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Holding on by a thread/Red tape

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on January 25, 2010 at 19:07

In Reply to: Holding on by a thread/Red tape posted by David FG on January 25, 2010 at 15:21:

: : I read recently that the Phrase "holding on by a thread" and the phrase "Red tape" were specificaly connected by the bible verses in Genesis 38:28-30. The book written by J H Allen says Zerahs decendents married King Zeddikiah's daughter in Ireland and their decendents eventually came down to Queen Elisebeth in England. Mr. J H Allens Book says that the English navy has a red thread running through its ropes that tie the ship to its moreings. This way even if the ship sunk they could identify it by the rope. A red ribbion was once used to closes up military orders and that it could also be tied to the red ribbon on the United States Marine Uniform.

: : Do you have any way of checking this out. Thank you.

: I have no idea who JH Allen is, but I am inclined on the evidence you have outlined here to treat anything he might say with some wariness.

: There are a lot easier ways of identifying a ship than looking for a red thread: you could try reading the name on the side, to name but one.

: 'Red tape' comes from the custom of tying official government documents with red ribbon.

: Hanging on by a thread is a rather straightforward allusion to a perilous situation.


The Royal Navy used to have all its rope supplies manufactured in its own dockyards, and all dockyard-made rope did indeed have a distinctive (but not red) strand (not thread) running through the middle. However, the purpose of this "rogue's yarn" was not to identify sunken ships, but to identify the rope itself as Navy property, and thus to make it harder for corrupt dockyard workers and boatswains to steal and sell it. See, for example, this dicitonary of marine language from 1780:
As David says, a book containing this sort of rubbish really doesn't deserve any sort of credence.