Flush is a word that brings to the modern mind, perhaps unfairly, plumbing. But its colloquial connotations may very well have sprung from the sea. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Two distinct origins for the word are given in Webster’s. First is the Middle English fluschen meaning to fly up suddenly. Second is the French word flux meaning flow or ebb. This gives us not only the flush hand in cards and the flushing of our commodes, but the English flux. Neither of these origins necessarily account for the word’s use aboard ship, but they can’t be discounted either.
In the oldest seagoing terms flush meant level or even. A deck or railing could be flush or a board could sit flush to its neighbor. A flush-deck was a continuous decking laid from fore to aft without breaks as in a pirogue that had no forecastle or quarterdeck.
Flush in the sense of showing excitement was used at sea. As shy was often used to mean cowardly, flush could mean overwhelmed by a victory or success or even flush in preparation, eagerness, for battle.
There is some speculation that it was from this meaning of flush that the adjective flustered sprang. At sea, flustered indicated performing one’s duty in a confused or distracted way. Further, it could be used to identify a seaman who was drunk but trying to go about his duty all the same.
Flux when used specifically in relation to the sea, refers to the ebb of the tide.
Flush colloquially, though, was a favorite word of pirates and privateers in particular. A man was flush with a fist full of prize money. And that kind of flush was music to every seaman’s ears.
Happy Saturday, Brethren. I’ll see you tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday.