Nautical Idioms and Accent Reduction Tips

These nautical idioms are plain sailing your journey of improving your English skills!


Nautical Idioms 1 – To the bitter end

Definition: To persist with something until you can put forth no further effort. Also used as a way of declaring one’s commitment to a relationship

Example: If you have ever watched the movie 300 you will see what it really means for battle-hardened warriors to fight to the bitter end and die for their freedom.

Origin: “Bitter” has been used as an adjective to mean sour-tasting and acrid since the year 725 AD. The word was also commonly used in the Middle Ages and even Shakespeare used it in a Nautical Idioms number of his plays and poetry. Other dramatists have used it as well. The phrase “the bitter end” comes directly from the meaning of the word “bitter.” People usually have problems eating something that is overly bitter, and this personality trait can also be difficult to handle in a business environment. Captain John Smith, in his Seaman’s Grammar book published in 1691, defined “bitter” is a turn of the cable about the bits. The bit is a post that is fastened to the deck of the shop and is used to fasten cables and ropes. When a rope is then played out right down to the bitter end, there is no more rope to be used.


Nautical Idioms 2 – Plain sailing

Definition: A journey or an action that is easily accomplished with no real difficulty

Example: Try to avoid that central highway on the way home and go for the detour I told you about. There is no traffic and it’s all plain sailing.

Origin: Plain sailing comes in many other forms such as “smooth sailing” and “clear sailing” but the last two are more common in the US than any other country. This idiom is a nautical phrase that literally means “sailing is uncomplicated and easy”. All the other variants of the idiom are now used figuratively to describe any trouble-free and straightforward activities. There wouldn’t be Nautical Idiomsanything else to talk about if it weren’t for the existence of a phrase that goes “plane sailing” which is a simplified form of navigation. It means the surface of the sea is be flat and not curved on what mathematicians call a “plane surface”.


Nautical Idioms 3 – Tell it to the marines

Definition: Used as a means to respond to a tall tale that comes across as a pure fabrication

Nautical IdiomsExample: He told me that he was able to bend spoons with his mind and I said to him, “Tell it to the marines, buddy!”

Origin: This is a very American-sounding phrase and almost everyone thinks it refers the US marines, however this phrase has been around since the 1830s and highlights efforts of the UK’s Royal Marines. At the time, it was said that marines were easier to fool than sea-hardened sailors.


Accent Reduction idioms series

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