Posted by James Briggs on April 30, 2005
In Reply to: Tie up loose ends posted by Bob on April 30, 2005
: : : : Does anyone know the origins of 'tie up loose ends'?
: : : The ends here are almost certainly those of rigging ropes on a sailing ship. There were many such ropes associated with the sails and the ends were tightly bound to prevent them unravelling. One consequence of this was that when there was little else to do the Captain would order his men to check the ropes and repair any of those with loose ends. Hence, if one is at loose ends then there is not much of anything to be done; life is a little dull and boring.
: : : When I was growing up (London, the 60s) one was always "at a loose end" (singular). I don't think I ever heard "at loose ends" (plural) I those days. And the singular form doesn't make any sense at all in the context of sailors tidying up.
: "At loose ends" is common in the U.S. "At a loose end" is unfamiliar.
It was/is always 'ends' whenever I've come across the phrase. It's not heard too often now - perhaps that's me - but was very common in my childhood and youth in the 1930s and 40s in London.