USS Constitution

Above Board | Ahoy! | Between the Devil and the Deep | Chewing the Fat | Crow's Nest | Cup of Joe 
Devil to Pay |  Eight Bells | Fathom | Feeling Blue | Forecastle | Galley | Gun Salutes | Head 
He Knows the Ropes | Holystone | Hunky-Dory |  Listless | Log Book | Long Shot Mayday   
No Quarter
 | Pea Coat  | Port Holes | Scuttlebutt | S.O.S.  |  Splice the Mainbrace 
Starboard | Taken Aback | Three-Mile Limit | Three Sheets to the Wind
Took the Wind Out of His Sails | Wallop | Watches

Splice the Main Brace

In the age of sail, ship's rigging was a favorite target during sea battles because destroying the opponent's ability to maneuver or get away would put you at an obvious advantage. Therefore, the first and most important tasks after a battle was to repair damaged rigging (also known as lines, but never "rope"!) Examples of lines include braces (lines that adjust the angle oat which a sail is set in relation to the wind) and stays (lines supporting the masts). 

The main brace was the principal line controlling the rotation of the main sail. Splicing this line was one of the most difficult chores aboard ship, and one on which the ship's safety depended. It was the custom, after the main brace was properly spliced, to serve grog to the entire crew. Thus, today, after a hard day (or, not so hard day), the phrase has become an invitation to have a drink.


The Vikings called the side of their ship its board, and they placed the steering oar, the "star" on the right side of the ship, thus that side became known as the "star board." It's been that way ever since. And, because the oar was on the right side, the ship was tied to the dock at the left side. This was known as the loading side or "larboard". Later, it was decided that "larboard" and "starboard" were too similar, especially when trying to be heard over the roar of a heavy sea, so the phrase became the "side at which you tied up to in port" or the "port" side.

Taken Aback

One of the hazards faced in days of sailing ships has been incorporated into English to describe someone who has been jolted by unpleasant news. We say that person has been "taken aback." The person is at a momentary loss; unable to act or even to speak. A danger faced by sailing ships was for a sudden shift in wind to come up (from a sudden squall), blowing the sails back against the masts, putting the ship in grave danger of having the masts break off and rendering the ship totally helpless. The ship was taken aback.

Three Mile Limit

The original three-mile limit was the recognized distance from a nation's shore over which that nation had jurisdiction. This border of international waters or the "high seas" was established because, at the time this international law was established, three miles was the longest range of any nation's most powerful guns, and therefore, the limit from shore batteries at which they could enforce their laws. (International law and the 1988 Territorial Sea Proclamation established the "high seas? border at the twelve-mile limit.)

Three Sheets to the Wind

We use the term "three sheets to the wind" to describe someone who has had too much to drink. As such, they are often bedraggled with perhaps shirttails out, clothes a mess. The reference is to a sailing ship in disarray, that is with sheets (lines --  not "ropes" -- that adjust the angle at which a sail is set in relation to the wind) flapping loosely in the breeze.

Took The Wind Out Of His Sails

Often we use "took the wind out of his sails" to describe getting the best of an opponent in an argument. Originally it described a battle maneuver of sailing ships. One shop would pass close to it adversary and on its windward side. The ship and sails would block the wind from the second vessel, causing it to lose headway. Losing motion meant losing maneuverability and the ability to carry on a fight.


When the French burned the town of Brighton, England in the 1500'sm King Henry VIII sent Admiral Wallop to retaliate and teach the French a lesson. He so thoroughly wrecked the French coasts that ever since, a devastating blow is said to be an "awful wallop."


Traditionally, a 24-hour day is divided into seven watches. These are: midnight to 4 a.m. [0000 - 0400], the mid-watch 4 to 8 a.m.; 0400 - 0800], morning watch; 8 a.m. to noon [0800 - 1200], forenoon watch; noon to 4 p.m. [1200 - 1600], afternoon watch; 4 to 6 p.m. [1600 - 1800], first dog watch; 6 to 8 p.m. [1800 - 2000], second dog watch (or evening watch); 8 p.m. to midnight [2000 - 2400]. The half hours of the watch are marked by striking the bell an appropriate number of times.