Posted by James Briggs on June 11, 2000
In Reply to: Spin a yarn posted by ESC on June 10, 2000
: : where does the saying "spinning a yarn" come from?
: SPIN A YARN - "It has the ring of a salty expression and is popularly thought to have come from wet weather days when crews would be given the job of 'spinning' or loosely twisting together yarns of old rope to be used for small tying jobs. Sheltering under the foc'sle head it would have been a great time for telling stories. However, spinning yarn was carried on ashore long before it was at sea and this is probably one of the few shore expressions adopted by seamen. To spin a fibre, especially wood, correctly and ensure it remains the right size, length and twist, the spinner has to continually stretch the material. Thus when the old-timers wanted to suggest that someone was stretching the truth they likened it to 'spinning a yarn.'" From "Salty Dog Talk" by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (Sheridan House, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1995).
To "spin a yarn" is to tell a tale. At first this seems an odd combination of words until it's remembered that, in the old days, women used to spin yarn on spinning wheels. They frequently did this in groups and, to pass the time, they often told each other stories. In time the words came to mean the production of the stories themselves.