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Nautical expressions in everyday speech

When you give someone "leeway" or tell someone to "pipe down," you may not realize you're using the language of sailors.

On this week’s edition of “That’s What They Say,” host Rina Miller and Professor of English at the University of Michigan Anne Curzan talk about all that sailing has given to the English language.

The more obvious ones for example are: “taking the wind out someone’s sails, being dead in the water, rocking the boat.”

But, did you know the term “to bail something out” is actually a nautical expression?

“When somebody bails out of a plane, as an emergency exit, that actually comes from sailing, when you would bail out a boat and get rid of the water, and now we can bail out of many different kinds of situations,” explains Curzan.

How many of you have heard of being “three sheets to the wind”? Well, that wonderful slang term for being drunk comes from – you guessed it – sailing, meaning your sail is not well tied down so it’s out there flapping around.

Then there’s the expression “by and large.”

“Apparently, ‘by’ means sailing toward the wind and ‘large’ means when the wind is going with you. That would be all the different points on the compass from which the wind would be coming, from which you could sail. So, ‘by and large’ meaning everything encompassed, Curzan explains.

Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of Stateside.
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