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Bill of health

Posted by ESC on October 25, 2002

In Reply to: Bill of health posted by James Briggs on October 25, 2002

: : Where did the phrase, "Clean bill of health" originate? Thank you...

: A guess, but I'd be surprised if this is maritime in origin. Ships were often inspected before being allowed to dock in foreign lands - they could well be carrying plague or some other horror. Once inspected, and found to be disease free, they were given 'a clean bill of health' to show to the harbourmaster.

Right you are Mr. Briggs.

CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH - "(healthy, in good shape). This popular expression derives from the certificate once issued by a port authority confirming that no member of a ship's crew suffered from a reportable contagious disease, and that no contagion was known to be present in the ship's port of departure. Where there was infectious disease aboard a ship or in port, the authorities issued a foul bill of health. As the term 'a clean bill of health' has come ashore, it generally means 'in good shape,' as when a company is given a clean bill of health on its financial dealings." From "When a Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse There's the Devil to Pay: Seafaring Words in Everyday Speech" by Olivia A. Isil (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, McGraw-Hill, 1996)

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