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BY AND LARGE ORIGIN

Sunday October 24th, 2010
BY AND LARGE
The phrase used to mean ‘all things considered’ has its roots in the days of sail. The word ‘large’ is used to describe the wind when it is blowing from a compass point behind the ships direction of movement. When the wind blows in that direction the largest square sail can be set and the ship can travel in any downwind direction.
‘By’ was a term that sailors used to mean ‘in the general direction of’. For instance to be ‘by the wind’ would mean the ship was facing into the wind or within six compass points of it. Sailing into the wind was facilitated by the use of triangular sails.
19th century windjammers like the Cutty Sark were required to be able to sail ‘by and large’ even in bad weather. The phrase eventually adopted the figurative meaning to describe a situation where all possibilities have been considered.
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