Nau­ti­cal Terms You Might Not Know

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THE WHOLE NINE YARDS Amer­i­can fighter planes in WWII had ma­chine guns that were fed by a belt of car­tridges. The av­er­age plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pi­lot used up all his ammo, he was said to have given it the whole nine yards.

BUY­ING THE FARM This is syn­ony­mous with dy­ing. Dur­ing WWI, sol­diers were given life in­sur­ance poli­cies worth $5,000. This was about the pri ce of an av­er­age farm, so if you died, you "bought the farm" for your sur­vivors.

IRON CLAD CON­TRACT This came about from the iron­clad ships of the Civil War. It meant some­thing so strong it could not be bro­ken.

RIFF RAFF The Mis­sis­sippi River was the main way of trav­el­ing from north to south. River­boats car­ried pas­sen­gers and freight, but they were ex­pen­sive so most peo­ple used rafts. Ev­ery­thing had the right of way over rafts which were con­sid­ered cheap. The steer­ing oar on the rafts was called a "riff", and this trans­posed into riff-raff, mean­ing low class.

SHIP STATE­ROOMS Trav­el­ing by steam­boat was con­sid­ered the height of com­fort. Pas­sen­ger cab­ins on the boats were not num­bered. In­stead, they were named af­ter states. To this day, cab­ins on ships are called state­rooms.

SHOW­BOAT Th­ese were float­ing the­aters built on a barge that was pushed by a steam­boat. Th­ese played small towns along the Mis­sis­sippi River. Un­like the boat shown in the movie "Show­boat", th­ese did not have an en­gine. They were gaudy and at­ten­tion-grab­bing, which is why we say some­one who is be­ing the life of the party is "show­boat­ing".

BARGE IN Heavy freight was moved along the Mis­sis­sippi in large barges pushed by steam­boats. Th­ese were hard to con­trol, and would so metimes swing into piers or other boats. Peo­ple would say they "barged in".

HOG­WASH Steam­boats car­ried both peo­ple and an­i­mals. Since pigs smelled so bad, they would be washed be­fore be­ing put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off was con­sid­ered use­less "hog wash".

BAR­RELS OF OIL When the first oil wells were drilled, no pro­vi­sion had been made for stor­ing the liq­uid so they used wa­ter bar­rels. That is why, to this day, we speak of bar­rels of oil rather than gal­lons.

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