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The ropes

Posted by Masakim on June 23, 2003

In Reply to: The ropes posted by James Briggs on June 23, 2003

: : : : Does anyone know the origin of the phrase 'I'll show you the ropes'... ie. to show someone the basics/how something is done. Methinks it's a nautical term originally, but where from? Any suggestions?

: : : : Cheers peeps.

: : : : Kit

: : : Not 100% on this but I think it has to do with showbusiness, with the ropes being used by stagehands to open and close curtains, lower props etc.
: : : So if I am to "show you the ropes" then you are in training to learn a skill.

: : hey - why not go back to the builders of the pyramids on this one? they would have used ropes which could be shown to new tuggers and pullers.

: : The difference with saying that it was from seamanship, is that the ropes on a ship have different names and purposes - so a new seaman really did need to be shown the ropes - to know which one to pull when ordered. I favour a nautical origin, as it wuld have preceded stage management by a few millennia.

: Brewer says it has the above nautical origin

*know the ropes* Be informed about the details of a situation or task. For example, "Don't worry about Sara's taking over that reporter's job -- she already knows the ropes." This expression alludes to sailors learning the rigging so as to handle a sailing vessel's ropes. It was being used figuratively by the late 1800s. The same allusion is present in *show someone the ropes*, meaning "to familiarize someone with the details," as in "Tom's very experiences -- he'll show you the ropes."
From _The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms_ by Christine Ammer
It was a long time before I "learned the ropes" which meant learning that there are very few "ropes" in a sailing vessel. The average landsman might think that the standing rigging and running gear of a large sailing craft is a "maze of ropes." In a literal sense he might be correct, as the top hamper of a windjammer consists chiefly of a complicated arrangement of wire ropes and hempen (or manila) ropes connected with the spars and sails and manipulated with tackles and other gear.
But to sailors every part of the standing rigging and running rigging had a name, and in these name the word "rope" was rarely used. There were halliards, braces, sheets, lifts, clew-lines, buntlines, ... and many more, as if sailors deliberately avoided the word "rope" -- perhaps because the "rope" in olden days meant "the hangman's hempen haul" or a flogging with a "rope's end."
From _Sail Ho!_ by James Gordon Bisset