Posted by: Dutch | March 20, 2010

Batten down the hatches

Meaning

Prepare for trouble.

Origin

Climate change is providing plenty of opportunity to reinforce our property against bad weather. The securing of property, especially the covering with protective sheeting, is called ‘battening down’. That’s not how the phrase originated, although it’s not far away in terms of meaning. It has a nautical origin and ‘battening down’ was done on ships when bad weather was expected.

The earliest known citation is from John Badcock, in Domestic Amusements, 1823 (referring to a sea voyage):

“The severity of the climate having compelled them to batten down and caulk their abiding place.”

A batten is a strip of wood. Caulking is the filling of gaps with oakum of similar, to prevent leaking. That’s ‘battening down’ in a general sense. The first citation of the explicit use of the phrase ‘batten down the hatches’ is from the 1883 Chambers Journal:

“Batten down the hatches – quick, men.”

– Sincere thanks to Gary Martin of The Phrase Finder

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