Son of a Gun! Nautical Phrases Part 2


In our first lesson on nautical phrases, you learned that the terms “powerboat” and “yacht” are interchangeable and what “three sheets to the wind” really means.

Son-of-a-GunIn this blog, we’re going to cover some additional terms and sayings that have nautical origins. Let’s have some fun!

  • “Son of a Gun” – While we recognize this saying today to be a friendly way of calling a person a rogue or a misbehaver, as in “You are joking, aren’t you, you son of a gun?” it has origins that date back to the 1800s and the Royal Navy in particular. At the time, women were allowed to live on naval ships. A child who was born on board but whose paternity was unknown was logged as a “son of a gun”. The “gun” meaning a military man.
  • “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” – The jury is still out on where this one came from, although the meaning is clearly being stuck between two bad things. Some possible explanations of its origins follow:
    • Greek Mythology: In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus is caught between a six-headed monster and a whirpool in the sea.
    • The Devil on a ship is the seam between the last deck plank and the top plank on the side. This seam would require regular maintenance, requiring a sailor to hang over the side of the ship. This would also explain the term “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”
  • “Give a Wide Berth” – Berth is considered to be the place where a ship is moored nowadays. But in the past, the berth was a place where there was room to moor a ship”. Thus, you would tell your sailors to keep a wide berth between you and, say, some jagged rocks along the shore. People use that in common speech nowadays similarly. When you give a person a wide berth, figuratively speaking, you are going to leave them alone, stay out of their way, etc.