This Weeks Origin

I nearly forgot again! Remind me about this people! For this week I have selected “to the bitter end” which means to do or experience something awful up to and at the last, experiencing hostility until and at the end. This is a fascinating expression and nothing to do with our normal association of the word ‘bitter’ with sourness or unpleasantness: ‘the bitter end’ is another maritime expression, from the metaphor of a rope being paid out until to the ‘bitts’, which were the posts on the deck of a ship to which ropes were secured. When the rope had been extended to the bitter end there was no more left. Captain Stuart Nicholls MNI contacted me to clarify further: “Bitter end is in fact where the last link of the anchor chain is secured to the vessel’s chain locker, traditionally with a weak rope link. Nowadays it is attached through the bulkhead to a sturdy pin. The term ‘bitter end’ is as it seems to pay out the anchor until the bitter end. Incidentally, the expression ‘He’s swinging the lead’ comes from days before sonar was used to detect under keel depth. A man was placed forward and swung a lead weight with a length of rope. A difficult and tiring task, so seamen would often be seen from aft ‘swinging the lead’ instead of actually letting go.”