Nautical Term/Phrase Wednesday: Shiver Me Timbers

From moominsean at Flickr and made available through Creative Commons

Again from Gary’s website,  Phrase Finder

An oath, expressing annoyance or surprise.

Robert Louis Stevenson used shiver my timbers several times in the original 1883 book, for example: “Well, he [Old Pew] is dead now and under hatches; but for two year before that, shiver my timbers, the man was starving!” The first appearance of the phrase in print is in Frederick Marryat’s Jacob Faithful, 1834: “I won’t thrash you Tom. Shiver my timbers if I do.”…
…One meaning of shiver, which is now largely forgotten, is ‘to break into pieces’. That meaning originated at least as early as the 14th century and is recorded in several Old English texts. …
…So, the sailor’s oath shiver my timbers, is synonymous with (if so and so happens then…) let my boat breaks into pieces. The question is whether any real sailor used the term or whether it was just a literary invention…

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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One comment on “Nautical Term/Phrase Wednesday: Shiver Me Timbers
  1. An oath, expressing annoyance or surprise.

    How appropriate then that the Flickr photo you chose is of HMS Surprise in San Diego (I’m 99% certain)

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