Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Spin a yarn

To spin a yarn is pretty much the forte of fiction writers. When first pondering this phrase, I thought that it must be related to weave a tale, and therefore, by extension and relation, it must have originated in the world of spinning wheels and textiles.

Imagine my surprise...
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
... when I read that spin a yarn appears to have originated in the nautical world of old. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer provides the following definition and origin:
spin a yarn: Tell a story, especially a long drawn-out or totally fanciful one... Originally a nautical term dating from about 1800, this expression probably owes its life to the fact that it embodies a double meaning, yarn signifying both "spun fiber" and "a tale."

This provided the basics, but I wanted more. World Wide Words, in a nice entry on the phrase, adds that the expression appears in print in the early nineteenth century along with spin out a long yarn, and that it was first used by sailors. Although admitting that the ultimate origin is unclear, WWW throws me a line (there's another bit of slang from the high seas!) with the following possible explanation:

However, we do know that one task of sailors was to make running repairs to the various ropes of the ship — the cables, hawsers and rigging. As with people on shore, yarn was their word for the individual strands of such ropes, often very long. Their term for binding the strands into fresh rope was spinning or to spin out. The next part is a jump of imagination, for which you may substitute the word guess, though I would prefer to call it informed speculation. The task of repair was necessarily long and tedious. We may easily imagine members of the repair crew telling one another stories to make the time pass more easily and that this practice became associated with the phrases.

"Jump of imagination," "guess" "informed speculation" ... The unknown origin of the phrase seems, in and of itself, to invite one to spin a yarn.

Gotta keep those plot threads straight when spinning a yarn.
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay



4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've heard the term..uh...maybe I'm a little older to have heard such long forgotten slang. Still useful, though. You think?

Camille Minichino said...

Preparing a guest blog, I used the phrase in a description of my latest story. Thanks, Ann!

Ann Parker said...

Hi Carole! I agree... still useful, and still used. :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hi Camille! Glad it came in handy! :-D