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As any able-bodied seaman can tell you, a turn of a line around a bitt, those wooden or iron posts sticking through a ship's deck, is called a bitter.  Thus the last of the line secured to the bitts is known as the bitter end. Nautical usage has somewhat expanded the original definition in that today the end of any line, secured to bitts or not, is called a bitter end.

The landlubbing phrases "stick with it to the bitter end" and "faithful to the bitter end" are derivations of the nautical term and refer to anyone who insists on adhering to a course of action without regard to consequences.

Posted on Tuesday, April 13, 2004 4:22 PM Day Job , & Etc. | Back to top

Comments on this post: Nautical Terminology: The Bitter End

# re: Nautical Terminology: The Bitter End
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I like, and agree with, your explanation of the origins of the term. However in my experience the modern usage is for it to refer to the secured inboard end of a line - commonly the anchor cable but, as you imply, any line that might have cause to be secured to a bitt (or cleat, or winch, or...etc etc).

I have come across the abuse of the term when actually refering to the working-end of a line (especially for knot-tying). A bitter-end will always be a working end, but a working-end is not necessarily a bitter end (for example when securing a sheet to the clew of a sail the end is most definitely working but not bitter - although it's opposite end could certainly be refered to as bitter since it is secured inboard).

I think it would be a shame to lose the distinction any further. It used to be then destined for a bitt - now for other means of attachment - but not, surely, just for the end of piece of line?
Left by Alistair Gillanders on Jan 17, 2005 12:41 PM

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