Olivia A. Isil,
When a Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse There's the Devil to Pay:
Seafaring Words in Everyday Speech

(Ragged Mountain, 1996)

Many words in the English language have their genesis in the sea.

Life on a ship is very different from life on land, and the occupation of sailing has led to countless, highly specialized words and phrases. Over time, many of those words have filtered into the common tongue -- often with very different meanings than they originally held.

Olivia A. Isil's When a Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse There's the Devil to Pay takes a thorough look at many of those sayings. The author explains both the original and the colloquial meanings of each entry, and the prose is colorful and thoroughly fascinating to read.

The book is dominated by a section on "Metaphors & Colloquialisms." Two briefer, but no less interesting, sections follow: "Wind, Waves & Weather" and "Yarns of the Sea, Legends, Myths & Superstitions."

Some of the words and phrases are obviously derived from a nautical source -- stuff like "doldrums," "gangway," "high and dry" and "know the ropes." Others you might not realize came from the sea, such as "A1," "above board," "chow," "clean slate," and "rummage sale."

You'll be amazed (and amused) to learn the origins of "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." Trust me, it's not what you think.

This book is a great catch for anyone who enjoys nautical jargon or has a general interest in linguistics.

book review by
Tom Knapp

20 December 2014

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new