Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

Time to get off my fanny and clean my room.

“I want this room shipshape and Bristol fashion!” my mother would say, usually while clapping her hands to show she meant business. I can still hear her voice. As a kid, I never knew what that phrase meant, really, and the fact that we lived in Bristol, Connecticut at the time added to the confusion. The bottom line was that I knew I had better get off my fanny and clean my room.

My mother did tell me it was a nautical term. She probably got it from her father, who was a Merchant Marine during World War II. (In fact, he died when his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. My mother never fully recovered.)

That just popped into my head, and I decided to do a lazy Google search of the origin of the phrase. I stumbled upon this fascinating article.

My first surprise was that it referred to the city in Great Britain. So much for the notoriety of my little Connecticut berg. But then it went on to say that their port has about a 30 foot difference in water level from high tide to low, so the ships would often be beached at precarious angles at low tide. So all their cargo had to be efficiently stowed, or it would be a disaster. (Now Bristol has a floating dock, so the ships don’t have to be quite as shipshape as they once did.)

Another theory is that Bristol was known as the most efficient port in the 1800’s, and that’s all it had to do with. Who knows?

Just a little something for your next trivia contest.


Read any good books lately? Try mine!


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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