Tag Archives: knot

Nautical Knots


This week’s word is knot, a word I explored and added to “Words the Sea Gave Us” this week in my NaNoWriMo 2018 challenge. I passed the 50,000 words mark today, but I’m still writing as I haven’t finished my draft yet.

Knot-tying is a vital skill for any sailor and the word has various uses afloat. Rigging a sailing ship requires various knots, but knots are also associated with speed at sea. The knot has been the nautical measure of speed since the 1630s thanks to a simple device used in the Age of Sail. A log would be thrown overboard while the ship was under sail, attached to it was a line with knots tied at regular distances (1/120 of a mile between each knot was standard). The ship’s speed was then measured by an hourglass sand timer for a set time (a half minute ,for example). The number of knots payed out on the line during that time, was the speed.

One knot became equivalent to one nautical mile so a ship travelling at the speed of ten knots will cover approximately ten nautical miles in one hour. This is roughly equal to 11.5 miles per hour as a land speed. The use of the log in this process also gave us the concepts of a logbook and logging in.

Knots themselves of course existed on land before they were used at sea but sailors invented many of the new designs for specific tasks such as mooring boats, and quick release knots for loosening sails.

Knot may be one of the words the Vikings gave us. English appears to have acquired knot from knutr in Old Norse via German Knoten, Dutch knot, and finally as cnotta in Old English.

One final knot story is a sailor’s yarn that one day a witch was persuaded by a sailor to sell him some wind. Like Odysseus and the bag of wind the Greek god Aeolos, keeper of the winds, gave him, the sailor was presented with a piece of rope with three knots in it. She warned him to untie the first for a breeze, the second for a steady wind, and the third only as a last resort.

The sailor went to sea, delighted with his gift. He untied the first and a gentle breeze billowed out his sails. His ship moved, but too slowly for his liking so he loosened the second knot and sped away from shore for his destination. After transacting his business there he boarded his ship once more and looked at the final knot. It was getting dark and he wanted to return home quickly. The final knot could be the solution to his problem.

He untied the final knot and unleashed a hurricane that split the sails of his ship and resulted in him and his crew sinking below the angry waves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Four days to go – 52,192 words and counting!

Hitch – tying the knot


This week’s word is hitch. Not a particularly unusual word, but one with a multitude of meanings on my mind this week.

Hitch (pronunciation here) is a verb with the following meanings –

1. to move by jerks (she hitched up her skirts and ran)

2. to fasten by a knot/hook (the cowboy hitched his horse to the fence or connected a trailer to his tractor)

3. to get married

4. to hitchhike

It can also be a noun about difficulties – the wedding went off without a hitch – or can describe a period of military service.

I came across it this week at my Scouter training – as I finally mastered the tying of a clove hitch knot (used for starting those log and rope creations like rafts/camp tables etc). Apparently there’s a half-hitch too, but that lies ahead. I can’t help wondering if there’s such a thing as a quarter hitch too.

What struck me was that while we talk about a couple tying the knot, and in older traditions we have hand-fasting (where the couple’s hands are literally tied together), did the marriage meaning of hitch come before the knot meaning, or vice-versa?

All I know for sure is that hitch dates back to a middle English verb hytchen whose use dates back to the 14th century so it has been with us a long time. Although hitch sounds like modern slang, it certainly isn’t.

It leaves me only to speculate that a wild wedding could go like this –

Maisy had an itch to get hitched so she hitched up her skirts and hitched to the range where she hitched herself to a cowboy called Mitch. Mitch hitched his horse to the rail with a clove hitch and they hitched, without hitch, until Mitch caught an army hitch.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,