"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Worse things happen at sea

This phrase meaning if things are bad ashore, then they could be a lot worse at sea is quoted on one website as having come into the English language in Neville (sic) Shute's 'No Highway' in the 1940s. In practice Nevil Shute's 'No Highway' (1948) was written 100 years after the first record I can trace which is in Joan Fleming's 'Screams from a Penny Dreadful'. (Penny Dreadfuls were the cheap horror and murder stories of the Victorian era; a topic about which I wrote a dissertation at college). In that book, Fleming quotes a diary entry of 24 August 1842 which includes the phrase. There may well be older references I haven't found.

The illustration above was in the 1889 Royal Academy exhibition (Ten years before Nevil Shute was born!).

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