How to Talk Like a Sailor – You Already Do!

Ahoy, mates! In the spirit of Olde World Sailing Line’s dedication to the tribute of the Golden Age of Sea Travel, we’d like to pass along some unconscious salutes we all pay to our nautical history every day. Much of our everyday lexicon is steeped in our maritime legacy, from colorful sailors, pirates, and military seamen who sailed the oceans blue (see our “Blue Oceans Blues” board on Pinterest for another perspective). They all contributed to common English phrases


“Three Sheets to the Wind”?  How long since a friend said you’d reached this third level?

The term is derived from the days of sailing ships to describe the degree of intoxication of a particular sailor – perhaps as a prelude to “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?”.

As on modern sailboats, “sheets” refer to the lines (never “ropes”) that control or “set” the sails (“halyards” pull the sails up the mast).  Sheets either tighten or loosen the sails to most efficiently match the existing wind conditions with the ship’s heading.

He's definitely reached the Third Sheet Level.

He’s definitely reached the Third Sheet Level.

On the old tall ships, there were three lines or chains used to secure each sail. If they were loose or sloppy, the ship’s track through the water became erratic. Being “three sheets to the wind” meant a pretty drunk sailor, while only one sheet to the wind might mean a sailor with a slight buzz but still maneuvering relatively well.


“Three Square Meals a Day”

Aboard tall ships of the 18th and 19th centuries, appliances and furniture were adapted to the rocking and rolling of the ship. Since china plates were far too delicate for these conditions, ship carpenters made square flat tray-like plates out of wood, simply by cutting planks straight across. They were durable, easy to stack and store and were almost indestructible with normal use. The crew would come down to the galley to eat, weather permitting, getting a square plate, which eventually led to the phrase a “square meal”. Captains would then use “three square meals a day” as a way to entice sailors to their crew with the promise of hot, substantial meals.

The USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) was one of America’s first naval ships, launched and commissioned on October 21, 1797.

"3 Squares a Day" - Serving plate on old sailing ships.

“3 Squares a Day” – Serving plate on old sailing ships.

After serving in the War of 1812, she is the oldest continuously commissioned warship in the world. Currently open to the public in Boston, samples of the navy’s wooden square dinnerware are on display in Constitution’s galley. Bon appetite.