What does the phrase “between wind and water” mean and Where does it come from?

We go back to naval craft of the sixteenth century for the phrase “between wind and water”, and thence onward through the history of wooden vessels in warfare to recent times.

The allusion is to that portion of the side of a ship which, especially in rough seas, is alternately above and below water, exposed both to wind and to water.

A shot from a hostile gun striking such an area would be peculiarly hazardous.

The historian George Bancroft made use of the expression in his account of the action between the United States and Tripoli in his History of the United States (1876).

The frigate Congress was, as he described the action, “hulled twelve times, and hit seven times between wind and water.”

But the phrase has also been applied metaphorically to man for some three centuries, usually designating unexpected attack.

The usage is illustrated in the sentence from Thomas Fuller’s The Church-History of England (1655): “The good old man was shot between Wind and Water, and his consent was assaulted in a dangerous joincture of time to give any deniall.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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