Know the ropes – The English language and the sea
Britain has a worldwide reputation as a seafaring nation. Being an island, perhaps it is not surprising that its people have always been curious about what lies beyond the waves.
Seafaring has played a central role in shaping the history of this country, from the days of exploration and empire, to the epic naval battles of the Second World War.
Nowhere is the influence of the maritime way of life more apparent than in the everyday phrases found in the English language. Below is a list of some of these phrases and their meaning, all of which have a nautical origin:
Give a wide berth – A reasonable distance
High and dry – Stranded, without help or hope of recovery
Panic stations – A state of high alert
All hands on deck – To have every member of a team/group involved
Plain sailing – Smooth and easy progress
Loose cannon – An unpredictable or reckless person or thing
Know the ropes – To have an understanding of how to do something
All at sea – In a state of confusion or disorder
To run a tight ship – Strict management of an organisation or operation
Batten down the hatches – To prepare for trouble
These phrases still endure, and they demonstrate how shared past experiences of a nation’s people can shape how they communicate today.