Bitter end

Posted by Masakim on July 20, 2003

In Reply to: Bitter end posted by ESC on July 20, 2003

: : I work in an historic home in Plymouth MA. We have some pieces of clay pipes and it was my understanding that the ends were broken off as they became bitter - therefore "bitter end" can anyone verify this?

: "The usually accepted explanation of the origin of this popular metaphor has a distinctly nautical origin. The anchor rope (which today is called 'line') on old sailing vessels was attached to a stout oak post called a 'bitt,' which was firmly fastened to the deck. Securing turns were taken around the bitt as anchor and anchor rope were paid out to the sea. The end of the rope nearest the bitt was called the 'bitter end.' When at the end of your rope, on land or at sea, you've reached the bitter end." 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.)

: A couple of references also mention this Bible verse as a possible source:
: Proverbs 5:4
: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
: (Whole Chapter: Proverbs 5 In context: Proverbs 5:3-5)
: cgi-bin/bible

Bitter End, To the. Enduring an affliction or adversity throughout its course, or affirming that one will do so. On this one, you can take your choice, or decide both sources contributed to the concept. Capt. John Smith, founder of the British colony in Virginia, published _A Sea Grammere_ in 1627, in which he said: "A bitter is but the turne of a Cable about the bits [bitts, the stout posts on a ship's deck to which ropes and cables are fastened].... And the Bitters end is that part of the Cable doth stay within boord." In 1867 Adm. William Smyth, in _The Sailor's Word-Book_, wrote: "When a chain or rope is paid put to the bitter end, no more remains to be let go." The other source is in the Bible's Book of Proverbs: "But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword."
--James Rogers, The Dictionary of Cliches, 1985
Bitter end. All authorities agree this phrase relates to the end of the ship's cable attached to the windlass-bitts. When the anchor had been let out to the bitter end, there was nothing more to be done; if worse came, the cable would part and the ship drive ashore. In its shore use, to mean the last extremity, the sea origin has been completely forgotten.
--Joanna C. Colcord, _Sea Language Comes Ashore_, 1945
To me it seems more likely that in the phrase _to the bitter end_ we have another instance of familiar language based on such biblical phraseology as we find in _Proverbs 5. 4. ...
--Cornelius Stoffel, _Studies in English_