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The meaning and origin of the expression: On your beam ends

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On your beam ends

Meaning

Hard up; in a bad situation.

Origin

The beams here are the horizontal transverse timbers of ships. This nautical phrase came about with the allusion to the danger of imminent capsize if the beam ends were touching the water. This dates back to the 18th century and is cited in a 1773 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine (why isn't there a magazine for gentlemen these days? They have them for ladz and ladetz):

"The gust laid her upon her beam-ends."

The figurative use came soon afterwards, in Captain Marryat's The King's Own, 1830:

"Our first-lieutenant was..on his beam-ends, with the rheumatiz."

See other Nautical Phrases.