by Samantha Grace
|Book signing at Anaheim, CA|
I’ve always loved sayings. I used to work with a guy that was full of them. My favorite one he used to say isn’t fit for the blog, but my second favorite was, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” I’ve always wondered if someone actually had to try it once to realize that’s not possible.
One of the more enjoyable parts of historical writing is searching for the origins of certain sayings. Anachronisms are bad, even if the modern reader knows exactly what you’re trying to say. Don’t ask me why. Just take my word for it. People’s heads start spinning, and well, it gets ugly at that point. (wink)
I’ve discovered a few sayings I never knew existed while searching for the origin of another phrase, and they have been perfect for the situation. But one thing that surprised me when searching for phrases for my latest release, MISS LAVIGNE’S LITTLE WHITE LIE, were how many sayings we still use today that came from the age of wooden ships. Here are just a few and what they originally meant:
Over a barrel – Ship captains had the last word aboard ship and doled out punishment as readily as Mr. Grey and his twitchy palm. The most common punishment for not following the rules was flogging. The rule breaker was often draped over a barrel and secured with ropes to receive his punishment. Now when someone says, “He has me over a barrel” it means he is at the other person’s mercy.
Son of a gun – When in port, crewmembers were often restricted to the ship for long periods of time, so wives and prostitutes were allowed to visit and sometimes live on the ship. Every once in a while, a pregnant woman would go into labor and have her baby while on the ship. (Gives a new meaning to the sign Baby On Board.) A convenient place to deliver the baby was the space between the guns on the gun deck. If the baby’s daddy was unknown, the baby would be listed in the ship’s log as “son of a gun”. I’m assuming that was just for male babies. Otherwise, that makes no sense.
Beat a dead horse – The British crews had a ceremony after they had been at sea for four months and had worked off their initial advance. The ceremony was called a dead horse. (We usually just have cake at our work gatherings.) The term ‘beating a dead horse’ referred to how difficult it was to get any extra work from the crew after the ceremony, because the men felt like they were working for nothing at that point. Who knew writers and sailors had more in common than salty language?
Let the cat out of the bag – As mentioned before, the most common punishment doled out was flogging. This was done with a cat ‘o nine tails, which I’m just now realizing must have gotten its name from having nine strips at the end of the whip. The whip was kept in a bag and ‘let out’ when someone was about to be over a barrel. I’ve always thought letting the cat out of the bag meant spoiling a surprise, but I’m not sure that’s a surprise anyone wants. Kind of like a jack-in-the-box.
I think the reason I like sayings is because many remind me of my Southern roots and my granny. Her favorite saying was “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I wanted that same sense of being influenced by past generations in MISS LAVIGNE’S LITTLE WHITE LIE, so the story opens up with what has become one of my favorite lines:
Grandmamma had always said nothing good happened under the cloak of darkness.
For me, it creates the setting and tone. There’s a touch of darkness and danger in this story, but it’s also a wonderful romance between two very distinct characters. I loved writing this story and I’m thrilled to have the chance to share it with readers. In fact, I’m so eager to share it, I’m going to give away a copy today. Just answer the following question and leave your email address to be entered into the drawing.
What is an old saying you remember hearing growing up, or one you hear a lot?
To learn about more MISS LAVIGNE’S LITTLE WHITE LIE and future releases, visit me at any of the following:
If you’d like to see the site where I found the nautical phrases, visit http://www.dauntlessprivateers.org/nautical_sayings.htm.