Friday’s answers

Andrei posed Thursday’s questions for which he gets my thanks.

Should he have stumped us all he can claim a case of moorpark apricots.



One Response to Friday’s answers

  1. Andrei says:

    These all originated as nautical terms from the “golden” age of sail¹

    (1) What is the original meaning of “tow rag“?

    In sailing ship days a tow rag was a rag tied to a rope used in the place of toilet paper after a sailor after a sailor had done you know what.

    After use it was thrown back into the sea to be hopefully cleaned before use by its next customer

    (2) From whence did English acquire the term “the devil to pay”?

    The devil seam was the gap between the keel and the lowermost plank – it had to be caulked known as “paying” to waterproof it with pitch and hemp a difficult and unpleasant job – hence “paying the devil”. We also get “Between the devil and the deep blue sea” from the name of this seam

    (3) likewise for the expression “by and large”?

    “By” in sailing terms is sailing close to the direction of the on coming wind whilst “large” is sailing with the wind at your back – a skilled helmsman who could manage the ship in all winds could thus sail the ship “by and large” and hence the modern idiom

    Another modern idiom derived from this is of course “sailing close to the wind” that is sailing “by” or as close as possible to the direction of the oncoming wind while still maintaining headway

    (4) and “all above board”?

    In pirate days when a ship approached the sailors could not be sure of its intentions – pirates would hide below decks until ready to board

    However if the ships complement was all on deck then the approaching ships intention could be seen to be benign hence the call “all above board”

    (5) and finally “Loose cannon”?

    Cannons were heavy and had to be securely lashed down in heavy seas – if one broke free it could create havoc, killing and maiming sailors and damaging the ship, perhaps fatally.

    A loose cannon was bad news and very hard to re-secure in heavy weather


    (1) Teletext used the homonym “toe rag” to provide his answer for his answer to q1 initially

    Toe rags were cloths which people wrapped their feet in to keep them warm if they didn’t have socks

    Indeed if spoken it would be hard to know if the speaker intended tow rag or toe rag and in modern times the speaker wouldn’t know either unless they had read this post perhaps

    As an interesting aside until really recently, that is in the last couple of years, Russian soldiers didn’t wear socks but wrapped their feet in cloths called “portyanki”. Sergei Shoigu, Russian minister of defence ordered that “portyanki” be replaced by socks a year or so ago and not without some controversy since they had been part of Russian army life for centuries and some believe better for an infantryman’s feet than socks

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