Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Clinch

Today's word may very well have originated at sea, as may its brother clench. Both come from the Middle English word clenchen. This word meant alternately to grasp or to fasten, depending on how it was used. It came down to us – again most probably from the sea – with both meanings in tact.

Dean King in A Sea of Words notes that clinch is “… a method of fastening large ropes…” while clench means “To make a permanent joint, as with a bolt hammered over to prevent removal.” The Sailor’s Word Book gives more detail but agrees as well. Before the mid-19th century, however, the words were basically interchangeable as far as meaning was concerned. A lot of which word a seaman used had to do with what part of the world he came from.

A clinch, as previously alluded to, is a method of fastening cable with a half hitch. It is important to note that rope proper is not clinched. This is a fastening for large rope (cable or hawser) only. It is used to secure anchors, kedges, guns and other large, moveable objects aboard ship. The saying “the cable is run out to the clinch” is used when there is no more line to let out, usually for the purpose of anchoring but also in the working of a gun.

A clench is achieved as stated above, but this word can still be used when two ropes are secured together at their ends although this is rare. Clenched bolts are those fastened to a ring or plate that is riveted through wood. Clench-nails, which were often made of copper, were used in shipyards because they would not split even soft woods when driven in or pulled out.

Clinch-built (or clincher-built) was an alternate term for clinker-built, meaning a boat built with the edges of her wood overlapping (as apposed to butted or jointed).

The word clinch developed its modern, informal meaning some time in the 18th century. Thusly to clinch a business was to finish up a task or make a final payment. A clincher, by the same token, was a reply that settled an argument or ended a discussion. Sometimes, the clincher had the tone of a tall tale or even a lie used to top everyone else’s stories around the supper table or up on the foc’sul. English speakers continue to use the word in a similar way, speaking of something ending with a “clincher” and the like.

Happy Saturday to all the Brethren; may the weather be fair and the sailing good where ever you are.

Header: American figureheads via The Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem, MA (in a clinch, a loose figurehead might have to be secured by a clinch)


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! What about the term "in the clinch" like in grappling or wrestling? I suppose that also derived from this term as well...

Hold fast and maybe we can get in a clinch later, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Yep; I'm pretty sure that came from the same background. Words are so much fun.