Nautical nomenclature

To 'spin a yarn'

This expression that means to tell a long, engaging story dates back to the early 19th century. Its source is the yarn lofts at seaports, where yarn was spun daily to supply ships with rope. Rope was a big commodity of mercantile Europe. Huge quantities were needed on trading vessels. Each rope was made up of segments called yarns. Spinning took a long time and required groups of three to 10 men at the wheels. Work was monotonous, so it's no surprise that the yarn loft was known for storytelling.

A-1

This term used to describe anything excellent originally referred to 19th-century sailing vessels. Lloyd's of London, an insurance firm, used the term to record the condition of merchant vessels they insured. Ships or hulls were graded by letter; cargoes, anchors, rigging, etc., by number. Any ship classified as A-1 was considered in perfect condition. Today, A-1 signifies anything shipshape. Credit for expanding the usage goes to Charles Dickens, who gave the phrase a non-nautical sense in "The Pickwick Papers" (1837).

SOURCES: 'The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,' by Robert Hendrickson; 'Why You Say It,' by Webb Garrison; 'Dictionary of Word Origins,' by Jordan Almond; 'World Book Dictionary'; 'A Browser's Dictionary,' by John Ciardi; 'Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,' by Ivor Evans; 'Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage,' by B. and C. Evans; 'The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins,' by W. and M. Morris.

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