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"not on my watch"

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on December 05, 2005

In Reply to: "Not on my watch" posted by John Lee on December 05, 2005

: Any ideas about who coined the phrase "not on my watch" or if it pertained to a specific incident. I would have thought it had something to do with the military but an intellectual Army (oxymoron perhaps)friend of mine could shed no light.

It's nautical, rather than military, and it doesn't come from any specific incident but from the nature of command on board ship. On board a ship the day and night are divided into "watches" (which are like shifts in industry) and the officers take turns to be "officer of the watch", i.e. on duty and in charge. On a warship these will usually be lieutenants, on a merchant vessel it will be the mates. In small vessels (gunboats etc) more junior people also get to do this duty; to be a "watch-keeping officer" for a petty officer entails serious status, because it involves taking responsibility for the whole ship and its crew. Everything that happens "on your watch" is your responsibility, so if any accident or wrongdoing occurs, it's a bad mark against you even if you didn't have anything directly to do with it, because you were in charge and should have stopped it happening.