Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Touch and Go

"It's touch and go," said Dr. House, the patient hearing him as he left her room.

The only TV I ever watch is Discovery Channel... and sometimes Oxygen (my dirty secret is out - I love that Snapped show) but the media are pretty consistent so I'm confident in my opening sentence. From hospital television to big screen blockbusters and on to graphic novels, they love the phrase "touch and go". The tension inherent in the term comes from its origins. In its nascent form it could literally have referred to a situation of life or death. Thank a sailor if you ever run into one, media (judging from the stuff you write, you don't get out much). Particularly an old school sailor.

The painting above, entitled Clawing off a Lee Shore, is an extreme example of touch and go. The ships are in trouble as they battle a hard wind blowing them toward land. The wind comes from windward and the land is to leeward, thus a lee shore. The object, of course, is not to touch land at all but more than one sailor would call the situation (in a hopeful way) touch and go. If you do touch, you would certainly wish to go directly and not be battered to splinters on the coast.

Less extreme cases of touch and go at sea would include tacking or rounding a ship and just missing a rock or other outcropping as the ship comes about. Also, when a ship's hull scrapes a shoal or sandbar. And finally - most interesting - a whale may touch a ship and go. In deep seas, whales will scrape their hide along the hull of a wooden ship to clean themselves of barnacles and, possibly, because whales also enjoy a good itch. A very, very cool thing to experience.

The term was brought to land where it came to mean something was hanging by its toenails and only time would tell whether or not the optimal outcome could be achieved. Touch and go.

The patient threw her flower arrangement, hitting Dr. House in the back of the head. I'll go with that touch.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! That's a pretty funny post. If anyone deserves to be hit with a flower arrangement it's Dr. House (or maybe that "Hell's Kitchen" chef guy who yells and curses at everybody)... Anyway, once again, I did not know that "touch and go" was a nautical term, true story. Thanks for another enlightening post!

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! I've heard that about the House character so I went with it. Always happy to amuse and enlighten!

Blue Flamingo said...

Oxygen!? My stars! ; )

Thank you for the education. As a former air traffic controller, I thought the term was solely evolved from an aviation term when a plane executes a touch and go. But, clearly, pirates and ships were around before airplanes!

Pauline said...

Ahoy Blue Flamingo! Like you don't have your own dirty secrets. Please. And how similar are ships and planes after all? I think Star Trek clued us in there. (I love "Wrath of Khan" - another dirty secret revealed!)

Timmy! said...

There is a reason why they were originally called "airships", after all...