Jan 27

Salty Talk

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 8:17 AM




Someone speaking of “beating a dead horse” may have in mind an image of a jockey trying to get his deceased mount to move, but the phrase also has a nautical origin.

While the history cannot be traced with certainty, it appears that the futility implicit in beating a dead horse was appropriate to the frustration felt by sailors during the early stages of a voyage, when all their earning were being kept by the master to compensate for the advance monies they had received upon signing aboard-monies usually spent in satisfying shorebound creditors. When, at long last, the debt had been repaid and they once again were accumulating funds for the next port of call, the tars sometime were known to mark the occasion by fashioning a horse effigy in straw, setting it afire, and letting it drift off into oblivion. Even in our Navy today, any money paid in advance is known as a “dead horse,” but a sailor now has only a portion of his subsequent wages taken at each payday until the advance is repaid. Still, that payday when the check shows the full amount is one to enjoy, for, once again, Jack Tar has “beaten the dead horse.”