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Port Out - Starboard Home

and Other Nautical Nonsense.

Those of us that worked for P&O believe that P.O.S.H stands for Port Out, Starboard Home. Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, from 1842 to 1970 was the major steamship carrier of passengers and mail between England and India. The P. & O. route went through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The cabins on the port side on the way to India got the morning sun and had the rest of the day to cool off, while starboard ones got the afternoon sun, and were still quite hot at bedtime. On the return trip, the opposite was true. The cooler cabins, therefore, were the more desirable and were reserved for the most important and richest travellers Their tickets were stamped P.O.S.H. to indicate these accommodations–in large violet letters, according to one recollection. This account of the origin of posh was even used in advertising by

P. & O. in the 1960s. There is no evidence that this was the case.

Beaufort House - P&O Passenger Divison - era 1973

I am pretty sure that when I joined P&O in 1973 there was a small bar in the basement

of Beaufort House, known as the POSH Club. It was here that l had my first taste of Stella Artois which was sold for about half the price available in pubs. There was no wonder that very little work got done in Beaufort House in the afternoons.


In 1977 the POSH Club was formed by P&O as one of the first Cruise ship Loyalty programmes.

This got me thinking about other seaboard expressions and their origins

Have you ever had a sailor “Over a Barrel?

The saying means that someone is totally at the mercy of another person. In medieval England, if a person was drowning it was common practice to drape the drowning person over a barrel to try and clear their lungs of water.

It could also mean that you were put over a barrel to be given a flogging. Either way, you were at the mercy of someone other than yourself.

Take it to the "Bitter End", another nautical term. The Bit End refers to the very end of the deck of the ship anchor rope where it is fixed to the ships deck. Normally marked with coloured rags. The bollards (or Bitts) on the deck where anchor ropes were tied. As the rope came to the end and the coloured rag the sailor would know that he was at the Bitter End and the anchor rope was about to run out.

To be "Taken Aback" dates back to sailing ships when a sudden change in wind direction could flatten the sails and in some situations cause the ship to be driven backwards in strong winds. The figurative use of the phrase was first recorded in The Times in march 1931 and was later used by Charles Dickens in his American Notes in 1842; "I don't think I was ever so taken aback in all my life."

"Goes by the Board" dates back to wooden sailing ships when the side of the ship was known as the board, anything lost overboard was regarded as having gone past the board and lost forever. Most of the early references to this phrase relate to masts of sailing ships that had fallen 'by the board'

To "Cut and Run", When a ship was coming under attack it could suffer considerable damage before it could retrieve its anchor and set sail. It became common practice to take an axe and cut through the hemp rope holding the anchor allowing the ship to “Run on the Wind” By 1861 the phrase to “cut & run” was a standard navel expression.

We have all been at a "Loose End" sometime in our lives. Sailing ships would have hundreds of loose ropes from making up the rigging. Each of these ropes would have it end bound tight to prevent it unravelling. If a ship’s captain found his sailors sitting around with nothing to do he would have them check the rigging for loose ends and have them re-bind them. Hence idle men would find themselves “at a loose end”

"On the fiddle". Of course, we all know the odd Purser that has been on the Fiddle. But we also know that in rough seas that the edge of the dining table would be raised to stop crockery from falling off the table. Any plate in fear of falling off the table would be “On the Fiddle”

"Flogging a Dead Horse" is a pointless situation, especially if the horse you were flogging were the horse latitudes, 30 degrees either side of the equator. Often when tall ships entered these latitudes, the wind diminished and caused the tall shops to slowdown or even stall altogether.

Sailors were paid a month’s wages in advance before setting sail. This was usually to clear outstanding debts run up whilst ashore. The first month at sea was called ‘dead horse time’ (?). Flogging was slang for working hard at sea. So they would feel that they were working for nothing. At the end of the first month it was traditional to haul the effigy of a horse up the mast and set fire to it. They would then hurl the burning stallion into the sea to commemorate the end of the month of flogging the dead horse. They then presumably reached first port, went ashore got bladdered and it all started again.

We would all like to "Pass with Flying colours". The earliest reference to this datres back to 1706 in the English navy when the flag was known as colours. Following battle navy ships would sail back into London with their flags flying high to demonstrate their success in battle. Hence a ship passing by with its colours flying, a sure sign of victory.

"Shake a Leg" could very well have been used on many passenger ships in the 1970 and 1980, but in actual fact it dates back to when civilian ladies were allowed on board a ship.

The Bosun’s mate would traditionally rouse the sailors with the cry “Shake a Leg or a Purser’s stocking” this would rouse the sailors and leave the ladies the modesty to get dressed in peace.

However l doubt whether a lady on an 18th century ship may have any modesty worth preserving.

Most of these sayings have in fact many interpretations and how am l to know the true origins, but they make a good story for fellow Salty Seadogs.

If you have a story to tell please share it. (Here)

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