on the gun deck!


T A K E N   D O W N   A   P E G
( O R   T W O )

When a more senior admiral came aboard the junior admiral’s standard would be taken down a peg or two to make room for the new flag.