Saturday, August 24, 2013


Annapolis, MD

"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes..." Walden, Henry David Thoreau

Could the same be said for enterprises that require a new vocabulary? I've already written about my philosophy on unnecessary nautical terms, which I eschew. But others have secretly sneaked right into our everyday parlance. For instance ...

A sailor without a berth or a shipboard assignment.

clean bill of health
A document issued to early ships on their departure showing that the port they sailed from was free of epidemic or infection at the time of departure.

show your true colors
Some early warships carried an array of national flags onboard to deceive the enemy, but the rules of civilized warfare called for ships to hoist their true national ensigns before firing a shot, showing their true colors.

taken aback
When a boat's sails are unexpectedly caught by the wind and filled from the opposite side, it slows the forward motion of the boat. This is called 'backing,' thus 'taken aback' has come to mean 'startled' or 'shocked.'

Also, from a previous post: aboveboard and footloose.

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