Sea-life inspired sayings

Inspired by this blog post from this charity, list sea-life inspired sayings that are commonly used today. Here are some examples.

  1. The cat’s out of the bag – originates from the instrument of punishment in the Old Navy, the ‘cat o’nine tails’. It would be taken out of its special storage bag before a flogging

  2. Brass monkeys – originates from the saying ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’. Freezing temperatures would cause the brass monkey, a plate beside each gun on a ship to hold iron cannon balls, to contract and some of the balls to fall off

  3. Batten down – meaning to prepare for trouble or bad weather, originating from ships ‘battening down the hatches’ when bad weather was expected

  4. Splice the mainbrace! - the order given on ships for everyone on board to enjoy an additional serving of rum as part of a traditional naval celebration. Nowadays this is used to describe a toast to Royalty

  5. Three sheets to the wind – originates from an old description of a square sail flapping almost uncontrollably in the wind; now often used to describe an inebriated person!

Can you think of any?

re: three sheets to the wind. This refers to the lines used to control the sails, not the sails themselves.
Loose cannon: when a cannon on board a ship broke loose from its mooring, pandemonium ensued.
Three square meals: Royal navy food on board ship was served on tables with fiddles forming squares to keep dishes from sliding. For many people in that era, finding enough food was a struggle. If you joined the navy, you were guaranteed ‘three squares a day’.
The head: The place to do one’s business was literally located at the bowsprit.

Brass Monkey tale is fiction:[YOUTUBEHQ][/YOUTUBEHQ]

I have always liked ‘Greasing the skids’ to refer to preparing for a difficult job (boats skids were greased to ease operations)

Stick in the mud: Deceased sailors were placed on a plank with a cannon ball at their feet to weigh them down. When the body was cast overboard, it would sink to the bottom and stick in the mud.

“Not enough room to swing a cat” Similar to “Cat out of the bag”

My sea-life inspired sayings are a string of expletives in no apparent order, the length of which is directly proportional to the frustration or anger the invectives are the result of.

Since I believe that this is a common saying with most mariners of past or present, no examples need be cited.

[B][U][I]Hot Shot[/I][/U][/B]: cannonball heated red hot prior to firing in order to cause fires on the enemy ship - very dangerous to use, often caused premature firing of the cannon or even caused the cannon to explode

Some ones that I have used often in business:

“Toe the line” and “get all your ducks in a row”


“Learnin’ the ropes” - always been one of my favorites!