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To The Bitter End

Sunday November 16th, 2008
Times like they are it makes one think that our economy is reaching the bitter end and as such we will all be left with a nasty taste in our mouths. Well that may or may not be true. We really don’t know. Neither would it seem do the experts, either financial or etymological.
Let me explain. As true as it may be that the word ‘bitter’, meaning acrid or sour has been in use since around 8th Century it may well have little baring of the phrase ‘the bitter end’. According to Captain Smith’s 17th century publication ‘Seaman’s Grammar’ - 'A Bitter is but the turne of a Cable about the Bits, and veare it out by little and little. And the Bitters end is that part of the Cable doth stay within boord.'
If that is the case it would seem that the bitter end actually refers to a length of ship’s rope or cable that has been run out to its end, at which point it would be tied to one of the many bitts (meaning posts) on a ship’s deck. In which case the phrase would mean that there was nothing left to use. Which it basically does… as well.
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