Nautical Term/Phrase Wednesday: To The Bitter End

to finish no matter what obstacles or cost

1867 Smyth Sailor’s Word-bk. pg. 103 A ship is ‘brought up to a bitter’ when the cable is allowed to run out to that stop. When a chain or rope is paid out to the bitter-end, no more remains to be let go…”

From another site on the great big web dedicated to nautical phrases

The end of the anchor line secured to a sturdy post on the deck called a bitt. The line was paid out in order to set the anchor. However, if the water was deeper than anticipated the rope would pay out to the bitter end . . . ooops.

The “bitter end” of any line is the loose, unsecured end.

“Meanwhile the bosun and his mates, together with the most experienced forecastle hands and tierers, roused out the best cable the Diane possessed, the most nearly new and unfrayed, a seventeen-inch cable that they turned end for end – no small undertaking in that confined space, since it weighed three and a half tons – and bent it to the best bower anchor by the wholly unworn end that had always been abaft the bitts: the bitter end. There was thought to be good luck attached to the bitter end, as well as greater strength.”

[Patrick O'Brian, The Thirteen Gun Salute, p. 299]

Dr. M (1618 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.