This phrase is extremely old, going as far back 725 AD. It's meaning seems obvious, foul tasting and bitter !
However, there is a nautical meaning to this phrase associated with a certain Captain Smith. In the early 1600s he published a booked entitled 'Seaman's Grammar' and he mentions The Bitter End in this. Below he explains that the bitter end is the end of rope that stays on board.
"A Bitter is but the turne of a Cable about the Bits, and veare it out by little and little. And the Bitters end is that part of the Cable doth stay within boord."
A 'Bitt' post can be found fastened in the deck of a ship. Various ropes and other fastenings could be fed round the post, until it reached it's very end ………. hence the bitter end.
Ahoy is used to get attention or greet. A ship's watch may shout 'land ahoy' or 'ship ahoy' when sightings are made.
It is thought to have originated from Middle English (15th Century) 'Hoy'. Hoy would have been used as a greeting or to get peoples attention particularly on boats. It is a sound that carries well over distances and possibly never had a translation and was always just a sound or call.
Interestingly, 'Hoy' is also a type of barge or fishing vessel used in the 17th and 18th century, so maybe there is a connection here as well.
We sometimes forget that not everyone is familiar with nautical terminology, as there are plenty of new boat owners, learning the ropes. A questions which we get asked alot is 'what is a lee board'? So for those of you who are interested, here's the answer:
A leeboard is a form of pivoting keel used by a sailboat in lieu of a fixed keel. Typically mounted in pairs on each side of a hull, leeboards function much like a centreboard, allowing shallow draft craft to ply waters fixed keel boats cannot. Only one, however, the leeward, is used at a time, as it does not get lifted from the water when the boat heels under the force of the wind.
They come in all shapes and sizes, but the working principle is the same. Even canoes have been adapted with leeboards, to give better control.
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