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Ropes in our Scopes

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Hey, Camp Fans!

There’s such an abundance of phrases and old sayings that are so woven into our everyday speech that, often enough, we won’t even realize it when we’re using them. These sayings are more specifically referred to as idioms or adages. Today’s featured saying is ‘Showing the Ropes’. When we say to show someone the ropes, we mean to familiarize them with the way things are done at a certain place.

New staff members at a summer camp are sure to be ‘shown the ropes’—and we’re not talking about the Ropes Course here. We’re talking a tour of the camp so newcomers are acquainted with the lay of the land and what responsibilities fall onto them during the camp season.

But what do ropes have to do with familiarizing people with layout and procedural information? Let’s start digging for the origin of today’s adage:

Many folks say that this adage most likely originated around the mid-1600s with maritime jargon as sailors would show newbies how to handle literal ropes that were used for operating the ship and the ship’s sails—an essential skill as you can imagine while out at sea.

Sailors raise and lower a ship’s sails by using ropes. They have a very specific way that the ropes are supposed to be tied to different parts of the boat. And sailors would use different knots for different purposes.

This all makes good, logical sense, however, there are some who object to this conclusion, proposing that the phrase was started, not in the nautical world, but on the stage of the theater. Stagehands would pull on ropes to open and close the stage curtains for the beginning and ending of each act. Both are possible origins, but people tend to associate the saying as a nautical turn of phrase.

Whatever ropes you may be shown in the future, enjoy a deeper understanding of why we say this in our cultural vernacular and, as always, thanks for reading!


- John

Posted in Adage Origin


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