Anchors, beech trees and boks
Anchors and beech trees. I know, how come I’ve not covered these already? Anyway, the first bit of this will be a confession about how thick I can be, and the second bit is designed to take your mind off the first bit.
Until very recently I thought that ‘anchors aweigh’ was spelt ‘anchors away’. Well, in my defence, I’ve never had to actually write the phrase down and the ‘away’ spelling that was vaguely lodged in my mind does kind of make sense; after all, the anchor is pulled away from the seabed when the ship has to start off (or whatever the nautical phrase is for a ship starting off).
So why ‘anchors aweigh’? Well, here’s a pretty good explanation from the US Navy website:
The word ‘weigh’ in this sense comes from the archaic word meaning to heave, hoist or raise. ‘Aweigh’ means that the action has been completed. The anchor is aweigh when it is pulled from the bottom. This event is duly noted in the ship’s log.
However, the soup thickens. Apparently, says Oxford Dictionaries, nautical types are allowed to spell ‘under way’ (as when something is in progress) as ‘under weigh’. Who knew?
Root and branch investigation
So, we’ve established that I shouldn’t be editing the next edition of The Big Book of Nautical Words, but what about the beech trees?
This is from the enchanting Tree Wisdom by Jaqueline Memory Paterson. She explains that the beech tree has a unique place in European legend due to the belief that thin slices of beech wood were used to create the first book, as well as surfaces for writing on.
These stories, says the author, are backed by etymology, as the Anglo-Saxon for ‘beech’ was ‘boc’ which became our word, ‘book’. ‘Buche’ is the German for ‘beech’ and ‘buch’ the German for ‘book’, and the Swedish word ‘bok’ means both ‘book’ and ‘beech’.
See, now you’ve forgotten all about the anchors aweigh fiasco. Although I will be including the phrase in future spelling tests, so be warned.