Monday, May 22, 2006

May 22: Maritime Metaphor Day

Today is National Maritime Day established in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The date was established as May 22nd based on the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion. The steamship The Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on May 22, 1819.

Many words we use today have their origins in the salty talk of sailors. Below are some examples from An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases.

Blowhard: Sailor’s slang for a wind-bag.

Debacle: Referred to the break-up of ice on a river or navigable channel.

Filibuster: Originally a term for a buccaneer, pirate, or other person who obtained plunder. It later evolved to refer to the use of obstructive tactics in the legislature.

Nausea: From the Greek nausia, meaning seasickness.

Vogue: From the French, voguer, 'to be carried forward on the water.' No doubt it comes from the figurative sense of being in fashion – that is being in the swim, going with the flow or current, or moving with the tide (1).

Today’s Challenge: A Net-Full of Metaphors
As we did on Earth Day (April 22) when we looked at metaphors and idioms that came to us from working the land, today we look at metaphors and idioms that come to us from working on the sea. These are expressions that are used on dry land today by landlubbers who probably don’t even realize that the expressions were born on the high seas. For example, if one of your co-workers is a "loose cannon," it means he or she does not conform to the rules and might say or do something at anytime that might hurt the company. Few people realize that this term originates from the actual heavy metal cannon that were tied and secured to a ships side. If a cannon became loose, it could cause a lot of damage to the ship and the crew.

Given the number of words in each expression and a definition, see if you can identify each of the sea metaphors. The definitions come from the web page of Alec Gill, a public speaker and university lecturer (2).

1. 4 Words: Everyone should gather together in their positions and be ready for action

2. 2 Words: Everything in perfect order

3. 3 Words: Let’s get going as fast as possible

4. 7 Words: Chance acquaintance

5. 3 Word: In serious difficulties

6. 2 Words: Honest and straightforward with nothing hidden

7. 4 Words: Conform to what the rest of the group is doing instead of stepping out of line and doing your own thing.

8. 6 Words: Everyone shares the same adverse conditions.

Quote of the Day: There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. –Emily Dickinson

1. All hands on deck 2. Ship shape 3. Full steam ahead 4. Two ships that pass in the night 5. In deep water 6. Above board 7. Don’t rock the boat 8. We’re all in the same boat.

1- Jeans, Peter D. An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases. Secaucus, New Jersey: Birch Lane Press, 1993.

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