Sheets to the Wind

Sheets to the Wind

By Cynthia Barrett
Published by Lyons Press, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. Inc. 180 pages
paperback $16.95

A remarkable number of words and phrases in the English language have origins in the terminology used by sailors of the empire that, for better or worse, made our world what it is today. Our conversations, from boardroom to coffee room, are so chock-full of these nautical idioms that we don’t notice…and often don’t know the history. For example, a “filibuster” was a pirate of the Spanish Main long before becoming a ploy of blustering senators …while a “blowhard” is full of wind but little else.

Author Cynthia Barrett shares the etymology of more than 175 nautically inspired words and phrases, from “loose cannon and “let the cat out of the bag” to “run a tight ship” and (our favorite) “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.”

Seafaring has always had a strong bond with music, and generations of songwriters have reaped a bountiful harvest from the language of sailors.

Among the song or album titles and lyrics with maritime roots to be found in this book include “All Hands on Deck” and “Around the Horn” (Procol Harum), “Feeling Blue” (Gram Parsons), “Hunky Dory” (David Bowie), “No Great Shakes” (Webb Wilder), “Fly-by-Night” (Rush), and “Rise and Shine” (The Bears). With amusing illustrations by Vail Barrett, Three Sheets to the Wind is an entertaining and enjoyable compilation. ■

Cynthia Barrett is an avid sailor with a long family history near the sea. Her great-grandfather was a whaler, and her father took part in the D-Day invasion of France. A senior editor at Metro Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Company, she lives in New York City but spends her weekends on the water.

Vail Barrett is a painter and illustrator whose works have shown in galleries in New England, New York and New Jersey. He lives in Roxbury, CT.

The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions